The ZX81 certainly kick-started home-computing in the UK, but it had its dark side. Clive Sinclair, one-time head of Mensa, made a personal fortune (circa £39,000,000) for himself amid complaints about abysmal customer service. He eventually lost the right to use his own name on products. He then re-surfaced with that ridiculous electric car. Now then, some people may remember that – just before disappearing as a computer manufacturer – he repeatedly promised that he was going to market cheap super-computers. This was going to be achieved by using entire Czochraski-process photo-engraved silicon slices without cutting them up into hundreds of separate processor units. This would eliminate a lot of the usual cutting, wiring, testing and encapsulating. It would have indeed produced a cheap computer with enormous potential. Where did it all go wrong? Sinclair had made the mistake of listening to a Mr Ivor Catt, who had already failed to sell the idea to major companies. Mr Catt, like Ron, was also unhappy with accepted physics; especially the displacement-current part of Maxwell’s equations. Catt railed against physicists for decades in the pages of Wireless World and its successors. No surprise there: before the advent of modern ‘purpose-built’ crackpot journals, Wireless World was the go-to place for the lunatic fringe (and for the plagiarist, Arthur C.Clarke). And like Ron, Catt did not speak of real scientists in polite terms. Some of his letters sounded like a Russian revolutionary exhorting other malcontents to storm the Winter Palace. This may sound like an obituary, but Catt is unfortunately still with us (unlike that former murderer, torturer and Irish Education Minister). However, some misguided Italian authors have found it worthwhile to write a book about Mr Catt’s travails. There is even talk of making a movie about him. In the lunatic fringe, that sort of naivety (the Italians call him a ‘brave thinker’) is still seen as being too critical. And so it has come to pass that their weak-kneed articles on Catt have attracted the ire of another crackpot, the Public Dick (S.Crothers to the uninitiated). Electrical engineers are always a little flaky (having been taught physics only on a ‘need-to-know’ basis) and this explains the Italians’ too-indulgent approach to Catt. Crothers nevertheless accuses them, in an IEEE [sic] journal, of ‘confound[ing] the Catt Anomaly with the Catt Question’. Who cares? Both are fatuous. Much of Catt’s confusion arises because he cannot reconcile (in his mind) the facts that, whereas electrical signals propagate at near-light velocity in a metal wire, Usain Bolt could easily out-run any individual electron.
Nutters Praise Nutters