Tag Archives: Paul Allen

Apple in April at the Living Computer Museum

What was it like to be at the Apple in April event at the Living Computer Museum on Wednesday, April 12th? I’m sure the experience was different for each of us but I can tell you how it was for me.

First came getting there at all. I didn’t know about the meeting until a few days before (Monday, April 10) when HCLE consultant, Tom Trimbath, sent me a copy of a message he had received from Living Computer Museum + Labs marketing coordinator, Lauren Bayer. Tom keeps up on social media while I am sort of a recluse so I really appreciated his heads up.

Lauren’s note was inviting Tom to visit Living Computer’s new exhibit. It read:

“Continuing the momentum, we’re excited to share that LCM+L will be hosting a new, permanent exhibit dedicated to the to the first two decades of Apple! This will include three original Apple I computers, Apple’s first-ever product, including the only operable Apple I in existence available for use by the public and a unique demonstration model that was housed in Steve Jobs’ office until he first left Apple in 1985.
The Apple Exhibit will open to the public on Friday, April 14. We appreciate your support in helping us spread the word within our community. In addition to a few images available for sharing on social channels or in a newsletter, we also crafted sample posts to leverage for your social media channels.
  • Our partner @LivingComputers will open a new exhibit dedicated to the first two decades of Apple Computers on April 14! #ComeInGeekOut
  • Get hands on with the only operable Apple 1 @LivingComputers Apple Exhibit, which opens to the public on April 14! #ComeInGeekOut
  • From a garage start-up to a global leader in computer technology, the @LivingComputers Museum + Labs is opening a new exhibit dedicated to the first two decades of Apple on April 14. Visitors can interact with the only operable Apple 1 available to the public, along with other computers that helped spark Apple’s growth.”

Hmmm…LO*OP Center owns the first-ever Apple 1 off the assembly line and I had visited Living Computers two years ago. Somebody there knew about our machine but staff had changed. I wondered if they were interested in our Apple I so I telephoned Lauren.  She was exceedingly cordial and promised to ask around the organization. I later heard that my call had caused quite a stir.  Within hours an email arrived from Executive Director, Lath Carlson, with an invitation to Wednesday’s invitation-only party. I was thrilled. I didn’t pay any attention to who was going to be there but I wanted in. Luckily I didn’t have any pressing appointments to keep me from hopping on a plane to Seattle and my dog sitter was available!

By Tuesday afternoon I was ready to go and I began worrying about what to wear – evening attire? Cocktails? Business casual? Jeans? Then I realized this was Homebrew. I’ve known some of these people since I was in my 20’s and I’m now over 70. It doesn’t matter what I wear.  I decided to relax and have fun.

Meeting Old Favorites. There were only a few minutes between checking into the hotel and catching our ride to the Museum. Standing in the lobby were magazine editors David Ahl of Recreational Computing and Tom Hogan of Infoworld, neither of whom I had met in the early days of reading what they wrote, but it’s not hard to identify aging geeks swapping stories. Four more new faces were in the limousine that picked us up. Museum staff welcomed us on the first floor. I glanced over the badges still waiting on the front desk. Oh, nice crowd! Haven’t seen him/her in quite a while.

It was hard to tear myself away from the exhibits that have been installed since my previous visit and head upstairs to the party proper. Mike Willegal of the Apple I Registry sought me out, introduced himself and asked for a photo of the jumpers on our Apple I. There was Jim Warren from the West Coast Computer Faire, People’s Computer Company and many of my other old haunts. I hadn’t seen Gordon French from Homebrew since the reunion at the Computer History Museum in 2013. I’ve been working with Lee Felsenstein (designer of the Osbourne 1) recently so we were already up to date on our goings on but  it has been perhaps 10 years since I’ve had a chance to chat with Len Shustak, co-founder and Chairman of the Board of the Computer History Museum in Mt. View, California.

I’m actually not a very technical person and I remember struggling to hook up Apples, Pets and Radio Shacks to the Nestar network that Len and Harry Saal put together in the early 1980s. In those days, school kids who wanted to swap computer games really had to learn a lot about operating systems and hardware at a level way beyond scripting with a drag-and-drop interface. Many of the conversations I listened in on at this party were recaps of the hardware and software repartee around personal computers that has now been going on for more than 50 years.

Hobnobbing with the Living Computer Museum Staff. While visiting with the computer aficianados of now and then was pleasant I found I had more to talk about with the young and enthusiastic educators and curators who comprise the staff of this unique museum. I slipped out of the party to chat with Nina Arens, education coordinator, about how to engage kids in coding activities and with Cynde Moya, collections manager and several others. I went back the next day for more and hope this is just one episode in a long, fruitful collaboration.

Reflecting on the Experience. I won’t bore you with more name dropping but there were lots of other old acquaintances to say hello to. I was honored to be in the company of these pioneers of the computer industry but I was also aware that my own trajectory has always been a tangent to theirs. My passion is how people learn and how we can facilitate that learning more effectively, not bits, bytes, electrons and gates. I’m fascinated by how people think, especially people who think differently from the way I do. I love watching them solve problems but I don’t have much to say to them. It was fun to observe the renewal of long-term friendships and to hear the exchange of stories, of appreciation and of genuine concern. At the same time I realized that I did not form firm connections with those who were so instrumental to my career. I felt welcomed but still an outsider. Maybe it’s that reclusive aspect of my personality or maybe I’m just so oppositional that I’m always heading upstream when everyone else is floating down with the current. That’s what I was thinking about when I looked up and saw that the group picture was being taken from the side of the crowd where I was standing. I had thought I was in the back and instead I ended up in the front, near Paul Allen, co-founder of MicroSoft and the man behind this wonderful museum — whom I had not even met.

Thank you, Paul, for hosting such an interesting party. Next time I’ll make a point of saying hello.

Apple Group with Labels V3
photo courtesy of Living Computers Museum + Labs










HCLE At Living Computer Museum October 2013

Emails, phone calls, hangouts, tweets and retweets are all ways we communicate but sometimes the best thing to do is walk in the front door and say hello. That’s what I did at the Living Computer Museum on Friday (October 11, 2013). Living Computer Museum The visit was definitely worth the price of admission. The insights were thanks to conversations with the staff. The flashbacks were a bonus.

The Living Computer Museum exists thanks to Paul Allen’s philanthropy, which was greatly aided by his success developing software for that hardware. But it isn’t just an homage to Paul’s history and legacy. As is true with one of Paul’s other museums, if the equipment is there, it must be fully functional. For the Flying Heritage Museum it means the airplanes must fly. For the Living Computer Museum it means the hardware must be able to run, and the only way to prove that is to have the appropriate software. Historical and historic compatibility must be maintained.

PCs can best be understood in relation to mainframes, so the Living Computer Museum has an impressive amount of floor space dedicated to DEC, Data General, and IBMs. Living Computer MuseumThey even have an operator’s console from an IBM 360, the room-sized mainframe that I never saw but used as an undergrad. I was particularly drawn to a PDP 11/70 that was being resurrected, the type of machine that I used for years as an engineer. It was considerably smaller, about the size of a few refrigerators instead of the size of a house. An emulator box doing the same job is about the size of a small phone book, with lots of room to spare. If you are a geezer geek, drop by. They need to maintain, repair, and in some cases replace fragile components that never were meant to be used for decades. (If you have any spare RP-06 or RP-07 read heads they’ll be happy to hear from you.) Living Computer Museum

Despite my flashback moments, I was there because the Living Computer Museum has to deal with many of the same issues as HCLE. How do we sort, store, and catalog documents and software that were treated as disposable in their time? One task in particular caught our eye. We’ve been compiling lists of games, not for the games’ sake, but because games were educational tools, whether that was their intent or not. A few days ago, LCM tweeted a photo of one of their staff members steadily sorting through hundreds of games. If LCM is putting together a list of games, and HCLE is doing the same, we may find that there’s a lot of overlap. We’re not the only ones. PlayingHistory.org has not only compiled a list of games, but they also have them operating online in proper emulation environments. Want to play Oregon Trail on an Apple IIe? They can probably do that. We’re in contact with universities who have similar collections. Undoubtedly some portion of the government should have some games as well.

I was lucky enough to get an hour of the Chief Archivist’s time as she walked me through their cataloging process, database architecture, and how they network with similar institutions. I don’t have any pictures from that conversation because we were in the back room. The exhibit hall is much more colorful, and I’d rather show you that side. It is apparent that keeping track of thousands of artifacts is much more than a spreadsheet can handle. (Care to search their archives? They are online.) Proper cataloging can take years. Storing software may involve disks from back when they truly were floppies. There are also the instruction manuals, and even the boxes – especially, if the boxes provided information that wasn’t in the manuals. Manuals are rarely comprehensive. Every piece may be necessary, and must be tracked.

Living Computer Museum

After I monopolized enough of her time, I joined the visitors touring the museum. I opted for my self-guided tour because so many of the machines were familiar to me. (They even had a Newton MessagePad. I guess they don’t need mine.) What impressed me most regarding HCLE’s mission was LCM’s display of personal computers, including the Altair and early PCs. One PC was so early that its display was vertical, like a sheet of paper. Why did we ever switch to horizontal from vertical? I forgot to ask. Most of the PCs were running either graphics or games, and obviously were intended to be used. I had more fun watching people play. Living Computer Museum And realizing that they were learning, sometimes through trial and error, sometimes by asking someone for help. That has been the nature of our association with computers.

HCLE has a focus, preserving those lessons learned about how to teach and learn in that dramatically changing environment. As computers entered the classroom, teaching and learning shifted from person-to-person to somehow including a digital presence. Museums like Living Computer Museum are doing incredible work preserving fragile hardware. Some go as far as LCM in preserving software. We intend to preserve the lessons too.

This is the time for protecting such material. Little, if any of it, was produced on archival media. The tricks and traps of getting software and hardware to operate were frequently in human memory. Recording those stories and tying them to the appropriate devices and applications is a time-critical task. Those memories are passing with the people who hold them.

I am glad to have met the people at Living Computer Museum, and to have witnessed their impressive work – and to emphasize why HCLE exists and why we have a lot of work to do.