Article, April 2007
IT was born in a garage! If you had driven by the garage located in a residential neighborhood, you would not have noticed there was anything strange about the garage since it looked like all the other garages attached to residences. However, if you were a neighbor you would be aware of certain unusual activity. You would have at times noticed the cars lining the street, and people going into the garage carrying various equipment usually in the evening. If a neighbor was blessed or cursed as the case may be, with an active imagination several fantasy explanations could come to mind. Perhaps it was a band practicing in the garage but there was no sound of music. Perhaps it was some kind of a terrorist group but no smoke or explosions or sounds of automatic rifles being fired. Perhaps they had a still operating in that garage however there were no police raiding the garage. Well, the garage could be used for all kinds of purposes but one thing is certain; it was not being used as a garage!
The garage was located in Menio Park, San Mateo County, California and was a maternity ward for the birthing in March 1975 of the Homebrew Computer Club. The 1999 made for television movie. "Pirates of the Silicon Valley (and the book on which it was based, "Fire In the Valley: The Making of the Personal Computer") describes the role the Homebrew Computer Club played in creating the first personal computer.
Hackers were attracted to the garage like steel to a magnet since in those days it was just another name for a computer enthusiast like nerd or geek. In the old days a hacker is one who "hacks" through a computer problem and who writes his own code to fix it. In modern times a hacker has unfortunately a negative connotation which should be correctly called a cracker, a combination of the word, criminal and hacker. The hackers wanted to "homebrew" their own machines using parts from the Altair computer kit, computer chips such as Intel 8080, or any other computer equipment. While the members of the Homebrew Computer Club were hobbyists, most of them had electronic engineering or programming backgrounds. I am reminded of Bill Gates' Open Letter to Hobbyists which lambasted the early hackers of the time for modifying and pirating commercial software programs. Several founders of microcomputer companies including Bob Marsh, Adam Osborne, Lee Filsenstein, and Apple founders, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniack were founding members of the Homebrew Computer Club. Thirty years later in 2005, a reunion celebration was held as part of the Vintage Computer Festival sponsored by the Computer Museum. Upon the completion of the activities in the exhibit hall, there was an autograph signing as well as vintage computer equipment for sale that took many a hacker back to those early days they "homebrewed" their computer.
The Homebrew Computer Club's newsletter was one of the major forces that influenced the formation of the Silicon Valley created and edited by the members. The first issue was published in 1975 and continued in several designs ending after 21 issues in December 1977. There have been other Homebrew Computer Clubs that have emerged like the one in the Netherlands that started with a dozen members and operates today with 180 thousand members which is the largest association in the world. Their small newsletter grew into the magazine, "Computer Total.”
Today, many of the original members of the Homebrew Computer Club meet today as the 6800 Club named after the Motorola (now Freescale) 6800 microprocessor. Who would have ever thought that a garage would be a maternity ward for the IT (Information Technology) Industry? I have decided to elevate the status of the lowly garage in my mind especially since I found out many of our largest corporations were also born in a garage! Why I am thinking now that a garage should not be for cars or junk but a shrine dedicated to American ingenuity and innovation!
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