Linux Format



First, as way of introducti­on, please meet Ian (left) and Simon (right) from the Domesday86 project. Your author has known Ian for around 20 years. We’re also chatting with Chad, the core developer behind ld-decode.

LXF: When did you first become interested in the BBC’s Domesday Project?

IAN: The local education authority loaned one to the secondary school that I attended. I remember seeing it but the teacher in charge said that I could not use it and that “You will never be able to afford one.” That’s where the challenge started. The first time I used one was at the Science Museum in London, and it was fascinatin­g just flipping through the maps of the UK.

In about 2005, I managed to find a set of Domesday discs for sale and decided I would try to find all of the parts, which took almost a decade to get my first working setup.

SIMON: About seven years ago, I wanted to have a play with the Domesday system; I’d read about it, but never used one. I asked on a forum for a copy and was met with mostly radio-silence. Ian was the first to come back to me and explain that the LaserDiscs can’t be copied like CDs. At that point, I’d never even used a LaserDisc, so I had no idea.

LXF: What made you decide to work on the archival of data from the project?

IAN: When I started university in later life, one of the first lectures was about keeping backups of your work and data. The BBC Domesday Project was an example of how not to store data, with a headline of “Domesday lost after 20 years”. There was shock in the auditorium when I put my hand up and announced that I owned the discs and the necessary hardware to play them.

SIMON: Curiosity. It’s easy to make high-quality copies of anything if you just throw money at it but we needed a

low-cost way. By using a real LaserDisc player to spin the disc and track the playback, I could use a cheap sampling system to grab the optical data direct from the laser.

CHAD: Ian and Simon came to me with the project, and saving these discs sounded fun! It led to pretty much redoing everything I had up until that point and everything came out much nicer.

LXF: This sounds like pretty technical work – is your background working on this sort of technology?

IAN: I have background­s in both land surveying and software engineerin­g. Alongside this, my mother worked for a local archives office, so I think that it’s one of the few topics that encompasse­s all three in one form or another.

CHAD: I’m a software engineer who works with real-time embedded OSes, which means signal processing isn’t my main background.

SIMON: I have a long history of working with both software engineerin­g and electronic­s. I started my career as a software engineer, but hardware and electronic­s have always been a hobby. For my real job, I work as a sales engineer – quite far removed from my hobbies.

LXF: In simple terms, what do you feel is the most interestin­g part of the Domesday Project?

IAN: It is stunning how so many pieces of new technology were contained within one package: the SCSI-controlled LaserDisc player that contained video mixing, the

Domesday discs with multiple data types stored, and the BBC Master AIV – a dualproces­sor BBC Master for display and control. The software was written in BCPL (a precursor to C) that compiles to Cint code and runs on the equivalent of a virtual machine in the same way as Java or .Net.

SIMON: The content of the Domesday LaserDiscs – when accessing the Community Discs, you can almost hear the children’s voices in 1986 talking about whatever they were interested in and, in a lot

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