When computers became 'personal'
April 13, 2015
by Mark Ollig

Inside the San Francisco Civic Auditorium and Brooks Hall April 16, 1977 a first-of-its-kind computer exposition was opening - The West Coast Computer Faire.

Here, one could attend computer-related conferences, technical seminars, and check out the newest microcomputers tailored for small business and individuals.

The Faire had tutorials for computer novices, computer games, speech recognition systems, musical synthesizers, and many electronic devices; including one for providing “Projection TV.”

During the Faire, two young men: Steve Wozniak, 26; and Steve Jobs, 22 introduced their new Apple II computer.

As we all know, the Apple II became one of the first popular home computers, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Tandy/Radio Shack’s TRS-80 Micro Computer System, and the Commodore PET (Personal Electronic Transactor) computer were also introduced during the Faire.

The Faire was well-represented by people from the home computer hobbyist community; including the two largest amateur computer organizations: the Homebrew Computer Club, and the Southern California Computer Society.

This event showcased 180 exhibitors, and the official attendance over the two days it took place was 12,657.

A variety of computer systems were on display, including a 1,200 bps (bits per second) Dataspeed 40 terminal, featuring a keyboard, CRT (cathode ray tube) display screen, and small printer.

This data terminal system was made by the Teletype Corporation, which, in 1977, was a subsidiary of Western Electric Company.

A Bell System magazine ad from the time, featuring the Dataspeed 40 terminal system, can be seen at http://tinyurl.com/ozurjbd.

A computing game called Tank War was being played on the Cromemco Z-2 microcomputer system.

Two military tanks (seen on the computer’s terminal screen) could be maneuvered and controlled by individual players.

Tank War included sound effects, and proved to be very popular with the younger kids, who controlled the game’s action using two joysticks.

Two other games, Space War, and Chase, were also played on the Cromemco Z-2.

The Cromemco Z-2 microcomputer used the Zilog Z80 8-bit microprocessor chip, and a 4 MHZ 250-nanosecond cycle-time board.

This microcomputer’s all-metal, square-boxed chassis (with handy dust case), included 21 printed wiring card slots.

It retailed for $595, and could be ordered as a kit, or fully-assembled.

I uploaded a picture of it from a circa 1977 magazine ad: http://tinyurl.com/njk5pb7.

A month after the West Coast Computer Faire, in the microcomputer magazine called BYTE, Steve Wozniak, when explaining the design for the Apple II, wrote, “To me, a personal computer should be small, reliable, convenient to use and inexpensive.”

I clearly recall reading BYTE magazines during the late ‘70s; luring me with their stories of how I could build my very own computer, learn the secrets of MS-DOS commands, and be amazed at the high-tech Intel 8080 microprocessor chip, with its clock frequency rate operating at 2 MHZ.

Another vender at the 1977 West Coast Computer Faire was Berkeley, CA based Northstar Computers, who were displaying their floppy-disk, North Star Micro Disk System.

Its operating system used North Star DOS (disk operating system), and their high-level computer programming language called North Star BASIC (Beginner’s All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code).

Yours truly discovered an original 1977 copy of the 23-page “North Star BASIC Version 6” manual.

If you want to see how BASIC machine line commands were explained in this manual, go to http://tinyurl.com/laopshh.

A company called Heuristics Inc. demonstrated their new product, called SpeechLab.

This peripheral hardware allowed a computer to recognize human speech, and cost under $300.

I found an Aug. 15, 1977 ComputerWorld newspaper article explaining how SpeechLab digitized and removed the data from a “speech wave form” and then applied a pattern-matching technique to recognize the vocal input.

SpeechLab used 64 bytes of storage per spoken word.

The newspaper article is titled, “System Allows S-100 Vocal Input.”

You can see the screen-capture I took of the complete article here: http://tinyurl.com/kw63fek.

People from small businesses, curious to learn how a microcomputer and software could help them, also attended the Faire.

They learned about using word processing programs, and how customized software could be written for tracking their companies’ inventory.

The Faire had many individuals stopping in to see how a personal home computer could benefit them in their everyday lives.

A 1977 circulated poster announcing the First West Coast Computer Faire can be seen at http://tinyurl.com/lu4fdah.

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