Reg Hardware Retro Week Logo When I landed the job of Doctor Who Script Editor in 1981, I knew I needed a computer. Actually it was something I'd known since the age of 12, but back then you couldn't get started for less than half a million dollars. Now you could pick up a Sinclair ZX81 for a shade under fifty quid in kit …
Re: Z88 was likely the first computer device I ever lusted for.
I wrote up major parts of my CompSci PhD on a Z88 whilst sitting in the sunshine in the backgarden (in LaTex). Uploaded it on to a Sun 3 to typeset via a serial comms app I wrote on the Sun. It was either a Z88 or a Psion MC400 but the Z88 won on cost.
Still have the neat little machine, stuck in my retro collection along with my original TRS-80 Model I Level II (bought out of my paper-round money) and somewhere between 20 and 30 other machines .. including quite a range of early portable ones (unfortunately no Osbourne 1 though).
Call that a Pet?
A real Pet had awful square, flat buttons :-) A load were stolen one night from our illustrious educational establihment. They were dumped back on the front steps a few days later - the thieves obviously took pity on us!
Re: Call that a Pet?
I learnt to type on one of those, all the decals had rubbed off so it was a great way of learning the layout of a QWERTY keyboard...
Re: Call that a Pet?
Ah, you mean the mini keyboard ones with the built in tape drive - fond memories.
Wish I had one of those... Unfortunately I just have one like the article photo - and no storage! D'oh!
Then again, can you still even buy C60s?
How things have changed
We just did our first experiments with a 64 core machine with 0.5 TB of RAM. Great days back then, but boy are we spoiled now.
Space Invaders on a Commodore PET...
Now that was addictive!
Home computing evolution for me:
PET->VIC-20->C64->Epson PX-8->Psion Series5->Sharp Zaurus
And nothing but Suns at work.
Never touched a Mac. Was forced onto PCs at work circa 2000.
Their first IBM compatible was also launched in 1982 although they had been producing pre-DOS personal computers for years before that. They were built like brick sh*thouses thanks to their multimedia pedigree. They had to survive being thrown into vans and planes on a daily basis.
Right now I weep
Here I am sat at my desk doing my IT support stuff for a big, nay huge multinational IT firm. Slowly a tear is rolling down my cheek, as I look back to the golden 80's.
In 1989 I start as an operator of several machines
1. as400 (the size of a supermarket)
2. system 36
3. hp (various)
4. SYFA - (truly my fave machine)
As well as varoius essential line printers.
But then the IBM PC clone came along and we all played golf!
Cue Monty Python Yorkshiremen sketch...
... and you try telling the young people of today that and they do't believe you.
Re: Cue Monty Python Yorkshiremen sketch...
Monty Python? I guess you're not old enough to know that was originally a At Last the 1948 Show sketch.
Try telling the young people of today that and they don't believe you :)
Re: Cue Monty Python Yorkshiremen sketch...
Tim Brooke Taylor??? Luxury!
In the very early 80's my wife's PhD theses was written in Scripsit on a TRS80 model 1 (with expansion box).
The expensive bits were the floppy disks! 84kB (I seem to remember) a time - which subsequently got updated to double density through a US-sourced "doubler" board that had a different controller on it....
Relocating the RAM (on bigger, 64kb chips that weren't available when the machine was on the market) to the keyboard greatly improved reliability as like others of the era, your whole document was in memory!
Scripsit got hacked to make it do all sorts of things that more modern printers could support - like addressing individual pins which we used to print Greek letters!
After the thesis, it got used to produce - both analysing the data and writing up - what has become quite a seminal paper in its field that's still findable on the Web as a scanned image of the (new printer ribbon!) dot matrix printout produced by the TRS. Someone even wanted a copy of the (compiled Basic) program I used for the analysis which made me rather chuffed..
One of the things that set the TRS80 apart was the fact it had a decent Cherry keyboard - that taught me to touch-type although the keyboard unit needed a wrist rest as it was thick...
Happy memories - I think its still in the loft!
Interesting that the Smithsonian's keyboard unit doesn't have the numeric keyboard which means it must be a "level 1" from what I remember...
Another memory was the "tamper protection" that quite a few people used: load the code into memory in one place then use the "block move" instruction to move it somewhere else to execute - made it somewhat harder to disassemble (and modify!)... Meant all the long jumps went to the wrong place if the code hadn't been moved correctly...
I wrote up an A-level compsci project on my TRS-80 Model I Level II and printed it out on a daisywheel printer that was ear-shatteringly loud! (even inside an "acoustic cover"). I'm sure it was even louder than the golfball and line printers at Uni.
Happy Days (yes that was on the telly as well).
"Another memory was the "tamper protection" that quite a few people used: load the code into memory in one place then use the "block move" instruction to move it somewhere else to execute"
That was copy protection? I thought I "invented" that technique to be able to load cassette based games from floppy disk into higher than normal address space then block move them back over the top of TRS-DOS (or later, LDOS). The same technique I later used on the ZX Spectrum to load cassette games from a Rotronics Wafer drive, which, like TRS-DOS loaded it's OS extensions into low RAM where the default ROM based OS would normally load programmes.
Early TRS-80 copy protection consisted of the game being a full 16KB so you couldn't load a copy programme first. This wouldn't leave enough RAM to buffer the read before write copy operation. Unless, of course, you got a lower case mod which converted the 7-bit 1KB screen ram into 8-bit, from which you could then load and run the less than 1KB copy programme. Those who were rich would have a 48KB RAM upgrade (pretty much required if you were running floppt drives and TRS/L/MultiDos.
Pirate icon...because....well we all did it then.
No, it was "tamper protection", not "copy protection". It meant you couldn't dissemble the executable from the disk image, change it and re-assemble it (easily!).
However, if there were Copywrite statements in the program, they were the first bit that got "patched" over as they were spare space - the longer the message the better :)
was it piracy as we owned the program (usually!) and were just making it do what we wanted...?
I started on a 48K spectrum that was my grandfathers before, that got me into coding when I was 8, I remember spending hours typing games in.
I was lucky that my parents brought me an Amiga 500+ when I was 10 I think,
Graduated to an amiga 1200 years later, and loved it, while my friends had game consoles and joypads, I was playing battle isle, playing flight sims and writing apps/games.
I have to say I owe my love of computers and my entire career to my grandfathers 48K spectrum...
ASCII is an acronym
Spelled with all-caps.
But you knew that.
I'm a panda, look it up.
So, thirty-five years ago...
(My word, has it been that long?) I started playing with 8060 and Z80 from Sinclair, 6502 from Tangerine, and 8080/85 from some surplus CP/M place.
And now I'm working for one of the guys who worked on the Spectrum developing Z80 code.
Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose...
Getting a bit emotional here whilst remembering....
Kicked off with a ZX81, when I started college in 81/82 then worked my way thoughvarious Spectrums, and then a QL before buying a Zenith 8086 cheap from Morgans - expanded the memory by buying and inserting DIL chips. None of this ram strip nonsense then. Soon learnt that in 88/89 Pcs werent much fun and bought an Amiga 600. Bought my first hard disk for the Amiga £250 for a 2.5" 60MB.
Bought an psion LZ64 second hand back in the late 80s, then upgraded to series 3, then 5MX.
Sold the Amiga and bought another PC in about 94. added soundblaster CD and sound card and a modem.
Best memories are
1. Getting a Token ring network and novell server (2.0a) at work in a tea-chest (had been stripped out of offices and rescued from skip!) I then figured out how to put it all together and network the PCs, and setup email in the room. I worked for Employment training in those days and we had barely any money for kit. at the time email seemed magical!
2. Setting up a headless linux based box as an Mp3 player attached to my stereo system back in the late 90s - had an LCD screen and IR remote, and I could put my CDs in the loft. Everyone thought I was mad. Also networked my first house at the same time.
3. My Psion 5MX was awesome. I bought the Ericsson SH888 phone with the modem. In 2000 I was uploading photos and reports using the setup whilst cycling the End to End. Near John o Groats met up with a party of school kids doing the same. they were using a laptop the size of a small suitcase and a digital camera with a 3.5" floppy disk drive and had to grovel a loan of a power socket and the youth hostel's phone line. I took the CF card out my camera, stuck it in my psion, and uploaded the photos over the mobile to my website completely wirelessly - The kids were amazed. It was a proper compute anywhere connected device.
I agree with @james51 - The N900 is great, but the 5MX was a legend - still have 2 and ne is one my desk in front of me. would love an updated one with wifi/bluetooth.
Been an exciting ride over the last 30 years - The next 30 should be a fun ride
UK hobby computing started in earnest in 1977...
Those who started home computing in the 1980s were Johnny-come-latelies. The first true UK designed hobby computer was surely the Nascom 1 release in December 1977. With a proper keyboard, screen output and supplied as a kit with full circuit diagrams and monitor listing, this was a proper hard-core hobby computer. Many were those who cut their programming teeth on this and the Nascom II released 2 years later. I still have mine, and a few years ago, at least, it was still working.
My first serious project was a porting of Dan and Kathleen Spracklen's Sargon chess playing program to my Nascom II, a slow and laborious process when I had no floppy disk drive.
The Nascom 1 featured on the first ever issue of Personal Computer World.
Re: UK hobby computing started in earnest in 1977...
I think it started earlier in the US. I can remember playing Wumpus on a friend's Kim 1. Hex keyboard and display, 1k RAM and a tape recorder for storage..
Sounds like we trod a VERY similar path
Whilst I originally started with an SC/MP project from Elector magazine
I too moved on to a Nascom 1 ( although mine was a home build based on the circuit diagram of a mates official unit, on a large wire wrap board) - I think its safe to admit that now !
Also added a home brew disk controller based on the old 1771 chip IIRC
Even more of a coincidence, I too ported Sargon to it from the 'paperback', that was a lot of lines of assembler to wade through - worked though ! - was well chuffed at the time
Re: UK hobby computing started in earnest in 1977...
"Started in the 70`s" Pah!! I remember playing Asteroids in late 68 when I was 3 and all I had was some graph paper an abacus and a set of Napiers Bones. Took me all week to plot one frame and then me kid brother would come in and use his crayons on it so I'd have to start again!! Happy days !!!
What's all this "bought" malarkey?
Nah, "proper" hobby computing is when you get the handful of chips (CPU, RAM etc) wire them up with veroboard and wire-wrap to create your own. Not quite an early adopter (early 80s for me) but had to wait until my teens to be allowed to play with such delicate toys.
Write an O/S (hand assembled, natch) then burn onto a EPROM, plug into your machine and see what happens when it powers up.
Kids these days...
And another Nascom'er
Nascom 1 and Nascom 2, long banished to the loft though.
Anyone remember these?
Basically an M24 with a tiny CRT built in with the keyboard forming the front of the case when being transported. 15KG "laptop"!
Re: Olivetti M21
Oh gawd, yes! Low level format the hard disk. Except that 5 was sometimes a 6 or 7 depending on the ROM version on board :-) And getting the right jumper settings to set that address to d800 for a second HDD. And keeping track of the IRQs used/free with more jumper settings.
I had a Sorcerer here in Canada for a year or two. I extended it with a huge external box with space for a pair of 8 inch floppy drives. I was always amused by the expansion slot devices, which were in 8-track tape cartridges. I remember a truly impressive Dr Who game that used the programmable character set to do a full-3D flying-through-space game, a bit like asteroids. No native sound output, however - I had an external one that did off/on via a pin on the parallel port.
Proper keyboard, upper and lower case, able to hook up floppy disks - excellent!
But, what is that switch in the middle of the bottom of the front? Mine didn't have one of those.
Re: Exidy Sorcerer
Mine didn't either; maybe it's a turbo switch?
I'm a left-hander, and I just got used to it. I was in a band and I remember travelling along in a van at night, discussing what we needed to do, and me keeping perfect notes in the darkness! Unless my memory fails me, there was no backlit screen
Not seen the Agenda before, but it looks seriously nifty. Always wanted to try out a chordboard - they still exist as USB peripherals aimed at RSI sufferers. Want to see how fast I could get my typing speed up on one.
TRS-80 Model III
I first programmed on an IBM 704. It had vacuum tubes. But the first computer I took home was a TRS-80 Model III. It was either that, or an Apple II. And the TRS already had a monitor, and didn't need a silly add-on for capital letters. The cassette tape storage was miserable, but it worked, and eventually bought a Model IV and switched over to floppies. Novels were written on those computers. They're still with me, having been ported to CP-M and then MS-DOS.
The most miserable part about the Model III was that you could not trust it to save your files if you had more than 32k of memory. Radio Shack wouldn't believe us. We eventually cut the memory from 48k to 32k, and it behaved just fine after that.
I began my computer career on Apple II clones, I had 3 or 4 of them, and as parts gave up I would pinch from one to make the damaged one work again, while I tried to find spares. They worked with 3 external drives and a pile of discs - no built in programmes. My favourite programme was the Bank Street Writer followed by another programme called something like News Writer (I could write in columns and add clipart from a library of thousands.) Those were the days! I smiled at the original post talking about CP/M, remembering the hours I battled with that and the joy when I overcame another obstacle. I had an Osbourne CP/M machine, listed as "the first luggable". But the Z88 was the first true portable that I had, and the first one I ever took on a long haul journey for making notes while I was away. Eventually I had to move over to Windows, and then move onwards and upwards from there. But the 1980s were testing times, and great fun, the 90's and Windows 3 weren't bad either. It's all gone downhill since then. Sob, sob!
I used the both the original Microwriter (with single line red LED display) and its follow up with an LCD display. I have never been able to type as fast, as I could with those machines. I am still not a fast QWERTY user and reckon i could still type faster today using a Microwriter keypad. Sitting here now, I think i can remember at least 80% of the Microwriter chord alphabet; this, nearly 30 years after i last used one; once learned, never forgotten.
PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, someone do an iOS/Android version, it could sit as an overlay on any text entry panel, maybe even pimp up my 'Magic Trackpad'; THAT would rock my world...
I did not save any of those early computers like Apple II, Pet, ABC 80 and the Sinclair’s Z88.
The ABC should have been mentioned, perhaps.
Seeing the Sinclair’s Z88 I wanted one right away, but then I think it was the most annoying "computer" I have ever used, terrible quit frankly, even if I liked the rubber keys.
I still think that Visicalc the first spread sheet program ever, and originally made for the Apple II+,
was the first and only software that has really surprised me. That was something really new and surprising. As far as I remember Visicalc tried to patent it but their lawyer told them not to.
In those days patenting things was not as easy as to day. What a disgusting mess it has become since then.
It wasn’t long after the Mac was installed that I was hooking up my first modem and watching the glowing green characters coming up on-screen almost as fast as I could read them."
Glowing GREEN characters on a Mac screen? IIRC, they didn't do colour until late in the 1980's; except with "hacks". Perhaps Chris had one of those fancy screen filters.
Re: Seeing green
Silly wabbit! Monochrome monitors came with a number of phosphors. I remember green, orange, and a kind of bluish-grey.
Sorry Christopher, if you're reading I need to talk Doctor Who for just a second. I'd just like to say Frontios is one of my absolute favourite Doctor Who stories, the whole thing was great from start to finish.
I'd love to see the Tractators revisited in the new series, I'm sure with CGI they could do justice to them curling up into a ball like a pillbug. That said, the recent Silurian story borrowed very heavily from Frontios with people being sucked into the ground which is a bit of a shame.
My first non-toy machine was an Epson PX-8 CP/M laptop, which had two auxiliary processors as well as the main Z80, and another Z80 in the bolt-on wedge-shaped 120K RamDisk that fitted nicely under the machine. The build quality was wonderful, the keyboard was good and solid, and it even had a pull-out carry handle. Unfortunately, the screen was only 8 lines (of 8 columns). I can't remember what the battery life was.
I knew a few other users of these; the only one who didn't have difficulty soldering the mini-DIN 8-pin serial connectors was a surgeon who specialized in re-connecting nerves in childrens' hands.
80s computing with no real mention of the Amiga. launched int he middle of the decade and spanked all those other toys into touch....by the end of the 80's people could even afford them in the UK ..the amazing A500 batman pack dropped to 399 quid - which was, for that amount of compute, and incredible offer...and the start of computer/console + games bundle era.... still going strong with eg PS3/Xbox360 bundles...
The Amiga and Atari ST were a late arrival towards the end of the era of completely incompatible machines.
Also, as you mention, the Amiga wasn't used for much more than a games console (yes, I know the Speccy wasn't much better), but my fond memories of the time involve lids off and hacking about with the inside. My Beeb started life as a model A, got a DIY upgrade, sideways RAM, dual controller floppy interface and all the toys added by me with a soldering iron.
To me a computer isn't "real" until you take it to bits and modify it. :-)
Started with a zx81 saved from paper round and bought 2nd hand just as everyone started to save for the Spectrum.
Built a joystick adapter to take the Atari vcs joystick which was directly soldered to the keyboard header in the zx81. Sold quite a few of these to friends and family.
Used to visit my schoolmate John and his dad Dave Looker who wrote Zuckman and Frogger for the zx81. They continued into spectrum, Dragon32, and cpc464 games and never looked back.
Moved on to the Texas Ti99/4a whilst the schools had BBC and Econet with Wordwise for the word processor on Rom chips.
The college had Atari ST before the OS was on ROM. Upgraded a few months later.
Started work in 1986 on Sperry (unisys) and Tandem and ended up on ICL, IBM and AS400 gear.
Moved over to Novell in 92 when Ethernet cards were £1000 quid each. Windows NT in 1998.
Now it's all AD, GPO and not so much fun. Can't wait to get a Raspberry PI.
I still have most of my old computers (the ZX81 and Spectrums both broke many many years ago), including my Epson HX-20 which works perfectly to this day. I think my favourite geek-kit though is my 3 Fujitsu PoqetPads (2 still working): MS-DOS 5, storage on SRAM cards, with a backlit 640x200 resolution touchscreen and separate keyboard. Those were the days!
I had one of these when I was at college to take notes on, a great little earner as I, being a touch typist, could take all the lecture notes and the rest of the students paid for copies, great weekend drink fund :)
The Microwriter Agenda, reminds me of a device we had for my fellow blind students, which had keys arranged in the same way, for them to key in notes on, much better than trying to lug a Braille embossers around.