Finally you can afford to satisfy your lust for power
March 5, 2011 10:53 AM   Subscribe

The Sinclair ZX81 is 30 years old today. The ZX81 was a hugely successful low-cost home computer produced by Sinclair Research and manufactured by Timex in Dundee, Scotland. The ZX81 came with 1 KB of on-board memory, for extra gaming power Sinclair produced a 16 KB add-on memory module and a thermal printer.
posted by Lanark (60 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, man. My parents -- not "computery" types by any means -- were early adopters of this, for some weird reason, and some of my earliest memories are of the squeal of that tape deck, Mazogs ("DEATH TO ALL TREASURE SEEKERS", IIRC), Speed Snake and Flight Simulator, in which you tried to "fly a plane" and inevitably met firey doom because you didn't make the white pixels align just right.
posted by Shepherd at 11:02 AM on March 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

I remember the disappointment of my first encounter with the ZX81, after waiting impatiently for my turn to be allowed to see this new computer the school had bought. A real computer! To say it didn't really meet my expectations would be quite the understatement.
Such is the cruelty of 9-year-olds. This wonderful device was revolutionary in making computing accessible to those of modest means. It changed so many lives! I never owned one, but did eventually convince my parents to buy its successor, the Spectrum.
posted by nowonmai at 11:04 AM on March 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Ahh, the 16k rampack. It makes me wobble just thinking about it.
posted by seanyboy at 11:07 AM on March 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

Pretty limited little beastie, but it was the most affordable option at the time. I got mine when I went to computer camp. I imagine part of the pitch was that your kid gets to take home the computer. It was useful for learning the basics of BASIC, but that's about it.

I still have mine around here somewhere, even though I haven't turned it on in decades.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:07 AM on March 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I got one when it came out. It was a cool little device for its time but the C64 that I got a few years later seemed like a CRAY in comparison.
posted by octothorpe at 11:11 AM on March 5, 2011 [4 favorites]

The original CRAY spec was of course just five C64s networked over IEEE.
posted by damehex at 11:19 AM on March 5, 2011 [5 favorites]

I still have horrible memories of trying to use that damned membrane keyboard. And having to type in whatever program I was trying to use every single time, because I didn't have the tape drive. So it was basically unusable. And my petitions to get a tape drive were met with the inevitable 'but you don't even use it' from mom.
posted by MrVisible at 11:31 AM on March 5, 2011

If I remember correctly, this was the first computer I ever used back when i was in 4th grade. The "gifted" kids spent about an hour a week learning about computers. Good times.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 11:40 AM on March 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Rick Dickinson industrial designer and Clive Sinclair describing the product range (YouTube)
posted by Lanark at 11:57 AM on March 5, 2011

I still have horrible memories of trying to use that damned membrane keyboard.

Thanks to the iPad, the horrible memories of yesteryear are the horrible experiences of today.
posted by sleepcrime at 12:03 PM on March 5, 2011 [14 favorites]

The Timex Sinclair was the first computer I ever owned. I bought it for $100 from K-Mart. I remember using it to write a basic program that generated 'poetry'. A year or two earlier when I was in school, I learned programming using IBM punch cards on expensive machines that filled a room. Although it's capabilities are horribly limited by today's standards, at the time, I thought my tiny little $100 computer was pretty nifty.
posted by marsha56 at 12:08 PM on March 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think my work computer is a ZX81, at least that's what it seems like sometimes since we went to this new and improved replacement schedule.
posted by caddis at 12:08 PM on March 5, 2011

I had a ZX80, an '81 and then a Spectrum. That programmers created competent, playable games in 16kb (and even a decent chess game in 1kb) is a testament - these days, we need 8 million times that to do the same (it sometimes feels)...
posted by benzo8 at 12:10 PM on March 5, 2011 [4 favorites]

Ah, my first computer! And yeah, the keyboard sucked. Really wanted a Spectrum when they came out. But when we did upgrade, it was to a BBC Micro, which was pretty good. Much better keyboard, and made by Acorn, who developed the ARM processors inside iPhones and just about every other mobile computing device on the market today.
posted by iotic at 12:11 PM on March 5, 2011

I remember boggling at 16kb. Who has the dedication to type in a program that long! And yet they did.
posted by nowonmai at 12:12 PM on March 5, 2011

I pestered my parents so hard for one of these - they didn't have a lot of money - and when they eventually relented I hardly used it. So then I bothered them for a RAM pack. I had a generic one that ran the width of the keyboard and had to be held in place with two elastic bands. Still never used it. One more thing to feel terrible about.

So the ZX81 inspires a complicated nostalgia.

There were the magazines you could buy with codes in them, the 1981 equivalent of the app store, but the codes were typed or set (mistyped or misset, rather) by people who didn't understand basic, so after 45 minutes of typing a program with infinite care you would find that they DIDN'T FUCKING WORK. Ever. I was suspicious of computers for a full decade after that.

If I'd only waited and got a Spectrum.
posted by tigrefacile at 12:17 PM on March 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

First computer I ever used, or laboriously copied and typed game code into.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 12:23 PM on March 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh man, 30 years already. I had one of these as a teen. I was actually quite good at the flight simulator, no fiery doom for me!

tigrefacile, magazines with program code in Argentina avoided this by just printing decent pictures taken from printouts of the code, so unless the program was buggy from birth you never had that problem. Spanish magazines, which became common for us for the Spectrum (which I also had in time) did the same thing, thank goodness.
posted by Iosephus at 12:27 PM on March 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

It was useful for learning the basics of BASIC, but that's about it.

I learned the basics of BASIC, and some Z80 machine code (and later, assembly— but before I got the spiffy full-screen assembly debugger/editor (which still ran in 2K), I hand-assembled and POKEd it into place in a REM statement. I eventually absorbed enough of the ZX81's bizarre "character" (and token) set and enough Z80 opcodes that I could type simple programs in directly). Later I got a FORTH interpreter for it, which I didn't do very much with but taught me that there were kinds of languages other than BASIC.

When I damaged the membrane keypad I pulled it apart and learned enough soldering and electronics to bodge the guts of a "real" keyboard (acquired surplus somewhere) onto the ZX81. The scan matrix was slightly different so the bottom row was offset by one key, but hey! REAL KEYS! It was awesome. Later I learned enough digital logic to use the expansion port in back (where you'd attach the wobbly RAM pack— it was basically just the Z80 processor bus) to control stepper motors and read sensors, with 74LS00-series TTL wire-wrapped on a piece of perfboard.

So. Pretty nice little machine for learning on.

These days you can get an Arduino for a fifth the price which runs ten times as fast and has more memory. But I still feel nostalgic for that machine, and staring at its 32x25 character display on the wavery old B&W vacuum-tube TV my parents let me dedicate to it.
posted by hattifattener at 12:43 PM on March 5, 2011 [4 favorites]

I plotted a sine wave on one when I was six (I think it was an example program in the manual). Now I'm a math prof. Coincidence?
posted by Wolfdog at 12:49 PM on March 5, 2011 [5 favorites]

The Timex Sinclair was the first computer I ever owned. [...] A year or two earlier when I was in school, I learned programming using IBM punch cards on expensive machines that filled a room.

There is a great article, or even documentary, to be made about the behind-the-scenes transition from the mainframe paradigm to that of home microcomputers.
posted by JHarris at 1:28 PM on March 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

I watched Micro Men last week on BBC Foru (where else?)

Affectionately comic drama about the British home computer boom of the early 1980s.

Legendary inventor Clive Sinclair battles it out with ex-employee Chris Curry, founder of Acorn Computers, for dominance in the fledgling market.

The rivalry comes to a head when the BBC announce their Computer Literacy Project, with the stated aim of putting a micro in every school in Britain. When Acorn wins the contract, Sinclair is furious, and determines to outsell the BBC Micro with his ZX Spectrum computer.

Good, but not as good as Pirates of Silicon Valley.
posted by kersplunk at 1:33 PM on March 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I had either the ZX80 or ZX81, I don't remember which. It was a kit though. After I took a couple of hours to solder it together I powered it up to see that it worked. And that was the last time I ever turned it on. I'm weird in that way.
posted by digsrus at 1:45 PM on March 5, 2011

If you took all the ZX81s ever made - one and a half million - and hooked them together as a huge... calculating... thing... they'd have the power of around 40 of today's processors, crippled somewhat with 1.5 GB memory. Total.
posted by Devonian at 2:13 PM on March 5, 2011 [8 favorites]

Yes, my first computer too. My fixes for the keyboard and rampack wobble were, respectively, a stroking motion and a wodge of blu-tak.

And, heavens, that printer was dire. But, on the upside, 3D monster maze!
posted by Busy Old Fool at 2:26 PM on March 5, 2011

It's also the 36th birthday of the Homebrew Computer Club.

I wonder how many of us wish would could have joined that club!
posted by Twang at 2:31 PM on March 5, 2011

The ZX8x followed in the venerable tradition of the Atari 2600 VCS in having the CPU do much of the video heavy lifting, which meant that either your real software ran bog slow because it could only do processing during the vertical retrace or the screen went black whenever other heavy processing was going on.

Ironically I find myself doing quite a bit of work today with the Parallax Propeller which is designed to drive TV and VGA displays (and a lot of other stuff, such as serial ports) via software emulation. But this time the CPU has eight processors, and they run at 80 MHz, and you can put together an entire working system for under $20 if you're that cheap.
posted by localroger at 2:36 PM on March 5, 2011

Moss: She is quite the oddball. Did you notice how she didn't even get excited when she saw this original ZX81?

Roy: Yeah, that was weird. It's almost as if she doesn't know anything about computers.
posted by starscream at 2:36 PM on March 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Relevant pop-culture reference.
posted by Ian.I.Am at 2:55 PM on March 5, 2011

Sinclair produced a 16 KB add-on memory module

Damn thing would always come loose and crash the ZX81 right at the exact moment I finished a three-hour job of copying and pasting code a game into it.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:29 PM on March 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I still remember walking into the ComputerWorld(?) at the mall and it was like walking into an Apple Store now. They had one of each of the computers they sold on pedestals in dark muted light.

I so wanted one for christmas, but got a viewmaster projector instead. My mom said "I know you wanted a computer but the man at the store said this was the same and that you would like it."


still pissed about that.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 3:32 PM on March 5, 2011 [5 favorites]

The Port of Rotterdam was — for a short while, at least — controlled by a ZX81 that my dad bought. He was chair of a harbour automation committee for the (then) EEC. While all the ports had mainframes, they were all locked away in the batch DP mentality of the time, so couldn't be used to run shipping jobs. The folks on the committee realised they could expense cheap home computers to write proof-of-concept systems. The UK had the cheapest home computers, so Dad would usually buy a ZX81 before he left and deliver them to his colleagues. I always thought the computers were for me, but was usually mollified by the box of zeevruchten that he brought back.

(and totes props to the committee for providing my dad with friendships all across Europe which have lasted more than thirty years, and in turn, us with some fun holidays in France and Belgium, and "almost family" across the continent.)
posted by scruss at 4:36 PM on March 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

How many computers are made in Scotland these days?
posted by Yakuman at 5:29 PM on March 5, 2011

A friend of the family ran several retail stores and bought the Timex Sinclair 1000 (which was the US model name of the ZX81) in the hopes that it could create pricetags for him. Apparently pricing guns and labels were crazy expensive then (or maybe it was hiring stockpeople; he was a real pennypincher.) The fact that you could use an existing tape recorder was a factor in choosing this over, say, the Commodore Pet. Okay, tightwad might be more accurate.

There are vague memories in my mind (GET OUT DAMN YOU) of painfully long sessions with a Radio Shack tape recorder, trying to save sequential data files and get them to load properly later. I also remember being frustrated as heck with the memory limits, but he wouldn't fork over for the 16K. And of course being young and new to programming, it was in my brain that there were no limits to how much you could optimize your code. So I plugged away for many free hours, since I didn't feel I had enough experience to charge for my services. At least there were free soft drinks.

Anyway, long story short he ditched the project a few months later in favour of the Vic-20. Yep; not satisfied with the crowded 32-character screen, he stepped up to the 22-character glory that was the Vic. (Knowing him, it was probably due to getting the Vic on sale.) After taking one look at a program listing and having to wrap my eyes around split commands every second, I passed on the project.

Not all nostalgia is a longing for great things passed; sometimes it serves to remind of how far we've come.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 6:43 PM on March 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

The ZX81 owed a lot to other single board computers that preceded it, like the Rockwell AIM-65. But it was focused on a single line LED text interface. I lived near a Rockwell plant so a lot of guys around here had AIM-65s.

In one of those links somewhere, I could swear I saw a ZX81 printer that used thermal conductive printing. This method uses thermal paper with a metallic coating, so the print heads were just electronic contact points, power it up and the metal conducted electricity, heating the paper to make the black marks. I haven't seen anything like that for decades, not since I saw a SWTPC 6800 demo at the local homebrew club in 1976. Thermal printers were a viable option compared to the clunky dot matrix printers of the era.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:15 PM on March 5, 2011

I had a ZX81 as well (along with the 16k ram pack). Fun computer. Spent hours and hours typing in programs I found in magazines, books, wherever. It wasn't perfect, but my parents weren't about to spring the mega bucks (some things never change?) for an Apple II+ like we used at school. The keyboard was finicky, but it did have one cool feature: a sort of autocomplete. One keypress would yield the entire basic command/keyword. And like "Busy Old Fool" said: 3D Monster Maze!
posted by readyfreddy at 9:16 PM on March 5, 2011

I plotted a sine wave on one when I was six (I think it was an example program in the manual). Now I'm a math prof. Coincidence?

I used the Spectrum+ to fill the TV screen with my name in myriad colours and borders when I was six as well. I'm now a UX consultant.

The term here is not "coincidence" but "true love". It's like the much eulogized first kiss.
posted by the cydonian at 9:34 PM on March 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

My dad made an external keyboard out of surplus keyswitches he mounted to plywood (meticulously stained, varnished and sanded - he was that kinda nerd). I programmed a lot of "hunt the wumpus" games on it...
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:36 PM on March 5, 2011

In the mid-90s for some reason my school decided that we should do some maths via BASIC programming, and since my dad wanted the 'real' computer for other stuff he got the ZX-80 out of the loft. Worked straight off from being plugged in, after more than 15 years non-use neglected in a box. I have great respect for the ZXs.
posted by Coobeastie at 1:26 AM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

*looks fondly at the 16K RAM pack he uses as a paper weight*

*the remembers the blasted thing wobbling and realises that paper weight is all it's good for*
posted by hardcode at 5:07 AM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

I mentioned in the ZX81 in the Acknowledgments section of my PhD dissertation:

"The origins of this dissertation can be tracked back to a moment almost thirty years ago when my father sat me down in front of the television and placed a Sinclair ZX81 BASIC emulator in my lap."
posted by gruchall at 7:49 AM on March 6, 2011

I have a TI Silent 700 portable terminal, late 1970s vintage. It has a thermal printer. It also has an acoustic coupler built in. That was a contraption with two rubber cups into which you inserted you telephone handset—this was back when they were all pretty much the same. I used it to dial into work occasionally. It's been probably ten or fifteen years since I've plugged it in, I wonder if it still works? (And how would I test it? Anybody got a BBS with dial-up ports?)
posted by Crabby Appleton at 8:47 AM on March 6, 2011

Aphex Twin claims to have won a contest for writing a program that produced audio on the ZX81.
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 9:23 AM on March 6, 2011

Crabby A: I used to have a Carterphone acoustic coupler, a standalone unit that connected via serial port to a PC (in this case, my hand built 1976 SOL-20 Terminal Computer). I tossed it out or lost it a few years ago, oh I wish I still had it, that is a legendary piece of equipment and almost more collectible than my SOL.

But more to the point, my acoustic coupler would work just like yours, I do remember using that TI model back in the day. Your TI Silent 700 should be able to dial up and connect to any standard modem in use today. An acoustic coupler of your vintage would run only at 300 and 110 baud. Modern modem standards still support 300 baud (IIRC they dropped 110). I think the biggest problem you would have if you attempted to use your terminal, is locating a telephone handset that would fit. Back in the 1970s, almost every phone handset was a standard Western Electric model. Today, it would be hard to find one. I recall keeping an old rotary dial phone around to use with my acoustic coupler. But now that's gone too. What a shame, I remember going around to quite a few phones, unscrewing the caps and swapping out the carbon microphone disks, to find one with the best frequency response. A good carbon mic disk made a huge improvement in the connection. I would have swapped out and tested the handset speaker too, but I never had much of a problem receiving, only sending, and that part was soldered in place anyway.

After my SOL became obsolete and I had moved on to other computers, I gave it to my Dad, who used it in his bank office to dial up the Federal Reserve. It was vastly superior to the Teletype ASR-33 they wanted him to use (which also only ran at 110 or 300 baud, or "300 baudot" as we used to say before shortening it). He used that system daily, well into the 1980s.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:53 AM on March 6, 2011

I used modeling clay to hold the memory on. I punched in a drawing program from a magazine. I still have my tapes. Is there a way to get at those drawings without the Sinclair?
posted by JohnR at 12:35 PM on March 6, 2011

Yes, you can use utilities like this one to convert a sound file into something an emulator can read.
posted by LVdB at 1:16 PM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Here are some others.

The theory is that you play the tape into your computer's sound card, and run one of these programs to read in the audio and decode it. If your tape player has a "line out" jack and your sound card has a "line in" jack, you just need a patch cord with the right connectors and you're set. If the output and input aren't compatible, you'll probably need an attenuator (Google "attenuating patch cord"). I've never tried this, so I have no idea how well it works.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 1:21 PM on March 6, 2011

You might also want to read up on the trials and tribulations of reading old tapes. You might not get but one chance to play them.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 1:23 PM on March 6, 2011

I wrote the worlds best 1K shooting game on the ZX81, though sadly as I no longer have my ZX81 nor the program (nor a very reliable memory), you'll have to take my word for it.
posted by ciderwoman at 1:33 PM on March 6, 2011

Also, JohnR, if your tape player has tone controls, crank the treble all the way up and the bass all the way down. Set the volume at about 3/4. Turn off Dolby Noise Reduction and any other audio filters on the tape player. It is to be hoped that you still have the tape recorder you used to save the data and that it still works. Otherwise, cheap tape recorders have been observed to work better than high-end gear in this application. If it doesn't work, and the tape is still playable, you might try changing the playback head alignment. I suggest you look for resources on Wikipedia and one the web in general. There's a "web ring" of ZX81 sites, for example.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 1:51 PM on March 6, 2011

I had either the ZX80 or ZX81, I don't remember which.

The ZX80 was white, the ZX81 was black.

My dad had a manual for a ZX80, which I believe primarily came in kit form so you could buy them separately. His school bought a ZX81 which I got to play with in some holidays, but we later ended up getting a Vic-20 instead.

We did later get a Spectrum so that me and my brother would have something to play with while Dad was doing 'real work' on the C64 we replaced the Vic-20 with, but the Spectrums blew up at approximately the rate of one every two months so eventually we sold it and Dad got a Commodore 128.

Damn thing would always come loose and crash the ZX81 right at the exact moment I finished a three-hour job of copying and pasting code a game into it.

I unwisely positioned the tape deck behind the RAM pack, so managed to reset the ZX81 while checking the cables were secure...

If I'd only waited and got a Spectrum.

I think you would have found, from the point of view of typing in programs and general peripheral related unreliableness, a Spectrum would not have been much of an improvement over the ZX81. One of the above mentioned Spectrums that died an early death was due to me plugging in the printer one pin out on the expansion slot.

The keyboard was finicky, but it did have one cool feature: a sort of autocomplete. One keypress would yield the entire basic command/keyword

IIRC (may not, it's been a long time) you had to press a modifier key and then press the key with the command on it. I much preferred the Commodore shortcut method - first letter of command followed by Shift+second letter of the command, you didn't have to spend time searching for whatever random key they'd put the command on (the common ones were OK - PRINT was on the P key, but then any other commands beginning with P had to be somewhere else).

In one of those links somewhere, I could swear I saw a ZX81 printer that used thermal conductive printing.

The link with the text 'Thermal Printer' perhaps? ;)

I haven't seen anything like that for decades

I'm fairly sure several brands of supermarket cash registers use thermal printers - no need for toners or ink, just need special paper (which needs to be restocked frequently anyway). Also I notice stick on labels on food often go black if you microwave them, I assume that's because they're also on thermal paper?
posted by robertc at 2:04 PM on March 6, 2011

you had to press a modifier key and then press the key with the command on it
As i recall, it behaved modally. When you begin keying in a new line of a program, it would be in 'command' mode, where pressing one letter key would input an entire keyword - on the TS1000 version (which is what I knew) these were printed above the keys. Then it would revert to functioning as a normal keyboard, until it thought you were at some point where a keyword was needed again. It didn't do upper and lower case, but there was a SHIFT key that would let you access other functions/keywords and block graphics characters. They packed a lot of stuff into that little keyboard.
posted by Wolfdog at 6:18 PM on March 6, 2011

The ZX81 was my first computer. Well, technically, it was my dad's computer but, as a 10 year old, it felt like it was mine. I spent (wasted?!) countless hours entering games and other programs in there, sometimes even being able to go all the way through saving them to audio tape for later replay.

In a lot of ways, the ZX81 was the gateway drug to a life working with computers. As a kid in France, a clear demarcation was set between the kids who used Minitel (think of it as an early online BBS) and the kids who could "program" the ZX81. The former were already seen as mere users by the latter group. In Europe, the ZX81 was followed by many people to Spectrum land but only a few years later, the computing world started diversifying with a wide array of platforms, ranging from the VIC-20 (the predecessor to the Commodore 64) to the Amstrad.

I was in the Amstrad camp and this computer was everything that the ZX81 wasn't. The keyboard was real, the tape deck was incorporated (no more loose wires) and so was the screen (no more need to compete for TV time). That one had a modem add-on and was my intro to the online world.
posted by TNLNYC at 7:04 PM on March 6, 2011

charlie don't surf, thanks for your perspective on this. I hope that my comments aren't viewed as a derail. It's a bit of a tangent to the ZX81 discussion, I suppose.

I've used stand-alone acoustic couplers before, connected to a terminal via RS-232 (but not since 1980 or so, that I recall). I don't recall ever swapping out the carbon mics, but I do remember banging the receiver on the table to un-clump the carbon granules. I still have some old-style phones (but no rotary dial phones, alas). I've also used ASR-33s (and KSR-33s), or "hunker-thunkers", as they were called—anyone who's ever heard one in action knows why. It's neat that you built your own terminal. Heathkit also made a terminal kit. Terminals (of the fixed character cell variety, typically 80 characters by 24 lines) were quite expensive back then; building a kit was semi-affordable. (I never did; I bought a used one fairly cheaply, eventually.) I used VT-100s, Concept-100s, Wyse, mainly. An awful lot of amazing code was written using an 80x24 character window onto the machine. Is this where I should talk about wearing an onion on my belt?

I'll have to find dial-up internet access and dial in—probably have the sysadmin ROFL to see somebody connected at 300 baud.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 7:10 PM on March 6, 2011

robertc, no, I don't mean the regular thermal printers like in use today. This was special because the paper was conductive. That shiny conductive thermal paper died out when the white regular thermal paper (and mechanisms to print on it) became more affordable. The silvery paper was hard to read so it always was sort of a kluge. Xerox copies looked great, though.

I used to service Apple Silentype thermal printers, they worked well and did hi rez graphics on white thermal paper. That must have been about 1980, about contemporary with the Sinclair I guess.
posted by charlie don't surf at 7:10 PM on March 6, 2011

Crabby Appleton, I figure there's a little room in this thread for other, vaguely related Sinclair era retrocomputing reminisces, but let's not push it too far and derail. Yeah, I drove ASR-33s, ADM3s, DECwriters, IBM 3270s, IBM 2741s, Textronix "storage tube" graphics terminals, and even a PLATO IV. I was lucky enough to be around a university with plenty of different, diverse computer systems. Oh those were the days, when this interactive computer stuff was just starting to show some real potential..
posted by charlie don't surf at 7:35 PM on March 6, 2011

I agree. Fun times...
posted by Crabby Appleton at 8:29 PM on March 6, 2011

The Sinclair always puzzled me. It was minimal to the point of questioning whether there was any there there. Mostly, I thought not. But I was working for a company selling "Ohio Scientific" computers at the time. An extremely early attempt at making micro computers useful to business, and offering some very nice models for home, too. But Radioshack's Trash-80 was the leader of the industry at that time (1980).

In 1981, it was all about the Z80 processor (used in the Trash80), the S100 bus and CP/M operating system. That was an early attempt at a standard. Then IBM came out with something called a "PC", with a completely different desgin. Those of us already in micros figured IBM would fade out of the market quickly. Oops.
posted by Goofyy at 4:19 AM on March 7, 2011

But I was working for a company selling "Ohio Scientific" computers at the time. An extremely early attempt at making micro computers useful to business..

I bet you remember, maybe even sold some software I worked on, EASY, Executive Accouting SYstem. We had an OSI box in our shop and compiled our USCD P-System code to run it on that box. Oh those were the days, when code actually could be compiled on different machines and it ran anywhere.
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:06 AM on March 7, 2011

Raises a glass. Mine's in my mothers attic. First kiss indeed.
I didn't believe in the tape-recorder, I thought I was being wound up. I was six but I wasn't dumb.
So I typed.
posted by Iteki at 10:14 AM on March 8, 2011

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