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Education United Kingdom Hardware

Sinclair ZX Spectrum 30th Anniversary 212

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!

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

    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?

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

    by safetyinnumbers ( 1770570 ) on Monday April 23, 2012 @02:47AM (#39768141)
    This song [] 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).
  • 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 :-)

  • 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)

  • by Joce640k ( 829181 ) on Monday April 23, 2012 @03:59AM (#39768407) Homepage

    It's a different style of graphics.

    C64 hardware was good at character-map based, scrolling graphics but if you needed more than eight sprites on horizontal line you had problems.

    The Spectrum was bitmapped graphics, it was bad at scrolling but you could have more sprites and do more 3D stuff, eg. there were quite a few fully-interactive isometric-view games and even some filled-3D-polygon games (Starstrike) which the C64 was really bad at.

    Sound was pretty bad, yes, but it was a lot cheaper than a C64.

  • 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...

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

    by hackertourist ( 2202674 ) 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.

  • by Young Master Ploppy ( 729877 ) on Monday April 23, 2012 @04:45AM (#39768547) Homepage Journal

    The BBC micro was the 'standard' educational model, not least because of the BBC brand and the association with the Beeb's educational TV programs. The home market was dominated by Spectrums and C64s.

    After spending the summer playing with my friends' ZX81, I got a Spectrum for christmas at the age of 8, and every week I would pester my dad to buy me "Your Spectrum" and "Your Sinclair" magazines, with their pages upon pages of type-em-in program listings. I'd then piss off my sister by monopolising the TV for 3hrs while I typed in the latest greatest amazing game .... and spend 5 minutes playing the inevitable top-down scrolling dodge-em-up before thinking "surely I could do better than that!". So I set out to try.

    30 years later, I'm making a good living as a senior programmer, and I put it all down to those early days of truly accessible computing. The Spectrum was the ideal balance between entertainment machine and experimentation platform, amazing a geeky 8yr old with its possibilities while its limitations positively encouraged anyone with the right mindset to try and work around them. Hacking infinite lives with PEEK and POKE... designing game graphics pixel by pixel and then converting them to integer data... figuring out how to give the illusion of full-colour graphics when you only had one foreground and one background colour per 8x8 character square... i learned so much about computing from those days. Thanks Sinclair, you were awesome.

  • 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.

  • 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 [] - 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 [], 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 [] - 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: []

  • 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.

%DCL-MEM-BAD, bad memory VMS-F-PDGERS, pudding between the ears