Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Silicon Valley Legends At Homebrew Club Reunion

Posted by Tom Foremski - November 12, 2013

HomeBrew

The Homebrew Club in the mid-1970s Silicon Valley was the place to be. It’s where Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak, and many other well known tech pioneers, were all just nobodies, meeting every other Wednesday evening to share their fascination with early microprocessors and build primitive microcomputers. 

Monday evening the Computer History Museum hosted a reunion of this iconic organization, thanks to generous funding from KickstarterHarry McCracken from Time was there (above photo credit) and so was Daniel Terdiman from CNET News:

Harry McCracken writes:

By the time I got interested in PCs in 1978, it was already the stuff of legend. Newbies like me merely used mass-produced microcomputers; Homebrew members designed and built their own machines. I was in awe of their skills. I still am. And on Monday night, I got my chance to rub elbows with some of those members and experience, at long last, an approximation of the Homebrew experience.

. . . At the reunion, Processor Technology cofounder Bob Marsh said that Homebrew members invented software piracy by sharing unauthorized paper-tape copies of Altair BASIC, a practice he said was the BitTorrent of its time. (Bill Gates, co-creator of Altair BASIC and general partner in a startup called Micro-Soft, famously took out an ad in the Homebrew newsletter to complain about the theft.). . .The giants whose shoulders we all stand on are still very much with us — and that’s a fact worth cherishing.

Read more: For One Night Only, Silicon Valley’s Homebrew Computer Club Reconvenes | TIME.com  

Thirty-eight years after the first meeting of one of the most famous groups in the world of technology, nearly 100 of its original members got together to celebrate the club, themselves, and perhaps most important, the dawning of the personal computer revolution. 

"Everybody here is [among] the founding fathers of the home computer industry, the people who started the home computer industry," said John Draper, aka Captain Crunch. "This is amazing. Never have I seen so many prominent [technology] people together in my life."

. . . Original member Marty Spergel couldn't get himself physically to Silicon Valley but made sure he was still there via a telepresence robot, it was pretty important.

With the virtual Spergel rolling through the meeting, members would walk up and greet him almost as if it was actually him. As the robot came up to three members, Spergel asked how they were doing. One, Harry Saal, joked, "We're still vertical, so that's good."

Read more and lots more photos here: Homebrew Computer Club reunion lights up Silicon Valley | CNET News

Foremski’s Take: I wish I could have made the reunion because this is the group that was there at the very start of the PC industry, which grew into a massive market and created a collection of essential technologies that dominate todays’ world of computing.

We are still innovating on that basic platform. Some, like computer pioneer Alan Kay, say we are running out of steam and need to develop new sets of technologies, as we did in the 1970s, to fuel the next 20 years of tech innovation.

[Please see: Computer Pioneer Alan Kay Says Silicon Valley Is Running Out Of Innovation]

Background:

In March 1975, The Homebrew Computer Club held its first meeting in Gordon French’s Menlo Park garage. Made up of Silicon Valley computer hobbyists and DIY hackers, it would be hard to overstate the impact this group would have on the future of computing. In fact, if one had to pick the single most important moment in personal computing history, the first meeting of the Homebrew Computer Club in that dimly lit garage in Menlo Park might be at the top of the list. Homebrew members didn’t invent the computer, nor most of its discrete and necessary components, but as Sir Isaac Newton is quoted as saying, “If I have seen farther it is by standing on the shoulders of giants…”

The original Homebrew members stood on the shoulders of giants like Alan Turing and John Backus, who in turn stood upon the shoulders of pioneers like Pascal, Lovelace, Babbage and even those in the 17th century like Leibniz. From the invention of the wheel to the invention of the microprocessor, humanity has always built upon the greatness created by previous generations. The Homebrew meetings represent a moment in history when brilliant minds came together and were able to see further into the future than perhaps any single era in the history of human innovation. Please contribute to honor the original members of the Homebrew Computer Club and to attend their historic reunion, where the Silicon Valley community can stand upon the shoulders of these great innovators, and see further into the future than anyone else before them.

 Homebrew Computer Club Reunion by Joël Franusic

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