straight up
"As we got deeper into the design, we realized that we wanted to dynamically simulate and extend."
The Flex Machine self-portrait


Click to play videoAbout the Flex computer

Flex Machine <1967>

Through a series of flukes, I wound up in graduate school at the University of Utah in the fall of 1966, "knowing nothing."

At Utah, my professor Dave Evans was not a great believer in graduate school as an institution. As with many of the ARPA "contractors" he wanted his students to be doing "real things"; they should move through graduate school as quickly as possible; and their theses should advance the state of the art. Dave would often get consulting jobs for his students, and in early 1967, he introduced me to Ed Cheadle, a friendly hardware genius at a local aerospace company who was working on a "little machine." It was not the first personal computer but Ed wanted it for noncomputer professionals, in particular, he wanted to program it in a higher level language, like BASIC. I said: "What about JOSS? It's nicer." He said: "Sure, whatever you think", and that was the start of a very pleasant collaboration we called the Flex Machine.

Ed had a display (for graphing, etc.) even on his first machine, but a Sketchpad-like system [based on the work of Ivan Sutherland, also a professor at the University of Utah] seemed far beyond the scope that we could accomplish with what our cost budget allowed.

This was in early 1967, and while we were pondering the Flex Machine, Utah was visited by Doug Engelbart. A prophet of Biblical dimensions, he was very much one of the fathers of what on the Flex Machine I had started to call "personal computing."