Geek shall inherit the earth

Clive Maxfierld, Sheffield engineer
Clive Maxfierld, Sheffield engineer
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It all started in the corner of the playground at Abbeydale Grammar School.

While the other lads played conkers or football Clive ‘Max’ Maxfield and his friend Carl Clements were drawing imaginary circuit diagrams in the dust with their fingers.

Now he is the world’s ‘go-to guy’ on computer technology who teaches the ‘techies’ and explains what chips, circuits and CPUs are to the rest of us Muggles.

The man with the ‘geeky’ Sheffield past is now designing and explaining the electronic future of the world.

With six books and hundreds of magazine articles in the world’s top-selling electronics magazine – he is now managing editor of – the Sheffield Polytechnic (now Hallam University) Systems Engineering graduate is living his dream.

Not bad for a kid who only wanted to be an engineer because he thought it would impress the girls at parties.

“I used to love watching Tomorrow’s World on television when I was a kid and even the most futuristic visions from back then are coming true,” said 56-year-old Clive, over visiting mum and family in Sheffield from Huntsville Alabama in the US where he lives with wife Gina and 18-year-old son Joseph.

“I used to be an avid reader of electronics hobby magazines. There was a series of articles in Practical Wireless called “Take 20” about projects of 20 components or fewer costing under 20 shillings (there were 20 shillings in a pound).

“As I recall, the first circuit I built was a simple oscillator that warbled and sounded like a police car. My mother loved it (not).”

Clive worked in Manchester when he left university then moved to the deep south of America in 1990 and found a world completely alien to the one he left.

“Huntsville is now one of the most advanced manufacturing states in the US and very cosmopolitan but when I moved there it was far from it,” said the man who wrote Beebop To The Boolean Boogie in 1992, a book now in its third edition.

“The Ku Klux Klan still used to march on Sundays, believe it or not, and it was very different from the way it is today.”

After that glimpse of a shameful past Clive started to help build the future, but sort of got side-tracked.

“I drifted into writing, starting with magazine articles and presenting technical papers at conferences, and graduating into books. So now I don’t really do any engineering (apart from my hobby projects), I just talk about it a lot!

“I still think of myself as a hardware design engineer. I’ve designed everything from silicon chips to circuit boards, and from brainwave amplifiers to steampunk Display-O-Meters.”

For a man with his eyes so firmly set on the future, his family have a rich and colourful past.

Clive’s dad Reg, along with his two brothers, Pug and Cyril, was a member of a pre-war variety act called The Three Dudes and Rita, who once appeared in a Royal Command Performance. All three brothers went on to serve in the forces in three different regiments and all saw action overseas.

Though, as was the way with so many of their generation, they didn’t talk about it much.

“One time when I was about 18 we were at home watching the German film Das Boot,” said Clive. “My mum and dad started discussing the accuracy of the English sub-titles on the German language movie.

“I said: ‘I didn’t know you could speak German’, ‘You never asked,’ was their reply.

“They went on to tell me that during the war my dad had been hidden by a German girl for about a week so he could escape capture by German troops.

“After the war he started taking German language lessons so he could go back to Germany, find the girl who saved him to meet up with her again and thank her for saving his life. But it was at the German language class in Sheffield that he met my mum. He never did go back to find the girl after that.”

The story gets better. Reg was actually a sergeant at arms at the war crimes trials in Nuremburg in 1945-46 where top Nazis like Rudolph Hess, Herman Goering and Martin Bormann were tried for war crimes.

Back to the future and Clive is confident that the world is heading for exciting times.

“The thing to watch out for is the technologies and applications that we haven’t even thought of yet. Look how fast things are changing. As we moved into the new millennium, we couldn’t imagine smartphones with speech recognition, the ability to take photos and videos, and inbuilt GPS.

“Now we take them for granted.

“The first iPad was released on April 3, 2010, which is only three years ago, but now it seems like they’ve been around forever. I certainly don’t know what I’d do without mine.

“All I can say is that I am 100% confident that the future is going to be much more wonderful, stranger, and scarier (in some ways) than most of us can imagine.

“I can’t wait! I love this stuff!”