Ah, progress. (Reminiscence - software, stores and magazines) Carl Helmers.
David Ahl asked me to send a piece for the tenth anniversary issue of Creative Computing. I guess the reason he asked is that I might have had something to do with the early growth of personal computers. I got hooked on personal computing long before personal computers were even possible. I had the good luck in 1966 to take a Fortran course at my high school in Northern New Jersey. One thing led to another, and--wouldn't you know it--computer programming in Fortran, Cobol, PL/I, and assembly language paid for an undergraduate degree in Physics in 1970.
Fooling around with the game of Life on a PDP 6 in 1971 convinced me there was more fun in programs than in wave equations, so I left graduate school soon thereafter. I took a job working for a NASA contractor on some of the early software engineering projects for the Space Shuttle. Rocket Ships to Silicon Chips
When the Intel 8008 was announced in the early 1970's, I was working at the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston, TX. Those were the days when the executives of a then shaky startup company were on the road giving the engineering hustle for new products. With this announcement, I knew for sure that it was possible for me to have my own computer. The 8008 was a nice little black box (actually grey and gold colored like today's integrated circuits) that had all the necessary functions of a computer. All I had to do was wire it up.
So, I bought that little $120 chip and proceeded to contemplate it without action for a couple of years while I studied the mysteries of "synchronous digital circuits." I already knew about the software since I made my living with it but hardware had always been a mystery.
Along the way, I made the decision to start publishing the results of my experiments, so I advertised with little classified advertisements in Popular Electronics (now Computers & Electronics.) Those were the days (ah, nostalgia!) of making computers by hand out of standard parts. Today, the only reason for wiring up a computer is to find out how it is done. Then, there were all the learning reasons plus the very compelling reason that you couldn't get a computer any other way.
That early self-publishing endeavor led to the second major personal computer magazine, Byte. I'll concede Creative the historical point of being "first." I always considered--with no small amount of pride--my magazine to be first from my point of view. Well, come what may, the magazine and the field flourished. I guess Dave and I first met face to face at the one and only World Altair Convention in early 1976.
Today, with a mature personal computer market, one can get a much more effective and useful computer for much less money and aggravation than it once cost to build one from scratch. I use these ubiquitious products of our technology every day--both at home where I am writing this and in the office. I am sitting here writing on a Sage IV computer using the Volition Systems "Advanced Systtem Editor." I have at my beck and call a super database called Pascal Data Base System which is written by Tom Swan and soon to be available in the form of a widely published book of source programs. I compile Pascal programs at speeds ranging from 800 to 3000 lines per minute. I do all the things I used to do on a big time sharing computer--yet I do them at home with better immediate feedback and utility. Robotics and Bar Code
I am still in publishing--and in personal computers. Today, I spend my time worrying about the exotic and still experimental personal computer peripherals called robots. My present company publishes Robotics Age, the only widely available magazine for today's experimental computer field, robotics. Those who long for the days when creating something from scratch could produce a better result than you could get in a store are welcome to join us in the field of personal robotics experimentation. We also publish Bar Code News, the only computer magazine for the world of applications of optical bar code technology, and we have just started an engineering magazine called Sensors--The Journal of Machine Perception. We also write and produce documentation for new personal computers and peripherals.
With 32-bit 68000 chips and 256K dynamic memory parts, we all live in an era of unimaginable computer wealth. The technology was improved and will continue to improve. I can see future portable computers with high quality graphic screens, immense but lightweight databases and even methods of input that use hand writing instead of button pushing. We see the beginnings of such products in present peripherals and the latest generation of portables using small disk drives. I am sure that David and his associates at Creative will continue from a great start in the first decade of personal computing.
Named Works: Byte (Periodical) - History