Strange radio interference from the 1980s.

How’s this for a niche post? Yes, I’m looking at YOU, my dear readers, to help identify some interference we used to receive on local radio stations. Now now, that would be too easy. No, this is taken from an off-air recording I made in 1989.

I used to hear this a lot, and I used to tape off the radio a lot, but this is the only recording I know of, of this particular interference. Yes, I know, I’m not going to discover aliens eith this particular tape, and there’ll be a logical explanation, but I simply don’t have it.

My personal thoughts? It’s the hospital pager system. At the time, I lived a mere stone’s throw from the local hospital, and seeing as these recordings were made on a little Saisho twin cassette deck thing, it’s possible the aerial could have been pointing in that direction? The interference lasts almost exactly a second, and seems to ramp up in strength. All of the recordings have this same characteristic.

So… erm… any ideas?

Repressed childhood memories #186

Picture if you will. The year is 1988. I sit in school, in Mrs. Dawson’s class, staring out of the window, paying very little to no attention to what is flowing from the afore-mentioned teachers’ mouth, instead he stars across the playground, watching two birds peck away at the remains of another dead bird, when all of a sudden, the classroom doors bang. It’s the caretaker, and behind him he’s pulling the school telly! Of course, it’s a Rumbelows one, on wheels. The class erupts with excitement as she pulls out an ancient VHS tape out of her desk drawer.

This will be the only time in the entire school day that the class will have her full undivided attention.

“If you’re good, I’ll let you hear the music”, she says, bribing the class into facing the front, as she struggles to get the sun visor across the top of the telly in place, as it collapses hilariously at least once. Of course, we’ll hear the music because Mrs Dawson only knew one button, and that was the Play button.

In goes the tape, and she presses play. There they are. For me, the highlight of computer animation at the time. Yes, four spinning ITV logos.

We could have been waiting for a programme on making cardboard boxes (to be honest, we probably were), but as long as I got to see (and hear) that, I was content.

These “Schools” TV shows were always broadcast in the morning, so when you were off poorly, it’d be a special treat to actually see that animation on your own telly. And, of course, I’d be sat there with the tape recorder, grabbing as much as I could.. Sometimes you’d get more of the track than before, as the gap in between each program was different

At the time, we thought that this music and countdown clock was there to help teachers queue the programme up for the class. While this may be partially right, there was also a much more mundane reason. These were the days before the national curriculum, and different areas were allowed to show different programmes, meaning that one region could show a 14-minute programme, and the rest of the country could be watching a 12-minute programme, so for that extra two minutes, the rest of the country will see an extra two minutes of the spinning ITVs while they wait for that region to catch up. On very rare occasions, they would play the full track, if there was an especially long wait between regions.

I remember getting this on audio tape, and I played it that much, the tape snapped. The music was surely lost to obscurity. This animation ran every school morning from 1987 until 1993. By then, the national curriculum was fully in place, and eventually there was no need for long breaks between programmes.

In 2002, I made a brief post about this animation and a site I’d discovered which had far too much technical detail about this. Sadly, the site no longer exists.

However, I did manage to find out who did the music. It was by someone named James Aldenham. Except it wasn’t, because that name was a pseudonym for Brian Bennett, the bloke out of The Shadows. It turns out that both of the pieces of music were released on CD, and due to their rarity, were stupidly expensive. They were on the “Music House” label.

“The Journey”, which is the long bit of music was released on “Atmosphere 12 MHA-!2)” and “Just a Minute”, unsurprisingly, the countdown clock music was on “That’s Entertainment (MHE-15)”

And, thanks to eBay, at under a fiver each, I have them both. Another part of my musical journey (pardon the pun) over.

EDIT 5/7/17: Here’s a little bit of extra information for those playing along at home. For the entirety of its run, both tracks were only ever aired in mono. During the initial introduction when the schools broadcast started for that day, the first minute of “The Journey” would always be played, before fading out to the clock. This recording was of a fixed length, and the audio was taken from the left channel track, and every other broadcast would be played from the right.

The reason for this, is that the left channel had slightly less instrumentation around the intro, so it could be made to sound more “peaceful” to start the day.

Goodbye Micro Mart, I shall remember you fondly.

Ah, so 2017 starts off with the first sad death of the year… my favourite little magazine… “Micro Mart”.

Well, OK, technically, it died last year, as this last issue is dated 29th December – 31st Never, but still, I didn’t find out until I was browsing a local WH smith.

I must start by saying , I wasn’t a prolific reader, and instead decided to just pick up an occasional issue, either when looking for a new PC (or parts for an existing PC). In fact, it was waay back in 1996, when one of my old college lecturers told me about it, and especially one of their advertisers, called something like “Page 72”, who, you guessed it, always ran their adverts on Page 72. I’m probably wrong with the page number there, but I always thought it was a nifty little martketing tool. You’d always know where to find them!

In fact, I bought my very first computer from out of a Micro Mart advert, around that same time, possibly from that very first issue I bought. Of course, way back in 1996, the internet barely existed. For me, it had only just started existing, and I certainly didn’t have the ability to shop for a new PC. I relied on the pages of Micro Mart to tell me what I was looking for. And it didn’t disappoint.

My very first PC was a Pentium 166Mhz (With MMX no less!), 16Mb RAM, 2Gb hard drive, and a 1Mb graphics card. Eventually, I outgrew this little machine, and the next one I bought also came from the hallowed pages of Micro Mart.

Time gre on, the internet became plentiful, and I didn’t really rely on Micro Mart for anything after that, but my love for it didn’t die. In the back of my mind, I’d be in a service station somewhere, or an airport, and I’d think to myself “Well, I’ll need something to fill the journey time”, and I’d walk out with a copy of MM under my arm. Sometimes I’d even pay for it!

Ho ho, I jest. In all seriousness, print medium when it comes to computer magazines is shrinking all of the time. Although there’s roughly 100 feet of shelf space in every large WH Smith, the computer section is dwindling rapidly. The vast majority of what’s left, taken up with “special” publications which seem to hang around for months, and the old established monthlies (and in MM’s case, even more frequent) are going to the great paper pulper in the sky. And I, for one, will miss them.

RIP Micro Mart.

Some old ramblings…

I was trawling through some old CDs, and found something that brought back so many memories, it’s untrue. Way back in the Amiga days, I used to do some programming. And by that, I used to faff around in AMOS knocking together daft little programs, and upload them to Aminet. Basically, anything tha twas free for the amiga went on there. And it was a great site.

It must have been back in 1996 when I released a crap little game called “Reaction”. The screen would say “GO!” and you’d hit a button as fast as you could to get the lowest score.

My memory is blank on what this looked like, and what it played like, but the Readme file is still available. It mentions “FOX PD”. That’s a repressed memory for another day!

Anyway, where am I going with this?

Half of my life ago (at the time of typing), I was at college, and expected to do a placement, and I ended up at some accountancy place. It was a weird setup, sort-of a company within a company. They dealt with software.

Anyway, me, a spotty 18 year old layabout, in his first ever foray into the work environment, didn’t really enjoy it. It was the first time I’d ever have to work over the summer, and my entire time there, I never felt like I was neither needed, nor wanted. The two people who worked there would often have to go out to site visits to repair or reinstall software. This was before the internet, and patches were mainstream, so as you can imagine, once a software upgrade came out, they’d have to run around the north-east, installing the updates.

This meant I often had very little to do. Sometimes I’d write up college work, sometimes they’d have me typing out letters and stuffing the envelopes. This was the first place I ever had a computer to myself. Inside it was a 33.6K modem. And did I know the password? Did I bollocks.

It was awful. For the very first time, I had the world (wide web) at my fingertips, and this one little dialogue box stood in my way. One day, the boss gave me the password. And no work was done that day week month.

There doesn’t seem to be a point to that story. There isn’t. But, while I was there, and had the full rip of a computer, I decided to have a bit of a play. Part of my college work from the early days was to design something written in basic, and for this, we were provided with a copy of Turbo BASIC on floppy disk (a copy, of course). This has the advantage of being able to compile .exe files.

Anyway, back to my original workplace. The guesome twosome were out installing something somewhere, and I was left to my own devices. Somewhere, out of the blue, I received an email, thanking me for my original Amiga game. I guess that spurred me on to sit down and write a PC follow-up. I think the whole thing took half an hour. Maybe longer.

Anyway. I remember compiling it, and never actually giving it to anybody, or uploading it anywhere of relevance. I maybe had a copy on whichever website I as running at the time, but just like this one, its viewing figures are minimal.

I was 18 then. 18 years later, I’m trawling through some old catalogued CDs for a particular file, and I find one called “reaction.bas”. Could it be that the original file has survived for so long? Well, it seems I “updated” it back in 1999, but the guts are still there, and amazingly, saved in text format. Here’s the … ahem… “source”, in all its glory. I’ve had to remove a couple of comments, because in hindsight they’re probably slanderous!

1 rem ****************************************************
2 rem * REACTION - The only game where is pays to have a *
3 rem * shit machine! Programmed by Arctic Fox 27/5/98   *
4 rem * VERSION 1.02! (30/12/1999)			 *
5 REM ****************************************************
10 cls
11 RANDOMIZE TIMER
20 color 3,0,0
30 print "  ###   ####   ###  #####  #   ### "
31 print " #   #  #   # #   #   #    #  #   #"
32 print " #   #  #   # #       #    #  #    "
33 print " #####  ####  #       #    #  #    "
34 print " #   #  # #   #       #    #  #    "
35 print " #   #  #  #  #   #   #    #  #   #"
36 print " #   #  #   #  ###    #    #   ### "
37 print
38 print "         #####  ###  #   #"
39 print "         #     #   # #   #"
40 print "         #     #   #  # # "
41 print "         ##### #   #   #  "
42 print "         #     #   #  # # "
43 print "         #     #   # #   #"
44 print "         #      ###  #   #"
45 color 5,0,0:print "Presents:"
46 color 15,0,0:print:print "REACTION!!!"
50 print "The first program written in 1998 GUARANTEED to work on an"
51 print "8086. In fact it'll work better on one. If you have a P400"
52 print "then you may as well quit now."
53 print:color 12,0,0:print "Press any key to continue!"
60 if inkey$="" then goto 60
62 CLS:LOCATE 1,1
65 for d=0 to 21
70 for x=0 to 10000
71 next x
72 print "REACTION! REACTION! REACTION! REACTION! REACTION! REACTION!"
80 NEXT D
90 FOR X = 0 TO 20000
100 NEXT X
110 CLS
120 PRINT "THE IDEA OF THIS GAME IS TO STOP THE COUNTER AT THE LOWEST"
130 PRINT "NUMBER POSSIBLE. YOU CAN DO THIS BY PRESSING ANY KEY!"
140 PRINT "SOUND EXCITING? WELL.. NOT EXACTLY, BUT SOMEONE LIKED"
150 PRINT "THE AMIGA VERSION I WROTE! (2 YEARS AFTER RELEASE I"
160 PRINT "RECEIVED AN EMAIL!)"
170 PRINT "ANYWAY, GET READY WITH THAT KEYBOARD AND";:COLOR 11,0,0:PRINT" BE PREPARED!"
180 PRINT:PRINT "PRESS ANY KEY TO BEGIN"
190 IF INKEY$="" THEN GOTO 190
200 print "Marks... Set..."
195 CLS
205 D = INT (RND * 500000)+1
210 FOR X = 0 TO d
230 NEXT X
235 print "GO!!!!!"
240 FOR g=0 TO 10000 step 0.5
241 if inkey$<>"" then goto 250
242 locate 2,2:print INT(g)
245 next g
246 beep
250 IF g=0 THEN F$="False start!! Please try again..."
260 if g>0 and g<1000 then f$="Cool! Now find the hidden messages..."
270 if g>1000 and g<2000 then f$="Yeah! You could do better though!"
271 if g=561 then f$="To MASC - no-one likes you."
272 if g=472 then f$="The one with the jelly in the middle."
273 if g=639 then f$="Email me. [removed] "
274 if g=628 then f$="I like children, but I couldn't eat a whole one."
275 if g=213 then f$="Toooobe."
276 if g=178 then f$="This is hidden message number 1."
277 if g=841 then f$="Alan Robson is the king of talk shows. Except Tom Davies."
278 if g=562 then f$="These numbers are picked randomly."
279 if g=921 then f$="The secret of my success is my good looks."
280 if g>2000 and g<3000 then f$="It's good, but in an average sort of way..."
281 if g=2419 then f$="I'm at work typing this. I really should be doing some."
282 if g=2719 then f$="I've hidden 100 messages. Find them all and win a prize. Offer ends yesterday."
283 if g=2611 then f$="This is program line 283. Cool, eh?"
284 if g=2534 then f$="Reaction ver 1.02 29/5/1998 by [me]"
285 if g=2524 then f$="Programmed using Turbo Basic, you know!"
286 if g=2172 then f$="Greets go to Daniel, who emailed me about the Amiga version!"
287 if g=2511 then f$="... [The Boss] for leaving the office while I did this..."
288 if g=2473 then f$="... and the cat ran away with the money."
289 if g=2162 then f$="Toilet."
290 if g>3000 and g<4000 then f$="Quite poor really, isn't it?"
291 if g=3128 then f$="email: [no loner works]"
292 if g=3829 then f$="Visit [a website]. Tell them AF sent you."
293 if g=3239 then f$="Duke: You peed on my face. I hate you."
294 if g=3814 then f$="When you get to hell, tell them REACTION sent you!"
295 if g=3629 then f$="Lucky message #26."
296 if g=3221 then f$="Hackers, note the bug at $00A4F before recompiling."
297 if g=3422 then f$="Mr. Do! Is the best arcade game of all time."
298 if g=3912 then f$="Lesley, where are you? I love you! I still have your tape."
299 if g=3333 then f$="All the threes..."
300 if g>4000 and g<5000 then f$="Good score! Erm, no. I lied."
301 if g=4820 then f$="Hell! 18 months after starting, I finally get back to it"
302 if g=4204 then f$="HAPPY MILLENIUM!"
303 IF g=4021 then f$="[Removed]"
304 if g=4793 then f$="DAVID ICKE! DAVID ICKE! WAYNE, YOU LOVE HIM!"
305 if g=4309 then f$="Thinking up 100 messages like this isn't easy y'know."
306 if g=4621 then f$="That's probably why I left it for so long."
307 if g=4291 then f$="[removed link]"
308 if g=4999 then f$="Score 4291 and find out how to get paid to surf!"
309 if g=4522 then f$="Bum!!"
310 if g>5000 and g<6000 then f$="Come on! Connect your keyboard!"
320 if g>6000 and g<7000 then f$="The idea of the game is to PRESS the button!"
330 if g>7000 and g<8000 then f$="You really ARE using a pII400!"
340 if g>8000 and g<9000 then f$="Oh dear..."
350 if g>9000 and g<10000 then f$="You play badly."
360 if g>10000 then f$= "Way too slow. Try again."
390 cls
400 print INT(g):print:print f$
410 ?:?:?:?:PRINT "(Hiscore not available in this version)
411 ?:?:?"Please wait, or press X to quit"
500 for x=0 to 25000
501 if inkey$="x" or inkey$="X" then end
502 next x
503 cls
504 goto 1

So, some of the explanations. “ARCTIC FOX” was my old CB handle at the time. It was before I started using “scribbler”, and many years before “mercuryvapour”.

MASC… think I went to college with him. Think I said I was mentioning him in the game.

Alan Robson and Tom Davies are both still hosting talk shows.

Duke was a dog, the father to both of my dogs (now only one dog), And he really did pee on my face. He died many years ago and I didn’t hate him.

The program itself was obviously not CPU optimised. It ran as fast as your CPU ran. IT’ll be almost impossible to register any type of score these days. That is, if there’s anything that can even compile it these days. Oh wait… Minecraft?

People of ZX Spectrum land!

I’ve been going through some old tapes, and found the following (rather knackered) recording. I have no recollection which game it’s from, but if you do, I’d appreciate it if you let me know!

[UPDATE 10/2/2014]
Poot, 28 comments and 160+ downloads of the file and still no further forward! I’ll keep searching. Thanks all for the help so far though!

[UPDATE 19/11/2014]
Added this to the Spectrum 4 Ever Facebook group, on the off-chance someone knows what it is. To answer questions, yes, the tape is knackered. It would have been a recording taken directly from my Speccy+’s Ear socket, into a cheap “slimline” tape recorder. Probably running of batteries, I can’t remember.