The Superbrain

Reader Ron Thompson, technical consultant at Elf Oil (UK), reflects on his early days in the IT industry

Reader Ron Thompson, technical consultant at Elf Oil (UK), reflects on his early days in the IT industry

My first job was with a small computer technology start-up that was, in retrospect, trying to contrive feats in bespoke business software development that many would hesitate to undertake today. The company started on Superbrains, which ran under the de facto eight-bit operating system called CP/M. It comprised of a single back-breaking colossus of a moulded plastic shell with integral keyboard, tiny screen and dual 8in floppy disc drives (5in drives were an upgrade option). The 8in discs were the size of dinner plates and were about as useless for storage as they were as frisbees.

One of my applications was written in Ashton-Tate's dBaseII to allow printing envelope labels from a name and address database. After duly depositing the monster at the customer's office and leaving it merrily zipping away on the dot-matrix printer, I realised I had never taken the time to calculate just how long the several hundred labels would take to print. The computer would process each address one at a time (slowly retrieving it from the diskette into Ram) before printing out. The total elapsed time was not insignificant.

The program started at 2pm and finally finished at about 11pm that evening. Even worse, it had to be baby-sat by the unfortunate manager to sort any paper-jams which inevitably occurred. He couldn't even make it to the pub afterwards, despite probably needing a beer or two to recover. I don't think we ever got our money for the work. Funny that.

It would be great if you could find a picture of this remarkable beast. Because sometimes I'm not sure whether this thing actually existed or was a just horrible nightmare I had one night.

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