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Author Topic: Putting old computers to actual use  (Read 6283 times)
subjunctive
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« on: April 06, 2009, 05:01:50 AM »

This will probably be a bit of a rant, but here goes:

It kills me whenever I see photos of a museum where computers sit under fluorescent lights 8 hours a day, cases discoloring, circuits steadily degrading from disuse - where the computers aren't complete or even functional, but just dead husks in front of (frequently inaccurate) signs.

Not all museums are like this, but some, many, are.  They fail horribly at preservation and are closer to tombs than anything else, places where some history is superficially presented, but where the computers themselves go to die.  I'd hate to think that this would ever happen with the machines in my collection... and it's not really a "collection" per se, since I detest acquiring things simply for the sake of acquiring them.  I strive to put all equipment that I have to actual use, and to pass on certain skills to curious souls that have maybe impulse-bought something off eBay and want to make the most of it. 

The function of museums, and of computer "collecting" in general, should not be simply to amass a lot of systems in one place and stick them under glass like jewelry, but to keep them actually operational and to preserve the relevant skillsets.  Computers were always here to be used, not stared at.

Anyone else feel similarly?  How do you employ your vintage machines?
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Rorshach
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« Reply #1 on: April 06, 2009, 05:44:16 AM »

Hey Man,

You are definately not the only one. Far from it indeed. Another thing that annoys me is the jokers who scream if anyone uses these systems for anything other than games.

I have been setting my stuff up, Atari & Commodore up over the past year or so for real use and for other uses than games. I am also interested in Amateur Radio and have thought of running a packet radio bbs. I had even thought of putting up a phone line bbs at one point. I also started using Geos some and even CP/M on my 64. I have gotten back into programming somewhat as well. What has been keeping me busy is getting some of the non functional stuff back in working order. One thing that bothers me is people charging a mint for busted up dirty gear. If I were to sell any of my retro systems it would be in working condition.
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Paul
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« Reply #2 on: April 06, 2009, 06:04:15 AM »

The problem I have with computer "Museums" is that most are from personal collections, so the information presented about these computers are only as accurate as the person who owns the collection.  Often, information does tend to be incorrect; not only that, but the computers are rarely ever displayed in what I'd consider their "Natural" setting.  For example, I've seen Vic 20's with brown 1541's and 1702's connected; when in actual fact, most Vic 20's were connected to small black and white TV's and were used with a Datasette.  This would be a closer approximation of a typical setup:



Unfortunately, I believe it's often the case that these computer museum collectors had never actually used many of the computers they're portraying back in the day, which contributes greatly to their ignorance.  Perhaps we should take it upon ourselves to create a governing body that provides certification of authenticity to computer museums that get it right?
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"Life and death are of supreme importance. Time swiftly passes by and opportunity is lost. Each of us should strive to awaken. Awaken. Take heed, do not squander your life." - Dogen Zenji
RobertB
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« Reply #3 on: April 08, 2009, 01:48:05 AM »

The problem I have with computer "Museums" is that most are from personal collections, so the information presented about these computers are only as accurate as the person who owns the collection.  Often, information does tend to be incorrect...
     Heh, I remember going to the Museum of Science and Technology (I hope that is the correct name) in Cleveland, Ohio, last year when I was at Blockparty.  They had a display of all the various CPUs over the years.  However, they left out all the 65xx series!
Quote
...the computers are rarely ever displayed in what I'd consider their "Natural" setting.
     I am less concerned about what would be a "natural" setting and more concerned with the condition of the hardware, with whether the hardware is fully functional, and with whether the hardware is demoing software in a manner that is clear and understandable to the observer.

              Catching up with everything
              now that MossyCon 5 is over,
              Robert Bernardo
              Fresno Commodore User Group
              http://videocam.net.au/fcug
              Notacon 6 / Blockparty 3 on April 16-19
              http://www.notacon.org , http://www.demoparty.us
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RobertB
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« Reply #4 on: April 08, 2009, 01:53:41 AM »

They fail horribly at preservation and are closer to tombs than anything else, places where some history is superficially presented, but where the computers themselves go to die.
     I do not agree with this.  After talking to those at the Computer History Museum and at DigiBarn, the people there are sincerely out to preserve the computers in working condition.  The man-hours spent on rebuilding and preserving them are enormous.

                 Catching up with everything
                 now that MossyCon 5 is over,
                 Robert Bernardo
                 Fresno Commodore User Group
                 http://videocam.net.au/fcug
                 Notacon 6 / Blockparty 3 on April 16-19
                 http://www.notacon.org , http://www.demoparty.us
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Rorshach
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« Reply #5 on: April 08, 2009, 03:52:11 AM »

Hey RobertB,

What he's talking about is him, DigitalQurk, you, me and so on as individuals are doing the preservation. More importantly guys like us actually use the retro computers we own.
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RobertB
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« Reply #6 on: April 08, 2009, 10:06:50 PM »

What he's talking about is him, DigitalQurk, you, me and so on as individuals are doing the preservation.
     Ah, a personal museum.  Well, I wouldn't call my stuff a personal museum.  It's just a collection.

                And what a hodgepodge it is,
                Robert Bernardo
                Fresno Commodore User Group
                http://videocam.net.au/fcug
                Notacon 6 / Blockparty 3 on April 16-19
                http://www.notacon.org , http://www.demoparty.us
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Rorshach
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« Reply #7 on: April 08, 2009, 10:20:46 PM »

I have not used the words museum mossoleum or collection even though those are shorter than a bunch of classic computers that get used. In my case my "retro" gear I still do not consider retro since I never really stopped using them. On top of that I hope to shock the heathens by letting everyone I do more than just play games.
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Paul
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« Reply #8 on: April 09, 2009, 04:49:02 AM »


     I am less concerned about what would be a "natural" setting and more concerned with the condition of the hardware, with whether the hardware is fully functional, and with whether the hardware is demoing software in a manner that is clear and understandable to the observer.


To me, the best part of a good museum exhibit is when the artifacts are displayed in a manner that shows the artifact in a setting that accurately depicts how its environment would have looked during its time; this provides people who were not there a deeper insight.  Alone, a retro computer may very well look like an oddly styled underpowered modern computer; but place it with other items from the same era (ie; furniture, wallpaper, other devices such as a Sony Walkman and some cassette tapes), it really helps a person to put themselves "In the picture."  This transforms a museum into something of a "Time Machine" which transports the imagination of its visitors to another place in time.  It takes them from the world of MP3 players and LCD screens to a world of black and white analog television sets and analog tape. 

I've always been partial to the living museums such as Pioneer Village, Old Fort Henry, and Anne of Green Gables where the staff are even dressed in period costume. 
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"Life and death are of supreme importance. Time swiftly passes by and opportunity is lost. Each of us should strive to awaken. Awaken. Take heed, do not squander your life." - Dogen Zenji
Rorshach
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« Reply #9 on: April 09, 2009, 05:05:58 AM »

Theres also that some like reliving the 80's. I however never stopped living the 80's
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Paul
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« Reply #10 on: April 09, 2009, 06:45:44 AM »

Casio still sells the A158W brand new for a very reasonable price:



I often wear mine when I'm in a retro 80's mood.
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"Life and death are of supreme importance. Time swiftly passes by and opportunity is lost. Each of us should strive to awaken. Awaken. Take heed, do not squander your life." - Dogen Zenji
Arkhan
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« Reply #11 on: April 09, 2009, 10:02:34 AM »

I hate people who just buy stuff to say "I have that".

I understand to a point though... say if a person hordes like, 10 working older Pentium era PCs, or boxes of assorted cards and ram, because you never know when you are going to need that sort of thing.

but when someone just goes apeshit buying every OMGRARE vintage computer and then puts it on a shelf, its comedy really....

There is just no point.  Like the people you see with a garage full of crap and you ask what they do with it and they say "collect"

"Whats hooked up?"

"None of it! I use an emulator"

 Shocked
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Rorshach
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« Reply #12 on: April 09, 2009, 07:11:15 PM »

Arkan,

Thats why I use my real stuff. Emulators are utterly unredeemable crap.
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subjunctive
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« Reply #13 on: April 10, 2009, 04:59:13 AM »

Arkan,

Thats why I use my real stuff. Emulators are utterly unredeemable crap.

I think emulators are an integral part of preservation, for two reasons:

1. They're the only way to easily deliver these old computing environments to something approaching a mass audience. The set of vintage hardware that exists in the world is only going to get smaller over time, because there are far fewer preservationists like ourselves than there are people who simply aren't aware of the historical/monetary/sentimental value of these old machines and therefore stow them away in an attic or just toss them.  It will only grow harder and harder to get these systems in front of people who want to remember and work with them again - or who have never seen them before but may have a degree of interest that doesn't necessarily extend to the hassle of actually acquiring one off eBay and getting it running with appropriate software.  Thus, emulators and the Internet over which to distribute them.   

2. They assist in archiving data from decaying physical media.  Using Apple Disk Transfer (ADT), I rip images of my 5.25" Apple II floppies to .dsk and .nib files on my PC all the time - and the easiest way for me to test the integrity of those images is to load them into the AppleWin emulator. 

None of the original electronics or software will last forever.  There will come a point, decades, centuries from now, where the only form that any of these old computers will exist in will be as copies, replicas, approximations.  Look at the Apple 1 replica - it's made from modern components, and there are differences.  This isn't because the manufacturer is cutting corners or doesn't have enough love for the machine, it's a simple fact of dealing with what modern components are available to recreate this particular computing environment.  This kind of divergence will only grow wider over time as technology keeps changing (assuming no hypothetical future in which we have Star Trek-style replicators and can whip up an exact copy of a given historical object out of thin air).  Software, being relatively impenetrable bundles of code, will have a better time of it, but of course the imperfection comes in with the emulator itself, where you only see a representation of the computing environment as given through your modern machine. 

So, in the far future, "close" will have to be good enough, because that's all we'll have.

Regarding the points made about museums: I think that depicting the computers in historically accurate settings, keeping them 100% functional, and displaying their capabilities in a way that observers can grasp are all equally important priorities.  They're all different facets of the same goal.  When I talk about preserving these machines, I mean preserving all of them - both concrete tangibles like hardware, software, and the attendant skillsets, and more abstract aspects like an authentic historical context and the collective memory of What It Was Like.  Some museums, and individuals, are better at one portion of this at the expense of another, but the ultimate goal of this whole fractured community of retro-enthusiasts, old-school hobbyists, museum curators, academic historians, preservationists of all stripes, should be identical and all-encompassing.
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Rorshach
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« Reply #14 on: April 10, 2009, 05:24:05 AM »

Emulators aren't really all that accurate, nothing more than a liability for me. As for the real thing breaking down and software degrading. Not true at all. I have repaired several of my systems quite easily and recovered software from disks that many would consider unreadable. I did it without resorting to evilbay and its out of control pricing. Truth is I have interests other than just playing games which is all emulators are really good for. Try finding much other than games on the sites popular with the emulator crowd, you will find one commodore site and precious little else. In short emulation is of no use to me and many others. Its saving grace is games thats it.

The point others have made about many of the museums is valid. They don't take into account how the machines were used. I'd even heard accounts of one well known museum (not a computer specific place either) had a Commodore 64 display and touted it as having an Intel 8080 CPU.
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