The Hidden Figure$ of Gaming, Data Processing, and Code

SILICON VALLEY, CA—An early computer hobbyist’s club in Southern California has some pretty heady history behind it. You’d be hard pressed to match the geek cred of some of its members — Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, for example — and Jerry Lawson.

jerry-lawon_game-cartridge-creatorThe late Gerald Anderson Lawson (above), known as Jerry, along with Ron Jones, were the only two members of color of the Homebrew Computer Club in Silicon Valley.

The club began in 1975, the same year National BDPA was founded,  when hobbyists, most with an electronic engineering or computer programming background, met to talk about the Altair 8800 and to exchange schematics and programming tips. The Brooklyn, N.Y.-born electronic engineer, taught himself everything he knew about designing. His impressive creation of the Fairchild Channel F video game console separated him from contemporaries such as Nolan Bushnell and Ralph Baer.

The Fairchild Channel F console was released by Fairchild Semiconductor in November 1976 and was the first programmable ROM cartridge-based video game console, as well as the first console to use a microprocessor. Baer wrote the code for the first video game played on a TV set, called Chase, and in 1972 Bushnell helped create the video game Pong and later that year started Atari Computers.

But it was Lawson’s main distinction as the inventor of the video game cartridge, something that seems simple now, that established our new  standard for how video games were played into the next three decades.

marc-hannahChicago native Marc Regis Hannah (left) is a co-founder of Silicon Graphics (SGI) and is partly responsible for the direction of computer graphics since the company’s 1982 founding in Mountain View, CA. SGI partnered with Nintendo to create the early architecture of the Nintendo 64 gaming system. SGI, in essence, placed the power of a $5,000+ SGI Indy workstation into a $250 toy.  SGI’s technologies were used to design cars, aircraft, and  virtual simulation training for the Defense Department.

sgi-indySGI’s high-powered workstations were responsible for “computerized” films, such as “Mars Attacks!” and “Jurassic Park”.  Hannah’s 16 years at SGI made him a special effects whiz.  Hannah also is the recipient of 13 patents and numerous awards and honors, including the Professional Achievement Award from both Illinois Institute of Technology and the National Technical Association (NTA).

— Sources: Kevin L. Clark, techtimes.com
Photo credits: Estate of Jerry Lawson,
Black American History, and SGI

 

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