Thursday, April 15, 2010

50 Years Of Public Computing

[Edited to add: Here's a link to the video of the PLATO presentations made that day.]

I had a good time this morning at 50 Years of Public Computing at the University of Illinois where I attended the session dedicated to the PLATO educational computer system.

The panelists were Don Bitzer, Peter Braunfeld, and Lippold Haken. Half of the people in the audience could easily have served on the panel as well, and I had the pleasure of hearing many of them reminisce about those good old days. I saw Jim Kraatz and Celia (Davis) Kraatz, Rick Hazlewood, Paul Tenczar and Darlene, Jim Knoke, Jack Stifle, Rick Blomme, John Gilpin, Aaron Woolfson, Helen Kuznetsov, Mike Walker and CK Gunsalus, and many others (my apologies to those I've left out).

Here's a link to the dozen or so pics that I shot today. Sadly, I forgot to bring my camera, so these were taken with me Palm Pre -- no zoom, and today the background (thin drapes over a window) was brighter than the foreground ...

It was a lot of fun, and it makes me that much more interested in the PLATO@50 Conference coming up on 2-3 June 2010 in Mountain View, CA at the Computer History Museum. The conference is dedicated entirely to PLATO, with the theme "Seeing the future through the past". Here's a link to the Museum's page about the conference --

Presenters include:
Ray Ozzie (Microsoft's chief software architect)
Don Bitzer (initiator of the PLATO project at the UI)
David Frankel
Andrew Shapira
Dave Woolley
... and many others (as listed at the conference URL, above)

In addition to discussing the hardware and software of the PLATO system, there will also be a focus on the culture of the development team, and the online community that sprang up around the PLATO system.

Besides the conference itself, I'm interested in visiting with the people involved, many of whom I worked with (or went to school with) in times past. I started using the PLATO system while in high school, and was a student programmer on the PLATO System Staff at the UI in my teenage years in the late 70s. I was a software engineer at NovaNET (which PLATO evolved into, locally) for over 8 years, ending in 2002. I also worked on the PLATO system as a computer operator at the UI, and as a programmer for the Department of Defense at Chanute AFB in the early 80s. In all, I worked on PLATO and its descendant systems developing educational software and its related infrastructure over a 25-year period.

At the UI's CERL (Computer-based Education Research Lab) much of the work was accomplished by people who pursued their own interests, and then made that work relevant to the community at large. It was a pleasure to work in that culture.

I plan to go to the conference if I can manage it.

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