Time Ė that which we attempt to measure the most has a way of not submitting itself when the chronographer attempts to record himself. As it in physics, so it is in history. Memories are fuzzy, faces are forgotten, and names are just names. A little reminder here, a little chuckle there, a lot of curiosity everywhere...
This December, the Brookdale Computer Users Group will celebrate its 25th Anniversary. How did the club start? What has changed over the years? Who were the people and events that shaped what we call the Personal Computer Revolution?
What did an electronic technician, an oil broker, a college professor, an engineer, an AT&T supervisor, a musician, and a motion picture and television person all have in common? Probably nothing, except that they were the first proud owners of a black and silver box called a TRS-80 Model I, made and distributed by Radio Shack.
"We didnít know a damn thing," recalled Clay Adams. "We just got together and traded the most primitive kind of information. Invariably, if someone had a problem, someone else had the same problem and was able to help."
"I was the first person in New Jersey to own a Model I," proudly stated Dave Kelly. "The first computer show around here was in Atlantic City. At the next show in the New York Coliseum, there was a raffle. Whoever gave a deposit and won the raffle got the computer. My 4K Level I Basic cassette system cost what it cost everyone Ė $499."
Vince Fabricatore recollected that the club started during the winter of 1978-79. About a dozen people got together along with coffee and bagels. All pointed to Jack Miller, then a professor at Brookdale as the prime mover of the club. Jack went to one of the first Trenton Computer Festivals to buy his system and announced that he was starting up a club at Brookdale. Flyers were sent out to Radio Shack stores, and Jack called to ask them to post the flyers. Jack and Dave also announced the club at one of the Amateur Computer Group of New Jersey (ACGNJ) meetings in North Jersey. Dave Kelly recalled, "Jack didnít want to organize a formal club, but I insisted that we get organized. So we put it to a vote."
"I started the club, but I never considered myself the president. I was more of a coordinator. After standing up front for a couple of years, I got tired of it and volunteered George Somers to be president." BUG-80, as the club was known then, was almost synonymous with George Somers. A rather humble individual who was Julliard trained, he was unquestionably the spark of the club. All computer questions and answers were focused on George. If George didnít know the answer, Randy Cook, who cooked up TRSDOS for Radio Shack, probably didnít either.
"I could listen to George for hours," one old-timer opined. "He was light years ahead of everyone."
"I didnít understand a word he said," another recollected.
The fact of the matter was that shortly after the formation of the club, George didnít know the difference between a Z-80 assembly language LD command and JP command. But things were to change, and change they did Ė rapidly! About twelve BUG-80 members took a BASIC course on Sunday mornings with Kevin Chieff, who was then with Hewlett Packard. The last few classes got into some pretty heavy stuff. While some were hung up on the three voltage levels of the cassette port, others were peaking their curiosity about certain memory locations, input/output ports, and the like. How else do you really access I/Os other than machine and assembly language? That is probably when George really took off. And so did the club.
The next installment reminisces about the infamous cassette port, unmerciful reboots, Jeff the Software Collector with the handcuffed briefcase, and Clay the producer of twelve feet of source code.
Compiled and excerpted by Fred Kagel from conversations in 1986 with Dave Kelly, Jack Miller, Clay Adams, Vince Fabricatore, and Jeff Baumwell. Fred may be contacted email@example.com to add your own recollections. Please use subject: BCUG 25th Anniversary.