RIP Sir Clive Sinclair

Sir Clive Sinclair with a ZX Spectrum

A hero of the early home computing era, Sir Clive Sinclair, died on 15th September 2021.

The Sinclair flat screen TV

Sir Clive was a diverse inventor, way ahead of his time. The portable TV, at the time scoffed at – “you can’t watch TV on the move” – now a commonplace activity. His battery-powered trike was really just waiting for better batteries.

But, for me, the computers were the pinnacle. As an 11 year old, getting a ZX Spectrum at Christmas brought a whole new world to my house.

The ZX Spectrum expanded my interest from electronics (which had already begun with a crystal radio) to software, as well as bringing the world of Elite to me!

Incredibly clever engineering decisions were embodied in the ZX Spectrum, made to keep the cost rock-bottom. For example, providing colour high-res graphics, with only 16KB of RAM, through the ingenious compromise of only providing low-resolution colour. The general opinion was that a keyboard made of rubber was a an optimisation too far but, for me, this was made workable by including the entire BASIC language as shortcuts on the keyboard, which reduced the effort to enter code. It had the additional benefit that the interpreter did not have to have a tokenizer as the BASIC tokens were being directly entered!

These kinds of optimisations have coloured (if you’ll pardon the pun) my engineering life. My career has involved stepping from one project to another which required some kind of heavy optimisation, just to make them work, compromising the fidelity of some less-important aspect of the system to enable it to work in less space, less power or for less money.

I wouldn’t be who I am today without Sir Clive Sinclair.

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