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Newsletter, October 2015 (Issue 201)

Early computing in Ipswich


Recently at work I was asked by one of our apprentices, who was doing some research for an article, for my first experiences of using computers. This got me researching into my first involvement in computing. I would hope that someone somewhere might find this of interest. I am over 50 now, so I grew up as a teenager in the late 1970s, and computers were still very rare.

When I first started studying at High School there were no computers in schools. My first involvement in any programming language was CESIL. This was a simple computer programming language developed in the UK and taught in British schools as part of the old O-Level Computer Science syllabus, until around the mid-1980s.

CESIL stood for 'Computer Education in Schools Instructional Language'. It was a simplified assembler language where we, as students, had to write out special coding sheets which were sent off to a local educational computing centre once a week. In our case this was to the Suffolk College building in Ipswich. About a week later we would get back the results.

Sometimes it would be several weeks before our program would be complete; at other times, if you were very precise and careful, it might work at the first attempt.

The first computer I used directly at school was a Commodore Pet and although we continued to use CESIL for our course work at High School; we were then able to gradually learn *BASIC on the Commodore Pet. Our school received two Commodore Pet computers, no one knew much about them or how to use and program them. As a result our tutor, like us, was learning how to use them for the first time.

I expanded my own knowledge when I was about 15 when I purchased a second hand Sharp MZ-80K with money I had earned from my part-time jobs. This allowed me to teach myself assembler language, as well as improving my knowledge of the BASIC language, which came with the computer.

From those early days, whilst I was still at school and then when I was at college, this led to my writing a number of programs, mostly games. I had several computer programs published by a Computer magazine at the time. These games were making the best use of the features of the computers at that time but, looking back now, were far away from the games of today!

In around 1980 or 1981 the, I believe, first Computer user group in Ipswich was started by a number of enthusiasts. This was called the Suffolk Micro-Computer User Group (or SMUG for short). For three years I was secretary and I have recently found some old newsletters, minutes and membership details from that time.

I hope that this is of interest, and am happy to share further details as well as more information with regards the CESIL programming language. I would also be interested to hear from anyone who may have an interest in the above.

Adrian Theobald
[*An acronym for Beginner's All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code.]

    Front cover of issue 201 Cover, issue 201

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