The NewsSun

Waukegan, Illinois                                                                                Friday December 20, 2002

"Twenty years now hopefully we'll have some of the things I saw in Star Trek..."
Dwight "J.J." Johnson, Lake County Computer Enthusiasts member




Club members exchange expertise, learn latest cyberworld technology

Dwight "J.J." Johnson or Waukegan holds an Atari 800 computer that he wants cremated with him when he dies.


    NORTH CHICAGO -- Dwight "J.J." Johnson zips open a bulky, padded suitcase and carefully pulls out a flat, box-shaped item covered with a faded brown sleeve. If it appears that he's handling this item with care, that's only because he is holding history in his hands. 
    "This one here is my baby -- my first Atari computer," he says, unveiling the caramel-colored keyboard and inspecting its thumb-sized function buttons. "It's in my will to be cremated with me."     
Eyeing the 20-year-old relic, which was among the trailblazers that ushered the computer age into the American household, Jim Rutledge of Waukegan offers a suggestion: "You sure you don't want to donate this to science?" 
    Laughter then fills the Learning Resource Center at Great Lakes Naval Training Center. These connoisseurs take their computers seriously, but not that seriously.
 20th anniversary 
    Johnson and Rutledge are members of the Lake County Area Computer Enthusiasts (LCACE), a non-profit organization that has grown along with the home-computer generation -- the group will celebrate its 20th anniversary in April, and is looking to expand in the era of e-mail in every household. 
    On a recent evening after work with a private contractor on the Great Lakes campus, several group members gathered in a relatively modern computer room to check out the vaunted Atari 800 and swap tales about their experiences with the LCACE. 

   "I've been using computers since about '80 or '81, but computers were starting to change into things I wasn't really sure about, so I needed a little help," said Linda Busch, who joined the LCACE in 1998 and has since become the group's president. 

    "I don't know computers very well, but these guys do," said LCACE member Donna Kalinoski, one of the legions of Americans who grew up on typewriters but is now embracing the brave but often intimidating new cyberworld. "The great thing about our meetings is that we usually have some kind of demonstration of a new product that we can all learn from." 
    With a current membership of around 47, the LCACE meets at the Grayslake Area Public Library on the second Saturday of each month, with various members bringing along the new toys they've come across at computer expos and Circuit City. 
    "It's like show-and-tell back in school," Johnson said with a laugh. "One time, a guy brought in a digital camera, and after he showed it off everyone was like, 'I got to get one of those.'" 


Name: Lake County Area Computer Enthusiasts

Meetings: Noon on the second Saturday of every month (except July and December) at the Grayslake Area Public Library, 100 Library Lane, Grayslake.

Phone: For more information, including details on memberships, call (847) 623-3815

Web site:


Among members of Lake County Area Computer Enthusiasts are (from left) Donna Kalinoski of North Chicago, Mike McEnery of Zion, Robin Seidenberg of Grayslake, Jim Rutledge of Waukegan, Linda Busch of Round Lake and Dwight "J.J." Johnson of Waukegan
    Hearing this, Kalinoski said "did you mention our motto?"  Johnson smiled and replied, "Members Helping Members ... Spend Money."  Actually, it's only "Members Helping Members." Rutledge, who admitted that Johnson bugged him about joining the LCACE for five years before he took the plunge, said the strength of the meetings is the free exchange of expertise in what could be an overwhelming field.

Varied interests
  "You can kind of separate out the members in a couple of ways," said Rutledge, pointing around the room at his fellow LCACE devotees. "I'm into networking, Robin (Seidenberg) is into genealogy, J.J. is into graphics, Linda is into (business) software and Mike (McEnery) has one of the better flight simulators you'll ever see." 

  "The really nice thing is that usually, if you have a question, you can bounce it off someone and get an answer," said Seidenberg, who joked that she's known for "attacking little old ladies in the therapy pool" to get them to come out to LCACE meetings for the educational benefit. 
    "What we try to do is spread things by word-of-mouth get people to show, and then they stay," she said. "I dragged my husband to his first meeting, and now he tells everyone, 'Oh, you've got to go to the computer club.'"  Of course, any established organization has a tale of its humble roots. Johnson, a retired Navy man, said he founded the LCACE shortly after he spent $800 in November of 1982 for his original Atari 800. 
    "It started out as an Atari group in April of 1983 - a cold, wet day in April," he recalled. "There were about six of us, meeting out at a building right off the base at Green Bay Road and Buckley. It's a child care center now." 
    The founding members all swore allegiance to the 800, which was unleashed on the consumer world in the late 1970s with a 1.8-megahertz processor and seven motherboards. It famously carried 8K of RAM, classifying it in a genre now affectionately referred to by computer aficionados as "the 8-Bits." 
    As those with long memories might recall, the 800 employed bulky plastic cartridges for its software, and also used cassette tapes to save programs on basic computing language. Though it looked like a typewriter without the ribbon, the 800 is best known as a grandfather or maybe a great-great-grandfather of PlayStation 2 in the family of home video games. With its four joystick jacks and ability to display 128 colors at once, the 800 could handle such classics as Asteroids, Centipede and Frogger.  It all seems quaint today, but Johnson said the original LCACE members were into "hot-rodding" the 8-Bits, taking soldering irons to the innards and tacking on custom upgrades to give the processors more muscle. 
    Flash forward two decades, and the group finds itself dipping a toe into such computer advances as voice-recognition technology, and dreaming about how quaint the Dell Dimension 8250 might look in 2022. 
    "Twenty years from now," said Johnson, "hopefully we'll have some of the things I saw in Star Trek over the weekend -- holograms and things like that." 
    Things that might have melted the 8-Bit down to its very core.