Almost done here!
In the early days of microcomputing, machines were really expensive. Pretty much the least expensive computer you could get in the US was the Radio Shack TRS-80 (affectionately known as the “Trash 80”), which cost $600 ($2500 in 2018 dollars) and that was just for the computer, which came with 4 KB of memory, a 64-line monitor, and a keyboard. I don’t even think it had a disk drive (although I can’t imagine it didn’t), but you could add on floppy disk drives, hard drives, tape backup, more memory, and other peripherals, all available from Radio Shack. The TRS-80 came out in 1977 and quickly dominated the market.
Pretty soon, just about everyone and his brother had a computer of some kind. All, of course, except me. I couldn’t justify spending that much money on something that was basically a toy that I knew I’d be on all the time. So I did without.
Until I heard about the Sinclair ZX81.
The ZX81 came with a whopping 1 KB of memory, but a 16 KB memory expansion (pretty much a sine qua non if you wanted to do anything besides write a program that spit out “HELLO WORLD”) was available. Storage was supplied by your own cassette recorder, while the monitor was your own black-and-white TV. It was delivered with a version of BASIC loaded on it so you could write programs to do stuff. I made my case to Mary, and $80 later, I was the proud owner of a ZX81 (which I soon learned was pronounced “ZED-X-81”).
I have to say, for a little computer, you could write some pretty interesting stuff on it. First thing I did was to type in some programs that I found in a couple of books we found at Crown Books. I had to get used to the way you typed in the various BASIC commands, which was not to type them, but to press one of the keys that would type the whole command out for you. I also had to learn how to adapt the programs in the books (written for the TRS-80) so they would run on the ZX81. Once I had done that, though, I was in business. I actually designed and wrote a program to balance the checkbook that worked pretty well, and I was quite proud of myself.
The ZX81 had almost cult status. There were magazines that talked about new software that was available (on cassette) and how to get the most out of the machine, and I started reading them. Another guy at work had one, and we’d talk about what we had done and what we had found out, we’d share magazine articles… I mean, it was great!
For about nine months, anyway. After about that long, I had gotten tired of it. Setting it up was a drag, trying to keep one of my cats from chewing through the power cord became a hassle (as did soldering the wires back together), and, let’s face it, it was an $80 computer that was pretty severely limited in what it could do. Timex, the company that owned Sinclair, started marketing the computers under its own name (the Timex-Sinclair 1000), but it was pretty much the same little computer that I had grown tired of.
Then, it just sort of vanished. The magazines were gone, the books, the software, the computers themselves, all gone, pretty much overnight. It was time to move on.
And that, my friends old and new, is that for the 2019 Blogging from A to Z April challenge. I hope you’ve enjoyed it, whether you’re a participant or just someone who dropped by to read. Watch the Challenge blog for further updates.