How I got into computers

Running a site like this can, at times, be a bit of a love / hate relationship. I rarely get chance to just browse. Y’know, a bit of floaty Googling, randonly looking at things out on the internet.

Tonight I started looking at some old computer sites and found This really threw me back to my first few computers when I was a kid and it shows just how far computers have come.

It all started for me when I went into Debenhams (at least, I think it was) with my nan. I walked in and there were computers on a display at the centre. I was fairly young at the time so I don’t remember whay models they were, but the one I tried was a Vic 20. Strangely I remember reaching up to the table they were displayed on (yes, I was young!) and typing the following in ….

> can i play a game

It came back with some weird syntax error that I didn’t understand, so I tried a different approach with it..

> play game

This didn’t work either. The “### Sytax error ###” that kept coming back made no sense to me, but I had one more go before my nan pulled me away..

> load game

I don’t think this worked either, but I guess it did show that I was thinking along the right lines. :) This got me hooked though, and before long I was asking for a new games computer or console for Christmas. We already had the mighty “pong” machine but I wanted one of these flash new computers – a Sinclair ZX Spectrum.

I vaguely remember going into a small shop in Walsall which stocked Spectrum computers. They’re now over 25 years old, which is a little frightening for me! :) The Spectrum 48 had an amazing set of specs – it ran at a blistering 3.5 Mhz and had 48Kb of RAM, although earlier models had 16Kb. There was also 8 colours to choose from with two different brightness levels (i.e. 16 very similar colours). It started selling (according to Wikipedia) in 1982 with 16Kb of RAM for 125 or 175 for the 48Kb one I had.

Does anyone remember the hugely long tape-loading times? It felt like years, especially when the Spectrum 128Kb machines came out and it took even longer! :) For those that don’t know these machines loaded games from an audio cassette, yes – an audio cassette. If you were to put the tape into your hi-fi and listen to it you’d simply get old modem style noises, except this was even slower. You used your standard hi-fi or walk-man to load games, and sometimes you had to fiddle with the bass / treble controls to get it to work properly. It was all very technical, but everyone had to learn the best settings. My Cousin had the Spectrum+ which had a different keyboard. We used to go round each others’ houses and copy the games (yes, highly illegal I know) on the “high speed dubbing” setting on the stereo. I always loved the rather rubbish rubber keys on my Speccy though – I remember playing “Daley Thompsons Decathlon” on it and nearly wrecking the keyboard..

After this I had an Amiga 500+. It was called the “+” because it had a stonking 1Mb of memory instead of the 512Kb on the regular A500 model. The specs shot up on this computer – it ran a 16 bit Motorola 68000 CPU running at an amazing 7.16 Mhz and had a coprocessor for graphics and sound. You could even go utterly insane and upgrade it externally to an unbelievable 2Mb of memory. There wasn’t a hard drive, everything loaded off floppy disks.

I just found this picture at I actually remember opening this box on Christmas morning. Fantastic stuff – look! DPaint III ! I actually used this in art lessons at school and I passed Art GCSE using it ! :)

Next up was one of my fave computers. I actually sold my A500+, which I didn’t want to do, and bought a second-hand Amiga A1200HD. It was called a HD because.. well, obviously it had a hard drive. It booted into something called “Workbench”, which – if I’m to try and explain – is the Amiga version of Windows. It booted up faster than Windows Vista does now! The specs went into orbit on this one – it had a 14Mhz processor. Yes, 14Mhz ! I’d gone from a Spectrum ZX at 3.5 Mhz, an Amiga A500 at 7Mhz and then this 14Mhz beast! As a comparison, the laptop I’m using now runs at 2.4Ghz – that’s 2,400 Mhz!

The A1200HD had Motorola 68EC020, advanced graphics (with 256 colours on screen from a palette of 16.8), up to 2Mb RAM and (if I remember rightly) a 4Gb IDE HD !!

If anyone remembers this far back and had an Amiga, you may also remember “PD” or “Public Domain” disks. These were a little like the Internet of the day, except they were 1.44Mb floppy disks which were available to copy and distribute without copyright. I created a magazine called the “Zircon Amiga Magazine” or “ZAM” which, by the time I’d done the final one, allowed people to create their own articles and pass on the disk – I figured it was a good way to get content – you simply write an article, then your mate copies the disk and writes an article and so on and so on. People used to copy disks daily and I figured it would be a brilliant idea, however BBS’s (or “bulletin boards”) and then the internet turned up, followed by forums and newsgroups… it kinda killed it :)

Before long I turned up at a shop and bought my first ever Pentium PC. It was, quite frankly, rubbish. I was unlucky enough to buy one of the first P60 machines that had the “Pentium flaw” in 1994 and it cost me about 1,200, something I thought I’d never, ever be able to repay. However, it got me on the internet and helped me through college.

So that’s it – my early computer history! :)