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San Jose Mercury News, Calif., Mike Cassidy column
[October 10, 2010]

San Jose Mercury News, Calif., Mike Cassidy column


Oct 10, 2010 (San Jose Mercury News - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- It's a veritable Smithsonian of Silicon Valley out there.

When I wrote a few weeks ago about the accidental artifacts that valley residents had stuffed in their attics, garages and storage units, I asked whether there were more out there.

And you answered.

You've written to me with tales of your own tech treasures -- the HP-35 calculators; the Osbornes and Ataris; the Macs, the Apple Is, IIs and IIes; the big and bizarre "personal computers" that were around before any computer actually fit on a desktop. You told me you are hanging on to manuals and magazine clippings. You've got circuit schematics and the chips that schematics yielded.

And as I read through your notes, one thing struck me: It's not about the stuff. It's about the memories that come with the stuff.

Bob Zeidman, of Cupertino, a hardware engineer who's written a fair amount of software, has an impressive collection of vintage computers -- an Apple Lisa; an Osborne 1, signed by its developer, Lee Felsenstein; a Commodore PET 2001, signed by Sam Tramiel, the son of Commodore's founder. But it's the goofy cocktail napkin he designed as a side business in the 1980s that has a special place in his heart and the Computer History Museum, for that matter. The napkin provides headings ("Concept," "Market Analysis," "Expenses") and the space to jot notes, so an entrepreneur can provide an instant business plan to an eager and tipsy investor over drinks.


Zeidman is convinced that the napkin wowed his then-girlfriend when the two attended a 1990 fundraiser where the napkins were being handed out with appetizers. "As a footnote, my girlfriend at the time is now my wife," the museum's online exhibit quotes Zeidman as saying. "I guess she was sufficiently impressed." Gene Carter, who was Apple's vice president of sales in the early days, still has his first Apple II -- and a Victor Borge story. It seems that in 1978 the company that made an early disk drive for the Apple II hired Borge -- a comedian, musician and actor -- as a celebrity spokesperson. The problem? Borge didn't own a computer, which presented something of a truth-in-advertising problem. Carter was charged with getting Borge a machine.

"We went down to L.A. to have lunch with him and present the computer," writes Carter, of Saratoga. "At lunch, he signed a poster with his picture on it for me. I have that rolled up and won't be getting rid of it anytime soon." Bob Burns, a former Hewlett-Packard and Agilent executive, has an autograph that might be more awe-inspiring in certain valley circles. "I have some HP blue-line schematics from 1973 for a M.O.S. Circuit Arithmetic and Register signed by the engineer," he writes.

And the engineer? Steve Wozniak.

For Shane Dickey, the memories are packed away in his Gilroy garage in a box containing a 1992 vintage GRiD Convertible, a pen-based portable computer that was trying to do then what the iPad is doing now. "It never ceases to amaze me," writes Dickey, who was vice president of engineering at GRiD and has held a slew of tech jobs, "that I have been paid all these years to do what is so interesting." Marianne Saneinejad's piece of history is a circa 2000 Sony eMarker, a gizmo that helped radio listeners figure out the name of that song that they didn't quite catch. Push a button when a song is playing, plug the device into a computer and see the song, artist, etc., displayed from a database. Her kids got it for her because they love her and because "I was always driving them crazy trying to sing some song (and I'm a terrible singer) that I had heard on the radio and wanted to know the name and artist." Huddee Jacob Ho, of San Jose, has a dusty atomic force microscope on his desk. He writes that it's the model he helped design in the early 1990s at TopoMetrix in Santa Clara. You're probably thinking, "A dusty whozits-whatzit?" But lest you think Ho's microscope is a touch obscure, consider this: Ho spotted a picture of his work in a place where it is seen by thousands, if not millions. Yep. Page 380 of his son's seventh-grade science textbook.

Further proof that when it comes to Silicon Valley artifacts, you just never know where this stuff is going to turn up.

Contact Mike Cassidy at mcassidy@mercurynews.com or 408-920-5536. Follow him at Twitter.com/mikecassidy.

To see more of the San Jose Mercury News, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.mercurynews.com. Copyright (c) 2010, San Jose Mercury News, Calif.

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