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Pravetz Computers (wikipedia.org)
171 points by incomplete on Feb 11, 2021 | hide | past | favorite | 50 comments

I had Pravetz 82 (1MHz CPU and 64KB RAM, some of which used by the system) with 1-2x 5.25" floppy drives. It was between 1992 and 1996, and I was 12 to 16 year old during the period.

Having small competitions with several boys in my small hometown that were about who is going to write the fastest program to calculate all 16-bit prime numbers (in machine code, obviously) will forever remain one of my sweetest and fondest memories.

I am not a highly impressive programmer these days; in fact I am fairly mediocre and the only thing that might put me above the crowd -- occasionally, not all the time! -- is that I am an efficiency maniac with an excellent eye for simple and readable code. But in general and in terms of commercial programming, I am nothing special -- and I am OK with that.

But, having a Pravetz 82 at such a young age definitely shaped my thinking in ways that help me in my life to this day.

> I am an efficiency maniac with an excellent eye for simple and readable code

That puts you well above the crowd.

Thank you for the very kind words.

It seems my problem is that I am unable to monetize those skills. Everywhere I go, people want stuff yesterday and care not about quality. It's likely my fault for not aiming well when looking for employment.

Yes, but monetization of a capability is value capture, not value creation and you are clearly good at the second but not so good at the former. This is not at all uncommon, in art (in all its forms) it is even so common that it has become a stereotype: the artist that is starving whose works command insane sums after they pass away.

It is also tied in to humility, and an inability to translate to others what the benefit of that attention to detail and quality will yield.

I think the tide is turning though: Moore's law was the cheap way to devalue those skills: why bother optimizing something if you can wait for just a short while to get a better ROI than by spending the time getting it right? But now that Moore's law is at an end and software is more and more messy and fragile we may see a recurrence of attention to detail, quality and performance.

I would consider the web a 'dead' zone for anything related to that other than at the very highest levels where the economies of scale are such that that attention to detail still gives an advantage. But software is so much larger than just the web. One domain in which quality is the make or break feature is in security, a small flaw will render a whole castle of work useless, similar attitudes are present with people working on medical hardware/software combos, avionics, rocketry and so on.

If you can look wider than just the web and try to find a field which still operates closer to the metal, preferably in non-networked stuff, that's where there is still a market for your skills and there are fewer and fewer people that can do this.

> It is also tied in to humility, and an inability to translate to others what the benefit of that attention to detail and quality will yield.

Yes. Definitely this. At some point I burned out and stopped trying seriously. I just get angry and annoyed when I am being resisted on this and started giving up almost at the spot.

But this ties to other areas of life like proper diet which I am struggling a lot with (almost always very tired as a result). At least I got some workout routine going but when eating the wrong food that almost makes no difference.

> I think the tide is turning though

I think the same and lately I started worrying that even if I am feeling it I still can't monetize the trend.

> I would consider the web a 'dead' zone for anything related to that

Hindsight is 20/20. I wish I never started in the web area. I started making tentative steps in other directions but I am not willing to take a pay cut or blow all of my free time. I do that every now and then, mind you, but I burn out quickly and will need a few other months before I feel up to it again.

Let's not turn this into a therapy session though. I am vulnerable and weak lately -- all my energy goes to self-improvement -- and I very easily start complaining.


Thanks for mentioning those other fields. I'd very much like to try my hand there and leave web work forever but I am hitting 41 soon and people in these areas are (a) risk-averse and don't want to hire a person without prior experience there, and (b) I am not 25 anymore and they might be worried about... not sure what. Age-ism does exist in hiring though, I've witnessed it.

I guess what I am trying to say is: I got smart about my career pretty late in life. Was focused on a ton of other things for the last two decades and that of course was my mistake -- I am not blaming anyone.

I suppose in the end it's about networking and some luck. But I do no networking (plus Corona) and my luck surface area is pretty small.

This line of computers is really a testament to the ingenuity of people from the Soviet Bloc at a time when resources were few. There's so many stories of them harnessing the limited computing/calculator power they had to play games, run simulations, and more. This era minted a generation of techies that formed the foundation of the tech industry there today. Here's some examples of the clever tricks these hackers did to push their machines to the limit:




This [1] was my first programmable calculator and what this Wikipedia article writes about games and "errorology" was really true.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elektronika_B3-34

They literally cloned the Apple II, I think you’re giving them a little too much credit.

With the resources they had (almost nothing) in the stilted, moribund economy of the Soviet Bloc, cloning the Apple II is quite an incredible technical achievement.

Not really, they put together readily available ICs on a standard board.

It was an eminently cloneable (and already old) computer, evolved from a hobbyist design. With state-level support, this is not by any means an 'incredible technical achievement' even for a small COMECON country (which had already produced things like IBM/360 clones, etc).

Yeah, if you have the fab, circuit board manufacturing plant, and assembly plant then it is. Keep in mind that you are economically isolated from the rest of the world, forcing you to do things like copy designs to save time and limited resources for building the machines.

I mean, I lived there, I have some idea. Cloning this thing in the 80s was a no big deal. These places were neither as resource poor, isolated or technologically backwards as you seem to think.

Yes, this is how I learned programming Basic, assembly, Turbo Pascal (CP/M) and C on Pravetz 82M and 16. It was fun time. Some models of Pravetz 16 had a NEC CPU clone that was running substantially faster, if my memory serves me well 12 MHz vs 4 MHz for the Intel.

They were widely available in the education system and there were optional classes to learn programming.

Edit: I forgot the Pravetz 8D a friend had - they were available for purchase fro individuals. It had 4 channel audio synth and I programmed on it a drum-box for my teen rock band.

Still got that 8D drum-box? ;P

I have sort of a thing for the synth used, its also in the Oric-1/Atmos line of machines.

I studied in the high school that was built to produce both hardware and software specialists that were going to further develop and support these computers and their software. It was great. We were studying material and subjects that were thought in universities (i.e. 3-5 years ahead in time).

For example, I could work with binary numbers as a 11-12 years old kid as my older cousin thought me. I think 80% of the people that studied in that school ended up owners of IT companies or working as high-end tech specialists.

For the record, at its peak the factory in Pravetz was producing 40% of all computers in the Soviet Union. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_computer_hardware_i...

Which school is that?

MAME can emulate the Pravetz 82 and 8M. However, there are no known dumps of the character ROM so it uses the AGAT character ROM. If anyone happens to have a Pravetz 82 or 8M and wants to dump the character ROM, you can help end this injustice.


Here you can find all the different models of Pravetz http://www.pravetz.info it's in bulgarian but it's the most complete source of information

Holy - wasn't expecting this here.

My father bought me in the 90s Правец 8Ц (Pravetz 8C), which was Apple ][ E clone (or something like this). Had 80 columns (PR#3), 128kb banked memory - awesome machine... and was more expensive than a russian car (according to my father).

Growing up in Bulgaria, not really knowing what sold software means - we end up having most of our games cracked, and you'll be like - "Hey another cool game by the Merchant!" (no it wasn't the "Merchant" that made the game, it was "EA", or some other real company.. ."Merchant" were one of the hacking groups, replacing the original game logos with their own...)

A bit later, round when communism fell or maybe later - even Bulgaria started producing it's own games... not really - same thing - "KARATEKA" - in cyrillic, or "MOON PATROL" as "Лунен Патрул" - and I think it was claiming it was done in my country (could be wrong though, they might've got the license after all!)

It was so much fun to use it!

Holy again - was curious whether someone has preserved cracking screens, and yes - http://artscene.textfiles.com/intros/APPLEII/kq2.gif - aha!

whole list of them - http://artscene.textfiles.com/intros/APPLEII/

So many sweet memories with Karateka and Moon Patrol -- and "The Fortress" I think, which is akin to Angry Birds / Crash the Castle. Wouldn't replace that part of my young adulthood for anything else!

Also I was in a fairly small town and the community around computers was very supportive and hardcore.

All the Bulgarians coming out in this thread

Also had an 8C as a kid

"Pravetz 8М - Integrated second CPU Zilog Z80A at 4 MHz to be able to run CP/M and its software."

I'd love to be able to buy and ARM cpu card, mostly a RPi with a pci car form factor, to plug into my main computer and run android programs without emulation.

Considering development benefits of such a system, specially more complete ones with video output, why isn't it used these days?

High complexity and relatively low reward. There have been many attempts at these sorts of dual architectures through history, and they've mostly been abject failures for various reasons (there have been some dual PC/Mac designs from the 90s, those Sun PCI cards with 80386s built on them, etc)

At the low end of complexity, you could put a raspberry pi on a pcie daughterboard and just power it off the slot, and maybe fake a NIC to the host for file transfer.

That's not really any more useful than just having a separate, dedicated raspberry pi though. To be useful, you need to implement some sort of deeper synchronization. Perhaps you could have a shared memory aperture between the two systems, a virtio style interface (but physical, not virtual!) with the associated protocols for passing through files, visuals, etc.

But it's all complicated and expensive, and in the end unless you're doing CPU level debugging and need to sync a debugger with low level CPU state, there's really not much advantage besides some space saving to just having a separate x/y/z on your desk.

Cool: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SunPCi didn't knew such thing was developed.

The reverse was also true; I worked for a company back in the 1990's that provided third part SPARC solutions - probably the only company in the Southern Hemisphere at the time that did so.

One of the more interesting products we resold were the ROSS Technology "Sparcplugs" - you basically had a SPARC motherboard and CPU that fit into a couple of 5.25" drive bays on a host PC. So almost the reverse of the SunPCI cards.


The Z80 Softcard was popular because it gave businesses an affordable way to run WordStar and Visicalc under CPM.

Many Apple IIs in the business world were only used to run CPM.

see Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Z-80_SoftCard

"The SoftCard was the single most-popular platform to run CP/M"

And here you can find software for Pravetz computers: https://www.sandacite.bg/%D1%81%D0%BE%D1%84%D1%82%D1%83%D0%B...

The Pravetz 8 and 16 were the first computers I ever saw and used on school. We programmed in Basic and Turbo Pascal as well. This was around 1992. The 16s were attached to robotic arms that could be manipulated by the system.

Robco-1 was connected to 8bit computers

Pravetz was coincidentally the birth place of Todor Zhivkov, the leader of the People's Republic of Bulgaria. If you know how rampant nepotism and corruption was during socialist time (even more than today), you will now that this was no coincidence at all.

Also, here is a nice quote from Zhivkov that he said during the opening ceremony of Bulgaria's first semi conductor factors:

"This year - a factory of semiconductors. Next year - a factory of full conductors."

> "This year - a factory of semiconductors. Next year - a factory of full conductors."

That's awesome)))

Reminds me of one internal soviet joke about soviet-made microchips. That things called in Russian like "сверхбольшие интегральные схемы"-"superbig integral circuts". Don't know if the West used exactly the same term or just "integral circuts", but the joke was around that "superbig" adjective: "Soviet superbig integral circuts are the biggest in the world!". And if a listener didn't readily undestand the salt, one should clarify: "They have not only 16 legs /*connectors*/ but also a 2 carry handles".

I would imagine that's similar to VLSI, Very Large Scale Integration?

Well, almost, I guess. Wiki says that VLSI is a process, and the thing I was talking about is the result of this process, a final product.

This was first computer i was using in school.

Yup, distinctly remember we had programming lessons in second grade on one of those, right before the regime fell. I am not sure if that was the reason I ended up writing software for a living but it sure did not hurt. Emphasis on science, technology and proper education was one of the very few positives of an otherwise deeply corrupt and nepotistic regime.

Mine was the RC759 PICCOLINE: https://rc700.dk

me too. Uzbekistan 1988

I remember I loved it's keyboard. I really liked feeling back then, used to type even when computer was not on :)

One generation of programmers learned programming with these, I remember schools had these computers, it was a privilege to have computers in schools back then when you think about it.

I learned Basic when I was in third grade (1988) on Pravetz 8M in DOSAAF.

The was Russian analog called Agat without screen and worse hardware.

It's funny that during Soviet Union times even Bulgaria was technologically more advanced, than Soviet Union itself.

I remember the BYTE magazine article on the Agat: https://archive.org/stream/byte-magazine-1984-11/1984_11_BYT...

The industrial design of it really stuck in my mind. Red!

I remember those 7-colored green-on-green granpas, my school had them, and it was quite fun to work on them

Odd that the wiki page doesn't mention that the 8 bit series of computers were clones of the then current generation of apple computers gotten through industrial espionage.

We had a friend in the security bureau who had some funny stories. Like the part that was most difficult to manufacture were the rainbow ribbon cables because the petroleum industry only produced primary color wires.

> gotten through industrial espionage

Espionage? Hardly. The manuals for most Apple II computers included full schematics.

First line of the "history" section:

"... developed by Ivan Vassilev Marangozov ... rightfully accused of cloning the Apple II"

Wags used to say the name of the prototype IMKO stood for 'Иван Марангозов Копира Оригинала' - 'Ivan Marangozov Copies the Original'

Read the history section, it's mentioned couple of times that the computers were clones of Apple II and IBM PC

Clones and industrial espionage are slightly different things.

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