Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Aah, CEEFAX - the end of an era

The announcement that the BBC's CEEFAX teletext service will cease when the last analogue TV service in the UK is switched off at midnight tonight has triggered a wave of nostalgia in me.

The blocky pixels which characterised CEEFAX were also the basis for VDU MODE 7 on the BBC Micro. I spent many hours, days, weeks (my long-suffering partner says "months") writing and reviewing educational software for the BBC Micro in the early 1980s, most of it in MODE 7, and became quite a dab hand at making graphics that vaguely resembled the person or thing they were supposed to represent. Certainly the pupils at Hundred Acre Wood School who were the main "beneficiaries" of the fruits of my labours never seemed to have any difficulty recognising what they saw on the screen.

The same graphic mode was used for the PRESTEL online service which I clearly remember demonstrating to my governors one evening via the technological marvel that was a 1200/75 bps acoustic coupler and a telephone handset. MODE 7 was perfect for something with such limited bandwidth.

One of the governors wrote to me after the meeting that "One day we'll take all this for granted. It will be so fast and reliable that people will look back at what we have in 1982, say how primitive it is and wonder how and why we persevered with it". It certainly looks that way thirty years down the line. I wonder how people will look back on iPads, smart phones and Kinect in 2042 ...

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