Those Spectrum nerds, eh?

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Commie_User
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Those Spectrum nerds, eh?

Post by Commie_User » Sat Apr 13, 2019 9:05 pm

Though more seriously, did many enthusiasts use their BBCs at school for things like Morse code and other technical exercises, for the sake of the exercise? I don't remember things being that deep, though I was only at primary school in the actual 80s.

I feel sorry for the guys who saw their computers crash whenever addons were used. Past the likes of the ZX81, people just wanted their machines to switch on and work.
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SteveBagley
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Re: Those Spectrum nerds, eh?

Post by SteveBagley » Sun Apr 14, 2019 2:02 am

HAM radio was (and still is) a big hobby for a lot of people -- this just sounds like someone who wants to combine his hobbies together (no different from the number of people who sought to control their model train sets via a computer -- a big enough audience to support several books on the subject).

But to answer your question, yes this did happen at school's in the 1980s. As an example, the school my Dad taught at used to use a BBC Micro to receive the weather maps from the NOAA-9 weather satellite.

You might also find the cover of the October 1987 issue of Acorn User illuminating since the cover story is 'Weather: Forecast from short wave radio in the classroom'…

Steve

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tricky
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Re: Those Spectrum nerds, eh?

Post by tricky » Sun Apr 14, 2019 10:38 am

When I worked for Associated Leisure installing and repairing (basic repairs only) Jukeboxes and Video games, I wrote a tiny 6502 Morse code "player" for our repair guy.

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Re: Those Spectrum nerds, eh?

Post by RobC » Sun Apr 14, 2019 11:50 am

I used to work with lots of ham radio guys and loads of them were into this sort of stuff.

There were even a few Beebs in work that had either been bought or brought in because the guys were so used to coding for them. I remember a Compact still being used in the early 2000s (although I'm not sure what it was used for).


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Re: Those Spectrum nerds, eh?

Post by Commie_User » Sun Apr 14, 2019 1:03 pm

SteveBagley wrote:
Sun Apr 14, 2019 2:02 am
But to answer your question, yes this did happen at school's in the 1980s. As an example, the school my Dad taught at used to use a BBC Micro to receive the weather maps from the NOAA-9 weather satellite. =
Well I don't know if that counts as controlling model railways and receiving weather maps is actually useful. :lol:

Learning Morse after around 1970 strikes me as being the same as maybe learning Latin - it's not much use but you can kill two enthusiast birds with one stone and maybe unlock a bunch of old secrets if you have some old things lying around.

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Re: Those Spectrum nerds, eh?

Post by daveejhitchins » Sun Apr 14, 2019 3:56 pm

Commie_User wrote:
Sun Apr 14, 2019 1:03 pm
Learning Morse after around 1970 strikes me as being the same as maybe learning Latin - it's not much use but you can kill two enthusiast birds with one stone and maybe unlock a bunch of old secrets if you have some old things lying around.
You'd be astonished to know how many people still use morse code! You don't need fancy electronics to get a signal around the world at very low power and a very narrow bandwidth. Sometimes difficult to locate unless you have access to the fancy electronics or know the exact frequency and time of transmission.

Dave H :D (G4GMB :wink: )
Parts: UM6502CE, GAL22V10D, GAL16V8D, AS6C62256A, TC514400AZ, WD1772, R6522, TMS27C512, AT28C256
Products: ARA II, ARA III, ABR, ATI, AP6, MGC, AP5 . . .
For a price list, contact me at: Retro Hardware AT dave ej hitchins DOT plus DOT com

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Re: Those Spectrum nerds, eh?

Post by 1024MAK » Sun Apr 14, 2019 5:09 pm

Commie_User wrote:
Sat Apr 13, 2019 9:05 pm
Though more seriously, did many enthusiasts use their BBCs at school for things like Morse code
Here is an enthusiasts board to connect a ZX81 to a radio transceiver:
DD4439C4-722E-4355-9CAB-DAE6B48B4836.jpeg
25AB999F-60B2-42B0-A203-DD8FDA11F1D2.jpeg
Mark
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Commie_User
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Re: Those Spectrum nerds, eh?

Post by Commie_User » Sun Apr 14, 2019 5:18 pm

Whoa.

Though as far as I see on Google, the Morse users who remain are ham enthusiasts and prison inmates. I'm still kind-of impressed that somebody out there apparently makes the Morse code handset even now.

https://www.quora.com/Do-people-still-use-Morse-code
https://eclecticlight.co/2015/10/20/the ... -not-dead/

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Re: Those Spectrum nerds, eh?

Post by Commie_User » Sun Apr 14, 2019 5:31 pm

Though this ZX81 attachment is interesting, along with a ZX81 sound chip plugin and other things I've seen in these old magazines, including mention of a ZX81 colour attachment up top.
zx99.jpg
All the same, dude listen, get a Spectrum! It's 1983, do a trade-in for a Sinclair which already has sound and graphics and decent save routines and proper memory!

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Re: Those Spectrum nerds, eh?

Post by Commie_User » Sun Apr 14, 2019 7:20 pm

Though I must admit this Spectrum add-on's pretty damn cool. Just slot it in the back and you've a proper disk drive, joystick and video ports plus non-wobble support base to keep it secure. If you could only afford some modular arrangement to build your computer piecemeal, I'd say this was a pretty sexy way to go about it.

And you should have been able to still use it with a +2, or a +3 to replace its stupid Amstrad proprietary crap. (Though at least the 3 inch disk format wasn't as much a miscalculation as the Microdrive.)
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Re: Those Spectrum nerds, eh?

Post by guesser » Sun Apr 14, 2019 7:32 pm

Commie_User wrote:
Sun Apr 14, 2019 1:03 pm
Learning Morse after around 1970 strikes me as being the same as maybe learning Latin - it's not much use but you can kill two enthusiast birds with one stone and maybe unlock a bunch of old secrets if you have some old things lying around.
It was a license requirement here until 2003 when the morse test was finally dropped from the amateur radio exam. A stretch to say you had to learn it though, as the WPM requirement was so low that you could look each character up on the code sheet.
A web based teletext editor which can export as Mode 7 screen memory: https://zxnet.co.uk/teletext/editor

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Re: Those Spectrum nerds, eh?

Post by hoglet » Sun Apr 14, 2019 7:37 pm

Commie_User wrote:
Sat Apr 13, 2019 9:05 pm
Though more seriously, did many enthusiasts use their BBCs at school for things like Morse code and other technical exercises, for the sake of the exercise?
Yes, indeed they did, myself included. :D

I spent ages trying to write a morse code decoding program for the Acorn Atom, without much success, when I was 14 or 15.

I then moved onto RTTY on a Beeb, see:
- Hoglet's Past Projects #2 - the RTTY receiver

This actually worked.

Dave
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Re: Those Spectrum nerds, eh?

Post by Commie_User » Sun Apr 14, 2019 7:51 pm

guesser wrote:
Sun Apr 14, 2019 7:32 pm
It was a license requirement here until 2003 when the morse test was finally dropped from the amateur radio exam.
I say again, whoa.

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Re: Those Spectrum nerds, eh?

Post by Pernod » Mon Apr 15, 2019 12:07 am

Commie_User wrote:
Sun Apr 14, 2019 7:20 pm
And you should have been able to still use it with a +2, or a +3 to replace its stupid Amstrad proprietary crap. (Though at least the 3 inch disk format wasn't as much a miscalculation as the Microdrive.)
I recently emulated this in MAME. It's compatible with 128/+2 but not the +3.
- Nigel

BBC Model B: ATPL Sidewise, Acorn Speech, 2xWatford Floppy Drives, AMX Mouse, Viglen case, BeebZIF, etc.

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Re: Those Spectrum nerds, eh?

Post by guddler » Mon Apr 15, 2019 1:06 am

I distinctly remember when I was in middle school (we run a 3-school system here and seem to be in the minority in that respect) that I used to attend after-school "classes" where three of us would work with the physics teacher to build a voice synthesiser addon on for the ZX81. I have no clue whose ZX81 it was - more than likely his since the only school computer then was the RM-380Z but I used to love those classes. And the ZX81 - and come to think of it, the 380Z with it's clunky floppy drives, the B/W character screen and some text adventure or other.

For the record, our school was far more into tractors than computers. All the stereotypes associated with the south-west were pretty much true back then (and maybe now? I'm too old to know or care). I had to move away when I left school because I wanted to do stuff with computers and because it wasn't farm related there was no way it was going to happen. I rather famously recall my English teacher telling me I was wasting my time as there was no future in them. Man I'd love to bump into him after everything my career in computing has managed to get me. He is apparently still local so maybe one day...

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Re: Those Spectrum nerds, eh?

Post by jonb » Mon Apr 15, 2019 9:16 am

Commie_User wrote:
Sun Apr 14, 2019 7:20 pm
Though I must admit this Spectrum add-on's pretty damn cool. Just slot it in the back and you've a proper disk drive, joystick and video ports plus non-wobble support base to keep it secure. If you could only afford some modular arrangement to build your computer piecemeal, I'd say this was a pretty sexy way to go about it.

And you should have been able to still use it with a +2, or a +3 to replace its stupid Amstrad proprietary crap. (Though at least the 3 inch disk format wasn't as much a miscalculation as the Microdrive.)
I had a Discovery One with my Speccy. I used it to write a technical manual for a local insulation firm that I worked for. I had Tasword Two (Opus One version) and one of those "Lo Profile" keyboards. The only problem with it was the Multiface One (essential piece of kit!), which had to be fitted between the Spectrum and Discovery One, spoiling the nice integrated look of the thing. I used it in the normal fashion, saving games to the floppy disk and wrote a menu system that auto booted so that I could choose what game to play (mainly Elite). And speaking of Elite.. it had a nice paper cutout that overlayed the standard Spectrum keyboard, so I wired a D connector to the Lo Profile keyboard and had the Spectrum keyboard plugged into it, just so I could use the Elite overlay. Then strapping it to one side of an armchair and the joystick to the other side, with the telly in front, I felt like a proper "Cdr Jameson".

I sold it and all the floppy disks (many with original works on them) when I bought my first house, long ago. I wish I hadn't, but by then I was already at the end of the "16 bit discovery phase" with the ST, and had bought a PC (a "laptop" no less). So the ST was sort of obsolete, which left the Spectrum in a box in the attic.

Try to buy a Discovery One these days...

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Re: Those Spectrum nerds, eh?

Post by Commie_User » Mon Apr 15, 2019 11:48 am

Well it did cost around £600 in today's money, which kind of upended the whole cheap and cheerful approach with Sinclair.

Though if Sir Clive wanted his Spectrum to be as superserious as the ZX81 was, there may have been more traction had he released one of his own flimsy quality floppy drives himself.

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Re: Those Spectrum nerds, eh?

Post by jonb » Mon Apr 15, 2019 12:31 pm

Hmm? I recall that the Microdrives worked quite well on the Spectrum. It was on the QL that they failed, thanks to a badly ported set of drivers (allegedly). Later QLs were much better, and had surprisingly good keyboards. In other words, it might look like a Spectrum Plus keyboard, but it feels like a Cherry. Actually, I have one right here...

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Re: Those Spectrum nerds, eh?

Post by Commie_User » Mon Apr 15, 2019 12:42 pm

I've heard tell experiences were often dire on the Spectrum, so I wonder how variable the quality control was at Sinclair. Looks like there's been an element of survival of the fittest with remaining Sinclair equipment now because at least the computers all seem to work just fine by now.

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Re: Those Spectrum nerds, eh?

Post by 1024MAK » Mon Apr 15, 2019 2:22 pm

Sinclair never actually manufactured anything. Everything was manufactured under contract by other companies. The main producer in the U.K. was Timex. There were quality control issues with the first ZX81 machines. Then later, also with the first ZX Spectrum 16K and 48K machines. Not helped by Sinclair creating demand before they had machines ready to sell. And then once they were in production, having difficulty manufacturing enough to meet demand.

Some suspect the resulting rush to ramp up production to meet demand (a demand that surprised Sinclair) was part of the problem.

They did get this sorted, and then the return rates fell (the retailers also are likely to have been a heavy influence here).

As an example, I have a ZX Spectrum 16K issue one board. The quality of soldering was so poor, I was surprised it actually worked (bought second hand on eBay from an owner that obviously had used it a lot given the wear on the dk’tronics keyboard keys). Although it did work, I could not help myself and resoldered various chip pins including at least five on the Z80 CPU that looked like dry joints due to the lack of solder. Compare this to my first ZX Spectrum (an issue 3 board) that was 100% reliable until the locating pin fell out of a Interface 2 (not noiced by the young me) so that the next time I plugged it into the Spectrums edge-connector, it killed it... After being repaired, it was again 100% reliable until I stopped using it in 1987-ish when I got an Atari STFM.

Of course, the trouble was that the same thing happened with the Interface 1, the microdrives, the QL... All had fixes, revisions and improvements within a year of release.

Sinclair did actually put some effort into improving the microdrive system on the QL. So again, for later versions of the board and later versions of the QL ROMs, the performance improved (a cartridge formatted in a QL microdrive will have a greater capacity and be more reliable compared to a cartridge in a ZX Spectrum microdrive). But by then the press and magazines had already had their say so the bad reputation stuck.

The QL keyboard is a bit better compared to the ZX Spectrum+ keyboard. But then, it is a single layer membrane compared to the double layer membrane on the ZX Spectrum+ keyboard (needed so the ‘extra’ keys worked). Also it is a bit more ‘clicky’. But it’s still a rubbish keyboard IMHO (although now on a par with modern cheap PC keyboards and maybe better than the modern cheap laptop keyboards...!) And is one of the reasons why I bought a dk’tronics keyboard for my ZX Spectrum rather than a ZX Spectrum+ upgrade ‘kit’ and why I never bought a QL during the 1980s.

Give the ZX Spectrum a disk drive system (and there were a number of rivals competing, not just Opus) and a dk’tronics (or Lo Profile) keyboard (IIRC they were the two best replacement keyboards) and it made the Spectrum a wonderful home computer.

But then, it’s the same story with the QL. A QL with a replacement keyboard and a disk drive system transformed it into a very useful system that was good at the market it had been aimed at.

Mark
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Re: Those Spectrum nerds, eh?

Post by Commie_User » Mon Apr 15, 2019 4:20 pm

I know there was a plant at Dundee which made the Spectrums (Spectrii?) but I wasn't aware that a substantial number of other firms were contracted. All this helps explain the variation.

Though the QL being well designed for business use, with a decent disk drive and keyboard? Really? It was cheap for a business computer but I don't see that it had the resources. And used nothing but proprietary connections and I'm not sure it even ran DOS.

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Re: Those Spectrum nerds, eh?

Post by 1024MAK » Mon Apr 15, 2019 5:16 pm

Dundee was the Timex factory.

Some machines (ZX Spectrum 48K and ZX Spectrum+) were made overseas by Samsung. Samsung were also responsible for some of the QL microdrive production. U.K. QLs used BT style sockets for the joystick and RS232 ports, but export models used 9 pin D connectors.

Various companies were used for different products or parts. For example, there were at least five different suppliers of ZX 9V PSUs.

And Thorn EMI were involved with servicing returned products.

We also know that older serviced boards sometimes turned up in machines long after production had moved on to later issue boards.

Who knows how many companies were actually involved.

No the QL did not run MSDOS, PCDOS or CP/M. It ran QDOS. And later, other operating systems were released. The QL uses the Motorola 68008. MSDOS/PCDOS only run on 8088 and 8086 CPUs. CP/M only runs on 8080, 8085 and Z80 CPUs. Z80 systems were seen as the outgoing (outdated) technology and 8088 and 8086 systems were expensive and not very widespread at the time.

But the supplied Psion productivity software was fairly good and other software soon became available. Who knows what would have happened if the QL had been more popular. If it had been made with a better keyboard and a 3½ floppy disk drive, it could have been a whole different story.

If you ever get a chance, check out the BASIC (SuperBASIC) on the QL.

Mark
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Re: Those Spectrum nerds, eh?

Post by RobC » Mon Apr 15, 2019 5:49 pm

My experience with Sinclair machines pretty much matches Mark's description.

The first ZX81 I encountered was one my uncle had built from kit form. This would have been a very early model as he placed an order early on. It took three attempts for Sinclair to supply him with a working ULA. My own ZX81 came later and worked perfectly (apart from the well documented RAM pack wobble) for its whole life.

My cousin had one of the first 48K Speccys and that apparently "melted" during a marathon session of Atic Atac. My next door neighbour had later models of the Spectrum, Spectrum+ and 128K without ever having a problem.

My own Spectrum+ is still going strong although it doesn't get as much use since I wrote the SpectROM.

And other manufacturers had quality control issues too (e.g. the C64s infamous PSU).
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Re: Those Spectrum nerds, eh?

Post by jonb » Mon Apr 15, 2019 7:53 pm

Well, I rather like my QL keyboard. But it is a very late model.

One reason the keys are good compared to the Spectrum Plus was the type of plastic they used (at least in mine). More solid.

By the way, CP/M also runs on 8086 processors - it was called CP/M-86 - and on 68000 processors - CP/M-68K. Not that I've seen either in the wild, but CP/M-86 was offered alongside DOS when the PC first came out. As I recall, IBM had to do this to dodge a lawsuit that DRI were preparing. Unfortunately, it cost more than DOS, so guess who won?

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Re: Those Spectrum nerds, eh?

Post by 1024MAK » Mon Apr 15, 2019 9:10 pm

Over on QL Forum, they talk about CP/M and CP/M-68K here, here and here.

Mark

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Re: Those Spectrum nerds, eh?

Post by Commie_User » Mon Apr 15, 2019 9:55 pm

It's a fascinating retro machine, as are many of the failures. The QL didn't even allow for a built-in hard drive (though Tezza's Classic Computer Collection uses a plug-in floppy drive) and wasn't IBM compatible but I like the look of its 80 column mode, its games and the idea that it could have been a backwards-compatible Spectrum successor instead of the 128. Though that would have killed any tiny scrap of business aspiration the machine actually did fulfil.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kCKercQxHrk

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