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Monday, May 27, 2013

Vintage Apple-1 Sells for Record $671,400

Apple's stock price may be well down from its peaks last year, but the market for the company's oldest computers continues to set records.

An Apple-1 computer, made in 1976, sold for a record $671,400 on Saturday at an auction in Germany, including all fees and taxes, said Uwe Breker, the German auctioneer.

That surpassed the $640,000 record for an Apple-1, set last November at a sale at the same auction house in Cologne, Germany, Auction Team Breker. The fall 2012 sale was a sharp rise from the previous record price for an Apple-1 of $374,500, set in June 2012 at Sotheby's in New York.

The high prices paid for the machines seem to be explained by the combination of scarcity, a fascination with the early history of the computer age, and the mystique of Apple and its founders, Steven P. Jobs and Stephen G. Wozniak. And some irrational exuberance in the prices, for a machine that can do very little and originally sold for $666 (about $2,700 in current dollars).

“This really confirms the value of Apple-1's,” Mr.Breker said in an interview on Saturday.

The buyer, Mr. Breker said, was a wealthy entrepreneur from the Far East, who wishes to remain anonymous.

Part of the allure of the earliest Apple machines, Mr. Breker said, is not what they are, but what they represent. “It is a superb symbol of the American dream,” he said. “You have two college dropouts from California who pursued an idea and a dream, and that dream becomes one of the most admired, successful and valuable companies in the world.”

The anonymous buyer, who can afford to spend more than $670,000 on an old computer, seems to have enjoyed some version of the entrepreneurial dream come true, as well.

In an e-mail last week, and a later telephone interview, Mr. Breker said the original owner of the Apple-1 on sale was Fred Hatfield, a former major league baseball player in the 1950s, who died in 1998. I included that account in an article published on Friday.

Early Saturday morning, I received an e-mail from another Fred Hatfield, a retired electrical engineer living in New Orleans, saying he was the original owner of the Apple-1 that was auctioned on Saturday. Mr. Hatfield attached an image of a letter, dated Jan, 18, 1978 and addressed to him, signed by Mr. Jobs.

Mr. Hatfield had complained about the lack of software for the Apple-1, also commonly known as Apple I, and Apple had a trade-in program for Apple-1's. The letter offered to exchange an Apple II computer for the older machine, and to send a check for $400 as a further incentive.

When I called Mr. Breker on Saturday, I asked where he got his information that the original owner was Fred Hatfield, the ballplayer. Mr. Breker said he recalled that he was told that by Mike Willegal, who maintains an online registry of Apple-1's. Mr. Willegal said on Saturday that he did not recall saying Fred Hatfield, the Apple-1 owner, was the former professional baseball player.

In any case, Mr. Hatfield in New Orleans said he held onto his Apple-1 until earlier this year. Then, a young man from Texas in the software business, whom Mr. Hatfield would not identify, inquired. They negotiated a price - $40,000.

The Apple-1, Mr. Hatfield said, was not then in working condition. The buyer apparently put in some new chips and wiring, since it was a working model when it sold on Saturday. After picking up the machine, Mr. Hatfield said, the young man flew off to California to get the machine signed by Mr. Wozniak, who designed the Apple-1. That also enhanced its value presumably.

Told the of sale price, Mr. Hatfield said, “My God.” Then, he added, “Best to him. He's the one who fixed it up and figured the best way to sell it for all that money. Evidently, he's very good at this.”

Mr. Hatfield, 84, gives historic tours of New Orleans, his hometown. Not surprisingly, he's a jazz fan. He said he planned to use his proceeds to pay for some good dinners and nights of music on Frenchmen Street.

“I figure I might as well enjoy the money I got from that old machine,” he said.

Disruptions: At Odds Over Privacy Challenges of Wearable Computing

Perhaps the best way to predict how society will react to so-called wearable computing devices is to read the Dr. Seuss children's story “The Butter Battle Book.”

The book, which was published in 1984, is about two cultures at odds. On one side are the Zooks, who eat their bread with the buttered side down. In opposition are the Yooks, who eat their bread with the buttered side up. As the story progresses, their different views lead to an arms race and potentially an all-out war.

Well, the Zooks and the Yooks may have nothing on wearable computing fans, who are starting to sport devices that can record everything going on around them with a wink or subtle click, and the people who promise to confront violently anyone wearing one of these devices.

I've experienced both sides of this debate with Google's Internet-connected glasses, Google Glass. Last year, after Google unveiled its wearable computer, I had a brief opportunity to test it and was awe-struck by the potential of this technology.

A few months later, at a work-related party, I saw several people wearing Glass, their cameras hovering above their eyes as we talked. I was startled by how much Glass invades people's privacy, leaving them two choices: stare at a camera that is constantly staring back at them, or leave the room.

This is not just a Google issue. Other gadgets have plenty of privacy-invading potential. Memoto, a tiny, automatic camera that looks like a pin you can wear on a shirt, can snap two photos a minute and later upload it to an online service. The makers of the device boast that it comes with one year of free storage and call it “a searchable and shareable photographic memory.”

Apple is also working on wearable computing products, filing numerous patents for a “heads-up display” and camera. The company is also expected to release an iWatch later this year. And several other start-ups in Silicon Valley are building products that are designed to capture photos of people's lives.

But what about people who don't want to be recorded? Don't they get a say?

Deal with it, wearable computer advocates say. “When you're in public, you're in public. What happens in public, is the very definition of it,” said Jeff Jarvis, the author of the book “Public Parts” and a journalism professor at the City University of New York. “I don't want you telling me that I can't take pictures in public without your permission.”

Mr. Jarvis said we've been through a similar ruckus about cameras in public before, in the 1890s when Kodak cameras started to appear in parks and on city streets.

The New York Times addressed people's concerns at the time in an article in August 1899, about a group of camera users, the so-called Kodak fiends, who snapped pictures of women with their new cameras.

“About the cottage colony there is a decided rebellion against the promiscuous use of photographing machines,” The Times wrote from Newport, R.I. “Threats are being made against any one who continues to use cameras as freely.” In another article, a woman pulled a knife on a man who tried to take her picture, “demolishing” the camera before going on her way.

This all sounds a bit like the Yooks and Zooks battling over their buttered bread.

Society eventually adapted to these cameras, but not without some struggle, a few broken cameras and lots of court battles. Today we live in a world with more than a billion smartphones with built-in cameras. But, there is a difference between a cellphone and a wearable computer; the former goes in your pocket or purse, the latter hangs on your body.

“Most people are not talking about privacy here, they are talking about social appropriateness,” said Thad Starner, who is the director of the Contextual Computing Group at the Georgia Institute of Technology and a technical adviser to the Google Glass team. He said he believed most people are respectful and would not use their wearable computers inappropriately.

Mr. Starner has been experimenting with different types of wearable computers for over 20 years, and he said that although some people are initially skeptical of the computer above his eye, they soon feel comfortable around the device, and him. “Within two weeks people start to ignore it,” he said. Over the years, his wearable computers have become less obtrusive, going from bulky, very visible contraptions, to today's sleeker Google Glass.

Mr. Starner said privacy protections would have to be built into these computers. “The way Glass is designed, it has a transparent display so everyone can see what you're doing.” He also said that in deference to social expectations, he puts his wearable glasses around his neck, rather than on his head, when he enters private places like a restroom.

But not everyone is so thoughtful, as I learned this month at the Google I/O developer conference when people lurked around every corner, including the bathroom, wearing their glasses that could take a picture with a wink.

By the end of “The Butter Battle Book,” the arms race has escalated to a point at which both sides have developed bombs that can destroy the world. As two old men, a Yook and a Zook, debate what to do next, the story ends with one saying: “We'll just have to be patient. We'll see, we'll see.”

E-mail: bilton@nytimes.com