The story begins in early 1977 in the 7th floor cafeteria in the University of Alberta's General Services Building. Ron Poshtar had a "regular table" in the south east corner of the cafeteria and I used to meet him there on a semi-regular basis. We'd sit at the table and discuss all sorts of topics.

We were both Computing Science students and one day we started to toss around the idea of forming a club for computing students. The idea grew and we found ourselves spending hours talking about the idea. It became clear to us that a club or association of some sort could provide a forum for people to make contact and exchange ideas with other interested folks across campus (i.e. "networking" in Y2K terminology). We were under no illusions - the association's membership would be primarily computing science students but we believed that non-computing science students would wish to join and that the membership would clearly benefit from having members from a wide range of disciplines as "computing" had become a true multidisciplinary field.

By about April of 1977 we'd concluded that we really should try to launch a computing association on the University campus. What had started out as just one of many "topics for discussion" in the cafeteria had become something worth investing some serious effort on. We started to involve others and, by mid-summer, we had a group of about a dozen people who were thrashing out ideas and working towards the goal of creating a university-wide computing association. The group decided that we should create a registered society as a way of formalizing the structure of the association and in order to provide a more durable entity ("society" was the appropriate category of entity as defined in the relevant Act of the Alberta legislature).

The society needed a name. After tossing around ideas for a while, we settled on "The University of Alberta Computing Society" (UACS). This reflected our firm intention that we were establishing a university-wide entity and not just a club for computing students and it just seemed to have a nice ring to it.

One of the key steps in creating an official provincially registered society was that the society had to have a set of formal bylaws so the group set off on the task of drafting bylaws. After, quite literally, weeks of discussion, we had a set of bylaws that were acceptable to everyone and now we needed an executive committee. Over the course of developing the bylaws, a core group of people had come together and become the defacto executive of the society and what needed to be worked out was who would take on which role. In the end, a meeting was called to ratify the bylaws and to elect the first executive:

  • President: Daniel Boulet (myself)
  • Secretary: Murray Reid
  • VP Social: Ian Frazer
  • VP Finance: Dave Melenka
  • VP Academic: George Foster
  • Treasurer: Shirley Lowe
Ron, who was still very heavily involved in the whole process, declined to stand for office.

We filed the bylaws with the provincial registry and the job was done!

Well . . . not quite. September was fast approaching and we needed to get the UACS off the ground by attracting members. We put up posters and got the word around that the first monthly meeting of the UACS would be held in early October, 1977. The membership drive was reasonably successful and we soon had about one hundred members from all over campus but concentrated, of course, in the Department of Computing Science.

We approached the Department of Computing Science to see if they'd provide us with a bit of funding and possibly an office somewhere. They turned us down on the basis that we weren't a department club (i.e. we allowed students from other departments to join the UACS). We were told that if we wanted funding or space from the Department then we'd have to restrict membership in the UACS to Computing Science students. Since the campus-wide nature of the UACS was important to us, we declined and eventually found a bit of office space in the Students' Union building. Funding was an issue which was still a concern but a solution was on the horizon.

At the time, the University had a reasonably large mainframe computer system. Students were provided with a certain amount of virtual money for each assignment and were expected to "live within their means". If you ran out of virtual funds then you might not be able to get an assignment done (in practice, professors were reasonably generous with the virtual money although it was still a "scarce resource" and students did frequently fail to complete assignments due to a lack of "virtual computer money"). Many students obtained their own personal computer accounts which they paid for using very real money. The problem was that the rate available to students in "real dollar" terms wasn't all that great.

The society approached the Computing Services Department (the department responsible for running the mainframe system) to see if we could negotiate a better rate for students who wanted a "real dollar" account. They were willing to offer a better rate but only if the UACS administered the accounts (i.e. provided a single point of contact for the accounts and took on responsibility for dealing with the finances). After a fair bit of discussion, the UACS executive worked out an arrangement with the Department of Computing Services which was ratified by the general body of the UACS. The UACS was suddenly in the business of selling computer time (the UACS charged a tax of something like 5 or 10 percent which was easily enough to generate a pretty decent cash flow for the society).

It didn't take very long for the UACS sponsored accounts to become VERY popular. A requirement for obtaining an account was that the student had to be a member of the UACS which meant that the membership in the UACS started to climb rapidly. We soon realized that we were on the threshold of a serious problem: the bylaws required a certain minimum quorum for each meeting (something like 25% of the membership) and there were so many students joining the UACS for the sole purpose of getting a cheap computer account that the monthly meetings were suddenly on the verge of being cancelled due to a lack of quorum. Fortunately, we were able to amend the bylaws to lower the quorum requirement before membership reached the point were a lack of quorum could become permanent (i.e. fatal to the organization as it would have prevented any substantial business from being done as meetings would never managed to have a quorum of attendees).

Establishing the computer accounts was certainly the most visible accomplishment in the UACS's first year although it was far from the only thing that was done. We held a few social events (two as I recall, both of which were pretty much total failures - computing students just weren't party animals (back then?)). We also just generally tried to provide a forum for students involved in computing to get together (somewhat more successful than the socials).

The executive was kept pretty busy getting the computer accounts launched and just keeping the ball rolling. At some point during the year, Ian Frazer had to step down and was replaced. Ron continued to provide behind the scenes guidance and to act as a sounding board for my ideas (some of which actually saw the light of day).

Before we knew it, the time had come to hold elections for the second UACS executive. These were held in April of 1978. The president in the UACS's second year was Daniel Wilson (I, unfortunately, don't recall the names of the rest of the executive). It wasn't long before someone noticed that the first two presidents had "Daniel" for their first name and the running joke became that we were starting a "danasty".

The UACS's second year was my fourth and final year as a University student (yes, I did manage to graduate) although I kept in quite close touch with the UACS for the next few years. The third president had the misfortune to have been given the wrong first name by his parents although this proved to not be much of an obstacle as everyone, except the third president, agreed to give him the honorary name of Dan Dohla (his real name was Steve Dohla). The "danasty" continued for a number of years and I can recall one president with the first name of Randy and another with the first name of Janet cheerfully taking on the honorary names of "Dandy" and "Danet".

As I write this on June 2, 2003, the UACS has just completed it's twenty sixth year of operation. It appears to be quite a vibrant entity although they renamed themselves as the "University Association of Computing Students" a few years ago in order to obtain support from the Department.

P.S. I attended Ron Poshtar's funeral on Saturday. This w/u is dedicated to him.