It started late. But then doesn't anything good? People had been drifting into PSL [Physical Science Lecture Hall] for some time. I had arrived just before 6:00 PM, after crossing the sylvan campus of the University of California at Berkeley from BART. The PSL is a large lecture hall-- a strange, pillbox-like building half-buried in the dirt virtually at the feet of the particle accelerators. At first the lecture hall had been dark, empty, and silent-- so silent that I could hear water trickling in the troglodyte recesses of the structure; hear the bell chimes in the Campanille as they rang out the hour and celebrated the end of another academic day. Soon, however, the people started trickling in and in no time at all critical mass was reached and the hall began to ring with discussions of things Macintosh.
Harry Critchfield was the next to show up. Trailing behind him were people carrying BMUG paraphernalia from his Volvo: boxes of disks, boxes of newsletters, membership applications, the cash register, and finally the sacred Mac with the video-output connector to the Hughes projector (used to project a movie-sized image of the Mac's display onto the screen above the lecture hall stage). Before long the line of people waiting to buy disks extended up several tiers on the right side of the hall. Steve Costa, David Morgenstern, and Arthur Lau were selling disks right and left. Margaret Leventhal from MacOrchard was moving around the hall passing out price lists. Already the hall was quite noisy with knots of people in the aisle and to the left where Raines Cohen was hooking up the Mac. There was some difficulty with the video connection and he had to crack open the Mac's case to fix it, giving some of the newer members of the cult their first look inside the belly of the beast. God help them if they ever get a close look at his hard disk, an experienced Data-Frame 60 that seems to be missing most of the screws in its case. Raines' hard disk always makes me think of a Timex commercial.
But now Raines has the Mac, the hard disk, and the projector working and suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, Reese Jones appears. He hoists himself up onto the high-status moderator's comer of the table and with the ritual words, "So what's new... anybody have any stock tips?" The meeting begins.
After the last of the people milling around at the front take their seats, there remain at the front only Raines, Reese, and Linda Custer. Raines is also on the left-hand table, sitting cross-legged in the middle of the table and typing the meeting minutes into the computer to be projected on the screen. Reese remains sitting on his usual corner of the table moderating, and Linda sits on the right-hand table (when she isn't drawing cryptic figures on the black board). At times John Heckendom, Scott Kronick, Stephen Howard, and Harry go to the front to make announcements. One night I thought we were going to get the entire Core group sitting on the tables, but most often it's just Reese and Raines.
The questions tonight run the usual gamut from FullWrite rumors (Linda does (p. 249) real good with FullWrite rumors, which is odd, because she is also the Microsoft Word defender), to ImageWriter complaints. From cable problems (Reese eats up cable questions) to BBS questions (Raines' bailiwick). Steve Costa is somehow able to make definitive responses to hard disk questions while reading either the newspaper or a Science Fiction book. The DeskTop publishing questions fall to Scott Beamer. Beverly Kane answers a few LISP questions, and Linda answers a networking question with what sounds like a Wang commercial. There are also esoteric hardware problems (that often seem to get answered by Chuck Meyer from M.A.C.) and a flock of assorted language and application questions that get conflicting answers from a variety of people including Paul Blood (the man who won a Mac II in a contest. I hate Paul).
Then there is the dreaded RAM question. It always starts simply enough. Someone asks what one-megabyte chips are going for, and the next thing you know, Reese is reciting the nanosecond litany, which explains which machines can use which chips, and Linda launches herself at the blackboard, draws what she claims is a resistor, and runs down the various ways to cut it so that you can re-connect it later. Of course by this time the novices in the room are balanced between panic and despair at the thought that they haven't yet figured out how to use the Finder and here people are saying that they are going to have to spend hundreds more doors on RAM and attack their brand-new computer with hand tools.
But Reese is not the moderator for nothing. About the time people in the audience get restless with chip talk, he cuts it off by summing up the situation in a few words, closing with one of two statements; either he says you should buy RAM now because the price will be going up, or he says you should wait because the price will be going down.
As near as I can tell, odds of him making either statement on a given night are about even. On this night he says prices are going up and Apple stock is coming down. So much for BMUG's answer to Wall Street Week.
One of the feature attractions of the opening question and announcement part of the meeting are the notes Raines takes that we in the audience see instantly on the screen. Not only is he an excellent touch typist (to the embarrassment of presenters who often suffer in comparison) but he has a wonderful knack of summing up discussions and adding a humorous note of his own at the same time. One evening the audience broke into laughter when Reese answered a question by referencing an article that Raines had already cited on the screen-- Raines Cohen, Psychic Secretary.
An interesting feature of PSL is the revolving stage area. The black boards and counters down at the front of the hall are on a large turntable. While I have never seen it turn, it seems to have three sides that each face the audience. I fear that some night, in the middle of a particularly spirited discussion, Reese, Raines and Linda will be sitting on the counters and the turntable will begin to turn. Before we can react they will disappear to one side and suddenly "the rest of us" will be confronted by a giant CRT and men in blue suits who will lock the doors and force us to learn MS-DOS commands.
As 7:30 rolls around Reese asks if the first presenter is here. Sometimes people don't show and sometimes people do show, but later wish they hadn't. WordPerfect could give seminars on how not to give a presentation to BMUG. They got off to a good start by passing out M&M's to the crowd, but their software didn't work with the then current system, as evidenced by a series of system bombs. Personally, I think they could have gotten away with the bombs-- a fair percentage of people at a meeting are programmers, who are used to seeing (p. 250) bombs. What made their position hopeless was that they didn't really know how to use the program or the Macintosh. If we had stayed quiet they might even have tried to paste some graphics into the assembly code on the screen.
Other memorable presenters of the recent past include: Chris Crawford, who showed the game he wrote about his home planet; John Dvorak came to push his keyboard; Steve Capps played MacGuitar; Marc Canter did a brilliant impersonation of Marc Canter; and Guy Kawasaki came to tell us about Nordstrom's. Sun Computers even came to show us their computers which, judging by the brochure, can only be used on marble tables in Santa Fe. A woman from Microsoft, with a bad case of culture shock, showed us slides about OS-2 and talked about applications and platforms. The presentation repertory is nothing if not catholic. Even the misses are informative, if not hilarious. The advantage of dull and long presentations is that the riffraff drifts off before the raffle. Unfortunately, there isn't a raffle every week. The prizes are almost always software, though we try to encourage people showing interesting hardware to offer it for the raffle by yelling, "raffle, raffle." Maybe next week. Some of the applications are real lust-driven winners, however, and your chances are better with BMUG than with the California lottery. One secret to raffle success seems to be to sit near me or to get a ticket next to mine. If Paul ever wins a juicy raffle I may kill him.
Finally, the raffle is over-I didn't win... again. People mill around the hall talking to the presenters and to each other. They play with the Macs and buy a few more disks. Suddenly a stranger runs in from the top of the hall. It is easy to see that he is a stranger because he's wearing a dark blue suit and carrying a small sledge hammer. As we look on in helpless disbelief, he makes his way to the center of the hall by jumping gracefully from chair arm to chair arm, his power-tie flapping in mild disorder. Then he winds up and throws the hammer and we all watch, still spellbound, as it torques through the air and hits the exact center of the giant Macintosh display.
Of course, the display is just a picture projected on the wall; so, after making a resounding thud, the hammer falls harmlessly to the floor. The crowd, and the confused stranger, gape for a moment before a wave of laughter begins to course through the hall. The stranger, trying to bluff it out, yells, "Long Live the batch file" and bolts for the exit-- there is no escape for him. Jaime Montmeyer and Tim Morris are already behind him and in a moment they catch him, lead him down to a waiting Macintosh, and launch into the beginner's lecture. It might take awhile, but they will break him. I pass them as I leave and the stranger is already double-click-ing on icons and asking about changing the beep sound. The last thing I hear is John Heckendorn suggesting a tailor with an excellent selection of earth-tone suits.
Leaving PSL, I walk out into a crystal-clear Berkeley night. The campus is quiet and the Campanile looks like a street-light god with its huge mercury-vapor lamp on top. in a few moments I'm across the campus and enjoying the delightful ambience of the BART station. Another Thursday night BMUG meeting is history.