Sunday, October 09, 2016

"Attending" APCUG

I'm not much of a joiner, and have never really been into club membership. (And besides, as Groucho Marx is reputed to have said when resigning from the prestigious Friars' Club, "I don’t want to belong to any club that would accept me as one of its members." Back when I was editing Smart Computing magazine, I did try to start a motorcycle gang. It was going to be called "Hell's Editors," but the plan came to grief when no one could agree on the placement of a semicolon in what was to have been our Mission Statement.) 

Clubs and organizations do serve a purpose, of course; for us technophiles, they provide an opportunity to discuss, learn about, share, and commiserate regarding new technologies. Hence, the computer club: a place for hobbyists and technologists and just plain old users to get together and share information and advice. (Drinks may occasionally be served, but usually only at the post-meeting meeting.)

Gordon French, one of the cofounders of the Homebrew
Computer Club. This photo was taken in 2013. Photo used
under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0
Unported license.
Among the earliest of such clubs was the Homebrew Computer Club, a Silicon Valley hobbyist group that met from 1975 through 1986. (Fittingly, the first meeting was held in a garage.)

The HCC was an informal gathering of what would prove to be many of the industry's future movers and shakers, including engineer Lee Felsenstein (the designer of the Osborne 1 microcomputer), activist Fred Moore, Paul Terrill (who would go on to open The Byte Shop, an early computer retailer), and Roger Melen, the future cofounder of Cromemco, an early microcomputer company. Steve Wozniak was a member, and Woz has said that the first meeting of the club (at which was displayed the first MITS Altair microcomputer) inspired him to design what would become the Apple I.

So, computer clubs have a long and storied history, although membership seems to be declining now. Perhaps as a technology becomes more familiar and more integrated into the fabric of our everyday lives, the perceived need for special gatherings to explain, popularize, and celebrate the technology is diminished. You never hear of a light bulb club, these days, or an indoor toilet club. (If there happens to be one of the latter, I really don't want to know about it.)

Clubs do remain, of course, often more and more specialized. There are clubs for computer "modders," for instance: hobbyists who modify or enhance their computers to make them faster, quieter, cooler, or simply more aesthetically appealing. (Check out CPU Magazine for some great info on modders and modding, and also to learn more about high-powered computers and gaming in general.)

But organizations aimed at general users (rather than at specialized practitioners of the modding arts) do still exist. The grandfather of those clubs is APCUG, the Association of Personal Computer User Groups, an international group that holds its annual meeting in Las Vegas. APCUG isn't really a "computer club" so much as a consortium of computer clubs, an umbrella organization that has spent the past 30 years encouraging communications among computer-oriented user groups.

I have been privileged in the past to attend the APCUG convention, sometimes just wandering the floor, sometimes manning the Smart Computing booth. In either case, it was always fun to meet with readers, attend presentations, and check in with the many clubs whose members supported the magazine and who seemed to genuinely enjoy talking, learning, and teaching about computers.

And, as luck would have it, I'm about to "attend" the convention once again! Sort of. I'm scheduled to give a remote presentation on some of the tech topics in my book. (The book is called Leveling the Playing Field. I may have mentioned it once or twice.) So, come Saturday, October 22nd, I'll be hunkered down in my little basement office in Nebraska using some of that incredible technology to beam my face and my words to what I'm sure will be throngs of enraptured attendees in Las Vegas, many of whom will no doubt be nursing tremendous hangovers, because . . . hey, it's Las  Vegas!  

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