Rob's Ramblings

Friday 26 February 2010

Museum-quality finds!

Ever found something that a museum thinks could be worthy of preservation?

Ever find it in a museum?

This amused me somewhat!

After a heads up from a contributor about a surviving interactive demonstration of Prestel, I made some enquiries with the Science Museum in London. It turns out that yes, they have it, but apparently it "has not been placed on the Science Museum inventory". I read that to mean that it's not an exhibit as such, merely a display item, much like the introductions and signage you see all over the place. And as such, could be removed and destroyed at any time, as a similar item already has been! It might only be luck that it's still there..

I've voiced my concerns, and they are being raised with the appropriate people. In the meantime, I'm hoping for some technical data about it, and maybe a copy of the database. Let's try and preserve this!

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Monday 15 February 2010

Top 5 hit!

I've just discovered I had a hit with a programme I wrote! :)

Back in late 1986 I sold something called "The Beeb Editor" to Micronet for their telesoftware downloads. For my Viewdata site I've been processing the Autumn 1989 edition of LogOn magazine, sent out to all Micronet Members, and just discovered it was number 4 in the top BBC downloads. 3 years later. I obviously missed this first time around.

I've actually still got the contract in my file (in my mum's name, for some reason, but signed by me,) but I have not got a clue what the program actually was any more. I'll have to have a good search through my discs to find a copy and see.. Worse, I don't recall receiving any payments for it, either..

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Tuesday 9 February 2010

Some data located, and CSS, argh!

Not quite the mother-lode, but it seems that at least one former Prestel IP has retained a significant amount of data from their service, plus portions and snapshots from various other bits of Prestel. There is only the relatively minor issue of arranging to get the data off a variety of formats of obsolete media now. More info when I'm in a position to detail it...

A couple more "no information has been kept" responses to the FoI requests...

And I wish I knew more about CSS - I just can't persuade a new part of the website to look like the old part.. sigh...

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Saturday 6 February 2010

Only the echoes remain

As anybody who is reading this knows, I've been putting together a website at to celebrate the heyday of Viewdata in the UK, especially Prestel. Prestel was invented by the GPO back in the 1970s, and launched in 1979, to encourage use of the telephone system, and was basically a dial-up computer network that allowed individual companies to publish information and offer interactive services. Name something you can do on the Internet today, and it's likely someone was doing it on Prestel in the 1980s. All on a teletext-style screen!

Last week, armed with the Prestel Directory, October 1983, I launched myself at What Do They Know? with the intent of eliciting any remaining information from the many public bodies that had had a presence on Prestel.

I only got two pages into the directory, somewhere in the "B"s, and found a dozen people to write to. So I did. It's only been three days, out of the twenty they are allowed, but so far four of them have indicated that they have nothing remaining.

Unfortunately, this seems fairly typical. I've not yet found anybody or any company that still has a copy of their pages, apart from myself. For a publishing effort that would have taken much time, many people, and several thousand pounds of investment, it's amazing that every public body that has so far replied hasn't got a single scrap of paper remaining about what they did at the time. I'm still amazed that there's no trace left anywhere of data and software from Prestel itself.

I learned yesterday too that an archive of the Music Link site from Prestel survived to late 2001, before being ruined while outside the control of the owner.

Sometimes it feels like a whole piece of our history has been snipped out of the timeline. Just like a bad Science Fiction film, where somebody made a mistake, and travelled back in time to correct it, changed the future, but left echoes behind of what should-have-been. All I can find are the echoes and none of the substance..

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