Sunday, September 04, 2011

Techtalk: Bits & Bytes and You (by Peter Chan)

I am at a loss as to how many computer-related fairs there are in a year because unlike many others I have never made an annual pilgrimage. The first occasion was in 2006 and the next time was to a computer show at SUNTEC City in 2010. On both occasions, it was blogger Victor Koo who encouraged me to make the trip for the best mega-deals in town.

Photo 1: A computer show at SUNTEC City.

From both fairs, I got the impression times have changed. Now it looks more like a bazaar rather than an exhibition or a trade fair. Today there’s a gamut of product-offerings at such as cameras, camcorders, printers, mobile phones, TVs & home entertainment, games, monitors and accessories. The crowd profile looks different - casual in dressing and more female visitors.
So why am I blogging about it? Well the computer fairs or exhibitions do have a heritage touch to it. Do you know when was the first ever computer show held in Singapore? Where was it held?

Photo 2: Hyatt Hotel (c 1981).

When computer shows were first introduced into Singapore, it was led by the PCs. You never found Mainframes, Mini-computers or Workstations in any exhibition until the National Computer Board (NCB) was formed in 1984. This means that big IT vendors such as IBM, Unisys, NCR, HP, Sun Microsystems or Digital actively took part in shows after the Singapore Government’s computerization program swung into high gear. Similar to “rapid urban renewal” in Singapore, NCB disappeared in the late 1990s after it merged with the Telecommunication Authority of Singapore (TAS) to form IDA.

Photo 3: NCR advertisement(c 1983).

The first PC Show was held at the Hyatt Hotel in 1982. Here are some old snap shots of that show. It was called PerCompAsia 1982. 1982 was a significant year because IBM launched the IBM PC/XT models; minimum configuration was 32K Ram, 2 X 5.25” floppy drives of 360KB each and a higher capacity model which had a 10MB Tandon drive. How many of you can remember home entertainment ATARI or PET COMMODORE? How about the Philips word processing systems?

Photo 4: Big dinosaur PCs. A marketing support personnel explaining to an illiterate IT customer (c 1982).

Yesterday’s PercompAsia 1982 was organised by Singapore Exhibition Services Pte Ltd. The exhibition was quite unlike today’s modern “pasar malam” because the organizers did not allowed for on-the-spot sales. Just to give you a sense of how much Singapore computer users have come from 20 years ago, the software demonstrated included personal productivity tools - SuperCal, Wordstar and Dbase II and accounting - General Ledger, Accounts Payable and Accounts Receivable.

Photo 5: There was a time when rival computer vendor personnel developed friendship during an exhibition. “How about meeting at Chinoserie after work?” (c 1982)

When I looked back at these old photos, there is a certain smartness and uniformity of these IT personnel. They wore the familiar business suites or normal office attires of dark trousers and white shirt, and spoke proper English (not Mandarin with some English words thrown in).

In fact I heard many stories which echoed the same voice: The day Yaohan Best sold computers, it was time to get out working in the IT Industry. Good bye to bits and bytes!


Lam Chun See said...

I believe the first PC I ever touched was a Tandy Radioshack TRS80. The year was 1981 and I was attending a course in BASIC programming at a training centre in Waterloo Centre. After that I wrote some programs using Applesoft, Apple's version of Basic Language, on our dept's Apple PC. At that time, I was working as an IE in Philips in Toa Payoh.

I remember the screen fonts and cursor were green in colour and had only 40 columns. By adding a card we could upgrade it to 80 columns.

The first spreadsheet that we used was called Visicalc. My colleagues in the Precal section who were responsible for product costing loved this software; and often we had to fight for the use of the pc.

As for the printer, I think it was dot matrix because I seem to recall that the paper had these sprockets/holes at the side. No change to this day it seems.

Icemoon said...

There are four major IT fairs in Singapore, in this order:
I - IT Show
P - PC Show
C - Comex
S - Sitex

Occurring every quarter of the year, roughly around the four school holidays.

Just remember the acronym - IPCS.

fr said...

I think it was around 1982 that some schools started computer appreciation clubs as an ECA. One brand of computers they used was Rangers if I remember correctly.

Teachers were sent for courses to learn about software and hardware and BASIC programming.

peter said...

Those were the days when many ministries sent their staff to sit in at vendor demonstration so that they can learn a thing or two about computers.

There was a time when I spent many "useless hours" talking toa unit within the Ministry of Finance called Management Services Division (which was the sole authority for compuet purchases for all ministries except MINDEF). Asked so many questions, asked vendors to conduct computer appreciattion courses for ALL their staff (without paying), money slow or hardly could come, wait for tenders to open.....RESULT? Nothing happened until after 1986. Then National Productivity Board (Chun See should know) also got into the act of becoming consultants to SMEs to purchase computers after they learned from IT vendors.

I wonder how many people heard about this Management Services Division within Ministry of Finance?

peter said...


Which was the first computer school in Singapore to conduct PC courses or Computer Appreciation courses?

Where was it located?

peter said...

My frist try at PC was to play pinball wizard on an ATARI at this shop in the basement of UIC Building. Then i progressed to this game called "chom chom".

Thimbuktu said...

Thanks for the memories on techtalk bits and bytes, Peter.

Pls share with my Mac Journey

here .

It was a nong, nong ago though.

peter said...

Thanks James. A surprise to find you got a photo with Kelvin. He's a great guy and one responsible executive - never lets the customer down.

peter said...


Your photo best illustraes the IT executive/managerial uniforms of that era - white long sleeve shirts and dark navy blue pants. Those that left BIG BLUE - IBM and join the competitors carried their "uniform culture" where ever they went. The female executives wore jackets of the same colours except that they did not come from IBM. Notice the guys' long hair style?

Thimbuktu said...

Peter, your IT executive/managerial uniform with long hair makes you look cool.


Selatke said...

The first computer for me and my kids was Sinclair 80, bought in early 1980s.

I had to add a 16K expansion module and a thermal printer. For BASIC programming (and using software off-the-shelf) I needed a cassette recorder. (See

I remember one of the games I programmed for my kids was "shooting duck", which you aim a shot at an angle to try to hit a duck in the pond without hitting the moon above. How the Angry Bird reminds me of that game!

Lam Chun See said...

I think I know that computer school Peter is talking about. But just cannot recall the name. It grew into a big private school and was a listed coy if I not mistaken. They took up the campus formerly built by the German Institute (or French Institute, 1 of them anyway) in JT Hall - Science Centre vicinity. But recently got into some trouble I think.

peter said...

Not Informatics Chun See

Lam Chun See said...

Hey Peter. We are waiting for your answer to this question; "Which was the first computer school in Singapore to conduct PC courses or Computer Appreciation courses?"

Sorry I wanted to share a bit about the MSD and NPB. The MSD as far as I can recall was a sort of management consultancy arm of the public sector. I remember one of their consultants by the name of Johnny Pang used to be our associate trainer. But I believe they cater mainly to the government depts.

As for the NPB itself, when I joined in '84 they already had a computer dept that conducted computer courses.

peter said...

1st Computer school in Singapore using PCs was Bukit Merah Commercial School or BMC in short. Think they were located @People's Park.

But the first computer school using anything bigger than a PC and probably the first overall to teach computer was Stamford College@Waterloo Street using a mini-computer (punch-card)from Sperry Univac Computer (now called Unisys). Stamford College's premises today is Oxford Hotel.

By the early 1980s, many computer schools started business including TMC (public listed today I think) @Hotel Grand Central premises. One tutor @TMC later started Informaticcs School.

I am not sure whether there was a difference between Computer courses and Computer Appreciation courses. Computer courses usually teach you about programming (COBOL, RPG and BASIC). The computer appreciation course teach you about the general components of IT and personal prodcutivity software.