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Computer nostalgia

 
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A few years later, Unix system V. We worked out how to send crazy escape sequences to others logged onto VT100 terminals. Then we found the stty command...
Also someone discovered that in DOS, it was possible to redefine keys using the prompt command with escape sequences... It was utter chaos!
 
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This thread brings back memories of various projects I worked on back in the 1980's. There was the job I worked on at the canola plant out in the middle of the prairies, where we were putting in a PDP-11 computer to automate part of their operations. The farmers would bring in truckloads of canola and they could either get paid right away at today's market price or they could get paid later at the future market price. Anyway part of our job was to interface those scales to the computer, which was pretty simple as the scales just looked like a keyboard on which the weight was being typed.

So there we were in the basement with this device, me and the senior consultant and the company's IT manager. The computer wasn't seeing anything from the device so we suspected that it wasn't set up right. Maybe the baud rate of the connection wasn't set up correctly? (This was all RS-232 connections.) After about half an hour of this sort of futzing around with no result I looked at the back of the device and said "Shouldn't this switch be in the ON position?" Sure enough that was the problem.
 
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I still keep the old C64 magazines at home, sadly I have just a few of them:


And here is an example of hexadecimal code shipped with the magazines, to enter manually This one is really short. There were listings beings a few pages long.


Do you still keep some old magazines/books?
 
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What an interesting thread. I unfortunately don't have much computer nostalgia - my parents couldn't afford a computer and so I didn't own one till I was in the final year of my Computer Science degree. We did have a calculator though that my dad used to keep in a cupboard and only get out on special occasions (dad was worried we might break it if he let us play with it), and my brothers and I would be so excited to use it - and it wasn't even a "scientific" one!
 
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Ahmed Bin S wrote: I didn't own one till I was in the final year of my Computer Science degree.



I was a professional developer from about 1972, and did not buy my first PC until October 1990. I worked with timesharing. I was not a fan of early personal computers, since the timesharing computers that I used were massively more powerful and had real operating systems. When I finally bought a PC, it had 5 MB of ram, a 200 MB disk, and Windows 3.0. [Some folks will argue that Windows 3.0 was not much of an operating system]
 
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Pat Farrell wrote:[Some folks will argue that Windows 3.0 was not much of an operating system]


Count me in. If I recall correctly, 3.0 still compiled everything to a DLL, not an executable, and your "program" actually loaded and ran as a library accessed by a single application, which was Windows. It pretended to be an OS, but DOS was still the underlying operating system.
 
Andrew Polansky
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Windows 3.0 wasn't just "based" on MS-DOS. It *required* MS-DOS!
 
Ahmed Bin S
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Pat Farrell wrote:I was not a fan of early personal computers, since the timesharing computers that I used were massively more powerful and had real operating systems.



That's very understandable because we tend to judge things relative to what we're used to!
 
Peter Rooke
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Does anyone remember those early personal computer applications that featured Angry Fruit Salad inspired user interfaces?
You know the ones, programmers had previously been restricted with boring old dumb terminals with only two colours. Well, with these new PC's, we could now "design" user interfaces in colour. So we did, and to celebrate we made sure that every colour was used. The brighter the better. User pressed the wrong key, or enter the wrong information - how dare they! Lets hurt their eyes and inform everyone in their office* with a big red blinking ERROR MESSAGE together with lots of beeping (control G)!

*back in the day, teams worked small offices; it was good to [ Bring Back The Door!
 
Stevens Miller
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Peter Rooke wrote:...we made sure that every colour was used. The brighter the better.


The flip side(*) of that came up when I was working for the NYIT Computer Graphics Lab in the early '80s. At the time, it was fair to say the Lab was one of the world's leaders in computer generated imagery. NYIT also bought so much DEC hardware that we had our own, on-site, permanent DEC sales-rep. The school's chancellor took me along with the rep to DEC's HQ, in Maynard, to have a high-level meeting with the heads of the department developing their new workstations (anyone remember the Rainbow 100 or Pro/350?). The current models only had four-bit pixels, with a fixed palette of 16 colors (you know which ones). So, at this meeting between members of a cutting edge computer animation research facility and the leaders of the most successful small computer company of its era, one of those leaders asked those members, "What could we do to make the small computers more appealing to you?" I said, "More that sixteen colors would be nice." The reply was, "More than sixteen? What would you do with more than sixteen?" Even in those days, we worked with 24-bit pixels, so I really didn't know how to answer that one. What happened next, to DEC, is a matter of history.

(*) For those under the age of 30, music used to be recorded and sold on plastic discs that a really long spiral groove cut into them, through which you dragged a needle on a finely balanced arm, so the wiggles in the groove could cause an inductive reaction in wires attached to the needle, allowing them to pass a minute audio signal to analog amplifiers that could drive electromagnetic speakers. The earlier versions of those discs tended to have one piece of music on each of their two sides. For marketing purposes, only one of those pieces of music tended to be any good, with the other there to help advertise a relatively unknown artist, or distribute the same artist's inferior work. The main piece was on the "A" side, which tended to be the side most often played and seen. The inferior work was on the "B," or "flip" side. The technology I'm describing has passed into obsolescence, but the expression lives on in us older folk. Or, at least, it probably will until us older folk pass into obsolescence ourselves.
 
Stevens Miller
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By the way, this is a fun discussion, so our OP gets a cow for starting it!
 
Pat Farrell
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Stevens Miller wrote:anyone remember the Rainbow 100 or Pro/350?



My group of bought about three of the Pro-350s and we bought hundreds of Rainbow 100s. They were interesting "personal computers".
The Pro-350 had a PDP-11 in its system unit, the Rainbow had a dual-processor system unit, a Z80 and Intel 8008. They had the same monitor and keyboard. They were designed at the time when the S100 bus was "the standard" and released about the same time as the IBM PC (original). The Z80 CPU was what the S100 bus computers used, and it ran CP/M. The Intel 8008 side ran Microsoft PC-DOS, as a safe bet incase the IBM PC actually got traction.

The Pro-350 with a PDP-11 was a massively more capable machine than any prior personal computer. And there were millions of PDP-11s deployed in all sorts of industries, with huge amounts of PDP-11 programs.

At this time, many vendors sold Intel 8008 based personal computers running PC-DOS, but you had to buy a specific version of the programs for your branded PC, there was no such thing as a "IBM PC Compatible" system. Then Compaq figured out how to reverse engineer the BIOS and used the fact that IBM corporate thought so little of the concept of a personal computer that they allowed the microcomputer group (in Florida, not Rye NY) to release the engineering specs of the bus and boards. So Compaq released the first "IBM compatible" personal computer. There were a few lawsuits, but soon lots of companies were selling "IBM compatible" machines, and the industry was radically revolutionised.

Actually, there was one more step. There were a lot of applications, such as DBase or Visicalc. They ran about the same on all of the competing personal computers, including the Rainbow 100. Then Mitch Kapor wrote his Lotus 123 directly to the hardware of the IBM-PC, ignoring the DOS drivers for graphics, disk, or keyboard. Since his code was specific to the hardware, and skipped all the general stuff, it was way faster than the other brands.

Sadly, for brands selling generic PC-DOS systems, speed mattered. Soon the market collapsed into only "IBM hardware compatible" systems. Killing off the Rainbow 100 was not worth crying in your beer over, but IMHO, the PDP-11 based system could have been cool and a huge improvement over the original IBM PC and even the brain-dead Intel 80286 in the IBM AT.

Note: I am not slagging the Intel 80286 unfairly, in the mid-1980s, Intel put up billboards all over Silicon Valley and Los Angelos advertising that the 80286 was braindead -- the suggestion was that modern systems should use the new Intel 80386 and not the old 80286.
 
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Peter Rooke wrote:Well, with these new PC's, we could now "design" user interfaces in colour.


All 16 of them!

 
Stevens Miller
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Pat Farrell wrote:The Pro-350 with a PDP-11 was a massively more capable machine than any prior personal computer.


So true, but DEC had inadvertently locked themselves into a problem that doomed the Pro from the start: it cost less than the price of the license needed for its RSX-11 operating system. My feeble memory tells me the Pro was about $5,000, while RSX cost about $10,000. To "get around" this, they tried to stop you from getting to the command prompt, limiting the Pro user to a fixed menu of choices. I wouldn't call it "hacking," but I was able to get past the menu and run arbitrary code (PIP, anyone?) that DEC would have preferred to charge me for, a la carte. My impression was that deliberately disabling a desktop (well, desk-side) version of what was then the most popular minicomputer iin the world because you were way over-charging for that mini's OS was a bad move, and I told the DEC leaders that's what I thought. See my post above about how they reacted to my suggestion that their workstations needed more than sixteen colors to get an idea how much good my advice about the Pro did for them.

We had three of the earliest Pro's, by the way. All ran, but all had a mildly simplified version of the dreaded RSX installation process required of the "user." I can't believe DEC really thought ordinary office workers would do this, but ours were pre-production models. Unfortunately, all three crashed at random times after being configured for normal use. Somehow, I got the job of being the Pro wrangler in our shop, and I think some of my co-workers came to the conclusion that I was configuring them wrong. I still kind of resent DEC for that, but, hey, DEC's dead and I'm not, so I guess I won.
 
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My dream was this, but I have never touched it , I had a picture of this keyboard sticked on my school diary, typing on it during the most boring moments in the class


but still remember the emotion to have a Vic20, it was not the Olivetti but still was nice. It was the 1985 and the father of my "equal in age joystick-pal c64" friend was working in "informatics". It said to my parents: your child show interest with PCs this is great. I would like to make some lessons to him and my child to educate them. So one afternoon in that quite moment that only 15 o clock can give, I was by him and he was showing us these two precious relics





With same "retronostalgia" we are manifesting today, this for me godlike man, said:this valve is one that was mounted on one of the first calculators.., for me it has a priceless value.
He put it on the table and 5 second later my maladroit friend made it shuttering on the floor. Silence. A mix of fear, respect ans surprise broke my state of thirsty openness of that moment.
 
Peter Rooke
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Remember Crash anyone?
 
Stevens Miller
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Peter Rooke wrote:Remember Crash anyone?


Or how about BYTE? If you do, and you want a dose of nostalgia, don't type "byte.com" into your browser. Where it takes you is kind of depressing.

I've been a ham radio operator since I was 15, and, back then, I subscribed to "73," the (in?)famous Wayne Green's magazine for hams. He was perceptive enough to see the personal computer boom before most others and, when he came out with BYTE, promoted it in 73. So, I was a subcriber from Issue #1. Man, it was cool. For the first time, I felt like I was part of something big, and part of it in a way that didn't make me feel like just a kid. When I got to college, I ended up selling the first four years of BYTE to some fellow for $100. I don't remember his name, but I remember him guilting me when he came to pick them up, saying, "A hundred dollars is a lot for magazines." I bet he could get more for them than that today.
 
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Stevens Miller wrote:BYTE? If you do, and you want a dose of nostalgia, don't type "byte.com" into your browser. Where it takes you is kind of depressing.


There was a time when BYTE magazine was the size of a phone book, maybe 3 or 4 inches thick. I think it, or one of the other main magazines came out twice a month because they had so many ads it would have been impossible to lift a copy.

All those ads paid for a lot of very good journalism.

Some time in the mid-90s, probably during the Intel Pentium era, the PC evolved to a commodity. Then the hardware industry consolidated to a few brands, Dell, Compaq, HP, IBM/Lenovo, and all the other vendors disappeared. No need for lots of ads, so the magazines shrank. Once the internet destroyed print media, BYTE plodded on, but was tiny and they could not afford to pay real journalists, so the stories were edited press releases.

The website and domain, byte.com have been sold a bunch of times in the past decade or so. Each time, someone thinks there is value in the brand, and implements some half-baked vision. The result is very depressing.

Of course desktop and laptop PCs are dead. All the cool kids are into smartphones and watches and Internet of Things.
 
Giovanni Montano
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Stevens Miller wrote:

Peter Rooke wrote:Remember Crash anyone?


Or how about BYTE?


Oh man, thank you is possible to download the numbers or seeing them online. Please guys consider also another magazine: Zzap the game magazine for C64
i found only one number in pdf in Italian
 
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Yeah, I remember Crash and I remember Byte.

Pat, your comments about Byte reminded me of this, published about a year ago:
http://www.drdobbs.com/architecture-and-design/farewell-dr-dobbs/240169421

I started in computing by building a kit computer in 1980/81. When I went out looking for a book or magazine to help me learn programming there was diddly squat. I had to go to my nearest University bookshop to find anything. But within a year or two computer mags filled half the news stands (admittedly most were games orientated) and by the mid/late 80s high street bookshops were dedicating entire walls to (highly priced) computer books. That was quite an explosion of information and products back then. They were exciting times to be a geek.
 
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Giovanni Montano wrote:With same "retronostalgia" we are manifesting today, this for me godlike man, said:this valve is one that was mounted on one of the first calculators..,


Not a computer, but in 1963 my dad bought a Quad Acoustical valve amp (and ESL-57 electrostatic speaker) that was the basic sound system for our house until his wife bought a new system in the late 90's.

The main problem with valves - at least for amplifiers - was that you had to get "matched pairs"; and the power valves (KT-66) were only good for about 5 years. Exquisite sound though; and my brother got £200 for it on e-Bay as a 52-year old piece of kit (still working) when we sold the house in 2015.

Couldn't find a picture of the amp, but here's one of the speaker - still, IMO, a classic piece of Hi-Fi "furniture".


Winston
 
Stevens Miller
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My favorite idiomatic differentiation between Brit-speak and Ameri-speak is "valve" versus "tube." You guys describe it metaphorically, while we can only see it morphologically. Probably due to the same reasons my society believes it will remain a world leader on the strength of our children's rushing averages instead of their grades.
 
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Tubes... I remember them from when I was a kid too. When our television stopped working my father would take some of the tubes out, and we'd go up to the drug store (about 600 meters away) and put them into the tube testing machine. We'd get new tubes to replace the ones which failed the test, and go home and put the now-working set back into the television. Usually that worked and we didn't have to repeat the process.
 
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differentiation between Brit-speak and Ameri-speak

- yeah i was in New York and discovered the (northern) english word for trousers; "pants" means something totally different in America!!

Anyway nostalgia; anyone recall ASCII Art?




It was always fun to edit the message of the day (mod) file and add in some insider jokes; like the below which fitted SCO Unix so well -




Well it seems that, its as popular as ever;

 
Winston Gutkowski
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Stevens Miller wrote:My favorite idiomatic differentiation between Brit-speak and Ameri-speak is "valve" versus "tube." You guys describe it metaphorically, while we can only see it morphologically. Probably due to the same reasons my society believes it will remain a world leader on the strength of our children's rushing averages instead of their grades.


A bit harsh on your country , but I'd forgotten about that difference.

As Bernard Shaw (I think) put it:
  Two continents divided by a common tongue.

Here's a related nostalgia trivia question:
Back in the mid-70's, the US managed to capture a 'Foxbat' - the latest Soviet interceptor, reputed to be capable of Mach 3 - virtually intact, when it's pilot decided to defect; and the American techs were surprised to discover that it still used valve technology for most of its systems.

Anyone remember why? (No peeking - and there's more than one correct answer)

Winston
 
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Winston Gutkowski wrote:Back in the mid-70's, the US managed to capture a 'Foxbat' - the latest Soviet interceptor, reputed to be capable of Mach 3 - virtually intact, when it's pilot decided to defect; and the American techs were surprised to discover that it still used valve technology for most of its systems.



1) valves are much better for high power RF radios
2) there was a theory that in a nuclear war, the EMF would stop all semiconductor circuits from working. Valve stuff would keep working. Said the threory
 
Winston Gutkowski
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Pat Farrell wrote:1) valves are much better for high power RF radios
2) there was a theory that in a nuclear war, the EMF would stop all semiconductor circuits from working. Valve stuff would keep working. Said the threory


Tick, VG. Thank God we haven't had to test it (although it makes sense).

There was also a much more basic use: They heated the aircraft - fairly important at 70,000 feet - and they have better tolerance to temperature extremes.

On the Hi-Fi side, they also have much better load characteristics, so amps don't tend to 'clip'. However, our old Quad used to pull about 150w to deliver 30 to the speaker - which itself isn't as efficient as a cone.
Didn't stop it from being a de-facto standard for nearly forty years though.

Winston
 
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Pat Farrell wrote:Which was replaced by a DEC DECsystem-20 with Tops-20. A few years later, DEC released the Vax-11/780 and VMS, which was smaller, cheaper, and far less useful than a DEC-20 with Tops-20. Sadly, the idiots working on VMS refused to talk to the guys who were delivering Tops-20, so they ignored the lessons learned over more than a decade. This would not have been a big deal long term, after all the Vax was replaced by PCs, except that the guy who ran VMS became the guy who managed Windows NT, and be brought all the mistakes of VMS with him.



For those who don't know, WNT is one letter up from VMS.

 
Pat Farrell
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Winston Gutkowski wrote: They heated the aircraft - fairly important at 70,000 feet - and they have better tolerance to temperature extremes.


Which is good at 70,000 feet any time of year, but really leaves a lot to be desired in the summer over Georgia or Turkey at low altitudes. I think most airplanes have a lot of sources of heat.

My guitar amp is tubes, cause they rock.

The first computers I used did not have valves, but they did have discrete transistors and miles of wire-wrap. In 1973, I used a new computer built of "integrated circuits" rather than individual transistors.
 
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Stevens Miller wrote:. . . idiomatic differentiation between Brit-speak and Ameri-speak is . . .

Teat versus nipple.
 
Stevens Miller
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Campbell Ritchie wrote:

Stevens Miller wrote:. . . idiomatic differentiation between Brit-speak and Ameri-speak is . . .

Teat versus nipple.


Heh. Since this is Meaningless Drivel, I'm going to authorize some topic-drift for myself and mention one of my other favorite distinctions between Brit-think and Ameri-think, and that is this: Americans think that death is optional. As I understand it, when one of yours shuffles off their mortal coil, one hears that the departed had enjoyed a good life, was at peace with their God, and/or would always be remembered. When it's one of us, we tend to say that whomever just left was smoking too much, should have been working out more, and/or got what they deserved. That is, you tend to think dying is just natural, and we think it's something that calls for blame.

I'm sure that's oversimplified, but, to the extent there's any truth to it, I like your approach better.
 
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Stevens Miller wrote:I'm sure that's oversimplified, but, to the extent there's any truth to it, I like your approach better.



If you believe in temperament types, America is Artisan, whereas England is more Guardian. That might even explain why they never smile in their pictures.
 
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Stevens Miller wrote:That is, you tend to think dying is just natural, and we think it's something that calls for blame.

I'm sure that's oversimplified, but, to the extent there's any truth to it, I like your approach better.


Or it could be that Americans are just more enthusiastic and positive about life than we Brits. For you, death is an unwelcome interruption to your relentless progress towards the great American Dream. For us it's more of a blissful release that was bound to happen anyway so might as well get on with it. Still, mustn't grumble, eh?
 
Pat Farrell
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chris webster wrote: Still, mustn't grumble, eh?


You must keep calm and carry on.

Trying to get a tad back on topic, anyone have nostalgia for any early Brit computers? After all, they had Alan Turing himself right there. I know they had some early machines, maybe named Colossus?

(and I mean earlier and more powerful than a Sinclair)
 
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Peter Rooke wrote:Anyway nostalgia; anyone recall ASCII Art?



ASCII art is still being present in IT world. Certainly it's not so popular as years ago, but some people still put in here and there.

A few years ago when I was a lot into PHP, I was a part of the team working on official PHP documentation. The script used for building the docs was always displaying this sweet nice cat:


Some sysadmins/users still like to put fortune messages into motd when logging to a shell


 
Brian Tkatch
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Adam Scheller wrote:ASCII art is still being present in IT world.



Asciimation, however, seems to be dying.
 
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Brian Tkatch wrote:If you believe in temperament types, America is Artisan, whereas England is more Guardian. That might even explain why they never smile in their pictures.



I never heard of those so I had to look them up. Turns out I'm Rational (makes sense with my connections to both America and England). I never smile in my pictures either but that's because I don't have the Duchenne muscles required. Brits don't smile in their pictures because they have terrible teeth.

 
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Paul Clapham wrote:Turns out I'm Rational



Together, possibly, with the bulk of good programmers. There's a smattering of Idealists and even Artisans in there, but usually they're ISTPs, which is close to the INTP.
 
Winston Gutkowski
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Campbell Ritchie wrote:

Stevens Miller wrote:. . . idiomatic differentiation between Brit-speak and Ameri-speak is . . .

Teat versus nipple.


When I first arrived in New York I remember asking where I could buy some fags, and was told 9th Avenue...

Winston
 
Winston Gutkowski
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Paul Clapham wrote:Brits don't smile in their pictures because they have terrible teeth.


Depends how you look at it. According to QI, in terms of fillings and tooth decay, Brits have the "best-kept" teeth in the world.

Perhaps not the loveliest though, because we don't spend as much on vanity treatments.

Incidentally (no pun intended), I just had my first visit to the dentist in 20-odd years, and apart from a damn good descaling, all they could find was one tooth with some minor decay. You could have knocked me over with a feather.
Cost of treatment (X-ray, ultrasound and filling): 45 quid. For my previous visit In Canada (c.1993), the X-rays alone were 80 bucks.

Winston
 
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