That Wacky Redhead

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: After 1900' started by Brainbin, Nov 18, 2011.

  1. Thande SWALLOWS·AND·AMAZONS·FOR·EVER!

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    Interesting statistical analysis Brainbin. I think it would look better on a histogram myself, but as I annoyingly found out the other day, Excel apparently doesn't do those...
     
  2. stevep Member

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    Brainbin

    I'll echo the congratulations of the other posters, both on the TL and the statistical analysis.

    One point I have been thinking of in terms of favourite episodes. How much has people's views changed with age? If I saw them again now I would probably have a markedly different preference to when I 1st saw them as a young child. For instance one I remember from the title, Area, I quite liked at the time but would probably find fairly superficial now. A couple of the others I can identify from the title, such as 'A Piece of the Action' but one reason I didn't put forward a list myself, apart from the terminal bone-idleness, was that while I can remember at least parts of lots of episodes not in great detail or to relate those memories to a title.

    Steve
     
  3. phx1138 Bocagiste troll

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    Wikipedia is your friend.;)
    An interesting question. I recall liking "Piece of the Action" when I was younger, thinking the idea was a good one; now, I still kind of like the "gangster nation" idea, but I'm not as enamored of the episode itself.

    "Balance of Terror" was much less obvious once, too, before I'd seen "The Enemy Below". (It's at least got a credible reason for staying on the same course.:rolleyes:)

    I also recall thinking (*has to look it up*:eek:) "A Private Little War" was a bit unsubtle when I was younger; now, it's still unsubtle,:rolleyes: but it's worn better with me.
     
  4. Brainbin Kingpin of the Cultural Cartel

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    An All-New Way To Play

    Syzygy VCS.jpg
    The Syzygy Video Computer System (VCS), original 1977-era model. [1]

    Syzygy means
    “play”.
    Syzygy means “fun”.
    Syzygy means “games”.
    And the Syzygy Video Computer System brings playing fun games into the comfort of your own living room!

    – Commercial for the Syzygy Video Computer System (VCS), first aired on November 24, 1977

    One of the defining technological patterns of the 20th century was the development of a new medium for each successive generation. Film, which had been pioneered late in the previous century, developed gradually into full-colour, full-sound, “talkie” motion pictures by the 1930s; radio, by comparison, had a much shorter gestation period, emerging fully-formed perhaps a decade after it had been invented – though it had the advantage of building on the infrastructure laid down by the telegraph and the telephone, both of which had preceded it. Television, which also shared this infrastructure, nevertheless also took a great deal of time to perfect; the earliest prototypes had been invented in the 1920s, but the medium would not fully saturate the market until the 1950s. Perhaps it was because it also had the visual aspect in common with the movies; in any event, by the 1970s, another new medium, one that would alarm traditionalists just as all the others had done previously, was due to make itself known. And so it did, right on schedule.

    The
    video game was, as might be expected from its name – unlike all previous media (save, perhaps, for certain examples of avant-garde theatre), interactive. It was primarily focused on the visual experience – the sounds produced by the primitive machines on which these video games played were not a selling point, as they were produced by technology similar to – though even less sophisticated than – the synthesizers that were becoming increasingly popular in various genres of music. Therefore, like the other two dominant vehicles of visual media, films and television, video games had an extremely long development process. The technology which made their genesis possible had evolved from the computational revolution of World War II and the years that followed; perhaps not coincidentally, many of the earliest video games were combat simulators. This would remain true even into the 1970s, the decade that saw their major breakthrough into the popular consciousness. Tactics were simple, and easy to simulate; the wide variety of genres and themes endemic to every other medium, which entailed plot, characterization, literary devices, and use of visual and sound effects, were far beyond what the technology could deliver at the time. This lack of maturity was strikingly reminiscent of the growing pains felt by the nascent film industry at the turn of the century.

    Along with combat simulators, many of the earliest video games replicated traditional board games. No less a luminary in the field of computers than Alan Turing wrote the very first chess program in order to test his theories of artificial intelligence. The “Sport of Kings” was extremely popular in the Soviet Union, and computer engineers there were eventually tasked with creating the
    ultimate program to challenge the gaggle of Grandmasters who hailed from the region, particularly the World Chess Champion during the era in which video games would first make headlines: Viktor Korchnoi. [2] Meanwhile, another early video game sought to replicate table tennis, and would have a great deal more success; this pioneering experiment, in turn, would foresee the great success that a later entrepreneur would have with this idea…

    What is popularly credited as the “first video game” – though it was nothing of the kind – was the 1971 game
    Computer Space. [3] Just as had been the case with so many other alleged breakthroughs of the past, it was not actually the first – merely the last that could plausibly claim to be the first. Likewise, the game’s designer, Nolan Bushnell, was actually far better at self-promotion than he was at creating video games, or even coding or computing in general. Bushnell, like Thomas Edison and Ray Kroc before him, was able to build on the works of others and properly package them for mass consumption, and it was this crucial skill which made him – and the company which he would eventually helm, Syzygy [4] – synonymous with the burgeoning industry. Being in the right place at the right time certainly helped; it was easy to see why Computer Space had emerged as such a hit. It had been released in 1971, at the very peak of Moonshot Lunacy, and it was one of a great many space-related novelties released at the time. It had been based on the pioneering Spacewar!, released one decade earlier, and represented the culmination of a long period of attempts to bring a similar experience out of the computer science laboratories and into the marketplace. Computer Space, even if it were not the first video game, had been the first to become available to the general public, and (considering that it had been based on the penny-arcade model) was obviously the first to generate revenue and, consequently, turn a profit.

    As noted, video games were generally the province of laboratories prior to the 1970s, after which they finally became available to the general public. As with motion pictures, the earliest mass market video games first appeared in public venues, in this case called
    video arcades, a term co-opted from the midway games available at amusement parks. The term “arcade” was naturally used to refer to those public areas housing large numbers of game cabinets, similar to the turn-of-the-century moniker nickelodeon to refer to slideshows of five-cent moving pictures (which evolved into movies). The electronics which powered these new video games were housed in arcade cabinets, with only the audio/video output and the manual controls usable for direct operation by the external users. These were so named because they were coin-operated in the standard penny-arcade fashion, completely enclosing (or housing) the electronic circuitry upon which the games were programmed. Computer Space was sold to arcade operators in these very cabinets. Usually the player would be allowed to continue with the game until the allotted time elapsed, or he was judged to have “lost”, at which point more money would be required. As video games came equipped with battery-backed memory, high scores could be recorded, allowing for greater replay value, and competition with friends (or rivals).


    [​IMG]

    The Computer Space arcade cabinet.

    The success of
    Computer Space convinced Bushnell to strike it out with an entirely different game, Pong, based on the aforementioned table tennis games of yore. Even more simple than Computer Space, it was also, surprisingly, an even bigger hit – to the point that the entire video game industry was considered synonymous with the word “Pong” in the early 1970s. That Pong was the greater success is not considered surprising in retrospect; Computer Space may have been more ambitious, but this allowed it to become more dated, more quickly, in technological terms, along with (needless to say) cultural terms, as soon as Moonshot Lunacy began to decline the year after Pong was released. [5] It would only regain its popularity with the release of the home version in the mid-1970s, in the wake of examples in other media, such as Moonraker.

    Syzygy Incorporated, the gaming company which Bushnell co-founded with his fellow developers, would become the driving force of this nascent industry. It was the development of home versions for
    Computer Space and Pong that would gradually give way to a home “console”, which would be capable of playing both games, though only one at a time. Each of them, sold individually for home use, provided Syzygy with some of the valuable seed money they needed for expansion into this home market on a permanent, consistent basis. [6] Their double success in this arena was also very attractive to creditors, as they had now established a pattern. The initial public offering of Syzygy Inc., in 1975, was a modest success that, in the eyes of some analysts, was a sure sign of economic recovery beginning to take hold; the longer-term picture was somewhat less clear, as is always the case with the “dismal science”. [7] Whatever the indicators, this allowed Bushnell to consolidate control of his company with admirable efficiency.

    The Syzygy Video Computer System, or VCS, was
    also not the first console for home use; it followed the Magnavox Odyssey of 1972 (and was contemporary with the earliest home microcomputers). However, the Odyssey had been little more than a peculiar novelty; in order to “operate” it, graphical overlays (translucent sheets, in other words) needed to be placed over the television picture tube. Most “games” operated in a largely identical fashion, and even the programming allowed for little differentiation between them. Unsurprisingly, those who had become interested in the video gaming experience stuck to the public arcades, or continued to buy their “home games” one at a time (including both Computer Space and Pong), until the VCS. It was sold, in all places, at Sears, a mid-market department store, alongside radios and television sets, as opposed to toy stores or specialty shops. [8] Syzygy marketing naturally focused on the unusual name, with radio and television commercials for their product explaining how to pronounce it, and often juxtaposing it with simple, easy-to-understand words like “play”, “fun”, and “game”, for these were what “syzygy” really meant.

    The VCS, much like media appliances before it, was also intended as furniture as much as it was a telecommunications device, with (as was the aesthetic in the 1970s) muted colours, and (faux) wood-grain panelling. Unlike other devices, the VCS required the use of audio-visual feed into an
    existing medium – in this case, television – in order to function properly. Television would provide the visual and audio output necessary to provide an immersive and interactive experience that would attempt to replicate that of the arcades. However, the technology simply could not keep pace with the continuing breakthroughs made by the cabinet makers, which would remain a truism for many years to come. Not that it stopped Syzygy from trying. Operating the controls involved an analog stick, commonly described as a “joystick”, which allowed 360 degrees of motion within a two-dimensional plane. Depending on the game, this allowed complete freedom on a “map”-type layout, or forward and reverse motion on a simulated “track”, popular on driving simulators. Spaceships, perhaps the most popular vehicles in games of the 1970s, could alternate between these two formats, depending on the mechanics of the game in question. On arcade cabinets, the joystick was properly built-in; the Syzygy VCS, on the other hand, had the controls (prominently featuring the joystick) connected by a cord to an outlet on the main housing of the circuitry. Wireless technology that would be analogous to the remote control was far more complex and would require precision in receiver technology, which cost/benefit analysts deemed to be far beyond the comparatively slight boost in convenience that it would offer to consumers.

    Syzygy, though they had developed the VCS, did
    not have exclusive dominion over the games created for that system. For the VCS, in contrast to the arcade cabinets which each had individual games programmed for them, was obviously able to play many games using the same hardware and processing power. One could “plug” any number of game “cartridges” into the receiving port of the console, for a different playing experience; at least, as much as could be possible given the technical limitations of the VCS, in addition to the restrictions of using the single controller, which consisted of the joystick and two “action” buttons. Some clever programmers got around this by having the switches on the console itself, which ostensibly controlled audio and visual settings, tie into the gameplay. Several producers made games for the system even without the direct approval of the company. It was clear that the “house”, referred to in the parlance of the industry as the “first-party developer”, was not the only game in town, and this would have a devastating impact on Syzygy even during the years when they held a virtual monopoly on home video game consoles. And in the years that followed, all bets were off

    ---

    [1] The model pictured is (of course) one of the Atari VCS, exclusively made for Sears department stores (hence the term
    “Video Arcade” in lieu of the Atari logo). As I am not a graphic designer, you have my permission to imagine a Syzygy logo in its place. It obviously wont look like the OTL Atari logo.

    [2] IOTL, Korchnoi never became the World Chess Champion, though he did challenge for the title on several occasions. ITTL, after Boris Spassky was allowed to hold onto the title in 1972 once it became clear that Bobby Fischer would not challenge him (as detailed here), he was then challenged by Korchnoi in 1974; he would then lose to the man who, IOTL, has often been described as the greatest Grandmaster never to win the World Chess Championship.

    [3] Bushnell and his eventual business partner, Ted Dabney, designed this game and sold 1,500 copies, but it did not do very well at all IOTL. However, ITTL, a combination of various factors, not the least of which is Moonshot Lunacy (you didn
    t think we were finished with that old chestnut, did you?), result in the game becoming an unexpected smash hit, and it is therefore Computer Space, not Pong, that is remembered as “the first video game”.

    [4] Yes, Syzygy. That was Bushnell
    s first choice for his company name IOTL, but it was taken (possibly by hippies, no less), so he went with Atari instead.

    [5] Pong ITTL has less of an
    “out-of-nowhere” rise to success, having a clear antecedent in Computer Space, but the perception of it being more “universal” is still seen as critical at this (very) early juncture. As noted, it also ages better than Computer Space, because simpler games tend to be more addictive (as OTL has repeatedly shown).

    [6] Obviously, only Pong was sold for home use IOTL.

    [7] In addition to the pattern (as opposed to the OTL
    “fluke”); the economy is still in better absolute shape ITTL than IOTL, which gives investors the means and the motive to buy into an IPO of Syzygy Inc. It helps, of course, that the 1970s were a far less economically risk-averse era than the present day.

    [8]
    A famous TTL slogan for the VCS (and one that might as well have been, IOTL)? “Its not just a game; its a piece of furniture!

    ---

    Thanks to Electric Monk, and to my newest consultant, Andrew T, for their help and advice in the making of this update! This is just an introductory taste of the video gaming industry, which I hope to revisit quite often in the second half of this timeline. Obviously, this industry has seemingly limitless potential so early in its history!


    Syzygy VCS.jpg
     
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2012
  5. phx1138 Bocagiste troll

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    Another good one.:) (That really does go without saying with you, y'know.;))

    I'll reserve comment on the impacts, since I know virtually nothing about the subject...except what's immediately below.
    Computer Space was also a lot harder to learn to play. It was nothing like as intuitive as Pong. (BTW, the concept of Pong goes back to 1958...)
    Does the arcade version help finance this? And does Syzygy still have the OTL trouble in translating arcade success into home success? (BTW, I can't help wishing they'd called it Dreadstar Gaming.:p Or Sable Games.:p {Yes, Sable Games is pretty inside.;)})

    FYI, tho I imagine you probably know, Pong was one of the most successful arcade games ever, & it was one of the most profitable, both for Atari & for the arcade operator.

    I'm wondering if the simplicity of Pong doesn't provoke development of something akin to Breakout sooner.

    Can I hope for a home version of Zaxxon?:cool::cool: (It's the only game I ever played much, & liked it a lot.)
     
  6. Thande SWALLOWS·AND·AMAZONS·FOR·EVER!

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    Good update.

    I haven't heard of Computer Space before, but if it's based on Spacewar!, I believe that would make it a rather more complex game than Pong; will that being the first public impression of videogames have an affect on the cultural role of them in society, I wonder.

    Although you mention the Odyssey you don't mention the fact that Pong was ripped off of the "Table Tennis" game on that console--Magnavox successfully sued them but settled for a one-time payout rather than royalties so Pong's success was not significantly dented. Might be something you could do something with.

    I hadn't heard about Syzygy being the original name before. Certainly a cool word, but I wonder if it being hard to spell might cause marketing issues. Also, extra points if the successor to the VCS (maybe a better-judged analogue to OTL's Atari 5400 with less problems) gets called the "Syzygy Zyzzyva" :p
     
  7. Pyro Yer Foxy/Platypus Enthusiast

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    In this terms of "unlicensed games" does that mean the video game crash of 1983 will still occur?
     
  8. jpj1421 Oy with the poodles already!

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    Well, there's a few factors involved in the crash, that could determine whether there is a crash, or an earlier and more mild crash.

    The large number of games and consoles will still be a problem it seems, so that will still be an issue from day one. OTL Start: 1977

    I'm having trouble remembering if computers were affected at all by the timeline here so far, but once computers become accessible to the average American, that will hurt gaming. OTL Start: 1981

    The Atari/Activision dispute over creator credit in games, which led to Atari losing control over the games produced for their hardware. This only exasperates the problems with the games on the market. OTL Start: 1979 Court Case Ends: 1982

    And finally, the attempts to bring arcade games/licensed movies into the home. Pacman came out in 1980, and ET came out in 1982. The Atari versions of both come out in 1982. These both failed miserably because they were awful.

    The video game crash came from a perfect storm of all of these issues hitting their peak in 81-82. If say, ET never comes out, or Atari works out it's issues with Activision, they may be able to minimize an over-saturation of games for their console. If personnel computing is sped up in anyway, consoles will have to manage competition earlier. Ultimately, I don't see how the crash could have been much worse than it ended up being, and if there's a mini crash caused by any butterflies, American gaming may survive.
     
  9. phx1138 Bocagiste troll

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    Am I understanding you correctly to mean a number of competitive consoles? So, if TTL Syzygy could be a touch more dominant, you'd solve it?
    I don't see it has to, tho. Why, TTL, can't Syzygy parlay its arcade/console profits into a *Commodore-style PC? One capable of gaming, but with more capability? One that plays all the popular games:cool:...yet has better graphics, more speed, & more features?:cool:
    So suppose TTL Syz (Oh, Vanth...?) says from the outset, "We'll let you design games, but we want a cut"? With the objective of increasing sales of consoles.
     
  10. jpj1421 Oy with the poodles already!

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    Yeah, to some up your questions...if Syzygy can get a hold on game production, and ensure a reasonable market, it could weather the 80's. That's the biggest problem right there. Then, yes, if they could come up with a Commodore-style PC they could keep up with the PC market. And...I don't know what they can do about the Syzygy knockoff consoles.
     
  11. Andrew T Kick 'em when they're up!

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    I think it goes without saying that this is a great update, and thanks for the shout-out, Brainbin!

    I love the idea of Atari being able to do an IPO instead of look for a corporate partner in the '70s. This is going to have massive effects on the stock market in the very near term; from 1981-1982, Atari was the fastest-growing company in the history of the world.

    That, in turn, is going to reinvest an awful lot of investors' cash with Syzygy, which means they'll be able to do a lot of things in the late 70s and early 80s with none of OTL's oversight....

    I have a different take on Atari in my timeline (which you can get to from my signature), but in general I think this is a doomed strategy. Here's why: Commodore owns MOS Technologies, which makes the 6502 series of chips that are used in the Atari 2600/5200/7800 as well as the Atari 400/800/XL line of computers, the Apple II, and the Commodore 64. In the medium term, then, Commodore will be able to out-compete on price anything using the 6502 line.

    So what you need to do is one or more of the following: (i) find a market that's less price-sensitive, (ii) find a legal or semi-legal way to knock off the 6502, and/or (iii) switch away from the 6502 to a different line of microprocessors; in the late 1970s, the only real alternative is the Zilog Z80.
     
  12. phx1138 Bocagiste troll

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    Can I throw you an entirely OT question? Why were they named 6502, Z80, & 8080?
     
  13. Dathi THorfinnsson Daði Þorfinnsson

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    There was 4004 chip used in eg my Seiko watch from ?1972?, which was a 4bit chip. The 8bit expansion was the 8008. Then someone said, hey if we tweak this we'll have a full computer cpu. That was the 8080. There were various related support chiips with names like 8082, etc.

    So, when a company named Zilog made their own, improved version, they called Z for zilog, 80 for the 8080 it was an enhancement of. So Z80.

    Electronics chips had names like that - 43xx might be a might be a series of programmable logic arrays, say, or memory chips.

    It just happened that motorolas microprocessors were 68xx and ?mos?'s were 65xx, while intel's were 80xx. Well, intel or whoever had started, as i said above, with a 4004, so that wasnt random, but they obviously had space in their naming system for 80xx chips at the time.

    Then, of course, the 16 bit extension of the 8080 was the 8086, and the 16/8 bit lobotomy of it used in ibm pcs was the 8088, while the math coprocessor used for both was the 8087.

    An enhanced 808x was labelled 8018x, then the next gen was 80286, then 80386. The latter two got called 286 and 386; then you got the 486. Disputes with ?amd? Over the copyrightability of a bare number led to the next gen beyond that being pentium, for penta 5. Since the next level would have been hexium, likely to endear the company to christian right:rolleyes:, or worse sexium..... they had painted themselves into a corner.
     
  14. Unknown Member

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    No Bruce Lee story would be complete without mentioning the fact that a stupid challenger to Bruce thought it would be a good idea to break into Bruce's house and scare his young children, Brandon and Shannon.

    Bruce then sent the guy to the hospital. With. One. Kick.

    Good update on the technological advances of this world, Brainbin.

    Keep up the good work and Happy Thanksgiving!!!
     
  15. Andrew T Kick 'em when they're up!

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    Dathi's got it exactly right; I would add the following: Chuck Peddle designed the MC6800 while at Motorola. When he and his engineering team left Motorola to found MOS, they ripped off the 6800 design and called it the 6501. The '6' was to show that it was the same family of chips; the '5' was to show that it was significantly cheaper than the Motorola chip; and the -01 (and later -02) was to show that the 6501/6502 had new features.

    The 6502 is all over the 1970s and 80s because it was so much cheaper than the competition -- Steve Wozniak once quipped that the 6502 was "one-fourth the price" of the Motorola 6800, but in some cases the 6502 was one-tenth (or less) the price of its competitors!

    Here's a great case study: the Tandy-Radio Shack Color Computer ("CoCo"), introduced way back in 1980. That's two years before the Commodore 64, so its direct competitors were the Apple II+ and the Atari 800, both of which ran the 8-bit 6502. The CoCo, on the other hand, used the 16-bit Motorola 6809, which, on a chip-for-chip basis, is a significantly better microprocessor.

    The problem is that the MC6809 was ten times the cost of the MOS6502, so in order to get the CoCo to market anywhere near the price of the Apple and Atari machines (approximately USD$1,000 in 1980), Tandy had to forego the specialized graphics and sound co-processors that made the Atari (and to a lesser extent, the Apple) an appropriate platform to which to port arcade games. Oh, and they had to use the cheapest possible case and keyboard, too, so the whole thing just looked crappy.

    Internally, the CoCo's CPU was light-years ahead of what Atari and Apple were doing. But to the consumer, the CoCo's text (40-column, no lowercase letters) and graphics (128x96, 4 colors) -- handled entirely by the 6502 -- were significantly worse than what you saw on your Atari or Apple screen -- and largely inadequate for porting arcade games. So even though there was more going on "under the hood," so to speak, it didn't seem that way to the consumer.

    So that was your tradeoff with the 6502: you got a crappier processor, but you got the CPU taken care of cheaply which freed up your engineers to design all sorts of custom processors to handle the stuff the CPU couldn't do. In the late 70s/early 80s, that proved to be the winning course.
     
  16. naraht Well-Known Member

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    Love to get more information on this challenger. I wonder why Bruce let the guy live...
     
  17. The Blue-Eyed Infidel The Once and Future Westralian

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    Love the update, but can't really contribute anything - just outside my age range. I have some ideas if you do a follow-up on 8-bit home computers, though - PM me if you're interested.

    TB-EI
     
    Last edited: Nov 20, 2012
  18. Orville_third Banned

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    Did Computer Space show up in Jaws or Soylent Green like OTL?
     
  19. Andrew T Kick 'em when they're up!

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    Syzygy logo

    I found the original Syzygy logo:

    [​IMG]

    Also, if you do a google image search for "syzygy logo" and scroll down to the middle of page 3, you'll find a link to this thread, even though it's less than 24 hours old! That's a pretty big endorsement of That Wacky Redhead, I think.
     
  20. phx1138 Bocagiste troll

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    Thx. The Z80 I had halfway guessed. I was presuming the numbers on the others were part of an internal numbering system of some kind, identifying type of chips & such; from what you're saying, not so?

    Thx for that.:cool: This is the kind of thing I was thinking was usual for all designators.
     
    Last edited: Nov 21, 2012