8BS History Part II
If there is one thing I really cannot stand, it's people who don't finish
what they started out to do (concluding parts of articles for example)...
8BS was thriving of the fact that it was "different" from all other PD
libraries for two major reasons - firstly, it was free, and secondly it
provided a platform for members to communicate with either myself or any
other 8BS member who wished to make themselves known. The current
technology employed to achieve this consisted of two boxes of fan fold paper
kindly donated by the TSB, and a rather tired 8-pin dot matrix printer. It
was clear from as far back as issue 5 that something would have to be done
to improve the communications flow. With Bryan gone, I had the following
1. Use Bulletin Boards
2. Continue existing system
3. Text files on existing issue discs
Obviously, number 1 was my favourite as I could just upload the whole 8BS
issue disc to a specified bulletin board and forget it - however, reality
must be faced and the reality was that only 5 members had access to the
necessary communications hardware - not to mention the hidden phone costs of
obtaining a complete issue of 8BS.
Option 2 was out of the question, unless I was going to start charging for
issue discs (which was also out of the question). Option 3 was really the
obvious choice from the start, but I always go through all available options
as some are not as far reaching as they seem.
Option 3 provided difficulties. There is a good 50% more chance of
something being read by an 8BS member if it is printed and wrapped around
the issue disc - you simply cannot miss it. If I put correspondence on
disc, then the user must be encouraged to read it, and b) the user must know
HOW to access it. There were a few members who would not know how to *TYPE
a document to screen, and even less who would know how to invoke screen
paging or send the document to a printer. I could have assumed that all
members had word processors but that would have been foolish for the
reasons already stated above.
In the end it became obvious that an "easy to use" disc magazine utility had
to be developed and included on each issue disc. This presented problems of
disc space. As I remember, we were still on single sided discs at the time.
Before I addressed that problem, the problem of who would co-ordinate the
magazine had to be sorted. An advert went out in the next issue (on paper
of course) and fortunately, one person with the necessary skills responded.
And so a disc magazine was launched, using some sort of teletext PD package
that used a minimum of precious disc space. I was going to issue the disc
magazine presentation software on one issue disc and ask members to retain
this software for all future issues. This seemed like a very good way of
saving future disc space, but the idea was deemed impractical as all new
members to 8BS after the disc magazine issue would have to be sent the
magazine presentation software.
The disc space problem was eventually alleviated by pushing the disc
magazine to side 2 of the disc. I had to compromise the fact that single
sided disc drive users would not have access to the magazine, but they would
still gain access to the PD software. Users wanting the magazine as well
would have to send in two discs per issue. The system worked well to a
degree, but I would have preferred the magazine editor to have had access to
comms. hardware so we could have swapped articles over the phone - instead,
we had to use snail mail, which made any alteration I wanted to make very
slow (as I did not have the ability to change articles sent to me).
However, the magazine looked good and most importantly, it was easy to use
and I shall remain forever grateful to Martin who put a lot of time and
effort into creating and editing the magazine.
A lot of things happened around the time the disc magazine was launched.
8BS went double sided, the 5A pilot version of Systems Server was launched,
the TBI pool was introduced ...
What a stupid name that was - TBI - it was a software pool that had
accumulated that was Too Big for one Issue - hence the acronym TBI. Members
were eagerly submitting software - a lot of it taking up so much disc space
that to include it on a single issue disc would have cut down CHOICE to
almost nothing. Still feeling my wounds from Issue 7, the idea of opening a
mini PD library linked to 8BS developed and the TBI pool was born. The idea
was to maintain and publicise a list of current TBI discs, selecting one
each issue to publicise in the disc magazine. In the end I believe it just
became a PD software pool as I did not have the time to sit down and give a
particular piece of software the reviewing time it deserved - which was a
bit of a shame really as looking back, there is a lot of good stuff there.
About the time the first disc magazine went to press, I had managed to
enlist the help of a few fellow members to help fill up the disc magazine
with a few articles (as opposed to me being the sole contributor). A games
reviewer and technical editor provided some distraction to usual 8BS notices
and messages floating around.
Holidays - and the first time I had 2 weeks holiday with nowhere to go -
this gave me time to really have a go at 8BS and bring it to shine amongst
the 8-bit PD world, so I purchased an A3000 ...
This was probably the first indication in the whole of my time with 8BS that
I was getting a little fed up with the whole thing. The novelty of 8BS was
beginning to wane and I wanted to set myself upon new challenges. The two
weeks holiday I had were more than 70% filled by exploring Acorns new 32-bit
micro. It was useful for copying discs though and speeded up the 8BS
distribution process by a factor of 2.
The thought of opening up 32-bit Software had crossed my mind now I owned
this gleaming new piece of hardware. It was no more than a passing thought
though as I quickly realised that a) Many PD libraries already existed for
the A3000 and b) I did not have any knowledge of how the machine worked or
what it could do. One thing you need before opening any user group is
experience of the subject in question - and lots of it. It would probably
be a good idea in the future when Acorn finally ditched the Arc and moved
over to a RISC based PC (something which I was convinced they would
8BS always used to be known as "8-bit PD". The name fitted until the disc
magazine was under full swing, and by issue 10 a name change was definitely
on the cards ...
It wasn't much of a change as you can see, but the "PD" element had to go as
8BS was anything but a PD library. As it happened, the change was quite
painless - although it took the media about 6 months to adopt the change.
The rumour mill caught me about this time as several phone calls and letters
were being received asking why I had decided to charge for 8BS issue discs.
Fortunately, this rumour was swiftly dealt with by the issue of a rather
controversial charging article.
It was about time I dropped another huge clanger here, and this came
galloping towards me with reckless abandon in the form of digitised
pictures. My memory of this is very sketchy so I hope I will be forgiven if
my recollection of the following events are unclear ...
I received a disc around issue 13 (not sure really) which ... well lets just
say I should have left these pictures alone and forgotten about them.
Instead, I decided to issue them to all members above 18 years of age and
withhold them from all others (about 30% in all). Please do not
mis-understand me, we are NOT talking about any sort of porn here - far from
it in fact. This is where my memory fails me, but I DO know that these
images could have been interpreted in the wrong manner by some
members. Unfortunately (or it is fortunately) I cannot remember exactly
what these images contained.
There were two main responses to this "over 18" decision of mine. Screams
of protest from members believing they had been deprived of a "really
interesting" issue disc (I say "believing they had been deprived" because
they were not, as I explain later). The second response could only be
described as "abject disappointment" at the "lack of quality" of the
pictures on the disc. I seem to remember getting a very long letter from
one member about my "eagerness to over-censor" and that there was no danger
of members "becoming emotionally damaged" by the contents of that issue. I
quickly realised I had sat on a hornets nest and was getting stung - badly.
This was further compounded by my horrific discovery that all images had
gone out to all members irrespective of age. I thought I had prepared two
versions of this issue - it turned out I forgot to delete the necessary
files from version 2.
All I could do was apologise and attempt to play the matter down next issue
- which I seemed to do OK. Anyone thinking of diversifying into this kind
of PD would be well advised not to bother. I hope I remembered the above
two paragraphs correctly - someone ought to put the record straight if I
have not. A quick note for whoever sent me the software entitled "PIGMAN"
about this time - you are very sad anorak and probably very warped.
Issue 12 saw a new look to the disc magazine presentation. Martin had 'O'
levels to do and had to relinquish his role of magazine editor.
Fortunately, he had provided ample notice so I was able to cobble together
an alternative format which enabled users to select an article to be *TYPEd
to the screen or a printer. It wasn't up to the standards of Martin's work,
but it gave users a choice of how they wished to read the magazine.
Membership by now was getting out of control - a cursory examination of the
8BS database saw over 250 entries. These consisted of enquiries, active
members and dormant members. There were around 100 active members, and of
those 100, only 50 or so were sending a disc for each issue, and only 30 of
those were contributing anything at all to the library.
A very good tip when writing articles for any journal - Don't discharge such
a duty whilst you are in a poor frame of mind ...
Issue 15 was probably another good indication (after the A3000) that I was
getting bored with the running of 8BS. All my time was spent creating the
menu systems for the latest issue, filling the disc magazine with other
peoples articles and messages, copying discs and stuffing envelopes. I had
no time to put much of my own work into the library - which is ironic really
as the library wasn't really started for my benefit - Bryan and I started
8BS to provide unsung talent with the opportunity to exhibit their work.
Looking back on the plugging I gave Systems Server, it would seem that I had
abused the 8BS platform a little.
To cut a very long story short, issue 15 went out with a curt (if not
rude) letter explaining (no, telling) users who did not bother contributing
software to the library to sod off. I didn't use those words but the
message was clear. Subsequent responses told me the message had hit home -
and in more places than one. In my desperation to cut the membership down
to those who sent software in, I had alienated the most valuable group
of users in the library - those who USE and COMMENT on the software they
receive, but do not develop software of their own.
Again, apologies had to go out into the next issue, as well as some
personal letters of apologies to certain members whom I had a lot of
respect for and had no wish to lose them as users of 8BS. This kind of
thing was happening all too often, and it became clear to me that the 100%
effort I used to put into 8BS was probably doing well to hit the 50% mark
over the past few months.
A change of job around issue 18 made the inevitable obvious, and 8BS would
have to close. I just could not face my new professional responsibilities
whilst running 8BS "on tickover" as doing this would slowly, but surely see
that 8BS was run into the ground on the back of a diminishing reputation ...
The decision to close 8BS quite easy actually. I had been running the
show for two years - which is good for any amateur user group where
technology is concerned. I felt that I have achieved what I had set out to
do, and now was a good time to move on to something new.
Ironically, the issues leading up to the closure of 8BS (16 to 19 I think)
were some of the best that I had put out in my own opinion. The PD software
was good, and the magazine was growing and growing. Repton competitions
were held which generated a lot of interest. A brilliant archiver submitted
by one member gave me the ability to bypass the cursed 31 file DFS limit
(which was becoming more limiting that disc space).
Closing a user group is harder than you would imagine. If you are rude
enough you could just start ignoring the mail (containing discs & return
postage). The decision to advertise for possible handover was not my idea,
but the idea of my friends 5 year old daughter. She overheard a
conversation between us and just said "why don't you get someone else to do
it for you ?". The following silence was measured in ice-ages ...
The Micro User came up trumps for once and managed to get an article stating
that I had run out of time to run 8BS and was there anyone who would like to
have a go? About 6 commercially interested parties got in touch. All they
wanted to do is gobble 8BS up - not a chance - I'd rather see it close.
A recent member wrote stating that he would like to have a go and was
willing to keep 8BS going in a similar vein. The database was duly dumped
to paper and posted ... and 8BS carried on under the guidance of Daniel.
And so the story of 8BS ends, but what are my feelings now, looking back
more than 4 years ...
I will never regret starting 8BS as the experience of dealing with different
kinds of people is one that still helps me in my professional role today.
8BS taught me a lot about organisation and planning, written and spoken
communication etc. In the early days I thought I could please everyone
... I know now that is an impossible goal. I knew that I would regret
closing 8BS - as it turned out I didn't regret handing over 8BS as much as I
regretted losing contact with a lot friends I had made during the 2 years I
was around. Fortunately, I am still in contact with Chris.
I was frankly surprised (and delighted) to see 8BS prosper under the
guidance of Daniel and Chris, who have found the time (god knows how) to
turn 8BS into the jewel in the BBC Micro's crown. All the glossies have
abandoned 8-bit Acorns for the 32-bit world of RISC - such is the problem
with commercially orientated organisations. I have to admit that I gave 8BS
about 6 issues maximum after issue 19. I am very pleased to admit that I
was very wrong in that respect.
I had the honour of meeting both Daniel & Chris last year at the Acorn Show
in Harrogate. I could not believe the interest that 8BS was attracting - I
have to admit that I went away from the show wishing that I had not given up
8BS as easily as I did. My companions taunted me on the way home, using
words like "sore" and "jealous" which is not true (well, maybe just a
little). However, one thought of the work that must have been put in to get
8BS up to show standard soon cured any jealousy on my part.
I have been controversial in the past, so why not revive the tradition with
a few of my opinions on what I think the future holds. I must point out
that the entire remainder of this article is self opinionated and is not
meant to influence any individuals in any manner ...
I still own two Acorn machines (A3000 and Master Compact), but in reality
they are never used except to view 8BS software. I do have lots more time
on my hands now (which is why I have completed this article), but all my
spare computing time is spent developing applications for PCs.
I used to think, and still think that Acorn have this very snobbish attitude
towards their customers. Acorn computers are very capable machines, they
out perform most machines in their class and are easy to use and program.
However, they are only computers and there are several cheaper models on the
market. In these days, recession and financial hardship is felt by a lot of
families resulting in potential Acorn users ending up with cheaper hardware.
I am still of the opinion that if it wasn't for the Acorn's educational
niche, people now days would think an Acorn is something that drops from an
It was safer then than it is now for Acorn to adopt that approach. Most
companies then used IBM or compatible technology (the word PC was in it's
infancy then). There was little temptation to purchase a IBM for a son or
daughter in readiness for their working life as quality software, both
educational and fun didn't figure.
Now you can buy 486 PC systems cheaper than your average A3010 (including
monitor and hard disc). The huge bonus with a PC is that you can prepare
your children for "technical adulthood" by giving them the
opportunity to glean real working PC knowledge that could be put to
immediate use. I would wager that if you put an Acorn user with no PC
experience in front of a PC - switching on is about as far as they would
get. It takes TIME to train someone to use a PC. TIME is MONEY and there
is not as much MONEY available to TRAIN staff today, besides, training is no
substiture for hands on experience. I feel that PC literacy carries the
same weight as an A level on your CV.
Don't get me wrong, I am not personally sold on the using a PC for pleasure
purposes, but I AM REALISTIC. If I was to purchase a computer for any
son/daughter of mine, then it would have to be a PC. They are inexpensive
compared to Acorn, more powerful, more software (including good games) and
the cherry on the cake is that they could walk into their first job knowing
a lot more about PC technology than the existing employees. Acorn have
recognised this in their RISC PC but, as usual, it is grossly over-priced.
Companies like Acorn and Apple seem to be crossing the technical road to
becoming PC supporters/manufacturers. Presently, they are both about
halfway across - standing on the white line. In other words they are adding
PC compatibility to their existing technology whilst keeping their own
native environment prime. They have three choices - they can continue
to walk along the white line, dodging traffic. They can cross to the other
side and become PC manufacturers, or they can turn back. Either way you
can get run over unless you keep you eyes open - in ALL directions.
Now is the time to duck I suppose. Thanks a lot for taking the time to read
this article. I hope all 8BS members had a super Christmas, and may 8BS and
all its members have a very prosperous 1995 - the show must go on !