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Sinclair ZX Spectrum 30th Anniversary 212

Posted by timothy
from the quick-someone-write-a-treacly-pop-song dept.
It's not just the TRS-80; new submitter sebt writes "ZX Spectrum, the microcomputer launched in 1982 by Sinclair Research (Cambridge, UK) turns 30 today. The launch of the machine is seen by many today as the inspiration for a generation of eager young programmers, software and game designers in the UK. The events surrounding its launch, notably Sinclair's well-known rivalry with Acorn, later helped to inspire the design of the ARM architecture and most recently the Raspberry PI (based on ARM), in an effort to reboot the idea of enthusiastic kid programmers first captured by the Spectrum and Acorn's BBC micro. Happy birthday Spec!"
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Sinclair ZX Spectrum 30th Anniversary

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  • My first computer (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mcrbids (148650) on Monday April 23, 2012 @12:41AM (#39767741) Journal

    ... was a Timex Sinclair 1000. It had 16k of RAM and loaded programs on audio cassettes! You had to be pretty consistent with the volume or you'd "lose" programs. I programmed Monopoly into it, complete with color-pixel graphics, all in BASIC!

    • Re:My first computer (Score:5, Informative)

      by Immostlyharmless (1311531) on Monday April 23, 2012 @12:44AM (#39767757)
      My 2nd computer was a Timex Sinclair 1000. absolutely hated it compared to my first computer (a Vic-20) because you couldn't just *type* your program, every key was a shortcut for a basic command, drove me up the wall :)
      • Re:My first computer (Score:5, Informative)

        by ozmanjusri (601766) <aussie_bob@NospAm.hotmail.com> on Monday April 23, 2012 @02:51AM (#39768151) Journal

        My 2nd computer was a Timex Sinclair 1000.

        Mine was the Australian equivalent, the MicroBee. They were another Z80 variant, very solidly built. The biggest draw for most of us was that the non-disk based versions had battery-backed CMOS RAM. They also had a Word Processor and other software on EPROM. I saw several Sinclair 1000s, in those days but never liked them, I think I would have gone crazy from frustration if I'd had to use one. Interestingly enough, they've started to make the MicroBees again... http://www.microbeetechnology.com.au/index.htm [microbeete...ogy.com.au].

      • Re:My first computer (Score:5, Informative)

        by DrXym (126579) on Monday April 23, 2012 @03:48AM (#39768365)
        Personally I think the keycodes was kind of elegant. It meant less syntax errors, simplified parsing and meant the program occupied less space in memory. The ZX Spectrum inherited the feature from the ZX81 and ZX80.

        Later ZX Spectrums from the the Spectrum 128 onwards actually allowed you to type programs manually but only in 128K mode. If you booted into 48K mode the ROM still enforced the old style. The first Spectrum 128 printed all the keycodes onto the buttons but the +2 and +3 only printed a couplemaking it enormous fun trying to figure out which button meant what. Most Spectrum owners can probably still recall the sequences for calling LOAD "", POKE and cursor keys with little trouble.

        • Re:My first computer (Score:5, Interesting)

          by earthloop (449575) on Monday April 23, 2012 @03:59AM (#39768405) Homepage

          Most Spectrum owners can probably still recall the sequences for calling LOAD "", POKE and cursor keys with little trouble.

          One of the emulators is called "jpp" for this very reason. ;o)

        • Re:My first computer (Score:5, Informative)

          by SigmundFloyd (994648) on Monday April 23, 2012 @04:43AM (#39768541)

          the program occupied less space in memory

          Unlikely. Back then, every BASIC interpreter (certainly all of those for 8-bit home computers) used to "tokenize" commands to save costly RAM (and CPU cycles on interpretation, too). Tokenization usually meant translating every command to a 1-byte index to a lookup table. That's what is called "bytecode" nowadays.

          • Unlikely.

            So in a nutshell:

            * 8Bit computers stored a tokenising program (a few hundred bytes maybe?).
            * The spectrum didn't need a tokeniser (a single keycode maps directly to the BASIC instructions).

            That tokeniser is not free - it uses up memory.

            • So, in a nutshell, wrong. The tokenizer was in ROM, along with the rest of the BASIC interpreter. The amount of RAM used was unchanged.

            • A tokenizer wouldn't need a few hundred bytes. In those days we coded algorithms like that very efficiently. A few tens of bytes perhaps.

              The biggest part of it would be the look up table for the keywords. But that would be needed for output of the listing regardless.

              As a point of comparison, the Acorn Atom had a BASIC with a tokenizer, and it's ROM was 8KB versus the Spectrum's 16KB ROM. To be fair though the spectrum was probably just doing it that way for consistency with ZX80 & ZX81. The ZX80 only ha

        • by msobkow (48369)

          Actually if you look into the BASIC interpreters of the time, I can't think of a single one that actually stored entire keywords in memory. They used codes for keywords and variables, such that most keywords were encoded as a single byte.

          The Sinclair just made it possible to TYPE those codes explicitly instead of having to spell out the words and let the interpreter do the primitive compression.

          In particular, I'm thinking of Commodore's implementation and the TRS-80.

          • In fact most BASICs of that period were Microsoft BASIC, including Commodore and TRS-80.

            And yes, that and every other BASIC interpreter I've ever heard of stored the program as tokens.

        • Personally I think the keycodes was kind of elegant. It meant less syntax errors, simplified parsing and meant the program occupied less space in memory.

          What I really liked about it is that all BASIC programming commands are available on the machine itself; so I just kept wondering what PUT# and GET# commands would do, as the manual for the Brazilian TK-90X won't give details and we never got the microdrive here.

          And I think it was kind of cool to have that keyboard with so many stuff written in it, for me as a kid.

        • That was the beauty. I used to write a lot in BASIC on a speccy, and the lines flowed out rather quickly. Until you had to renumber them of course.
      • I had a Sinclair ZX80 as a kid. My father fixed the keyboard issue for me with a real keyboard connected to it. The way it was set up, I could type BASIC commands normally, which was much nicer than the typical method. The standard peripherals were still a black and white TV and cassette deck; I'll always remember the lovely sound of a program loading from tape.

        • Re:My first computer (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Savage-Rabbit (308260) on Monday April 23, 2012 @04:50AM (#39768561)

          I had a Sinclair ZX80 as a kid. My father fixed the keyboard issue for me with a real keyboard connected to it. The way it was set up, I could type BASIC commands normally, which was much nicer than the typical method. The standard peripherals were still a black and white TV and cassette deck; I'll always remember the lovely sound of a program loading from tape.

          I still have my Sinclair Spectrum ZX 48K, complete with joystick and other peripreals. My most enduring memory is not the sound of a program loading from tape it's the "Crrrcccswwwhhzzzzz" sound my cheapass cassette players occasionally made when they ate up my tapes and with them my precious programs. With time I became an expert in cassette player repair. Thankfully those days are over.

          • Programming with tape machines was the real exercise in patience. Kids these days don't know how easy they have it with source files saved in a moment, automatically before each compile. It took us 5 minutes to save to tape. And we had to keep track of what version of what program we stored where on what tape.

            If we didn't save before running we risked a crash and losing everything we'd added since the last save. Knowing when to take the risk and when it was time to save was the only way of making progress.

            A

            • Programming with tape machines was the real exercise in patience. Kids these days don't know how easy they have it with source files saved in a moment, automatically before each compile. It took us 5 minutes to save to tape. And we had to keep track of what version of what program we stored where on what tape.

              Yes, that and discovering that you had run out of batteries. Most cassette players back then did not come with an external power supply. Eventually I saved up for a powersupply with a user selectable voltage output.

      • Re:My first computer (Score:5, Interesting)

        by hackertourist (2202674) <(hackertourist) (at) (xmsnet.nl)> on Monday April 23, 2012 @04:32AM (#39768501)

        My first computer was a Spectrum. Not having been exposed to other machines before, the one-keystroke-per-command feature felt perfectly natural to me, and faster than having to type the commands by hand (in part because the rubber keyboard hindered fast typing).

        It also made it easier to formulate correct programs: the system knew that certain keywords should only appear at the start of a line and made it impossible to put that keyword anywhere else in the line. An early form of syntax checking.

        It made Spectrum Basic readable; it ensured that the commands and keywords were always written in full, rather than the shorthand that crept up everywhere else.

        It had its drawbacks: hunting down infrequently-used commands could take more time than typing them, and the system was unique to Sinclair so the skill didn't transfer.

        Ah, the Speccy. I still have mine, plus a box full of tapes. I wonder if they're still readable though.

        • It made Spectrum Basic readable; it ensured that the commands and keywords were always written in full, rather than the shorthand that crept up everywhere else.

          The shorthand that other computers had was only for input. Because it was tokenized, listings would always spell keywords in full regardless of how you'd input them.

          For example on the BBC Micro you could input:
          10 P."Hello World!"
          and the output would be
          10 PRINT "Hello World!"

          On the few occasions I used a speccy I found the keyboard to be horribly confusing, with it's multiple functions printed on and around each key.

      • by hairyfeet (841228) <bassbeast1968@gma i l . com> on Monday April 23, 2012 @04:39AM (#39768529) Journal

        But you have to admit its nice to see the little guys that meant so much to so many actually get recognized. I remember how in the late 90s-early 00s all you would ever hear about on computing history was MSFT and Apple, maybe a little IBM. But many of us didn't have IBM or Mac money when we were kids so its nice to see Sinclair, Commodore, Tandy, Atari, BBC Micro, all the little guys that started so many of us down the road to a lifetime of computing.

        So while i never got to own a Sinclair (Like you I had a VIC) I'm sure that those that had the Sinclair enjoyed much time with it and love computers to this day thanks to it. So happy BDay Sinclair, here's to you and all the little guys that started us on the road of computing.

        As I said with the TRS while I'd love to be a teen again frankly i wouldn't trade our childhood for the teens of today with all these locked down cell phones and tablets, the teens of today I doubt will get a love of tinkering and tweaking that we got from our little guys.

        • by dintech (998802)

          My first computer was a spectrum too. I recently I downloaded the excellent open source FUSE [sourceforge.net] emulator which when combined with .TAP format games from World of Spectrum [worldofspectrum.org] and the right settings, you can watch the tape loading screens.

          For the "R Tape loading error" gambler in you, some emulators even let you connect a cassette player to your audio interface's line in for that authentic experience.

        • by wildstoo (835450)

          ...the teens of today I doubt will get a love of tinkering and tweaking that we got from our little guys.

          I'm pretty sure teens will always have a love of tinkering and tweaking their "little guys".

    • by mprinkey (1434)

      I had the Timex Sinclair 1000 as well, but not 16KB module. Paid $60 for it at Hills--I was in 6th grade. It learned quickly to be careful with my precious 2k of RAM, but I coded a fairly accurate image of the Space Shuttle and figured out how to make it "fly" across the screen. Hard to believe I have been writing code for almost 30 years!

    • Re:My first computer (Score:5, Informative)

      by lord_mike (567148) on Monday April 23, 2012 @01:35AM (#39767929)

      The TS1000 was my first computer, too. I certainly had a love/hate relationship with that machine. I hated that it was so incredibly limited, but loved that it was mine. I didn't have to sign up for programming time anymore at the school or library. The machine was all my own whenever I wanted it even if it sucked. It was cheap and it was mine! Mine, mine, mine!! It was at least a good learning machine. There were a surprising number of programming books available, and even a decent amount of off the shelf software. The TS1000/ZX81 was certainly a brilliant example of engineering efficiency. Although it wouldn't compare to Woz's work with the Apple II, the fact that the Sinclair was able to do everything with only 4 chips was an incredible achievement.

      I always had a soft spot in my heart for Sinclair and his machines. I wish they had something like the Spectrum here in the states, but by then Commodore had initiated the price wars and it was pointless for Clive to invest in his newer machines here. I can see why they were so popular in England. They were inexpensive, easy to work with, and quite ubiquitous. While many Americans long for their Commodore 64's or Atari 800's, the Sinclair was a truly British machine made for Britons. It's understandable why that generation of users holds the Speccy near and dear to their hearts. Software is still being produced for the Spectrum, and it boasts the largest software library in the world (according to Wikipedia).

      In many ways Clive Sinclair was both the Jack Tramiel and Steve Jobs of Europe. Like Jobs, he believed in simple elegance for all his products. He was also a ruthless leader. Unlike Jobs, though, and more like Tramiel, he also believed in making his products as inexpensively as possible... cutting corners wherever he could to bring prices down. He certainly should be considered one of the great computing pioneers and given the same due reverence of his American peers. After all, he was knighted for bringing computing power to the masses.

      Nevertheless, I don't think I'd use my TS1000 to control a nuclear power plant, as Sinclair Research suggested in their advertisements. Unfortunately, my unit isn't going to be running power plants or anything else for that matter--it doesn't work at all anymore. The years of temperature changes in the attic on the cheap parts finally did that little wonder in. I still have it sitting prominently at my desk, though. It makes a great conversation piece.

      Thank you, Sir Clive, for making my first computer!

      • by jeremyp (130771)

        I don't think I'd use my TS1000 to control a nuclear power plant, as Sinclair Research suggested in their advertisements.

        When I was at school we went on a tour of what is now called Atomic Energy Research Establishment [wikipedia.org] at Harwell. We had a tour around one of their fission reactors and there in the control room was a Commodore PET. This would have been in about 1983 or 84.

    • Re:My first computer (Score:4, Informative)

      by blind biker (1066130) on Monday April 23, 2012 @02:45AM (#39768129) Journal

      I programmed Monopoly into it, complete with color-pixel graphics, all in BASIC!

      Well, that's funny, since the TS1000/ZX81 was B/W. It had no color to speak of.

      That's what the ZX Spectrum fixed.

    • How do you sell five million "copies" of a computer?

      • 1. Sell your company to sir Alan Sugar.
        2. Re-house the spectrum internals inside a new box.
        3. Make the new box look identical to the CPC-464.
        4....
        5. Go bankrupt?
  • by acidradio (659704) on Monday April 23, 2012 @12:48AM (#39767773)

    I wonder if the "old" generation of microcomputers - the TRS80, the Sinclair, Commodore 64, Apple II - were more inspirational to young programmers and coders than what we have today. The old computers were all command line. You *had* to know what you were doing to make the thing do anything! You couldn't break it because you had to know how the thing worked to make it do anything! And there was a joy or satisfaction of "Hey, I made this machine do 'this', exactly how I wanted it to do it!" Today's PCs/Macs/pads? Anyone can pick one up, use it, maybe even cause a lot of damage with it but never understand the inner workings of it because all you had to do to make it go is click on some icon somewhere. There is no command line to use (at least that most users would choose to work with). You can become a proficient user of it but without some real digging you will have a hard time writing any kind of usable software for yourself, even as rudimentary as a "Hello, world".

    I liken it to giving a car to a starting driver. The Sinclair and other older microcomputers were like giving a kid a 20-yr old Honda Civic with a manual transmission. Slow, dependable, bland, hard to get in trouble with it, you have to know how to drive it to make it go, you can really get a feel for how the thing wants to drive. The newer, much more powerful computers of today could be like giving that same kid a Porsche - powerful, fast, stylish, easy to get in trouble with, easy to wreck at high speeds, you may never understand its inner-workings because they are too much to learn.

    • by Amiralul (1164423) on Monday April 23, 2012 @12:56AM (#39767809) Homepage
      Please STOP IT! [petitiononline.com].
    • by wmac1 (2478314) on Monday April 23, 2012 @12:58AM (#39767819)

      The good thing about those computers was that

      - they left something for the owners to do, today you can get ready made software for almost every need
      - when you turned those computers you were in the programming interface, so that was in the focus and people would give a try to use it
      - Personal computers were the magic new things of that decade, people were still appreciating it. Nowadays a PC with 16G of RAM and a quad core CPU is "just another" computer and more of a commodity than magic
      - We loved to build things (like small electronic circuits, small programs) ourselves. Nowadays consumerism has taken everywhere. We just need to pay and buy.

      • by Osgeld (1900440) on Monday April 23, 2012 @01:22AM (#39767897)

        The bad thing about those computers was that

        - they left something for the owners to do, today you can get ready made software for almost every need, where as then if you needed a simple fucking 4 function calculator you needed to learn programming

        - when you turned those computers you were in the programming interface, and with no software you had no other choice

        - Personal computers were the magic new things of that decade, people were still cursing it. Nowadays a PC with 16G of RAM and a quad core CPU is "just another" computer and more of a commodity than some bullshit you needed a PHD to operate

        - Only a certain segment of nerds loved to build things (like small electronic circuits, small programs) ourselves. Nowadays consumerism has taken everywhere. We just need to pay and buy for them to encroach on our elitism

        Listen, I grew up with this batch of 30 year old computers, I love them, and I was inspired by them, but they were not magical boxes of imignation, they were devel boxes of fustration that took damn near 30 years for average people to be fully functional with. And frankly all the knowledge I gained as a child gave me fuck all nothing with modern computers, so what I can pull the zeropage address of a Apple II out of the top of my head, doesn't do me any good past 1990, neither does the programming techniques or basic operations, these computers may have inspired a generation of hard core nerds, but outside of that they had little or nothing in common with modern machines. ASM wont do a kid much good if they cant even make a spreadsheet now.

        • by lord_mike (567148) on Monday April 23, 2012 @01:39AM (#39767943)

          I disagree. Fundamentals are ALWAYS important even if they aren't practical. While 6502 assembly isn't practical anymore, the experience you gained programming with it provided you a foundation for future skills that many of your peers might not have. That not only gives you a competitive advantage, it makes you into a better, smarter professional. You can play the piano without learning music theory, but you will be a much better pianist if you do take the time to learn the fundamentals of music. It's the same for computer science or information technology.

          • by garry_g (106621) on Monday April 23, 2012 @02:13AM (#39768051)

            +1
            I started out on a Spektrum, going to the department store almost every day, programming on the one they had on display for advertisement (they also had the ZX81, but with it being monochrome, awful keyboard and only 1K of RAM, who wanted that?). My friend would even bring his cassette player so we could save programs we wrote ... (cassette player as in "bulky, heavy, need a bag to carry it around").
            After a while, my parents got fed up with my hanging around in the store constantly, so they decided to buy me one - while we were waiting for the clerk to get one from storage, we talked to some boy who convinced us to get a C64, as it had more RAM, more power, better keyboard, ... so we got that instead ...
            Of course I was disappointed with the missing gfx commands on the 64, but quickly got around that (in part because of "Simon's Basic" IIRC), and ended up with the good ol' 6502/6510 Assembler programming ... heck, once you get around with 3 not-so-all-purpose registers and the limited ASM commands, you ought to be able to program in just about any language with a couple pages of syntax/command reference ... seeing how "well" kids nowadays are tought in business school as far as programming goes, I always wonder if we should put an emulator (or maybe even the "real thing"?) on their desk and let them learn coding in assembler for a while ... sure programming is easy with all the fancy tools and libraries, but if you never really learned the basics, how should they know that requiring a bigger, faster computer isn't the way you fix limitations and performance problems?

        • There is a big shortage of people who know what a zeropage is now. I happen to work in Embedded software development and that sort of knowledge is vital (not the exact address, but the concept). It is hard to recruit people like me because we are few and far between.

      • by Joce640k (829181)

        The good thing about those computers was that

        - they left something for the owners to do, today you can get ready made software for almost every need

        Most Spectrum owners never programmed them, they just put cassette tapes in the player and typed LOAD"".

        • by robthebloke (1308483) on Monday April 23, 2012 @06:42AM (#39768957)

          Most Spectrum owners never programmed them, they just put cassette tapes in the player and typed LOAD"".

          That's 7 characters (including the space) more code than kids type these days.

        • Nope. Everyone I know that had one, at least bought papers where you could input cheat POKEs for infinite lives, times etc. Anecdote, I know - but still, where did you get your statistics of 'Most Spectrum owners' from?
          • by Joce640k (829181)

            where did you get your statistics of 'Most Spectrum owners' from?

            Out of my backside of course.

            OTOH I was a salaried Spectrum games programmer back in the 1980s working for one of the major companies.

            • OTOH I was a salaried Spectrum games programmer back in the 1980s working for one of the major companies.

              Interesting - did you work on some titles one might have played back in the day?

    • by gstrickler (920733) on Monday April 23, 2012 @01:00AM (#39767823)

      Different time, different limitations.

      I still say, give me a room full of Apple II's (preferable //e or IIgs) and eager students, and I'll give you room full of great developers. There is value in understanding how software interacts with hardware, something which has been missing in most programmers for a long time. That's not a new complaint, it existed in the mainframe and mini computer world before the microcomputer revolution. The pioneers of the micro revolution, the early adopters, etc broke that mold. But as operating systems and development environments have become more "friendly", much of that has fallen away.

    • by Joce640k (829181)

      I liken it to giving a car to a starting driver. The Sinclair and other older microcomputers were like giving a kid a 20-yr old Honda Civic with a manual transmission. Slow, dependable, bland, hard to get in trouble with it, you have to know how to drive it to make it go, you can really get a feel for how the thing wants to drive. The newer, much more powerful computers of today could be like giving that same kid a Porsche - powerful, fast, stylish, easy to get in trouble with, easy to wreck at high speeds, you may never understand its inner-workings because they are too much to learn.

      Most "wide of the mark" analogy ever...?

      Owning a civic doesn't require lifting the hood and tinkering with the engine.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by luther349 (645380)
      80s computing will be missed by anyone who was lucky enough to be in it. back when users had control of there pcs. not what apple and microsoft and media company's think you should be allowed to do.
      • Of course there was early attempts at DRM back then too.

        The BBC Micro for example introduced a file lock in ROM v1.2 (I think) that meant you could only execute a program from tape, not load it for copying.

        And commercial games had things like the LENSLOK protection.

    • by TheMathemagician (2515102) on Monday April 23, 2012 @04:58AM (#39768607)
      Yes I think they were inspirational. I remember wanting to write a screen scrolling type Defender game on my Spectrum and learning Z80 machine code in order to do it. I couldn't afford an assembler though so I had to write out the programs in pseudo-code and manually look up their codes. It didn't seem a big deal at the time but it was immensely satisfying to actually produce a working program from a series of 8-bit numbers. I'm hoping the Raspberry Pi will do a similar job of stimulating young programming talent today.
    • I agree the computers were very inspirational - my first computer was a ZX-81.

      But kids today are NOT suffering because the computers we have now are "too powerful"!!!?

      Instead it is an AMAZING time to be growing up. I know a few ten year olds selling apps on the App Store!!! How is that not even more awesome and impressive than my writing a crossword puzzle generator at the same age?

      The car analogy really falls down because there is no danger for younger kids with greater computing power and reach, just a

      • I know a few ten year olds selling apps on the App Store!!! How is that not even more awesome and impressive than my writing a crossword puzzle generator at the same age?

        But there were children selling apps back then too. Only they were doing the full business, accepting mail-order cheques, duplicating to cassette tapes, making the labels and instructions, and mailing them out.

        I'd say that a far greater proportion of the developers were school children then than now.

  • by jamax (228376) on Monday April 23, 2012 @12:53AM (#39767795)

    Sinclair ZX Spectrum 48K....

    I was good at school, so my dad bought me 48K version, instead of 16K one - oh, happy memories...

  • Boxed, with the leads, manuals, tapes. Also still have my Vic-20, boxed, and C64 & 1541 - also all boxed, but they aren't particularly uncommon.
    • by Anaerin (905998)
      One of my two is in my parent's loft. Working Commodore +4, and Commodore 64. And a 1541 and MPS-801 to go with them. There's also a boxed up (tower-modded) Amiga 1200 with '040 expansion card there too. Unfortunately that loft is in the UK and I'm in Canada.
    • by Spacejock (727523)
      I have my first ZX81 still, and I picked up another Spectrum a few years ago out of nostalgia. ZX Printer, microdrives, interface one ... a whole list of bits and pieces. I have a ton of nostalgia for my teen years in the 80s', and I can't help but smile when I crack open my copies of Crash magazine.
  • Nostalgic! (Score:5, Funny)

    by putaro (235078) on Monday April 23, 2012 @01:36AM (#39767931) Journal

    Sinclair Computing - corporate motto: A computer in every closet!

  • Hey Hey 16k (Score:5, Interesting)

    by safetyinnumbers (1770570) on Monday April 23, 2012 @02:47AM (#39768141)
    This song [b3ta.com] sums up the nostalgia so well

    The Spectrum was a big part of my youth and early career (I was writing for it into the early 90s).
  • What always strikes me as funny is how "local" computing was in those days. There are entire countries were people never heard of computer brand X or model Y because they used brand W and model V. Commodore, Amiga, Sinclair, Apple and god knows what else. The Sinclair I seem to reclass was available in Holland but it was the commodore that got used. The BBC even had their own computer! Imagine that, that would be MS-NBC getting into the OS market, you just would not think that was at all likely would you?

    I

  • As the Warsaw Pact was crumbling and the people of the Soviet Union were exposed to Western influences, there was a surge of interest in DIY home computing. I think the availability of a local Z80 clone, as well as use of off-the-shelf consumer technology such as cassette tape and analog TV output, was what made Spectrum a popular choice for clone designs. One of those was my first home computer.
  • by ttsiod (881575) on Monday April 23, 2012 @03:25AM (#39768247) Homepage
    My Speccy was the gateway to a life of IT (I ended up becoming a software engineer, and part-owner of a startup). Will always feel grateful to the designers of the 8-bit micros that started all this...

    Oh, and I still remember my first hack - dissassembling JetPac and finding the POKE that gave me infinite lives. Now *that* was fun :-)

    • by tibit (1762298) on Monday April 23, 2012 @04:13AM (#39768445)

      Ohh, I was lazier than that :) Montezuma Revenge on PC was coded in such a way, that when you searched for the byte with default number of lives (IIRC 3), it was before the 5th match that you'd hit the right byte to patch in the executable. No disassembly was involved. I'd patch the copy, run it, it'd crash or have a glitch, copy again, patch next location, and in IIRC 10 minutes I had 127 lives; IIRC the most significant bit couldn't be set. The key was not to get greedy: I initially tried incrementing the count only by one. Had I tried going directly to 255, I'd have never succeeded. I still remember it, even though it was 25+ years ago...

      • by fatphil (181876)
        Increased number of lives requires tweaking that initial value, yes, but for infinite lives, you'd want to find the bit of code that loaded that value's address, and then loaded that initial value, and then stored it somewhere else. Then you'd want the bit of code that loaded that stored value's address, then loaded the stored value, then decremented it, and jumped if it had reached zero.
        Then NOP the decrement, the test or the jump.
      • The most significant bit was probably the sign bit - if you set all 8 bits high you would have had minus 1 lives :)
  • by Qwrk (760868) on Monday April 23, 2012 @03:46AM (#39768351)
    On the google.co.uk domain today there's a special doodle devoted to the ZX and St. George's Day; all in one ;-)
    • Yeah, that's about right. Loading screen looked *awesome*, then you got to the game (assuming you could avoid the dreaded 'R Tape Loading Error' )and you realised exactly where all the £1.99 that the tape had cost you went...

      And yet, we never learned. The very next week, it was back to WHSmiths with your pocket money for *another* £1.99 game from Mastertronic, hoping against hope to avoid the inevitable disappointment...
  • by s-whs (959229) on Monday April 23, 2012 @03:49AM (#39768371)

    Sir Clive declined to take part in the conversation.

    Actually, I heard he wanted to do participate via online conferencing, but his computer suffered from RAMpack wobble...

  • by Alioth (221270) <no@spam> on Monday April 23, 2012 @04:50AM (#39768565) Journal

    A few of us make hardware for the humble Speccy still, you can now go on the Internet with the Spectranet http://spectrum.alioth.net/doc [alioth.net] - at the VCF in 2010, much fun was had sending tweets from a Sinclair Spectrum, you can connect hard drives/CF cards with the DivIDE http://baze.au.com/divide/ [au.com], there's a USB interface (although the developer seems to have disappeared, hmm...) and various other fun bits of hardware to play with. Retro enthusasts are still writing some really nice games for the Spectrum and there's a strong demoscene, too.

    The ULA (the custom logic IC) has also been reverse engineered by actually de-encapsulating the chip and photographing it with a microscope http://www.zxdesign.info/ [zxdesign.info] - you can buy the book there, by the way... There were some interesting anecdotes from that. Today we have FPGAs and CPLDs and you can essentially make custom logic at home, but back in the early 1980s, companies like Ferranti made generic dies, and stored them, and you made your actual custom logic by specifying the interconnection layer. Richard Altwasser had only 6 weeks to design the circuit for the Spectrum's ULA (which handles video and all other I/O for the basic machine). When Ferranti completed the first wafer of Spectrum ULAs, they ran tests and found that they didn't work. It turns out that a Ferranti engineer had made a mistake when making the phototools to make the metallization layer, and basically half the chip lacked its clock signal. However, one single die on the whole wafer DID work. It turns out that despite all this being done in a clean room, a spec of dust had landed in precisely the right place on the phototools to connect the clock circuit, so they had one working ULA die on the wafer, and Sinclair could test and validate their ULA.

    Incidentally if you're in London on the 5th/6th May, there's a 30th anniversary of the Spectrum celebration at the British Film Institute. It's free to enter. Details are here:
    http://www.imperica.com/horizons [imperica.com]

  • by Alioth (221270) <no@spam> on Monday April 23, 2012 @05:18AM (#39768677) Journal
  • You haven't really lived until you have experienced flight simulator on the Timex Sinclair. I had the full meal deal. Extra ram kit as well as the thermal printer. I was in hog heaven when I upgraded to the Timex Sinclair 2000 (color and sound!!). Enjoy.
  • Good Times! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ruhri (1480067) on Monday April 23, 2012 @08:15AM (#39769379)

    Ah, I remember. Atic Atac. Moon Buggy. The Hobbit. All great games. But of course the coolest thing was to program that sucker. I always liked the Basic dialect better than Commodore's (which was far more popular in my school), and even liked the weird tokenized entry method. But the real game changer for me was when I bought (yes, bought!) a Pascal and a Forth compiler. Man, Forth rocked. It still is one of my favorite programming languages.

    Funny enough, my father was really opposed to me getting one, so an (older) friend of mine had to buy one for me and "lend" it to me until my father finally gave up and let me outright own it. A Ph.D. in EE later I'd say it was a good investment...

    Too bad at some point my brother ended up with it and rather than giving it back for proper conservation he discarded it. I miss it dearly.

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