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Vintage Computing: a 1983 perspective


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  Vintage Computing: a 1983 perspective by Bill Degnan - 02/08/2008 17:33


The Philadephia Area Computer Society,
PACS, was founded in June 1976 by Dick Moberg.

The Society was formed ...for the purpose of education and Intercommunication among computer users In the Greater Philadelphia area, and to inform the general public concerning computer technology and its Implications for the future.

Membership is open to all persons interested in any aspect of computer arts and science..." (PACS charter). The meetings are on the third Saturday of the month. Except for the first couple of meetings, the monthly meetings have been held at LaSalle College. There are presently over one thousand members, many who are actively involved in more than one of the more than dozen special interest groups, SIGs. The SIGs represent all the major hardware manufacturers from Apple to Zenith, as well as software interests from CP/M to Pascal.

In the mid-70s there were really no microcomputers nor any software systems as there are today. Back then one purchased chip sets: microprocessors, memory, and some logic chips.
It was the days of homebrewing, rolling your own. One had to know a great deal of electronics; therefore, the first PACS members were generally engineers and ham radio operators. The engineers were mainly interested in using the microprocessor not as a computer, but as a simple electronic controller replacing dozens of discrete components. It was not the decrease In the part count, but the increase in flexibility that was causing the interest.

That is, when a new job came along one did not buy another controller, one simply reprogrammed the standard controller. These microprocessors were teamed up with 1K or 4K memories. By today's standards that's nothing --too small to hold most languages, or even an operating system. That did not bother the engineers; all they wanted to do was to open a valve for a little while then close It, etc.

The ham radio operators Interest was fun and excitement. Besides these hardware-freaks there were some main frame software addicts.

These three groups--engineers, ham radio
operators and software specialists--showed up at the early PACS meetings, all dreaming of owning their own systems. In those early days there were no special interest groups; there was only one Interest: to build a computer. A typical PACS meeting consisted of a flea market, a mapping session (questions), and a main meeting.

We all crowded into the main meeting to
listen to a guest speaker discuss how to build a system, or relate a failure (that is, how not to build a system). There were always more of the latter than the former. Occasionally we would have someone demonstrate a system that worked.

One of the most exciting meetings was when Rob Smith brought in his homebrew computer!
He designed and built the entire system; It was not a kit. The audience held Its breath as Rob, In order to better explain his system, pulled this part out, then that one, then shoved them back together--and the computer still worked! Some other events of interest during that first year were:
  • John Dilks' PC'76 --the first computer
    show. It was held In August In Atlantic
    City, you had to be there!
  • The DATAC 1000, a single board computer designed by club members Carmen DiCamillo and Roland James. Once "perfected", this SBC would Introduce many PACS members, and others, to the field of microcomputers.
  • Another great help for PACS members was Will Mathys, a top designer from MOS Technology. Will arranged for PACS members to obtain cosmetically rejected chip sets-the start needed by many early PACS members. Will also told us about a project that MOS was working on, called the PET.

    By the end of the first year PACS had one hundred members and some SIGs, namely: 6800, 6502, 8080, 8008, Medical Application and Digital Group 8080A. The SIGs reflected the times:
    The first four SIGS were hardware oriented, centered around specific microprocessors. The medical applications group was Dick Moberg. He was working at Jefferson Hospital and it was there that he met Karl Amatneek. Karl was the real motivator of microprocessor appliccations via IEEE meetings and seminars. This city owes him a great deal. The last SIG was a precursor of the next phase In PACS - the kits.

    The kits--Altalr, Digital Group, Imsal,
    Processor Technology, to name a few--have all passed-on. With kits, all, or most, of the electronics was figured out for you. The kit contributions were the printed circuit boards and a standard bus, the S-100. Now the emphasis shifted from chip sets to which were the best kits to buy, and how to connect your computer to the outside world--interfaclng.

    Mark Brindle's discussions on analog/digital conversions helped many members design their own interfaces. entire article

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