Micro Live – Captain Scarlet – tape 129

Yes, it’s back to BASIC again. I apologise to those bored by my marathon run through the BBC’s computer literacy project, but it’s my collection, good or bad, and this is how the tapes have fallen.

In the first episode of Micro Live on this tape, Lesley looks at the Game Killer – an add on that interferes with the sprite collision detection of games, and therefore makes them easier to win. There were lots of these kinds of devices – an earlier episode had one that slowed the games down for you.

Next, Freff meets eccentric future brain-in-a-jar Ray “Singularity” Kurzweil. A man so brilliant that synth pioneer Bob Moog was working for him.

Bob Moog

His innovations here include a reading machine for the blind, an OCR system, and the Kurzweil computer musical instrument, a very advanced synthesizer/sampler.But his biggest project is an attempt to build a speech recognition, and unlike most of the reports in this programme, his predictions of having true working speech recognition as the norm in ten years time was hugely optimistic. Only in the last few years has speech recognition started to reach the mainstream, with things like Kinect, Siri and Windows 10’s Cortana.

Next, Fred looks at the new Sinclair 128K Spectrum, and talks to Alison Maguire from Sinclair Research.

Alison Maguire

Mac looks at AMX Pagemaker on the BBC Micro. Look at that quality.

AMX Pagemaker output

It’s nice to see that Wordwise is one of the supported word processors it can import text from.

Mac’s very honest about his efforts to draw a Spectrum 128. “Well it doesn’t look good to me, it’s rather pathetic.”

Hey look, it’s a Watford Electronics digitiser. I bought my first floppy disc drive from Watford Electronics, back when they were based in a surprisingly small terraced house in Watford.

Watford Electronics Digitiser

“Now seriously, we must say at this moment, if you’re going to publish pictures taken off the television, you do need copyright clearance from the broadcasting company.”


BBC Genome: BBC Two – 28th February 1986 – 19:00

The next episode starts with a look back at how technology has changed work, and Shirley Williams is interviewed about the impact of technology on jobs.

Shirley Williams

In trying to explain why computers hadn’t yet taken over in the office, Fred takes a stroll down Incompatibility Lane.

Incompatibility Lane

Next, Mac Talks to Bob Latin, Chief Research Fellow of STC, about his prototype office of tomorrow.

Bob Latin

This is possibly one of my favourite demos of the whole series. It’s like he’s bought a Fisher Price my first office, and he thinks it’s all real. “I notice there’s no cord on your telephone.” “No, it’s all cordless. Infra Red.”

However, let’s not scoff too much, as he’s got some things right. His big flat screen, with a touch overlay, is the Windows 10 touch laptops, or the iPad pro.

But, like Ray Kurzweil, his belief in speech recognition being commonplace in the mid 90s was optimistic. As was his proto-Skype.

“By the mid 1990s, you can expect to have the mainframe of today squeezed into a keyboard this size.” Not quite, but it’s more true today. a modern smartphone today has more processing power than the Cray One supercomputer.

I love this demo just for Bob’s absolute confidence that it will happen.

Fred looks at technology changes affecting banking in Italy, and Edward Feigenbaum talks about expert systems, specifically in juggling discount air fares on US flights.

Edward Feigenbaum

Fred clearly had fun doing the teleconference.

Three Freds

BBC Genome: BBC Two – 7th March 1986 – 19:00

In the next episode, there was a report from the Atari Computer Show. One of the displays compared the Atari ST with the Apple Mac and the Amiga – but they even managed to misspell ‘Macintosh’. Lesley even suggests that in their bouncing ball demo running on all the machines, they might have artificially slowed down the Amiga…

Compare if you dare

Fred takes a look at the new Atari ST models, and is particularly take with the adventure game The Pawn.

Lesley visits the training centre for RAF air traffic controllers, to see how micros are being used to supplement the training given to new controllers.

Fred and Lesley look at different programming languages. Fred even looks at Forth again – I didn’t know that Forth was used to program the motion control cameras at Industrial Light and Magic, for Star Wars.

Then there’s a report on whether a home computer is a useful addition to teaching music in schools.

The teacher running the project is the perfectly named Claire Tester.

Claire Tester

I love the fact that the program isn’t afraid to be snarky about the technology. “When it comes to printing the notes it scores badly. Here it’s making heavy weather of just producing one line of a stave.” I swear they only included that line for the pun on ‘scores’.

Lesley wraps up the programme.

BBC Genome: BBC Two – 14th March 1986 – 19:00

Next, in the final programme of the current series, the programme looks at the RAF Nimrod Mark 2, the early warning aircraft that, at the time, was undergoing a new Mark 3 design that was plagued with problems. The programme looks at the Mark 2 version – I wonder if the RAF offered access for the programme as a bit of positive publicity?


Lesley looks at a new flight simulator game which allows two computers to link up and play together.

FLight Simulator

John Coll joins Fred to talk about BASIC benchmarks, and they run the same benchmark on four different home micros.

Then Freff looks at a parallel computing system, the non-von 1, as it’s a non Von Neumann machine.

Then Mac talks to Phil Atkin about the Inmos Transputer.

Phil Atkin

BBC Genome: BBC Two – 21st March 1986 – 19:00

Afterthis, recording switches to ITV for the end of a kids TV show, with Roger Daltrey singing a song.

Then, an episode of Captain Scarlet. In Avalanche, an avalanche protection base is attacked by the Mysterons. Everyone is dead, but there’s nothing toxic in the atmosphere of the air-tight base, and radiation is negative. However, when Lieutenant Green tries to take off his respirator he can’t breath. The Mysterons have removed all the oxygen from the atmosphere.

Interesting credit spot – this episode was written by actor and veteran Anderson voice artist Shane Rimmer.

Next, there’s a show called Secret Valley, from Australia. I don’t remember it, there’s a certain charm in a programme that groups its actors into ‘The Goodies’ and ‘The Baddies’.

After this, the start of an ITN news bulletin. Then the tape ends.


  • trail: Robin of Sherwood
  • Splasharound
  • trail: The A-Team – featuring Andrew Robinson, who we saw yesterday in Dirty Harry.
  • Andrew Robinson in The A Team
  • Krona
  • Electricity
  • Weetabix
  • Splasharound
  • Frosties
  • BP
  • Powertron
  • Creme Eggs
  • Heinz Invaders
  • British Telecom
  • Weetabix
  • Fosters
  • Splasharound
  • trail: Child’s Play

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