The EPSON QX-10 was a reasonably good computer for its time. It had a Z80 processor, an advanced graphic card, 64Kb of adresseable memory and quite a lot of rather inaccessible memory designated for storing Japanese Kanji characters. In Thailand this remained very obscure, because the main object was to reproduce Thai language. The text screen was mostly controlled by sending ANSI style escape sequences to the console device, while 400x640 graphics resolution was available by sending complicated and tedious commands to several of the Z80 I/O ports.
NEC-7220 graphics processor.
Z80 <---I/O ports ---> NEC-7220
The NEC-7200 chip processed a rich variety of commands. These included line drawing, arc drawing, block-fill, rectangles, and the setting of DMA registers to allow data sent to another port to get written into screen memory. There were some exceptionally tricky commands to control things like scanline refresh rates and the size and place of jump discontinuities in the signal to be sent to the monitor. These were meant to allow the user to hook up a TV or some non EPSON screen to the main CPU box. The arc drawing routine would only work from 0 to PI/4 radians, so a complete circle had to be drawn in 8 separate bursts. All lines could be dotted lines and all blocks could be shaded by setting pattern registers.
SAHAVIRIYA INFORTECH COMPUTER (SIC).
SIC was located in the Prapawit building in Soi Surasak just off Silom Road. The ground floor was taken up by Sahaviriya Credit Foncier, and SIC had offices on the seventh floor. The Korean embassy had most of its offices a couple of floors up.
After leaving Saudi Arabia in 1983 I headed to Bangkok with a few books and a SHARP calculator. The SHARP had a LCD display with about 7x240 pixels. While in Saudi Arabia I had designed micro fonts for both Arabic and Thai. The SHARP could be programmed in BASIC, and it had about 32Kb for user programs. Like most Japanese calculators in those days the machine came with a decent book on its version of BASIC and how to write various applications in medicine or air conditioning technology, reservoir capacity estimation. About three days after arriving in Bangkok Noi had combed and scrubbed me, and I went to a computer show with the SHARP PC1200 programmed to show a Thai English wordlist. There I met Jack Hu, Wira Intanake and Narong. They were impressed, and Jack said I should come to the office next day.
Noi made sure I was presentable, and I wore a suit to make the journey from the slum near Ekkamai Road to the main business area around Silom road. Jack said I must work for Sahaviriya and immediately wrote out a check for 8000 baht (A decent month's salary for a civil service a bank employee). When I said I did not have a Thai checking account Jack simply told me to go to the Credit Foncier downstairs, and they would sort things out. This duly happened. The cheque was a cashhier's check, and was turned into money with almost no formalities. This was a leson in banking.
I came to work dressed in a suit the next day, but subsequently arrived in jeans, T-shirt and flip-flop sandals. The first assignment was to write programs for the EPSON HX-20, the World's first laptop computer. I rode back to Ekkama in Jack's car, and he gave me an HX-20 so that I could take it into the slum and start work straight away. Few other people have ever treated me with such repect in my entire 64 years in this world.
The environment was interesting: many people switched between Chinese, English or Thai. All three senior managers had degrees from California universities, and Narong was an MBA. Most of the young programmers had come to Sahaviriya via elite private schools then Chulalongkorn University and one or two of them were far better programmers than myself: Piak for example wrote a Thai/English wordprocessor entirely in Z80 assembler code. While at secondary school many of these people had learned to program the IMSAI table top computer brought out around 1976: the same computer that my bosses at Firth Brown had spurned. Thai school children had been using better computers than most English academics at that time !
Early on I accompanied Jack and his brothers to Singapore. Also on the trip was Wittoon, one of the hardware people. In the evenings we wined and dined with the Japanese reps of EPSON, and by day Wittoon and myself were taken to computer chip warehouses. Jack opened the doors for myself and Wittoon so that we could get manufacturer reference manuals on the processors and sub-processors used in the computers that Sahaviriya was selling in Thailand. Eprom specs and reprogramming systems were particularly important because all Thai agents wanted to reprogram the character generators to hold Thai language characters. At that time it was total anarchy. Every dealer fitted Thai fonts into the ASCII range 0x80-0xFF in their own idiosyncratic way. Really they only had 96 character positions to play with because characters 0x80-0x9F were often interpreted as control codes. Wittoon got the eprom specs and I got the NEC graphic chip specs. The Singapore chip dealers were willing to hand out this type of information to anyone who got in the door which is quite a cntrast to the UK where such information is often treated as a closely guarded trade secret.
Another interesting outing was a journey to a small steel plant in the jungle close to Bangkok. Several of the employees were taken there to see a strip mill in action. Scrap metal was fed into a furnace and rolling mill hooked up in tandem and out came strips of steel. I had just been reading a Scientific American article about the proliferation of such mills in developing countries and was privileged to see one of these places in action.
As in much of Asia a five and a half day working week was the norm. On Saturday afternoons the senior management would frequently take all of the staff to a Thai/Chinese restaurant for a seafood meal. During the week we would take lunch at various pavement stalls around Bang Rak. This was much more downmarket fare, but nevertheless we would often be accompanied by one or two of the senior managers.
Although I described Jack, Vera and Narong as Chinese, or Sino/Thai they all saw themselves as refugees. Their family background was Taiwanese, but their families had fled Taiwan after Generalissimo Chiang Kai Shek and his defeated army had been installed in Taiwan after 1948.
Because I was a heavy smoker I often went to the hardware engineers working space because one of these was a smoker. I also became quite friendly with the company driver who came from a different social class to the programmers. He spoke very little English, but I could practice my Thai much better with non English speakers.
SAHAVIRIYA STEEL INDUSTRIES (SSI).
In 1969 I had briefly had a job in a Sheffield steel mill. You could just walk into a job like that in those days. Later I worked as a programmer in the group headquarters of Firth-Brown steel (GMS), but I got fired for saying that the 'Islamic Rrevolution' would come and curtail the drinking activities of my immediate boss, just to wind him up (This was in 1976). I had also told the senior management to get hold of an IMSAI desktop computer, which had been advertised in the Scientific American.
Time has passed. The British steel industry is pretty much owned by Asian companies. In 2010 the radio news announced the the Tees side steel plant at Redcar had just found a fairy godmother called SSI which might just save it from total dereliction. Fairy godmother was just called 'Ess Ess Ai' in the first bulletin but the print media confirmed that the company was Sahaviriya Steel industries.
The reader should pay attention to the fact that the SSI takover of a moribund British Rutbelt Industry happened _after_ the top end of Silom Road had been turned into a battleground with the use of tanks, small arms and rocket propelled grenades in the heart of a dynamic modern city. One of South East Asia's largest shopping malls went up in smoke. Despite such minor setbacks, the Thai economy seems stronger than that of Cameron's broken Britain.
Nowhere in the UK thank you! The British bourgoisie is wedded to the idea of a house with a spacious garden and the capital city's servant class had better get used to a three hour commute to their workplace just like the South Africans living in Soweto commute to Johannesburg.
During my visits to Thailand in 1982 and in 1983 I witnessed the construction of two skyscraper apartment complexes called the Tai-Ping Towers. This was done in typical East Asian style. Five and a half day week, workers live two level corrugated iron shack and external work done by people abseiling from the top. Sometimes a single strand would support up to four painters on different levels. That's how they did much of Beijing's Olympic stadium before the 2008 games.
One day I was developing the idea of hash coding to access the elements of a sparse matrix. This came about because I had already used hash coding for the dictionary search algorithm which had landed me the job at Sahaviriya. The sparse matrix was filled up with various text strings. I had just developed an a scrolling system which moved these cells up, down, right and left via the keyboard arrow keys. Jack Hu walked into the office to see what I was doing and immediately requested that I turned this into a spreadsheet program. Within a few weeks Sahaviriya had it's own spreadsheet program with the cells indexed along the top by Thai letters from KAW to HU. The software was a single BASIC program, which could be compiled, and it contained algorithms for thai language input, algebraic expression parsing and evaluation, scrolling, and import and export of data to text files on the floppy disk. The program was reviewed in Thai language computer magazines and for a few weeks there were well attended classes of young women who had to learn how to use this rather unfriendly program.
I did the work because I loved putting algorithms into action, rather than for money. The best work ethic is to a job that you love, but that's often rather hard to find when workers are treated like commodities for capitalists, and they are mostly not wanted for having creative ideas.
I remember one farmer who came to the office, and after a look at THAICALC he said that it could be used to solve cubic equations. In fact THAICALC had been programmed to deal with loops in the chains of cell references by a simple 'iterate until stable or too long' method.
Thai agribusiness is very famous, exporting food all over the world. In the UK it is hard to find business leaders who know what a cubic equation is, let alone suggesting creative methods of solving them. Marcus De Sautoy, a professor for public understanding of science has made similar observations in his books, although less so once he has taken a public role.
VIHABIDI RANGSIT HIGHWAY
The main route from the Don Muang to Bangkok had dual carriage way famous for its informal motorbike races. Young men and ladies would roar down this road on their two wheeled vehicles weaving in and out of lanes containing cars, buses, trucks, and the occassional tuk-tuk. For some descriptions of Bangkok in the 1980s the reader is urged to consult Howard Mark's book Mr. Nice.
The Hyatt Plaza was the first conference center to be seen by the casual visitor on the road to Bangkok.