It always takes me a while to catch up with things, but it was recently the 30th Birthday of the Sinclair Spectrum. Like many of a certain age, the Speccy was one of the computers on which I cut my teeth. I was lucky enough to have been exposed to most of the popular home computers of the late 1970s and early 1980s by virtue of my first job and the fact I wrote articles for the computing magazines of the time.
I’d already bought a ZX81, and became the Z80 Machine code Guru for my employer – I was also writing books for Melbourne House on the Z80 based MSX machines – and the two worlds overlapped when I was asked by my employer to develop a way of extending the BASIC language of the Sinclair Spectrum to allow new commands to be added to the language. I managed to deliver the goods – oddly enough around the same time a magazine article was published that detailed a similar approach to my own – and I added writing books on Spectrum Machine Code programming to my repetoire.
I also wrote a fair number of articles about programming and interfacing the Sinclair machines, designed interface cards for it for my employer, dabbled in a little light robotics, but rarely actually USED the machine for anything! When I needed to write these articles and books I used my BBC Model B which had a proper keyboard. How I hated that rubber monstrosity on the Spectrum – the later Spectrum 2 had a better keyboard and made life easier, but one still had to deal with the multi-function behaviour of the keys. I think that that was the single biggest hitch with the Spectrum; had the ‘dead flesh’ keyboard just had ‘normal’ keyboard functionality, where you typed stuff in letter by letter, I think it would have been easier.
Still, I can’t grumble. This was in the days when if you were good enough to write and have your material accepted by a publisher, you got paid for it. This may seem something of a novelty these days when blogging and other forms of self-publishing seem to have ripped the heart out of traditional (OK, paid!) technical writing, but those magazine cheques of £40 or £50 went a long way!
I think that the Spectrum was one of two machines I bought (the other being an Amstrad 6128) that actually paid for themselves from my writing. That immediately makes the Spectrum special to me. I also learnt a HELL of a lot from it about low level programming, hardware interfacing, robotics and the Zen like patience needed to manage that keyboard and a tape recorder for saving and loading programs…..
Funnily enough, 30 years later, I spent several hours in my current day job looking at an interfacing problem involving a PIC Microcontroller. And the solution I eventually suggested was one that I dragged up from my Spectrum interfacing days….