Paul Zucker

I was drawn to think of Paul again after settling on my 2024 #MARCHintosh project – preserving a couple of articles I wrote while working for him.

But this is actually a pretty hard post to write – how do you do justice to a friend, a mentor, a great boss, and a larrikin like Paul?

Words were his life (after his family), but words fail me to truly capture him.

It’s a testament to Paul that 30+ years after meeting him, 7+ years after bidding him farewell, his loss still hits hard, and the words I have seen regarding his life and his passing have drawn laughs, groans, and tears.

Paul could elicit those reactions…not infrequently at the same time.

I first met Paul when I worked at an inner City Sydney desktop publishing bureau, Creative Computer Company, which Paul then utilised for International Technology Publishing artwork output.

He tried to head hunt me – but at that time, I was happy where I was, so I said no.

Things change of course, and I became unhappy and asked Paul if he still had a position for me, but by then he had hired someone in the role he was originally seeking me for. He suggested another bureau, which ITP had moved to outputting their artwork through, and so I worked for Lyno’s at Artarmon for a few months, holding the fort over the Christmas Holidays of 1989.

During that time, when discussing an ITP output job for Paul, he asked out of the blue if I’d be interested working with him after all – the person he’d hired had not worked out – I jumped at the opportunity, and have never once regretted that choice.

We slotted in very well from the start – I laughed at his jokes (not as a sycophant, they were funny!), we had the same pedantic nature, and we had the same love of technology – he was way more outgoing than me, though.

I never witnessed him getting angry (passionate about things, yes, but never angry), but I saw evidence he could get angry – namely, a blemish in the carpet behind the “third seat” in our office.

That seat had been my predecessor’s (I think he made me use the second seat for a reason), and to say there was a clash of cognitive styles between Paul and Gavin would be putting it mildly. That blemish was the result of Paul becoming so frustrated with Gavin once he went to the back room of the office, where his workbench was, grabbed a hammer, and hit the floor behind Gavin’s seat in utter frustration.

That strike was so forceful, the concrete below the carpet exploded like a meteor-struck landscape, blasting the carpet fibres outwards. While not a tall man, Paul was a strong man, a barrel of a man, and that small blemish in the carpet reminded me always how he was not normally prone to physically striking out in any manner, despite his strength.

That was the prompting for Paul reaching out to me again, so, I guess I need to thank Gavin – thanks, Gavin!

Working with Paul was an utter joy. He prodded and encouraged me to extend myself. He always offered positive and insightful advice/criticism of my work.

He encouraged my writing, first with Newsbytes (archives available on the Internet Archive Site), then with MacNews, a Newsbytes customer who, through its incarnations as MacNews, then MacUser, then Australian Macworld saw me writing features and regular columns for over a decade. I had pieces published in PCWorld, Computing and Desktop after he introduced me to them.

Paul instilled in me a love of writing which endures to this day, but which I now seldom get the chance to indulge – I think Paul would probably encourage me to “take up the pen” more often, and he’d be right.

He regaled me with stories of his childhood (full of pranks) – like the time he survived the making (and detonation) of a pipe bomb, with all 10 fingers and both eyes remaining!

How his father was captured in WWII after bailing from his stricken aeroplane, and the Germans were bewildered someone with a German name would be fighting against them.

He was overjoyed to meet Nigel Planer (of The Young Ones fame) at his parents’ house on the Central Coast – Nigel’s parents were neighbours of Paul’s parents.

He loved trying to pull a joke on others. He was excited to try a new one when he got his first fax/modem card for his PC. He was going to fax someone with an intro from a fake stationery company extolling the virtues of their fax paper, with the promise of a free sample to follow, then he’d send pages and pages and pages of vertical text saying









But he wasn’t sure it would work, so he did a trial run to his own fax number first – but he couldn’t stop the whole file sending and ended up with metres of his practical joke on his own office floor.

He literally burst out laughing, and couldn’t wait to explain to me about how he had pranked himself. As far as I’m aware, he didn’t prank anyone else that way.

If someone sent SPAM faxes despite repeated requests from Paul to stop, before leaving for the weekend he would start to fax the page/s back to the sender late on Friday night, but tape the top of the page to the bottom as it went through, so the SPAMmers would arrive on Monday morning to a floor covered with their own SPAM. We rarely got more SPAM from them.

Once, when visiting the US, he posted back a slingshot (illegal in Aus) with a “child’s toy” customs declaration – it actually arrived at the office and he started a campaign of terror on a neighbouring business.

We overlooked the car park of the Pennant Hills Shopping Centre, and at the diagonal corner of the car park was the Pennant Hills Hardware Store.

Paul made special efforts to arrive early, and, with the vertical blinds turned to just allow enough of a gap, and the window slightly open, he would wait for the manager to start bringing out the external display items (wheelbarrows, brooms, that sort of thing) at 7am, and use his slingshot to shoot a 1¢ piece at the metal awning above the shop entrance (he had a pile of “ammunition” at the ready).

It would make an almighty bang, understandably startling the manager no matter how many times it happened, but Paul in his “blind” (he’d love that pun) was never discovered. He revelled in the mayhem.

NDAs were occasionally times for him to play word games. I remember him coming back from an Apple-paid trip to Cupertino, and he said, “I’m afraid I signed an NDA, which means I’m not allowed to tell you that Apple is about to release a laptop which fits in the paper tray of a LaserWriter!” (which is literally how they revealed them to the pack of journos in attendance). I think that must have been the PowerBook 100 series.

Working with Paul was the most fun job I have ever had, but all good things come to an end. ITP decided not to renew their production contract, which was Paul Zucker Computing’s bread and butter. This meant he couldn’t afford to keep me on staff, and I ended up moving to a print shop in Liverpool.

I kept writing for years after, though, and always appreciated Paul’s encouragement on that front.

Learning Paul was no longer with us hit me hard.

Despite his pranks, he was one of the most generous, loving people I have ever known. He valued family above all else, and was overjoyed as each of his children joined his tribe.

But he expressed his passions for other things, most especially technology and journalism, every day of his working life.

I think I would have been pretty pleased just to know him – but to have worked with him for two years was definitely an honour.

While I don’t think of him every day, when I do, it’s always with gratitude that he brightened my world.

After he passed, I wrote my “last” (despite that service’s demise/amalgamation decades past) Newsbytes post as per its house style. Here it is, as my final tribute to Paul:


Australia - Veteran IT Journalist Paul Zucker Farewelled 12/09/16
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA, 2016 DEC 9 (NB) -- Long time Australian IT journalist Paul Zucker was farewelled today by family, friends and colleagues at a well-attended ceremony in Sydney’s north-west.

Paul had been a mainstay of the Australian IT news industry for decades, and wrote for and/or edited many local IT publications, and also for Newsbytes News Network as Sydney/Australian Bureau Chief.

The list of publications Paul was involved in was testament to his skills as a journalist and editor: he wrote for and edited International Technology Publishing titles, was Sydney Bureau Chief of (and contributor to) early online IT news service Newsbytes, was Founding Editor of Australian Reseller News, and wrote for PC World, PC User, Computing, to name a few.

Paul passed away suddenly on 29 November 2016 at age 64.

He is remembered by all as a fun-loving prankster, pedant, considerate boss and devoted husband and father. He will be sorely missed by his family and those who knew or worked with him.

(Sean McNamara/20161209)


If there’s one thing that can shake you out of a lull, it’s holding yourself accountable to your tribe.

These days, what with Facebook, newsgroups, Twitter, reddit, and the whole pantheon of online services, we all seem to have as many tribes as we feel we can handle. Meetups and conferences can help bring those tribes into the real world.

Without it being too much of a revelation to anyone, I belong to the Apple ][ Clan, previously primarily online. But that changed significantly in 2015 with my attendance at Oz KFest, Australia’s own Apple ][ conference, loosely based on the KansasFest model.

2015’s was the third Oz KFest – so far, all of them have been held in towns strongly featuring “K” in their names to ensure we can stay “in the franchise”. Unfortunately, I wasn’t in a position to go to the first Oz KFest held in Mt Kiera south of Sydney in 2009 or the second one held in Kurilpa (a suburb of Brisbane, Queensland) in 2013.

In 2015, I was finally able to attend and it was Keysborough, a Melbourne suburb quite away from the central hub, which was our host city for the third Oz KFest. We were hosted by CompNow, an Apple reseller/service centre in a semi-industrial area – but what the heck, I was wasn’t there for the views, I was there for the ][s!

On the subject of the venue, a huge shout out to Jason Griffiths, who works at CompNow, and CompNow itself – the venue was phenomenal as far as space and facilities available, so thanks – you guys rock!

As anyone who has attended one of theses sorts of gatherings knows, it’s a great opportunity to re-invigorate your interest.

I know that the anticipation of the event, participating in the event (I even presented a session!) and the headspace it put me in afterwards will have a lasting impact on my Apple ][ hobby.

Tony Diaz made it all the way from the U.S. and it was an opportunity for those of us who have never been to KansasFest to tap into his vast reserves of knowledge and experience in all things Apple ][ – and be shown a not insignificant portion of his vast collection of rarities and prototypes.

I met some great friends, the atmosphere was positive and generous, with information and bits and pieces being swapped and just outright given, and there’s just that certain buzz from sharing a passion with similarly-minded people. If you get the chance, watch the time lapse video Jason recorded during the event to get a feel for it.

A direct and lasting outcome of my attendance at Oz KFest 2015 is WOzFest. After Oz KFest 2015, Tony Diaz drove his way to Sydney, and I held the first WOzFest in his honour before he flew home. For those who had been unable to attend Oz KFest, it was an opportunity to see Tony’s amazing collection of rare items, including one-of-a-kind prototypes. And those of us lucky enough to have been at both events still enjoyed the opportunity to see the items again, hear their stories again, and just be that much closer to them.

In regards to Apple ][s, 2015 was absolutely a year of re-emergence for me – right into the thick of the local Apple ][ community.

Feel free to share in the Comments what has launched you back into your retrocomputing community.

My return to Apple ][s

I deeply lament not keeping track of our original europlus – it had initially gone to my brother-in-law when my dad bought our first Mac in late 1985, and it was then passed on to his cousin…and we don’t know what happened to it after that.

It wasn’t a particularly special machine – 64K of RAM (including a third-party 16K language card), 2 x Disk ][ drives, monochrome monitor, third party 80 column card, and a Silentype printer. It didn’t even have a lower-case mod or real-time clock. I’m not even aware of any photos of that machine, which is a shame given how much time I spent on it! I’ll certainly post them if I find any.

We didn’t have much original software – Apple Writer v1.1, pfs:file, and pfs:report. And several disks of software (almost exclusively games) which I can’t recall the source of (likely friends at school – our computer dealer, Computer Lighthouse at Penrith, was rabidly anti-piracy from what I could tell).

Fast forward to December 1998 and I see a message on the Club Mac BBS offering a IIgs for free. By this time I was feeling quite nostalgic about the Apple ][, so I reached out to the owner, but had to wait for the “first responder” to be a no-show before I could secure it. It came with a monitor, keyboard, mouse and a drive or two.

After that, I seemed to accumulate Apple ][’s at a rate of one or two a year, including models I didn’t really have an interest in collecting (like Apple //c’s).

I’ve been able to acquire a few europluses, a couple of Silentypes, several Disk ][’s, original disks for AppleWriter v1.1 and pfs:file, third party language cards and 80 column cards, monochrome monitors – pretty well everything we had “back in the day”. I had held on to my 5¼” floppies, which has meant I’ve been able to relive my early Apple ][ days more easily.

As a side note, while preparing for my “(Solid) State of the Nation” talk at OzKFest 2015, I trawled through my e-mail archives, and discovered that the IIgs I acquired at the end of 1998 was given to me by Craig, who was at OzKFest! I’m happy to say that he’s subsequently been re-united with his old IIgs and it now forms part of his collection.

Nostalgia is a funny thing. That IIgs I got in 1998 could have done pretty well everything I wanted to do as far as using Apple ][’s now – but there’s just something about reliving the old days with the actual model I had as a teenager.

Apple logo tattoo

It’s no secret that I love the old six-colour Apple logo – to me it epitomises the part of Apple history of which I’m most nostalgic for.

There are very few corporate logos which survive for 40+ years untouched – and, although Apple’s logo (largely) retains its shape, management (starting in Steve Jobs’ second reign) moved generally to a  monochrome treatment of the logo.

As an admitted Apple logo hagiographer, I’ve certainly enjoyed the occasional nod from modern management to the logo’s colourful past, such as the WWDC 2012 logo, its appearances in this MacBook Air ad and six-colour themed Apple tv promotional material. I fully support Apple’s move to the modern logo treatment, but I think it says a lot about the company that they’re still prepared so readily to acknowledge and utilise their logo’s colourful past.

For many years I suggested to my family that I’d like to get a six-colour Apple logo tattoo – then I really could say I’d bled six colours!

In my role as the family’s Great Procrastinator, however, this wish never formalised into a plan, let alone action.

And so, as my 40th birthday approached, my kids made a wonderful suggestion – they would pay for my Apple logo tattoo for that landmark birthday!

Of course, acceptance of such an offer is only half the battle – I wanted to make sure whoever ended up doing the tattoo not only got the colours right (without the black outlines you sometimes see on Apple logo tattoos), but the shape also had to be spot on.

And then there are the issues of size and position – I’d originally thought of getting the tattoo on my back, but then I wouldn’t see people’s reaction to it! And my wife wanted it to be as small as could be – I knew getting the colours right on a small tattoo would be difficult, and if I was going to get a tattoo, I didn’t want it to be just 1cm tall!

So I suggested a size twice as big as I wanted, and “compromised” down to the real size I was after – approximately 4cm tall. With the “wanting to see people’s reactions” argument, I was able to successfully pitch for having the tattoo placed on the left hand side of my chest towards my shoulder. This has the added benefit of people thinking I wanted to have the logo “close to my heart”, which really didn’t come into it at all!

After a lot of web searching and asking around, we finally settled on Megan at Inner Vision Tattoo, in the Sydney inner suburb of Chippendale. Megan has a great portfolio of detailed colour work which mightily impressed us.

Mine was Megan’s first (and perhaps still only) Apple logo tattoo, but she was very willing to take on the challenge of getting the shape and colours right. After an hour and a half of “not as bad as I’d feared” pain, I had a shiny new six colour Apple logo tattoo!

Megan did phenomenal work on the joins between the colours, and to this day, nearly 8 years later, people still think it’s actually a sticker, not a real tattoo!

And so now, I have the most portable way of proving to people I meet just how much of an Apple fanboy I am! Which can’t be a bad thing…can it?!

Beyond ][s

In late 1983, a harbinger arrived to herald a new direction in the computers I would use in the years to come – while working part time during the summer holidays at our semi-local Apple dealer, Computer Lighthouse, I got to use a Lisa for the first time.

As were many others, I was blown away by the GUI, and fell in love instantly with it. Unfortunately, our family’s budget for computers couldn’t stretch to a Lisa, and I continued to plug away on our ][europlus at home.

However, I was primed and ready for the Mac as word of it spread – I avidly collected news stories about it and I anticipated the day I would get to use one regularly.

That opportunity, or at least the opportunity to use one semi-regularly, came in mid-late 1984, when my senior high school (John Paul II Senior High School, now part of St Andrews College) purchased a Mac for the Industrial Arts Department. I wasn’t doing any industrial arts subjects, but I was at the time heavily involved in the nascent school newspaper (The Papal Bull) – a bit of fast talking and we were able to convince the relevant teacher, Mark Samuels, to let us use the Mac during lunch breaks to lay out the newspaper.

What a joy it was – we used MacWrite, MacDraw and MacPaint, did some paste up, but, most of all, just swapped floppies (one drive only, initially). However, the results spoke for themselves and the end result was far and away better than the typewritten first couple of issues. I still have copies of all the issues I worked on (if you hadn’t guessed, I’m a bit of a hoarder).

As I headed towards the Higher School Certificate (Australia’s leaving certificate) exams in 1985, I had to scale back my use of the Mac and involvement in the newspaper at school, but just before my final exams I caught my Dad reading some Mac manuals and he confessed he’d bought a Mac, but I wasn’t allowed to use it until I’d finished my exams. It wasn’t even at the house, so it at least wasn’t something I had to actively resist. Unfortunately (in retrospect), the ][europlus moved to an in-law, who passed it on to a cousin and I then lost track of it – I really wish we’d held onto it.

Those summer holidays happened to be one where my parents visited my oldest sister in New Zealand (she lived there for a few years), so the Mac moved onto the desk in my room and I went crazy, delving into as much of its (software) workings as possible. I learnt about resources pretty early on and used ResEdit to craft new Trash icons, add menu shortcuts, correct interface elements’ names/descriptions to UK English spelling and just generally mucked around.

I especially enjoyed the design- and layout-type work – I bought disks of fonts, played with MacPaint and MacDraw and drew up the family tree (which when Dad saw it, prompted him into his great genealogical adventure, much to our occasional chagrin).

When I started Uni, I joined the Mac user group that met in the Uni grounds (Club Mac, still around today) and started buying disks of public domain and shareware software. After a year and a half of Uni, I realised it wasn’t for me, and, on reading an Australian Macworld article about desktop publishing bureaux in Australia, I decided to try and get a job at one.

I did my resumé on our Mac (of course), printed it on the Uni library LaserWriters, and sent it off, not really knowing what to expect. I landed an interview with the mid-level bureau from the Macworld article, Creative Computer Company, and they agreed to give me a two week trial. After one week, they offered me a full time job.

My desktop publishing career was up and running, and would see me through the next ten years, which will perhaps be the subject of another post.

I know some readers have never stopped using their Apple ][s, but I’m pretty sure all of them have also moved onto other computers. I’d be interested to hear about other users’ transitions to their first post-][ computer/s.

Speaking of Apple Writer…

Having recently posted about using Apple Writer v1.1 for my Yr 10 Technology assignment, I saw a post in comp.sys.apple2 pointing to an interview with the author of Apple Writer, Paul Lutus.

He’s led a varied career, and it was well worth a listen – he talks about his time at NASA, how Apple Writer came to be (and allowed him to retire a second time), his philosophy on life and just what free software is all about to him. His website is apparently worth a look, too, so I’ll be checking that out when I get some time.

First Class Work

As previously noted, my curricular time with Bob Bates came to an end in 1983, when he taught the half-term Technology syllabus to all six Yr 10 classes in turn. Our class, 10/1 Science, had Technology first, which I was certainly happy for (I continued to do elective computer classes throughout the year outside of normal timetable classes).

The culmination of the course-work was an assignment due in late March (the Australian school year starts in late January and finishes in December) reviewing a personal computer of our choice. By now, the Apple //e had been released, but I’m sure you won’t find it too hard to guess which computer I chose to review – the Apple ][europlus, of course.

I threw my heart and soul into that assignment like I had never done before (nor since). I used pictures from the October 1982 National Geographic, which had articles on computer technology and Silicon Valley.

I also used photos and information from the Fall 81/Winter 82 Apple In Depth publication (N.B. I appreciate that’s not the greatest scan of the cover, but I don’t currently have a flatbed scanner – watch this space) as well as product brochures and magazine ads.

One thing we’d been lacking on the europlus, though, was a word processor. If I was going to do an assignment on the Apple ][, I wanted to do it on the Apple ][. So I ducked out to Computer Lighthouse to select a word processor – I ended up with v1.1 of Apple Writer, which worked around the europlus’ lack of lower case letters by inverting letters that were to be printed in capitals, while non-inverted letters would print lower case. Coupled with the fact the Silentype didn’t descend its descenders, it all felt like a kludge, but it worked.

I roped in my sister, who’d done a secretarial college course, and my Dad, who was the source of my pedantry, to proof-read as I revised and printed drafts. Although I had the bulk of the material on hand early, I distinctly remember a mad rush on the weekend before the assignment was due, handing pages to my sister and Dad as they were printed for the next round of proofing. I duly handed in the assignment on time and awaited Bob Bates’ verdict along with the rest of the class.

As was my wont, I was sitting at the back of the class when the assignments were handed back – they were handed to the person at the front of each row to be passed back till they arrived at the person who’d written them. I seem to recall an odd smile on Bob Bates’ face as he handed mine to the guy at the front of my row (I could still recognise my handiwork from the back of the room), and, in typical teenage boy fashion, each boy on its way to its rightful owner would flip to the last page to check out the mark – as that happened for the five or six boys in front of me, they’d give me an odd look as they passed it to the next boy in the path to me.

When I got my hands on it and checked the last page, I discovered why I was getting all these odd looks. Written in red ink in large numbers and circled was my mark – 100%! And Bob had added a comment – “First class work! Congratulations.” To say this was one of the highlights of my time at school would be an understatement. I’d never felt such a sense of accomplishment. I’d gotten 100% for other things before and have since, but no “top mark” ever felt as “top” as that.

It had such an effect on me, I still have the assignment along with the course notes from that last half-term taught to me by Bob Bates. Wanting to recreate the assignment using modern computers was the reason I created my Silentype font all those years ago (watch this space on that front, too!). It probably also helped cement the old europlus in my heart, too – a review of that machine done on that machine that got me 100% from my favourite teacher – who wouldn’t love a machine like that?!

Did you have a stand-out school experience of the Apple ][? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Selecting the ][europlus

Some time in 1982, after I’d been using computers at school for about two years, my father decided we should get one at home. He was interested in having something to help him keep track of the tax records for our holiday home on the Central Coast (it was also rented out as a holiday let), and he wanted to create a database of his coin collection.

He gave me the task of selecting an appropriate machine – I was, after all, the only member of the family with any experience with personal computers at this point. Initially, because of my experience with them, I looked at Tandy’s TRS-80 offerings. This was in the days of the original TRS-80 Color Computer, and I distinctly remember looking at Tandy brochures expounding the virtues of these machines.

I find it amusing that my clearest recollections of the decision-making process are of considering the computer I ultimately decided not to get!

Unfortunately, I cannot recall just what it was that made me settle on the Apple ][, but settle on it I did, and Dad duly forked over what was likely to have been a huge wad of cash (or, more likely, he put it on his Bankcard, Australia & New Zealand’s own little credit card) for a 48K Apple ][europlus with a third party 16K memory expansion/language card, third party green screen monitor, a commodity dot matrix printer, two Disk ][ drives, pfs:file and pfs:report database programs and not much else. We bought it from our “local” (30 minutes’ drive away) Apple dealer, Computer Lighthouse at Penrith (which is at the Western outskirts of Sydney at the foot of the Blue Mountains).

I of course got to play a lot of my friends’ Apple ][ games (perhaps, more correctly, Apple ][ games my friends possessed) – I particularly enjoyed Castle Wolfenstein and Beyond Castle Wolfenstein, Lode Runner and Championship Lode Runner, FastGammon, Sabotage, Karateka and an Applesoft BASIC Star Trek clone.

Having never been a particularly enthusiastic (or good) chess player, I toyed with Sargon (or one of its successors), but the only memorable thing about any of my computerised games of chess is that immediately after a successful use of a slight variation of the “Two-Move Checkmate“, the Apple ][ blew up! Well, it was probably just a blown capacitor (it was thankfully still under warranty), but one of my brothers and I used to joke that the computer was just a sore loser!

The dot matrix printer was not a high quality one and didn’t last long – by March 1983 it had been replaced by an Apple Silentype printer. Along with the addition of a joystick at some point, that remained our computing setup at home until late 1985. I used it for school timetables, started toying with fonts and graphics as a prelude to my desktop publishing career, but mostly I just played on it.

I spent uncountable hours in front of the europlus, and it obviously holds a lot of nostalgic value to me as my IRC nickname in is “europlus” (on the rare occasions I make it in there) and, as you’ve possibly already noticed by now, it is also this blog’s name. When I started collecting Apple ][s, my goal was always to get another europlus and get as close to that original setup as possible. I’m mostly there, but am still awaiting a reasonably local and reasonably-priced working Silentype and the interface card required for it to work on a ][.

I’d be interested to hear how others chose to get Apple ][s, what the setup was and whether they kept their original machines or have had to “recreate” their ][ systems.

The man who changed my world

It’s probably good to get this post out of the way early on, rather than it languishing in the todo pile of an abandoned blog (I’m realistic about the number of blogs that successfully carry on long-term, here’s hoping I buck the trend).

As I’ve touched on in my introductory post, my true introduction to using computers (as opposed to just being fascinated by them) came when a kindly teacher at my high school took it upon himself to teach Yr 7 (first year of high school) students about computers.

In 1980, Patrician Bros College, Blacktown had a grand total of 1 computer. It was a TRS-80 – if my memory serves me well, it was a Model 1 with expansion module, floppy drive/s, cassette recorder and matching monitor (and likely matching printer). Up to this point, only Yr 10 students were allowed use this machine, so we felt pretty special to have access to it in the group of 4 or 5 of us who had put our hands up in class.

As an aside, the school at that time had students from Yr 5 through to Yr 10, so the last 2 years of Australian primary school, and the first 4 years of high school. Other schools were responsible for finishing the schooling if students decided to go beyond the School Certificate in Yr 10 and attempt the Higher School Certificate in Yr 12. Never understood the reasoning for this fairly oddball (by most Australian standards) range of years – it got “corrected” in the 90s and now has students in Yrs 7-12, the more standard Australian high school range.

So our self-selected group learnt to program in BASIC on the school’s “Trash-80”, a name we soon learned, and one which I later learned was almost universally applied. But to us, it wasn’t really trash, it was magical, because we could make it do our bidding, and the magician to our apprentices was Robert “Bob” Bates, then known to us students only as the more formal “Mr Bates”.

Bob Bates was ambidextrous – he would turn from the chalkboard, place the chalk in the hand he hadn’t been using, expound on something, turn back to the board without putting the chalk back in the hand he’d been using, and pick up writing where he’d left off. Buggered if I could ever pick the transitions from right to left or back again when looking at the full board later on.

Mr Bates wasn’t “cool” and trying to be our best friend. He had a calm reserve I only ever saw broken once. He had a ready smile when talking about topics he was passionate about (primarily technology in those days). He cared deeply about his charges and took his responsibility in helping to positively shape our lives very seriously. His nickname amongst the students was “Bunge” (pronounced “bunj”). He drove a Leyland P76 (to date, the only person I have personally known to have done so [it was a distinctive and memorable car]).

Through those early lunchtime sessions in Yr 7, then as my Science teacher in Yrs 8 and 9, Bob Bates helped me learn a lot about computers (and science in general) and kept my passion for technology alive. I would have liked to have had him as my Science teacher for the whole of Yr 10, but the school had the “bright” idea of splitting each of the three terms in two and having the six separate Science topics taught by different teachers. Unsurprisingly, Bob Bates taught us the Technology curriculum.

Also unsurprisingly, he taught it in a way I think few other teachers in 1983 would have (I suspect, though, that readers of this post who were at school before the widespread use of computers but who got to use and learnt to love computers at that time, may have had their own “Mr Bates”).

He taught us not only about computers as they were then, but offered us glimpses of a time when devices would converge, robots would take over many of manufacturing’s less savoury tasks, and employees would move to become what would now be called “knowledge workers”.

It was our duty to ourselves, he taught us, to not rely on employers to keep us “trained up”, but to do that ourselves by pro-actively reading trade magazines in our chosen fields and undertaking training to keep us ahead of our peers. He saw that those workers who embraced change and lead it by being part of it would be the workers who would benefit the most from it and not be left behind.

I’ve not necessarily led the most successful career in computers, but I’ve been kept off the streets, have my own business, and continue to enjoy the constant evolution of my knowledge of computers. I feel I owe a great debt to Bob Bates for helping me get my head in the right space for keeping my skills and knowledge growing.

Epilogue: some years after leaving school, I learnt that Bob had moved to the States. I’ve tracked him down 3 times now (it’s not stalking, I promise!) – in some ways, it gets easier each time, as the Web makes such tasks straightforward if the “target” isn’t actively trying to hide. A few years back Bob was visiting Australia and we got together, giving us a chance to meet each other’s wives, which I was happy for (my wife got to meet a seminal figure in my life, his wife saw the continuing regard I held her husband in 20+ years later). He’s currently on the staff of a Bible College, and also (I’ve discovered since starting to write this post) sells his paintings online – I never knew he was so artistically inclined (or talented). Quite the polymath, is Mr Bates.

Silentype font

For reasons which will become clearer after a few more backstories (I thought I should post something “useful”), I set out in September 2003 to create a font of the Silentype character set for modern computers.

I had a copy of Fontographer I had previously used for logo font creation I could use to make the font, but I didn’t have enough samples of the character set of the Silentype to be able to do as full a job as I would have liked.

So I turned to Usenet (most readers of this post won’t need, I suspect, to be told by Wikipedia what Usenet is – but it’s there, just in case) and received various replies trying to help locate a printout of the complete set or confirming my interpretation of the technical documentation on how the character set was generated on the original Silentype.

While waiting for the hoped-for complete character set sampler from a real Silentype, I went ahead and made a font with the characters from printouts I had from “back in the day”. I was short at least 16 characters, though, so I also went looking for any references to current owners of Silentypes. Direct appeals went unanswered, leading me to widen my net further to the forums (I always want to type “fora”) at Erik Klein’s Vintage Computer site.

Still no joy. But in an object lesson on keeping an open mind when trying to create resources like this, I noticed in late February 2004 an eBay auction of several Apple ][-related manuals, including a Silentype one!

I fired off a quick e-mail to the winning bidder, one Cristophe Janot, who very quickly (and kindly) not only confirmed that the manual had a sampler of the Silentype character set, but happily provided a scan of same.

I was able to complete the font and announce it to the world – but I never got around to properly distributing it. (As an aside, three years later, I had a request from a young Apple collector asking for a copy of the font files – coincidentally, this same collector won one of my eBay auctions in 2010 without either of us being aware we’d already communicated about retro-computers. As he primarily collects Macs, and I Apple ][s, and we are very much aligned on the whole “preservation” thing, I’ve since been able to pass on a significant amount of Mac materiale to minimise my clutter [my wife and I have different definitions of minimal clutter when it comes to old computers, but that’s about to become a moot point {and not because of a marital breakdown, but that story must be a separate post}].)

Eight years after completing the font, I began to consider creating a Motter Tektura font, and that made me think back to my not-officially-released Silentype font – I typed up some characters and noticed OS X is now rendering “o”, “O” and “8” with filled-in counters.

So I’ll have to revise the font, and announce and release it then, but it’s available in its current form to anyone who wants it. It seems to work fine in Windows XP, and I’m not sure which version of OS X “broke” the counters, but I’m sure I’ll be able to fix it at some point. Let me know if you have any recollections about the Silentype in the comments.