The AL and I
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 Editor's Forward: Perry Contributed his old Altair 8800 to the museum along with  much of the documentation you will find in the museum's library  as well as information posted in the Altair section here on the website... we are extremely grateful to have this early system in our collection, Thanks Perry! - Ed Sharpe archivist for SMECC

The “Al” and I
By: Perry Ogletree


In the early 1970’s, I was teaching a biomedical engineering technology course at the University of Alabama in Birmingham, Alabama. I had followed the series of articles in “Popular Electronics” on the 8800 and had a burning desire for one.  However, the salary of an Associated Professor at that time prevented my purchase.

I obtained the Altair 8800 in a roundabout way from a surplus auction at Oak Ridge, Tennessee.  The “history” told to me was that it was purchased as a kit and assembled for a research project at the Department of Energy facility there (Oak Ridge was the chief facility involved in the construction of our first “A” bombs dropped on Japan). I was happy to enjoy my windfall.

I fully populated the memory card for a whopping 1024 bytes of RAM and began to learn Intel 8080 assembly language.  Hand entering a program from the front panel switches was a chore!  Luckily, I changed jobs with a large increase in salary.

The Altair grew with memory/PROM cards, and a TTY interface card.  When I lost the use of the Model 33 Teletype, I was able to get one of the first video display cards and go fully electronic.  I wrote a monitor program and burned it to EPROM and built a cassette tape interface card.

Later, The Altair really lost its identity as I replaced its CPU card with a Z80 based card installed an 8-inch floppy drive and controller.  The old Altair’s power supply finally said “enough!” and I had to retire it for a fully caged, S-100 bus, chassis with voltage regulated power supply.  That system served me well until around 1982 when it was certain that the upstart IBM PC was here to stay.

As an aside, in about 1979, I contacted a small outfit, who had written a cassette based Basic interpreter for the Altair, about porting it to a Z80 and burning it to PROM.  I was surprised to find one of the owners answering the phone.  He identified himself as Bill Gates!  If only I had known…  A little later, Microsoft moved from their southwestern location to the Pacific Northwest and never looked back.


Perry Ogletree was born in Mobile, Alabama.  He grew up in Huntsville, Alabama during the formative years of NASA.  As a child, he was privileged to “play” with many space age relics at the annual George C. Marshall Space Center employee’s picnic and met Von Braun on several occasions.  One of his prized possessions is a piece of the sidewall of the backup “Skylab” that now hangs in the Smithsonian.

With an interest in electronics, aviation, and engineering, he entered into the world of high technology after graduation from Huntsville High. His career spanned teaching, electronic design and prototyping, biomedical electronics, and computer science.  He retired from the Department of Veteran’s Affairs in 1991, where he had held the position of Chief of Information Resources at a medical center.

Since his retirement, he has been involved with his hobbies of amateur radio, computers, and raising twin teenage boys.  With the teens’ interest in competitive swimming, he is kept busy with “taxi” and swim meet duties.   He currently lives in Murfreesboro, Tennessee with his wife, twin sons, three dogs, two birds, and a snake.  There is never a dull moment at his residence.



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AL and his bother the Imsai living at SMECC


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