back to article Master boot vinyl record: It just gives DOS on my IBM PC a warmer, more authentic tone

Looking for something to do in quarantine? How about booting DOS from a 10-inch vinyl record? While booting an operating system nowadays usually sees the software loaded from disk or flash memory, some of us of a certain age recall the delights of shovelling bytes in memory via the medium of tape, such as an audio cassette …

  1. Andy The Hat Silver badge

    DOS on vinyl? I guess the B side was "A Momentary Lapse of Reason"?

    1. Blackjack Silver badge

      Is Freedos, that's almost 100% free an Open source save for a few programs and libraries that don't run on Dos 1.0 and Dos 2.0 machines anyway.

      Linux may run on a toaster but Freedos runs on vinyl.

  2. Disgusted Of Tunbridge Wells Silver badge

    It would be interesting to use a local (audio) radio transmitter as an alternative to net boot.

    I wonder if it would be possible ( eg: would it have to start at exactly the right time? would the quality be high enough? )

    1. phuzz Silver badge

      I have a vague recollection of either a radio or TV show for early computer users (BBC Micro maybe?) that broadcast the code so that people at home could record it on cassette and try it at home.

      Am I imagining that? Perhaps an older reader can add more information.

      1. Jamie Jones Silver badge

        Yeah, "The Computer Programme" or one of its followups.

        Available on iplayer!

        and internet archive


        1. Jamie Jones Silver badge

          EDIT: Actually, it was a later programme, "Micro Live"

          1. Anonymous South African Coward Bronze badge

            ET probably still trying to decode the warbles and screeches from that transmission....

            1. werdsmith Silver badge

              You could also get them from CEEFAX.

        2. Dan 55 Silver badge

          If you went to binge old CLP programmes you could try

      2. BenDwire Silver badge

        Older ?

        I too remember that - I seem to recall they played audio while the end credits were rolling. You were meant to record it and then load it into your home computer. Possibly ZX81?

        1. Wally Dug

          Re: Older ?

          I seem to recall that the BBC shows "The Computer Programme" and "Micro Live" may have broadcast just BBC Micro software whereas Ceefax (was it from page 700?) had software for various platforms such as the BBC Micro, Sinclair Spectrum, Commodore 64 and Amstrad 464.

          "Database" on ITV broadcast software, a different platform each week, at the end of the programme via a light dot in the corner of the screen. You had to get a sucker contraption over the exact black circle that surrounded the light dot and connect that to your cassette recorder.

          I'm sure I tried - and failed - one week to get the ZX81 software that was broadcast.

          1. Spoonsinger

            Re: Older ?

            "The Chip Shop" with Barry Norman Radio 4 (1984).


            1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

              Re: Older ?

              Ah! "Basicode"!

              When most "home computers" included a version of BASIC programming language, but a -different- version, this was a lowest-common-denominator subset of your language. For instance, variable names were one letter, I think, and some simple operations had to be performed as something like GOSUB 9010 where there was a library subroutine that actually worked on your computer. Possibly a machine code call.

              You could save it from a BBC Micro, but on ZX Spectrum only load it, with a special loader. It sounded like BBC data but without the breaking into blocks. But the BBC Micro that I had access to one summer - at a public library in Glasgow - didn't have a printer, and my ZX Spectrum did... thermal toilet roll stuff, which I think is how I tried to submit a university course programming project. Stapled to A4, though. Precisely how poorly it was received, I don't quite recall.

              1. Dan 55 Silver badge
                1. Jamie Jones Silver badge
                  Thumb Up

                  Re: Older ?

                  BBC rewind! I'd never heard of that site before..

                  There goes my weekend!


          2. Falmari Silver badge

            Re: Older ?

            I remember trying to get software onto my Amstrad CPC6128 from Ceefax what a pain and when it did finally did load not worth the hassle.

      3. AndyMTB

        Wasn't there a little optical reader gadget mounted on a sucker that you placed on the top RHS of the tv screen? Source code would was broadcast like a changing bar-code and downloaded to your BBC while you watched the program.

        1. DJV Silver badge

          Yes, I vaguely remember that there were circuit diagrams for the light pen reader so you could build it for yourself. I did build a light pen reader for my Commodore PET at some point, it worked though it was pretty useless for anything practical. Ah, but those were the days...

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        I am getting old. I remember vividly, sitting, ready at the radio with my neighboor's finger on the record button of a mediocre casstte recorder only to be disapointed when the recorded hiss&flubber didn't translate into a working program.

      5. This post has been deleted by its author

      6. Mage Silver badge

        Re: broadcast the code


        Also there were floppy cover discs on magazines. A 7" floppy to play on the record player via the cassette interface.

        Back in the 1930s home 78 rpm disc recorders did exist. The 22 line TV and also fax was broadcast on UK and USA Medium Wave (Broadcast Band) transmitters after close down, which wasn't that late at night. Baird's wasn't the only mechanical TV and was obsolete even then. Some home recorded on 78s with 22 line TV survive.

        Also even cover disc 78s existed, pressed shellac or plastic on one side of a thin card base.

        So loading programs from record player discs and transmissions predates the launch of the IBM PC in the UK. The Act Sirius 1, aka Victor 9000 was actually released in the UK before the IBM PC and was seriously better.

        Actually wasn't the floppy originally for loading microcode if the Mainframe was turned off and Gary Kiddal founded Digital Research because no big company was interested. The original DOS being a rip off, sorry re-imagining, of his 8086 version of CP/M by a small company bought by Microsoft.

    2. BenM 29 Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Alpha Micro...

      Back the day, Tomorrows World transmitted, as part of the program, what was said to be the whole of Alice in Wonderland (might have been Through The Looking Glass) from a computer on a crane to another in the studio.

      The feature was talking about data transmission/exchange (IIRC) and used the micro/mini Alpha Micro as an example becasue the machines used to do system backups, or transfer data, using VHS tapes and a standard VHS recorder; you might even have been able to boot from VHS as well if you really wanted to.

      We recorded the transmission (no, not using Betamax), and played it back into our Alpha Micro - they cheated! it was only the first couple of chapters.

      We rang Alpha to complain and the chap responsible fessed up to getting bored after typing in a few chapters....

      So yes, transmitting the boot code in the RF spectrum can be made to work, if you try hard enough.

      1. Mage Silver badge

        Re: Alpha Micro...

        Depends how much spectrum you have!

        My backup internet runs 8 Mbps down and 1 Mbps up over almost 14 km.

        My first smartphone had 14.4 kbps over GSM, 20 years ago. If you paid twice as much per second you could have 28.8 kbps too, only slightly slower than my landline. It also did faxes.

        1. Jamie Jones Silver badge

          Re: Alpha Micro...

          That sounds like the Nokia Communicator.. I had one of those.

          Vodafone gave me a free separate number for faxes..

          A phone with telnet, fax, a web browser, and 2 phone numbers; back in 1999!

          I suppose it was also a PC, as it's GUI OS ran on top of DOS, which you could boot directly with a hack...

          1. Mage Silver badge

            Re: Nokia Communicator

            The first two mono (1996 to 2000?) Communicators used a 486. They did have a form of DOS

            The N9210 and better N9210i used an ARM and Symbian, but a more advanced Symbian GUI (Series 80) than later smaller screen phones. Symbain was always in two parts, the OS and the GUI. S60 was a step backwards in GUI as internally the Rot in Nokia started in 2003*. It started with CCFL backlights and later had LED backlights.

            But it was functionally a pocket PC in terms of applications.

            I was thinking of the N9210i which I had from 2002 to 2005.

            (* Was Elop Nokia's Trojan to dump a doomed division on MS? MS got no IP and only time limited use of the Branding)

            1. Jamie Jones Silver badge

              Re: Nokia Communicator

              Ahh ok. Yep, it was the 9110(I?) I had. Neither of them survived a washing, unfortunately!

        2. Danny 14

          Re: Alpha Micro...

          We live in a small village in the lake district. We use a unifi airfibre for a 250/250 internet connection (we run a business from home too), others in the village have lower speeds. The base station is about 10km away. Its great how we managed to avoid the silly BT prices to run fibre to our local cabinet.

          1. Tom 7

            Re: Alpha Micro...

            B4RN not around your way?

      2. Mage Silver badge

        Re: Alpha Micro...

        The odd 44.1 kHz sampling rate of CDs:

        1) Has to be more than twice highest audio plus a margin for a practical pre-filter to avoid aliasing.

        2) Was to suit an adapter that fitted the digital audio into a video signal so that a Betamax could record the audio.

        Stereo used 19 kHz for the 38 kHz DSBSC carrier pilot tone because it was deemed that an upper limit for HiFi was 15kHz to 18 kHz. The later 20 kHz HiFi spec is largely an arbitrary number and later digital audio used 48 kHz simply because it was higher and a round number.

        Using 192 kHz ADC simply allows cheaper simpler filters and then DSP can easily downsample to 48 kHz. Then on playback interpolation to 192 kHz allows a cheap filter on the DAC.

        Old AM audio TVs had about 10 kHz and FM Radio and FM audio TVs typically had up to 15 kHz. All of that sounded better due to decent sized speakers in decent sized wooden cabinets. The 4" satellite TV speakers are a cruel joke. A 6" driver is a minimum. Built in TV speakers are now terrible, yet few have external speaker sockets, you need a separate amp.

        1. Tom 7

          Re: Alpha Micro...

          If you think TV speakers are shit you can buy a shit soundbar to augment it. I think the reason why no-one makes good soundbars is because if they actually worked below 100 hz or so the screen would visibly shake. I plug mine into some old 60s hifi and friends of my kids with indoor cinema shit are gobsmacked.

          And as for CD being odd it works - no one has ever managed to tell if anything non-compressed higher quality or rate is indeed different from CD in a double blind test.

        2. khjohansen

          Re: 48 kHz sample

          - is a carry over from telco - multiplies neatly from their 8 kHz sample frequency ( yes, Bell Labs in the 30's (earlier?) found that 4 kHz was fine for intelligible speech )

          1. Mage Silver badge

            Re: 48 kHz sample

            Telephone speech was/is about 300 to 3000, or 3500 at most. The 8 kHz sampling meant filters had to roll off between 3 kHz and 4 kHz. They found that the speech was more intelligible if you cut the bass response when treble is cut.

            I think a coincidence that telecom PCM is 8 kHz and MP3 uses 48 kHz (x6).

  3. elkster88

    Ah, happy memories...

    I well remember saving programs to (and sometimes successfully recovering them from) cassette tape on my Timex/Sinclair ZX81. I don't think I ever had a program on a vinyl record, though. Still have the computer and the tape player, and I'll bet if I dig deep enough I'll find the primitive drawing program (1 bit graphics!) I wrote.

    Mine's the one with the audio jumper cables in the pocket.

    1. Vometia Munro Silver badge

      Re: Ah, happy memories...

      I have a (now somewhat vague) memory of magazines occasionally supplying programs on flexidisc. Though given the plethora of computers and non-standard encoding it was a somewhat niche approach.

      1. Jamie Jones Silver badge

        Re: Ah, happy memories...

        Yes, I remember using one of those on my ZX device at the time... (zx81/spectrum/128+)

      2. Paul Kinsler

        Re: flexidisc.

        Oh, a ghost of computer memories past! I think I slightly recall having one of them flexidiscs, though whether it ever got used is another thing...

      3. Hugo Rune

        Re: Ah, happy memories...

        My wonderful local newsagent put a staple right through the track to stop them falling off the cover.

      4. Stephen Wilkinson

        Re: Ah, happy memories...

        I seem to remember Computer & Video Games supplying a Thompson Twins game on flexi-disc

      5. el_oscuro

        Re: Ah, happy memories...

        I remember getting those inside Mad Magazine. Why doesn't El Reg have a "What, me worry?" icon?

    2. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: Ah, happy memories...

      Nostalgia Nerd covered a bunch of different records here.

      He also calls them vinyl. I call them records, I refuse to call them vinyl. That'd be like calling RAM silicon.

  4. Nige
    IT Angle


    Taking this a step further, it should be possible to record that boot 'track' [see what I did there?] to an MP3, then be able to boot the PC from any MP3 player with a lead from the headphone jack.

    Same with the old cassette games.

    At least with MP3's, they wouldn't wear like physical tape would, or gum up the heads of the tape player. Also no worries about the pop+crackle you invariably get with vinyl. And you could carry an entire games library around with you on a modest 64gig SD card.

    1. Charles 9

      Re: MP3?

      I don't know about that. It would have to depend on the specific process used to convert the signal into an analogue medium. Since MP3 compression is lossy and tends to be designed to better preserve melodic tones, the "noise" of even a datacassette stream is likely to be distorted too much to be played back reliably. Now, of course, if a device is able to play back a lossless audio stream like FLAC, then it's less an issue of psychoacoustic distortion and more a matter of getting the right dynamic range to correctly preserve the data in the recording.

      1. Tomato Krill

        Re: MP3?

        Well you’d use monster cables, *obviously*

      2. Tom 7

        Re: MP3?

        The trouble with FLAC is the act of decoding can potentially add jitter into the stream on playback unless run at high priority to prevent it getting slowed.Never heard it myself and I dare say just streaming the decompressed bit stream from disc to Dt2A also has that (lower) possibility. But I've got more than enough space on my system, to store a lifetime of uncompressed cd or above quality so I'll do that.

    2. phuzz Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: MP3?

      Well, most people have a phone with internet access rather than an MP3 player these days, so why not just stream the audio directly.

      I love the fact that you can take a zip* of the program code (for Elite in this case), have a website* convert it to streaming audio over the internet*, which eventually arrives over some sort of wireless connection* to your smartphone*, and plug that into an original BBC Micro and have it work as if it was plugged into a standard cassette player.

      * none of these technologies were around/easily available when the BBC Micro was sold

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Re: MP3?

        But the Beeb did have a teletext adapter which was done kind of voodoo in my day. Programs and data with no physical medium??? Witchcraft!

      2. el_oscuro

        Re: MP3?

        Of course the issue is, it would load just as slow as the cassette. While any modern device is several orders of magnitude faster, It still has to be converted to an audio signal that the old cassette interface could read.

    3. Jamie Jones Silver badge
    4. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

      Re: MP3?


      Found a website a few years ago containing audiofiles for the memotech MTX ... bunch of games, turbo pascal stuff like that.

      Plug your audio output into the audio in on the MTX and hey.... no problem loading the games/other stuff (unlike the cassette deck I had to use when young'ish and stupid )

      Had to fiddle with the settings and make a lead up, even managed to output a program via the audio into the PC and convert it to mp3.

      Well it was a rainy afternoon and I was fed up with killing kerbals :)

    5. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

      Re: MP3?

      Or use a tablet, phone, PC or laptop to simply play back the audio to boot the old machine?

  5. Martin Gregorie

    What I'd really like to know ...

    ... is how did Mr Bogin cut the groove on his vinyl boot disk?

    Back in the day I had (and still have) a Garrard 301 fitted with an SME arm and Shure cartridge, but was never able to record anything at acceptable quality until the Akai Dolby-equipped cassette tape decks arrived in the early '70s.

    I don't remember there being even a whisper of disk-cutting lathes being available for home use, so just what did our man use to cut his boot disk?

    1. Victor Ludorum

      Re: What I'd really like to know ...

      Given the recent vinyl revival, maybe he managed to get a test pressing from his audio file?

      1. Dabooka

        Re: What I'd really like to know ...

        This is my guess, especially with the fact he used a 10" disc.

    2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: What I'd really like to know ...

      >I don't remember there being even a whisper of disk-cutting lathes being available for home use

      There must be, otherwise how would hipsters listen to their MP3s ?

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What I'd really like to know ...

      Does it have to be vinyl?

      sndcut is a tool to convert WAV files into SVG paths for use with lasercutters. It should work with acryl or wood.

      1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

        Re: What I'd really like to know ...

        there was actually a read only video system - think laserdisc - made out of vinyl at some point.

        "Technonolgy connections" channel on utube has a video about it

        1. Charles 9

          Re: What I'd really like to know ...

          Are you referring to the Capacitance Electronic Disc developed by RCA and marketed under the brand name SelectaVision?

        2. Tom 7

          Re: What I'd really like to know ...

          I look forward to the arguments over using fresh vinyl versus recycled vinyl with all those homeopathetic echoes in the disc.

      2. Mike 16

        Re: What I'd really like to know ...

        Am I a bad person based on my reading about sndcut and thinking :

        At last! a 'good' use for that babble/cry player from a pull-string doll in my junk-box.

        I could cut a new record and have the doll shout Marxist slogans or sing It's a Small World.


        Or not. One of those is illegal, and the other could have you dodging Disney assassins.

        1. TRT Silver badge

          Re: What I'd really like to know ...

          I discovered you could swap the discs with Action Man’s RT backpack.

          Little Tears apparently came under heavy fire in an ambush and needed reinforcements.

          1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

            Re: What I'd really like to know ...

            "Little Tears apparently came under heavy fire in an ambush and needed reinforcements."

            icon -->

    4. Sgt_Oddball

      Re: What I'd really like to know ...

      That Garrard is worth a small fortune now (good ones go for thousands, bad ones go for almost thousands..).

      I'd be interested in what deck, cartridge and stylus was used since those all have a huge effect on the tone of the music (I've got 3 turntables, belt, direct and idler driven. I once did a test with the same cartridge in each, the difference in sound was quite something)

      1. Tom 7

        Re: What I'd really like to know ...

        Nowt wrong with an SP25 MK4 so long as you made sure to not use noisy graphite grease on the axle.

        One thing I discovered on my journey through hi-fi was the ritual effect - simply going through a ritual changes your expectations of what you are going to hear - and you will hear a difference even if its exactly the bloody same. Double blind tests are good it you can but impossible on your own but simply bending over a cabinet pissing about with wires connecting up a new deck can cause the muscles on your neck to tire in a way that changes your hearing* more than sticking a new needle on a cartridge.

        * seriously - I can wiggle my ears and that changes what I hear enormously. Most people do it subconsciously.

        1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

          Re: What I'd really like to know ...

          Similarly , my car runs so much better after i've washed it.

    5. Mage Silver badge

      Re: What I'd really like to know ...

      Home cutting player/recorders used foil.

      Some used a blank disk to move the cutting head to avoid the cost of a linear drive screw.

      1. Stevie

        Re: What I'd really like to know ...

        Consult the simplified diagram on page six.

        1. Stevie

          Re: What I'd really like to know ...

          Thumbed down?

          Maybe we *DO* need people to explain the bleeding obvious.

    6. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: What I'd really like to know ...

      "I don't remember there being even a whisper of disk-cutting lathes being available for home use, so just what did our man use to cut his boot disk?"

      Probably 3d printed it using some very small blockchain!

    7. Roopee Silver badge

      Re: What I'd really like to know ...

      Surely he could have used a 3D printer?

      All of this idiocy is akin to trying to convert an Austin 7 into a hybrid that runs on unleaded or biodiesel, or perhaps steam!

  6. Victor Ludorum
    Thumb Up

    Ah the good old days

    I remember a magazine back in the 80s (C&VG?) that had a cover disk once or twice - a ~7 inch slightly floppy vinyl record. I think each track was a different program for various home computers of the time - C64, Spectrum, BBC, etc. Pretty sure it predated the Amiga and Atari ST anyway.

    1. Stumpy

      Re: Ah the good old days

      C&VG had a covermount flexidisc for the Sinclair ZX Spectrum back in the day, and Personal Computer Games Issue 3 also had one containing all the program listings from the mag.

      I seem to recall there were a few other of the popular mags at the time also carried flexidisc covermounts

    2. Fading

      Re: Ah the good old days

      I have a similar memory - I had to do a tape recording of it to run it as the combined unit I had the record player on didn't have any outputs (just a couple of connected poor quality speakers). Of course though the computers we were using back then "booted" from ROM normally into BASIC (unless you had a Sharp MZ700 then you had to load BASIC in by tape first).

    3. Steve Button Silver badge

      Re: Ah the good old days

      I sorta remember that too, but perhaps you have just planted that memory in my brain.

      Presumably we would have had to record the game* onto tape first to load it onto the C64 (other computers may have been available at the time).

      *Yes, it would have to have been a game for you to bother going to the effort of recording it yourself onto a tape, wouldn't it?

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

  7. Dabooka

    So he mentioned the amp..

    but not he turntable? Or have I missed that bit?

    1. Stratman

      Re: So he mentioned the amp..

      Never mind the turntable, what cables did he use? Were they crystal aligned? Did they have special stereo electrons ? Did they have a nuanced mid-high separation of the ambience?

      Other audiophool twattery is available.

      1. Eclectic Man Silver badge

        Linn Sondek?

        I can just see the review of the latest turntables and pickups in 'What Hi-Fi?' or 'Gramophone' rating how easily they could be used to boot a PC using this record.

  8. Peter Christy

    That's the Hi-Tech option...

    Those of us of a certain age probably remember loading the bootstrap into a PDP-8 by reading settings from a book, setting up the switches on the front panel, and then loading them into memory, 1 byte at a time. And this was just to get it to read the next stage from punched tape!

    Oh to have had the luxury of such a high speed loader.....!




    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: That's the Hi-Tech option...

      Me too ... my first encounter with computers was at school where some of us teenagers were let loose with a DG Nova ... yes, I was one of the sort of teenager who's idea of a fun evening was to reinstall RDOS onto the (massive) disk drive starting from bootstrap on front panel switches (think it was 8 16-bit instructions long which at the time I knew from memory), then the "binary loader" tape (a few feet long only using 4 bits of each 8-bit char) followed by dozens of boxes of fan-fold tape (key skill was learning how to "catch" the tape as it came out of the 300cps tape reader so it folded itself up).

      A couple of years ago I visited the Computer History Museum in Mountain View and half way round saw that they had a DG Nova on display - I had to seriosuly restrain myself from leaning over and flicking the siwtches for old times sake!

    2. Martin Gregorie

      Re: That's the Hi-Tech option...

      I remember those days!

      The first computer I got my hands on, as in loading cards into the reader, swapping tapes on the tape drives and 8 MB hard disk cartridges on disk drives was an ICL 1902 mainframe in 1968.

      That used ferrite core memory with a magic wire woven through individual bits in the first few words: at power-on the memory was zeroed and that wire was pulsed to write the bootstrap into memory.

      Unfortunately, it often failed to write a valid bootstrap, at which time you had to enter the bootstrap through a row of 24 hand switches on the CPU cabinet. Good operators had this memorised: we programmers and the newbie operators read it off an octal listing.

      1. don't you hate it when you lose your account

        You were lucky

        We had to do with one bit and half a potato every other Thursday

        Them were the days

        1. David 132 Silver badge

          Re: You were lucky

          You spoilt Southern pansy. We didn’t get Thursdays when I was a lad... just Monday, Tuesday and the occasional St Nadger’s Day.

          The other days didn’t arrive until metrication in, if memory serves, late in 1958. Which we knew as The Year Of The Exploding Dog. Not for cultural reasons, you understand, but just because of an unfortunate incident with our neighbour’s greyhound...

        2. Christoph

          Re: You were lucky

          We programmed in ones and in zeroes.

          And sometimes, we ran out of ones.

          1. Dan 55 Silver badge

            Re: You were lucky

            Yep, so much time wasted making do by slicing zeros into two halves and hammering the curves at the ends straight. If you told those web developers how it was back then they wouldn't believe you.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: That's the Hi-Tech option...

        The ICL System 4/70 series of mainframes had a row of lever switches for manual memory accesses. In Systems Test we developed callouses along the top of our right index finger - which was used to reset all the switches in one fast swipe between each 32bit word of data.

    3. Primus Secundus Tertius

      Re: That's the Hi-Tech option...

      I was involved with a PDP-11 microprocessor system that ran off a solid-state disk in 1982. But the SSD was volatile, and had to be loaded up from magnetic tape. The system could not boot directly from tape, so we had to type in some magic octal numbers to boot the tape.

      In fact there were two tapes: (1) to load a main-memory system to read the second tape, and (2) the image of the SSD. The final stage was to tell the memory system to boot from the newly loaded SSD.

      The SSD was impressive: directory listings that normally took ages came out in a few seconds. I called it the "square disk".

    4. Gary Stewart

      Re: That's the Hi-Tech option...

      When I worked at Mostek, they had probably a hundred memory testers that used PDP-11's (I don't remember the exact model, I was a repair/maintenance tech for the Fairchild Sentry testers that shared the room with them) and I remember when I started that was the way they loaded the test programs when they needed to. Eventually they connected them all through 9600 baud RS-232 serial lines to a PDP-11/70 which sped things up quite a bit. The 11/70 was in a room in a main hall with large glass windows which as I passed every day. I always stopped and gazed into the room wishing that one day I would be able to own one.

      I had a paper tape reader that I used for my first Z-80 computer, a Mostek Z-80 Evaluation board with 16 K bytes of dynamic RAM. Mostek sold the PCB boards to employes and you could order the parts from the stock room to build one yourself. I added a 48 K byte dynamic RAM board that I wire wrapped for my AS degree hardware project. Ah, those were the days.

      I have a PiDP-11 that I have all the parts for but haven't put together yet. It is almost at the top of my priority list now so it looks like I will finally own a PDP-11/70, well close enough for me at least.

    5. ghp

      Re: That's the Hi-Tech option...

      I learned to program on ICL's 1501, which booted from one of its built-in half a music cassette. The bootstrap was physical: it fetched the tape past the heads onto its spindle.

    6. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

      Re: That's the Hi-Tech option...

      I built *MY* first UNIX system (as opposed to the first one I used) by flipping the bootstrap tape loader into a PDP11/40 using the switches. The 11/40 was not my system, but I needed to alter the disk geometry in the RP03 driver to match that of the Emulex/SMD disk subsystem for the Systime 5000E that was the eventual destination.

      After patching the source and recompiling the kernel, and then writing the whole disk image back to another tape, we had to find a system with a tape drive and compatible disk system to copy the system (turns out RSTS/E was actually a useful OS, allowing a Basic program to do a block-by-block copy from a tape to a disk pack!) Eventually, we got the disk pack back to *MY* system, and after impatiently allowing the disk pack to acclimatize, tried to get it to boot using the ROM bootstrap loader that that system had....


      After reviewing what we had done, it then struck us that we had changed the disk geometry in the RP03 driver in the kernel, but forgotten about the second stage bootstrap! It could not work out where to find the kernel to load!

      So, we booted our other OS, RSX11/M, used PIP (it was version 3.2 at the time, without DCL) to copy the first disk block to a file, used the debugger to patch this file (we actually hand-decompiled the code because we did not know how to drive the disassembler in the debugger) to work out how it converted a logical block offset into a cylinder and block offset, patched the calculation (which thankfully was pretty simple, just requiring us to change the tracks per cylinder and blocks per track dividors), and then write the block back to the beginning of the disk.

      To our considerable surprise, it worked. Up on the DEC Writer II console clattered the prompt asking for the disk adapter, drive number and partition, and the name of the kernel file, and then we had UNIX Edition 6 running on this non-standard PDP11. And we never looked back, proceeding to get the 22 bit Unibus map working (real PDP11/34s didn't have this), together with the Calgary disk buffer modifications moving the disk buffers outside of the kernel address space, and then following this with the overlay kernel from Kiel University, BSD Ingres, and eventually UNIX Edition 7.

      Fond memories of when I was really on my top game.

      Many thanks to the kind people at BSRA in Wallsend and the Finance department at Newcastle City Council (all now long retired, probably) for their help, and then the Computer Laboratory at Newcastle University for copies of the other modifications, without which we could not have succeeded.

      Reminds me that I must get around to building my PiDP11

  9. juice

    If memory serves...

    Pete Shelley's XL1 album from 1983 was one of the first (if not /the/ first) music albums to include a computer program to display visuals to go alongside the music.

    For the time (and the limitations of the humble Speccy), it's actually a pretty sophisticated little "kareoke" experience - not least when you consider that kareoke hadn't actually landed in the UK at that point! Great minds think alike, I guess.

    And from the interview with Joey Headen (who did the implementation), it was distributed as a track on the vinyl.

    1. Howard Sway Silver badge

      Re: If memory serves...

      Fellow mancunian music legend Frank Sidebottom actually wrote a video game published by Virgin Games in 1984. The cassette featured songs too, so this was kind of the opposite mixed media thing :

      For the best 80s 8 bit music biz simulator, get a C64 emulator and track down a copy of "Rock Star Ate My Hamster" : It is unbelievably funny.

      1. juice

        Re: If memory serves...

        > Fellow mancunian music legend Frank Sidebottom actually wrote a video game published by Virgin Games in 1984. The cassette featured songs too, so this was kind of the opposite mixed media thing

        TBH, the best example is probably Deus Ex Machina. This was the first game to feature a proper musical soundtrack: you loaded the game from tape and then put the soundtrack cassette in and pressed play.

        In theory, if you got the timings right, the soundtrack matched up to the gameplay (a series of minigames). In practice, not so much, but the theory was nice ;)

        The soundtrack itself is actually pretty fantastic - it's a sort of synthpop radio-play, tracking the birth, life and death of an artificially created being stuck in a 1984-esque world, with just a computer for a mother[*], and Mel Croucher managed to get some big-name British actors and musicians involved - Ian Dury, Jon Pertwee and Frankie Howerd.

        Well worth looking at - both as a piece of British video-game history and from a purely musical perspective!

        [*] To vastly simplify!

    2. chapter32

      Re: If memory serves...

      XL1 is a great album even without the computer program. I found an interesting account by the person who created it for those wanting to know more.

  10. redpawn

    Reminds me of modem days

    I had a friend who would sometimes leave the computer to answer the phone. It would make a tone for a few seconds before hanging up. I found that if I whistled different tones it would try to sink up with me for some time before rejecting me in disgust.

  11. Inventor of the Marmite Laser Silver badge

    Seeing as this is vinyl we are talking about here with, presumably, the user referred to some kind of disk jockey.

    This all leads me to wonder if the Bootstrap should now be referred to as the Jockstrap.

    Wicked soundz

  12. Johnny Canuck

    retro computers

    Many retro nerds boot cassette files on retro computers by converting the files to .wav and then connecting to the computer's cassette port with their phones or another computer. Of course you need a headphone jack for that. One guy even burned them as audio files on a CD. basically you can use anything that will output a .wav file. Or just use a cassette player.

  13. T. F. M. Reader

    The most impressive bit...

    I kinda assumed the guy was an old-timer with a bout of nostalgia, and I totally misread the "since 1993" bit on the blog page. Then I clicked on the About link...

    The guy is 27! There must be hope for today's youth yet...

    What can I say? QDOS! ;-)

    1. Danny 2

      Re: The most impressive bit...

      Nostalgia - not what it used to be.

  14. Alistair Dabbs

    Audio 1s and 0s

    This is performance art. What next - sending a one-page fax over the course of 24 hours by playing the bongos?

  15. WowandFlutter

    Confirmation that the BBC transmitted computer programme files

    In 1983, I worked as an Audio Supervisor and occasional reviewer for various off-shoots of the BBC Micro Show with a presenter called Chris Jones.

    At the end of the broadcast we would transmit a file listing in the usual warble and screech (bi-phase) audio format. Seem to remember we tried to keep it fair by alternating BBC Micro and ZX Spectrum files and recommended that the listeners recorded the transmission onto cassette. We would also repeat the broadcast at the end of the day before closedown (in the days before 24 hour broadcasting).

    Although it was hit and miss at times, it did work with a bit of equalisation on the AM band (4.5kHz bandwidth) but we had to remember to turn off the the in-line audio processor. Much easier to get working on FM (15kHz bandwidth). The files were played off a ¼" tape (Studer A80, £15,000 a piece in 1983) through a BBC designed sound desk (about £250,000). Photos of the desk at can be found at (Cardiff MaxiCon).

    Incidentally, I still have a working Jupiter Ace with a 16k memory pack that was sent for review by Jupiter Cantab - unfortunately the company went bust just after the review. Shame, as I found Forth quite fun to programme in.

    1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

      Re: Confirmation that the BBC transmitted computer programme files

      Shame, as I found Forth quite fun to programme in.

      Must fun I had with Forth was writing a Forth decompiler.

  16. TeeCee Gold badge

    ...fall back to the PC's cassette interface...

    I remember a mate telling me of an ICL mainframe they were trying to boot into engineering mode. The problem with doing this was that to get 'em to admit defeat and come up off the internal diagnostic ROM, they had to find absolutely no device attached which it might be possible to boot from.

    He and his colleagues were sure they'd powered off every disk, unit, tape device, etc ad nauseum in the computer suite and yet the damned thing was still stopping at Load Boot Media.

    After some considerable searching, they found, alone and unloved, hidden behind some cabinets in a dusty corner, an antiquated 800bpi tape drive with its Load Media light flashing away.

    Kept "just in case" they ever needed to restore some ancient backup and thus unused for many years, everyone had forgotten its very existence.

  17. Zippy´s Sausage Factory
    Thumb Up

    As a kid I was a bit experimental.

    So I got my reel-to-reel tape recorder out and recorded a game* from the tape onto an open reel.

    Then I used a din plug and attached the output (with a pair of wires) from the player to the datasette connector on the C64.

    Without a tape in the datasette, loading straight from the unaltered outputs of the reel to reel, it found the program, started loading. Loading music started, the loading screen even came up. Sadly it didn't make it all the way through, but I suspect that was the age of the tape I was using (my general recording one that I used a lot at the time). Still, it was a pleasing experiment.

    * it was Wizball, if you're curious. And yes, I did manage 999,999 twice with friends help. On my own the best I could get was 999,640, but in my defence that was on a black and white tv...

  18. Celeste Reinard

    Nerdism: 10 - Sanity: 0

    'The only record I digitised that gave a clear spectrum without noise was Nana Mouskouri 'International' from 1973, recorded at the Philips studio's at Eindhoven, my (favorite) uncle Ted managed to lay hands on. The rest of all the vinyl I digitised was, in popular jargon, dung. To add to that, that critisism goes as well for cd's, digitally mastered or not. So what's up whith those people telling that vinyl is so much better is, frankly, beyond me. That said, as everybody knows, my favorite music remains Motörhead, Throbbing Gristle, and the likes, so anyone assuming I am a bit conflicted won't be contradicted. ... BTW, Nana Mouskouri has a fabulous voice - as shown on the spectrograph that goes up to above 18.000 Hertz when she hits the 'I'.

    1. Zippy´s Sausage Factory

      Re: Nerdism: 10 - Sanity: 0

      Have you tried cleaning the vinyl with a decent specialist cleaner? I've had great results that way.

      By the way, is Nana Mouskouri still the world's best selling female artist? Last I knew she was on 400+ million records sold, Madonna second on 300+.

  19. Grease Monkey Silver badge

    I think it was the band Mainframe who once released a single where the B side was a ZX Spectrum audio spectrum analyzer program. You could then play the A side back through your Speccy and see it displayed on screen in various formats. Of course it worked just the same for any audio input.

  20. Nifty Silver badge

    This made me think of Voyager and it's 12" gold record

    So one day a spaceship can be sent up with a bootable OS and a circuit diagram.

    To let the aliens know either how to make a computer or how far behind we are...

  21. jelabarre59

    MBR on vinyl?

    I thought maybe Master Boot Record ( ) were releasing an album on "vinyl"...

    (mmm, yes. synthwave metal. My favourite track is "ftp")

  22. Stevie


    I recall seeing software on a flimsy attached to a hobbyist mag in the 80s.

  23. ChrisBedford

    Some people just have WAY too much time on their hands.

  24. JonnyT

    CD drive for Amstrad CPC (of sorts)

    I remember back in the days of the Amstrad CPC, Codemasters released their whole back catalogue on a CD, so you could load it via a CD player and a AUX-out to 3.5mm adapter. I had a 3" 6128, but also a separate tape desk with the 5-pin-DIN to 3x Jack Plug cable, as the budget games were £2.99 from W H Smith, and Amstrad disk games were like proverbial hen's teeth. Tape errors were the bane of my life...

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