Our Friend the Computer

Australia's Microbee Computer (Edu-Computers)

February 07, 2023 Our Friend the Computer Season 1 Episode 16
Our Friend the Computer
Australia's Microbee Computer (Edu-Computers)
Show Notes Transcript

After the girls discuss recent tech-art exhibitions they've seen in New York and London, Camila introduces Ana to some stories about the history of computer eduction in Australian schools. This months episode is a two-for-one! Firstly, we learn about a government plan to develop an especially Australian computer for use in schools with options for networking and for portable 'laptop-style' use. Then we hear about the rise and fall of the 'Microbee' computer—Australia's first home-grown personal computer. This computer, which was designed and manufactured in Australia, controlled a large portion of the primary school computer market not just in Australia but also Scandinavia and Russia, winning contracts over Apple!

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Main research for the episode was done by Camila. Ana audio edited.
Music by Nelson Guay (SoundCloud: fluxlinkages)
OFtC is a sister project of the Media Archaeology Lab at the University of Colorado at Boulder.  

- Jones, Gemma. “BYTE CLUB - First computer museum for Gosford.” The Daily Telegraph, Jul 30, 2003
- Laing, Gordon. “Microbee.” Personal Computer World, October 2005.
- Laing, Gordon. “Secret of Project Granny Smith.” The Sydney Morning Herald, July 12, 2005.
- “MicroBee - A conversation with Owen Hill.” Youtube, uploaded by State of Electronics, Feb 9, 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aYNRcn9gg5A
- “Microbee - The Australian Educational Computer of the 80s.” Youtube, uploaded by The Centre for Computing History, Oct 26, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Mp52Gb3aDs
- Tatnall, Arthur and Leonard, Ralph. “Purpose-Built Educational Computers in the 1980s: The Australian Experience.” IFIP WG 9.7 International Conference on History of Computing (HC) / Held as Part of World Computer Congress (WCC), Sep 2010, Brisbane, Australia. pp.101-111
- Tatnall, Arthur. “The Australian Educational Computer That Never Was.” IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, Volume 35, Number 1, January–March 2013, pp. 35-47
- Tatnall, Arthur. “The Beginnings of Government Support for Computers in Schools – The State Computer Education Centre of Victoria in the 1980s.” 12th IFIP International Conference on Human Choice and Computers (HCC), Sep 2016, Salford, United Kingdom. pp.291-302

Welcome to our friend, the computer. We explore niche computer history is focusing on society and politics and alternative narratives to the popular story about the evolution of computers and the World Wide Web. And we are now a sister project of the Media Archeology Lab at the University of Colorado at Boulder. So that's very exciting. And if you haven't already, we would love for you to subscribe to us wherever you are listening right now. And the dream is that you would leave us five stars and a review. We would love that. Our favorite review says, If I were a computer, I would be proud. And it's from Computer Gherkin. And so thank you, computer Gherkin and lots of love to computer Gherkin. And we are proud of you, regardless of our Gherkin status. Hi Ana. Hey, Camila. How are you? I'm good. How are you? What have you been up to? I'm good. What have I been up to? Mostly just work and. But I went to a fun event a week ago, and it was actually the exhibition that I mentioned in our last episode for a time on that called Another World at the ICA. It was a closing event. I was like, there was like I wasn't well, I was invited to the the whole day, so it was like a tour and a buffet lunch and then like another tour and the talk and drinks reception afterwards. But I only managed to make it to the talk, which was really interesting. There was quite a lot of crypto talk. Yeah, Drinks were great. I saw my old tutor there, my old design tutor who was quite it was funny. He was there with his like dungarees and long hair and being very cynical about the whole crypto. It was the talk pro crypto? Yeah. So there was someone on the panel that was like a representative of some kind of blockchain technology and they were talking about like how blockchain and web3 could potentially help the idea because, you know, like we said, a lot of the Tamil websites were taken down by the government. With like a blockchain based web that wouldn't happen because no one would be able to take anything down, especially governments or platforms. So yeah, they just kind of talked about the potential of that. And I don't know, there's a lot of thoughts around it. There's a lot of like a lot of opinions about it when we don't actually know like anything about how it's going to carry out or like how it's going to play out. It's going to be like, you know, at least a couple of decades until this stuff will actually be in use. And I think we're going through this kind of hype stage. The first kind of hype stage, I think there's probably going to be like two or three more hype stages that will go through before it's actually carried out. And I'm sure it will carry out. I'm sure it will become a reality at some point. But yeah, it's just it's just a lot of a lot of cap, no action, you know. But but yeah, it was fun. It was really fun. Yeah. What have you been up to driving up to? Uh. I was riding during the day. It took me a minute. Um, I went to. There's an exhibition at MoMA that I went to, but I want to talk about it more next week because I think it's probably relevant more to that episode. But it was so I. I got it. i-D NYC, which is like a state ID card. That's not it's not a it's not a driver's license. It's like a specific state object. But and I felt very proud of myself of doing it. It was like I, you know, now I officially live here and it gives you like free one year memberships to a bunch of museums. And I had some time to kill last week or the week before I came about, and I thought, I'll go to MoMA. And I got so I got a free membership and I was really excited and I was looking around and I found this exhibition that was in sort of like the foyer area is a sort of a project space vibe and I actually think it might have been free. I was so excited. I was like, Oh, I can't do this. Membership. But they didn't check my membership card when I walked in and it wasn't past the ticket entrance. It was like a video game history exhibition. Cool. So it had a MoMA. Yeah. And it was pulled from also pulled from the collection, which was cool. So it was some like video games projected that were just playing some stuff you could play and then some objects too. So they had some, oh, computers and like the first iPod. And could you play on them now. Oh see that's that is, you know, museums that the thing it's like I was going to ask you like are the computer museums better than like art museums that show computers and computer games? And I think in some ways that is because probably the displays are have better quality, I think. But they're not as interactive, tend to the ones that we've been to for me tend to focus a lot more on like live engagement. Yeah, engagement and trying to get people to understand that side of like historical objects and even that idea of like conservation of these things isn't just about the object, but it's about the way they were used, right? Like, what's the point of conservation if they're not being experienced? So and my experience here and also at the um is a called the Science Museum in London that I went to you, uh, it's more like the objects of behind glass and that's the ones that are in this exhibition. A few of them were on like stuff was happening on the screen. I'm not sure if they were actually on or if they were like a projection inside the screen because they weren't being they were like moving around, but they weren't being moved. Yeah, but yeah, I don't know. It's different. They did have a, um, a book that I guess was in their collection of designs for like emojis and things like on graph and you could I made a real on out Instagram if you want to look, but it was a, it was all sketchy and it was a and, and so you could like swipe the pages digitally. Mm hmm. Which that's. Oh, yeah. I mean, if I can't touch it. Yeah. The physical thing like I would rather be, you know, be able to swipe through on a, on a screen. Yeah, it was good. I'd recommend checking it out, but I'll go into some more detail next episode. But yeah, I did that. That was fun. Yeah. And the thing that I was doing that I need to fill in time was I went to see The Music Man on Broadway and I rushed it. So you have to, like, line up at six in the morning in the cold and to get tickets. And so we got tickets and then had to fill in and we went to Applebee's, which was actually really good. I've never been. And then what you, um. I got pancakes and a side of, like, breakfast potatoes and and endless bottomless tea, which is cool because it's like a breakfast place, right? It's like an American diner. Yeah. Yeah. Oh, right. And at breakfast time. So. Yeah. And then I had a couple of hours to fill, so I went over to my mom, and the music was really good. One fellow Australian is one of his last performances. Wow. And Foster, who I is. I remember her because I really liked a musical musical called Thoroughly Modern Millie when I was younger because my nickname in high school was Millie. Oh, was it? She was also in that show Bunheads, which I enjoyed just And it was made by the lady that did Gilmore Girls. So it's that Oh, I think I have actually, I now should have. I like it. Yeah. A studio. Yes. Yeah. In a small town it's and then she was in that one with younger with Hilary Duff. Anyway that's what I've been doing. Oh sounds fun. I like your commitment of staying out to buy tickets at 6 a.m.. It destroyed me the next day, but then we bought tickets for like $600 if I hadn't done it. And I probably want to get some for I missed out on the rush tickets. The rush tickets are like 50, but I got mine for 100. I mean, we missed out. We missed out by like two people in the line for the rush tickets. But it did mean that there were three of us that we could sit together, which was good in the seats. Good. But the reason I wanted to go more so was that it has its about pool in a roundabout way, and I don't know if everyone knows I play pool and because it's like pool is bad and it's going to like it's the devil's boat and it's it's going to destroy you children going to hang out in the pool room. So that's bad. And so we have to get them to join a band and that's how it will like a marching band and that's how we'll save them. So that's kind of there's a that's a while. So I really want to add one point. They bring out like a pool table that they're in because the town's getting a pool that they're installing. And I was like, Oh, a pool table. And then it just never, never shows. I was glad I ever knew that there was like a stigma attached to, Oh, yeah, I mean, that's a whole I should see that. I should see the musical then to, to find out when it comes to the West End, you can see, but I'm not going to pay $600 for that. But speaking of fellow Australians, this is my episode today. I did the research today and we kind of have like a two for one this episode and it is Australian based. I thought it's about time I do a story from my home country, Australia. So I was looking into the BBC Microcomputer Literacy Project after we did the Doomsday episode and I still want to do an episode about the BBC Literacy Project, but I, as I was researching, I started to find other stories of government led educational computer projects from around the world, from around that time, like the early eighties. So I'm going to do a little series of them. And rather than delving into the like, big baddie, BBC literacy project, I thought Australia let's let's yeah, now I say this is a two for one because what I found was the story of the birth and death of a home grown microcomputer in Australia, but also a government initiative to develop a school specific education computer. And this never came to pass. It only reached the development stage. But much like what we saw in earlier episodes, particularly the Japanese Captain Video Tech's network episode where the government had been creating these research groups and publishing papers with this overall goal of infirmities Infirmities very much to informatization, I think the country that the development itself and the drive to understand what computers in schools would mean for the future at that time. It's really interesting, especially in the light of today. Yeah, I'm I'm surprised we hadn't covered literacy projects more, especially since we've covered so many government tech initiatives, like you said, and and we specifically looked at that like process between economic financialization coming out of like this industrialization period, you know, early seventies and eighties. And there was always like an upper hand from the government to transform and in format to size information for matters that the population at that time and and part of that will require computer literacy for adults but also children who will obviously grow to work in that very economy that was being established. So, yeah, I'm excited to dig into this more. I'm going to latch on to some of the edgy, edgy computer episodes and get like my my next episode will be also about a children's educational computer project. So yeah, really looking forward to hearing about this. Yeah, I'm excited about the next episode. We've been talking about that one for a while. Um, but yeah, I think that was this like moment in time in this like early eighties, late seventies, early eighties where there was space for governments to delve into this area and to start like forming something of like a future plan and then eventually like mid to late eighties after the 85 crash, it, it really shifted to being more about these like larger corporations. But there was this yeah, there's kind of like ten year period where, where it felt like it was I guess it was we weren't sure who was going to control what computers looked like for us in the future, and the governments were like us and making these plans and it didn't really work out that way even. Yeah. So let's begin with that. With this computer that was the hopeful computer, the dream of a computer in Australia. And then part two will look at an Australian computer called the Micro B, and I will say that a lot of the information in this first section comes from research. I called Arthur Tuttle and he wrote specifically to papers The Australian educational Computer that never was, and a history of early Australian design computers. So we've been doing a lot of episodes focusing on this early computer era, late seventies, early eighties. And I think some of the things that we've learned the key to remember here is firstly that division between computer markets, the business computer market and the home computer market, and that these were seen as quite separate during this time. The business market, which particularly IBM was very focused on, had a higher price point and a lot of software development. And this software was often marketed as replacing preexisting mechanisms within the office and often that was done manually by my secretaries. So word processing, data entry, that sort of thing. On the other hand, there were a lot of smaller players coming into the home computer market and like we saw in the Calico Adam episode, many of these were actually video game companies and it took a much longer time for the industry to work out where the computer fit within the household and who it was for. We see it in in so much advertising from this era. Like was it for the father to have in his man cave and play games? Was it for the kids, usually the son to do homework or for the mother to keep recipes and make menus? There wasn't really much software being made specifically for home computers, so it was quite a different market. Now, sitting somewhere in between these two was the education computer market. So computers that would go into schools, particularly in primary school in Australia, that's prep to grade six. I don't know what that is in other countries. Grade six, what, what H what? I think that's like age five through 12. Yeah. That's like elementary. Elementary school. Yeah. So in primary schools, these computers were coming mostly from the home computer market because they were cheaper and, and easier to use, but they also had the same issues where it wasn't quite laid out yet, what sort of software was needed or how they would be used. Yeah. And I guess they also they probably lacked funding the most out of all of three markets. Education obviously is just like lacks funding compared to business market. Yeah. And I think as we'll see later, that the funding can be kind of volatile because it's it's often coming from the government and government governments change and they have different priorities at different points in the elect electoral cycle and things. So, so early on computers are mostly used in schools to learn computer programing and to play games, and there were specific educational games around and later that would turn into the edutainment computer game industry. And I would say led by my favorite Carmen Sandiego, I think you go, Yes, I'm sure listeners have heard me talk of her before. I have a pro Carmen San Diego specific project that I, I can I finished but might be coming back soon. So I love her. I also love Carmen San Diego through through you edutainment. What it it's it's word yeah I think that was specifically in that era like nineties era broadband the company that may come in San Diego did a lot of these games. Yeah often computers in schools in these early days were championed by specific teachers with the niche interest of computing. Often this was picked up during that university study because that's where most computers were being used in the early days, and it wasn't really part of the official school curriculum. It was just these teachers being like, Hey, I think this is cool and important. The other thing was that there were a lot of a lot of companies pushing microcomputers to schools, and this made it very confusing. There were so many different models and software packages that even if the government wanted to, it was exceedingly hard to integrate computing into the school curriculum and had to provide hardware and software support to these usually incompatible microcomputers. Because of this, by around the mid eighties, many countries were looking at the idea of developing their own microcomputer specifically for use in their schools. Many of these were Commonwealth countries, so the UK and New Zealand. The story here in Australia and Canada and outside the Commonwealth, Sweden had a program as well. So Australia has the Federal Government and then eight main states and territories. Underneath that those states and territories controlled their own education plans and curriculum. At this point each state had their own preferred provider lists for hardware and software, which usually included Eikon, BBC Computers, Commodore Apple TOS or Micro B computers, which we'll talk about later in this episode, and also provided some sort of support. Center office sometimes states also work together. My favorite of these just because it's funny when the states of Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia who had a computer education project together called Tozawa, so which are the codes of the states linked together. So ties to for Tasmania and then sharing the SSA for South Australia and WA for Western Australia. Tozawa So it's like a celebrity therapy. Yeah, yeah, yeah. They've, they've been shipped by ship so, so was like fanfiction and everything. But in 1983 the Australian Federal Government set up the National Advisory Committee on Computers in Schools and they would plan a national computer education program when completed. This would give those states advice on things like curriculum, hardware, software and support. But through this process, the National Advisory Committee also began developing a new computer specifically for Australian schools called the Australian Educational Computer, or the AEC, which to me AEC stands for Australian Electoral Commission because I love elections and I usually work the election and the AEC is an important acronym. Acronym, Yeah. So this would be great for students because they would have specific software for the Australian curriculum and it's good for the Australian business businesses and the electronics industry which would be tasked with creating all of this. See, this is a paragraph that I enjoyed from Atherton in the Australian Education Computer that never was, which lays out the cultural differences which made it important to develop Australian specific software. So there was already some being developed for preexisting computers, specifically the microwave. So the quote goes clearly good educational software was needed and would need to be developed. Although computers like the Apple two and Commodore had a significant amount of software that could be considered for use in schools, the available software often referenced American culture and terminology. For example, the Apple two simulation game Lemonade was based on making and selling lemonade from a street stall, although this had some merit in terms of teaching students about mathematics. And one aspect of doing business, lemonade stands for almost unknown in Australia. Also, Americans might root for a sporting team, but this word has quite another meaning in Australia, where we use the word barrack instead. I like that he doesn't say what that word makes. Yeah, it's a it's a it's a naughty word. Another slightly later example is the trash can on the Apple Macintosh in Australia. We put our waste in a rubbish bin. I really like this because I've been working on a, a project that looks at trash cans or rubbish bins and I started the project in Australia and I'm now continuing it in the U.S. and it's been a real like mind shift to have to change the terminology, it felt. So we had access to say, Yeah, trash, trash can. I think operating systems now convert like that language to where you're from, right? I mean, obviously you can have language, you can specify your language when you start up your computer. But but like when I go into my mind says trying minds has been to write to Americans, two Americans, one say, Canada, slash, maybe. I don't know. Can we find out? So yes, no. And the kind I never realized I was. I just realized, Oh, yeah, I'm just staring at it now. You know what? I saw an exhibition. I'm trying to remember what it was. I saw an exhibition last week. All it was was a projection of the trash, the apple trash can on the wall. It was really great. It was by seal floor. It's called trash. And it's. Yeah, it's just like the trash can. Quite large sort of should be called bin I know. Projected on the on the wall but like near the floor so so far for his practice addresses notions of the uncanny, the humorous and the absurd through deceptively simple means yet to deeply nuanced effects. So it's called trash, right? Trash is the silent projection of a still image of a trash bin adopted from the OSX operating system for Mac. So I'm guessing that I'm guessing it means that says trash. Wow. Yeah. Okay. Jimmy, that okay? I might as well. So so so they created and in 1985 another offshoot a working group called the education technical requirement working pot that Arthur Tackle was a part of. So that's why he knows so much. And they dreamed and planned and developed a new computer. One of the more interesting and I would say important points that that techno lays out is the desire for it to have multiple forms of use. And I think this is really where it shows what was being dreamed of for the future of of classrooms and education as we were just wanting to reckon with the possibilities of an integration of schools and computers. Yeah, that's really good. I when you were reciting that article, I was getting kind of worried and a bit frustrated by the possibility of them just scrapping the idea of the edu computer. I'm just going to use education for a portmanteau for everything now. Yeah. And that just, just because of a few kind of semantic problems that they would just scrap it. But I'm glad that they instead tried to just see it as like a disadvantage rather than a problem and kind of build something on top of that or something that would replace the original machine. So they didn't just kind of, yeah, scrap the whole concept because it was too American. I think that's that's really good. But the other thing I was going to say is that I also really like this idea of engineering specifically like engineering specific objects for learning, because I'm sure that the engineers for Arthur Capital and his team had to figure out ways of building these things and finding issues with the original and kind of like reverse engineering, the learning about the learning processes in schools and then out of that kind of make something to support the development of learning even further. So it's kind of like you're learning yourself for the sake of improving learning and a cycle that's just really quite profound. And it must be very fulfilling to to be able to do that. I think it's very cool and I think that the the process is this sort of understanding of the specifics of Australian learning in Australian schools. And you know, they had had computers in schools for quite a while by this point, but they, you know, the McRobbie was Australian specific. But if we're looking at like the Apple two and things, you know, they could see with, with like lemonade the trashcan thing, what, what wasn't working. I think like they need they probably needed to have experienced something that wasn't quite right for them before they could develop something that was very specific for them. Yeah, Yeah. I mean yeah. So the three uses outlined by the report were personal, what they called a portable battery powered computer. Basically a laptop. But because of the cost of LCD screens, they also considered a transportable version, which in my head a portable versus transportable just tells. I took me a while to work out what the difference is, but I think that the transportable version is just a computer that would connect to a regular CRT screen right? When you went into like an office or a classroom and the the portable has the screen within it. Yeah, but that's the main thing that they thought of. Yeah. Remote learning already by Kenya. If only they knew. If only they knew what 2021 would bring. And then the second is classroom, which is the version of the computer with the CRT screen that would be in the classroom for everyone to use. And then third was school wide. This would be a network which could share data, could be sectioned off into different classroom groups and would include printers. So basically sort of what a school would have would have now, like a network of computers with printers and to me this is exciting, but it also like feels like the same on one. On the one hand, dreams and goals and the other rhetoric which we've been hearing about computers in schools ever since I was thinking about when I was entering high school. So year seven, we had we had laptops, we had to have laptops. I remember that it was like a big expense, but it was laptops with with floppy drives. So I remember sharing around DOS games on, on floppy disks. Like I can just manage to queue like Well I could dangerous Millie with her flash. Yeah. Yeah it's exact. Yeah. And you know we would save things to floppy and, and stuff but yeah man I love dangerous Dave That was my job that I, Yeah, I think like by the time I was leaving school so six years later they'd started putting in these smart whiteboards. I remember the hype around it. They were really expensive that this was going to change the way students learn, blah, blah, blah. It, it really I think it just amounted to being able to print what you drew on the board and be like project and save it or something. I don't know. People didn't really use them in the smart capacity and I feel like they just broke all the time. And to be honest, they scared me. Yeah, I mean, they're still around like and the latency on those things was so bad and still is not great. But yeah, I mean, I'm, I, I work in online education and a lot of technologically advanced universities now have these, like smart boards that are connected to remote learning. So like you have a camera attached to your whiteboard that records the teacher in the classroom and it feeds in live whiteboard activity to your connected devices around the world. So like, for example, if you tap into teams, then you can see what is being drawn live on the whiteboard, like on your screen, on your computer, I guess physical or a physical whiteboard in a room. Yeah. So the smart whiteboards are connected to teams so that like any other musical whiteboard in the room, someone's like manually drawing on. And then a version of that goes into teams on the computer. Yeah, yeah, like stuff like that. But it's just the latency is bad and it's not really there's just constant alterations around education and tech and some of the stuff that comes out is quite faddish when really just the best way to teach and learn is in person. And I mean, of course I'm, I'm all for trying to make engagement better because learning is great and, and it's good for accessibility as well. Yeah. Yeah. Of course from the fact that like anyone around the world can get a degree from X, Y and Z, but yeah, I mean, I think just like what's great about screens is anonymity. And when there's projects that try and go against that, it's just, it just seems weird to me, like, why are we trade? Why are we trying to take that away from its inherent appeal? Because I think there's still ways of learning as like an explorer as like a, you know, anonymous being on the Internet and like lurking and stuff like that. Like why does it have to be so hyper connected? And we're being asked to, like, open our video cameras when we go on meetings all the time. Like, why is that such a thing? I mean, I guess we all know why, but it's just a bit weird to me. It's also the thing that came up here for me is that you said it's very faddish and it must be hard, I guess, with schools or corporations or big businesses or whatever to they have to commit to something. Yeah. To a for technology. And they always want to be ahead, particularly schools want to be like ahead of the curve a little bit. Yeah. So they have to kind of hedge their bets on like what are they going to add? Are they going to buy like 200 smart wires? Right. And there's like no one, obviously. Yeah. And there's no one that's like been hired to to do that research. Like, you basically just get principals and then teachers and then the teachers will probably come to the principal and be like, Hey, like we might need this type of thing in our lab. That would be good, but you don't really have anyone there That's like trying to optimize learning in general. Yeah, I mean, I guess that's what like she's like government agencies, right? Tasked with working the best thing, But that's such a slow process. Yeah. Yeah. So. Oh, my God. Just imagine the bureaucracy involved in that. So speaking of. Yeah, I'm like, I'm like some of the other countries we mentioned earlier, this project did die in the development stage at the National Computer Education Project, had had three years of funding, but then it just wasn't renewed, not because of any big thing or scandal, but probably just because of like budget cuts or electoral priorities of the government. And I think it could have been something quite exciting that sort of push to have a personal portable version particularly is is very interesting. But as Tatton points out, this this report was being finalized in 1985. And as we know from the Calico Adam episode that coincides with the home computer crash, a slump of of 1985. And, you know, it was in this moment that that there was a consolidation of the market, which led to a lot of the smaller companies closing and pushed through the later dominance of Apple in the PC. So even if the AEC had gone into production, it would have already by that point been technologically surpassed and probably just demolished by these big players. And it feels like that space to create a national government led computer program had sort of passed by by that point. And there's this project was just really just came a little bit too late in the game. Yeah. So moving into part two, a a computer that also got caught up in this industry consolidation was the micro bee, which was known as Australia's own computer. This microcomputer was made and designed in Australia and became a major player in the education market in Australian schools and internationally as well. Go Australia. Woo! The micro bee began its life in 1982 as a kit computer designed by Owen Hill and Matthew Starr from a company called Applied Technology. So before this, applied technology had been mostly, I think, like importing and selling computer and tech parts, But because they had all of these these parts, these bits, it seemed like a natural progression to move into kit computers, which is where you can have a bag of bits and instructions and you learn to make a computer yourself. In my head, it's like a Lego set. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I was about to say the same thing, but I will confess. Yeah, I used to teach like coding little workshops for like six year olds and me. And one of the best tasks was them trying to build a little robot. And it came as like a like it was like a Lego initiative. So I forgot what the name was. But basically you build your own like Lego board and then there's like a little sensor in there and a battery, and then you can code what that robot does. So it can kind of like it can like drive itself to a certain point. And then after like 6 seconds it can move, right? But you have to code all of those steps in this like special piece of software. And it's very easy to use and it's really fun and it's got like, I forgot what it was. It was like a character. It was like almost like a little Wall-E guy. Yeah. So that reminds me of that a little bit. I was just invited. I did Lego Robotics in high school, which was probably a like an earlier version of what this is. And we yeah, we learned to like we made robots and then let to program them in like specific Lego programing. And then we entered, we had little groups and we entered a Lego robotics competition and they had different sections. I think there were three, and I only remember one of them was like you playing soccer or something. That one was. Was your program the Robot to dance to a song? And me and my friends, we we made a robot that danced to Achy Breaky Heart. You know, that's like, Oh, my. Oh, right. Yeah. Of Pew just did a lot of like, oh 510. Oh, I love it. I love that. I feel like I would have been very into Joshua. Researching this made me, made me wish that quite nostalgic. I had gotten into computers, think I was a little too late, I was too late for it, but too old for the party. I was too young to young. Yeah, right to too young. To bon bon to bon to late. Yeah. But what I loved about the development of the micro bee was that they gave it a code name when they were working out what it would be, and the codename was Project Granny Smith. And the Granny Smith is an Australian apple. Oh, really? I didn't know it was Australian. I love it. Gregg Yeah, it was created in this, but it's like an Australian apple. I think that's cute and smart. This computer, which ended up being named the Micro Bee, was the first commercial personal computer manufactured and designed in Australia, was made in Gosford, New South Wales. They sold for $399. I did some inflation math and I think that's around 1,000 USD today. Okay, they should teach inflation maths at school. It should be part of the curriculum. Yeah, I did say a tick tock, but so in the pandemic I was living with with some friends and we used to watch a lot of old films. And one of my friends Mandy was very into looking up the inflation. I found it Tick Tock the other day that was referencing this, and I said it to her and then she reminded me that $7 in the thirties was is like $150 today or something. Yeah. Also I just realized I said math instead of maths, right. Oh yeah. So it's an American, an inflation maths America. I did just add the American keyboard to my forehead because I was sick of having to vote, which was so sad. I said, Yeah, the Minister of. So they launched the kits along with a 32 page lift out in your computer magazine in February 1982. I think it was because because one of them was like working for this magazine or something. They they managed to get the space, the pages in the magazine before they even had a name for the computer. And they ended up on B and then Micro because they were like, We can't copy. And with the idea that the software would be called Honey and the eventual network would be the Hive, it was like this whole thing. I found a quote in an article as we visited school classrooms and found students didn't like calling computers z x 88 and they personalized apples. One was called Fred, Mr. Hill says. We decided it should be friendly and non-threatening. So my microwave grew to be so cute. I also saw a comment on a YouTube video that was saying that like the Micro Bee had an orange and black screen and apples had green and black screen. I said, Oh, because like orange and black was like the B a B, I guess. Yes. Color. Yeah, I actually I checked out the logo and it's interesting because they use the same kind of like Apple old school, like Apple font. You know the Sarah thing though like stretched out vertically, long serif, it's like slightly different, It's a little bit bolder, but you can definitely see that they were like sort of in competition with them. Maybe just looking at her. Yeah, the font. Yeah. So, so Own Hill has said there was an interview with him, so I'll reference this a little bit. He said that they thought that they would take a year to sell a thousand kits, but they ended up selling them all within two months and by the end of the year they were doing more than a thousand a month. Wow. By April, they had been approached by the New South Wales Department of Education as part of the New South Wales Schools computer contract. The Government going to buy two and a half thousand microbeads to go into schools, but they would need them to be pre-built, not the kit form that it was currently in. So applied technology began developing a prebuilt model with, it seems, also some input from the government of what would be required by them. The fully assembled Micro B personal computer was released in July 1982. Is this like month just months apart? Each of these? Yeah, which is crazy to me. Yeah. And this now had an injection molded plastic case and the logo for the micro is of large graphic B so it was also kind of cute, which was good for schools. It's got to be cute. Got to be cute to sell. It's got to be cute. The following year, they were also on their preferred provider list for Western Australia and Queensland and later South Australia and Victoria. In 1983 they released color and disk based versions and in 1985 they released a premium model and fun. This included a video text terminal adapter which meant that you could access the new via tell video text network from telecom, and that could also be used to connect all the schools. And in that interview, O'Neil said it was like email and I can't quite tell if he's referring to the video text network or if it's like a something else. But yeah, yeah, that's so interesting that like so while universities at the time were connected via like PBS schools would have been connected via video text, things like the, the, the school system, particularly this primary school market was always like lagging behind via what was actually happening because it's because it would because universities is where computers are tech. So yeah, yeah. Used at first yeah. Original machines were ROM based. They didn't have disk drives attached. They had cassette based program loading, which we, we talked about a little bit in the Catholic ah Atom episode I think. And it later also in the doomsday I think No, no, no. Yeah that was always good. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Later you could, you could sort of upgrade your computer, your microwave very easily. You could sort of like switch in and out things so later you could upgrade to a disk based machine that was capable of CPM. They had a originally they had a five, five, five, 12 by 256 pixel resolution, which was better than other ideas at the time, like Tandy, which owned RadioShack in the States and was becoming bigger, they kind of saw them as competition. Yeah, and it was better. That resolution is better than the Apple two, which I think was 140 by 192. Yeah, So that's really good. Yeah. A big draw was that it had battery backed memory standard RAM backed up by a battery which meant that if the power suddenly went off or the computer crashed, you didn't lose all your work. That dynamic Ram was what I saw the companies used and that copy battery backed up though it is cheaper. So so the Apple two and micro B were the main computers in schools in Australia, but micro B was a cheaper alternative and an Australian machine. Schools could buy five microbeads for the cost of one apple. No, what a bargain. And they just because mostly it was produced in the country do you think? Yeah, I think so, yeah. And it was just it's not a big brand. I mean, everyone knows Apple's a scam. Yeah. Overpriced Microbrew also emphasized that it was two kids per computer which encouraged peer learning so schools needed less and they were also producing Australian content relevant to the curriculum. That thing about PLM with multiple kids per computer reminds me of common San Diego stuff where so much of the part of the it's like a central part of the experience of the game was about playing in a group around one computer because it was a school of software to begin with. And so I guess conversations around conservation also considering that like social experience of using a computer. Yeah. So Owen Hill says that that this was a major factor in standing out against Apple, the producing Australian content micro be understood the cultural nuances of their markets better than Apple later micro B we get into the Swedish school market they won the contract over Apple specifically with the drawcard of they were producing culturally appropriate keyboards and this helped when they followed Apple into the Russian market too. Apple just had the normal quality keyboard, but Mike Kirby created a language specific keyboard for Russian and that helped them gain more market percentage. And in Russia while so my Kirby was exporting to Sweden and Russia just because they had some customs keyboards. Wow. And I think it's interesting, this idea of computers really tied to local markets. Yeah, I we don't really see that so much anymore other than some language changes on the screen and I guess keyboard differences. But this one, I don't know. It just it feels well, it's about the keyboard, but it's also like it it seemed like it wanted to kind of preserve like part of Australian culture and like the curriculum and the different, like weird words that were being used, you know? So it was like a part of the software as well as much as it was part of the hardware. Like, you know, it's about understanding the society that the kids are going into. Yeah, right. And the economic language was like, yeah, but to be like, well, what does this how does this computer sit within society? How is it used? There was an article called Australian Computers and Swedish Schools, which I don't know what it's from, but it was shown as an image in a video about my Kirby. So I, I don't know if it's from the eighties, but it, the microbe won the contract in the face of stiff competition such as the Scandinavian produce Luxo and the internationally known and accepted BBC Apple and Apricot Computer Systems. Wait, I'm just going to take a aside. I had not heard of an apricot mini there. I looked it up. It's a British computer. They went out of business. But what I found online was a website that's a pitch somebody is pitching to revive the OR to take that brand name and start a started again. I would want that if it like yeah let's look into that. So the quote continues as one might imagine, this achievement in an international marketplace is of considerable proportions. Perhaps local misconceptions that Australian high technology is of dubious quality and quantity may be refuted in the light of such breakthroughs. Just like third. But despite that, Owen Hill said that there was actually a real sense of ownership, Australian ownership around the micro bee. I guess because they were Australian made, but also because they were largely the handmade in kit form in the early nineties, the people had like a physical connection with it and then also use during early childhood with culturally specific software. So it was very relatable. And also I think like my I have a memory of like the nineties that like buying Australian made there was an Australian made campaign that was like a special sticker that we had like a logo with a kangaroo on it. So Australian made and it was that there were ads on the TV like buy these Australian made things. So you know there was this of incentive. Yeah yeah. And the market so micro be had this niche market with primary schools though they were also in secondary schools and offices and some other markets like medical and medical technology company used it to make blood analysis machines like okay there it was. But you know IVF was moving into the secondary school market with business machines and IBM clones sort of were becoming a thing. Unfortunately, you know, due to having so much demand in the moment. Micro Bee and Applied Technology weren't able to focus on diversifying or establishing new business models that would allow them to grow from the small factory in Gosford. They were just trying to fulfill the orders that were coming in. Yeah, when the IBM clones flooded the market later in the eighties, Applied Technology looked at importing Taiwanese IBM clones under the micro bee name and they tried to develop a new computer called the Matilda, which is another very Australian name, which would be both micro Bee and IBM compatible. But only 200 went into production before. The company folded and it finally closed and in 1992 they had sold more than 70,000 microbeads to over 3000 Australian schools. It was this very specific generation of school kids that that experience this. But that's still a lot. Yeah, yeah. And I wonder how that changed sort of. There was that generation's perception of computers and and identity and sure the possibilities of like a career in tech or things like that, you know, because you've built it yourself or the way everything. Yeah yeah. Generations after that we're all just using apple trees and PCs. The company was sort of relaunched in 2012 by a former employee. I think they had like 120 limited edition kit computers, which man, I wish I could have gotten one of them, but they did that because I think he had found a storage storage locker or something and they had 120 cases of the I think the premium plus model in storage. And so they they like supplied like all the other parts new and then the vintage case and it looked like I watched some interviews look like maybe they have some other cases and I think maybe from the Matilda or from the sort of later models that never went into production and that they're thinking of doing it again. But Yeah. So it's running again, but it's not. Yeah, it's not the same. But yeah, because it would still be on like kind of old hardware. Yeah. Right. Like it. Yeah. I don't know if that's like the most attractive to kids that are used I think. And it's not for kids, it's for, it's for us. Oh, right, right. Yeah. The nerves. Yeah. No, that's cool. But, um. Yeah, it's really interesting just thinking about that process from, like, what companies kind of took over. It's, it's interesting that how the models made for business and finance, like IBM, eventually diversified and like, took over all of the markets in like, say, education and leisure or reproductive labor like we said earlier. And yeah, I just, I wonder why that is. Like, is it just because they had more money and were able to adapt more or like it's it's it's very similar to the story. Sorry, go ahead. Oh, since I mean, I think a lot of it is just that 98 like mid eighties 1985 slump. That's true. Yeah. Before that there were just all of these little companies and it was this very new industry and everybody's so speculative and everyone's like trying something out. And then at a certain point it's like oversaturated the supply issues, like all that stuff happens and the smaller companies drop off and the bigger companies take over their market share. Yeah, yeah. And then at that point it becomes more about them growing as a business and maintaining themselves as a business and diversifying and and things. And they just take over everything and we lose all of the smaller companies doing interesting things because the market's just not open for that anymore. Yeah, but then it, then there's also a process of like subverting those more homogenous technologies as well. That then creates like a new cycle of like customization because like it's very similar to the story of cell phones and how at first they were introduced to businessmen to be more productive and efficient from home. And then it was adopted by housewives. So using it for chit chat, which then was a revelation for the technology and kind of changed its whole course to cell phones now actually being more for social uses. Of course, now that filters into work uses. But still, you know, there's there's a similar pattern here where like business computers took over education and now these computers are trying to adapt to education after being adopted by that specified establishment like schools. So, yeah, I can kind of see how like micro be tried to reverse that chain of processes. And I think in many ways they were ahead of the game rather than too late to it. But it's just that the finance technologies somehow always take over. And again, I think, you know, we all know why that happens, like finance technologies are just taken more seriously then niche edge computers like microbeads, because they they only have a life span and schools. And yeah, part of it is that many people believe I think also that like schools just there to kind of uphold the economy. So why not train kids on machines that they'll be, you know, working and living with for the rest? Well, So it's kind of something really sad, something that that Allen and Hill was saying was that the then niche market of the primary schools was was niche because it was more they were like non-threatening gaming computers essentially. And and that it was more about getting kids excited about computers and used to like the mechanisms of using a computer mouse and keyboard, you know the screen. But then when the reason IBM was in secondary schools was because secondary schools is when students are being trained to enter the workforce. And so they need to know how to use business computers and the things that they're doing, which they're learning, you know, like maths and and stuff like that is maybe more dismal software for that on a business computer. But yeah, like the idea for kids this young with these computers is more just to have be around technology. This was so new you know now you know kids babies with iPads and things and and you know everybody's so used to computers now in their lives but at the time this was had to be it had to be introduced slowly. Yeah. And this was the way for that to happen. Yeah. And I guess also building your own tools is like advanced way of like learning and making new sort of neural connections where you can, you know, you're not just like passively reading books, you're also just like literally making the stuff around you and experimenting and trial and error and mistakes happen and it's a yeah, it's a very yeah, just like really cool and creative way to like, actually learn. But yeah, what a great episode. Thanks Kamila. That was Thank you. I was so excited to find this one. I hadn't heard of it. And it's yeah, it's so cute and. I'm really interested in this childish experimentation of computers that I guess it was around a lot more while computers were being established as like we didn't really know what to do with them. So it's like, Oh, we'll see how these computers flow into society, but also we'll see how how the computers are being built by like kids. And yeah, I also like this idea of kind of making adjustments to see what works best for the children in that country. And so, you know, and the like, Oh, this wasn't working. So that's like, you know, schools preferring the micro B over the apple, too, because of all the various reasons that just fits in better. And then I guess it's kind of sad later when all of that goes away and we all on exactly the same computer, maybe it's not the best thing for us. Yeah, this is definitely like a a globalization study which which I love. Okay, cool. I think I think left and here. Yeah, it's over an hour and Oh, my God, my voice hurts world. I'm proud of you for, like, going through this week of. Of migraines and, like, being emotional. Yeah, I would say this. Yeah, but, you know, Yeah, we get through it. We get through it. Thank you. I'm excited for next month. I mean, hyped for this. I met the computer that we're going to be talking about when I was visiting you at a well, were you at it at the Computer History Museum? And then I saw it at the moment. So I'm yeah, I'm hyped. We'll let you in on on the goss next, next episode, next month. Thank you so much. Stay safe, everyone. Goodbye. Day.