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York University
Natural Science
NATS 1700
Zbigniew Stachniak

Lecture 9. The Computer Hobby Movement Informal and unedited notes, not for distribution. (c) Z. Stachniak, 2011. Note: in cases I were unable to nd the primary source of an image or determine whether or not an image is copyrighted, I have specied the source as unknown. I will provide full information about images and/or obtain reproduction rights when such information is available to me. Introduction In the last lecture we looked at the world-wide activities aiming at designing inexpensive microprocessor-based computers for personal use and ownership. The companies such as the Canadian MCM, French R2E, and American Scelbi were among the rst rms to announce and manufacture such com- puters. While these early microcomputer manufacturers were able to attract small and medium-sized businesses, corporations, agencies, and educational insti- tutions, they were unable to attract the general public to their products (to both, computers and software). The main three reasons for that failure were: early PCs were too expensive for an average individual (in 1974, the cost of an MCM/70 in basic conguration was approximately $4,000 which would suce to buy a new Ford Mustang and a few other items); general public was not well educated about computers and their ben- ets; the early PC manufacturers were not interested in computer lit- eracy programs; instead, some companies, such as MCM, insisted that their computers are as easy to use as pocket calculators; none of the early PC companies could oer a killer application that would make their computers a highly-desirable consumer electronic gadget (note that there was no computer gaming market!!). 1 The hobbyists The historical mission of explaining computers to the general public, of stim- ulating the development of the personal computer industry, and of helping to introduce computers to homes was fullled by a movement initiated in 1974 by the North-American electronic hobbyists interested in computers. This movement is referred to as computer hobby movement. Fig. 1. Computer hobbyist Howard Franklin constructed his rst computer in Toronto in 1974. Photograph by Z. Stachniak, 2004. Who were the computer hobbyists? In short, these were enthusiasts of elec- tronics interested in computers. Some of them were electronics profession- als, others were high-school students interested in build-your-own-gadgets most were just curious about electronics and what it had to oer. The hob- byists were ocking around popular electronics magazines, such as Radio- Electronics and Popular Electronics which were important catalysts in the formation of the microcomputer hobbyists movement. 2 These magazines oered not only information about electronics novelties but also, and frequently, detailed construction projects such as: build your own calculator, build the rst Low-cost ALL-SOLID-STATE TV Camera! Of course, not everybody was interested in everything and only some embarked at these construction projects. Neither the MCM/70, the Micral, nor the Scelbi computers made it into the hobbyists hands. The hobbyists would nd their rst computers not in computer stores (there were none!) but in electronics magazines presented as construction projects. Fig. 2. Build the rst low-cost all-solid-state TV camera project announced on the cover of Radio-Electronics, February 1975. 3 The Mark-8 computer In July 1974, Radio-Electronics (RE) published a construction project un- like any other in the magazines history: Build The MARK-8 Your Personal Minicomputer. Its author, Jonathan Titus, oered a small, microprocessor- based computer to the hobbyists. Fig. 3. The Mark-8 computer on the cover of the July 1974 issue of Radio-Electronics. 4
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