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Computing pioneer Clive Sinclair dies at 81


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'Uncle Clive' as he was called in the magazines was a tech hero. A proper inventor, years ahead of his time. The C5 is always married with the word 'failure', but he was thinking seriously about EVs before almost everyone else. Decades before the tech was capable of producing much more than a milkfloat.

The ZX81 and ZX Spectrum were breathtaking year-on-year advances in design. The ZX80 had about 21 ICs. The ZX81 utilised a ULA and had just four (both the ZX80 and ZX81 could be bought as kits or ready made). The 39K of usable RAM on a 48K Spectrum unleashed some real advances in games - rudimentary AI and 3D graphics appeared here in the hands of those who coded 'The Hobbit', 'Ant Attack' and the titles produced by Ultimate Play the Game (later Rare). The price point opened up computing to people who could not have purchased a more expensive machine. There were a fair few Spectrum clones, notably in Russia and Brazil. Networking arrived with Viewdata (Prestel) adaptors and the Micronet 800 service which had an early version of e-mail. The VTX5000 modem allowed access to a raft of commercial and university systems, in the UK and abroad, few of which had perfected security. WarGames wasn't just a movie, but the phone bills weren't small. Especially when you started accessing systems in the US and South Africa from the UK. The pace of change was far faster than today.

The design ethos of these 8-bit machines survives in single board machines like the Raspberry Pi.

I began writing software on a 1K ZX81. I designed games in the boring bits of lessons at school and sold them via computer magazines. Anyone who wrote code on 8-bit machines or soldered peripherals for them learned more about tech design than you can on the stuff flogged today with closed source code, surface mount devices and patent/copyright protections. You could buy books then that disassembled the ROM of 80s computers. Monthly magazines included courses in programming in machine code, recognised by the processor chip. That's how close you could get to the silicon. Every byte counted with individual bits used as flags. Whether you had a Sinclair ZX Spectrum, a BBC Micro or a Commodore 64, you would have had a more powerful computer than your school and its chalk-encrusted Commodore PETs. Happy days.


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Genius. And a player too.

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Nice homage!

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Oh sugar!

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@GBR48, nice write up.

My first home computer was the classic rubber keyed Spectrum 48k, I adored it and still have it safely stored away on a shelf in my home office.

Codemasters is another company like Rare that have managed to survive to this day.

Even today the Spectrum is still going strong with the Kickstarter backed Spectrum Next which Sir Clive officially approved of (side note: The Next's case design is by Rick Dickinson who designed the original 48K Spectrum and Spectrum+ but unfortunately passed away before Version 1 got released to the backers).

I'm currently waiting for the Version 2 that is in development at this moment in time.

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Oh, forgot to mention that I had a go on the C5 back in '86, it really wasn't that bad and was pretty easy to steer and pedal once you got used to it. I don't know how the battery power bit worked as it wasn't charged at the time.

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That's how invention works at the cutting edge. You always fail a few times. Tech VC funding expects a failure rate of 75%. In the 1980s in the UK tech VC was almost non-existent and margins were tiny as there were so many machines being produced. Sinclair often funded his own projects. Sugar was a salesman not an innovator. Amstrad could put a transistor radio in a large case, sell it as a rack mounted HiFi at half the cost of a Sony unit and make a lot of cash.

@Para Sitius.

Thanks. I still have my 48K speccy too. I bought a memory card interface recently but don't have the time or space to set it up at the moment. I'd definitely like a Spectrum Next.

It would be possible to surf the net on a Spectrum. Get a Chrome engine working on any cut-down OS on an external unit. Dump the pages to memory rather than the screen and then translate them into a Spectrum capable screen display with input fields and hot zones for links. Move it to the Spectrum via the edge connector or RS232 interface. Move the cursor using the arrow keys or a joystick - Kempston compatible of course. Maybe not UXGA but it would work.

A tidier implementation would create a browser translation layer in a box that could convert from Chrome to any display, removing adverts, virus checking, link policing etc.

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