Party (or program) like it’s 1981!

Probably every computer geek has fond memories of his or her first computer. I know I do. I’ve had many computers over the years, including many which I’ve built — but your first computer is always special; it opens the door to the magical world of programming.

My first encounter (as far as I can remember) with a computer was through a teletype terminal that my uncle (a Ph.D student at the time) had set up in his apartment. After dialing in to the school mainframe, it played a mean game of Tic-Tac-Toe.

A few years later, my parents bought me a Timex-Sinclair 1000 for my birthday. I might have been dimly aware of the TS1000’s existence, but was surprised to actually have one. After hooking it up to the TV and reading a few pages of the manual, I had written my first BASIC program. I don’t remember the exact listing, but it was essentially a version of the ubiquitous “Hello, World!” program — writing text to the screen in an endless loop.

Flash forward to 2010; my homebuilt Core i7 is far faster and more capable — not to mention connected to the Internet — but sometimes I still miss the Sinclair.

Apparently, though, I’m not the only one. I recently came across “EightyOne” — an amazing freeware Sinclair emulator from It was done right, too. All of the Sinclair quirkiness is there — the oooold-school BASIC, complete with line numbers and LET statements; the multipurpose keys on the keyboard (what you get depends on which mode you’re in); the “Fast” and “Slow” video modes (more like “slow” and “slower,” but hey.) There’s even a whole set of NTSC TV signal options so it *really* looks like the real deal — video degradation and all — even on a modern LCD monitor. (Non-purists fear not; these effects can be disabled — but they really do add to the ambiance.)

The EightyOne Sinclair emulator

The EightyOne Sinclair emulator (click for larger). (The background is my Win7 desktop: Parc Jacques-Cartier, QC)

If you, like me, discovered programming (and all of the really bad-but-fun programming habits that old-school BASIC fosters) on a Sinclair, go download yourself a copy. It’s like stepping thirty years back in time. (…and yes, it *does* have the capability to save and load programs to a .wav-based “tape drive.” I’m sure someone out there has a collection of Sinclair tape programs…)

Here, too, is a great example of geek humor: it has a “RAM pack wobble” option! Many Sinclair programs required a memory expansion pack that would increase the default 2K memory to 16K. The problem was that this (relatively heavy) memory pack was attached to the computer via a flimsy card-edge connector in the back. It had an absolutely uncanny habit of wobbling (causing the system to freeze) at the worst possible times, like thirty minutes into a great Chess game. I swear that connector was designed by Murphy himself.

This isn’t just an emulator; it’s a work of art. Add a Sinclair mock-up keyboard and put the LCD into an old TV set, and it could easily pass for the real deal.

This entry was posted in Coding, Digital, Nostalgia, Toys. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Party (or program) like it’s 1981!

  1. Ralph Walkling says:


    This is cool. I like how you combine the future, the past, technology, nostalgia and song lyrics!

    Nice Blog – (and even this limited tinkerer and non-technologist misses Radio Shack!)

    Skis n’ Songs

Leave a Reply