Civic Tech: Then and Now

hollerithmach-1908-locComputing in the United States started as “civic tech” with Hollerith tabulating machines used for the 1890 census. Related technologies were rapidly adapted for military applications. Sadly, most civilian government agencies, especially those that deliver services to the public, have been slow to adopt the latest information technologies. Even when a new technology is employed, government, educational and social services agencies often fail to upgrade the systems they have put in place and quickly fall behind what is available in the private and business sectors.

Enter Code for America, a nonprofit organization started in 2009 by Jennifer Pahlka with the slogan:

The two biggest levers for improving people’s lives at scale are technology and government. We put them together.

Screen Shot 2018-06-14 at 8.43.24 AMCode for America fellows (tech industry professionals taking a one or two year sabbatical or just donating their spare time) work with local government departments or private nonprofits to “build and stand up new applications…in about six weeks…that, if they had gone through a normal procurement process…would have cost them $2 million and taken two years.” (See, What’s the Future and Why It’s up to Us by Tim O’Reilly, Harper Collins. pp. 137-144).

Key to Code for America’s process is the concept of keeping user needs at the center of the development effort. Unlike many high tech innovations which may be the brainchildren of a few very bright but socially-isolated geeks, here, the “users” come first and are involved in every step of design and implementation. Whether a project’s “users” are ordinary citizens or governments employees, project success means somebody’s problem is solved, needs are met, day flows more smoothly, services are provided more rapidly.Screen Shot 2018-06-04 at 12.32.34 PM

Screen Shot 2018-06-04 at 12.19.37 PMFor end users to participate effectively in the design of the IT tools they can use they need to have some inkling of the possibilities awaiting them. This is why, from its inception in 1975, LO*OP Center, Inc. has emphasized computer literacy for everyone. We all need to understand the wide range of problems that can be at least made more solvable with a little infusion of computing power. We don’t all need to become professional programmers but we do have to be able to make informed, intelligent decisions about how to employ the latest technologies. Putting this old approach together with the new Code for America reality, LO*OP Center launched a local Code for America “Brigade” in Sonoma County, CA. just a few miles from where LO*OP started so many years ago.

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As happened when the LO*OP Center storefront opened its doors, the first people to show up were already on the cutting edge of the computing practices of 1975. This happened again when we launched our first Code for Sonoma County Brigade last week (June 5, 2018). Attendees were in the know about how to implement tech solutions to problems facing public and private social service organizations. But they were not the “users”, neither the people who stand to benefit most from better civic tech nor the workers who use databases and public facing applications to govern better, cut through red tape and deliver resources to those who need them. To be successful Code for Sonoma County has to enlist the participation of elected officials, government employees, compliance overseers and nonprofit workers.

More than 40 years after the launch of LO*OP Center, the general public is much more familiar with high tech devices than they were at the beginning of the personal computer revolution. But there is still a “literacy gap”. Too few of us are ready to shape the potential solutions information technology can provide because we think we have to know electronics or computer coding to make a meaningful contribution. Reality is the opposite. Good Civic Tech requires design input from those who will use what is built before the building begins. This means you are invited to join the Code for America Brigade in your home town. See you at the next MeetUp!

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ComputerTown Book Origins

computertownbrin00loopThe ComputerTown, USA! project started with Bob Albrecht and Ramon Zamora, friends who played tennis with the lead librarian at the Menlo Park Library, saying we want to put computers out for your patrons.  A year or so after they started this, the National Science Foundation got wind of it and invited People’s Computer Company to submit a proposal to the National Science Foundation.

Bob was always gathering groups of kids together to show them how to program and play computer games. He was involved with the Point Foundation (institutional home of Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog), Dymax, the publisher of People’s Computer Company newspaper, and the storefront computer center called People’s Computer Company. Putting microcomputers in libraries was an obvious next step.

With NSF funding came the necessity to publish quarterly and annual reports in addition to the handouts needed for teaching in the library and helpful letters to other libraries, community centers and schools wanting to clone the ComputerTown concept. The LO*OP Center/HCLE archive contains the original NSF proposal that tells exactly what the grant funded, including the publication of the ComputerTown, USA! News Bulletin. As the 3-year grant period drew to a close, Julie Anton, Ramon, and Liza Loop gathered all this material together into a final report to the NSF. They then re-edited this material into a book for Reston publishers (then a subsidiary of Prentice-Hall) in 1979.

Reston, which was already in financial trouble, printed the book but never marketed it (the cover price was an unfortunate $10.00) so the public never had an opportunity to buy it. When Reston went out of business in 1985, they offered the remainder stock to the authors at 75 cents each. Liza Loop bought 750 copies which are now available through LO*OP Center to the highest bidders (starting at $100 per copy). Book collectors have a few copies but the book is out-of-print. There is a copy of an earlier, shorter version in ERIC (see:https://eric.ed.gov/?q=Loop%2c+Liza&ft=on&id=ED224478).

Liza took copies of the book to Moscow and Novosibirsk in 1987 when she visited computer clubs there. They were still on the shelves when she visited in 2001. The full book is available from Internet Archive’s Open Library, and anyone can download the ebook.

A lot has changed in 35 years and it might be fun to revisit the ComputerTown concept with three questions: How accurate were Bob Albrecht and his team at predicting the future? What has changed in the communications and computing landscape to make ComputerTown no longer relevant? What elements of ComputerTown are still needed today?

HCLE Winter 2018 Progress Report

Welcome to the winter quarter of 2018 HCLE progress report. Our Founder and Vision Keeper, Liza Loop, has been working for her Northern California neighbors who suffered great losses in the October 2017 fires. This has delayed some of our HCLE work.

We share many of the news items collected below via our outlets (wiki, blog, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and reddit) and repeat them here for your and our convenience.

Our staff of 1.6 FTEs, volunteers and outside collaborators reached the following milestones in the winter (January through March) of 2018.

 

Outreach

  • Work began with Computer History Museum

Catalog

  • Improved functionality and content

Operations

  • Design Document update

Wiki

  • Current host closing, begin search for new host

 

Please pass our news along, especially if you know someone else who will want to contribute money, know-how, artifacts, stories, or connections. Even by glancing at what we’ve done, you’re helping make HCLE happen as you pass along the story. Thank you.


  • Collection

    • A temporary staff member, Bridget Kittell, helped organize about 10% to 20% of the Collection items that have not been digitized or catalogued.
    • A variety of digitization processes are being considered to expedite the scanning of the Collection. Each has advantages and disadvantages (cost, time, error rate, resolution, metadata, access). Possibilities being considered are:
      • off-site services (Internet Archive – possibly pro bono, particularly for videos and software),
      • off-site institutions (Stanford, etc.),
      • off-site HCLE staff operations,
      • on-site HCLE staff operations (as normal),
      • and on-site HCLE staff operations with more sophisticated equipment
    • David Brock, curator at the Computer History Museum, met with Liza Loop to discuss collaborating. The initial work will focus on period Apple photos and documents related to the reference manual for the VisiCalc program that HCLE founder, Liza Loop, wrote while employed by VisiCalc publisher, Personal Software (later known as VisiCorp) “Exploring the Microcomputer Learning Environment”.
    • Richard Wenn from Far West Labs – WestEd. This US federally funded research organization has pioneered in supporting computing in schools since the late 1970s and published HCLE Catalog Item 2976, “Exploring the Microcomputer Learning Environment” by Liza Loop and Paul Christenson in November, 1980. Richard donated 5 boxes of material. Also of interest within this collection are publications from the EPIE Institute (Educational Products Information Exchange).
    • Liza Loop has spent several days at the Special Collections Department of Stanford Libraries scanning selected pieces from the Liza Loop Collection.

 

  • Catalog

    • Staff and volunteers worked on improving the Catalog Maintenance System’s compatibility with Chrome/Chromebooks, and bug fixes.
    • Data entry includes filing new artifacts as well as filling fields like “blog URL”, improving descriptions, and clarifying the use of existing and candidate fields.

 

  • People/Volunteers

    • In addition to the various volunteers and staff members mentioned throughout, we are considering recruiting a “business analyst” to complete the details of our Salesforce database.

 

Social Media Traffic Report

1/1/2014 12/31/2016 12/31/2017 3/31/2018
Facebook 59 171 187 189
Twitter 67 493 543 536
WordPress 18 50 55 55
Wikispaces 12 69 74 74

 

  • Wiki

    • The HCLE wiki continues to act as a communications center and as a digital loading dock.
    • Unfortunately, our wiki provider, wikispaces, is closing this summer which means we must find a new host for the wiki. The task is complicated by the need to also define a new wiki architecture because wikispaces’ design was unique and proprietary. Leading candidates are Wikimedia (ala Wikipedia), Google Docs/Sites, and PBWorks. This is expected to be a large effort because our wiki has grown considerably in the last few years. Contractors are investigating the candidates with a focus on porting to Wikimedia.

 

  • Exhibits

    • Despite the imminent closure of the wiki, background information for exhibits continues to be collected on the wiki.
    • The search continues for a copy of History Channel’s History’s Lost and Found, episode 47, containing an interview with Steve Wozniak and Liza Loop. Any help is appreciated.

 

  • Operations

    • The Design Document for the Virtual Museum was revised, particularly with finer distinctions of the appearance and operation of the landing page, the Lobby. More graphical depictions were added.
    • We are considering rewording the mission of the museum. The intent and goals remain the same, but more concise and active wording is being tested.
    • Now that the bulk of the preliminary Salesforce work is completed, the volunteers have moved on to other projects. We thank them for their efforts. Seat licenses were freed up as a result.
    • Work on the Salesforce database continues with merging duplicate accounts, and establishing hierarchical connections between accounts and contacts.

Did You Know Tic Tac Show

There was more to early EdTech than educational games. Oregon Trail, Carmen Sandiego, and Mavis Beacon Typing have survived the decades; but there were more games that came, taught, and disappeared – almost. We’re preserving games, both the familiar and the forgotten ones. Tic Tac Show will be remembered by some, though probably not by many. It and the company that created it, Computer-Advanced Ideas, may have faded, but the game is part of our Collection as item #1007, and is available to play at Internet Archive.

Screenshot 2018-03-28 at 10.20.54

Computerized Tic-Tac-Toe games were one of the earliest games to program. Tic Tac Show combined the classic game, the TV version, and the technology into an educational technology tool. Players had to do more than pick three squares in a row. They had to answer the questions correctly and finish their row before their opponent. To make it more fun;

“Tic Tac Show uses animated color graphics to present a wide range of subject matter in a manner similar to that of popular TV game shows.”

Screenshot 2018-03-28 at 10.26.19

Tic Tac Show, the game, is very similar to Tic-Tac-Dough, the show. Understandably, the game was more personal and involved far less money and prizes.

As an educational game, the focus was on answering questions. A variety of subjects were provided. Some required rote answers, like state capitals. Others required solving problems, like in arithmetic. Two players could compete, but there was also a one-player mode played against the computer.

Such a game could be limited by the number of questions supplied, but Tic Tac Show was expandable and customizeable through a feature that allowed users to create new categories and questions for the players. While the game was directed at younger learners, it could handle any question and answer session that fit in the storage.

The storage limit is a hint of the age and the era of the game.

“Welcome to Tic Tac Show, another of Computer-Advanced Ideas’ entertaining educational computer programs for your Apple* II, II+, or lie, IBM, or Commodore 64 micro-computer. ”

“Using Tic Tac Show requires that you have a 48k Apple II, 11+, or lie, and a Disk II system (either 13or16 sector)*, an IBM** with DOS 1.1 and disk drive, or a Commodore 64 *** with disk drive”

With storage capacities as low as 48k, frequent floppy interactions were required. Boot, program load, and extra categories required swapping floppies. This was an improvement over earlier games that required tape cassettes, but before higher-density floppies or hard drives became common.

The game taught lessons, but players also had to learn how to use the computer to be able to play the game. The manual includes instructions that are seemingly simple now, but new then, like;

“This is called a cursor.”

“After you press RETURN, the disk drive will go on and the game will be loaded into the computer.”

“If you make typing mistakes. use the back arrow key to erase one character at a time.”

“You are limited to 9 characters in the name you type.”

For advanced or adventurous users, there were also instructions about how to use both upper and lower case letters, an innovation at the time that required altering the keyboard, a hardware ‘fix’ they warned would possibly void the warranty.

Other hardware details required far more computer knowledge than users are expected to know today.  

“This software does not support RAM driven printers. If you do not know which slot your printer interface card is in, either talk with your dealer or check your reference manuals.”

Adding new Subject Areas introduced the user to early line editing commands that preceded today’s command conventions.

“EDIT COMANDS

ctrl-C:Erase Text

ctrl-l:lnsert Space

ctrl-D: Erase Letter

ctrl-X:Erase Line

return: Next Line

<-: Move Left

-.: Move Right ”

Users also were introduced to the necessities of simple user interfaces. Players would inevitably answer in a variety of ways. If the user only defined one answer, the game may miss other correct versions. Washington D.C. may be the correct answer, but the user may want to accept DC or District of Columbia as well.

Today’s EdTech solutions may seem far more sophisticated, but similarities continue. Companies can proclaim they are a “Major publisher of quality educational and technical products”, but there’s no guarantee they will persist. Hardware and software changes eventually can change a leading-edge product into an anachronism (saved only by archives.) The basic need remains while decades later the industry continues to innovate as they search for EdTech solutions, as they search for answers that will help them win the game.

Dawn of Computer Conferencing – Murray Turoff and the Delphi Method

Could a diverse group of humans come together without bias or undue influence to address large, complex issues that were relevant to the federal government? Could they collectively act as a Delphic oracle with computers playing a passive, enabling role that; 

“…would eliminate much of the tedium of data collection and collation as well as reduce the influence of individual group members.”?

That was a goal of a study chronicled in 1972 by Murray Turoff in Delphi Conferencing: Computer-Based Conferencing with Anonymity.

The 46-page, thought-provoking article was published in Technological Forecasting and Social Change, which is also item #1239 in our catalog.

At the time, Murray Turoff, one of HCLE’s EdTech Pioneers, was associated with the Office of Emergency Preparedness of the National Resource Analysis Center. The organization’s goal was to deal with complex problems. One approach was the Delphi Method of group communication, and in this instance, to manage those interactions via the innovative concept of computer conferencing.

Organizing any group encounters familiar difficulties of social interactions, scheduling, and logistics. For a variety of reasons, individual voices do not always carry equal weight. Rather than simply assume that the computer was the answer, a comparison was made between the various alternatives:

  • conference calls
  • in-person informal meetings
  • formal conferences
  • Delphi Exercise
  • Delphi Conference (as stated in the article)

Each was evaluated against criteria:

  • group size
  • interaction occurrence
  • length of interactions
  • number of interactions
  • communication mode
  • costs
  • response times
  • equality and efficiency of information flow
Screenshot 2018-03-03 at 09.56.02
Delphi Conferencing: Computer-Based Conferencing with Anonymity” – Murray Turoff

The advantages of Computer-Based Conferencing with Anonymity were: anonymity, scalability, asynchronous communication, equality of information dissemination, and convenience assuming everyone had similar computer infrastructure.

The method was tested by first inviting (by phone, because of the era) twenty individuals for a 13 week trial. By design, the system was supposed to only need about ten minutes of self-instruction for each individual. After that, participants could engage in discussions, initiate topics, and generally conduct the meeting without much control.

Because the meeting was handled by hardware and software, the method had the ability to track the discussions, note which topics were voted higher, and measure digressions.

Such an arrangement can seem trivial now because many social media and program management options are readily available. Back then, the team had to develop social norms for asynchronous, anonymous interactions and settled into posting patterns of about one to three interactions per week. Keep in mind that the interface was via teletype. By the end of the trial, nineteen topics were discussed with digressions five levels removed from the original topic.

By the time the conference was over, at least ten of the respondents were using secretaries or junior staff to obtain the latest items and put in responses as directed.

One major benefit may have been;

In fact, one cannot help observing that this particular group might have serious difficulties operating as a face-to-face panel or committee. Probably more significant is the observation that members of this group normally would never have come together,

While Murray says;

…this article is probably the most important first thing i ever did. It was the very first collaborative system on a computer (asynchronous operation)

it also is not seen as a panacea.

…the Delphi Conferencing approach should not be considered solely as an alternative for other group-communication methods

It is, however, a good example of a pioneering use of computers and computing that resonates in today’s world of social media, online education, and collaborative discussions.

An associated work, The Delphi Method: Techniques and Applications by Harold Linstone and Murray Turoff, 1975, is available online as is the referenced work as item #1239 in our catalog.

delphij

Visualizing School: Then, Now, When?

Aspen Ideas 2012
Aspen Ideas 2012

Last year I happened across of video of a panel discussion from the 2012 Aspen Ideas Conference entitled “Visualizing Information Creates New Ways of Learning” At the end of the hour-long presentation the following question came from the audience (about minute 1:10:20):

Screen Shot 2018-03-05 at 8.24.21 PM

“Dan Sharp with the Eisenhower Foundation and I want to ask you a question about the application of your new theories to the field of education. You showed a slide of the classic lecture to a large group and you implied that that was going to change. The internet is being used really for the same kind of classic education with universities putting existing courses [online]. Innovations like the Kahn Academy still are top down. Can you project the way in which your theory of visualization will impact the theory of education?”

I was particularly interested in the response of one of the panelists, Mark Wigley, then Dean of the Columbia University School of Architecture. Earlier in the presentation Mark had discussed a new institute to be launched at Columbia. Here’s how he responded to Dan’s question:

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“Just a quickie rejoinder, that’s a fantastic question and I agree with Ed that education is one of the first victims of this concept, in a way. In other words, it transforms education. I would say not just from removal of the top down model. But most of the technologies for distance learning, even the most successful examples we know today, are very very narrow and depend on the kind of knowledge that can be easily communicated and tested. There are lots of great examples of that. I think we have to develop an architecture of education. That is to say the equivalent of a school. That is to say what is the sort of space in which we would gather together that is a more global, more horizontal community. In current models of telepresence, current models of exchanging data, these, I think, are not adequate to the concept of education. I really love this question because if we could answer you well then we wouldn’t start this institute of data visualization [at Columbia School of Architecture] because we wouldn’t need it. Part of the mission here — if visualization is just a word for how we communicate — [there is] no more important communication than that within a school. But we don’t currently have a very good image of what is a school in the global environment, a school that is disrespectful of academic vs. professional, that is very disinterested in the age of the participants. In the current situation we have an extraordinarily narrow understanding of education and inevitably it will have to be the same level of innovation in education that we’ve seen in so many other fields. It is boarder line criminal, it’s over the boarder actually, on the other side of the boarder, that we have not risen to the challenge of education. And I’m speaking globally, not — and I’ll give you an example. The US has the world’s worst high schools and absolutely the world’s best research universities. America has an astonishing leadership in higher education, amazing, amazing level. But in terms of the new strata of global responsibility in education no country has a monopoly. I don’t see a good model out there and we need to get on this right away.”

From George Leonard’s 1968 depiction in “Education and Ecstasy” to Neal Stephenson’s “Diamond Age”, visionaries have been offering models of how digital technology might revamp our conception of “school”. In my next several blogs I’ll showcase some of the predictions of our Ed Tech Pioneers and comment on why, fifty years later, we still haven’t come close to realizing the promise of educational technology. Mark has it right. This is beyond criminal.

A Glance at Early EdTech a la DEC

Screenshot 2018-02-03 at 09.42.14

Digital (also known as DEC and Digital Equipment Company) did more than sell one of the first so-called minicomputers. It also published some of the first educational software to be used in regular subject classrooms and pioneered in supporting computing teachers. Our Collection includes several documents in the EduSystems series; “computers are for kids – EduSystems – expandable, economical”.

Screenshot 2018-02-03 at 09.41.27

See, for example, HCLE Item 1015: Advanced Problems for Computer Mathematics. For $2, students and teachers received a 75 page resource manual that took at least two approaches to teaching programming and problem solving. (Today you can get it for free by clicking on the linked title above.)

As the general headings in this booklet suggest, approaches to mathematics can be dry, with abstract titles that are correct and descriptive but not particularly exciting.

  • General Mathematics
  • Intermediate and Advanced Algebra
  • Geometry
  • Probability and Statistics
  • Mathematical Analysis and Physics

Under these headings you find sets of increasingly difficult problems that might be solved more easily using a computer program that either paper and pencil or calculator. Today, an educational software company would be likely to supply the student with either 1) a graphically fancy, game-like program that provides a solution to the student followed by a multiple choice quiz; or 2) a computer-generated video that lets the student make predetermined choices within the problem space without requiring that the student understand how to state the problems or generate the answer. In the mid-1960s when Advanced Problems for Computer Mathematics was published there were not computer graphics or videos. Only images created with typewriter characters could be made. There was no internet and no common medium on which to supply and store the programs. The most practical way to share the software was to print the program itself in the booklet and let the students type it into whatever computer they had access to. This process built a bridge between the academic discipline being studied (mathematics, in this case) and computer programming.

In Advanced Problems for Computer Mathematics problems were frequently presented in a way that suggested the steps required to solve them. Then, the student is instructed to; “Write a program…” (in BASIC.) A sample program is provided to demonstrate one possible solution. If the learner’s program actually worked (ran) after a couple of tries s/he could move on to a harder task. But the computer isn’t actually doing any teaching. It’s role is more like a laboratory or playing field.  When the learner must troubleshoot and debug a teacher (or fellow student) will be a key tool for learning. Digital’s early approach to educational software illustrated the utility of the computer along with experience of computers’ limitations. It also demonstrated that answers might be approximations, not exact. There’s even a study of how rapidly and accurately (or inaccurately) π can be calculated. “At 10,000 terms, the approximation to π is off by 1 in the 4th decimal place.

Advanced Problems for Computer Mathematics provides some abstract problems but several are word problems that suggest a variety of practical, real-world applications for computer programs.  

  • What’s the volume of a potato? A study in calculus.
  • How far must someone travel to get from various places in Possible Gulch over Bell Mountain to Probable Junction? Bell Mountain has the shape of the normal distribution curve, providing a study in statistics.
  • How does a crosswind affect a plane’s flight? An exercise in a simple simulation.

While the utility of the computer is demonstrated, alternatives to the latest technology are also supplied. For the potato problem, they include a solution Archimedes used over 2,000 years ago. Sometimes a bowl of water is all you need. As it says in the text; “Hey, that’s a good method…keep the beaker and get rid of the computer.” The computer is presented as a tool, but not the only tool. An interesting perspective considering the publication is from a computer company.

The document itself is worth studying. Even though the publication is about computers, it didn’t use desktop publishing software. There were no word processors at the time. Some pages are photocopies of computer printouts. Fonts change depending on the source. Symbols like π and graphics like the airplane were hand-drawn.Screenshot 2018-02-05 at 10.16.03 The last page is copied from the list of Digital’s Sales and Service contacts around the world, an implicit reminder that at least one motivation for producing the series was to increase sales.

Computers, computing, and new ways and reasons to learn developed together. While such publications may have helped sales, they also represent a time when an industry knew it had to build itself, its user community, and its future workforce. Prior to this, there would’ve been a much smaller audience and the publications would be directed at professionals who cared more about content than layout. Soon after this, the audience was much larger and broader, and the expectations were for more polished presentations.

Preserving such documents for researchers and the curious is why we’re creating our virtual museum. Even one edition, like this one, can provide a cornerstone from which to build broader research projects and histories. Tell us where it leads you.

 

HCLE Autumn 2017 Progress Report

HCLE Autumn 2017 Progress Report

Welcome to the autumn quarter of 2017 HCLE progress report. Our Founder and Vision Keeper, Liza Loop, has been working for her Northern California neighbors who suffered great losses in the October fires. This has delayed some of our HCLE work.

We share many of the news items collected below via our outlets (wiki, blog, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and reddit) and repeat them here for your and our convenience.

Our staff of 1.6 FTEs, volunteers and outside collaborators reached the following milestones in the autumn (October through December) of 2017.

 

Exhibits

  • A prototype Proof of Concept of the museum Lobby was developed and alpha tested. Liza is not happy enough with it to share it yet.

Catalog

  • Improvements were made to expand operating system compatibility.
  • Additional documents, software and artifacts were catalogued.

Operations

  • Our contact database was updated in preparation for 2018 fundraising activities.

 

Please pass our news along, especially if you know someone else who will want to contribute money, know-how, artifacts, stories, or connections. Even by glancing at what we’ve done, you’re helping make HCLE happen as you pass along the story. Thank you.


 

  • Fundraising

    • Our fundraising is focusing on private donors. Although several institutional funders have circulated requests for proposals these are highly competitive and responding to them requires a large investment of staff time. Therefore, we feel that individuals, rather than organizations, are more likely to understand the value of having a small organization like ours preserving this history. Individuals appreciate the need for a small museum to reach the critical mass that will enable more formal proposals to foundations and agencies. Letters and personal communications are being readied for the 2018 fundraising efforts.
    • Formal proposals will be considered as appropriate.

 

  • Collection

    • Scanning and cataloging of the Liza Loop collection continues.
    • A business close to the Collection has donated the use of their large format scanner for items that don’t fit on HCLE’s on-site equipment.

 

  • Catalog

    • Work on the Catalog continues with improvement in the process and expansion software compatibility across more operating systems and platforms.
    • The possibility of porting the Catalog to a different architecture is being discussed and tested with prospective contractors.

 

  • People/Volunteers

    • More than 15 volunteers have worked to customize our implementation of Salesforce and our wiki. More advanced business analytical skills are necessary to customize this platform so that it enhances LO*OP Center’s project structure. Staff is searching for a key volunteer or affordable contractor who can do this work.

 

Social Media Traffic Report

1/1/2014 12/30/2015 12/31/2016 12/31/2017
Facebook 59 104 171 187
Twitter 67 408 493 543
WordPress 18 49 50 55
Wikispaces 12 62 69 74

 

  • Wiki

    • The HCLE wiki continues to act as a communications center and as a digital loading dock. Updates to the interface were being tested by volunteers and staff.

 

  • Exhibits

    • A Proof of Concept of the image gallery is being developed by contractor Anna Narbutovskih. The prototype pulls images and metadata directly from the museum’s main Catalog and Image Repository. The site is live, but incomplete, so it remains unlisted. Viewings are available upon request.
    • Staff member Tom Trimbath is investigating a variety of timeline software packages as basis for improved wiki pages and future exhibits. The plan is for the timeline to interface with the main Catalog and Image Repository as well.

 

  • LO*OP Center

    • Our Vision Keeper, Liza Loop, has been working for her Northern California neighbors who suffered great losses in the October fires. (https://sonomacounty.recovers.org/) We particularly note the loss of the Hewlett-Packard archives which included early letters between the HP founders. HP archive loss
    • A variety of volunteers helped customize our implementation of Salesforce. The process changes should improve our efficiency by making it easier to track all LO*OP Center and HCLE stakeholders including living and deceased Ed. Tech. pioneers, museum visitors, contributors of money and funding as well as volunteers. Of particular interest is the ability within Salesforce to report on relationships among individuals and institutions.

 

  • Operations

    • HCLE operations were scaled back after Oct. 9, 2017 when the Northern California fires began. LO*OP Center resources and Executive Director’s attention shifted to management of local Sonoma County volunteers working on intermediate and long term recovery activities in the fire region. Long term recovery work will continue for at least 3 years and will be conducted in parallel with HCLE activities. The know-how related to volunteer deployment, database use and inter-agency collaboration garnered through years of work on HCLE has proved highly transportable and very valuable in community disaster relief efforts.
    • The Salesforce database advanced to the point that we’ve begun resolving the entries, establishing relationships between appropriate entries, adding pertinent contact data, and preparing for 2018 fundraising activities.

 

  • Administration

    • Due to emergency work on fire relief, Executive Director, Liza Loop was not able to prepare properly for LO*OP Center’s regularly scheduled annual meeting previously planned for Nov. 5, 2017. It is being rescheduled for late February. Meeting materials will include financial reports and budgets for LO*OP Center, Inc. with project reports for HCLE. These will be available to interested parties on request.

Preserving My TRS-80 Likes Me

Things really were simpler then, at least when the topic is computing and the era was before 1980. One document in our catalog (item #1030) is,

My TRS-80 Likes Me – When I teach kids how to use it!, by Bob Albrecht.

1030

The eight page document is “a resource guide for the elementary teacher.” Within those eight pages are example programs, fundamental computing concepts, and a playful attitude. Similar guides are possible now, but their instructions are likely to be layered on browsers, apps, and operating systems. Back then it was: boot the machine, type the code and RUN. But the guide also taught more fundamental concepts, as well as setting a tone and culture that encouraged kids to play and learn.

We’re preserving such documents so researchers and the curious can study and recall an era that redefined the way we learn.

The programs were all in BASIC. He prefaced the text with a disclosure:

“IMPORTANT NOTICE! I am not saying that the TRS-80 is the best computer for a// purposes. I am not saying the TRS-80 is the best overall educational computer. I am saying that I think the TRS-80 is the best computer that I have used (so far) to teach elementary school children, grades 4, 5 and 6, how to understand and enjoy BASIC.”

Programs start with four lines, grow to over a dozen, and end with one program that has three dozen lines. Elementary school students learned to print their name, but also how to write games and create graphics for the screen. 

At the time (1979), BASIC had been available for about 16 years. There were advocates for programming languages like FORTRAN, and for limiting classes to college students and graduates; but Bob knew younger people could learn to program, too.

As he wrote:

“THEY WANT TO CONTROL THE COMPUTER.
Why not? They control the future; so, let them control the computer, the tool of the future; give your kids this tool: let them shape it in ways unknown to us. Then stand back and enjoy!!”

One lesson that helps illustrate the fundamentals that had to be taught were “Tell them about the prompt(> ) and the cursor(-).” Cursors continue, but > prompts are hidden behind those layers described above.

Starting with such simple lessons is logical, but the more important lesson may be the attitude.

“Let the kids do all the hands-on stuff. Be patient- let them make mistakes, correct their own mistakes. and above all, encourage them to EXPERIMENT!”
“Now the fun begins.””

There may only be eight pages, but there’s enough in them to provide insights into history.

Bob Albrecht didn’t do all of the work. As he said in an interview we posted earlier, “people like Gerald Brown and Mary Jo did such a beautiful job of pasting it up, laying it out,…” The story behind the group effort leads to People’s Computer Company (our previous post), the Whole Earth Catalog, and about 32 more books on BASIC published as recently as 1996.

History is a network. Documents influence other documents. Contributors contribute in more than one place, and unintentionally inspire others. There’s enough to explore whether you’re interested in early educational technology, BASIC, the TRS-80, creative hand-produced publications, or a community that mixed programming with wine tasting and Greek dancing. (Read Interview with Bob Albrecht by Jon Cappetta for more.)

Preserving such documents for researchers and the curious is why we’re creating our virtual museum. Even one edition, like this one, can provide a cornerstone from which to build broader research projects and histories. Tell us where it leads you.

Peoples Computer Company In Our Catalog

Will personal computers raise or lower educational standards? Magazines from the mid-seventies asked that question before most people knew the term “personal computer” or had access to the internet. Reading those forty year old articles is a good way to explore whether we’ve made progress, or are simply asking the same questions. Even though the hardware used in schools now includes tablets and phones as well as desk top computers, and they’re all connected into a vast network, it’s not clear that students are performing better academically.

Teachers, students, business people and hobbyists all relied on a growing number of magazines to educate themselves about electronics, computer software and the myriad ways computers could be used. We’re protecting such publications, particularly ones that reflect the name of our parent nonprofit organization, LO*OP Center, Inc. One example (item #1018 in our catalog) is People’s Computer Magazine (volume 7 number 3) from November-December 1978.  It’s useful in researching questions about the impact of computing on learning and can lead to a wide variety of other research topics. The 1970s was a dynamic era that laid the groundwork for our still dynamically-changing present.

Screenshot 2017-11-17 at 10.40.55

People learned about computers and computing from other people, hence, the appropriately named magazine “People’s Computer Company” was started in 1972. By the time our example issue was printed, the name had become People’s Computers and was just about to become Recreational Computing. Two years later, it became part of Compute! Magazine, which continued to publish until 1994. Those 22 years represent the dramatic changes in technology, the way we use it, and the nature of the publishing industry.

Browsing through the articles reveals familiar products mixed with now-forgotten topics, products, and ventures.

Speak & Spell

Speak & Spell was introduced as an educational toy that revolutionized educational electronics by using solid state components. Solid state made it lighter, simpler, easier to use, and more likely to survive a young child’s environment. The device used a voice synthesizer that prompted the child to spell the word they heard. This was far simpler than earlier games that required media like cassette tapes. It continued to sell until 1992.

Radio Shack

Radio Shack began in 1921 to provide supplies to electronics hobbyists and audiophiles. LO*OP Center founder, Liza Loop, remembers visiting this first Radio Shack retail store with her father in the 1940s. In 1963, Tandy Corporation, a chain of leather craft stores bought Radio Shack with its 9 electronics stores and began a transition from leather to electronics. It commissioned the design of the TRS-80, one of the most popular early personal computers. Liza took a job as a computer sales person at the Radio Shack store in Santa Rosa, California so she could buy computers at the employee price and resell them at her cost to local schools. Schools at the time were not accustomed to paying retail and Radio Shack refused to offer an educational discount. Liza’s strategy made it possible to get many more computers into local classrooms. Radio Shack has finally faded, but in 1978 they were working to stay in the forefront opening fifty computer centers for sales, service, education, and general community support.

Marin Computer Center

On a more local level, the Marin Computer Center celebrated being open for a year in this issue of People’s Computers. Similar to our parent organization (LO*OP Center) David and Annie Fox established a non-profit to “bring the wonders of advanced technology to the people.” That sentiment was echoed in People’s Computer Company motto;

Computers are mostly
used against people instead of for people
used to control people instead of to free them
time to change all that –

we need a . . .
People’s

Computer
Company

 

Early EdTech

Before hashtags like #EdTech, academics were considering whether “personal computers raise or lower educational standards.” The magazine didn’t just mention the topic. It included an article written by Howard Peele called, The Case for APL in Education. APL was the acronym for A Programming Language, a language that was already 18 years old, and that continues to be used. The question continues, and Howard Peele continues to teach at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.

IBM Selectric

In 1978, typewriters were more common and less expensive than home printers, which is why hobbyists were interested in modifying their typewriters. APL, the language described in Howard Peele’s article was influenced by the available character set on the popular electric typewriter, the IBM Selectric.

Do It Yourself

We may say DIY now, but in 1978 it was assumed that most computer users would customize or create their own hardware and software.

The issue provides information for hardware.

  • Turning an IBM Selectric into a printer
  • Building a computer from a MICROSTAR circuit board ($1,270 in 1978 equivalent to $3380 in 2017)
  • An RCA board that adds color to a monitor
  • An RCA board that adds a music synthesizer

More space was devoted to free software. The original media for installing programs was a printed copy of the program that was typed in by hand. Very open source.

  • Starwars Hodge
  • Runequest
  • TRS-80 Frogs
  • PHANTNUM
  • HANGMAN
  • REVERSE
  • Distance and Error Checking coders

In the 64 pages is much more information revealing the capabilities and the culture of the time. The graphics and the layout demonstrate an era when work was done by hand. People’s Computers represents a transition from manual to technological, part of the transition when culture went from being based on paper to being based on electrons.

Screenshot 2017-11-18 at 10.35.58There are also some fun reasons to browse the magazine. Bob Albrecht, founder of People’s Computer Company,  had long used a dragon for a mascot, which led to some playful graphics. There was also a long-running cartoon series called FORTRAN MAN. In this episode, FM fights the “despotic Glitchmaster.”

In a demonstration of cooperation instead of competition, the back page is devoted to yet another publication that had a long history, Dr. Dobb’s Journal – Computer Calisthenics & Orthodontia, which only ceased publication in 2014.

Preserving such documents for researchers and the curious is why we’re creating our virtual museum. Even one edition, like this one, can provide a cornerstone from which to build broader research projects and histories. Tell us where it leads you.