back to article Oxford chaps solve problem in 1982 Sinclair Spectrum manual

Oxford's Museum of the History of Science have tackled, and solved, a problem posed in the 1982 manual for the ZX Spectrum. Chapter 19 of that document explains "BEEP", a BASIC command that made the Spectrum emit sounds. The chapter included a routine to play the funeral march from Austrian composer Mahler's first symphony. …

  1. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. TinTinTeroo

      Because they obviously had no real desire to complete the original challenge in full, much too hard.

      Download the midi score. Use a Raspberry Pi. Only do part of the total piece and consider that job done.

      Maybe when we take a driving test we should get someone else to drive to the end of the road for us and then expect the examiner to take that as the test, job done.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. No, I will not fix your computer


      While it's true there's no fancy techniques being used, that wasn't the spirit of the original problem either, and yes the synchronisation make it somewhat of a mule, it's also important to remember, that there's no such thing as a "stupid publicity stunt" - it's being reported and talked about, so it's a "successful publicity stunt".

      That said, lets talk about what could have been done, the Specy *can* do polyphonic (after a fashion), the most well known engine for this is "ZX-7 Polyphonic" so in theory you could do this with two, in which case a crossover serial type sync would be all you need - perhaps you would think that's more of an authentic solution.

      However! if there was no Pi, no network, no collection of retro computers, would that have got publicity? would we be talking about it? Perhaps not - but until you do something vaguely interesting - hell! get a couple of Spectrum's and do it like I suggested above, then perhaps you'll have a more valid opinion.

      1. Sykobee

        Re: FAIL?

        I also strongly suspect that ZX-7 Polyphonic is highly assembler heavy, whereas the problem set is to use the BASIC BEEP command, hence the need for so many Spectums.

        And the RPi is distributing the notes because the piece is too long to store on its own in the Spectrum, I would assume. I presume the Spectranet interface had BASIC integration so you could read the instructions from a channel that represented the network...

    3. juice


      obDisclaimer: I've known Matt for years, and attended a talk he gave in Sheffield about this very performance, which I recorded -

      Said recording covers most of the points above, but to summarise:

      1) It's not some sort of publicity stunt. It was just a bit of fun for his local musuem, who were putting on a "Geek is good" season - and they approached Matt with a suggestion for hooking up some Speccies and BBC Micros together.

      2) Memory limitations. The symphony is over an hour long, so can't be crammed into 48k of memory, especially in BASIC.

      3) Hardware. Unsurprisingly, getting hold of lots of *working* Spectrums is pretty tricky these days. Matt had to search high and low to find enough kit for this - and even then, several failed to work on the day

      4) Raspberry Pi. Each model of speccy has slightly different timings, so the pi was used to keep them in sync; the code for the music ran locally on each Speccy, rather than using them as dumb terminals

      In the end, it was a bit of fun for a museum display. If anyone wants to go one better, then grab a 48k Spectrum (or emulated equivalent thereof) and get tinkering!

      1. MacroRodent

        Overcoming memory limits in Spectrum-only solution

        2) Memory limitations. The symphony is over an hour long, so can't be crammed into 48k of memory, especially in BASIC.

        If a sufficiently large supply of Sinclair Spectrums can be assumed, the memory problem could be solved by using a number of them for storage. Some Spectrums act as "conductors" that issue playing commands to the "orchestra". When conductor #1 reaches the end of the score in its memory, it "passes the baton" to conductor #2 which continues where the first left off, and so on....

    4. Trygve Henriksen

      Yeah, what the F! BEEP!

      I mean, using a Pi for something the Speccy could do itself...

      And frankly, why did they need so many Speccys?

      That's ONE Speccy playing at any time.

      Not Mahlers, but still awesome...

      1. jason 7

        Re: Yeah, what the F! BEEP!

        But do the tunes you present in that video purely use the BEEP command?

        That's the whole reason for the exercise, to try to fulfil the challenge using just the BEEP command.

    5. Dabooka

      There's a FAIL here alright....

      but it's you.

      How on earth can someone with the tag '1980s_coder' not read this without a wry smile? Why on earth would you pick it apart? Why not see it for a bit of fun which it clearly is? Why not watch it think' Hey something new with a speccy!' rather than thinking how you would've done it better (note, you haven't actually done it mind).

      Why 1980s_coder, why?

  2. Little Mouse


    That put a smile on my face. Cheers!

    For your next project - can I suggest you do the same with ZX81s?

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      1. Charlie van Becelaere
        Thumb Up

        Re: Awesome

        I used to do the radio music with a programmable HP calculator. We set a program running, placed the calculator on the turntable (yes, we actually had a turntable) and let it spin at 33 1/3 rpm while listening to the radio. As I recall, we even made a few recordings of the "calculator music" which seem not to have survived the passing decades.

      2. Stumpy

        Re: Awesome

        You could actually get the TV to make something resembling music* by rapidly switching between Fast and Slow mode - Fast mode being where the video output was switched off.

        * well, sound anyway.

      3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Awesome

        "(unless you include the cassette output interface)"

        That's how the sound worked on a earlier TRS-80/Video Genie. Some games even had speech. "Game Over Player One" etc. IIRC the cassette o/p actually had two voltage levels, which probably helped a bit although that may have only been on the later model III and IV versions.

      4. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Awesome

        "but you could use various software loops to create a fairly musical buzzing on an untuned AM radio near the machine."

        Incidentally it was that ability that was the death knell for all those unshielded plastic-cased machines.

        The FCC forced them off the USA market because of the horrendous RFI levels and they were pushed out of EU ones shortly afterwards for the same reason.

  3. Mr C

    Good times, those

    As one of the kids in that generation, and actually having pursued a direction in computers and IT which has shaped my life to what it is today, I thoroughly enjoyed watching that video.

    I was one of those that spend hours and hours, deep into the night, night after night, fiddling with the hardware, making my own circuit-boards and writing uncountable programs, almost all of them uncompleted. Our supply of ideas was just inexhaustible, our fantasy reaching far.

    Never will i forget those times, and my friends who spend the same hours next to me, many of them still my friends to this day.

    Will also never forget our parents which kept bringing us snacks and food, like a precursor to the modern-day pizza delivery guy :P

    I suspect very few of the kids today will ever appreciate what it was like then, with the beeps and the monochrome screens, the datarecorders and matrix printers rattling out mountains of chain-paper. But the best of all was the community and the banding together of like minded people, all having the same passion.

    Good times, those

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      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Good times, those

        "you sprayed WD40 on it"

        Or some actual honest to god INK, diluted in isopropanol so it spread evenly

        Some ribbon cartridges had a sponge inking wheel in them which made the job so much easier. You could reuse those ones until the ribbon had holes worn in it.

    2. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Good times, those

      Dot martix printer....that can only mean one thing...

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

    3. Lee D Silver badge

      Re: Good times, those

      I work in schools. I do their IT.

      Every school has what I refer to as a geek clique. It may be a couple of students and a keen teacher, or maybe 10-12 of us all together (including the IT manager). In those groups, we meet once a week and hack on stuff. Just in the last year, we've built drone copters (we tried building out own but it was... over-engineered, shall we say, and likely to never take off), used Raspberry Pi IR cameras to great effect, we're pushing through Arduino now where C-syntax is used to directly push pin voltages to control hand-built circuits with basic components (literally resistors, diodes, etc. none of this modular or high-end rubbish), we discuss the old computers, we demonstrate several programming languages and dive into assembly for our examples of what's actually happening. We discuss Turing, and Lovelace, and dip into Godel's completeness theorems, graph theory and all kind of things.

      The kids sit and hand-paint 2D isometric games using MS paint. We knock up parts for the drones in Sketchup and print them out on the 3D printer.

      NONE of this is in the curriculum, this is all after-school clubs and lunch-time things and extensions when the lesson is over. In fact, in this school, we rejected even the new IT curriculum as it didn't go far enough. How old are these kids? 10-11 for the most part.

      There are geek cliques out there, still. There are people that know "the old ways" and will whip out a Wheatstone Bridge circuit diagram from memory and explain how it works, or churn out some 6502 code from heart. And the right groups of kids still find it fascinating. Hell, I was working with an IT technician in a previous school who was 20, and it's amazing when you realise what a 20-year-old was never exposed to in IT terms. Six months later, the guy was learning programming languages for fun.

      The community is still there. In fact, if anything, being a geek isn't quite so bad. When I was a kid, in an inner-city comprehensive, you were shunned for being the geek and had to find those like-minded geeks. The geeks pupils I socialise with now, they don't have that kind of isolation. Raspberry Pi is cool. Making a case for your iPhone on a 3D printer is something that will bring 20 "uninterested" kids to class to see if they can make their own too. Every kid has a smartphone already, theirs just has some programming apps. Every kid is jealous of their drone and will go get their own from Maplin's just to fly it around.

      If anything, the community is more alive than ever, even if the old tech has taken a back seat. The reason that you don't see it is that it's part of modern culture too. Being able to "write an app" for your smartphone is something you can do on a freebie website nowadays and all kids do it in lessons as part of the curriculum.

      The geek culture is alive and thriving in today's youth, which is great for the likes of myself who didn't have the community side of it when I was young and can now enthuse over quite how cool the operation of even a single transistor is in the company of like-minded people.

      If anything, the problem is that technology is so complex, projects can be boring. You want to make a GPS-reader for your RPi project? Buy this GPS module for £20, it talks serial to the board, done. Because you don't really stand a chance of making the circuit on your own due to the complexity. But you can still teach and learn the basics, have fun, find friends who also enjoy it and have lots of geek-out moments where you go completely off-track and start showing them old "computer hacker" movies from the 80's.

      Those times aren't dead, geeks are just more accepted nowadays. Being a Sheldon isn't what it used to be.

      1. eJ2095

        Re: Good times, those

        Ahh yes i was a member of that club 23 years ago..

        Still chat to my retired IT teachers now via facebook and email..

        They asking me questions now about bits and bobs

      2. Neil Barnes Silver badge

        Re: Good times, those

        @Lee D - please can we have some of those geeks?

        My job involves cramming software into chips that are both too small to hold the program/data and have too few legs to drive the hardware, interfacing with hardware in both the analogue and digital domain - and then we stuff the thing three miles down a drill-hole, hammer it with 1000g vibration and 150C temperatures and *still* expect it to work. We use - both for legacy reasons and because we've got good empirical evidence that these particular parts work under those conditions - ancient 80's designed processors and microcontrollers and program in C and assembly.

        On the rare occasion we seek new engineers, we get 'engineers' who have no idea about the real world. They know all about the whichness of the why of the spin of the electron, and the latest abstracted-to-infinity write-once crash-anywhere programming language, and some of them can even remember V=IR, but none of them have a clue about actual hardware. Nor can they immediately do anything useful in the software line; they don't seem to make the leap from the language to bit-banging port pins.

        1. Alan Sharkey

          Re: Good times, those

          Neil Barnes

          I used to do that back in the 70's and 80's. Working for Sperry Sun (now defunct and part of Halliburton), I and my team wrote very low level code to do borehole surveying and pressure well analysis. It was great fun at the time, but oh, how we could have done with more powerful processors.

          During the early 80's (82 if I remember), we got hold of Lotus 1-2-3 and I was able to model it all using that (and one of my team designed a special interface to extratct the raw data to a PC) - a revolution for the well head engineers.


          1. James Hughes 1

            Re: Good times, those

            @Neil Barnes

            People like that do exist, I'm one, but we are all getting on a bit now. But I do occasionally come across someone younger who really knows their stuff. But they tend to gravitate to the high paying, interesting jobs, and although software for deep drilling sounds quite interesting to me, does it compare with high frequency trading, advanced camera work and image analysis, video processing etc?

            1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

              Re: Good times, those

              @James Hughes

              Sadly, no.

              There's going to be a problem when the likes of you and I retire - less than five years now for me, not that I'm counting...

            2. Alan Brown Silver badge

              Re: Good times, those

              "they tend to gravitate to the high paying, interesting jobs"

              There's your answer right there - pay more. :)

        2. Mario Becroft

          Re: Good times, those

          Can I work for you please? Bit banging port pins on 80's MCU's no problem.

        3. Solmyr ibn Wali Barad

          Re: please can we have some of those geeks?

          You can, but it's not easy. You'd have to swim against a lot of tides.

          Firstly, do not rely on HR. Qualities you're looking for do not show up in their keyword lists, because these qualities are nigh impossible to define in HR terms. You'll recognize The Knack when you see it. Others probably won't.

          Secondly, start the search early. In the schools. Best chaps tend to avoid the job market if possible - once they get the job they like, they'll stay there indefinitely. So it's pretty much a matter of being first to spot a young talent.

          Thirdly, you should start in the schools, because the education system does not work in your favour. There's a huge lot of anti-patterns, academic navel-gazing and other cruft to be learned, that has to be unlearned later on. If it's not too late by then.

          OK, the last one was a radical statement - please do not take it as an absolute, but as a problem for your specific use case. Once the younglings have got several years of treatment to the finesses of Academically Approved Ambitious Architectures, they'd probably have a hard time to get their minds back in shape for doing the embedded stuff. Unless they've had it as a side hobby all along.

      3. Mario Becroft
        Thumb Up

        Re: Good times, those

        I wish I worked at your school. There is some interest in computing at the high school where I work in IT, but nothing close to the kind of atmosphere you describe. Maybe it's something about the age group? Perhaps at 10-11 they still have a modicum of genuine curiosity about the world rather than a hyper results-focus leaving no time for such curiosities as learning programming languages for fun or tinkering with electronics. I would love to be able to have a conversation with you about IT at your school, and how to foster this kind of thing.

  4. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

      Never did like the Z80, but still get to write software for it in the day job.

    2. TRT Silver badge

      In the middle of the night?

      My op set is usually roll-left, sleep.

    3. Simon Harris


      Of course, if you'd been brought up on the 6809 instead of the Z80, you'd wake up in the middle of the night thinking about BRAs and SEX.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

        1. TRT Silver badge

          I wouldn't take the RISC

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Or having killer-POKE nightmares...

  5. adam payne

    That was so cool!

  6. Rob Crawford

    Bit ignorant of spectrum capabilitys

    Of course a real speccy retro coder would have used the old multichannel sound from the on board squeeker as per the Tim Folin or many others

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

      1. Rob Crawford

        Re: Bit ignorant of spectrum capabilitys

        Mutters about the 128 not being a real spectrum

  7. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Simon Harris

      Atomic Theory and Practice - that was a good one too.

      They really knew how to write manuals back in the old days!

    2. Michael Strorm Silver badge

      Seems strange if anything that the Amstrad machines had all that in their manuals, as they were effectively marketing them as games machines by that point and I'd assume the more serious hobbyists had moved on.

      As the first machine to be really capable of producing passable reproductions of early-80s arcade games, with its high resolution graphics, colour and "sound" facilities, the Spectrum's established software base was more significant than that of the ZX81.

      This is probably why it survived longer than the circa three years that the ZX81 was sold; even if the machine was starting to become dated by 1985/86 (*), the vast range of games kept it going. But it's notable that this was around the time the Spectrum magazines started becoming more games-focused; I assume that the hobbyists and higher-end users had moved on to more advanced machines, leaving the Spectrum mainly to younger users attracted to its cheap and massive range of software.

      This is an excellent example of the "network effect"; the Spectrum was the first ersatz-arcade-quality machine available at that price point, so games were written for it, so more people bought it, so more games were written for the format, which made people even more likely to buy it. It's also almost certainly why almost all the numerous would-be-rivals (**) never took off. If compatibility and the software base had never been an issue, machines like the Oric 1 would probably have sold lots more.

      (*) Yes, I know the 128K was released around this time. But while that had a number of nice frills, including a better sound chip (albeit one that failed rival the Oric 1 already had three years previously), the core machine (processor and graphics capability) was still basically unchanged.

      (**) I have a load of my Dad's old "Your Computer" magazines from circa 1982-84, and there were an unbelievable number of (incompatible) 8-bit home computers released during that era. Almost all sunk without trace, regardless of how they compared to the Spectrum- it got there first. Those that succeeded on the UK market typically filled a slightly different niche to the Spectrum (e.g. Commodore 64).

    3. Stuart Castle Silver badge

      " the rubber keyboard Spectrums, as well as the ZX80 and ZX81, all came with decent ring-bound, (normally - I have a rare copy which is not ring bound), full manual, which not only explained BASIC programming in considerable detail, but also basic triganometry, and even a bit about the hardware of the machine,"

      True, and something that doesn't happen any more.. How many modern PC manuals (assuming the PC even *comes* with any documentation beyond Windows help contain details of pinouts for the various interfaces.

      OK, so if you buy a motherboard, they do sometimes come with manuals that contain pinouts (although increasingly rarely), but what about pre-built PCs? I have quite a few friends who grew up building unusual, and often interesting peripherals for their computers purely with the aide of some chips, a blank PCB and a soldering iron. One of our ex technicians here even built a complete patch panel designed to provide a rudimentary form of networking based entirely on RS232 Serial interfaces.

      Don't get me wrong, the PC architecture is open enough that the info is freely available if you know where to look, but that doesn't really encourage experimentation. Having said that, how likely are most people to try something that if they do it wrong, may blow up their PC which may have cost anywhere from £700 to over £1,000? At least the Spectrum was a lot cheaper, and it's relatively easy to toast a motherboard simply by sending a voltage up the wrong line.

      Still, there is always the Raspberry Pi.

      1. Simon Harris

        Pin-outs of the interfaces? - that's for wimps.

        Mine came with circuit diagrams of the complete system.

    4. gotes

      Computer manuals

      A few years ago I found the user manual for my Oric Atmos. It was the size of a paperback novel, and written in a very informal style, with a number of programs to try out.

      Nowadays you get a booklet full of safety warnings in 20 languages.

    5. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      The original IBM PC was also blessed with good manuals. The IBM Advanced BASIC manual had working examples for every instruction, and of course the IBM PC Technical Reference had tons of useful information, including that complete BIOS listing.

      My first non-trivial assembly program (written for fun) was an MS-DOS TSR that did keyboard remapping and macros by hooking the appropriate interrupt, and for some functions jumped directly back into the BIOS. I spent quite a while reading that BIOS listing, looking for interesting things to hack.

      I long ago misplaced my PC manuals and most other books from that era. I see I still have a copy of the Intel 386 DX Programmer's Reference, though, from 1990. And I'm pretty sure I have assembly references for VAX and POWER around somewhere, plus softcopy refs for Itanium, SPARC, System z, AS/400 MI, etc. Don't do a lot of assembly programming but there are times when you're debugging and don't have HLL source handy...

  8. Admiral Grace Hopper

    ZX Spectrum Orchestra

    The ZX Spectrum Orchestra do this sort of thing very well indeed.

  9. Alan Sharkey

    When the IBM PC came out in 1981, they gave away the BIOS source code. I had great fun rummaging through that to work out how things worked.

    Of course, I haven't a clue what it was all about now - old age does that to you.

  10. Anonymous IV

    Dr Johnson

    A rare chance to offend several disparate areas of society in one quotation - religious people, women, dog-owners, Mahler aficionados, and Sinclair Spectrum enthusiasts!

    Boswell: I told him I had been that morning at a meeting of the people called Quakers, where I had heard a woman preach.

    Johnson: "Sir, a woman's preaching is like a dog's walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all." [my bolding]

  11. Oh Matron!


    The ingenuity as a result of desperation in the 80's, I believe, it still unparalleled

    Given that the Spectrum could only output one sound at a time was no limitation to getting it to sound like it was capable of multi note music. The only problem was that it had to be done in machine code, as the BASIC interpreter just wasn't quick enough actually sounded half decent, if you ignored the fact that it was Wham! and not something decent

    However, I had hours of fun with the (precariously attached) SpecDrum. Wonderful piece of hardware and not expensive (£30!)

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Wham!

      SpecDrum. Wonderful piece of hardware and not expensive (£30!)

      That would be around £100 in modern money, so wasn't that inexpensive.

    2. Stuart Castle Silver badge

      Re: Wham!

      I deal with students learning programming day in and day out, and while we have a lot of excellent students who are producing some interesting things, I can't help thinking, as they moan that their dual, quad or six core PCs with state of the art graphics cards, many gigabytes of RAM and many terabytes of storage (be it HDD, SSD or a combo) are not powerful enough that they would produce far more efficient code if they were required to code something on what we had access to in the 80s (Spectrum, C64, CPC etc). Hell, my Pebble smartwatch has an order of magnitude more computing power than any of the machines I started learning programming on.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Rockets... no really...

    Casting my mind back to the mid 80's, when i was in my mid teens, I recall being at a mate's house and he told me to steer clear of a Spectrum his dad was using to run a program. While I never met his father my mate told me he was using the Spectrum to analyse something to do with rocket engine design. No, seriously, I kid you not. I believe he said it was something to do with the cone design and that his dad worked on the, now defunct, HOTOL project. 25 or so years on, while HOTOL is no more, I do believe some of that Spectrum powered analysis paved the way to what what is now referred to as the Sabre Engine, developed by Reaction Engines Ltd with the goal of powering reusable space launch vehicles currently under development (Skylon?). My mate's surname was 'Bond' and one Alan Bond, who I believe is my mate's father, is chief engineer there and worked on HOTOL back in the day. So, unless my somewhat superficial research and memory has failed me, the ZX Spectrum probably influenced what promises to be a serious contender for the future of spaceflight...

    1. /dev/null

      Re: Rockets... no really...

      You're spot on there, I have a distinct memory of seeing Mr Bond on the telly, when the HOTOL project was in the news (1986?), using a ZX Spectrum at home to crunch some kind of numbers for it. Proof, if proof were needed, that the Spectrum was a REAL computer!

  13. aui

    Great ZX Spectrum Music

    Best BEEPing tunes, try:

    Particularly the intros from the Uridium and Fairlight games.

    I know... because I was there. (Max Boyce)

  14. Aitor 1

    Those were the times

    I remember programming with beeps... and then pokes and peeks...

  15. Infernoz Bronze badge


    I'd be easier and /much/ cheaper to use the Raspberry Pi to do the whole lot, or a small quantity of old Computers which had decent sound (etc.) for the period e.g. Commodore 64 with SID chip.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Yawn

      This is all just a chance to revel in some shameless nostalgia, but the real advantage the speccy always had was the manual. 30 years of rose-tinted memories aside, it's still the best documentation I've ever had for a system. What was the C64 manual like?

      1. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

        C64 manual

        bloody awful

        I need to make some spirits dance up and down when the spacebar is pressed and play a note at the same time.

        252 pokes and peeks later

        Excellent machine for its time, shame the basic was from 1964

      2. DaddyHoggy

        Re: Yawn

        There were lots of Peeks and Pokes in my life programming the C64 (which I still have 31yrs later - it still works) - for sound and for graphics - the basic manual got you going - but if you wanted to get on you'd eventually end up investing in the Commodore 64 Reference Manual - a mighty tome full of everything C64 related - right down the the circuit diagrams.

        1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Re: Yawn

          but if you wanted to get on you'd eventually end up investing in the Commodore 64 Reference Manual - a mighty tome full of everything C64 related - right down the the circuit diagrams

          Yes, the Commodore reference manuals were good fun. I used the PET Reference Manual a fair bit at school, and it contained a lot of invaluable information, such as the Page 0 memory map. (For the 6502, Page 0 - the low 256 bytes of memory - was generally where system designers put all sorts of magic control locations.)

  16. Steve 114
    Thumb Up

    I'm old, but still have just one working Spectrum. Plus a splendid new Raspberry Pi to challenge what grey cells are left. Just glad to have seen this evolution before I go. Pity about 'Mahler' though - so CD-dismal on anything other than a full concert hall live performance. J C Bach inspires on almost anything.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      48K Speccy 1-bit tunage

      The very latest 1-bit Speccy tune from the rather talented Mister Beep, who provided the intro tune to Buzzsaw+, among other things:

  17. Simon Rockman

    Nice blog post here

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Nice blog post here

      The Dude abides.

  18. arober11

    To be authentic they should have used BBC's

    They should really have grabbed a dozen Acorn Atoms, BBC A, BBC B, BBC B+, Master, Master 128, Compact,.... and used their inbuilt Econet capabilities, rather than relying on a stack of 21st century tech (the network cards they've bolted onto offer an order of magnitude more memory to each Spectrum, than they natively have, primarily to handle the TCP/IP stack). Also the 4-channel TI SN76489 chips the Acorn kit packs would have reduced the number of machines required to 3, or allowed for a 44 instrument performance from 11 machines; I say 11 as the 12th would need to be a dedicated filestore for the others.

  19. earl grey

    interesting write-up

    thank you. and to the whingers out there....ODFO

  20. Spamfast

    Started a computer revolution?!

    (from the soundtrack) "In 1982 the Sinclair ZX Spectrum was launched, a computer which gave a generation of school children their first introduction to computer programming and started a computer revolution in the UK and beyond."

    Hogwash. The computer revolution was well under way already - think TRS-80, Apple ][, Acorn Atom, etc. not to mention all the earlier hobbyist kit from which they were derived. It would have continued whether or not the Spectrum was launched what with the BBC Micro, Commodore VIC/64, Amstrad CPC & PCW (ah! CP/M) and all the other many and varied options until the PC swept them away.

    The Spectrum's only selling point was that it was inexpensive - 48 KB model for £175 at launch. But the price tag came only by seriously compromising functionality - no usable I/O except a rather dodgy edge connector directly onto the memory & I/O buses that positively promoted unreliability when you started trying to use peripheral modules, no hardware polyphony, no thought-through provision for different types of local or or networked mass storage, no proper layered OS/language/application separation, a slow BASIC interpreter that didn't support named procedures with parameters or local variable, a weird way of entering keywords to minimise key presses on that awful keyboard, no chance of touch-typing, no support for other programming languages and not even a built-in assembler.

    (Anyone remember the Beeb manuals? It shipped with a nice think ring-bound "BBC Microcomputer System User Guide" with a complete BASIC and OS API reference as well as excellent tutorials including for the built-in assembler and you could get the awesome "BBC Advanced User Guide" with circuit diagrams and even more detail about the firmware. Sinclair Spectrum manual? Pah!)

    1. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

      Re: Started a computer revolution?!

      Yes but remember the problem with the beeb .. for all its excellence it was bloody expensive compared to a spectrum.

      my wages at the time were about 80-90quid a week, a 16 k speccy cost me 125 quid as I remember, a beeb model b cost 399 quid.

      Guess which one won.

      And guess which one won among us working class type families who had next to no spare cash.

      crap though it was, we got the chance of computer goodness and the hope of a better job through sinclair's offerings.

      which would'nt have been the case had the only thing available been a 400 quid beeb machine

      wheres the more fail icon?

    2. ThomH

      Re: Started a computer revolution?!

      I've always assumed that the one-key keyword entry was to save them from having to include a tokeniser, whether due to ROM space or development time.

  21. Frumious Bandersnatch

    I bet Rob Hubbard could have done this, no problem

    He of the theme tunes of such games as International Karate, Thrust, Zoids, Commando and plenty more, for those who may not have heard of him (for shame!).

    I remember reading an article where he talked about using a "Forth-like" notation to code the music and all the technical challenges involved in doing real-time music with just a scant few "time slices" (on a non-preemptive CPU, natch) to play with between all the other game code.

    (the past is so bright) ... I gotta wear shades -->

  22. DaddyHoggy

    Would this be an OK place to post this link to David Lowe's Retrogaming Kickstarter:

    David Lowe aka Uncle Art - 8bit and 16bit audio master - ah, happy times...

  23. Stevelane

    I can't wait

    I can't wait for Tchaikovsky's 1812. Or on second thoughts, perhaps I can.

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