Saturday, March 5, 2011

On computors


--------An Ode to Apple

Steve Wozniak once said that,
“Apple is a good name.
our computer [sh]ould be friendly —
everything an apple [is],
healthy, personal, in the home.”

Like perhaps a wife should be,
healthy, personal, in the home,
&, always, the apple of one's eye.
Ah, the image!

Yes, but on my computer
the apple is bitten
& you know
what that means.

--------© Rafael Jesús González 2011

[Remember to be ever watchful and protect
the freedoms brought us by the instrument
by which you are reading this,
but also beware the tool it can be
for our enslavement.]

It was on this day in 1975 that the Homebrew Computer Club first met. It turned out to be an enormously influential hobby club: its existence made possible the personal computer.

Not so long ago, computers were not for personal use. For one thing, they were gigantic in size — a computer easily took up an entire room. And they were very expensive, costing about a million dollars each. So computers were owned by big corporations, or by government agencies like NASA — not by individuals. Not even computer engineers or programmers who made a living working on computers had access to their own personal computers. They just did not exist.

But many of these tech-minded people wanted to build personal computers for fun, to use at home. And they decided to start a hobbyist club to trade circuit boards and information and share enthusiasm. The first of its kind, the Homebrew Computer Club first met 36 years ago today — in somebody's home garage in the Silicon Valley, of course.

Among the early members: high school friends Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, who would later co-found Apple Computers, as well as Lee Felsenstein and Adam Osborne, who would later create the first mass-produced portable computer, the Osborne 1. Other legendary figures in the computer world, including Bob Marsh, George Morrow, Jerry Lawson, and John Draper, were Homebrew members.

The Homebrew Computer Club began meeting many years before personal computers were a profitable venture, and the group's mission statement was "Give to help others." Every meeting began with a "mapping" period (in computer jargon, an exchange of data) where each person would stand up and talk about some new interesting thing that they had heard, and the group would discuss each person's contribution.

Then there was the "random access" period (in computer jargon, being able to access arbitrary elements of a sequence at once). During this part of the meeting, people got up and wandered around and talked and traded integrated circuits and other devices and information. There was a third part to the meeting too, when everyone traipsed over to the Oasis Beer Garden around the corner in Menlo Park.

Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak designed the Apple I and II to bring down to the Homebrew Computer Club and show it off. They were hoping they might sell it to other members there at the Homebrew Club, and then they got their big break. A local store placed a $50,000 order with them. They were making the computers in their garage, and they didn't even have enough capital to complete the order, so they had to convince someone to lend them money for the month.

When they started marketing the product, an ad agency kept telling them that Apple was not a good name, that they needed to choose a name that "suggested technology, number crunching, calculations, data bases." But, as Wozniak wrote in a 1984 memoir article called "Homebrew and How the Apple Came to Be," "We took the attitude that Apple is a good name. Our computer would be friendly — everything an apple represents, healthy, personal, in the home. We had to hold our ground on that one."

The Homebrew Computer Club last met in December 1986. Since then, computer clubs — amateur and professional — have sprung up in large numbers all over the world. One of the best known is the German community of hackers Chaos Computer Club (CCC), which has about 4,000 members and is regularly making news for the German media.


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