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29499Re: Roll Call for VCF E

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  • s100doctor
    Mar 1, 2013
      I have some comments about "homebrew" and what might be shown about that era in microcomputing.

      I"m someone who was THERE in the so-called "homebrew computer" era in discussion. I'm not particularly comfortable with the phrase "homebrew computers", as it suggests something less than professional, ad-hoc, non-commercial - second class. Computers often shown from that era typically look like a rat's nest of boards and wires; or are contrasted with production designs in smooth custom fiberglass cases that play video games.

      But "honmebrew" is a kind of reference to the now-iconic "Homebrew Computer Club" in California, where several founders of vintage computer companies, or principals in those companies, met and started.

      The phrase also refers to what Bill Degnan is talking about. People - we - in the era, were obliged to MAKE computers, and wire them up to things not meant for "computer control". That's because computers of the mid-1970's were not produced as ready-for-use, or for use by themselves, for applications alone - that's a modern view.

      The technology for a use, the need for an application, DID NOT EXIST YET, or was too new. The price of much of existing technology was ENORMOUS in modern dollars - costs greater than a running used car. Much of the affordable computing technology, was second-hand, in the used MINIcomputer market, and still not that cheap. and microcomputing technology was changing rapidly - standards we consider obvious today, were in many cases established in that era; thus surviving technology from the era is deemed "non standard" and therefore second-class.

      Regarding VCF, which is also a ham radio activity - radio amateurs also have a proud legacy of "homebrew", as in construction, of not only radio-related items, but of early microcomputers. 73 and QST contained many early digital and computer construction articles. 73 publisher Wayne Green, cofounded BYTE and founded Kilobaud, essential microcomputer magazines. Ham established digital networks before the wired Internet.

      I have a lot to say about the mid-1970's era of vintage computing, because in a way I'm fighting the common (and well paid-for) view that IBM and Apple and Microsoft "created" personal computing, and what came before was junky stuff which didn't matter - the phrase "homebrew" does not help. But it's otherwise forgotten, how hard it was to work with vintage computing, before you had computers to help you! Or to adapt hardware and software, before there were "standards" which later made transfer of prior work much easier. And before computing power was sufficient; before whole classes of software were established as familiar "apps"; before computer networks; before mass storage; on and on.

      Today, personal computing is so standardized, common, and cheap, that these ideas sound like the Wild West to 21st century people today. I often consider early vintage computing as "pioneer computing" because of that.

      So I agree with Bill Degnan, that a serious exhibit of mid-1970's computers should not be just a box or a board. It should show how it was tied to some thing, to do some thing. But the facts are, that vintage computers are rarely sold or traded, or shown that way. Even I have removed the "homebrew" wires and parts, because frankly nobody cares to see that stuff, it means nothing for people only interested in computer brands, models and dates.

      I was asked to bring the TDL Xitan, and I can do that. But it won't be tied to a particular use or original configuration. it wasn't when I got it. I appreciate Bill's suggest to at least have a TOKEN application of a vintage microcomputer - blink some lights at least. I'll see if I have something still intact of that sort, but it's rare to get such assemblies intact. Harder still to KEEP them that way, and to have something that looks "presentable", next to the Apple II's and Atari, and other professionally-crafted packaged computers that look "personal" by today's standards.

      This is hardly my last word on the era or my best thoughts, it's simply a response to a discussion. I'd welcome comments and considerations. Maybe at another time- there's only two weeks before TCF, people interested in showing items should focus on that.

      And of course, I'm not responsible for MARCH's exhibit or their interpretations of the era. These are my words from me, I don't work for MARCH or vice versa.

      Herb Johnson
      retrotechnology.com
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