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Friday, September 17, 2021

CONTEXT: Sir Clive Sinclair, 1940–2021, R.I.P.

Among the many amazing innovations of this prolific inventor, who dedicated most of his work to bringing high technology to everybody at a price they could afford, was the breakthrough 1974 Sinclair Scientific calculator, the first single chip scientific calculator, which offered, in addition to the four arithmetic operators, sine, cosine, tangent, arcsine, arccos, arctan, log, and exponentiation. Through cleverness and hackery which rose to epic levels of heroism, this was squeezed into a read-only memory which held just three hundred and twenty instructions. How did they do it? See Ken Shirriff's brilliant reverse engineering of the Sinclair Scientific design and programming. The calculator was sold in the U.S. in kit form for just US$99.95 and assembled for US$139.95, a fraction of the price of scientific calculators from Hewlett-Packard and Texas Instruments.

Clive Sinclair went on to design the ZX80 home computer, introduced in 1980 as a £79.95 kit or £99.95 assembled, which was an immediate hit. It, and its successors, were the introduction to computing for a generation of British and European programmers, and its successors were marketed in the U.S. by Timex Sinclair.

In his later years, Sinclair said that he did not use the Internet, as having “technical or mechanical things around me” distracted from the process of invention.

Posted at September 17, 2021 13:45