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lost in the mail.
So this is the oldest personal computer in the world.
Pretty historic junk but the question is what do you do with it?
I mean it has a front panel with switches that you can click
back and forth and some lights
but in the back there's no place to connect a keyboard, there's no
place to connect a monitor, there's no place to connect a printer,
in fact there practically nothing at all that you can really do
with this thing
but back then 1975, the people who had it were thrilled.
The nerds formed clubs to talk about their new toy.
One of the first was the Homebrew Computer Club, which met on
Wednesday evenings in a hall rented from Stanford University
in Silicon Valley.
Presiding over near-anarchy was Lee Felsenstein who pretended
to be in charge.
And I would start the meeting by making a horrendous loud noise
because everyone was talking and I had to get some attention somehow.
And I would use it to call upon the person in question.
I'd make threatening gestures with it.
Most of us were in the electronics industry to a certain extent,
there was also a stratem of physicians
and there were a lot radio amateurs for instance finding a new
technology that wasn't stale.
But most of us were at a sort of middle level or downwards.
We saw ourselves as crazed ignored geniuses or possibly geniuses
but at least we could each hope to get our hands on a computer
of our own.
The very uselessness of the Altair is what drove the hobbyists together.
Roger Melen and Harry Garland started an early computer company.
They came here to meet others and to figure out just what the heck
could be done with this new toy
a solution in search of a problem.
The Altair was tedious to use.
At first, the only way that data and instructions could be given
to the computer, was by flipping switches.
Take something trivial like 2+2.
Each 2 needed eight different switches to be flipped, then a ninth
switch was used to load them all.
'And' required another nine switches. The answer 4 was if the third
light from the left turned on. Eureka!
So if you had a program that was a hundred bytes long you had
to go this procedure a hundred times to load that in the memory.
- It took a long time.
And what happened if you lost power or if you lost
your way in the middle?
You cried.
The Altair may have been frustrating, but it drove the nerds
to experiment,
finding real uses for the useless box, turning it from a curiosity
to a computer.
Steve Dumpier set up an Altair, ehm laboriously keyed a program
into it.
Somebody knocked a plug out of the wall and he had to do that
all over again but nobody knew what this was about.
After all, was it just going to sit and flash its lights? No.
You put a little eh transistor radio next to the Altair
and he would by manipulating the length of loops in the sofware,
could play tunes.
The radio began playing 'Fool on the Hill'....Da da da, da da da....
and the tinny little tunes that you could tell were coming from the
noise that the computer was generated being picked up by the radio.
Everybody rose and applauded.
I proposed that he receive the stripped Philips Screw Award for
finding a use for something previously thought useless.
But I think everybody was too busy applauding to even hear me.
It was a very exciting thing, it was probably the first thing
the Altair actually did.
Turning the Altair into a useful tool required a programming language
so users could type their programs in rather than flipping switches.
What it needed was a version of some big computer language
like BASIC, only modified for the PC.
This was called a BASIC interpreter, but it didn't yet exist because
the experts all thought
that not even BASIC was basic enough to fit inside the tiny
Altair memory.
Yet again the experts were wrong.
Here comes the guy who solved the problem.
Twenty years after finishing the first microcomputer BASIC,
Paul Allen is returning to Albuquerque for

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