I saw Dan Bricklin, inventor of the first PC spreadsheet program VisiCalc, at the NY Tech Meetup last night. The opening acts were some machine vision and robotics researchers from NYU and Columbia showing their new work to a big but under-charmed crowd. Things ran late, and then proto-blogger Anil Dash gave some admiring introductory remarks and brought out Dan.
Dan brought out his new book, Bricklin on Technology, a compilation of his blogs, podcasts and essays over the last decade.
He read from the book — from his old blog posts — and illustrated his talk with pictures from the East Coast birthplace of computing around Route 128 near Boston back in the 60s, 70s and 80s. Dan unrolled ancient scrolls from the before-time: DEC minicomputers, dumb terminals, the Apple II, the revolutionary Harris 2200 page layout machine, the first IBM PC and some promo videos for spreadsheet programs that eclipsed VisiCalc, Lotus 1-2-3 and Microsoft Excel. The audience roared at the 1980s dweebs in three piece suits dancing to a pre-Windows jingle as Dan told about inventing the spreadsheet in a wet basement in Massachusetts. In the background were Gates and Jobs but also the armies of hopeful start-ups, brilliant programmers, careful CFOs, lucky salesmen and visionary inventors who drove computing onto every desk and into every home in those years.