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Re: Roll Call for VCF E

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  • s100doctor
    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
    Message 1 of 30 , Mar 1, 2013
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      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
    • B. Degnan
      ... Computer Club in California, where several founders of vintage computer companies, or principals in those companies, met and started. ... - in the era,
      Message 2 of 30 , Mar 1, 2013
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        > 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.
        >

        It might not matter to everyone the same way, but TCF is the perfect place
        to help educate.

        It says something if you can accurately answer the question "...what would
        all this have cost in year x ...?"

        bd
      • s100doctor
        ... Just an annoying note: the actual RESISTORs straight-8 was already exhibited at TCF. ... As I posted, what s being called homebrewing , was normal
        Message 3 of 30 , Mar 1, 2013
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          Bill Degnan wrote:
          >
          > > Two ideas if you bring an '8:
          > > - Explain to visitors how big computers were often used to develop for
          > > little ones
          > > - Bring your Straight 8, and explain the connection to RESISTORS, Ted
          > > Nelson, etc.

          Just an annoying note: the actual RESISTORs straight-8 was already exhibited at TCF.

          Will Donzelli wrote:
          >
          > The PDP-8 line were certainly used in industry and academia
          > "homebrewing", as a cheap processor for all sorts of custom
          > installations (experiments, machine control, test rigs, etc.).
          >

          As I posted, what's being called "homebrewing", was normal practice in the era. Most everyone was adapting whatever they could get, old or new, to do whatever they were trying to do.

          About PDP-8's. It's fair to say they were the period alternative to having a microcomputer, until microcomputers became available. It's useful to see a PDP-8 or some other minicomputer to compare and contrast. Some kind of DEC computing widget, should be at every VCF.

          Um, there's actually a lot I could bring from around 1975. It's hard to decide among single-boards like KIM, or systems like the Northstar Horizon. I've committed to bring the Xitan TDL system, it's a "local" product, but it won't be running. Its Z80 board was pretty early.

          I've got a couple of thoughts about a running system. The Northstar Horizon is pretty "clean" but age-appropriate - you guys won't call it "homebrew". But it runs, CP/M at that. So does (or did) my Heath H-8. I suppose I could add an ADM-3A to keep it all period. But it's not like I can run Spacewar, or even Adventure, just not my thing to run games. I could at least show a papertape system with it (the H-10 reader/punch), again not running. I did not expect this event.

          One of the more unusual computers in retrospect, is "the digital group", now kind of scarce. the model I happen to have certainly LOOKS "homebrew" as it's hot-wired up in various ways. Again, not running. It's in-theme by date and appearance. But as I've posted I have mixed feelings about showing stuff that looks wired up (in other words, NORMAL for 1977) just to be ridiculed as hopelessly primitive.

          I won't bring it all, I'm an old man not a pack mule. And I dont' want to crowd other MARCHians out. If people have some particular preferences, I'll follow the thread every few days, see what is said. I have some ideas and themes I'll consider in the meantime, see what I can wake up.

          Herb
        • B. Degnan
          Herb, ... decide among single-boards like KIM, or systems like the Northstar Horizon. I ve committed to bring the Xitan TDL system, it s a local product, but
          Message 4 of 30 , Mar 2, 2013
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            Herb,

            > >
            >
            > Um, there's actually a lot I could bring from around 1975. It's hard to
            decide among single-boards like KIM, or systems like the Northstar Horizon.
            I've committed to bring the Xitan TDL system, it's a "local" product, but
            it won't be running. Its Z80 board was pretty early.
            >

            I had written earlier that it'd be better for this particular exhibit that
            we try to bring one complete and functional "system" rather than a
            hoge-podge of stuff. Don't feel obligated to bring the XITAN, if it does
            not work.

            > I've got a couple of thoughts about a running system. The Northstar
            Horizon is pretty "clean" but age-appropriate - you guys won't call it
            "homebrew". But it runs, CP/M at that. So does (or did) my Heath H-8. I
            suppose I could add an ADM-3A to keep it all period. But it's not like I
            can run Spacewar, or even Adventure, just not my thing to run games. I
            could at least show a papertape system with it (the H-10 reader/punch),
            again not running. I did not expect this event.
            >
            > One of the more unusual computers in retrospect, is "the digital group",
            now kind of scarce. the model I happen to have certainly LOOKS "homebrew"
            as it's hot-wired up in various ways. Again, not running. It's in-theme by
            date and appearance. But as I've posted I have mixed feelings about showing
            stuff that looks wired up (in other words, NORMAL for 1977) just to be
            ridiculed as hopelessly primitive.
            >

            If you want to keep it simple, an SBC that turns on a light when you change
            the value of a memory location would be just fine and would demonstrate the
            homebrew principles we discussed. But a Horizon that works is fine too. I
            assume Evan will be bringing the Apple I, which is effectively an Apple II
            without a case, not really homebrew in the traditional sense except that
            you could buy the kit version. But it's a crowd pleaser.

            Please don't stress this. We have a small classroom, not much space.
            Choose a nice compact, labeled system. I will be bringing (probably) my
            Altair 680 with hacked SWTPc RAM cards. Not sure what kind of terminal.

            We'll do another roll call of items being exhibited in about a week.

            Bill

            Bill
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