6 minutes reading time (1284 words)

Horizons: the Sinclair ZX Spectrum at 30

Horizons: the Sinclair ZX Spectrum at 30

In April 2012, the Sinclair ZX Spectrum was 30 years old. Many people that hold creative, technical, and cultural positions now are, in some way or another, indebted to the little machine that plugged into the living room telly and caused pandemonium if someone stood on the space bar whilst a game was loading. Horizons was an event from Imperica, held at BFI Southbank to celebrate the Spectrum's 30th anniversary, and presented by Leila Johnston and Paul Squires. Part of Sci-Fi London, the event was a rich blend of fun, memories, and future-gazing.


The whole two-day event is documented at Storify.



Presentations and sessions

The day was hosted by Leila Johnston and Paul Squires.


MJ Hibbett: Hey Hey 16k

MJ opens Horizons with a performance of Hey Hey 16k (a song all about classic computers and gaming) and Programming is a poetry for our time.

Flickr, The song

MJ Hibbett has performed live on Radio One, had a Record Of The Year in Rolling Stone, an Album Of The Day on 6Music, released one of the first ever viral videos, toured all around the world, very narrowly avoided writing an autobiography, and taken five productions to the Edinburgh Fringe. www.mjhibbett.com


PJ Evans: From Colossus To Colour-Clash - The story of how we got from WWII code-breaking to Jet Set Willy

The pre-history of the ZX Spectrum, with a focus on how the British computer industry grew from Colossus until the development of the Sinclair ZX Spectrum.

Flickr, Slideshare

PJ Evans failed miserably at writing for Crash in the mid-eighties, completely misunderstanding the concept of deadlines. Nevertheless, he produced a series of columns on the early online community that would one day turn into the Internet. Today he is a tour guide at Bletchley Park and runs a business handling email for large corporations. They still don't believe him that Prestel messaging was much better and completely free of spam. www.mrpjevans.com


Steven Goodwin: Digital archaeology

In a few years' time, it will be impossible to study the history of home computers: the cassette tapes are physically disintegrating, the hardware is dying, and the software is encumbered by software "protection". This talk outlines the issues of digital archeology, the methods necessary to preserve our computing legacy, and how emulation can help with this endeavour.


Steven Goodwin is a veteran developer in the games industry with over eighteen years of experience across platforms as diverse as consoles, mobile, PC, and Facebook. As an international speaker and author he has written three industry-standard textbooks and over 50 articles. Previously the software architect behind many Playfish games, Steven is now Head of Interactive Development at a start-up in London. His interests outside of computers, also involve computers! www.spectrum30.com


Matt Westcott: Chiptune!

Matt shows how to recreate a pop song from scratch as a Spectrum chiptune, in one hour, using the 1991-era Soundtracker software. The song, as volunteered by a member of the audience, was Never gonna give you up.


Matt Westcott got his first Spectrum in 1984 aged three and a half, spent his entire childhood wondering what the SIN, COS and TAN keywords did, and was too sentimental to give it up in the 90s when it stopped being cool. Since then he's been a leading figure in the demoscene - a community of programmers and artists creating digital artworks on old and not-so-old computers - and played Spectrum chip music concerts at events across Europe. He's written a Spectrum emulator in Javascript, and once played a single game of Manic Miner for 12 hours (because you can do that sort of thing when you're a student). In his other life he works as a developer for Oxfordshire-based web agency Torchbox. matt.west.co.tt



Dylan Smith: Spectrum projects

Dylan demonstrates a wealth of Spectrum-based projects. IRC and multiplayer gaming accompany a video of Dylan's extraordinary Twitter client for the Spectrum.

Flickr, Slideshare


Alex May: Sinclair and me

How Sinclair's computers and software made a lasting impression on this successful digital artist.

Flickr, Slideshare

Alex May is an international digital artist working with light emitting technologies, computer programming, math, power tools, and physical objects as a canvas to create hybrid collisions of images and unexpected context. His work uncovers and explores new artistic mediums that offer joyful extensions of the human experiences at best, and darkly invasive and upsetting self-reflection as its shadow. Alex is a visiting research fellow: artist in residence at Hertfordshire University and head of Projective Geometry at The Institute of Unnecessary Research. His first computer was a Sinclair ZX81 that didn't work properly. www.bigfug.com


Saul Metzstein: Directing the Micro Men

Saul Metzstein, director of the critically-acclaimed film Micro Men which charts the inception of Sinclair and Acorn, talks about the film and his own personal experiences of the golden age of British microcomputing.

Flickr, YouTube

Saul Metzstein has directed various films and TV programmes. Last year he directed the 2nd Unit on a new feature film adaptation of Judge Dredd (to be released in September), and is currently directing four episodes of the new season of Doctor Who.


Rupert Goodwins: Sinclair memories

Rupert Goodwins is a writer, broadcaster and technology journalist. He began his career as a programmer for Sinclair Research in the early 1980s, working on the ZX Spectrum ROM. He moved to Amstrad after it bought the rights to the Sinclair name and range of products. He is the Technical Editor of IT Week magazine and has written for a number of other UK computer publications, including Sinclair User, PCW, MacUser UK, PC Magazine, and the Daily Telegraph.



Chris Smith: ZX Design

Chris talks about the cutting edge technology that was, and went into, the ZX Spectrum, and reveals some of the hidden design features. He goes on to show how an understanding of the machines quirks allowed the most creative programmers to produce the best games.


Chris Smith has been involved with computers since 1981, with the release of the ZX81, and worked with software houses in the mid 1980s on several software titles. Currently he works in industry as a technical architect, mainly with GNU/Linux systems, and tinkers with electronics and chip design in his spare time.Chris talks about how the best programmers got the best out of the little machine, and his ZX Spectrum Joystick project. www.zxdesign.info


Antics Roadshow

Sharing memories and kit with other attendees.



The future

Will the Raspberry Pi re-energise the home computing and programming scene? We'll be joined by Eben Upton of the Raspberry Pi team to discuss how this extraordinarily successful new product can bring development and experimentation back to the home.

Thanks to our friends at RS Components, two Raspberry Pis will be demonstrated at the event. Showing due deference to its illustrious ancestor, one will be running Manic Miner using the Fuse Spectrum Emulator kindly ported by Andy Taylor. The other will running something more in keeping with the speed and power of the machine. We hope to answer any technical questions you may have, and ensure that you have the right accessories to hand when your Raspberry Pi arrives.

Flickr, YouTube

Eben Upton is a founder and trustee of the Raspberry Pi Foundation, and is responsible for the overall software and hardware architecture of the Raspberry Pi device. Dr William Marshall is Technical Content Editor at RS Components. www.raspberrypi.org / www.rs-online.com


Sinclair's influence

How the Spectrum led to Matthew, aka Pixelh8, and thousands of others to take up programming. www.pixelh8.co.uk



Our huge thanks to everyone for their presentations, thoughts, interest, and attendance. To keep informed of forthcoming events from Imperica, please subscribe to our newsletter.


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