kicking it old school – Timex Sinclair 2068
My brother recently reminded me of our first home computer and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to share something from the vault of antiquity and personal history. Not to mention, while computers are getting more powerful – though on a line-curve it’s slightly plateauing with the new frontier making them smaller and smaller – the computer has been been around long enough to be, well, common. At one time they seemed so new, mysterious, and like something from the future; now with computers being so ubiquitous that one can tweet from your refrigerator they seem everywhere to almost not be noticed. I’ve an iPhone in my pocket, an iPad, my car has a simple yet more powerful than the entire Apollo spacecraft system built into it’s dash, not to mention laptops, etc. There was a time, not too long ago, this would all seem like science fiction.
I should note that, by the time our family had our first home computer, at our school we were already writing programming and designing on the venerable Apple ][ which had been around since 1980, but to be able to have this in our home, and hooked to our television (as was the case back then) it was so… futuristic!
Enter the Timex Sinclair 2068 with a whole 72K of RAM! Whoa, enough an entire game to load from a tape cassette or cartridge with room to spare – though a current text doc I just worked on wouldn’t fit on the Timex Sinclair’s ROM+RAM, at the time, that was HUGE!
There were games, like flight simulator that had creative naming like “Big Airport” and “Little Airport,” not to mention “Round Lake,” “Square Lake,” and “Long Lake.” As a long time airplane buff and pilot wannabe this was fantastic, though I had to use my imagination for things as terrain or change of time of day. Another game was a clone of Apple Defender that you could edit your own missions, drawing your own caves to fly your spaceship through. There was another game I recall that was a bit like Starcraft, a space military strategy game, it was, for it’s time, rather addictive, fantastic really. Simpler times in gaming but many hours spent playing and, in fact, learning.
Though in hindsight it was mindboggling inexcusable as a selling feature, the Timex Sinclair did allow you to code and develop in a rather watered-down form of BASIC programming language which, at the time, was widely used. I had tried my hand at FORTRAN and Assembly languages but BASIC had an english-ease to it. Mind you now wrapping my head around things like Objective J and Objective C make BASIC seem, well, basic. Still, a real craftsperson doesn’t blame his tools for his job which, at the time, I hit through ground running writing and programming all types of text-based adventure games (known as interactive fiction) about dragons and knights and dungeons. It’s amazing how immersed you, and then in kind your friends, can get in a game where your only inputs are typing N, W, S, E and things like “get sword” and “fight monster” etc.
In a sense, as a person who owns a Playstation 3 and has gamed on PCs since there was graphic games, which included simple ones on the Apple ][, I bemoan and miss simpler times when you could read and pick your adventure and use your imagination I suppose in the same way people read books for entertainment. Sure writing each program to a cassette and running to your friend’s house seems odd in the days a flash drive can hold a million-times the info a Memorex cassette could. This isn’t to say I’ll give up my iPad any time soon, but there is a type of innocence lost in computing these days, from programming languages, back when really almost anyone could get into them (trust me, learning Objective C or any C-based language is steep), to the sharing of information. Mind you this is all pre-interent everywhere so I subscribed to magazines and would hit up computer stores of the era for the latest tricks for my trusty Timex Sinclair 2068.
In hindsight, without having something like the Timex Sinclair at my disposal, I’d have most likely never developed my curiosity and interest in computers. This would mean ever gotten to work for Adobe, maybe though this is arguable due to my lust and rapid embracing of the first Apple Lisa our school got and how I saw the future of design was using a mouse and a program. Never perhaps fully understood how HTML + CSS can work to design for the internet or been fascinated by interactive programming for portable devices. Overall it was not even arguably an important cog in the early gears of my life.
So here’s to you old Timey, thanks for feeding my love of computers and what you can do with them, helping me with the career and life I’ve had to date. I’m not sure where you are, maybe hidden in my mother’s attic, maybe in a landfill (which would make me sad), but you helped me become who I am today. For that I’ll be forever grateful!