Ok- it’s 1980 and Rubik’s cube is the big launch of the year.
But a British inventor, Clive Sinclair was about to unleash “Home Computing” onto the unsuspecting home market, and I am about to enter the new world of “home computing”.
…It’s all Maurice’s fault!*
My friend Maurice had just shown me a new bit of kit he had brought back from the USA made by a few guys at a start-up named Apple- wasn’t sure what it might do though. In fact to me, it seemed a classic case of a solution looking for the question! BUT, it whetted my appetite to look into this new stuff, and as luck had it, Clive Sinclair was about to launch his ground-breaking ZX80 computer.
Sinclair, had already created interest with his development and marketing of a digital watch and a small two-inch portable TV.
Advance orders were heavy, and following a consumer led advertising campaign, there was a long wait list for the computer (advertised as having a MASSIVE 1k of RAM!) , but as a journalist I was fortunate enough to nab an early ZX80 from Sinclair’s PR company at a very heavy discount. (Rule No 1 as a journalist- Don’t take bribes- but a little discount goes a long way!)
So there it was…nestling in a customised polystyrene case complete with its leads and the glossy ring backed Operating Manual including info on the Sinclair BASIC programming language. So- what next- no flashing lights, no colour, no sound, just a blinking cursor! BUT- it was MY computer!
Who still recalls the tedium of entering lines of code, including the cryptic REM,PEEK,GO SUB,INPUT,CLS and POKE instructions? The longer it was on, the hotter the plastic casing became – all of a sudden, nerds started buying Tetrapacks of milk, which, it was claimed, if placed on the top, cooled down the machine sufficiently to continue work.
It also launched a new opportunity- publishing for the home computer market. A young writer called Tim Hartnell appeared on the scene and seeing a viable business opportunity, launched ZX Interface for the small, but growing ZX80 user community.
It was a very basic, A4 subscription only newsletter which was a bit like a home produced cut and paste job…but it led the way for its more glossy descendants. I will be writing more about the early publishing and coverage of computers soon.
I well remember sitting all evening keying in all this gobbledegook making sure the commas and brackets were in the correct places, and the grand conclusion- ( I had read the instructions and was aware that if I pressed the wrong keys, all of the code would vanish- unless I had stored it on a nearby cassette recorder!) So- the moment of truth- it worked- and the little blinking cursor at the top left of my TV screen moved to the bottom right. Not much to be chuffed about there, you might say, but it was to me, the equivalent of John Logie Baird seeing the first misty pictures of his dummy on his newly invented Television!
As a result of this early introduction, I was successfully hooked into IT, and subsequently Internet marketing. I know I may seem to be contradicting myself, but I still love to read the emails I get from Warrior Plus and JVZOO offering solutions to problems I didn’t even know I had! The trouble is, they are all sold by flashy sales sites (remember- I am old enough to recall the time when it was impossible even to produce a circle on a screen!) and my shiny objects alarm bells start to ring!
So thank you Clive for encouraging my fascination and setting me off on my IT adventures.
*FOOTNOTE: Maurice became a programmer, wrote one of the first computerised hotel systems for Apple in the UK and won many praises for writing such user-friendly programs
You can read more about the Sinclair ZX80 on the Centre for Computing History website by clicking here.