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Ramblings and ECR

The following is an amalgam of extracts from a two hour rambling interview. I was persuaded to sit for the interview by a masters student 2 weeks before I retired in June 2014. It was supposed to be about the benefits of a career break on my approach to teaching.  I dragged in Educational Computer Resources, my interest in assistive and adaptive technologies and my passion for early electronics.

My interest in electronics goes back to my primary school days. The electronics feature in the monthly Our Boys magazine aroused my curiosity and my uncle Tony Meleady’s soldering skills used to fascinate me as a child. As I got older, amateur radio seemed to tick all my boxes. I accepted an invitation to visit the new Cloghar Road Technical School open night. During my visit I was introduced to Ham Radio and I was smitten. One of the exhibitors that night was Jim North, a neighbour from around the corner in Downpatrick Road. Jim took me under his wing and tutored me so I could pass my theory and Morse Code exam. However, since I only possessed a Morse training key and no broadcast equipment my licence application was either lost, never processed or just slipped into obscurity because I left home for college in August of that year. Attempts were made 30 years later in Marino to trace and revive it but they came to nothing.

Over the next 10 years my hobby interests were side-lined by state exams, university, courtship and marriage.  Luckily for us  bulletin board systems began to pop up in the Dublin area the following year. Little posters appeared on real notice boards in supermarkets, post offices, Peats for Parts, Radionics, and in QTH Computers in Dun Laoghaire. Stephen Kearon of DUBBS was the main driving force in Dublin, if not Ireland. DUBBS was soon followed by TOPPSI, ICON, IACC and Informatique. FrEdmail (Free Educational Electronic Mail) also arrived much later on, it was the first education oriented BBS in Ireland. The Irish FeEdmail board was set up by Tómás Ó Briain and was based in his school in Saint Mark’s N.S. in Tallaght. It contained local educational news and online competitions and featured FrEdmail and K12 feeds from Philadelphia. These feeds were already carried by TOPPSI but were not  promoted as the majority of schools and teachers were offline at the time.

Local calls were not metered at the time and a user could stay online for the cost of one local call for an entire year, after which time the line was dropped and he/she had to re-dial to make a new connection for the next year. The caller paid for the connection and if he/she did not hang up properly the phone at the other end remained engaged and useless to the other user.  As a result BBSs sprung up all over Ireland reflecting the interests of various computer users’ groups and they dominated the online scene until the internet came along in the 1990s. I was responsible for the “Chalkface” files on TOPPSI which mirrored the content of START BBS. Special Teachers and Remedial Teachers BBS or START was my own Viewdata system which ran on a BBC Master 128 in the box room until October 1993. The two second-hand 10 MB full height hard disks were donated by Micro Marketing Ltd, Dundrum and the interface was made by Ferrotec Ltd, Sandyford Industrial Estate. The BBS was kept online with a second-hand TanData TM602 modem which I picked up at an Acorn Users Show in the UK. The screens looked very like Teletext and the graphics were akin to 2D LEGO models. The system chugged away merrily from 20:00 – 24:00 hrs everyday until the final drive ground to a halt. I knew almost immediately when something went wrong because the room fell silent or the phone rang through.  A telltale sign was the digital handshaking burst at the other end when the modem failed to capture the line. Friends and relations knew not to phone in the evening or their call would be captured by the modem. START  had 58 registered users, most of which were post-primary CESI members and ARTI (ILSA) remedial teachers. The system log recorded an “all time high” of 11 users on one April day during the Dublin Millennium Year in 1988. You must remember only one user at a time could use the telephone line so users mainly checked “messages” and mail on FidoNet and logged off. There was little or no surfing in those days. Privileged users were allocated 60 minutes from 20:00 – 24:00 hrs all the others were cut off after 20 minutes. Having said that, everything was literally put on hold if a phone call had to be made.  We rarely received incoming calls as domestic landlines were  a rarity and impossible to order in a newly built areas. My wife worked for a major semi-state computer bureau so we were the first to have a phone in our estate in 1977.

Things became a bit awkward as I needed the BBC Master 128 to write assignments for my post-graduate B.Ed. and also to maintain the ever increasing ARTI (now ILSA) database. The  BBC Master 128 struggled with the work load  and remember I only had 3.5 inch diskettes to save my work on as the hard disks were hard wired to the BBS. Every time I had to do some word processing or database management I had to take the BBS offline (unplug the modem) otherwise the call would glitch my work as it switched the processing power to the hard disks.

In the meantime, I found myself embarking on a career break from primary school teaching in September 1992 (22 years ago). The late Sean Hunt, inspector for special needs schools, suggested I concentrate on the provision of resources for BBC Micros and Acorn Computers. Apple Computers were available on the education market but they very expensive and the majority of software was manufactured in the USA.  This posed a problem for the Department of Education as software had American spelling and taught U.S monitory and measurement systems.

I had to do something so after a meeting with the household budgeting committee (my wife) I ended up taking out a credit union loan to buy an Intel 386 box – made in Ireland. Compared to the BBC Master 128 it was lightning fast AND it had its own 20 MB hard disk. No CD-ROM drive! No soundcard! A year or two later on I purchased the first multimedia upgrade and proudly demonstrated my multimedia PC to CESI members at the annual CESI conference in Saint Patrick’s College in Drumcondra. The CD-ROM “Arthur’s Teacher Trouble” from Living Books was the big attraction.

Following that successful demo Educational Computer Resources, a.k.a. ECR was born in January 1993. Later that year I put up my first HTML pages up on a sub-site on Connect Ireland. It soon became obvious that nobody could navigate to my  “special multimedia upgrade offers” so in 1994 I pushed the boat out and registered the domain ECR.IE. Once again it was hosted on Connect Ireland Ltd – www.connect.ie as I had being using that online service since its T.O.P.P.S.I. (To Operate by Providing People with Services and Information) bulletin board days in the early 1990s . I immediately set up the following email addresses: info@ecr.ie, sales@ecr.ie  and I know they were still alive on some suppliers’ emailing lists as late as 2011. The arrival of Hot Metal HTML Editor enabled me to launch a full 16 page website for my “Back-to-School” offers in September 1994. The site received 241 hits up Christmas 1994. Things got much  better after that as I sponsored prizes for CESI and ARTI events . However, the email addresses on my business stationary and stickers proved invaluable. In the early days the “printed” email addresses drew in more enquiries that the web site. The web site grew in popularity and operated until 2000.

Unfortunately, the Revenue Commissioners presumed I was still trading as the the web site and phone numbers were still active. I had change my phone numbers and inform the Irish Domain Registry that I was no longer trading and they immediately decommissioned the domain name. The ECR.IE domain name was snapped up by East Coast Radio and later on by East Coast Recycling. East Coast Radio, in particular, contacted me for a forwarding email address as they were plaqued by software enquiries from schools. I neglected to mention that ECR.IE appeared on all my labels and I can assure you I stuck them on everything I sold.

On November 5th 2014 the following local search engines still list Educational Computer Resources and ECR.IE.

Educational Computer Resources, Drumcondra – Dublin …
www.whoseview.ie/business/Educational-Computer-Resources
0 reviews of Educational Computer Resources, Drumcondra,
reviews of Computer Sales in Dublin, Marino Institute of Education ICT Centre Griffith Avenue Dublin 9
www.mie.ie  www.ecr.ie info@ecr.ie (D9 …

Contact Details: Educational Computer ResourcesComputer
www.localbusinesspages.ie/78294/Educational+Computer+Resources.aspx
Contact Details: Educational Computer ResourcesComputer Software,
4 Domville dr 6W Dublin www.ecr.ie

Educational Computer Resources, Templeogue – Dublin …
www.whoseview.ie/business/Educational-Computer-Resources
0 reviews of Educational Computer Resources, Templeogue,
reviews of Computer Sales in Dublin, 4 Domville dr Dublin 6W (D6W) (West Dublin) www.ecr.ie