Pinkterview: Bruce Smith
Welcome to the second Pinkterview.
This week I'll be interviewing the awesome Bruce Smith. Bruce is an author, programmer, and sports aficionado. Without further ado, let's get started!
For those who may not know you, could you tell us who Bruce Smith is?
Assuming 60 is the new 40, I am a middle-aged Londoner who has been living in Sydney, Australia since 2004. I have an Australian wife, so it was all part of the plan to come here at some point. I have four children and one granddaughter. Apart from the obvious computers and sport I enjoy reading, and watching good Crime/Thriller drama and Sci Fi.
I love writing and always wanted to be an author. In the early days of home computers I started submitting articles to magazines and they seemed to be quite successful. I was then approached by a couple of publishers to author some books and that is what I have done for the last 35 years!
In that early writing period I also worked as Technical Editor on a magazine called Acorn User (BBC Micro)—which was highly successful—and achieved a couple of firsts in mounting a cassette tape and then a floppy disk on the front of the magazine.
After being commissioned by the BBC to write a book (Mastering Interpreters and Compilers) I met David Atherton who was working there. We became very good friends. As desktop publishing became more popular David and I decided we could publish our own books. So, we started a company called DABS Press; DABS coming from our initials.
David and I were both high profile in the industry at that point so were continually being asked for purchasing advise. We took the plunge and started our own retail outlet which became Dabs.com. We developed the concept of direct delivery from distributor which became key to our direct sales stagey and one then copied by just about everyone.
To date I have published over 100 books and featured in a variety of computer shows on TV including The Computer Show, and The Software Show on BBC TV. I also covered football for the BBC most Saturday afternoons, as well as my other love, hockey.
From an early age you’ve been passionate about technology and programming. How did it all get started?
I have always been passionate about technology, especially space exploration. As a kid I loved watching Thunderbirds and the like. When I was in my early 20’s, a friend, Ray Harris, loved to tinker with electronics. Although it was never my passion I was intrigued when he built an AIM 65 with LED display and a massive 128 bytes of memory. I borrowed it for a few days and started to program it in hex! That was the start! Not too long after home computers where being launched. I was intrigued by the Acorn Atom and—to my wife’s annoyance—in 1980 spent the GBP300 in our bank account to purchase one.
Programming really started for me at that point. I was captivated at how easy it was to just do things. I was also intrigued about how different companies implemented what they did on their operating systems. I largely did this by experimenting a lot of the time by trial and error. It’s a good way to learn as it teaches you patient and methodology–both of which you need in abundance to be a good programmer.
At this time there was a real thirst for knowledge from the public who were gobbling up home computers from Acorn, Sinclair, and Amstrad. I was already writing about my new-found knowledge so really started transferring that into books.
Assembly programming and retro computers seem to have a special place in your heart. Why do you think that is, and how has that shaped your career?
Because it is the language in which all computers operate. No matter what langue you program in, it all gets converted to machine code. Assembly language allows us to write machine code. As I mentioned earlier my earliest dabble with computer was programming in hex and that was fascinating. So, it has always been central to anything I may have worked on.
I think because I worked so intimately with those original home computer systems they have become part of me. I had so much fun exploring them that there is a massive sentimental value that evokes great memories. I see my books about them every day I look at my lounge bookcase.
You also seem to like the Raspberry Pi a lot as your books use it as a development and testing environment. What makes the Raspberry Pi a great Assembly development environment?
Maybe not surprisingly the RPi reminded me so much of an Atom or BBC Micro. The availability of ports and general ease of programming them. It is also based on an ARM processor, of which I was able to access one of the first ones ever but by Acorn. Plus, it could run RISC OS, which I love as an operating system. Even 35 years on I still think it is a lot better than many of those environments today. All these factors make it a great development environment.
The low price point of the RPi also ensured it was going to be very popular, so from a business point of view it made sense. No point wring books if no one is going to buy them!
What would you say to someone who thinking but not yet sure about learning Assembly programming? Why is it a good skill to have even if you’re not speciﬁcally working in ﬁelds that require it?
In my view it’s an essential skill. As I said earlier everything comes back to machine code and if you understand it you are a long way to understanding the hardware too.
In my RPi Assembly Langue books I have a chapter which uses a C program to compile an assembler listing. I then keep cutting this back to show how inefficient the code is when you simplify it down to the result. In many cases the inefficiency of the C codes doesn’t matter, but in cases where it does matter it becomes important.
I think understanding machine code makes a programmer into a good programmer, and the cost of doing so is ridiculous cheap. A RPi and an eBook for the cost of a few pints of beer!
What are some real-world, practical uses and projects readers can take on after learning Assembly programming?
I believe it is an essential skill to have if you want to write operating systems or alternative languages. If you want to manipulate timers and interrupt process then it is also essential, and of course, bare-metal programming.
As equally passionate as you are about programming, football is also something you love, have written about, and even been around in a professional environment. Where does that come from?
I just love sport! In a time when everyone is encouraging kids to get away from their consoles and out to do some exercise, I found it a great balance.
I love database technology and manipulation of data. So, I started compiling data about sports. Results, scorers, winners, losers, and so forth. From this it was natural that I started writing year books and fact files for Football, Rugby, Formula 1, Hockey, and major sporting events.
When I was writing and publishing books under the BSB imprint, I started another called Words On Sport and published them under that.
As the internet and digital on-line publishing grew I was approached my organisations such as newspapers and websites to supply them the information. I can also say I wrote the very first two issues of Four Four Two magazine!
My involvement in sport goes deeper. My other line of work is as a Stadium Consultant I provide advice and plan on a wide variety of things. For example, I designed the waste infrastructure at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium and helped the club move and upscale their soft services from Highbury to the new stadium. I also helped with the initial commissioning of the New Wembley National Stadium. More recently I did work for the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.
Are there any books and cool projects in the pipeline? What can we expect from you in the future?
I have been updating and revising some of my books. Technology moves on quickly these days so it is important to try and stay current, but sometimes it’s a thankless task!
Now I am 70,000 words into my first novel and it takes a lot of effort. Writing can be hard! It’s quite different from writing non-fiction (although some may say I already do fiction!). My target is to have something publishable before the end of the year.
Beyond that we’ll have to see.
Where can readers follow you and your work?
And with that, the second Pinkterview is done. I want to thank Bruce immensely for taking the time to answer these questions, providing images of himself and his projects for the article, and for giving us a glimpse into his amazing world.
What about you? Do you like Assembly, playing with the Raspberry Pi, or are also an avid sports fan? Leave your thoughts and feedback in the comments section below.
Until next time! :)