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Author Topic: Memories of working at Intelligent Software (Read 7946 times)

Offline BruceTanner

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Memories of working at Intelligent Software
« on: 2013.February.14. 23:40:53 »
I spent my teenage years playing with electronics - taking things apart, building things and, later, designing things and having the designs published in the hobby electronics magazines that were popular at the time in the UK. I built several Sinclair ZX-80 and ZX-81 kits for friends, but could not afford a computer of my own. Eventually my family bought me a Sharp MZ80K and I was able to get into programming properly. Playing games was never really my interest - I found programming them much more interesting, particularly at the assembler level.
 
One thing I got into was computer chess. There was a book around at the time giving a complete source code listing of Sargon chess in Z80 assembler.

I typed the whole lot in, got it working, added graphics, and then spent many hours modifying and improving it.
 
Another project I worked on was the design for a Z80 computer. I thought I had come up with a new idea - stretching the Z80 clock to control it's access to video memory when the video system also needed to access it.
 
These two things came together nicely when I answered a job advert as a video game programmer for a small company called Intelligent Software. I was only 19, had just finished school and had a university place lined up, studying micro electronics and computer science. At the last minute I decided I didn't want to spend the next 3 years learning what I had already taught myself, so I went for the job interview.
 
I travelled to Store Street, London where IS had a small first-floor office above some shops.

8604-0
 
I was interviewed by Robert Madge, IS's technical director. Their interview room was actually a corridor connecting the programmer's room to the coffee machine in the kitchen, so it was quite busy! The first person to come through was Mark Taylor, one of their chess wizards, so we had a long in-depth chat about chess programs. Another person to come through was a visitor called Nick Toop, so we had another long chat this time about Z80 clock stretching! (A special and unique feature of the Nick chip, for the non-technical)  How could I not get the job?!
« Last Edit: 2013.February.15. 00:57:02 by MrPrise »

Offline BruceTanner

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Memories of working at Intelligent Software part 2
« Reply #1 on: 2013.February.14. 23:45:07 »
Nick Toop was a graduate of Cambridge University, and he refused to leave Cambridge, so IS had opened a small office there, and that is where I started. I didn't really know what Nick was working on but I guess it was the early days of the Nick chip! I was actually working on a video game for the Atari game console for the upcoming James Bond film Octopussy. I remember going down to Pinewood Studios where the James Bond films are filmed, and sitting in a little cutting room with bits of film all over the floor. We watched the sequence where 007 is on the roof of a train and the bad guys are trying to catch or shoot him, and this is what the game was based on.

After 6 months I was moved to the offices in Store Street, London and at some point the subject of the Elan came up. Someone called Mike*, who worked at home, had already started the BASIC...but written in C. This was way too slow and large and my job initially was to "hand compile" it. However over time my code deviated more and more from the C version, yet I had to keep up with Mike's weekly additions to the C. Soon the C version was abandoned and I had a free hand, but by then the program structure was in place. This is not a good way to write a BASIC interpreter and is one reason why Enterprise BASIC was not as fast as it could have been. The other reason of course is that it used 14-place BCD arithmetic whereas other BASICs of the time used binary floating point arithmetic which is smaller in memory and faster to compute, but less precise.
 
While Nick was in Cambridge working on the Nick chip, Dave Woodfield, who also worked from home, was designing the Dave chip. He lived, I think, in Wolverhampton and would travel down to London from time to time.

I was not at Store Street all that long before we moved to a new office in Bedford Square, London.



This was only a couple of streets away but much larger and grander. The basement and first floor were all taken up with sw and hw engineering, while Robert Madge, David Levy and Kevin O'Connell had their offices on the second and third floors.

*Edit: Since writing this it has become evident that this was Mike Johnson, a long-standing chess programmer
« Last Edit: 2013.February.15. 19:47:19 by BruceTanner »

Offline BruceTanner

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Re: Memories of working at Intelligent Software
« Reply #2 on: 2013.February.14. 23:48:01 »
Another programmer around at the time was Richard Lang. He too had started with Sargon Chess and heavily modified it (much more than I had done), resulting in Cyrus Chess, which was available on the Enterprise (and others!) Richard later went on to produce the first chess program ever to beat a chess grand master, Garry Kasparov. More information for anyone interested: http://chessprogramming.wikispaces.com/Richard+Lang

Both Mark Taylor and Richard Lang appeared in the YourComputer Jan 1984 photo: Mark is on the bottom row second from the left, and Richard is on the top row, right most.
 
Another interesting chess product IS worked on at the time was a chess computer that could move its own pieces. It used an XY plotter mechanism beneath the board and an electromagnet could "grab" and move the chess pieces which all had a magnet in the base.
 
EDIT: youtube video of it playing and development story!

But all this was an amusing aside for myself and Martin Lea.I already had the core BASIC working using a character I/O on another system, so while Martin worked on EROS (later to be renamed EXOS) I worked on the Enterprise-specific parts of IS-BASIC. Quite a few unplanned enhancements crept in at this stage, such as the multiple program/CHAIN ability and being able to LIST and RENUMBER by procedure name. The original idea was for EROS and BASIC to live in the internal ROM, but clearly this was not going to happen! That is why the Enterprise has its BASIC in a cartridge.

In my spare time - I'm not sure how I found any! - I wrote FORTH, just for my own interest. Once the managers heard about this it became an official product!

At the time I was just doing what I loved, what gave me a"kick" and what often made me go to the office in the morning without bothering with breakfast because I was so keen to start. Now, 30 years older and wiser, I can appreciate much more how lucky I was to have found Intelligent Software and the people who worked there, and how privileged I was to have been so deeply involved at that particular time in computer history: the peak of the home computer boom just before the standardised (IBM) desktop PC took over the world.
 
And I must say everyone at Enterprise Forever is really doing the Enterprise justice. Never in my wildest dreams did I think the Enterprise would still be living 30 years on!
« Last Edit: 2013.February.18. 18:56:41 by BruceTanner »

Offline Zozosoft

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Re: Memories of working at Intelligent Software part 2
« Reply #3 on: 2013.February.15. 00:28:41 »
Quote from: BruceTanner
 The other reason of course is that it used 14-place BCD arithmetic whereas other BASICs of the time used binary floating point arithmetic which is smaller in memory and faster to compute, but less precise.
Yes, probably the Enterprise and the TVC is the only home computers which is can run correctly this program:
10 FOR I=1 TO 10 STEP 0.1
20 PRINT I
30 IF I=1.3 THEN STOP
40 NEXT I

I think not a big problem if my computer can be used for calculating :-)

Offline BruceTanner

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Re: Memories of working at Intelligent Software part 2
« Reply #4 on: 2013.February.15. 00:47:40 »
Quote from: Zozosoft
Yes, probably the Enterprise and the TVC is the only home computers which is can run correctly this program:
10 FOR I=1 TO 10 STEP 0.1
20 PRINT I
30 IF I=1.3 THEN STOP
40 NEXT I

I think not a big problem if my computer can be used for calculating :-)
Yes, good example, it's difficult to argue with that!

Offline MrPrise

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Re: Memories of working at Intelligent Software
« Reply #5 on: 2013.February.15. 01:22:09 »
Bruce, 
Thank you for posting your memories! It is really exciting to know more about the people who helped to create our beloved machine. I'm not man of big words, but I think the day when you joined our little community is a milestone.
After I read your lines about how did you get your job at IS, (I think I can say that on every member's behalf), we are really glad you decided to go to that interview :-) The Enterprise would not be the machine we know and love without your contribution, that is obvious for me.

Offline geco

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Re: Memories of working at Intelligent Software
« Reply #6 on: 2013.February.15. 10:29:30 »
Thank you very much, I enjoyed reading your posts about memories :)
:smt041 :smt041 :smt041 :smt041 :smt041 :smt041 :smt041
:smt023
« Last Edit: 2013.February.15. 23:03:39 by szipucsu »

Offline Zozosoft

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Re: Memories of working at Intelligent Software
« Reply #7 on: 2013.February.17. 19:16:28 »
About when did you start at the IS?
« Last Edit: 2013.February.17. 20:04:50 by szipucsu »

Offline BruceTanner

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Re: Memories of working at Intelligent Software
« Reply #8 on: 2013.February.17. 22:16:46 »
Quote from: Zozosoft
About when did you start at the IS?
:smt017 I think it was probably December 1982. So 6 months later I started working on the Enterprise, 9 months after that was the pre-launch event of the Your Computer photo.

Offline Zozosoft

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Re: Memories of working at Intelligent Software
« Reply #9 on: 2013.February.20. 12:53:12 »
I try to collect the names of the Enterprise "parents":
David Levy: Director
Kevin O'Connell: Director
Robert Madge: Technical Director
Nick Toop: Nick chip
Dave Woodfield: Dave chip
Martin Lea (Mrl): EXOS and low-level and File System (FISH) parts of EXDOS
Bruce Tanner (BT): IS-BASIC, IS-FORTH, large parts of EXDOS and IS-DOS, TVC BASIC, VT-DOS
Nick Vincent (NMV): :?:
Gary :?: (GNH): graphics routines
:?: :?: (CGE): :?:
:?: :?: (AEL): :?:
Mark Richer: IS-LISP
Rob Stubbs: hw engineer
Richard Lang: Cyrus Chess
Mike Johnson: early version of the BASIC written in C
Geoff Hollington, Nick Oakley, Beverley Hobson: case design

This is good so far? Can you add some more pieces?
« Last Edit: 2013.February.25. 19:50:49 by szipucsu »

Offline BruceTanner

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Re: Memories of working at Intelligent Software
« Reply #10 on: 2013.February.20. 15:45:20 »
Quote from: Zozosoft
This is good so far? Can you add some more pieces?
Yes a very good list - don't think I can add much. I can't remember what Nick Vincent did but his initials are on SET STATUS 42 so he must have contributed something in the ROM! He wasn't there from the start like Martin Lea and myself - he came along later in the development. The same goes for CGE who I have just remembered was a Canadian called Charles, but again I cannot put a middle or last name to the initial.

I remember David Legg in the photo working on rotatable 3d view of a chess board (a first in those days). But that was on a PC - I don't know if he had any  input into Cyrus chess on the Enterprise.

Martin Lea may have written some low level parts of the TVC - maybe adapted EXOS and the diskio parts of EXDOS but I can't actually remember - sorry!
« Last Edit: 2013.February.25. 19:49:19 by szipucsu, Reason: Long quotation from the previous post is not necessary. »

Offline Zozosoft

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Re: Memories of working at Intelligent Software
« Reply #11 on: 2013.February.20. 20:31:17 »
Quote from: BruceTanner
Martin Lea may have written some low level parts of the TVC - maybe adapted EXOS and the diskio parts of EXDOS
I also think so. The TVC OS (MOPS) looks like a cut EXOS. DISKIO and FISH are almost totally the same. (DOS commands too)
« Last Edit: 2013.February.25. 19:52:13 by szipucsu »

Offline Zozosoft

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Re: Memories of working at Intelligent Software
« Reply #12 on: 2013.February.27. 12:47:48 »
Quote from: BruceTanner
I worked on the Enterprise-specific parts of IS-BASIC. Quite a few unplanned enhancements crept in at this stage, such as the multiple program/CHAIN ability
The multiple BASIC programs, with the EDIT n command, and the program list in the INFO: do they come from the FORTH?
(The new CHAIN instruction needed because the BASIC works differently than the FORTH.)
« Last Edit: 2013.February.27. 19:19:39 by szipucsu »

Offline BruceTanner

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Re: Memories of working at Intelligent Software
« Reply #13 on: 2013.February.27. 12:58:38 »
I think it was the other way round. BASIC was mostly done but it soon became clear that it needed to be able to use all the memory, or there wouldn't be much point in buying a 128 instead of a 64. So that's when I came up with multiple programs, CHAIN etc - it was one of the last features added.

Offline Zozosoft

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Re: Memories of working at Intelligent Software
« Reply #14 on: 2013.February.27. 13:24:19 »
Quote from: BruceTanner
BASIC was mostly done but it soon became clear that it needed to be able to use all the memory, or there wouldn't be much point in buying a 128 instead of a 64.
It's ok. But I think these things (EDIT command, Editor displays number in the Status Line, INFO list program sizes and first line of each program) are ready in the FORTH before the multiple BASIC programs idea come. Because in the FORTH these are natural parts of the language.
When the multiple programs decided, then you started thinking how to do it?
It is very logical if you used "1 EDIT" in the FORTH then put "EDIT 1" to BASIC. And also the other things (status line number, INFO list).