Tuesday 30 July 2013

Sir Clive's Stamps

Hip-hip, it is Sir Clive Sinclair's 73rd birthday today. When I left for graduate school in Boston, I left The Beloved behind in Cambridge, England with The Boy then aged four-and-a-bit.  It wasn't my proudest or most honourable move but I was driven.  So while I was getting to grips with multivariate statistics and environmental physiology, TB and tb were getting to grips with real life.  After some milling around, TB got a job in a creaky little office right opposite King's College chapel.  She was hired as office help and gopher in a teeny start-up company operated by a serial inventor called Clive Sinclair. 

He was just about to launch the first personal computer costing less than £100 - £99.95 indeed or you could get all the components in a plastic bag and solder it up yourself for £79.95.  It was the ZX80, it had 1 kilobyte of memory on board and needed a TV screen to display anything, a cassette-recorder to store anything and was loaded with Sinclair BASIC as a programming language.  You could, if you were geek enough, also tiptoe directly on the firmware and program in machine code.  It was neat, it was a triumph of appropriate technology, it was catchy . . . and it caught on in a huge way.  Cheques and International Money Orders poured in from all over the world and one of TB's many jobs was to open the envelopes and bank armfuls of cheques. 

For some reason (Oxfam?), she tore all the stamps off the incoming envelopes and put them in a biscuit tin.  Meanwhile back in Boston I was taking a course called Mammalogy with the great bat-expert (would that be chiroptologist?) Tom Kunz.  So, from sitting at the feet of the master, I knew a bit about the taxonomy and characteristics of animals that suckle their young.  When I came back to Europe the following Summer, I went through the biscuit-tin, abstracted all the representations of mammals and stuck them onto sheets according to their evolutionary relationships.  When we tricked about with stamps as children, the standard album was arranged alphabetically by country, which is another way of looking at the world.
I think that picture is rather fine.  I have another copy of the Heimskatarefur stamp in my taxonomic collection.  You can see from the postmark that someone in Isafjordur, Iceland wanted a teeny amount of compute-power in July 1981 that would change their life forever.  Nobody sends letters anymore - on dit que the average person in Britain sends one and receives two personal letters each year - so it doesn't matter that all internal letters in Ireland are now post-marked "Port Laois" where the national sorting office is.  But really! Why bother specifying something wholly redundant?

So today I'll give Sir Clive a slightly off-centre tribute to say:
 "So long and thanks for all the stamps". 

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