George Low’s wizard 600 was an important contribution to the early days of computing
George Low was an important figure in the early days of computing. He developed a programming language called Scratch which is still used today. The BBC recorded an interview with him a few years ago to discuss his life and work. It was shown as part of a series of interviews with famous and innovative people.
In the interview, George explained that he started programming when he was a child. He would spend time with a computer called FADDAN. It could only store 512 characters at once. When George used it, it was stacked on another computer called SWAC which had better storage facilities.
George said that he didn’t just program Scratch when he was younger; he also wrote a musical composition program and a casino game!
George has been widely recognised for his achievements in computing. He was awarded an OBE in 1997. In 2005, an auction of the collection of the late author Steve Puck featured a signed illustrated book containing a letter from George with those words along with some other correspondence George had written to him.
The wizard 600 was a 6-bit machine that could be programmed in assembly language
The editor of the BBC recording is talking about his six-bit machine, a very early computer. The next words that he says will give you some idea of how big the six-digit machine was. He says, “It was built on a card punch and it was the size of a small room”. When this machine was finished, it cost Mr Low 550 pounds, which would be around £4,000 today. When you consider that this digital computer used thousands of wires and transistors, it is amazing how quickly the cost of computers has come down.
The BBC recording is 4 minutes and 58 seconds long. It starts off with the editor saying, “This is what I have built”. Then he describes his computer to the camera and a group of children who are there. Following this description, the BBC recording shows him showing the children how to use his computer.
The wizard 600 had a number of features that made it unique, including its built-in monitor and keyboard
The Wizard 600 had several features that were quite unusual. Looking at it today, you would think that the keyboard and monitor were normal, but in the early days of computing, this was quite an innovative idea. The keyboard and monitor was built into the front of the machine. The keyboard had many different keys and there were seven buttons at the top of the screen, which could be used for scrolling through different areas of the screen. Each button had a very special function.
Low’s wizard 600 was used in a number of applications, including early video games and educational software
In the late 1950s, Mr Low used his machine to develop “Digitalk”, a programming language designed to make it easier for amateur programmers to write computer programs, and “Electromonica”, which was an educational software package. This was the first time that educational software was written for a computer. Later on, in the 1960s and 1970s, his machine was used to develop other applications, including early video games such as “Computer Space” and “Space Wars”. Mr Low was also responsible for the development of the “Commodore” series of home computers.
A computer system known as “Electrodata” was developed by Mr Low at the end of the 1950s. This used a magnetic drum memory that could store up to 6,000 different programs. In 1959, he had written programs for the machine which were used for teaching children at a school in Worcestershire. To run these programs, Mr Low used the computer to calculate tables of digits. These were used in teaching arithmetic to children as young as five years old. He then developed a program for the computer which could calculate transcendental functions, such as sines and cosines.
In 1956, Mr Low designed a system called “Concorde”, which was capable of running over 220 different programs. The machine could also store four times as much memory as the “Electrodata” machine.
In 1959, Mr Low wrote a program which he called “Space War”, which was one of the first ever games to be written for a computer. The game was used to test the programming abilities of other programmers and it was a huge success. It is thought that this program may have inspired Nolan Bushnell to write the game “Pong”.
The wizard 600 has been credited with helping to pave the way for modern computing
The Wizard 600 had a lot of features that were ahead of its time. For example, while other computer programmers used punched cards to communicate with the machine, Mr Low used a teletype terminal to send instructions directly to the machine. This made it possible for him to write his own programming language and to develop educational software. Also, he was able to connect his computer to a keyboard and a monitor, giving the user instant feedback. In contrast to other computers of the time, the Wizard 600 was a lot faster and more reliable.
Even though Mr Low had several years’ worth of experience working with computers, it took him at least a year to design and build the Wizard 600. He made his drawing on graph paper with a pencil, and he used solder to connect everything together. The electronic components were so small that he had to use a magnifying glass to work with them.