A huge 8K of RAM

· technology ·

I've been so busy at work the past few weeks that all I've been fit for at the end of a long day is flopping in front of the TV. One programme that I really enjoyed (for the nostalgia factor as much as anything else), was Micro Men, a drama about the rather strained relationship between Clive Sinclair and Chris Curry as they competed to produce the most popular home computer in the 1980s.

Some of the detail was fictional (as they stated at the start of the programme), but they did apparently consult with both men, so I guess that the end result was something that they could both agree on as being mostly true. I had no idea that Sinclair had such a temper, but various interviews I've seen with people who knew him at the time suggest that he did blow his top fairly spectacularly on occasion.

We had a Sinclair Spectrum at home ("the full 8 colours!"), and I vividly remember pecking out long, tedious programmes gleaned from magazines and manuals on its rubbery, imprecise keyboard. I also remember the woefully unreliable method of loading stored programmes from a portable cassette recorder. If ever a piece of technology encouraged the superstitious belief that you needed to do a special dance or sacrifice a chicken before it worked, the Sinclair Spectrum was it. Despite all that, we loved it, and my brother and I spent hours fiddling about with it and (inevitably) playing games with rudimentary graphics.

I also used Chris Curry's products during my PhD (which immediately makes me feel ancient). I wrote a programme on a BBC Micro to control a bit of apparatus, and used a later Acorn RiskPC to run a more sophisticated set up, using a little-known programming language called Arachnid.

One thing I'd forgotten was how incredibly diverse the British home computer ecosystem was at that time. It was a kind of early technological Cambrian Explosion, with a massive radiation of weird and wonderful forms of computers before the inevitable mass extinctions occurred. As with the space rocket industry, there was a time when the UK (briefly) led the world in computer literacy and usage, before it all went pear-shaped. A glorious — if frustrating — time when 8 colours seemed impossibly dazzling, and 8K of RAM was more memory than anyone could need.