Sinclair ZX envy

By Grant Jacobs 08/03/2011 26

Last week was the 30th anniversary of the Sinclair ZX-81. I missed it.

Am I that old? Yeah, unfortunately I am. Sigh.

(Source: Wikimedia Commons.)
(Source: Wikimedia Commons.)

My first sight of one of these things was as at school. Some other kid–I can’t remember who now–brought one to class and was showing it to everyone.

I coveted that thing.

I can remember the envy.*

I never got one.

My first computer, several years later, was a Sundox, a Taiwanese clone of an Apple ][+. (For those that don’t know, Apple’s Roman two was written with an inverted pair of square brackets. Very geeky in a Star Wars kind of way.)

Set up and running (Source: Wikipedia Commons.)
Set up and running (Source: Wikimedia Commons.)

Early home computers hooked up to your tele and pirated your Walkman (or whatever else) as input/output devices. I still quite like that these machines made good re-use of other technologies in a way that’s not really done today. (Nor desired.)

Ah – the technology of our youth, eh?

All geeks are cordially invited to reminiscence. No fisticuffs over who’s toy was better!


As you might guess by my abrupt change of topics, I’ve had my fill of the Ken Ring saga. Consider my previous post a purging of sorts. Then again fiascos like that sometimes don’t go away in a hurry, so I may be back to it…

* And, it seems, very little else! Haha.

(Updated at 6pm for silly editing error that resulted in misplaced sub-clause.)

Other articles on Code for Life:

A short not-a-post about that Xmas card

Another one bits the dust: Goodbye Walkman

Minorities, disabilities and scientists

Forecasting space weather and capturing paper data

Fun with ngrams

26 Responses to “Sinclair ZX envy”

  • ahh I remember coveting these through the window of David Reid Electronics stores.

    Although I didn’t get a real computer to play with until the BBC Model B.. None of this Commodore 64 nonsense!

  • First proposal I eve wrote was to persuade my school to buy a ZX80 (not 81) so I could start a computer club in the afternoons. They agreed, and great fun was had by all. It was a kit, too. Don’t do that sort of stuff in schools these days, I guess.

    Wasn’t my first computer though (well, it wasn’t mine at all) – I built a UK101 kit a year or two earlier…

  • I remember having a ZX81 but the “keyboard” was hideous and gave me sore fingers after a while :-)

  • Nick,

    I can remember thinking that the Beeb looked all class. I seemed to remember it being expensive, too, made of quality material. And that mix of black and orange keys…!

  • rainman,

    A UK101 – that’s a model I haven’t heard of – tell us more.

    Very patriotic name, although the 101 bit sounds like a beginner’s class.

  • My first computer that I used was a Sharp MZ-80K at my school, sold by Knights Computers on Rosemount, Aberdeen.

    The first computer I bought was a Grundy Newbrain. I coveted the floppy disk drive but could never afford one and had to put up with cassette tape. I even spent money on a real compiler (Hisoft Pascal).

    I also coveted the BBC B but that was so expensive.

    One of my friends had a ZX Spectrum which I didn’t covet at all. I thought that the keyboard, with all the keywords printed on it, was ‘childish’.

  • I had the 16k RAM pack with mine, which attached to the ZX81 via a really dodgy edge connector. I remember buying the ZX81 magazines and typing in hundreds of lines of BASIC to have the latest games, and invariably the 16k RAM would wiggle at some point in the middle of typing all those lines, (due the the great pressure you had to use on the membrane keyboard), and freeze the computer, losing everything you had just typed in. I loved that computer though.

  • …and when the fridge motor or heating system cut in, the surge would wipe memory of all the tedious BASIC code that you had entered. There was a tape drive as well. It was shaped like a frisby, so that when you threw it out of the window, it disappeared into the bushes.

  • Michael Edmonds,

    Funnily, I get sore fingers from my MacBook Pro (probably more the trackpad than the keyboard, though, I think). I can imagine typing at length on the membrane keyboard must have been a pain. (Erm, pun intended – after the fact.) There were some replacement keyboards weren’t there?

  • Gordon J Milne,

    The ‘Grundy Newbrain’. *Happy sigh* I’d completely forgotten about them until you brought it back to mind.

    Aren’t some of the old names classic? Marketing divisions today would be horrified!

    I loved UCSD Pascal on my Apple. Not exactly fast, though. I still have the p-code book – it’s in good nick too. I probably ought to blog about that at some time.

  • Bob,

    Shared between you? – you must have got on well.

    I was telling a friend the other day that the older Apple’s had this huge motherboard only pinned down at the corners. If you worked on the machine for a longish time, the board arched up as it heated up. If it arched enough, it popped the RAM chips up, so you’d have to turn the thing off, let it cool down, and seat the chips back in the sockets.

    That’s one thing we don’t do too much of today…

  • Popping RAM chips … no I don’t hear that one much these days. We have replaced it by enormous heatsinks attached to processors with even bigger fans attached to the heatsink.

  • I’ve still got mine stashed away in a box somewhere. There were certainly many hours of fun copying the Basic program out of the magazine to thrill the kids with the B&W low res graphics on the 12 inch TV! Never had joy writing to or reading from the cassette. My ram pack bit the dust unfortunately.

  • Yep I remember the ZX81, the Commodore VIC-20 and C64. But the leading consumer grade computer was the ORIGINAL APPLE ][ WHICH ONLY HAD AN UPPER CASE CHARACTER SET. My school got the ][e “enhanced” with lower case and 80 column text wooooo!! Many happy evenings were spent at the school computer lab in the 80s with the ][e, learning Applesoft Basic, PEEKs and POKEs, LOGO, even a bit of Assembler. We played games such as Taipan, Ultima IV, Wolfenstein, Choplifter, Eliminator (a Defender clone). A program I wrote was shown in the school Maths show in the Auck Museum sometime around 1986. It was on a 5″ floppy disk long since lost…

  • See, this is my problem exacly: not geeky enough to get geek cred and far too geeky to be considered the least bit cool by society at large 😉

    My first computer was a C64 with GeOS, which was sort of a clone of the first graphical MacOS. I think the word processor in GeOS was better than the version of WordPerfect than came with our first 386 many years later.

    I still remember the command to load the first program from a disc: load “*”, 8, 1 (after which you went an made a snack while the file was read into memory

  • See, this is my problem exacly: not geeky enough to get geek cred and far too geeky to be considered the least bit cool by society at large 😉

    I think there’d be a lot of other people sharing that problem… :-)

    I still remember the command to load the first program from a disc: load “*”, 8, 1 (after which you went an made a snack while the file was read into memory

    Reading a file in from a tape recorder was fun too :-) Once the computer was set up to receive the file, you pressed the “play” button on the cassette player to send the file to the computer.

  • Gold,

    Good on you.

    I have always wondered what the annual computer recycling collection does with the more vintage models. You’d like to think that they try find a good home for them if possible, as they’d be worth more to someone that way.

  • Among the random things seen on twitter (Stuart take note – ?):

    simonth (Simon Thornton; retweeted by bengoldacre)
    You know what the ZX81 always needed? An SD card slot, that’s what. No, really, you can now actually have that. (eBay)

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