Tue. Oct 19th, 2021


Clive Sinclair Updates

If Sir Clive Sinclair could not succeed in creating a lasting British success story from his groundbreaking computers, his death this week at 81 brought to the fore a myriad of engineers, entrepreneurs and even technological billionaires who say that their careers on his inventions were built.

Tributes poured in from alumni users of his inexpensive 1980s home computers, led by Elon Musk and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, who said Sinclair’s innovations democratized the computer and ‘inspired so much, including me ‘.

‘I remember my first computer, a ZX80, and the sense of wonder and empowerment I felt. It was your device that sparked my passion for engineering, ”he said.

The natural successor to the ZX today is the Raspberry Pi from the UK, the sub- £ 50 computer designed to make computers more affordable and help children learn programming. It was that of Sinclair ZX80 which originally pushed the price of a home computer below £ 100 in 1980 and led to the emergence of an army of coders and a new era of innovation.

“We would have nothing like the number of engineers we have today in the UK of my generation if you had to spend £ 300 to £ 400 on a computer, and that was really a huge part of his contribution,” Raspberry said. Pi co-founder Eben Upton told the Financial Times.

Many were attracted to the ZX80s and Spectrum by the chance to play games on a TV screen, but it was the flickering pointer to the command line that enthusiasts requested in their first coding ventures, long before it was obscured by the graphical user interface.

Sinclair, the son of an owner of a machine tool in London, began his career as an entrepreneur shortly after leaving school at the age of 17. 21 years old, to market a radio the size of a matchbox.

Things started in 1972 when its transistors found their way into the Executive Calculator, a world first for its size, followed by a black-plastic digital wristwatch in 1975 that could not keep up with time. In 1977 he launched the world’s first pocket television before setting up Sinclair Research in Cambridge in 1979, where the ZX computers were developed.

They became the world’s best-selling computers, making Sinclair a fortune that was later wasted on less successful inventions.

As an inventor, his lack of interest in the big task of growing a business did not help. “I’m not a businessman at heart,” he told the FT in 2003. “I do not like running a business – I do not want to make money, but I do not like running people. This is a distraction. ”

The ZXs were poor computers by current standards. They barely had memory, data had to be stored on cassette machines and the membrane keyboards were terrible to type. There were often long delays in orders and quality control issues as Sinclair tried to keep the price low.

‘I heard how Clive Sinclair’s attitude towards design was that you should put things off [circuit] board after you finish until it stops working. And then you put the last thing on again, and if it works, you sell it, ”says Robert Dowell, an educator at the National Museum of Computing in the UK, who counts a range of Sinclair products as exhibits.

“That’s why things may not have worked out as well as they should have.”

Sinclair also recently faced competition in Cambridge from a former employee Chris Curry at Acorn, who developed the BBC Micro computer and founded Arm, the chip designer. IBM and Apple were not far behind in the rapidly evolving market.

His chivalry in 1983 reached the peak of his career when his cheap calculator, the QL, started the following year, encountered technical problems and delivery problems, and in 1985 he started a very ridiculous C5 electric vehicle. In 1986, he had to sell the computer business to his rival Alan Sugar’s Amstrad and close his offices in Cambridge.

The tricycle, 15 km / h, C5 was considered unstable, unable to climb a serious hill or travel a considerable distance at all before the battery was packed. And yet it was his time ahead, given today’s ubiquitous electric bikes and scooters. When he introduced the C5, he was talking about self-driving cars that would reach 200 km / h and eliminate accidents.

In his later years, Sinclair devoted himself to personal transportation, with the Zike electric bike in 1992 and the Zeta electric engine for a regular bike in 1994.

He returned to his roots in 1997 with a radio the size of a 10 hp piece.

If none of these were significant successes, he would still be honored as a visionary inventor and enjoy a colorful public and private life, including chairing Mensa and getting married in 2010, a former English dancer Angie Bowness and Stringfellows Club, in a seven-year second marriage.

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