History on Air

History Podcast and Blog Blog RSS Feed Follow us on Twitter Friend us on Facebook Watch Us on YouTube

Archive for March, 2014

05 March

Sinclair ZX81


I wasn’t lucky enough to own a Sinclair when I was younger.  When the Sinclair ZX81 was released on March 5, 1981, I was only two years old.  Although, my father a fellow geek did give me his old Compaq portable when I was old enough to use it.  It was released two years later in January 1983.  But enough of my childhood memories this post is about the Sinclair.  The ZX81 was originally released only in the United Kingdom in March 1981 and later came to the shores of the US as the Timex Sinclair 1000.  It was designed to be a home computer.  It was designed on the cheap to keep cost down.  It didn’t even come with a monitor you had to connect it to a TV instead.  It used audio cassette tape for programs and had only 1KB of memory (could be expanded to 16KB).  I’m pretty sure the watch I’m wearing has more memory than that.  You could by the kit for 50 BP or assembled for 70 BP (162BP and 227BP in 2014 money).  It was hugely popular, selling more than 1.5 million until it was discontinued in 1984.  The entire thing only weighed 12 ounces.

Although they keyboard was laid out in standard QWERTY format, there may be some surprises for modern keyboard users.  Such as the RUBOUT key (delete) and the NEW LINE key (return or enter).

Clive Sinclair the owner of Sinclair research had a very good year when the ZX81 came out.  The company’s profit went from 818k BP to 8.5M BP in 1981-82.  He got a million pound bonus on top of his 13,000 salary.  He was knighted in 1983.

“…Sinclair, the British inventor, had a way of getting things right, but also exactly wrong. Foreseeing the market for affordable personal computers, Sinclair decided that what people would want to do with them was to learn programming. The ZX81, marketed in the United States as the Timex 1000, cost less than the equivalent of a hundred dollars, but required the user to key in programs, tapping away on that little motel keyboard-sticker. This had resulted both in the short market-life of the product and, in Voytek’s opinion, twenty years on, in the relative preponderance of skilled programmers in the United Kingdom. They had their heads turned by these little boxes, he believes, and by the need to program them…

…”But if Timex sold it in the United States,” she asks him, “why didn’t we get the programmers?”

“You have programmers, but America is different. America wanted Nintendo. Nintendo gives you no programmers. Also, on launch of product in America, RAM-expansion unit did not ship for three months. People buy computer, take it home, discover it does almost nothing. A disaster.” -William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition

Learn More:


04 March

USS Cyclops disappears in Bermuda Triangle

USS Cyclops

USS Cyclops

I’m a sucker for a Bermuda Triangle story, and this one fits the bill.  On March 4, 1918 USS Navy ship Cyclops set out for Baltimore.  She was heading there most likely to make repairs as her starboard engine had a cracked cylinder and in the previous port water had been seen above the Plimsoll line, the line on the hull that marks the legal limit to which a ship sits in the water.  The Cyclops was a collier, which is a cargo ship mostly used by the Navy to haul coal.  It was launched on May 7, 1910.  Cyclops was last known to be traveling through the Bermuda Triangle when she disappeared.  To add to the mystery both her sister ships were also lost as well during world war II, also in the Bermuda triangle.

The more likely explanation is that the ships had a weakened I-beam which runs the length of the ship at the keel.  Both the sister ships lost during WWII were lost with very full loads and Cyclops was loaded heavily when lost and may have hit a large storm as well, further weakening the keel.  She was deemed lost with all hands on June 1, 1918 by Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Franklin D. Roosevelt.




Quantum Leap: The Complete Fourth Season

Quantum Leap: The Complete Fourth Season (Cyclops featured on episode 16)