Remembering Our Digital Past With Computer Historian David Greelish [Interview]


Vintage computers and books in David Greelish's collection

COM: What’s a favorite story about one of your vintage computers?

One of my favorite old computers in the collection is a Commodore SX-64, which has the distinction of being the first color portable computer. It’s a neat “luggable” version of the C64. The one I have is now the oldest computer in my collection, that is, the one I’ve had the longest. The SX-64 was sold in 1984, and I received mine in 1993. At only nine years old at the time, it was still quite “vintage.”

Commodore SX64
Commodore SX-64 Portable (Luggable)

The way I got it was during the time when I first started talking about the Historical Computer Society. It was while I was still stationed in Germany and I was online through the CompuServe service. One day a guy posted in the classifieds that he wanted to find a good home for his “beloved” SX-64, and so asked people to email him about it. I emailed right away and told him that I would love to have it and that I would take good care of it, as I was a computer collector. I also told him that I thought of it as a museum piece, which one day would hopefully find a home in one. Back then I had lofty goals of building the HCS into a non-profit organization, which would have both a magazine and a museum.

After a few days, I was contacted and he told me that I had been chosen. He felt the computer would be best preserved with me. He sent two boxes, one with the SX-64, and the other filled with tons of software, magazines, cassettes and other accessories. One of the coolest things too, was that he wrote me a long email with lots of details on what things were, plus a copy of all of the emails that he had received asking for it. My email had been the first one, but it was interesting reading many of the other responses. I could see how a lot of them didn’t give him any warm feelings for the future of his cherished computer.

I have taken good care of that SX-64 and I still intend for it to be part of a computer museum one day, somewhere.

COM: You recently published your book The Complete Historically Brewed. How did that project come about, and how has it been received?

I published nine issues of Historically Brewed and then changed the name to Classic Computing, but I never got another issue out, so I always wanted to publish all of the issues into one volume. They were very good newsletters / zines and history doesn’t get old, no pun intended. So in early 2011, I became aware of Kickstarter and decided to launch a campaign to publish my book. I studied many failed projects, plus I read and closely followed Kickstarter’s recommendations and finally launched my own project in July. I had a modest goal of $1,200, and ran it slightly over thirty days. In five days I had met the goal, and by the end of the campaign, had almost tripled it!

The project had pre-sold almost 100 copies and allowed me to create a very high quality, professional book. Plus, print additional copies to sell and finish the never before released first issue of Classic Computing (essentially HB issue 10). I continue to sell the book directly, plus through and at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California. At this point, it has sold almost 300 copies. It’s far from a bestseller, but it’s a great book that I’m proud of and I’m confident that sales will continue to slowly grow.

COM: How do you think Apple could better help promote their unique place in computing history?

Funny you should ask, as this has become a little bit of a part-time passion for me. As you know, I wrote two articles on the topic for Cult of Mac back in the early spring. In them, I strongly urged Apple to create a public venue at the new campus, set to open in 2015. One of the main features of the venue was to be a “museum,” but I found that using that word was a mistake. What I really meant was a historical gallery, and not displays of endless hardware. There are plenty of museums and private collections already doing that, and that wasn’t the point. History is also about people and culture.

Apple History Gallery
Artist's rendering of Apple Historical Gallery

Here’s a quick breakdown of what I think are the key points:

• First, it’s not a museum! It’s a visitor’s center with a gallery of Apple’s story.

• The new campus will be an attraction unto itself. Fight the idea, or embrace it. Steve Jobs recognized this, and stated at the Cupertino City Council, “Thank you, I think we do have a shot of building the best office building in the world, and I really do think architecture students will come here to see this. I think it could be that good.”

• Apple should see it as a strategic and important part of both their public relations and advertising mission. Many Apple customers, or potential customers are not necessarily enthusiasts, but a visit here will change that.

Steve Jobs is Apple’s Walt Disney.
The company needs to celebrate him directly.

• Steve Jobs is Apple’s Walt Disney. The company needs to celebrate him directly, and in doing so, celebrate the brand.

• Steve Jobs now only exists in Apple’s history. A tribute to him will inspire existing and future employees. The founding, growth and evolution of Apple is a story worth telling to everyone.

• A reason for a great corporate store – the ultimate flagship store, and a taste of Apple’s culture.

• Apple has the perfect example by way of a key partner, The Walt Disney Company. Though a different kind of company, they know how to be innovative, forward looking, while embracing and celebrating its past, and founders.

COM: I think the Walt Disney comparison is a good one.

COM: Thanks David. We wish you luck in your now formal role as a Computer Historian!

Image: All images provided by David Greelish

  • Jon DeMuria

    Great article! I wish someone could give a list of all the books in his library. I am always and I mean always searching for new books on the history of apple, and have read all the usual suspects (revolution in the valley, little kingdom, etc, etc.) Someone also needs to write some books about post ipod jobs / apple, giving some great insight into the creation of the iphone, like Hertzfeld did for the creation of the mac.