So the Z80-powered doorstop that got so many people started with computers was launched 40 years ago.
My story is that we never had one: we had three, but only for a week each. Itâ€™s not that they failed, either. My dad, who ran the computer bureau at King George V Docks for the Clyde Port Authority, was Glasgowâ€™s representative on the European Association for Data Processing in Ports (EVHA). The group was looking at ways for automating ship identification, efficient berthing and documentation handling.
All the ports had data centres, but most of the mainframe time was for predefined tasks such as dock-worker payroll. There wasnâ€™t the budget for computer time to try some of the experimental projects that may have helped with port automation.
Several EVHA members were trying home computers unofficially, but many of them were too expensive to come in under expense account rules. These â€œbigâ€ micros required a business case and purchase order to buy. The ZX81, limited as it was, did fit in the expense budget and – equally importantly – fitted into my dadâ€™s suitcase as he made his monthly trips to Europe.
The week before my dad was scheduled to leave, heâ€™d buy a ZX81. Of course, it needed â€œtestingâ€, something me and my brother were only too happy to do. At the end of the week, it would get packed up and on its way to Europe.
Iâ€™m not sure if the clandestine micros were ever actually used for controlling ship traffic (you get considerably fewer than three lives manoeuvring an LNG tanker), but more likely in simulation. I understand that the ZX81 was able to simulate the traffic management for the entire Port of Rotterdam for a while, at least until its RAM pack wobbled.
reposted from ZX81 40th Anniversary – Histories – Retro Computing