Kent Micro Systems

I was just reading a thread on a forum I am a part of talking about the old days of computer games – back in the days of the Sinclair Spectrum, Commodore 64, Atari 400, Dragon 32, Oric 1 and so on.

They were swapping stories about their naughty piracy (someone even had a story about going into a busy stereo store and dropping the latest games on cassette into a tape to tape machine, along with a blank tape, setting them up to record, turning the sound down, then leaving to go get a burger! The cheek!) habits, and how different it was in those days, before the mass proliferation of floppy discs and CD’s.

Back in the day I worked in a computer store in Canterbury in England called Kent Micro Systems. It was primarily a bespoke software development house that built specific systems for businesses (they built a system for a jeweler that monitors in the windows, and each item on display had a number next to it, and there were weatherproof key pads on the outside of the windows so you could key in numbers of the items on display and get more details about them) but they also had a front facing business selling the computers of the day.

In fact, they were the first company to actually sell any of the Memotech 500 machines, mainly down to the fact that I had read about them and prompted them to buy some.

The place was in Palace street, and was in a very old building that was one of those British Heritage places – got a preservation order on it and so on.

Anyway, the story I wanted to tell was of a sales order we had with Canterbury University. They wanted 10 BBC Micro Model B’s, complete with a Disk Drives. However they didn’t want the Acorn disk drives, they wanted a special after market set of drives that the BBC actually sat on. You had to send your BBC away to have it modified to work with these machines, since they removed the powersupply from the BBC Micro to have it work off the power supply in the Disc Drives. To that end, they replaced the power plug on the end of the BBC so it would only fit into the disc drive in order to stop people plugging the machine into the mains directly.

So these machines arrived (in separate boxes) and we called the University to say they were in, would they like us to deliver them and install them? Yes, they wanted us to deliver them, but they were quite capable of installing them, thank you very much. You sure? Yes thanks.

So we delivered them and left again, and then 2 hours later got frantic phone calls from them saying that None of the BBC Micros worked, and they all smelt of burnt plastic?

So we rush up there. What had happened was that their computer department had let the students install these beasties, and of course, in their haste to play Planetoid (a very accurate Defender clone from AcornSoft) they had unpacked the BBC machines first, not bothered with the disk drive machines (since the software was on cassette at the time), found these strange plugs on the end of the power cables on the computers, cut them off and replaced them with normal plugs and plugged them directly into the mains.

240 volts went were 12 should have gone. The motherboards were just completely destroyed. And whats worse is that when they blew up one, they just went on, opened another and did the very same thing, one after another. Staggering – these were university students!

Then they claimed it was our fault for not installing them!

I shall always treasure that day – when some university students were shown up for what they really were.

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