The BackOffice does TechBeach (oo-er)

Andrew Armstrong started making occasional videos for YouTube, and its popularity grew and grew which resulted in a new video EVERY DAY on tech, games and blowing stuff up.

I implore you to check out The Doc’s YouTube Channel RIGHT HERE.  The latest video features a bad soldering job I did on a project which Andrew kindly repaired, explaining the procedure in his own inimitable style.  So if you want to know how to make speakers from Pringles tubes, repair vintage calculators or make microwave egg on toast, better get clicking that link above.

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Apple Event Announced – 9.9.2014

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Apple have, at last, announced their next live event, which will happen on 9 September.  The headline, “wish we could say more”, can’t say anything less!

The event is happening at the Flint Centre in Cupertino, very close to the company headquarters.  Apple are said to be building a very large extension to extend the capacity of the venue.  The Flint Centre, as Macheads will all know, is where Steve Jobs announced the Macintosh way back in 1984.

I’ll be covering the event – not exactly live but pretty damn close – on the 9th.  Join me around 6pm BST for all the action, which is likely to announce the arrival of the iPhone 6 and maybe even an Apple Timepiece.

See you there …

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The big shroud Apple are building around the Flint Centre, Cupertino

Sherlock: Season 1-3 BBC Blu-Ray Limited Numbered Box Set

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Sherlock Limited Edition Blu-Ray Box with Outer Band
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Blu-Ray Box Outer
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Blu-Ray Box Showing Disks and Inner Wallpaper Detail & Sticker
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Limited Numbered Sticker
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Three Blu-Ray Disks in Slimline Cases
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Soft A6 Sherlock Notepad
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Notebook Interior with Sherlock Wallpaper Finish
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Hidden Case Tray
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Facsimile of ‘A Study in Pink’ Script

 

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A Letter from Mrs Hudson

Ray Dolby, 1933-2013

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Ray Dolby, the US engineer who founded Dolby Laboratories and pioneered noise reduction in audio recordings, has died in San Francisco aged 80.

Mr Dolby had suffered from Alzheimer’s disease for several years and was diagnosed with leukaemia this summer.

His name became synonymous with home sound systems and cinema, and his work won many awards.

Kevin Yeaman, president of Dolby Laboratories, described Ray Dolby as a “true visionary”.

Mr Dolby was born in Portland, Oregon, and grew up in the San Francisco area.

He began his career in the Ampex Corporation, helping to develop early videotape recording systems while he was still a student.

He then went on to complete his PhD at Cambridge University in England and in 1965 founded Dolby Laboratories in London.

The company grew to be an industry leader in audio technology, cutting background hiss in tape recordings and later bringing out “surround sound”.

Mr Dolby moved his company to San Francisco in 1976 and in 1989 was awarded an Oscar for his contributions to cinema. He shared the award with Dolby executive Ioan Allen.

He also received a Grammy award in 1995 and Emmy awards in 1989 and 2005.

Mr Dolby’s son, filmmaker and novelist Tom Dolby, said: “Though he was an engineer at heart, my father’s achievements in technology grew out of a love of music and the arts.

“He brought his appreciation of the artistic process to all of his work in film and audio recording.”

Art Vinyl: Show off those 12″ Records!

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I thought this was quite a neat idea.  A flip wall frame for storing your favorite 12″ vinyl.  Not only does it keep your precious release out of the way of kids and dogs and other horrors, it doubles as a natty picture frame.  I doubly like this because of the record sleeve they used as an example: Introspective, of course.

They’re not totally cheap: starting at £39.00, actually.  You can have a better look at other colors and options at the website HERE.

For around £59.00 you can get a combo pack, which includes the frame plus original vinyl.

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Retro Review: Texet 880 Executive Calculator (1977-1978)

They’re like buses.  You don’t see one for ages, then two come along at once.  Hot on the heels of the very lovely Sinclair Enterprise LED calculator comes this much more staid Texet 880 Executive.

Like the Sinclair, it was in production between 1977 and 1978.  It’s a sod to open as the two halves of the case are held together with plastic lugs which easily break (not going to bother ripping mine apart).  I can tell you what’s inside without resorting to violence: single Texas Instruments TMS0972NL CPU.  The red LED display is an eight-digit bubble affair.

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The calculator measures 74.2mm (w) x 135mm (l) x 22.2mm (d).  It weighs 86g without the battery in, which is a 9v PP3 type.  The battery housing has two metal slide clips to access battery power, rather than the more usual press-stud affair as seen on the Sinclair.

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There’s an adaptor hole at the top of the casing, although there’s nothing on the casing to say what input it takes.  4.5v (centre positive) is the general consensus.  Black and silvery-grey casing with thin brushed metallic fascia panel (the protective plastic film is still intact on my model).  The red lens glass is very slightly chamfered toward the top of the panel.  The display angle is completely rubbish, and as with most LED products of the 70s, you pretty-much have to press the thing to your face or hide under a coat in order to read the display!

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The calculator is actually switched on – that’s how rubbish the display angle is!

 

The keyboard is a little odd in that it has three (count ’em) cancel buttons, marked [CE], [C] and [CA].  Don’t panic – the [CS] key is the Clear Sign function, not another cancel!

Texet calculators were manufactured in Hong Kong.  The keypad is fairly stiff and you really have to give the buttons a bit of welly in order to get the numbers to appear.  The display flashes as you enter numbers into the unit.  A lot of 880’s suffered with something called the “pseudo fixed decimal bug” – if you type in ‘1 + 1.00 = ‘ you will get ‘2.00’ on the display.  Very pleased to say mine doesn’t suffer this bug, and displays ‘2.’ as you’d expect.

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No box or case or manuals with this one, but the guy on the boot fair stall did chuck in a new PP3 for me, and the whole lot cost me £3.00.  Fairly pleased with that.

Retro Review: Sinclair Enterprise Programmable Calculator (1977)

I had great fortune recently finding this little gem on the excellent Oxfam Online Shop, which I heartily recommend you check out.  You never know what hidden gem you may discover  from the 165 nationwide stores that are listing, and over 100,000 items in total to choose from.

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I’ve been lucky enough to own a few Sinclair calculators in the past, but this is my first Enterprise.  Released in 1977, the 8-digit LED scientific programmable calculator was based around a single transistor and three National Semiconductor chips, namely the MM57146AEG/N, MM57126N and DS8874N.  Measuring 65mm x 135mm x 23mm and running on a 9v PP3 battery, the Enterprise cost around £25 in 1978.  We know this model was purchased in a Branch of Boots the Chemist on 4 November 1978 (maybe an early Christmas present) … I won’t say where, but let’s just say ‘oop North!’

There was another (non-programmable) Enterprise with a bigger LED array, but other than the lack of programming functions it was fundamentally the same.

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As we know from history, stuff built in the seventies in the UK was generally rubbish (think of ‘Buckaroo’ and British Leyland).  The screws inside the Enterprise look like they’re made of zinc, and somehow (but the mercy of God, probably), they haven’t corroded into a pile of mushy metal.  There was a charming story about the Sinclair Black Watch.  The watch itself was so badly made, that more often than not the casing itself wouldn’t hold together.  The plastic used was unglueable, and it was redesigned in order for the shell halves to be clipped together.  This didn’t work, so Sinclair gave up and subbed the whole thing out to a contractor.  Much later on, Sinclair received a Black Watch in the post with a note from the Contractor saying “We’ve sorted the problem!”  Inside the packaging was a Black Watch with a half-inch bolt through it!

To change the battery, you have to take off the entire front of the calculator!

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I’ve seen another Enterprise elsewhere online with a serial number very close to the one I have, produced a year earlier.  I’m guessing this meant they didn’t manufacture them very quickly, despite the poor quality of the construction.

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Sinclair design was always a favourite of mine, from the Microvision TV to the hifi equipment they briefly made and, of course, the Black Watch and other calculators in the range (we’ll forget the C5, alright?)  The stark black and white casing and keypad, with the sinister red plastic and LED array were just something else.

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There’s a socket on the side for the 9v DC adaptor, which was thankfully included with my purchase.  Boxed too, which was a nice touch.

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The calculator was shipped with the ubiquitous 70s and 80s leatherette pouch!

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This is probably the most complete calculator I’ve ever owned.  The paperwork that accompanied it was astonishing, starting with the original Guarantee slip.  I’ve Photoshopped out most of the address.

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Here’s the READ THIS FIRST! leaflet that also accompanied it.  This little sheet quickly shows you how to program the calculator, with key input commands showing you how to convert centigrade to fahrenheit, and how to calculate mortgage repayments.  To prove just how old this thing is, it calculates an £8,500 mortgage at an interest rate of 11% over 25 years.  (It’s £84 a month if you haven’t already worked it out on your iPhone!)

The Operating Instructions Manual is printed on thin paper but runs to 44 pages.  That’s included too.

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The most interesting part of the collection despite the calculator is the three-volume Program Library.  These edge-screw bound cards help you program everything, from random number generator to intercepts of a line, mortgage repayments to resistors in parallel calculations.  All three volumes are completely intact and a very nice addition.

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Finally, and not something that would have been shipped with the calculator, is a curious little black book entitled Pocket Reference Tables.  The leatherette covered book has ‘For Private Circulation’ printed in gold script on the cover, a gift (reasonably obviously) from the ‘Short Loan & Mortgage Co Ltd’.  It includes pages of calculation charts for Loan Charges, Changes in the Bank Rate since 1929 and Interest Rates.  Some hand-written notes inside the book make me believe the book dates from 1965.  It’s definitely pre-decimal.  It belonged to Mr Charlton, as did the calculator, as his name is thoughtfully printed inside on a red Dymo tape!

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I love this calculator.  It works perfectly.  All the buttons are present and working.  All segments of that cherry red LED are working.  All paperwork, manuals and hardware is in superb condition.  Yeah, tatty boxes and slightly dog-eared manuals but so what?  I’m not a fan of history.  I see a lot of it as irrelevant.  Unless we’re talking tech.