Happy birthday, Homebrew Computing Club. Thirty years on, the HCC has acquired an almost mythical status as the birthplace of Apple and much else that set the West Coast microcomputer scene — much as the MIT Tech Model Railroad Club is seen as the spiritual home of hacker culture.
I do wonder what things would have been like if I'd been five years older and living in California when the HCC was kicking off. I recognise my own background and obsessions in those people, but all that was available to the young Goodwins was the Plymouth Amateur Radio Club. That was good fun and I certainly learned stuff, but there wasn't quite that Californian buzz of entrepreneurship. Having a go at selling pre-cut aerial elements didn't count, and while there were a couple of bods messing around with digital stuff the emphasis was more on beer and Morse. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
These may be the last examples where enthusiasts physically gather and innovate: these days, the need to congregate anywhere except online is much reduced. There are plenty of people dabbling in robotics, wireless and distributed computing — the areas where big things may next grow — but increasingly they hang out in chat rooms and on the end of VoIP conferences.
This is not necessarily a good thing. One of the big driving forces that keeps people involved and productive is the kudos gained from actually showing off an innovation. That's what makes the eyes stay open at 2am in a solder-fume filled basement as the prototype keeps refusing to work; you'll get a kick when it gives in and starts to behave, but nowhere near as big a thrill as when you press the button in front of twenty of your peers.
Showing off online just isn't as satisfying — which is true for so many things...