Grabbing your imagination

What was it that grabbed your imagination in IT? What has done it lately?

For me it went back to the Research Machines 380Z and BBC Micros we had at school. By today's standards pocket calculators, of course.

But it depends on your age doesn't it? If you're a smidge older than me perhaps it was LEO, a smidge younger, the film Tron (or perhaps not).

The rate of progress in IT means that there are relatively few common touch points for inspiration because they can come from such disparate sources: software, hardware, enterprise apps, gadgets of all sizes and shapes, personal computers, Apple zeitgeists and so on.

But then again there are things that all lovers of technology seem to hold in awe. Apple fanboy or not, it's very hard not to be impressed with the iPod, then the iPhone, then the burgeoning creativity (sometimes) of the App Store.

I did a quick straw poll in the office for things that inspired:

  • Hungry Horace on the ZX Spectrum 1982
  • Elite on the Spectrum 1984
  • Granny's House on the BBC Micro (I haven’t got a clue what this is)
  • The Sony Walkman
  • Calculator Watches (you could write SHELLOIL)
  • Nintendo Game and Watch
  • Nintendo DS Lite
  • Stranger in a Strange Land (a book!)
  • 1960's reel to reel storage (so futuristic)
  • Space 1999
  • Things with glowing buttons and multiple screens
  • The Star Trek Communicator
  • 2001 (the film, not just the year in general).
  • Dick Tracey's walkie-talkie watch
  • Logan's Run (what a robot!)
  • Voigt-Kampf Machines
  • The iPhone
  • Robbie the Robot

Strange old list isn't it? And yet some of those things have been quoted as inspiring some of our most creative inventors (apparently Star Trek has been a particular inspiration).

The beauty of this stuff is that soon someone will come up with something that will blow you away: it'll either be something already here that you stumble across: (Spotify, Palm Pre, The Light Bikes on the iPod/iPhone (great, just like Tron!)), or something new: really good touch screen laptops, VR brain implants, personal jet packs (when???).

Exciting isn't it?

What does it for you?

Comments (13)

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  • 1
    R S Athurupana wrote on 9th Sep 2009

    I quote on this statement "The rate of progress in IT means that there are relatively few common touch points for inspiration because they can come from such disparate sources: software, hardware, enterprise apps, gadgets of all sizes and shapes, personal computers, Apple zeitgeists and so on." which is interesting and time consuming as in IT designing, developing and maintaining. Maybe not entirely gaming but usability of those sources.

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  • 2
    Braz82 wrote on 9th Sep 2009

    When polled I said Granny's House, but just remembered it was called Granny's Garden:'s_Garden

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  • 3
    Alex R wrote on 10th Sep 2009

    I remember a lot of these and yes a lot inspired me and I have used / see a lot of them plus several others, but surprised no one mentioned anything from DR Who, Tardis / Tardis consol, K9, Hand held electric / sonic screwdrivers, hand held computers / communication devise, and on and on: Who knows these might already be a reality in some distant Galaxy:

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  • 4
    BG wrote on 11th Sep 2009

    Our first computer at home was a Nascom 2. Wonderful!

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  • 5
    Sharon H wrote on 11th Sep 2009

    Hi, thanks for the link to Granny's Garden, I don't remember that one. Agree with the Dr Who theme for devices. However I think a lot of computer developers were inspired by the ZX Spectrum. Remember Pac-Man, well the original game is still played and loved by lots of people, even though the new Pac-Man graphics have come on leaps and bounds.

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  • 6
    woodnoggin wrote on 11th Sep 2009

    Granny's Garden inspired and terrified me in equal measure!

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  • 7
    Joe Fernley wrote on 14th Sep 2009

    I must vote for my humble VIC-20 circa 1982 (including hand assembling to machine code)

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  • 8
    APC wrote on 16th Sep 2009

    For me it was _Neuromancer_ by William Gibson. When I told him this at a book signing he paused and then said "oh, you're one of _those_ guys". He must get that a lot.

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  • 9
    Michael wrote on 16th Sep 2009

    The first one that impressed me was DEUCE at the NPL. (I was too late to be introduced to ACE!) I remember how it took up to 3 hours to warm up - and now we complain about a few minutes for microsoft code!

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  • 10
    Jooli Atkins wrote on 17th Sep 2009

    It had to be Hitchhikers! The most exciting prospect of a computer so big and powerful that it came up with the answer '42' was the inspiration for my whole life. I even named my company - Matrix FortyTwo - after it :)

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  • 11
    Ariadne Tampion wrote on 21st Sep 2009

    For me it was Asimov's robot stories - not once but twice! They first got me interested in computers and engineering when I was a teenager. More recently, re-reading them brought me back to the fold post-family - and I have had rather more distractions than the average career-break mum! (via my own robot fantasy - if anyone missed the BCS review because they were on Easter Holiday, it's at

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  • 12
    Alex R wrote on 25th Sep 2009

    What actually got me 1st interested in computing, was an old comptometer, this was an electronic machine about twice the size of an old fashion typewriter. It was I guess a fore running to the calculator, but defiantly not the pocket version itself: On it you could perform up to about 20 I believe fairly complex sets of calculations, which you could pre program in and store: For example you could calculate the cash values of hours work, but putting in the total number of hours, where the 1st 30 would be at 1 rate and the next 15 at a higher rate and any over that at an even higher rate (this was all in one preset calculation): This intrigued me and I thought why can’t you take this further and calculate even more and produce someone’s payslip for example (the comptometer only worked on calculations & numbers): On discussing this in a maths lesson with my teacher, he said it was actually possible and that “computers” where being developed that could do that: 2 Years later, when going to college 1 subject hit me straight away: “Computer Science”: I signed up for that without hesitation and the 1st computer 1 even worked on was an old Elliot’s machine, which was as big as about 40 x 4 draw filing cabinets, but only about as powerful as 1/1000th of a modern laptop (it may well have been 1/10000 or less: This beast of a machine booted via paper tape in conjunction with a telephone exchange type wring panel and was controlled by a teletype consol which was so slow that even an amateur typist could type too fast for it to keep up, and perhaps only every other key you pressed may get accepted: This did not daunt me and here I nearly 40 years on still playing (Working I Think others call it) with computers:

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  • 13
    Matthew wrote on 7th Oct 2009

    My ZX81 and the incomparable smugness I felt when I was the 1st person I knew to get the 16k Ram pack.

    Also anyone who was happy writing SHELLOIL on a calculator was obviously a lot more mature than me and my mates who found much more juvenile things to write.

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About the author

Brian is Head of Content at BCS and blogs about the Institute’s role in making IT good for society, historical developments in computing, the implications of CS research and more.

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