THE WAYS OF CACHE Charles F. Douds
Why was it that at CACHE's elections for 1983 officers that the voting and the announcement of the results were handled in what seemed to be a very casual manner? To understand one has to look back at some of the organization's history.
CACHE actually pre-dates the personal computer "revolution." That revolution can be quite precisely dated - the Altair 8800 in the cover story of the January 1975 issue of Popular Electronics. The first meetings of the group that later became CACHE were organized by Bob Swartz and held at Northwestern University beginning in 1974.
Bill Precht took up the ball and really got things going along about the time he got his Altair kit. I suspect he had an ulterior motive. Not knowing which end of a solding iron to pick up, he was looking for people to help him get that 8800 going. Actually, everybody needed help. Things were pretty primitive then. Boards were poorly designed and needed lots of "fixes," documentation varied from abysmal to non-existant, tape recorders were tricky (there were no floppy disk systems), EPROMs could hold only 256 bytes, software was primitive and loaded with bugs, and so on. Only by banding together could one survive.
Survival was the name of the game. Only rich bachelors didn't have to concern themselves with the hundreds of dollars one put into that hunk of silicon and iron. Most of us heard about it from our wives - or parents for there were a good number of teen- agers involved, too. "Isn't that thing working yet?"
And when you did get it working - first the CPU in the box with 1K of memory, then the 4K memory board, then to actually run a program!!! - those were all events to be proud of. They were things to show off to your friends! But it was only your friends at CACHE that could understand, for your neighbors certainly did not.
One of the greatest sources around for software that really worked was a fellow we all looked forward to seeing every month. His name was Ward Christensen. He was then, as he is today, a prolific producer of software that really worked and did useful things. Not only did Ward write wonderful software and solve lots of hardware problems, he was always willing to help you out. He could never say no.
After there had been a few meetings at somewhat irregular intervals it became apparent to all that survival through sharing was the only way to go. We decided that we ought to get organized. Bill became the first president. (Bob Swartz was extremely involved in a micro-related commercial venture, as he still is.) Ward became the secretary. Maybe there was a vice president, maybe there wasn't. It was even more informal then.
Meeting topics were not too hard to come up with in those days. Everyone was using the S-100 bus and someone could always talk about the latest product they had tried. Survival through sharing was the name of the show. Though oftentimes Bill would find an invited speaker for us. Ward would send out the postcards. Geoff Lowe was collecting the dues. We did need a bit of money for those postcards so he volunteered to be treasur- er. Then Geoff started putting together a newsletter. Ward eventually became a major contributor to it and we all liked his stuff. You could always tell where Ward was at a meeting - just look for the crowd.
It was the newsletter that stimulated Ward to write the CBBS program. If I recall correctly, it was one week from the time he got the idea until Randy Suess had the hardware together, Ward had the softare written, and CBBS was up and working! That was February 17, 1978, just five years ago. The first computer bulletin board system in the nation. Randy and Ward still keep it going. Two sharp guys both of whom did a lot for CACHE.
We were getting pretty good crowds. In 1976 the membership was around 200 people. With that many coming around someone decided maybe it would be a good idea to incorporate. One of our members was a lawyer and he took care of submitting the paperwork. Of course the State insisted that all of the officers and board of directors sign the charter application. Hmmm. That posed a bit of a problem. We weren't really organized.
There were lots of people regularily coming to the meetings. To survive, they had to. Things _were_ happening. There were four or five, or ten or twelve - it's not too clear now and it wasn't too clear then - people who were making things happen. Somehow or other it came to pass that there was a president, vice-president, secretary, treasurer and a few board members.
Floppy disks were coming on the scene but they could be made to work only painfully. Suddenly all the operating system problems were solved - CP/M had appeared. It worked and it worked well. Not only that, it came with an assembler (ASM), a debugger (DDT), and an editor (EDIT). Who had time to write a constitution and by-laws?
Actually the decision was not made in such a cavalier manner. It was very deliberately made. The organization was open to all. It was very clearly understood that anyone could come to any meeting. We expected that if you kept coming back you would pay dues, but it was also clearly understood that there would be no pressure to join. Survival through informal sharing was the norm.
We were not having meetings for the sake of having meetings. Not all of our meetings were exciting, but you were never bored by tedious business sessions. Anyone could walk out at any time, a tradition we continue today. CACHE always has been, and continues to be, informal. Informal in the spirit of sharing and helping each other out. Based on the experience of some of the ones who were making things happen in other organizations, the whole idea of a constitution and by-laws seemed to suggest rules, regulations and whole aura of formality that ran directly counter to want CACHE was and what it was accomplishing. "If it's working, don't fix it." And it was working.
One of the things that was working well was the development of the special interest groups - the SIGS. They really came into prominence with the appearance of the Apple and the Radio Shack TRS-80. For the first time, we began to have major chunks of the membership with distinctly different interests, needs, and back- grounds. With the growth in the organization, the SIGs provided a way for people to get to know each other better through their common interest.
Having become "organized," we started having annual elections. I've always felt that the activity year begins in September and that is when it is logical to have new officers take over, but nobody else agreed with me. We had the newly elected officers take over with the new calendar year, so December became the time to have elections. November was the month of arm-twisting. There were always some people you could count on to be a director, but never enough. The really tough slots to fill were treasurer and president. They were so important that the present officers and concerned board members tried to get a nominee for each lined up well in advance. It always took a lot of persuasion.
Filling the last one or two board nomination slots seemed to be as hard as finding a new treasurer. Oftentimes the chairman of the larger SIGs - TRS-80 and Apple, in particular - were asked to serve. Oftentimes chairmen of small SIGs were asked. Sometimes they accepted; sometimes they did not. As I said, November was the month of arm-twisting. If they became a board member, they were like any other new board member - sometimes they attended regularily, sometimes not; if they came, sometimes they contri- buted, sometimes not. But this is the way it goes in _any_ organi- zation. CACHE is not unique.
There never was a formal nominating committee. It just seemed to happen. Of course, this is not true. There were some concerned people, mostly board members, who took the responsibility. Some- times it was they who reminded the president that elections were coming up; sometimes it was the president who got the ball rolling. The first few years it wasn't hard to figure out the good prospects. Everybody knew most everyone else. As the club grew this became more of a problem, but the SIGs helped overcome the problem to some extent. They provided people who could suggest someone.
Of course, the larger the organization gets, the more difficult it is for people to know many others, and so the well-intentioned informal nominating committee - as they see themselves - becomes the closed group maintaining their own cabal in the eyes of some others. Again, this happens in many organizations (whether or not they have a constitution). CACHE is not unique.
Serving on the board has not been particularily onerous. Until quite recently the board has usually wound up meeting only two or three times a year. The last three years, as we began to feel a need to encourage more mutuality of purpose among the SIG leaders and among the board, there has been one meeting a year to which all the SIG leaders were explicitly invited. This has been for a Sunday afternoon meal in a restaurant private room. (CACHE does not pay for the drinks.) I have personally been disappointed that only a few of the SIG leaders could find the time to attend.
There have been occasions when a SIG asked the board for money for a special project. Sometimes it has been for a small grant to get something started, more often for a loan - usually to buy floppy disks. Nearly every one of these requests has been granted - perhaps all of them. After the first one or two, the board decided that the requests should be made in writing.
Right from the beginning, we never had a meeting in July. Espec- ially in the beginning, there was often a fair amount of swaping and selling back and forth among members at the meetings. August became our month for our own little formalized swapfest and picnic. About the only remnant of the picinic idea today is CACHE buying a few cases of soda for the event. Then we used to have a Christmas party. The idea was to have games on the machines (remember, there was a time with no video arcades or home video machines), bring along the kids, have cake and punch, and take a few minutes out for the always un-contested election.
Although in many organizations the vice-president is also the program chairman, in CACHE the president has taken, or been left with, this responsibility. Being responsible to see that there are nine interesting main meetings a year is a formidable task.
About three years ago the vice-president tried to relieve some of this burden by working with the SIGs. The idea was to have each SIG responsibile for one meeting. The meeting didn't have to be put on by the SIG. They just were to _sponsor_ a panel discussion, speaker, demonstration, or whatever. The idea didn't catch on. One or two SIGs did present a program. There were a couple of other programs presented in the name of a SIG although nearly all the work was done by a director not part of the SIG.
In general, the SIGs operate quite independently under the umbrella of CACHE. Perhaps this is the way it should be. CACHE has encouraged new SIGs, provided a forum, provided newsletter space, and let them grow or fade away. Individually, they sur- vive as long as there is active sharing. CACHE leadership does not intercede in SIG affairs. CACHE provides the umbrella under which our various interests can be encourged and cross- fertilized.
This is one person's view of how we have come to behave the way we do. We seem to agree it is time for a change. It is a shame that bigness has to bring more formality in some respects. But whatever we are to become, it will grow from what we have been - for that is what made us what we are. We can all try to keep what has been best while improving on the rest. Our unstated motto has always seemed to be, "There are no dumb questions at CACHE," as we sought to survive and grow through sharing.
[Ed. note: The above article is intended to provide some insight into the casualness of CACHE. But it also can serve as the nucleus for an informal history of CACHE. Please feel free to contribute your recollections, corrections, whatever, for inclusion in future drafts.]