Thursday, February 21, 2013

My Micro Life (1) : Sinclair ZX80

This new series will describe my progression through the world of personal computing to the present day (perhaps, it might be too boring to describe what i am using now, Macbook Pro in case you are wondering).

It all started back in the very early 1980s with the Sinclair ZX80! My Dad bought one in either 1980 or 1981 (most likely the latter) and it was the first computer i ever used or even touched! My primary school did not have a computer at the time though they did get one just as i was leaving a couple of years later.

Although the ZX80 was the first computer i ever used i already had a pong console so was familiar with the mysterious world of pixels moving around the screen. The ZX80 was a fairly primitive if ingenious computer.

It had 1K of RAM and a 3.5MHz 8-bit processor, back in the early 1980s that was fairly low-end but still competitive with other home computers of the era. Programs had to be loaded via cassette tape and it was all very awkward. You had to listen to the tape and try the various screechy noises until you found the right one. Alternatively you could type programs in and i did this with a couple of programs which were listed in the user manual. One program i typed in a couple of times was Cheese Nibbler, a fun little game written in several hundred lines of Sinclair BASIC. I remember the second time i tried to type it in i got mixed up with all the PRINT A$ and PRINT B$ statements and messed it all up.

I have thus always been an average programmer, in mitigation i should say that editing on the ZX80 was far from ideal with a very awkward cursor. The screen also flashed every time it needed to change (i.e. every time you pressed one of the keys on the one piece membrane keyboard). Typing was miserable on it and this prejudiced me against this kind of keyboard for the next few decades, it even put me off the iPad until i finally got one and realised technology had progressed a little over the years. But we all have to start somewhere and the ZX80 was a great little computer.

The ZX80's heyday soon passed and i got a VIC-20 next as shall be described in the next part of this series. I do still have my ZX80 though, my Dad never threw it away and it passed over to me. Its still in the original box and did still work the last time i tried it a couple of years ago...

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