When I was 11 I got my first computer as a Christmas present.  It was 1982 and computers were completely different to what we have today.

My first computer was a ZX81, it was black and white (no colour) and it used a television for a screen.  It had a touchpad keyboard that had to be pressed (typing was almost impossible.  It was smaller than most modern laptops and it had … 1k of memory.  This memory was RAM, which meant when the computer was turned off everything was lost.  It could not be saved.

To help the reader understand how small this really was:

Item Memory Comparison
ZX81 1k 1,024bytes
Floppy Disk 1.44Mb 1,474,560 bytes
Gigabyte 1 Gb 711 Floppy Disks
Terabyte 1 Tb 754,297 Floppy Disks

Most modern laptops come with at least a terabyte of hard drive memory and multiple gigabytes of RAM which makes my tiny 1k of RAM even smaller. As RAM it also meant that everything had to be programmed onto it using a language called BASIC.  Everyone who programmed in BASIC knew the following program and the result shown in the screen on the right.

10 REM This is funny

20 PRINT “I love my teddy bear”

30 GOTO 20

This was very simple and most programs were a bit more complicated than this (especially when we understand the REM line doesn’t add anything to the program).

I remember spending an hour typing in a program that was actually a game of a bird chasing a butterfly.  It has been a long time, but I think the butterfly was an M on top of a W that moved around and the bird was an M that changed to W to show its wings flapping.

One mistake and the whole thing did not work anyway.

Compared to modern computers it had almost no power, but at the time it was groundbreaking because it delivered affordable computing in the home.  Soon after I got it it became obsolete when Sinclair introduced their groundbreaking Spectrum, one of the best selling computers of the early 80s with a massive 16k (expandable to 48k) of memory, colour interface and rubberised keys similar to those found on a calculator.

The Sinclair Spectrum had two more upgrades.  The final version, the Spectrum+3 had 128k memory, a full sized keyboard and included an integrated floppy disk drive.  This was the last computer I had before I got my first PC.

© 2019 Richard Horton, Omega Support Services

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Vocabulary Note:

In both British and American English the spelling of program is the same when discussing a computer program.

In British English only the alternative spelling of programme is used to describe a plan, televison schedule or itinerary.  In American English the spelling of program remains unchanged.

Read the article and check any vocabulary before answering the following questions.

Speaking

  1. Can you remember your first computer?  When did you get it and what was it?
  2. What was its specifications and how does it compare to the ZX81?
  3. What is RAM?  How does it compare to what we used to call ROM?
  4. Does the memory of the ZX81 surprise you, especially when compared to today’s computers?  Use the table in the article to help with your answer.
  5. Have you ever written or entered a program into a computer?  What was it and what did it do?
  6. In this article we looked at computers from the 1980s, in what ways are they different now?
  7. What do you use your computer for?
  8. How important is it to have a powerful computer?
  9. What do you think computers will be doing in 30 years time?  How will they be different from today?
  10. The article is called ‘My First..?’  Use this idea to discuss as many of the following as possible:
  • My first car
  • My first house
  • My first bicycle
  • My first school
  • My first holiday
  • My first..? (You choose)

Optional Writing

Based on your answer to Question 10 above, choose one of your ideas and write a short essay called ‘My First..?’