I, Cringely has a touching reminiscence of Ed Roberts, founder of MiTS and designer of the Altair 8800, on the event of his passing. Cringely chooses to focus on Roberts departure from computing to pursue a second career.
Twenty years into his medical career Ed could still program his Altairs in assembler. So it isn’t that he lost his touch for technology. It’s that his era had passed. Ed’s was the era of ascii terminal computing. An ADM3a was Ed’s violin. And an Apple II (worse still a Macintosh or even a Windows box) was, therefore, his nemesis.
In considering this aspect of the man’s life, Cringely both touches on the risk of technology outpacing our ability to keep up and in this instance the opportunity to pursue something else just as or more worthwhile.
I hope that when my half life expires I am able to retain the same fingerspitzengefühl for technology as Ed did. Even though I missed out firsthand on this earliest generation of kit-built personal computers and by extension Ed’s contribution to the history of computing, Steven Levy’s “Hackers” (which I reviewed last year) relates the story of Altair in a very personal and accessible way if you are as curious as I was before reading it.