24/09/2021

Pioneering

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After the conference and many trips to Stockholm I returned to the UK to try to graft the specific requirements onto our prototype products that would satisfy UK retail customers.

At the time I had no idea how pioneering my work was, I just wanted to get it done – and this was long before Richard Fairhurst’s definition of pioneers. I bought an Intellec MCS8 device that could program EPROMs (Erasable Programmable Read Only Memories). I had to prepare, in machine code, any changes that I wanted to include. Finally, I got to pursue the computer programming that had been inspired when selling some six-guinea Chelsea boots. This programming was very low level and slow; it was done with instructions in hexadecimals. Essentially, I would load my reprogrammed material via punched tape, load it into the EPROM, then carefully plug this into the ECR (their pins were quite weak and easy to break), and see if it worked. I noted anything odd that it did, and then repeated the process again, and again, and…

Intellec MCS8

One very weird thing happened. The Intellec never seemed to work in the morning, but I had a 2-to-4 hour response deal with Rapid Recall. The engineer arrived in the afternoon when, frustratingly, it worked perfectly. This went on for several days until we established that the bank next door was only running its mainframe computer in the mornings. It was putting spikes through the power grid that were causing my malfunctions. As a result I should have been well placed to design and sell an uninterrupted power supply system, but instead got on with pursuing my goal of getting demonstrable ECRs.

While working among the Hugin senior team it turned out that many of us had strange middle names – I am Robert Soulsby Denton of course, then there was Robert Nelson Holmes, Jack Kith Reynolds and Peter Friend Prowse – at least no-one could ever be the one to cast the first stone.

ASIDE: Bob (Robert N) Holmes and I lived in a London hotel all week as we both attempted to move up to town. He was the first to rent a place in Bedfont, Middlesex and for a time I stayed with him, and later him and his wife-to-be, Ali. He and Ali, a Scot, would regularly consume the best part of a bottle of scotch in an evening, and they converted me. My drink of choice has remained scotch, preferably a malt, but today I happily partake of an Irish too.

Bob and I inadvertently attended a whisky aversion therapy session. We had lunch at the Athenaeum Hotel on Piccadilly, London when it was having a malt whisky festival. We decided to participate. We ordered our first from a reasonably long list and as we waited for it, we heard bagpipes start up in the kitchens and a piper in full regalia escorted our drinks to the table. Fine we thought, this would be just for our first, but it wasn’t. Every time we ordered another (and we set out to try them all) out came that caterwauling piper. While it underlined our dislike of the sound of the pipes – it didn’t turn us off whisky!

I, probably none-too-soon to save my liver, found a family home in Surrey.

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