Monday, May 21, 2007

The Peacock Feather and Sinclair

I met the owner of the Peacock Feather (a gift shop in Needham, Mass that still exists today) at his store, but I don't recall his name. He was from India, and I remember getting into a discussion with him about computers. He said he had one of the new Sinclair ZX-80 computers based on the Zilog Z80.

He seemed interested that I was about his son's age and that I knew something about programming. He told me that his son played soccer, and I guess he thought that I could befriend his son and teach him about BASIC.

So we agreed that I would come to his house to see this ZX-80. I remember that his home was absolutely filled with the smell of curry (in fact he smelled like curry even when he wasn't at home). I also remember that his son wasn't there when I visited. So much for me and his son developing a friendship.

I didn't have much time to play with his computer. It was much smaller than it looked in the ads. The keyboard was completely flat, and you just touched each "key" lightly to activate it. Each key had a letter, a graphic character, and a BASIC keyword on it. Since you couldn't touch type, the way that you would type a whole keyword in with a single keystroke help speed things up. The computer was plugged into the television set (as so many home computers did), and its plain black and white output would blank briefly between some keypresses. If your program did any computation in loops it would also blank then since the display was driven completely in software by the single Z80 processor.

It was a fun little machine to play with, but I wasn't interested in owning one after I saw it. Later on Sinclair would produce the ZX-81, a much more expandable machine. I actually recently bought a kit version of this machine unassembled which I hope to assemble at some point.

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