AppleCore of Memphis - Mac UserGroupThe History of
Memphis Mac User Group AppleCore

user group (yoo'zer groop)

In September of 1979, when AppleCore of Memphis was formed, "user group" was still a pretty new concept. What the members of this fledgling group (guys like Don Durham, Rich Jordan, Tim Jordan, Bill Lagrone, Bob Milburn, Carl Mims, Hugh Penn, Steve Romeo, Dave Rosenberg, John Sorrell, Tim Traylor and Jim Walton) were using were the early products of two guys from California named Steve. What emerged from a now-legendary Silicon Valley garage was the Apple I (a computer concept twice unsuccessfully pitched to Hewlett Packard brass in 1975 by then HP Engineer Steve Wozniak), followed not long after by the Apple II (a computer that made it out of computer hobby lore and into computer marketing history).

It was this computer, the Apple II, that brought together a dozen or so pioneers (including those mentioned above) in Memphis, Tennessee. "The user group consisted of several computer gurus, who helped the rest of us. We learned from others' experiences and mistakes." So recalled Steve Romeo, AppleCore's first president, in a recent interview. His vice president, Bill Lagrone, had a similar memory of the early days. "There was very little software available and what was available was on cassette tapes that were very hard to use. We met to exchange ideas and to help each other (this is still the main purpose of clubs now). Very few of us knew anything about the Apple II computer because it was new."

This common theme of pilgrims on the quest for knowledge, fun, and the ultimate in whiz-bang gadgetry was echoed by another pioneer, Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple Computer as he recalled his own early involvement in a computer club. "Without computer clubs there would probably be no Apple computers. Our club in the Silicon Valley, the Homebrew Computer Club, was among the first of its kind. It was in early 1975, and a lot of tech-type people would gather and trade integrated circuits back and forth. You could have called it Chips and Dips. We had similar interests and we were there to help other people, but we weren't official and we weren't formal. Our leader, Lee Felsenstein, who later designed the Osborne computer, would get up at every meeting and announce the convening of 'the Homebrew Computer Club which does not exist' and everyone would applaud happily."

Such was the spirit of the early days; back in olden times; waaaaay back then; just after the earth cooled; yep, really a long, long time ago. (Isn't it amazing how we early personal computer adopters speak of the "old days" as if it were us and guys like Thomas Edison out there on the edge, trying new stuff, innovating, changing the world? But for a technology and surrounding industries that have moved as fast as that of personal computing, it's not hard to see why we feel like those were the stone ages and we, the hearty few, survived it all. [end of editorial observation])

It wasn't just the pioneering spirit or the search for sacred Apple knowledge that brought the early AppleCore members together. Fun and establishing relationships with those of like interests were incentives too. And fun they had. After an initial organizational meeting in the office of the Memphis Jaycees on Union Avenue, the very first official meeting was held at the Holiday Inn Rivermont with about thirty people in attendance. Recalls Steve Romeo, "It was a dinner buffet and on the honor system...we lost money." Okay, so there was little honor, but lots of fun.

When looking back on the early meetings of the group (those after the now infamous honor system buffet incident) we see both similarities and striking differences in comparing the meetings of today's AppleCore. Back then, since there was so little software available for the Apple, members spent much of their meeting time finding, getting and programming software for their computers. Yes, programming. Again, Bill Lagrone. "The meetings were mostly Q and A with demonstrations about how the computer operated. We first all started writing sub-routines in BASIC to make the machine do different things and exchanged them at the club meetings." And according to Steve Romeo, "Most of the contributed programs for the disk of the month were typed in out of magazines (Kilobaud, Micro, Call Apple, etc.)." [Editor's note: The ritual that Mr. Romeo refers to was that of early personal computer users literally keying in the hexadecimal codes that make up computer programs from early computer hobbyist magazines. It went something like this: eager computer user goes to magazine rack; flips pages of computer magazines; says "Ooooh, yeah, I'd like to have that program that plays Beethoven's Fifth Symphony on my computer in simple, monophonic tones!"; buys magazine; takes magazine home; makes pot of coffee; opens magazine; begins typing in eight 8 1/2 by 11 inch pages full of row after row of groups of numbers zero through nine and the letters a through f in about a 9 point Courier typeface; after three hours, spills coffee on magazine; curses; finishes typing in the program two and a half days later; prays; types in the command to execute the program; witnesses a computer lock-up or worse; curses (this was before the days of entry programs that actually checked what was typed in to see if it was a plausible sequence of codes). Actually, there were some very worthwhile and valuable programs that could be obtained through this painful method but folks, this one clearly comes under the heading of been there, done that, glad it's over.] In today's meetings, there is far less talk of how to program our Apple IIs and Macintoshes and more of how to use the wealth of commercial, shareware, and even freeware programs available.

But what stays the same is the spirit of helping others. Then, as now, AppleCore members met together to ask questions of one another, explore sticky problems, share success stories, and discover and re-discover the machines that helped them work, play and learn. With discovery comes excitement and user groups have traditionally been, and continue to be, places of excitement. Take this example as told by Steve Romeo. "I remember when the first Disk lls came out, with a four page typed manual that failed to reveal that you could save anything other than programs. Tim Jordan was sitting on the floor of ComputerLab (yes, on the floor; there was no display furniture or desks in the store (sorry Jim)). He was so excited because he had discovered that the disk drive could access random access records, something that Apple had failed to reveal! This revelation led to the creation of his database program, A.l.M. (Apple Information Manager). This program, written in BASIC, was the basis for most of the user group members learning to modify and/or program in BASIC." And then, as now, the sharing of learnings such as this was accompanied with a beverage in one hand and a slice in the other. Bill Lagrone. "A group of us met on Saturday at Computer Lab to see if anything new was available and then we would go to the pizza place for lunch to discuss what we had learned that week. (Still go to the pizza place but ComputerLab is no longer open on Saturday)."

Back then, the fifteen to twenty or so regulars who came from the membership base of around forty attended meetings and other club events that gave them substantial value for their $5 membership fee. An interesting historical note is that the $5 was naively set as a lifetime membership fee based on the belief that "disk of the month" sales would pay for all the group's expenses (unfortunately, diskettes weren't as cheap then as they are now and it was a matter of profit and loss-mostly loss-that forced a change). It was only a matter of time before the group instituted annual dues.

And those were the days when one could be elected newsletter editor based soleiy on the fact that he or she was the only member who owned a daisywheel printer. Tim Jordan knows; it happened to him.

But things change. The group has grown to one hundred forty in number (ninety-five of which are members of the group's BBS-Bulletin Board System-through which they realize the benefits of electronic mail and messaging, uploading and downloading of public domain, shareware and freeware programs and files, and generally lively electronic conversation), dues have gone up (hey, hasn't everything in the last fourteen years?) and many of the present members have entered as Macintosh users or have switched to the Mac while reserving a warm spot for their favorite among the variety of Apple II models that started so many in computing.

And things stay the same. AppleCore's relatively small size when compared to some other metropolitan user groups allows for the same kind of intimacy and learning enjoyed by the AppleCore trailblazers.

From the days when $2,800 could buy you an Apple II system with 16K of memory, a cassette tape drive and a nine inch monitor to today when roughly the same money can buy you a Macintosh Centris 610 with 8 megabytes of memory, a 1.4 megabyte floppy disk drive, a 230 megabyte hard disk and a sixteen inch color monitor (ask Bill Lagrone, he knows the dollars, the cents, the laughter and the pain of this particular comparison), user groups have maintained a lasting spot on the computing landscape.

Why not find out for yourself what all the excitement has been about for the last fourteen years? Come to AppleCore of Memphis and be a player in the next chapter of the bold and rewarding work of the computer user group.

Thanks to Bill Lagrone, Steve Romeo and Jerry Rhodes whose comments and input helped me tell this story. I am appreciative also to Steve Ditlea who edited a work entitled "Digital Deli: The comprehensive, user-lovable menu of computer lore, culture, lifestyles and fancy" published in 1984 by Workman Publishing Company, Inc. From the pages of this excellent work, I lifted Woz's comments on computer clubs. My personal thanks too, go to the friends that I've made over the past several years at AppleCore and for making my computing experience more fun and more rewarding.

About the Author

Keith Parish is the author of the History of AppleCore. Keith has been a Mac user since 1984 and an AppleCore member since 1991. He uses a variety of Macintosh computers at home, at work, and on the road and enjoys using them to pursue his love of writing and to promote learning at home with his wife and two young daughters. Keith's work involves understanding and using the principles of systems dynamics and action sciences in order to promote organizational learning in the large company in which he works. He is a musician and an author in search of work.

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