Digital fossils on display

by Kelly Sullivan

Horizon Reporter

Every day most Whatcom students pass by the glass case full of old computer junk on their way to the library, but many still question its purpose and presence.

The display is supposed to present a bit of history for Whatcom students. It shows the revolution of technology. Before the iPod, Blackberry, or even the Microsoft Windows program hit the market.

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The main focus of the display is the Heathkit Hero 1 Educational Robot, contributed by Bill Zilinek from the IT department. Sande compares its likeness to that of R2D2. The “skin” of the creature has been removed so students can see the programming boards on the inside. The robot is an educational tool and was used for this purpose at Whatcom. It can be programmed to talk in over 55 different voices. It became available in 1983 and sold through out the rest of the 80’s.

Besides the Robot, in the lower right hand side of the case there sits an old Compaq Portable II 286.

“I wouldn’t really call it a laptop,” said Corrine Sande, Computer Information Systems program coordinator, or CIS. The piece is transportable being the size of a small suitcase full of metal and plastic. Priced originally at about $4,000, some of the staff in Whatcoms business department owned these when they first came out in 1983. It doesn’t have any batteries, however, so it requires being plugged in every time it is used. It’s not the most convenient piece of technology, but at the time it was cutting edge.

“You could have been lugging that through the airport,” said Sande. Most of the pieces in the display, including the Compaq Portable, were not necessarily as “luggable” as was originally advertised by today’s standards.

IT Director Ward Naf explains a memory board from the 1970’s that didn’t make it into this year’s display. It is about the size of a large dinner plate and holds only kilobytes of information. Our phones hold gigabytes of memory, which is about 1000 times that of the old memory board, “the technology didn’t exist to get things that small and there was no need,” Naf said.

At the very top left hand side of the display is an old 8- inch floppy disc that Sande contributed. Beside it is a 5 1/2- inch refined version of the first floppy.

Sande says she has been researching these pieces on the Internet and some are still selling for a fair amount of money because people are still using the old systems and need the “ancient” parts.

The different systems in the display are not from too long ago, the oldest being from the 1970s. Sande had most of the old parts stored haphazardly in her office in Baker, and had the idea for the display to be set up outside the library. Laura Mackenzie agreed to take all the parts and organize the haphazard collection.

“I came over and looked and it was fabulous,” said Sande of the arrangement. Sande was curious if students would be interested.

“We’ve been talking about making a presentation for about 10 years,” said Naf. CIS and IT are hoping for a more permanent display to be set up in Cascade with more history and background for Whatcom students.

“For CIS and IT, we’re kind of in the background, so it’s good we’ve got something for people to look at.”

A final thought Sande added in terms of how technology has evolved over the centuries, “Bob Cratchett’s job title in “A Christmas Carol” was dealing with computers, because he dealt with adding up numbers.”

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