Lee Felsenstein


Lee Felsenstein

Lee Felsenstein (born 1945 in Philadelphia) is a computer engineer who played a central role in the development of the personal computer. He was one of the original members of the Homebrew Computer Club and the designer of the Osborne 1, the first mass-produced portable computer.

Before the Osborne, Lee designed the Intel 8080 based "SOL"cite journal
author = Robert M. Marsh
coauthors = Lee Felsenstein
year = 1976
month = July
title = Build SOL, An Intellignet Computer Terminal
journal = Popular Electronics
volume = 10
issue = 1
pages = 35–38
publisher = Ziff Davis
] computer from Processor Technology, the PennyWhistlecite journal
author = Lee Felsenstein
year = 1976
month = March
title = Build the Pennywhistle - The Hobbyist's Modem
journal = Popular Electronics
volume = 9
issue = 3
pages = 43–50
publisher = Ziff Davis
] modem, and other early "S-100 bus" era designs. His shared-memory alphanumeric video display design, the Processor Technology VDM-1 video display module board, was widely copied and became the basis for the standard display architecture of personal computers.

Many of his designs were leaders in reducing costs of computer technologies for the purpose of making them available to large markets. His work featured a concern for the social impact of technology and was influenced by the philosophy of Ivan Illich. Felsenstein was the engineer for the Community Memory project, one of the earliest attempts to place networked computer terminals in public places to facilitate social interactions among individuals, in the era before the Internet.

Life

As a young man, Lee Felsenstein was a New Left radical. From October through December 1964, he was a participant in the Free Speech Movement and was one of 768 arrestees in the climactic "Sproul Hall Sit-In" of December 2-3, 1964. He also wrote for the "Berkeley Barb", one of the leading underground newspapers.

Felsenstein received a B.S. in EECS from the University of California, Berkeley in 1972. He entered UC Berkeley first in 1963, joined the Co-operative Work-Study Program in Engineering in 1964 and dropped out at the end of 1967, working as a Junior Engineer at the Ampex Corporation from 1968 through 1971, when he re-enrolled at Berkeley.

Lee has been employed at Osborne Computer Corporation from 1981 - 1983, at Interval Research Corporation from 1992 - 2000, and at Pemstar Pacific Consultants from 2001 - 2005. All other times he has worked either as a free-lance consulting designer or for his own design firm.

Many of his designs were leaders in reducing the costs of computer technologies for the purpose of making them available to large markets. His work featured a concern for the social impact of technology. The Community Memory project, begun as a project of Resource One, Inc. in 1972 and later incorporated in 1977 by Lee with Efrem Lipkin and Ken Colstad, was one of the earliest attempts to place networked computer terminals in such places as Berkeley supermarkets to attract casual use by persons from all walks of life passing through and facilitate social interactions among non-technical individuals, in the era before the Internet.

Lee was influenced in his philosophy by the works of Ivan Illich, particularly "Tools for Conviviality" (Harper and Row, 1973). This book advocated a "convivial" approach to design which allowed users of technologies to learn about the technology by encouraging exploration, tinkering, and modification. Lee had learned about electronics in much the same fashion, and summarized his conclusions in one of several aphorisms, to wit - "In order to survive in a public-access environment, a computer must grow a computer club around itself." Others were - "To change the rules, change the tools," and "If work is to become play, then tools must become toys."Lee Felsenstein was one of the original members of the Homebrew Computer Club, which formed in 1975 in response to the appearance of the Altair 8800 computer kit. With a handy yard stick, Lee "moderated" meetings at the SLAC Auditorium. He was less a chair than a keeper of chaos. In this heyday of the development of the first personal computers, Lee designed the Intel 8080 based "SOL" computer from Processor Technology, the PennyWhistle modem, and other early "S-100 bus" era designs. These existed in a market space with early generation hobbyist microcomputers from Altair, IMSAI, Morrow Designs, Cromemco, and other vendors. Felsenstein's shared-memory alphanumeric video display design, the Processor Technology VDM-1 video display module board, was widely copied and became the basis for the standard display architecture of personal computers.

Lee Felsenstein was the designer of the Osborne 1, the first mass produced portable computer.

In 1998, Lee Felsenstein founded the [http://www.fsm-a.org/ Free Speech Movement Archives] as an online repository of historical information relating to that event, its antecedents and successors.

In 2003, while working with the Jhai Foundation of San Francisco, he designed an open-source telecommunications and computer system for installation in remote villages in the developing world. This system was dubbed "the Pedal-Powered Internet" by The New York Times Magazine due to its reliance on pedal power generation. Installation of the first system in Laos was unsuccessful, but the design has been tested on an Indian reservation in the US and continues in development in India. In 2003, Lee was named a Laureate of The Tech Museum of Innovation (San Jose, California) for this work.

Lee Felsenstein has also been named a "Pioneer of the Electronic Frontier" in 1994 by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and in 2007, he was named the "Editor's Choice" in the Awards for Creative Excellence made by EE Times magazine.

Trivia

His older brother [ [http://www.sjsu.edu/faculty/watkins/pc.htm Early History of the Personal Computer] ] is the evolutionary biologist Joe Felsenstein, a National Academy of Sciences member whose PHYLIP system was one of the earliest examples of bioinformatics. Early versions of PHYLIP were developed on the "SOL" and Osborne 1 [ [http://www.med.nyu.edu/rcr/rcr/phylip/main.html PHYLIP (Phylogeny Inference Package) Version 3.57c] ] , computers developed by Lee.

References

ee also

* Community Memory
* Homebrew Computer Club
* Processor Technology
* Osborne Computer Corporation
* Osborne 1
* Open source hardware

External links

* [http://www.fonly.typepad.com/ Felsenstein's personal blog]
* [http://blogs.salon.com/0001323/ Felsenstein's old personal blog]
* [http://opencollector.org/history/homebrew/engv3n1.html Interview in the newsletter of the Computer History Association of California]
* [http://www.insearchofthevalley.com/ In Search of the Valley] A 2006 documentary on Silicon Valley which includes an extensive interview with Lee Felsenstein.
* [http://www.fsm-a.org/ Free Speech Movement Archives home page]


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