This episode consists of a telephone interview with Colette Askeland, the board layout designer who did all of the layout work on the Apple /// motherboard. We learn about the incredible challenges and accomplishments that went into creating this layout, and about the process, the community, and the environment at Apple at the time. Lots of things have been said about the Apple /// board, but mostly those things have been the same couple of critiques repeated over and over again. This interview leaves quite a different impression, one of a major accomplishment and no shortage of innovation and hard work, with a result that was truly impressive. If only. If only.
A couple of notes on what she talks about (spoilers!):
The Apple /// motherboard was the last at Apple to be designed by hand, rather than with computer layout tools. The computer layout tools were at the time unable to do a board as dense as the Apple /// without adding layers.
Wendell Sander, Colette Askeland, and Daniel Kottke worked as a team in the design and prototyping phase of the Apple ///, with Wendell getting all the communication from outside on specifications and doing the design work, then working with Daniel to breadboard it, and then passing it on to Colette to lay out the traces and components. Colette was the only one at Apple doing printed circuit board layout, and quite early in her career as well.
The process first involved creating a layout and routing traces on a drafting vellum, which involved a great deal of pencil work with component templates and electric erasing. By the time the project was done, the vellum for the Apple /// was in fairly sorry shape. After that, mylar versions were created by laying the mylar over the vellum and running miles of tape for traces and stickers for components. Then the mylar is sent to photography, and the photographs sent to the board producers. The vellum and mylar stages are all at double scale, so quite large.
Colette had the vellum framed and donated it to the Computer History Museum. She has photographs from when it was appraised, which we will post here when we get them.
Colette reinforced what we’ve heard before: the Apple /// board was incredibly dense for the time, with everything so crowded together that they had to use new experimental components and do a fair amount of “thinking outside the box” to get the thing to fit inside the box, at the expense of some fairly tricky manufacturing processes.
And plenty of stories about working there at Apple back in the very early days.