The health savings of computer history

May 28th, 2018 8:39 AM
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My only visit to the Computer History Museum of Mountain View, California, occurred in December 2015, when Martin Haye and I squeezed in a visit after attending GaymerX in nearby San Jose. I was already familiar with the museum, both from its origin in my backyard of Boston and as an archive of Juiced.GS, and I was thrilled to finally step foot in the halls of such hallowed technology preservation. But it wasn't until years later that I'd learn this same museum could preserve so much more.

Shortly after that visit, I began teaching myself about finances and investments: 401(k), Roth IRA, socially responsible investing (SRI), and more. As part of this move toward fiscal maturity, I started using an FSA, or Flexible Spending Account. An FSA is a savings account you can contribute pre-tax dollars to from your paycheck; those monies can then be used to pay any medical expenses, from surgery to prescriptions to contact lens solution. If you spend $2,000 a year on healthcare, it's like getting a $2,000 tax credit.

An FSA is not without its downsides: it has an annual contribution cap of $2,600, and only $500 rolls over every calendar year; the rest of the account is "use it or lose it". As a result, you have to predict what your health expenses will be a year in advance, which is difficult to do accurately. And if you leave the participating employer, your FSA disappears.

But this year, I moved to an employer that instead offers an HSA, or Health Savings Account. An HSA has a maximum annual contribution of $3,450, and its value never expires, even if I switch jobs. As a result, I don't need to anticipate my expenses, instead using the HSA as a long-term investment account — especially since, unlike an FSA, an HSA gains interest!

I don't know why every employer doesn't offer an HSA, but the good news is that you don't need a generous boss: you can get your own HSA. Many banks offer them — but if yours doesn't, then check out First Tech Federal Credit Union of Beaverton, Oregon. They offer an HSA with no setup or maintenance fees and no minimum balance to qualified members.

What qualifies one to join First Tech? You can work for the State of Oregon, or any one of hundreds of participating employers. But my preferred route is to be a member of the Computer History Museum for either $15 or $75 a year. Simply donating to the museum makes you eligible to receive all the membership benefits of First Tech.

What better or more affordable way to preserve computer history and your own health?

(Disclaimer: I am not a financial advisor, nor am I a customer or affiliate of First Tech. I have historically donated to the Computer History Museum, but currently, my only contributions are the aforementioned issues of Juiced.GS.)

Lisa operating system source code

January 8th, 2018 8:52 AM
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Last week, I wrote about Robert Taylor and Charles Thacker, whose work at Xerox PARC inspired such Apple innovations as the graphic-user interface (GUI) and the mouse. Soon, we'll get to see under the hood of how Apple introduced those technologies with the Apple Lisa.

Just as the Computer History Museum did five years ago when it released the source code for Apple DOS, the CHM will now be distributing the source code for the Apple Lisa's operating system. Museum curator Al Kossow made the announcement on Google Groups, writing, "the sources to the OS and applications were recovered… and they are with Apple for review. After that's done, CHM will do an @CHM blog post about the historical significance of the software and the code that is cleared for release by Apple will be made available in 2018."

Apple Lisa

I'm curious where the source code was "recovered" from. Did the CHM collaborate with Apple to retrieve the code from an archaic floppy disk, much as Tony Diaz and Jason Scott helped Jordan Mechner recover the Prince of Persia source code? Or did some third party, perhaps a former Apple employee, bequeath the code to the CHM?

Regardless of the source, the importance of this release cannot be understated. Rhett Jones at Gizmodo reported, "Lisa was a cutting-edge machine and one of the first to offer consumers a GUI, mouse, and file system, but it was prohibitively expensive and didn’t catch on." To see the origin of these features is to look back at the ancestors of computing staples that are still with us today.

Further, such releases are extremely rare, as Apple is known to be possessive of their intellectual property. In this case Apple has little incentive to make such a release, whether or not there is historical value or modern applications for the Lisa operating system.

Whatever the origin or motivation of both this release and that of Apple DOS before it, the precedents continue to be set, with many implications for the Apple II community. Who knows what other classic software we'll see released from Apple Inc. next?

(Hat tip to Christopher Baugh via Paul Wilson)

Preserving Bob Bishop's legacy

February 2nd, 2015 9:26 AM
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In mid-November, John Romero shared with the Apple II community some sad news: Bob Bishop, co-founder of Apple's R&D department and KansasFest 2011 keynote speaker, had passed away. The news came in time for me to include Bishop in my Computerworld slideshow of tech luminaries we lost in 2014; along with Patrick McGovern and Ralph Baer, Bishop was one of three luminaries I'd had the honor of meeting among the 23 in the article.

It is all well and good to honor the legacy of those who have gone before, but it takes more than mere platitudes to ensure their contributions are not buried with them. Thankfully, Romero was more than the bearer of bad news, as this past weekend, after a tip from on a tip from Gary Koffler, Romero had an encouraging update to share on Facebook:

Prepare for a mindblast. Today my wife and I went to the late Bob Bishop's estate to rescue whatever we could from the giant dumpster outside the house — everything will be thrown away today (Saturday). We were able to save all historical items of note.

One of the items we got was this black Apple II+ which you will note is NOT a Bell & Howell. We believe it is the prototype for that edition. The lid easily pops off like normal, and the date is 1979. Bob also had an Apple II serial number 13. The family will be auctioning that one off.

We filled our van full of stuff. I can't believe the amazing amount of stuff we got that's collectible.

… To clarify, there was no dumpster diving involved. The dumpster sat silent and empty, waiting for today when everything left in Bob's houses would be tossed in. We went through all the rooms of his houses and picked everything of value we could find.

Bob Bishop's Bell & Howell

The resulting thread is extensive, with postulations as to the nature and origin of some of Bishop's rarer hardware, and questions of where similar collections might be found or donated. The Computer History Museum of Mountain View, California, and the Strong Museum of Rochester, New York, were frequently cited, with a representative of the latter chiming into the thread. I can vouch for both institutions, as both are actively archiving Juiced.GS for scholars and future generations of retrocomputing enthusiasts to reference.

There are many components to preserving our digital legacies: ensuring software for legacy computers can still be executed; preserving the original hardware; making our personal digital data collections accessible. I'm grateful that we have people like John Romero and Jason Scott, and institutions like the CHM and the Strong, actively working to keep alive the memory and accomplishments of heroes like Bob Bishop.

Why is Apple DOS source code release important?

November 18th, 2013 12:09 PM
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Last week, the Computer History Museum released the source code to Apple DOS 3.1:

With thanks to Paul Laughton, in collaboration with Dr. Bruce Damer, founder and curator of the Digibarn Computer Museum, and with the permission of Apple Inc., [the Computer History Museum is] pleased to make available the 1978 source code of Apple II DOS for non-commercial use. This material is Copyright © 1978 Apple Inc., and may not be reproduced without permission from Apple.

This disk operating system has been previously decompiled and the notes published online, which you'd think would make the Computer History Museum's release unimportant. And yet it's been reported far and wide — not just the usual vintage computing sites, but Apple news sites and broader IT outlets as well. Why all the commotion over old news for a 30-year-old machine?

It's not the product, but the process, that's significant. "What is interesting is Apple's agreement to release it," said Dr. Steve Weyhrich of Apple II History. "They never release stuff like this to the world." Agreed David Schmidt: "That is the only thing that is interesting about this: Apple's actual permission to leak any kind of intellectual capital."

However, there is also some original material in this particular offering of the source code. Weyhrich continued: "The code that was released also has that advantage of being scanned from actual printouts of Paul Laughton’s work in progress, with his comments on how the different parts of the system work… I've seen some of these [documents] before, but there are some that not even David Craig has gotten his hands on over the years. Historically, it’s quite interesting, and the Museum has comments from Laughton on the process of the creation of Apple DOS that give details that I didn’t get out of him when [I interviewed him — I guess] I didn’t ask the right questions!"

Click past the jump for an index of sites that have reported the source code's release.

Read the rest of this entry »

Computer History Museum interview with Woz

January 20th, 2011 10:17 AM
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As previously reported, Steve Wozniak was on-hand last month to give the press a tour of the Computer History Museum's new exhibit, "Revolution: The First 2000 Years of Computing". The exhibit opened last week, and Todd Miller of the San Francisco Chronicle took the opportunity to speak further with Apple Inc.'s lesser-known founder, learning more about Woz's motivation to write BASIC for the Apple-1 and how he improved upon the original machine's design with the Apple II:

Here's my favorite quotation: "Most of the big companies and — a lot of new thinking went into them. They were risky, and it was difficult to say whether they would work or not — just like the Apple II."

It's so encouraging to know that the genius who invented our favorite computer is so welcome to continue speaking about that topic. As Jason Scott recently said in the Retro Computing Roundtable podcast, "The retrocomputing culture is very, very lucky, because … so many of the people who formed what's important to us are part of the community still. It's so rare that you'd have someone who's into old cars, and the guy who invented the cars shows up all the time. We're so lucky because we get people like Wozniak who show up and are like, 'Oh, yeah! Yeah, hi! Oh, did you like that? Oh, thanks!' as opposed to we all dream of what that person must've thought." Thank you, Steve Wozniak, for being that guy.

While Mr. Miller's videos are new, there were plenty more shot at last month's press tour. Check out the original blog post for a half-dozen other appearances by the Woz.

A computer history tour with Woz

December 6th, 2010 10:49 AM
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The Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California, will unveil in January 2011 an exhibit entitled "Revolution: The First 2000 Years of Computing". The press got a sneak peek last week, with their tour guide being a historical figure himself: no less than Steve Wozniak.

Imagine what an experience that must've been! Seeing the computers that launched an industry and revolutionized a world, described by the man who was there to make it happen. Such narration should be captured and offered as an audio tour to future visitors of the museum.

Fortunately, this rare experience was documented by the many journalists in attendance. Harry McCracken of Technologizer.com took several photos, focusing more on his tour guide than on the exhibit himself. Along the way, Woz commented on several computers that influenced his design of the Apple II, even stopping to pose with some of his own creations that are included in the museum.

As the group walked among machines capable of so little compared to today's computing behemoths, McCracken observed that Woz "again and again … came back to praising engineering minimalism — accomplishing a task with the fewest possible parts and the simplest possible code." It's a design philosophy that I expect is shared among many Apple II developers to this day. For example, in an interview with Juiced.GS in December 2009, Alex Freed of Carte Blanche fame said, "Electronic design is my day job and I work with considerably more advanced devices, but some ideas from the Apple II days are still valid. For example, I always try to find a way to use minimum hardware to do the job."

For the Mercury News, David Cassidy provided more prose than photos and was more reflective than reportorial, wondering if Steve Wozniak isn't more deserving of the fame and adoration that is normally heaped upon Apple's other co-founder, Steve Jobs.

And Robert Scoble has a 360-degree panoramic photograph taken as Woz was presenting before an original Apple-1.

UPDATE: Therese Poletti shares this video from the tour:

UPDATE 2: Mark Milian at CNN also has a video:

UPDATE 3: Peter Watson pointed me to this series of videos from ZDNet:

Woz seems to be everywhere these days, but one has to make onself available to such opportunities. The Computer History Museum is one of many historical sites throughout Silicon Valley that I would be thrilled to see. My employer, Computerworld, has its offices in Framingham, Massachusetts, about an hour west of Boston. But we're affiliated with both PC World and Macworld, which make their home in San Francisco. Computerworld has at least one employee in that location, and I can't help but think that maybe it'd be mutually beneficial for me to be the second.