Tag Archives: People’s Computer Company

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









Exploring Designs for Teaching – Liza Loop on Distance, Synchronicity, Control

On June 7th, 2016 we held an Oral History Workshop – How Education Made Computers Personal at Leuphana University (Luneberg, Germany) and online. The workshop was a collaboration between HCLE’s parent organization, LO*OP Center, and Leuphana University to capture more of that history and make it available to modern researchers.

Liza Loop’s presentation, Distance, Synchronicity, Control: Exploring Designs for Teaching About and Through Computers, was inspired by the work of Stuart Cooney, Seymour Papert, and LOGO. Asynchronous teaching is very old. Paintings on cave walls, words in books, and files in computers are all stored instructions that control and pass information to later learners. EdTech has been with us for a long time.

The details of the presentations are too much to relay here; which is why we made a few videos of the presentations available and want to focus on one here.

The nature of the collaboration is a good example of creating a bridge between generations. Liza Loop is the founder of LO*OP Center, the co-creator of the event; and brought the first Apple 1 into schools, opened a public access meeting place for computing, and helped write user’s manuals for the Atari 400 and 800 computers. She lived the history, and knows others who also lived it. The other co-creator was Jerry Herberg, a doctoral candidate at Leuphana working on how computers influenced learning. He is studying the history, and finding others who are also eager to study the history; especially, because they realize the opportunity to meet the pioneers is becoming increasingly difficult. This oral history workshop was yet another step in passing along history. There are many more stories to tell and record and study.

The history of how computing changed education and learning, and how learning and education changed computing is more than the story of hardware introductions and institutional initiatives. As one of the speakers, Lee Felsenstein, observed;

“the 60s – 70s resonated with the counterculture of a search for personal control,
even through technology.”

And, as the motto of the People’s Computer Company stated;

“Computers are mostly used against people instead of for people,
used to control people instead of to free them.
Time to change all that…”

Much of the early EdTech work was dedicated to applying computers and computing to education and learning; and was done by people whose work challenged conventional institutions: innovators, educators, visionaries, and revolutionaries. Some of the work was recorded. But, much of their work wasn’t recorded because it was easier to ask for forgiveness than permission, undocumented was safer than documented. Now is a good time to refresh our memories to make sure the information is preserved, made available to researchers, and archived.

There is an urgency to record as many of these oral histories as possible. The memories are perishable. The artifacts and documentation are easy for subsequent generations to dismiss without the right perspective. We are endeavoring to record those histories through the workshop, but also through a crowd campaign so many more voices can be heard. Howard, Liza, and Lee are as well known as many other EdTech pioneers; but there are equally useful stories to be heard from elementary school teachers, hobbyists, and self-taught students. If you have a story, pass it along. If you want to read those stories, visit the HCLE wiki (our digital loading dock while we built our virtual museum.) There are more stories to tell and hear. Thanks for participating.

LOOP Center and Educational Technology

Our museum’s story stretches back to 1975 and the founding of LO*OP Center, (Learning Options * Open Portal), a 501(c)(3) California nonprofit corporation chartered:

To improve the quality of people’s lives by integrating cultural diversity and appropriate technology into local communities through educational projects and events.

Thanks to GeekFest Berlin’s 2016 event, we’ve created a series of videos from Liza Loop’s presentation that touch on various aspects of the topic and our organization’s history within it. One of those videos describes LO*OP Center’s history. Familiar names like Bob Albrecht, Dean Brown, and Lee Felsenstein; familiar concepts like timesharing and the mouse; and historic initiatives like PLATO, People’s Computer Company, and the Computer Memory Project all played their roles. One theme that Liza Loop reiterates is that people should be in charge of computers and not the other way around, and as she puts it; “know when to turn the damn thing off.”

The ways that computing changed learning and education have fundamentally shifted our society and civilization. We have found no other institution with a specific focus on formal and nonformal education that is working to preserve that history. If you are aware of any, please pass along the appropriate contact information.

2016 was the year we at HCLE saw an increased interest in the history of computing in learning and education (hence our acronym, HCLE). We are building a virtual museum to collect and catalog born-digital artifacts and digitized versions of physical artifacts to researchers, scholars, educators, and the general public. Incredible amounts of money are being spent on how to improve education and learning, and how best to integrate technology into the process. Very little is being spent studying the decades of similar attempts, which may be why society continues to ask the same questions and make the same mistakes.

The complete presentation is available at: GeekFest’s Youtube channel.

Our Inaugural EdTech Oral History Workshop

A first workshop

On June 7th we held our inaugural Oral History Workshop – How Education Made Computers Personal at Leuphana University (Luneberg, Germany) and online. The workshop was a collaboration between HCLE’s parent organization, LO*OP Center, and Leuphana University to capture more of that history and make it available to modern researchers.

LLOHW image from Twitter

The history of how computing changed education and learning, and how learning and education changed computing is more than the story of hardware introductions and institutional initiatives. As one of the speakers, Lee Felsenstein, observed;

“the 60s – 70s resonated with the counterculture of a search for personal control, even through technology.”

And, as the motto of the People’s Computer Company stated;

“Computers are mostly used against people instead of for people, used to control people instead of to free them. Time to change all that…”


Our first workshop expanded on that theme with the influence of Montessori logic, applied conviviality, designs for teaching about and through computers, and pedagogy.

The four main presentations were:

  • Jeremias Herberg: IT Became Personal – Montessori Logics in 1970s Computer Hobby Groups
  • Lee Felsenstein: The Tom Swift Terminal and Applied Conviviality
  • Liza Loop: Distance, Synchronicity, Control: Exploring Designs for Teaching About and Through Computers
  • Howard Rheingold: Counterculture + Social Media = Edupunk Pedagogy


The workshop was well attended, considering that it was as much a test as it was a research opportunity. A few dozen people attended at Leuphana and online. Scheduling had to accommodate a 9 hour difference in time zones. It was impressive to see how many people were willing to stay up late or get up early to participate. As a reflection on the history of computing, such an event would have been prohibitively expensive and unpredictable decades ago. Now, the system we used was new, familiar to many even with a mix of languages, and was effectively a test for Leuphana. It worked more than well enough for us.

For about 5 hours, the attendees listened and participated in a discussion of the objective and subjective aspects of early EdTech. Dates and data are more readily researched; but oral history captures the subjective aspects like the motivations and circumstances that led to decisions, actions, and also abandoned ideas. Anecdotes may conflict, but they also reveal the various perspectives that existed and influenced those times and these times. Even though Jeremias didn’t work in the ’60s and ’70s, he was able to put the workshop in perspective thanks to his research. Lee, Liza, and Howard were active in that era; their presentations provided insights and inspired questions as well as possible further investigations by researchers.

Education made computers personal

Much of the early EdTech work which was dedicated to applying computers and computing to education and learning was done by people whose work challenged conventional institutions: innovators, educators, visionaries, and revolutionaries. Some of this work was recorded. Much of it was never written down in the rush to turn new ideas into programs, lessons and new ways of teaching or learning. The workshop helped to refresh our memories, to ensure  that the information is preserved, to archive it and to make it available to researchers.

The nature of the collaboration between Liza and Jeremias is a good example of creating a bridge between generations. Liza Loop is the founder of LO*OP Center and the co-creator of the event. In the early days of personal computing, she brought the first Apple 1 into schools, opened a public access meeting place for computing, and helped write the user’s manuals for the Atari 400 and 800 computers. She lived the history, and knows others who also lived it. Jeremias Herberg is a post-doctoral fellow with the Complexity or Control Project at Leuphana University and works on how computers influenced learning. A sociologist, he is studying the history of science and technology, and finding others who are active in this field. These young scholars realize that the pioneers from a pivotal era are reaching the end of their lives and opportunities to meet them and capture their stories are becoming increasingly rare. This inaugural oral history workshop was yet another step in passing along history. There are many more stories to tell, record and study.

Lee was involved in the creation of several countercultural movements and in computers, including the Free Speech Movement where he created the famous “Community Memory”. In 1975, Lee co-founded the Homebrew Computer Club, where many early Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, including Apple inventor, Steve Wozniak, used to gather to swap stories and expertise. As an engineer, Lee created the Sol-20, and early desk-top computer and the Osborne 1, one of the first portable computers. Choosing from a breadth of influences, he chose to talk about the Tom Swift Terminal, a pre-PC device that would have enabled personal access to remote computers and could also be expanded into a quite capable stand-alone machine. As for how “Education Made Computers Personal”, he noted that the 60s – 70s resonated with the counterculture of a search for personal control, even through technology.

Howard was one of the first writers to point out the educational values of digital networks. He was involved in the WELL, a “computer conferencing” system and, drawing from that experience, he coined the term “virtual community”. As he pointed out, many of the issues encountered in those early days still remain after decades of development, partly because;

“Technologies, including EdTech, are changing faster than society.”

Computers and computing have changed society and the way we teach and learn; but, fundamentally, many organizations and institutions continue to struggle to adapt.

Because the details of the presentations are too much to relay here we are working at making the presentations and the video available. (You can follow some of the proceedings via #LLOHW on Twitter.) When they are available we’ll post them this blog and publish announcements on our LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter pages.

One workshop is not enough. There is an urgency to record as many of these oral histories as possible. The memories are perishable. The artifacts and documentation are at risk of being dismissed or overlooked by subsequent generations unless they are combined with contemporary, interpretive commentary. We are endeavoring to record those histories through the workshop and also through a crowd campaign so many more voices can be heard. Howard, Liza, and Lee are already well known through their writing as are many other EdTech pioneers. However, equally useful stories from elementary school teachers, hobbyists, and self-taught students, have yet to be captured. If you have a story, pass it along. If you want to read those stories, visit the HCLE wiki (our digital loading dock while we build our virtual museum). Keep next year’s workshop in mind and let us know if you would like to be kept abreast of our plans. There are more stories to tell and hear.

Thanks to everyone who made it happen.


Saving Stories From California’s EdTech Pioneers

California Humanities is conducting a storytelling grants program that will,

“illustrate the diversity and breadth of the California experience”. – California Humanities

Much of EdTech’s history began in California because many of the technologies were developed there, and many innovators pioneered technology’s introduction into classrooms. We want to share the kind of work we are pursuing within this grant, via collaborators with similar interests, or even as inspiration to others. In this case, we are focusing on the work that happened in California, but Pioneers worked around the world.  The Pioneers are a resource of lessons learned decades ago that are applicable today. The sooner we start the work, the more we’ll be able to document and preserve. Wish us luck!


The Introduction to our proposal

A California cultural revolution made computing necessary in the 21st century. These stories, forgotten amid the rush bringing new devices into classrooms, informs us about a history we may have missed, urging us to reconsider how technology impacts our lives and learning. A web-based exhibit of five 10-minute videos, accompanied by images, documents and interpretive narrative, and several live presentations will be embedded within the larger HCLE project documenting the impact of computing on learning in the 20th century. This grant underwrites and publicizes three new educational technology pioneer interviews and integrates two previously collected interviews. Storytellers are: Ann Lathrop, of San Mateo County Office of Education’s SoftSwap; Sandy Wagner, math teacher and co-founder of Computer Using Educators (CUE), Bob Albrecht, programming teacher in the 1960s and founder Peoples Computer Company, Ted Kahn, computing teacher at Lawrence Hall of Science, and the late Bobby Goodson, Cupertino teacher and CUE co-founder. Education is a concern of every member of any community; everyone needs to understand how change in education takes place and impacts their future. This project fills two historical gaps: how teachers became involved in computing; how schools struggled with a profound shift in communications media.

Interview with Bob Albrecht by Jon Cappetta

Jon Cappetta: What do you think sparked your interest in computers?

Bob Albrecht: My interest in computers? Well, let’s see; it began in 1955. After going to college for quite a few years, I finally quit halfway through a masters degree and went to work at Minneapolis Honeywell Aeronautical Division in Minneapolis. This was one of those places where almost as far as you can see in this huge room were rows and columns of desks and engineers; sitting at them doing things. At first, I worked on analog computers there- REAC analog computers. It was a room about let’s see two-thirds the size of this room (20 yards by 20 yards) full of these components and analog computers. You would use wires to hook components together and than you can simulate differential equations. We were working on flight control systems for high-speed jet aircraft. There were other ways at that time to analyze control systems, several mechanisms’ feedback control systems. Then upstairs they got an IBM650 computer, the upstairs where I hung out and worked at my desk. One day my boss called me in, I have only been there for three or four months, and he said that he would like me to go upstairs and learn how to use that computer. Once I learned how to use it he then wanted me to spread the word down where we were. So that was my introduction to computers, an IBM650 drum computer. The memory was a drum that would spin. We used punch cards for input and such. So that was my introduction to computing.

Jon: How did this introduction affect you?

Bob: I liked that so much better than the stuff I was doing before, and after about a year I started looking around for a job in the computer industry. And, at the time, I especially wanted to go live in Denver because I loved skiing. I got married during this time and also had a child.

I went to a conference, a computer conference at UCLA and then on the way back there was another computer conference in Denver. So I stopped in Denver and I met these guys from a company – from Burroughs Corporation. Burroughs had just acquired a computer company called Electrodata which was based in Pasadena CA. The Oakland office was recruiting, I interviewed and I ended up being Burroughs’ first person in Denver. They had a couple computer installations there. My title was called sales technical rep where I did sales support and also programming. So I stayed in Denver for a while, left Burroughs, did a little consulting, went to work in the aerospace industry at Martin Denver in a math think tank that had various kinds of computer stuff along the way — many different computers in fact. At that time the small computers were all drum memory. This is so much more powerful (picks up iPhone) than those computers were back in those days. The Burroughs205, used when I first went to work for Burroughs, is iconic. In old episodes of Batman you will see the console because they had lots of blinking lights and so it was the Bat-puter in those early Batman episodes. After that I joined Control Data in Denver — back when Control Data was pretty small. I then transferred to Minneapolis and worked at Control Data in Minneapolis for a while. Around the early 1960s or so I quit, dropped out and began doing a little consulting — and by that time I was traveling all over the country to teachers’ conferences giving papers and running workshops. When BASIC came along in 1964, by that time I was already running a course for high school students. So I started teaching high school students Fortran Programming in 1962.

Jon: Can you further elaborate on your experience of teaching and computing in the early 1960s?

Bob: So, in 1962 I began to teach high school students. Some of whom are well known now such as Randy Levine and Bob Kahn, both of whom were in the first group of students that I taught Fortran to in the Control Data office. I talked the University of Colorado Denver Center into going for a National Science Foundation grant. Control Data than provided a 160A, which would run Fortran paper tape, punch a paper tape on flexi readers and feed it in. So we ran that. My students were the teachers; so, they taught students and teachers in the evening classes under this NSF grant. I wrote about these kids in Datamation magazine in about 1964 and the article I wrote was called a Modern Day Medicine Show. We picked up the 160A moved it into George Washington High school and for an entire day my students ran demonstrations for different classes that were brought in. Similar to an old fashion medicine show of some guy standing up there trying to sell phony medicine, it struck with me, that this was like this with my students as the barkers. (Students including Levine and Kahn, and Fred Riss whom, I believe, eventually became a vice-president of Research at IBM.)

Jon: Let’s talk about your campaigning for BASIC.

Bob: Well, this was in the day of time-sharing systems, so the only access to BASIC at that time was by a time sharing system. BASIC was created by Kemeny & Kurtz at Dartmouth, as an open lab tool for any student on campus at Dartmouth. Kemeny is a famous mathematician and I believe he was the President of Dartmouth at the time, so they created this language called BASIC. They wanted to enable students in fields other than science and mathematics to use computers. At the time, nearly all use of computers required writing custom software, which was something only scientists and mathematicians tended to learn. I said that’s it! No more Fortran, so I started traveling all over the country crusading for BASIC.

In Minneapolis I worked for a while towards a PhD in behavioral psychology; and I just wasn’t PHD type, I think. But during that time I taught the teachers at the University of Minnesota High school, which was on campus at UoM. At this time, BASIC had come along and I was sort of touring the country with the National Counsel of Teachers of Mathematics Group called the Computer Oriented Mathematics Committee. The Committee had six members. So we would meet every so often at educational conferences and we wrote a couple of booklets published by NCTM. We decided to write an introductory booklet, a little thin booklet about computer languages suitable for the teaching of mathematics.

Some people in the NCTM lobbied the booklet to incorporate Fortran, and I lobbied, ranted, and raved for BASIC. By that time I had made big buttons that said SHAFT (Society to Help Abolish Fortran Teaching), also I made SHAFT business cards, so I was crusading all over the country for BASIC. We voted and it was 5 and 1 in favor of BASIC. We wrote a little booklet, we wrote most of that booklet in a conference in Miami — wrote a booklet called Introduction to an Algorithmic Language — BASIC, so that was my first BASIC effort.

One day, a member of Addison Wesley Publishing Company tapped me at one of the conferences and gave me a contract to write a book for teachers and high school students on BASIC. So I worked for a while on that book. Although I grew up in Iowa, went to Iowa State for a couple years than UoM — as you may know, Minnesota is kind of cold. My publisher was in Palo Alto [California]. And then one December, 23 days of below zero weather, I said to myself: “Why am I writing this book here in Minneapolis for a publisher in Palo Alto? Why don’t I move to California?” So I did. I moved to California, to San Francisco, and continued to write the book. Took me about three years to write a book I could write in six months now. That was my first big book, it was called Computer Methods in Mathematics. It was mostly about BASIC but they required me to throw a little Fortran in at the end of the book.

Jon: What discoveries and adventures came next?

Bob: Well I piled everything I owned at the time — I was single now — in my Volkswagen bus and drove to San Francisco. Lived in San Francisco for a while, wrote the book (Computer Methods in Mathematics) with lots of programs and some pretty complex programs and I mostly did not have access to BASIC — to a time sharing terminal. So I sat down and hand executed them, and fortunately almost every program worked later on when they were checked. I lived on Lombard, the most crooked street in the world, in the house on the east side at the top of a street. It was several stories and I was in a two story flat with a friend of mine. Every Thursday evening I would run computer programming, wine tasting, and Greek dancing parties. A guy named Dick Raymond came to one of these. Dick told us how he had an idle, non-profit corporation that isn’t doing anything right now, and this looks like something that might be fun to do. So I moved to Menlo Park.

Portola is a very important part of this story. Dick and I started cranking up Portola Institute. Now I was still going around to a lot of educational conferences, especially California math counsel teacher conferences, at the time. I was being quite successful in talking some of the early makers of programmable calculators into loaning me equipment. So I would load up my Volkswagen bus with equipment I borrowed from various places — now I was also able to borrow equipment from DEC [Digital Equipment Corportation] as well as Hewlett-Packard. I would borrow mini-computers and I could carry one, but it was fairly large. I would load up my VW bus with equipment and go to University of California campuses and teach a weekend course on BASIC, and Bob Kahn went with me a couple of times.

Leroy Finkel was one of the most influential people in the early days of computers in education. At Portola our little group was called DYMAX, which came from dymaxian world of Buckminster Fuller. This was in the heyday of the counter culture movement. All kinds of interesting things were going on in Menlo Park, including the Mid-peninsula Free University 2848. There were a thousand or eleven hundred people either giving or taking free classes through the MFU. This is when Doug Englebart was doing his magic at SRI, so we quickly accumulated a few, somewhere between bright and brilliant, high school students that started coming in to use all of this equipment that I got on loan. They were amongst the early hackers — hackers in a good sense. We then caught a contract from Hewlett-Packard which had come out with its first programmable calculator. I think it was called the 9600 and it was about the size of a typewriter and programmed in Reverse Polish notation and it was the forerunner of, eventually, the handheld HP calculators. At the same time there were several other programmable calculators that were coming available. One interesting programmable calculators was the Wang, which had a box about, oh, so big (6 in. by 12 in.), four hardwired calculator terminals, so it was programmable. Of course they had all the scientific operations that you might see on today’s calculators. So this money provided enough income for Portola to began to expand a little bit.

Jon: What were some things that came out of Portola?

Bob: One of the things that happened was — is — Stewart Brand came to Portola and set up his group which eventually produced the Whole Earth Catalog. So Portola is best known for Stewart’s work. My little group eventually split off. We went and found a cheap warehouse in Redwood City and set up there. We had a couple of PDP-8 computers on loan. The PDP-8 ran four terminals with BASIC using high-speed paper tape input, 10 characters a second and high-speed printer output — Teletype model 33. So various people came drifting in to use this equipment: Mark LaBrun, Tovar, Jane Woods, and others. That’s when I wrote My Computer Likes Me. I wrote it. But people like Gerald Brown and Mary Jo did such a beautiful job of pasting it up, laying it out, that they contributed tonnes to this, tonnes — that is t-o-n-n-e metric, I’m sort of a metric evangelist. Then, one day, wandered in to our place in Redwood City, DYMAX, was Judie Wilson from John Wiley & Son’s. She asked us if we would like to write a self-teaching guide. Now Wiley was just beginning to start these self-teaching guides that were initially linear Skinner programs. Linear Skinner programing is a system of self teaching developed by B.F. Skinner, the behavioral psychologist. Other people began behavioral psychology but B.F. Skinner was the great popularize. A linear Skinner program is a book consisting of frames. A frame might be informative and then immediately followed by a question or an exercise or something for you to do to write in the book, which is then immediately followed by the answer. So you go down, frame by frame by frame, with constant reinforcement. Then, at the end of the chapter, there is a self-test with answers. So we started writing self-teaching guides for Wiley and that continued for a long time, for years. So Leroy Finkel and several other people eventually fit in to DYMAX as co-authors of books of this type.

Around 1970, we moved to Menlo Park on Doyle St. Me and Dennis Allison started doing things initially as DYMAX, there on Doyle St., and I got a great urge, inspired by the Whole Earth Catalog, to do a periodical. In 1972 Leroy said we could do it if we can do it cheap. So that is why we did the tabloid newspaper — the cheapest way to publish a lot of stuff. So I decided to call it “People’s Computer Company” in the same spirit as “Big Brother and the Holding Company”. See Big Brother and the Holding Company was not actually a holding company. People’s Computer Company was not a company at the time.

Jon: Tell me more about People’s Computer Company. What were the main objectives?

Bob: We didn’t really think about objectives, we just did things as they occurred to us.

October 1972, first issue of PCC: by that time we were doing all kinds of fun things — like Wednesday night potlucks where we would make our computers available to anyone who came, and I tried to teach Greek dancing and stuff like that. So that was the first issue of PCC which became a six times a year periodical. It’s frequently referred to as a quarterly in some of the current online stuff, but it was six times a year. First issue October 1972 was, what, about 16 pages, tabloid. Mark Labrun drew the cover and I put the stuff at the top about computers being used against people. So that was the beginning of PCC, the newspaper, the periodical. Then Dennis and I, Leroy, and some others decided to start a non-profit corporation called People’s Computer Company. Now we had PCC the periodical, and PCC the non-profit educational corporation. So this was in the early 1970s and during this time and a few years there after, Leroy and I, Bob Kahn and others continued to load up all of the computers and go to educational conferences where they would give us a space. The California math counsel conference was held at a Asilomar every year and Asilomar has all of these wonderful little buildings. They put us in a little octagonal building and we just ran open workshops all day. If the conference doors were open we were open. We would — when we would be doing a presentation [this] allowed us to talk about this or that. And, of course, what we were showing was BASIC and programmable calculators like the Hewlett-Packard and the Wang [calculators] or whatever else we could borrow and take to this thing. We started writing lots of material so that people could teach themselves how to use all of this equipment and of course most of our work was done on the context of the teaching of mathematics.

Jon: What came next?

Bob: Now it was about 1972 or 1973 and I stayed on as editor of PCC, the periodical for the first five years. I then created Dragonsmoke — it was my page or sometimes two pages in PCC. Basically this page was whatever I felt like putting in, so that’s why I called it Dragonsmoke. This was an 8 1/2 by 11 thin periodical consisting of a mish mash of computer and computing related information.

During that time I began the move to create the Community Computer Center. We rented the space next door. My group eventually moved downtown in Menlo Park. PCC, the periodical, was produced by PCC, the non-profit corporation, and Community Computer Center set up its very own non-profit corporation that remained on Doyle St. Of course during all of this time we were writing books. From 1969 when Computer Methods of Mathematics was first published until 1996, I was author or co-author of about 33 books. Most of the books about some form of BASIC, up to and including visual BASIC, but also other things like Ramon Zamora and I wrote a shareware book. The shareware book was 768 pages, a big thick book on shareware word processor and spreadsheet and, I think, a drawing program. Ramon and I wrote a book, a little tiny book, on Excel. So we kept on writing books and brought in other authors. I think something like 10 or 11 people wrote their first book as my co-author and then they would branch out and write their own books. Jerry Brown wrote a beautiful book. Jerry started as a co-author on our first Wiley book called BASIC a Self Teaching Guide. Then he wrote a beautiful book later on his own called Instant BASIC. Jerry was a graphic artist and video artist; he had a huge collection of talents and skills. I have no idea of how many of his copies sold but I hope a lot of Instant Basic. He would do the whole thing — he wrote it, did all the graphics, laid it out, pasted it up and everything, and sent it off to a publisher, and it got published

Jon: What was it that made you see the potential in the concept of education through computing?

Bob: What got me into that was when I taught Fortran to those high school kids. I said, “Wow this is so much more fun than anything I have ever done.” So because of that – and word started getting out – I was then invited to lots of teachers conferences, mostly math teachers. There were also a few beginning conferences about data processing and computing which eventually led to the huge conferences that exist today, but these were smaller conferences. So I was still with Control Data at the time and Control Data acquired Bendix Computer Division. Bendix had a computer called the G-15. The G-15 is about the size of a Coke machine with a typewriter input and output paper tape — input and output. Later on they had some [magnetic] tape drives for the G-15. Well, Control Data wanted to sell these G-15s to schools, very cheap at the time, although it was kind of a trap because you needed access in the same town to an engineer in case it broke down. So I got involved with G-15s. I would travel around to an educational conference, computer conference. I would go in two days early and Control Data would ship a G-15 in and I would teach 10 or 12 kids and help these kids teach themselves on the G-15, the language called Telecom. So I traveled around the country with a G-15 and then these kids would put on a show. They got out of school for this. They loved it and every kid would produce an interesting program, typically related to mathematics. They would then demonstrate that program to everybody who wanted to see it at the Conference. Later on, at the Association for Computing Machinery meeting in Denver, my high school students: Bob Kahn and Randy Levine, those guys were set up by Control Data on the exhibit floor and they spent the entire conference demonstrating what they had learned about Fortran. ACM at that time did not like this. They castigated me. They dissed me for having the audacity to teach computer programming to high school students. At the time they thought they should teach computer programming only. Also, they felt it should be taught only at the college level. A couple of guys would get on my case because I was using BASIC instead of something like APL (a computer language that uses Reverse Polish notation).

Jon: How did Fortran Man come about?

Bob: Fortran Man was done by two guys. They were classic nerds or geeks if you will. They were so clever it was terrific. One lived in Chicago and one lived Milwaukee. On one of my trips I made it a point to visit them and talk to them. They were just classic nerds and I wonder where they are today or if they are even still alive. As Fortran Man grew it became graphically better. I think Ann, Mia, or somebody on the PCC staff started re-doing their work and it really looked beautiful. Not only Fortran Man but Billy Basic too. Billy Basic came in later and it was sort of like the dynamic duo so it was Fortran Man and Billy Basic. The best thing to do about Fortran Man is just for you to sit down and read all of the episodes of Fortran Man. It is beyond me to describe, it was so much fun.

Jon: What was your favorite experience in People’s Computer Company?

Bob: We became a focus for a lot of activity during these early days of computers in education. Then, of course, I loved traveling all over California and teaching weekend courses. We typically get around 30 teachers to attend the courses. These courses were called “Computers in the Classroom 1 and 2”. Two different courses two credits from the University of California extension. Teachers could use these credits to lobby for pay raises, and the other courses were called “Games Computers Play 1 and 2”. Whenever we went to teach somewhere we ran all four concurrently, so if you have taken Computers in the Classroom 1, you can sign up for 2. If you have taken Games Computers Play 1, then you can sign up for Games Computers Play 2. There was virtually no structure, the instructors, usually two of us, would wander around and help people play games or if they wanted to learn to program we would give them teach yourself set up materials so they can start teaching themselves how to program. Sometimes we would wander around and say: “For all of you people who crave structure we will be in the lunchroom at 1:00 for an hour to have a seminar if you want to come.” And a few people would come and some wouldn’t. Some would just continue working away. We also asked these teachers to grade themselves because I was not a classroom teacher in a normal sense. A lot of teachers intensely resisted grading themselves and practically begged us to give them a grade. So I have no idea of how many of these we did, but it was a lot of them. We taught a few at Lawrence Hall of Science (UC Berkeley), UC San Diego, UC Riverside, UC Santa Barbra, UC Davis, and we even ran one course at the airport in San Mateo. We traveled to almost all of the campuses of the University of California extension and ran these courses.

Well, all of this happened because I began teaching kids how to program, and I liked doing that so much that it sort of just took over my life. Almost everything that was going on was related in some way to helping kids teach themselves. I don’t like to say that we are teaching, I like to set up environments in which people can teach themselves with a little help. That is why I write ‘teach yourself’ instruction materials. I wrote teach yourself books so that people who did not have access to a computer teacher could use these books as an alternative; so all they need is access to a computer that ran BASIC and they could teach themselves how to program. It was really fun. I loved Wednesday evenings because all of these interesting people would come in and they would play computer games; especially when the computer center was set up next door. So, we had these two places; we had so many things going on at the same time.

HCLE Second Quarter 2014 Progress Report

HCLE Second Quarter 2014 Progress Report

Welcome to the second HCLE quarterly report (second quarter of 2014). We share many of these news items via our outlets (wiki, blog, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn) and collect them here for your and our convenience.

So much has been going on that we’ve barely had time to reflect upon our progress. The following is a long list of items that we’ve worked on in the last three months. Consider them headlines, and if you want more details behind them, send us a note if there isn’t a link. (You’re also invited to browse our wiki, the virtual museum’s electronic loading dock, where many of these topics have working pages.)

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


  • Digital Repository
  • Stanford
    • Henry Lowood enabling digitization of HCLE collection
    • Fred Turner using HCLE archive as class material
  • Internet Archive
    • referred us to Mark Pilgrim who will copy all Apple II disks
  • database
    • preliminary screens running on HostGator.
  • Writing Competition / Story Project
    • two winners: Delia Caban & Jane Wilson
  • example exhibits being reviewed to aid design
  • Proof of Concept
  • Back Office Thinking proposal incorporated into program plan


  • government and institutions
    • Proposal applications submitted
      • NEH – Preservation and Access
        • recommendations on how best to archive HCLE’s collection
      • ESA – Oregon Trail
        • build exhibit and research platform for study of games and education
      • NEH – Digital Projects for the Public
        • production and publication of Design Document for HCLE’s Virtual Museum
    • Proposal applications in process
      • NEH – Humanities Collection and Reference Resource
        • digitization and cataloging of documents and software in HCLE collection (cancelled after conferring with NEH)
      • Cal-Hum – California Humanities
        • Oral History project of California EdTech Pioneers
    • Complete list of proposals available on the wiki
  • Individuals
    • Vision Club – Lisa Webster, Joi Ito
    • Vision Club newsletter
  • Corporate & Foundations
    • Google NYC
    • GE Foundation
    • Vulcan
    • Hewlett Foundation
    • Mellon Foundation
  • Associations – ACM, IEEE,  ISTE
  • Reviewing Foundation Center
  • Reviewing GetEdFunding.com
  • HCLE to donor introductory letter prepared for:
    • Liza to individual – done (HNW letter)
    • Liza to organization – done but up for revision
    • HCLE to individual (Fundraising Letter HCLE-to-one Vision Club invite)
    • HCLE to organization (Fundraising Letter HCLE-to-many)
  • Funding database updated and planned to be ported to CiviCRM on HostGator
  • other contacts made:
    • Brabson Library & Educational Foundation
    • Tech Museum of Innovation
    • EMC Heritage Trust Project
  • in search of: volunteer to implement CiviCRM on HostGator


  • Social Media traffic report
1/1/2014 3/29/2014 6/29/2014
Facebook 59 71 80
Twitter 67 98 194
WordPress 18 29 31
Wikispaces 12 25 28


  • Stanford
    • Henry Lowood enabling digitization of HCLE collection
      • People’s Computer Company
    • Fred Turner using HCLE archive as class material
  • Internet Archive
    • referred us to Mark Pilgrim who will copy all Apple II disks
  • Living Computer Museum
    • Justin Speilmann
      • Discussion of designing and operating our Traveling Exhibit
    • Cynde Moya
      • Archiving practices and consultation referrals
  • HCLE is now a partner in the National Digital Stewardship Alliance
  • The Made (themade.org) Peter Suk & Alex Handy
    • How early games designers learned their craft
  • Southampton, Earl Graeme – possible UK trip and talk
  • RICHES Mosaic Interface – innovative online museum
  • New York School – LL intro
  • NIU – Blackwell Museum of Education – email intro sent
  • NMOE – National Museum of Education – email intro sent
  • American Folklife Center, Library of Congress – Nicole Saylor (Nicky), Head of the Archive, – technical connection
  • David Larsen – @Apple1Computer
  • U of MD – Porter Olsen
  • Cathleen Wiggins, Dir. Museum Ed & Leadership in Tech and the arts, Bankstreet Sch of Ed – lft msg
  • Pratt School of Library and Information Sciences, Craig MacDonald, Prof Interested in collaborating and will connect us to other Pratt profs., specifically Anthony Cocciolo who is teaching “Projects in Digital Archiving”
  • Alex Lin, http://faculty.ndhu.edu.tw/~aleck.lin/#pr
  • Karen Kroslowitz, Dir of Collections, Computer History Museum
  • EMS museum – Kristy vanHoven

People – staff, volunteers, participants, unaffiliated, possible contractors/consultants

  • board development
  • Vision Club – Walter Isaacson NEH talk & NPR interview
  • Delia Caban – volunteer, retired for now
  • MsBosh – volunteer
  • Diana Morningstar – professional databaser
  • new volunteers
    • Shalinie De
    • Jonathan Straus
  • PCGuy (Stan) – catalog team
  • Jessica Sullivan – possible consultant
  • Ekatarina in  Ontario with McMaster Online Museums
  • Roy Pea, Stanford Sch. of Ed.
  • Peter Sessions – HCLE Pioneer
  • Marvin Wisenread


  • Program Plan – updated to support operations, internal budgeting, and proposals
  • Reconciling previous budgets with current proposals
  • Dunn & Bradstreet registration and update
  • SAM registration and update
  • In search of: a volunteer accountant willing to work on non-profits that are in the midst of grants
  • In search of: an HCLE logo


Why Computers In The Classroom

Why computers in the classroom? That question is rarely asked today. Many other questions are asked. Which computers? When and how can computers be used? But it is part of modern life that computers will be in the room. Even places dense with information and things to study, like libraries and museums, have found that keeping out smartphones, tablets, and soon wearable tech is too disruptive. Getting everyone to turn off their devices takes more convincing than just saying, “Turn it off.”

November 1975 was the era after “how many classrooms per computer” and before “are students allowed to use their own (BYOD)”. The people at People’s Computer Company asked the right question at the right time.

Scroll through the PCC edition

People’s Computer Company

recently scanned and added to Stanford’s Digital Repository. Stop at page 28 (after skimming past pages that have layouts with high levels of innovation.)

“I believe that most teachers are overwhelmed by the dilemma of what to present to their students. They are aware that their material will be used by more students more often and they conclude that it must be prepared with a proportionate increase in care. In addition, the teacher is a learner on each new machine and often hesitates to step down to the role of classmate.” – Liza Loop

That quote from Liza Loop (founder of HCLE) could be copied and pasted into today’s debates. Evidently, we haven’t made much progress in the last few decades, despite the billions that have flowed to improving hardware and software. (And on certain days after certain upgrades that’s debateable too.)

This is a #ThrowbackThursday post, an informal bit of fun enjoyed by museum and library types because we have so much access to so much material. Yet, it is poignant to come across such a timeless passage while looking for images of dragons (common throughout PCC) and FORTRAN Man (an action hero based on a programming language with a sidekick called BASIC.)

We certainly do need to look back to see where we are going, and at least for this one passage, it seems that to pick up the pace we’ll have to do something differently.