Hang Ups

29th November 1996 at 00:00
Whenever I watch Gladiators, on a Saturday evening, I remember that I used to look like that. Back in the early Eighties I had bulging pecs, midriff like a washboard and

feet that routinely kicked sand in the faces of seven-stone weak-

lings. And I owed it all to the first computer I ever owned, a Sinclair Spectrum.

Older readers will fondly remember those innocent days, before disc drives became commonplace, when software had to stored on humble audio cassettes. And jolly good they were too, except that anything other than the simplest games took a ludicrously long time to load.

Saving data - even modest amounts - took even longer. That's why, alongside my Spectrum, I kept an Arnold Schwarz-enegger bullworker and a couple of 19-kilo dumbells. During those potentially tedious spells when the computer was loading or saving, instead of twiddling my thumbs, I pumped iron. Anything as bulky as a word-processed file took so long to save that, in addition to a vigorous work-out, there was usually enough time spare for a quick shower and a restorative cup of tea.

In many respects the Spectrum was the perfect computer. It was cheap, small - about the size of a box of Cadbury's Milk Tray - and remarkably robust. This was because it had no hard disc, and no disc drives and, therefore, no moving parts that could go wrong.

Simply by linking it to an ordinary television set and to any cheap cassette recorder, you afforded yourself hours of trouble-free computing pleasure with the guarantee of those useful interludes when you could tone up your muscles or pursue some other worthwhile hobby.

Of course, the Spectrum and the bullworker were consigned to the attic the moment I graduated to the Apple Mac with its nifty

built-in disc drive. But - as every computer owner will understand - no sooner had I taken delivery of it and bought the requisite

software at enormous cost, than felt I needed something better.

Since then, hardly a year has gone by when I haven't dumped one computer that I'd thought was going to solve all my problems in favour of another that was even more powerful, more complicated, more expensive - and more likely to go wrong.

My latest PC has more chips than Harry Ramsden's and can access any word in the Oxford English Dictionary in less time than it would take me to do one press-up.

But the glossy advertisements have already convinced me that I won't get the best from the machine until I shell out a fortune, buy a faster modem, etc, etc. This endless race to upgrade might appeal to the irredeemable techie, but most of us would prefer if things - for a few years, at least - could remain just the same.

It's not that we don't like change: we don't like the prospect of having to pay for it.

That alone explains why the long-awaited network computer (NC) is likely to generate so much excitement. The first NC to go on sale in the UK will be unveiled by Xemplar at next year's Bett Show

in Olympia (January 8-11).

Like the Spectrum, it is small, robust, cheap, simple to operate and connects directly to an ordinary television set. It doesn't have

anything as cumbersome as a hard disc.

The software you need to browse the World Wide Web or send e-mail is already in-built. If you require any other applications (they are called "applets), simply download them from the Internet. Your own files are encrypted and sent off for safe keeping to some server somewhere deep in cyberspace.

But what I really like about the NC is that it's dependent on the Internet, and so - as far as I can see - even the simplest operations are going to take ages to execute. I'm looking forward to dusting off my bullworker and getting into cond-

ition for some serious sand-kicking.

u arnoldevans@easynet.co.uk

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