Sergey Zonov: “I made the first Spectrum because I was interested”
The DataArt Museum has existed for 10 years, we have already presented some exhibits in the form of posters . The collection continues to expand, but now we decided to complement its interview with people who have influenced the history of IT. This is the first of a series of historical materials that will be published on our blog regularly.
In the first half of the 1980s, the ZX Spectrum was a popular computer in Europe. When he came to the USSR, local craftsmen began to copy, process and improve it. One of those who made their own version of the Spectrum was Sergey Zonov. According to his schemes, tens of thousands of computers were assembled.
It all started when I was in fifth grade. Then I was interested in literally everything, went to an aircraft modeling circle, somewhere else. Once my parents slipped me a book that was popular in those years, “Radio - it's easy.” It was written in it that, having read it, you can build a radio receiver. My father and I began to read this book, then I myself began to do it. At some point, I’m looking - and there’s no way to build a receiver! There is no fifth, tenth. I became even more interesting.
I also had a friend who lived on the floor below. We decided to make an intercom, like spies. We conducted wires, soldered, made generators to bang with the help of Morse code. We had telegraph keys, we knew all the signs. All this was the impetus for further training.
When a palace of pioneers — modern, large — opened near my house, I enrolled in a radio engineering club. It was in the city of Kirov, Vyatka province, where I was born. An excellent teacher, a fan of his craft taught us Morse code, he had an amateur radio station. Those who have already achieved some results in the Morse code could go on the air, get in touch with foreign radio stations. The next stage is participation in radio communications competitions. So gradually we developed.
The Memorial Pioneer Palace, opened in Kirov in 1974, was also conceived as a monument to the Kirovites who died during the war.
At first in 1974–75 I was a radio observer. My task was to listen to the broadcast and record that, say, an amateur radio operator with such a call sign from England contacted an amateur radio operator such and such from Australia at that time and send them a card by mail. It says that "you have established a connection at such and such a time with such and such." If he confirms from his notes, he sends his beautiful card in response. The process of collecting cards was also very interesting.
Radio observers could not go on the air - they only listened. The next stage is to get hold of your radio station, build, in addition to the radio receiver, a radio transmitter, register in the DOSAAF club. After that, you could go on the air yourself, contact any country. The farther it is, the more valuable. Because then the technique was completely different from what it is now. The fact of establishing a connection with some correspondent was an unusual event.
Competitions were held. It was necessary in a short time, say, in a day, to establish as many connections as possible. “Hello!” - “Hello!” - “Confirm?” - “Confirm!” That's all, contact has been made with such and such a country: Czechoslovakia, Germany, America ...
There were a lot of such competitions, almost every week. Our collective radio station in the Palace of Pioneers participated in them, and I became one of its leading operators. Sometimes he worked for two days without sleep and rest. 48 hours non-stop! Everything was buzzing in my head.
When I became interested in radio sports, I started going to competitions, representing the Kirov region in them. He performed the first adult rank, became the champion of the region. Competitions were of different levels. First - the championship of the city, then they took me to some kind of zonal stage. Before entering the institute, I, having passed the final exams at school, immediately flew to Omsk. He returned from there, spent a day at home and went to Leningrad to act.
Library and nightingale
In the sixth grade, instead of school, I began to go to the reading room of the library. He took the binder of Radio magazine for 1950, for 1951, 1952 ... The librarian said that I have no classes at school today. I clearly remember that I skipped school several times in this way - it was so interesting to me. I read everything. I wanted to know about it, and about that. When the school asked where I disappeared, I had to compose something. I spent the whole day in the library because there was nowhere to get more information. I myself began to write magazines of the year since 1974, but I also wanted to read what was published earlier.
Then I still did not build plans for the future and set myself concrete practical tasks. Let's say make an electronic key, or something else. In the palace of pioneers, the teacher once suggested making an electronic nightingale. As a result, I got a big wooden box. Inside is a bunch of transistors. Each transistor is an ordinary trigger. It was necessary to solder 30 of them, they switched in the desired sequence at a certain frequency and formed sound signals that simulated the nightingale's trill. I did this thing for half a year or a year. She visited the exhibition of the best works, even won something.
In the eighth grade, I decided that in the future I want to do radio engineering. What I’ll become concrete, I didn’t think about. When I graduated from the tenth grade, the only question that remained was which institute to choose. I thought that in Moscow it’s difficult for a person to enter from the hinterland, but you can probably go to Leningrad - there should be enough strength. During the holidays I visited Leningrad, went to the Bonch-Bruyevich Electrotechnical Institute of Communications on an open day. Selected it from the picture in the directory. The building of LETI seemed to me somehow plain, I did not like it. Bonch had it more solid, and this predetermined my choice.
At the open door I liked everything, and the more I did not think where to go. In the summer he left for Leningrad and went to the selection committee. I submit documents, and they tell me: “We do not take nonresident”. The next day I came again and began to demand: “Where does it say that you do not take nonresident people?” They were forced to accept documents, but my condition was nervous. I thought they would fail at the very first exam, since such an impudent one had come. But my preparation was good, I knew the subject. Received the "five" and in the end did.
At the institute, of course, they teach a lot of things that an enthusiastic student does not need. Now I tell everyone: the easier it is to learn, the better. All these obligatory lectures and tests only interfere with the free perception of information and a deeper study of those subjects that you really need. But I also had radio sport, DOSAAF. At the competitions I represented the institute, they did me some concessions - they allowed me, for example, to take exams ahead of schedule. I did not attend many lectures, then I took notes from other students, studied them for five days, and at the same time corrected errors in them. Then he passed the exam, got a five and left.
Sergey Zonov on defense of the diploma.
Having lived a couple of years in Leningrad, I no longer wanted to return home or go somewhere else to the periphery. At the same time, I knew that according to my specialty, nonresident people are not left here - they are distributed to other places. Nevertheless, I decided to try - to do this, I had to become a better student. I set the task: to go to the distribution first. I thought that then, maybe, there will be a chance to stay in Leningrad. And so it happened.
I graduated from Bonch in 1982. As planned, he came first to the distribution commission. It turned out that there was a place at the Kozitsky plant, they were given a dormitory. In my situation, it's just a dream. At that time, the plant had a civilian part of production (production of “Rainbow” TV sets) and work for the military-industrial complex. I ended up in the television production design bureau on Maly Prospect. He had a good specialty, but the level of other engineers was very low. Of the 20 people, only one could learn something.
According to the plan, we developed some devices. For 1982–83, the task was set to make a robotic line, which itself would take parts from cassettes, arrange them and solder them. At that level of technological development, it was unrealistic to do this, but everyone pretended to work, study the potential.
According to documents, I worked for Kozitsky until 1994, and in fact, until 1991. In recent years, executives have provided me with a free schedule. They appreciated me, and it was important for them that the work was done, and where it happened did not matter. Therefore, I gradually switched to work at home. It was a pity to spend three hours a day on the road. Well, when the children appeared, there was no other way.
At home in the kitchen I had a desktop. He was made by a friend who worked for Kozitsky. A man without a higher education, but a hard worker - the plan exceeded by 500%. They approach him: “What are you doing? Tomorrow we’ll be lowered. ” “And I have a family,” he replies, “and child support. I need to earn 500 rubles. " This is with an average salary of 120-130.
The table was made according to my size, from aluminum profile corners. He still stands with me. On the shelves - everything that a real amateur radio should have: an oscilloscope, electronics. Here I assembled my first Spectrum.
It was practically impossible to buy the necessary radio components in Leningrad stores, so every Saturday we went with our friends to a flea market to the Young Technician store on Krasnoputilovskaya. Whoever had the opportunity to stole something from the factory sold here. Who needed something, bought. The crowd at the Young Technician was enormous, the party lasted all Saturday. There you could meet different friends, discuss some technical ideas. Periodically, police raids took place, and the crowd scattered like a flock of birds.
There were four “Young technician” stores in Leningrad. The very first, flagship, was located at 55, Krasnoputilovskaya Street.
You could buy a lot from Young Technician, but the question arose: are the parts that you buy working? Let's say you need a 565RU5 memory chipset. How to check in the field whether they work? And I decided to become an intermediary between sellers and buyers. He created a device into which you insert a microcircuit and after a second it shows whether it is working. It was not an easy thing - about 70 connected circuits. I made money on it, and a lot. A chipset cost 50 rubles, a check - 3 rubles. When he came home, pockets protruded from the money.
The first versions of a computer analog in the USSR appeared in 1986-1987. By that time, I knew pretty well microcircuitry. When the information came to me, I was able to digest it and make an option that became very popular.
Schemes "Spectrum" appeared on the flea market, and collected them. It took about a week. First I turned it on - nothing works. He began to watch what was wrong. Somewhere there were errors in the circuit, somewhere - mine. Somewhere a defective part has come across. To understand all this, you had to look at the signals with an oscilloscope. Then analyze the circuit. It turned out that I studied the device to the last screw.
When the computer was assembled and started working, I realized the flaws of its circuit. Plus, it was complicated and expensive to manufacture. And I decided to come up with my own version. Did, soldered with thin wires - these are several thousand connections. I remember dad came to me: “How do you understand these hairs?” And there really are microcircuits inserted into holes on one side, and on the other a layer of the thinnest wires. When you need to change something, you pick them up with tweezers. It's like a surgeon in surgery: to get to the right place, you have to cut, push apart the tissue. That's how it used to be.
Repeating this design was very difficult, because a huge amount of work. I only had to solder for a week. It is unrealistic to organize production - the product would be very expensive. Although the design bureau did something about this at the development stage. And the task appeared to do all this in the form of a printed circuit board, so that only the microcircuit plugged in, soldered, turned on - and everything works. The device that I first assembled was very complex in terms of the number of microcircuits - about 70. I began to convert, modify it. As a result, he made a circuit of 42 microcircuits, and now it was necessary to come up with the topology of the tracks that would connect them. That is, on the one hand - microcircuits and part of the tracks, on the other - the other part. Such a board could be produced in series.
I worked on topology for several months. He drew tracks on a huge sheet of graph paper, rearranged, optimized. Now the computer does all this, but then it was necessary manually. The result is some kind of option. Now, in order to produce this board, we needed a photomask, which can be given for production. It was made in the laboratory at work according to my sketch. The next task is to find who will produce. There was no money in the required amount, I could not pay, so I began to look for an exchange. I give this template to someone at the flea market with the condition that when you make the board, you give me 20 pieces. Many deceived, but someone fulfilled their obligations. I got a certain number of boards - up to a hundred, no more. And in one day I could assemble several devices.
Making a computer was difficult. The keyboard was assembled from keys, something was also adapted for the case. Money that could change something in my life, I did not make money on it.
Games and more
What is the Spectrum? First of all, toys. The production facilities were large computers, on which a program was entered from punch cards or magnetic films, and it was possible to play Star Wars. Something like "Sea battle." You say to the computer: "E4", and he moves your figure. And then the first dynamic games appeared. There is a hero, he runs, jumps, jumps. That is, the little man, albeit not as beautiful as he is now, is constantly in dynamics. And it was very interesting.
The game Yie Ar Kung-Fu was originally developed for slot machines, but was later ported to a number of consoles and home computers, including the ZX Spectrum.
Programs were loaded from a tape cassette. You connect the tape recorder to the computer, for about five minutes something scribbles, then once - the game has started! When this happened for the first time, I jumped to the ceiling.
Cover for the cassette, a collection of games for the ZX Spectrum.
The Spectrum had an 8-bit Z80 processor operating at a frequency of 4 MHz. Then came the option of turbo - 6 MHz. RAM was 64 KB. That is, all programs fit into it. For the work of the Spectrum itself, 12 KB was needed. Partially this memory was used under the screen. For programs, 48-49 KB remained. Now a mouse driver takes a lot more. The screen resolution was 256 points horizontally, 192 - vertically. If now each point has its own color and actually consists of three, there they were in the form of sprites. Sprite is a piece of screen 8 by 8, it seems. And this sprite could register one of 256 colors. Primary color and background color. Combining the primary colors and complementary, managed to create such interesting programs.
Someone found practical use for this computer. I had a friend - navigator TU-134. He counted on the Spectrum routes and all the supporting information on them. In BASIC, which could be mastered in one day, he wrote programs: flew to such and such a point, then turned, took such and such an azimuth.
Another cover of the game cassette. The second number is Sim City - the very first version of a city simulation.
The brother of this friend wrote music for the synthesizer and also somehow used the computer. Someone was fond of programming, someone wrote application programs. There was at one time the company "Iskrasoft", engaged first in software, and then switched to trade in linoleum. I remember she was doing some kind of business program on the computer a la Spectrum.
In fact, this is the first computer that has become at least somehow popular in the USSR. According to my scheme, at least tens of thousands of cars were assembled. Maybe more than 100 thousand. Many cooperatives were engaged in production. Someone after me corrected something, passed it off as their own, produced, earned money, enlarged their business and then switched to something else. The geography of distribution is the most extensive. When we had our own company, we sold computers even in the hinterland - sent by mail.
Catalog of games with a description.
The simplest Spectrum cost 130 rubles - this is a monthly salary. It was usually bought by people familiar with electronics, because a lot had to be done by yourself. Even if you bought a working board, you need to connect it to a TV, to a tape recorder. For a man who never held a soldering iron in his hands, this was problematic. Although someone, probably, bought a ready-made computer, fully connected.
A great contribution to the development was made by the fact that literature began to appear. The book “How to write a game” was very popular. In Moscow, one company was engaged in the publication of a print magazine. It was dedicated to the Spectrum, and information flowed from all directions. Who did what, who plans what, experience exchange. They were printed in a printing house, but it was half-published.
The first "Spectrum" I did because I was interested. I wanted to create a device that is optimal in all respects. In principle, I did it. Then on this base I started making another computer - “Scorpio”. In 1991, he created a company, we produced 100-200 pieces a week. There were installers, tuners, debuggers. We sold computers to many cities. We even had a map on which we marked with flags where he was sent. Vladivostok, for example, had a lot of flags.
The Scorpio team is preparing for the new 1997 meeting. Sergey Zonov is third in the upper row.
It was interesting for me to develop Scorpio, since it was completely my brainchild. To connect a hard drive to it, I had to come up with a special board, behind it - some new ones. Then, much later, I wanted to make a computer in the form of a single chip. I began to develop, invested a lot of money. When the microcircuit was done, it turned out that something was working wrong, the next iteration was needed. After several iterations, I realized that this process is endless - we simply will not pull it - and abandoned this idea.
“Scorpio” had a highlight called “Shadow Monitor”. You could stop the program at any time and delve into it. You play a toy, press a button - and look, study, change. A tool for creativity. There were other developments. Then it was the only computer for creativity that an ordinary person could afford.
The peak of popularity of the Spectrum occurred in 1988–90. Then the following models began to appear - my Scorpio, other devices of the same plan. In the second half of the 1990s, a recession began, since computers of a different level came, and in our country the technology did not allow them to be produced. But requests for boards and some details of the Spectrum are still being received. People are interested in assembling a computer from scratch. I understand them. For example, dad wants to teach a child microcircuitry. What is good about Spectrum? There you can understand how any node works, there are no closed circuits.
There are those who play toys. A simulator and a program from Spectrum are launched on an IBM-compatible computer.
From the flea market at Young Technician, the Juno market grew. At first, they moved her a little further along Krasnoputilovskaya for moving - when the locals were tired of the crowd in front of their houses. There she existed for about five years. People were already arriving in cars, they were selling something directly from them. We did it too - we traded computers. I arrive at the Niva, open the back door, take out a table, equipment to check computers, board. In 1987, the point was moved to where Juno is now. Later the market itself appeared - bandits, dealers. Currency was bought and sold. Then it all gradually civilized. In place of the trays appeared stalls.
A similar flea market was in Moscow - on Gorky Street and also at the Young Technician store. If you go from the center along Tverskaya, on the right, 100 meters from the Belorussky railway station. There, too, enthusiasts and amateurs gathered, but there was less space, and they drove more often. Merchants migrated somewhere to the yards. Its specifics. I myself went there to buy something when I was not here. Then this flea market gradually transformed into the Mitinsky radio market on the outskirts of Moscow. He is huge and popular.
Many of the people I once started with are still connected with computer science and computer science. I myself am now the CEO of Scorpion Plus, a company known on scorpion.ru . We are engaged in wholesale and retail trade in components and services.
I was lucky: I decided early what I want to do, and all my life I get pleasure from work. Despite all the difficulties that periodically arise - economic, others - I'm interested. I'm a happy person.