I’ll admit that in today’s world I’m a newbie when it comes to many things in the labyrinthine world of computers. The technology just shot away from me whilst I was busy doing other stuff like negotiating legal contracts and, later, just plain old writing books.

As a teenager, computers took a fair chuck of my time. I wrote short programs in BASIC for the PET computers in our computer lab at school. Yes, there were such things as computer labs rather than a machine in every bedroom! Most of the time I was either trying to program games or playing chess with the machine.

Then I bought my first computer: a ZX81 for 99 pounds. I loaded the software with a cassette player and our home TV was the monitor. It was in black and white. It took many minutes to load an application. Often the program failed to load.

The ZX81

Owning such a machine meant hours copying lines and lines of computer code from ZX81 magazines into the computer and then saving it. I saved it on a cassette as there was no hard disk. Then, if I had copied the code correctly, (which means not even missing out a single comma) I’d end up with a rudimentary game.

I later programmed my own sort of adventure game. Surprise, surprise … it was called Dracula!

The ZX81 had no keyboard but a keypad. So I bought a proper keyboard, unscrewed open the computer and soldered the two together. There was no such thing as plug and play in those days.

It was also around this time that IBM brought out its new machine called a Personal Computer with an operating system called DOS from Microsoft. These new PCs were then incredibly expensive.

A couple of years later, for about 150 pounds, I bought the new model: the ZX Spectrum. Same concept except for the better keyboard and colour. I was now at university and had no time for programming. Instead we played computer games.

The ZX Spectrum

During the holidays in KL, I worked part time work for the Sinclair distributor in Imbi Plaza. It was good fun being a sales assistant selling Sinclair computers. But sales didn’t take off because the machines were too expensive due to the high exchange rate.

After finishing university and Bar exams, I bought the even newer model called the Sinclair QL. This machine actually had a proper keyboard and, instead of a cassette, a micro disk drive. That drive wasn’t so reliable and so the machine was never a success. All I did on that machine was write my Masters dissertation. Other than word processing, the machine also had a spreadsheet. It was the sign of times to come.

The Sinclair QL

Incidentally, the Sinclair company decided to build electric cars as well as computers. Together with the poor sales of the QL and the folly of the electric car, the company went under. Clive Sinclair, the CEO, was ahead of his time. In this dangerous era of climate change, we should all be driving his electric car.

The Sinclair C5 electric car

I was now back in Malaysia and using PCs. For me, for many years computers were just for writing. And, of course, the occasional computer game.

Then came email. Then the web. Then blogging. Then social networking.

Today, I also use my iMac for page layout, photoshopping and illustrating.

I wish I still had my first computer. I doubt it would still work. But I’d hold it and just recall a simpler time when computers were for hobbyists and people talked to each other instead of staring at screens.

How I’d caress that ZX81.

(Hey, maybe I could get one on eBay?)

What item do you wish you still possessed?