BCUG’s 25th Anniversary Countdown
By Fred Kagel, Club Historian 

This is the third installment in the countdown series and will cover the expertise level of club members. Except for a presentation laptop here or there or perhaps some PDAs WiFi-ing on occasion, look around at the next meeting and you will see people — the Sandy Rands and Dick Maybachs willing to help a newcomer with a computer problem or argue with an old-timer about some obscure technical issue, or the Ruth Lewarts and other workshop leaders coming up with endless slices and dices of what software programs can or cannot do, or the Andrea Tarrs honing in on graphic talents to be shared with all. It’s you, you, and YOU that make BCUG what it is.

 Looking back over the years, the club has had some pretty darn good programmers. “I was not a programmer,” said Jeff Baumwell. Jack Miller, on the other hand, agreed with Clay Adams about programming. “There wasn’t anything out there. If you wanted a program, you had to program it yourself. Because of my training, I was quite capable of doing my own programming. I wrote a merge sort, which allowed me to enter new data in sorted fashion.”


There were also some engineering types. Bob Buus built light pens for the TRS-80. The light pen is an LED device that senses light and dark areas directly from a monitor. A light pen could be used to draw on the screen or to hit a hot spot evoking a procedure circa 1980 style. Sounds familiar, object oriented programmers?


“You could drop the TRS-80 from the top of the Empire State Building, break it into a million pieces, and Bob could put it back together again — he was the epitome of hardware. I had a botched lowercase installation and took it over to Bob (early personal computers and printers did not have lowercase descenders for the letters gjpy). He hooked the lowercase chip up to an oscilloscope, shook the chip, and replaced the pins on the chip that were causing static on the scope. Here, ‘you’ll never have any more problems,’” Jeff quoted Bob. “I never did.”


The club certainly had its share of tinkerers? How about paper tape backups? Dave Kelly interfaced his teletype to the Model I. “You had to search all over for hardware, disk drives, and everything. You had to wait and wait.” “Why wait?” Jeff mused, as he recalled the day when he and John Chohamin tried to interface an IBM Selectric typewriter to the Model I. It never did work, but nothing tried, nothing gained!


“We were the first to get music out of the cassette port,” chimed in Kelly. More things were interfaced to that lowly cassette port than were ever intended — RS232s, TTYs. light pens, and voice input devices. There was even a routine to unfreeze the cassette relay if it got stuck — and it often did!


The club had plenty of penny pinchers. Fred Kagel recalled his cassette network. Radio Shack had just come out with its first network controller. It worked off of the cassette ports. Radio Shack wanted over $500 for the host alone and about $25 in cables per station. “I needed some means to simultaneously upload and download students’ programs at my learning center. I found out that by using an ordinary tape recorder as a line amplifier, and $25 total for multiple cables and ‘Y’ connectors, I could load four computers simultaneously from my one disk drive system. I just had to run around the room like crazy, issuing a cassette load command on the terminals and make it back to the host computer in time to issue a cassette save command.”


Still yet, we had inventors and computer contest winners as members. Richard Buus, Bob’s son, created a user interface for handicapped individuals. He entered his invention in the Johns Hopkins Personal Computing Contest to Aid the Handicapped, which Radio Shack had sponsored. Richard won third place in the New York/New Jersey Region. Kagel had also entered the same contest, not knowing that Richard had entered, and took eighth place. Richard later released his program to Radio Shack for $1.00 and installed his communications system in some Cerebral Palsy facilities. Kagel’s synthesizer reading program, designed for dyslexic children, couldn’t keep up with changing hardware fast enough. Maybe today’s tablet PC with its handwriting technology is the right match for Kagel’s program.


The club has had many teachers. An educator with a major influence on the club was Stephen Radin of Staten Island. Steve started with a TRS-80 and became instrumental in developing a computer curriculum for the New York City Board of Education’s Office of Technology. Fighting the influence of Apple computers along the way, Steve went on to pen ten books in the field of computer education and became the president of the Association of Computer Educators, Inc.


The club has had several authors, but when one speaks of authors, one always conjures up the unmistakable accent of Cass Lewart. Cass has written on just about every conceivable topic there is to write about on computers: from a morse code trainer to digital interfacing and modems, and from the PC Jr. to the pocket computer. Cass has never felt that it was beneath him to scribble a quick schematic of the Model I’s video pin outs or of an LED RS232 breakout box for a hapless solderer or two.


So if you think a computer club is just about computers, you are dead wrong. It is about people, who just happen to wear labels as programmers, engineers, inventors, educators, authors, artists, hobbyists, tinkerers, or just plain computer users. You are the club!


The next installment will summarize what we have learned over the last twenty-five years and project where we might be headed in the next twenty-five. Somewhere between the frustration of operating a computer and the thrill of discovering an undocumented feature of a program, this computer stuff is just plain fun.


Fred may be contacted at fkagel@optonline.net to add your own recollections. Please use subject: BCUG 25th Anniversary.