Saturday, March 8, 2008

Memories of an old tech guy

I have been posting all my tech articles on Tech Republic these days. But I put so much work into this one that I wanted to enhance it with photos here on my own blog. This post was entitled, "Old tech guys are slowly fading away" on my Tech of all Trades blog.

I love visiting computer history sites and watching computer history shows. Why? When I visit these sites I gain a perspective on a part of my life that I did not have at the time I was passing through it. For example, when I first started programming in Applesoft on an Apple II computer, I thought it would be a great business language. Ha!

I know I am going to be dating myself when I bring this up, but humor an old tech guy for a few minutes . I remember when we used to sell software on cassette tapes. We put it in baggies and hung it on a peg board on the wall, right next to the the Commodore PET and the Apple II.

People would bring in the TRS-80 computers (we called them trash-80) and ask us to repair them because the local Radio Shack didn't service their own stuff
. What year would you say this was? If you guessed 1978 you would be right. I'll bet that's before some of you were born.

When I got out of college I went to work as a programmer for some "old school" programming shops. I wrote in RPG II on an IBM System 3 and in COBOL on a Sperry Univac 90/30. That machine was a dinosaur even then. The hot new technology was writing in BASIC and Datashare on a DataPoint ARC network.

I used to love to visit COMDEX in those early years of the microcomputer. I was amazed to see all the technology that was coming out. With thousands of other geeks we ogled over the new Micromodem II for the Apple, which sold for about $300. Since I worked for an early computer store I got it for a lot less. My whole world changed.

I can't tell you how many hours I wasted "surfing the net" back in the late 70's and early 80's. No, the Web did not yet exist and most people had not heard of the Internet. We dialed up places like CompuServe and "The Source" or would just connect to TymNet or TelEnet to see whose network we could log on to. Was that hacking? Maybe.

Rather than bore you with my old tech guy memories, perhaps a short list of some of my favorite computer history sites might be helpful if you are interested in learning more about the history of the personal computer. But be careful, if you have any work to get done today, this trip down memory lane will seriously sidetrack you.

1. The Computer History Museum- The online home of the museum on Shoreline drive in Mountain View. Go to the Exhibits section. You can spend hours viewing the collection of marketing brochures. I especially love their time lines. They even have a great YouTube channel. Careful - I warned you this could be detracting from real work.

2. Apple Computers -Because a big part of my early career involved Apple II computers, I like to include Steven Weyhrich's site on Apple II History. You can find other sites like, but it hasn't changed much lately. The Apple Museum is a better site and the Wikipedia article is great. Where is the "official" Apple history site?

3. - One of my favorites. There are nearly a thousand computers in their museum. Use the index on the left-hand sidebar. The articles in the history section are great, the forums are active and something unique that I haven't seen anywhere else - a major list of collectors from all over. Great if you have an old computer to buy or sell.

4. Computer Science Lab- John Kopplin put together a four part pictorial of computer history through the early 80's. Some of the photos are rare which I have not seen elsewhere. The accompanying descriptions could be taken from a college lecture on the history of computers. The lecture ends as the PC was getting started but is well worth a visit.

5. Computer Chronicles - Who can forget this great TV series from Stewart Cheifet? It aired from 1981 to 2002. Well, you may have never heard of it. You can watch many of the episodes online at the Internet archive. I highly recommend the episode Apple II forever, one of my favorites. More on the history of the show is on stquantum.

6. Old Computer Museum - Although you can find this site from the Old Computers club (#3 above), it is worth mentioning as one of the best organized and presented. This collection of Boris Serebrennikov is outstanding. If you have an old Lisa or even an Amiga (still a popular retro machine) he is interested in hearing from you.

7. The Computer Collector - This is a fairly complete list, useful to those who have old machines to buy, sell or trade. It is also an enormously wealthy site for computer history buffs. Many of those who buy and sell computers have great historical information about the computers they worked on. Lots of great personal history stories can be found here.

8. IBM PC Official History - It still amazes me how many people believe that the IBM PC was the first microcomputer. We used to laugh at those who thought our industry was "legitimized" when IBM finally made their entry in 1981, easily five years after Altair, IMSAI, Cromemco, Apple, Commodore, Radio Shack, Atari, Altos and Vector Graphic.

9. Personal Computer in TV commercials - The download squad has put together a collection of TV commercials for personal computers, some of them going back to the early 1980's. What a hoot! The early William Shatner piece has been removed but the original 1984 superbowl ad introducing the Macintosh is there as well as many others. Enjoy!

10. Old This list could go on and on - and it does if you Google it - but this one needs to be included in my top ten list of sites to visit. An extremely popular site, it is billed as the "Obsolete Technology Website" it includes great links not found on any of the above sites including the Intel museum. Thank you Steven Stengel.

I know I've missed your favorites. Add them in the comments. Also, be sure to check out the resources for "Dinosaur Sightings" on Tech Republic.