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Remembering My First Computer

Like their first car or first kiss, most people can recall their first computer; in my case, it was a Timex Sinclair TS1000. Even for the time, it was a quirky machine - but quirky can often equal fun, and that was the case here. It was 1983 when my new wife bought one for me as a birthday gift, if I recall correctly. These were the early, early days in the home computer market - the IBM PC Jr came out towards the end of 1983, and the Commodore 64 was already available in the US since mid-1982. 

The TS1000 was essentially the US version of the popular Sinclair ZX81 that was sold in the UK by Sinclair Research - Sir Clive Sinclair is well-known in the UK as a technologist and entrepreneur. The computer itself came with 2KB of RAM (yes, that's two kilobytes), and had a optional 16KB memory upgrade pack - which you can see in the photo, attached to the rear of the computer. The memory pack was a precarious affair and bumping the computer could cause it to move, and the computer to crash...

The TS1000 had a monochrome video output that could use a TV for the display. The display was text only, although crude graphics could be presented by using some tricks and imagination. The "keyboard" was printed on a plastic membrane, and featured an early form of predictive input. This allowed you to type things in more quickly than if you actually had to laboriously enter every single character individually on the clunky keyboard, as the operating system could "figure out" what you were trying to type within the context of what you were doing. It was an almost essential feature, and also helped keep the cost down to the magical $100 mark!

Programs could be loaded and saved to audio cassette tapes (remember those), a hokey but cheap method used by several of the early home/hobby computers. You could also create programs on the TS1000 using a version of the BASIC programming language, and this was probably the most fun part of the whole thing! While you could purchase games and other software on cassette, the real nerdy fun was pecking away at the keyboard and entering in your own (or a friend's) program, watch it run, and then save it to cassette so you could bask in the glory again later.

Simple fun, for simpler times.


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