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Curtis Riggs Zenith Data System Collection : [152]

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Curtis Riggs was born in 1946 in Los Angeles, CA. As an undergraduate, he attended Sacramento State College (now California State University at Sacramento), at which time he first became a member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE). In December 1973, he received his MS in electrical engineering from the United States Air Force Institute of Technology. His primary focus was communications theory; his secondary focus was in digital computers. For his thesis he outlined a minicomputer design at the circuit level. Riggs’ previous experience with computers included a programming course he took as an undergraduate student; during this course, he worked with a CDC 3600 mainframe and Hollerith cards, the program and data input media. In graduate school, he used a 6600 series mainframe computer made by Computer Data Corporation and a PDP 11.

After graduating, Riggs was assigned to an Air Force base in Sacramento, CA, where he worked in an engineering organization that provided worldwide support to test-ban treaty monitoring systems. Riggs’ early work with the Air Force was characterized by electronic maintenance on the Minuteman ballistic missiles system; his work later developed into managing electromagnetic pulse and hydro acoustic systems. Then he transferred to seismic system work, which relied on stations around the world to monitor earth motions. In specific, he used these systems to monitor worldwide nuclear testing in the earth.

In 1974, the Air Force made a large purchase of desktop computers from Heath Zenith Data Systems, a purchase that also allowed anyone who was a member of the Government Employees’ Association to purchase a personal computer at the unit price paid by the Air Force. Active duty military were eligible to join the Association for a small fee, and so, as an officer, Riggs bought a Zenith Z-100. He chose this system for his first home computer because it was similar to the model he used at the Air Force. Riggs bought the Zenith for $2,553 in 1986. At the time, the Z-100 offered 128KB of dynamic RAM, expandable to 192KB on the main board, and provided five S-100 expansion slots that made it expandable to 768KB. In September 1985, Riggs expanded the memory to 256KB by replacing the original twenty-seven memory chips with higher capacity chips.

The System came with CP/M, which he never used, and MS-DOS operating systems. He bought PeachText 5000 and Condor, the latter of which he rarely used, separately. The System itself took so long to arrive (Zenith couldn’t keep up with demand at the time) that the company sent him a $100 gift certificate, which he never used. On acquiring the Zenith, Riggs immediately made backup copies of all systems disks, labeling them 1 and 2, or A and B, respectively. The notation “WP SYS” means word processing system disk; “WKDSK” means working disk, and “EXE” denotes an executable program. The date that appears on a 5.25-inch label indicates the date Riggs made or updated the disk. The computer came with a dot matrix printer that used perforated fan-fold paper and offered one dot matrix font. He kept the system in his home office for use in cost tracking, accounting, and word processing. Subsequently, he purchased a Keyboard Send and Receive (KSR), which came with a daisy wheel printer that supported a variety of fonts on different print wheels. As a result of monitoring the Heath-Zenith Users’ Group (HUG), Riggs later acquired applications recommended by group members.

In 1986, after twenty-two years of service, Riggs retired from the United States Air Force. He spent some of his time writing short programs in Basic to sort data and track his finances. Often he spent twelve to fifteen hours a week on the computer. He used the Zenith until 1993 (the year following his move to Texas) at which time he replaced it with a personal computer equipped with a hard drive. The Zenith Z-100 was stored in an office of his house, where it remained for seventeen to eighteen years. When he and his wife, Leona, downsized to a smaller house he contacted the Goodwill Computer Museum about donating the Zenith. In April 2010, Riggs donated his Zenith Z-100 System, along with his program disks and manuals. He located the data disks in 2011 and destroyed them due to privacy concerns.

Zenith Data Systems’ Air Force contract was for 6,000 Z-100 series computers. In 1979, Zenith was founded as part of Zenith Data Systems. Two years prior, Zenith acquired Heathkit, which specialized in electronic kits that proved popular at the time. A year later, Zenith formed Zenith Data Systems. Riggs recalls watching his father, a fireman, put together an early FM receiver and amplifier he bought in kit-form from Heathkit. Early personal computers came in kits as well, and Heathkit was particularly successful in this market. Zenith followed in Heathkit’s footsteps by focusing on the personal computer market. In 1989, the French company Groupe Bull took over Zenith’s computer division and continued to sell under the Zenith name. By1996, Zenith Data Systems had merged with Packard Bell and NEC to form Packard Bell NEC, Inc.

Scope and Content
The Curtis Riggs Zenith Data System (CRZDS) Collection was donated to the Goodwill Computer Museum in 2010, with an additional donation of oral history and digitized brochure materials in 2011. The archive includes Zenith Z-100 series computer hardware (1984–85) as well as software, bibliographic materials, and ephemera. The bulk of the collection is software (83 disks), including applications for word processing, spreadsheets, databases, graphics, and charting and graphing (Peachtree, Condor, Loud and Long, and Z-chart), system (MS-DOS and CP/M, mouse, and diagnostics), games (Lunar Lander, Yahtzee and others), and programming tools (Z-Basic). Some of this software was erroneously donated with the Zenith system but actually was purchased for use with later computers. There is some apparent duplication of disks because Riggs followed manual instructions and immediately made working copies of his disks, while retaining the master copies. However, use and updates may have altered the contents of these disks, making each unique. No personal data is included in the archive, since Riggs destroyed any disks created using the various software applications, wishing to limit the dissemination of personal information.

Manuals and “quick reference guides” (22) compose the bibliographic materials. Empty binders (4) that formerly held manuals are ephemera indicative of materials that were lost to environmental conditions. (Riggs threw away some manuals that were damaged while stored in his garage.) The archive includes documentation created in the process of working to increase access to these materials. The project report and working documentation are reflective documents that detail the processes that went into ingesting the archive into the School of Information’s DSpace. The group conducted an oral history interview with Curt and Leona Riggs, producing audio files and a transcript providing additional information about the Riggs family’s use of the Zenith.

Due to technical difficulties and limitations of time, we were able to image only thirty disks and ingest these into DSpace. We recommend future work be conducted on disks to create working copies and harvest metadata of the contents of these disks, as well as the others we were not able to image. The hardware, bibliographic materials, and ephemera are preserved via digital proxy in the DSpace repository, as these naturally cannot be ingested into DSpace. All items are available for research at the Goodwill Computer Museum.

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