Category Archives: Technology

If Not A Sinclair?

CCI00015Now that realities of tax, duties and exchange rates had squashed my dream of owning a Timex Sinclair computer, my dad offered an alternative. A good friend of his, Doug Leverton, taught electronics at Fanshawe College but built Apple ][+ clones on the side. He would supply us with all the parts to build an Apple ][+ clone and my dad and I would assemble it.

Visiting Doug’s place one night, I remember he let me play with a completed clone for a while. I played Apple Panic and Apple Adventure. I was completely hooked.

My uncle George was interested in a computer also. So, we obtained the parts to build two computers and started work. When people talk about building computers now, they buy a motherboard, a processor, some RAM, a case and power supply and plug everything together. In 1982, it was different. The motherboard was bare and we soldered components and sockets onto the board, including the 8 slot connectors. All chips were socketed onto the board. We sourced keyboards from a surplus store which used to be part of electric typewriters. These keyboards needed a special interface board to connect them to the Apple motherboard.

The components we didn’t assemble were the power supply, disk drive and the disk controller card. However, the disk drives needed another interface board between it and the disk controller which we built and attached inside the case of the disk drive itself. So, the drive was customized a bit. Also, we built a 16K RAM card for slot 0 which brought the total memory size to 64K. With a disk drive and 32x more RAM capacity than the Sinclair I was considering, this would be a much better computer.

The case was custom also. The sides were wood and two pieces of sheet metal were bent into the correct shape for the bottom and the top of the computer. Everything was connected together. We hooked it up to an old black and white TV set using an RF modulator. All we were missing were the ROMs.

We spent an evening at Doug’s house to burn the EEPROMs. We started with the official Apple ][+ ROMs and changed exactly 8 bytes. We changed the “APPLE ][” string which appeared when the machine boots with a “<RAND X>” string. So, yes, the ROMs were copied from Apple but to me, it didn’t seem wrong at the time.

With the newly burnt ROMs installed, we turned the computers on, one at a time and heard the satisfying “beep” and the whir of the disk drive. My dad and I had successfully built two computers.

But what now?

Where Did My Interest Start

When I was young, we spent our weekends in Port Stanley sailing. We would travel back to our home in St. Thomas but often we would stop at a small grocery store called “Gifford’s” to pick up whatever supplies we might need. While there, I would often check out the latest issue of Popular Science and often buy it to read interesting articles about technology.

One day, in the fall of 1982, I looked at the magazine rack and saw a headline which read World’s First $100 Computer. I instantly bought that issue and read the article. I knew I had to buy this computer. I had about $100 Canadian in my bank account and started talking to my mom and dad about using it to buy the Timex Sinclair 1000.

It was a tiny thing which came with 2K of memory (which didn’t mean anything to me at the time but 2048 seemed like a pretty big number to me) and would hook up to our TV just like our Atari 2600. But, I was about to learn about exchange rates, import duties and taxes. After talking to my parents, it was clear that the money in my bank account wasn’t going to be enough to buy this machine.

But, my dad had a better idea…