British inventor Sir Clive Sinclair died yesterday, September 16. I, of course, never met this man who had an impact on the direction of my life.
My chosen field of study in college, computer science, led to the career that caused me to move to metropolitan Detroit, ultimately meet and marry my wife, and have the life I now live. How I came to chose to study computer science was influenced by three events during my high school years: the arrival of the Apple II in my high school, taking an after school BASIC programming class, and being gifted the Timex Sinclair 1000. Sir Sinclair invented the ZX80, the predecessor to the ZX8, in Britian, and that same computer was later sold as the Timex Sinclair 1000 in the United States.
I was raised by my grandmother and we lived off social security along with some savings. The personal computers sold at the time cost well beyond our means, but the Timex Sinclair only cost $100, though you needed the nearly $40 additional cost of the 16 KB storage for it to be useful. The nearly $150 total cost made it the most expensive gift my grandmother ever bought me, and I don’t doubt she made sacrifices to buy it, but she felt it important for my future. Turns out my grandmother was right.
Even by the standards of the time, the Timex Sinclair was a bit of a joke for a computer. Frogger was one of the games available for the Timex Sinclair that my friend called “woodtick” because of how the large block pixel graphics of the frog took over the entire TV screen when it got run over by a car.
Back then the common display for personal computers were TV screens. Programs were stored on cassete tapes. As I said, the Timex Sinclair only had 16 kilobytes of RAM. It had a membrane keyboard rather than a real keyboard that had most of the BASIC functions assigned. When writing a program you “typed” PRINT by pressing a combination of a function key and they key that had the command printed on it. I don’t recall whether I ever connected the Timex Sinclair to a printer or did anything like word processing.
Despite the limits Sinclair’s invention made a brand new world of personal computing accessible to me in the comfort of my bedroom floor. Hours of typing in pre-printed programs from magazines and hours of experimenting with little BASIC programs sparked the interest that as I said led to the life I now have.
Reading tributes and stories of Sinclair, I know that I am just one of hundreds of thousands of people around the world that share the same story. What a wonderful legacy. Thank you Sir Sinclair, rest in peace.