Tales from the Highway to Hex Adventure
VCF EAST 7.0 or RUST !!
This is only my third time at VCF East, mainly because I’ve been living too far , several states away, or working overseas and many family commitments. This belongs to a group, Vintage.org, which holds events all around the country. This particular one is hosted at a very important location on the east coast, called InfoAge Science Museum in Belmar, NJ. A former top secret Army base from WWII where valuable research was done in radar technology, space communications and even the very early computers. And before this it was the home to one of the pioneering industries, the Marconi Wireless Telegraph company in the early 1900’s. This _is_ such a great place to meet old and new friends, check out the hardware – and play with the software :) I guess if you count the times from the 70s and 80s when I went to shows every year, it would be way more than only 3 times.
In some ways, it’s like traveling back in time – but you still can’t change the past :) If only someday when we have warp drive technology[theory], we could attempt to move back in time using a technique by traveling in a hyperbolic trajectory at warp speed around the sun and circumventing the gravitational pull — still only a theory — as in the classic Star Trek episode “Tomorrow is Yesterday” [video]. Only then could we revisit vintage computing when it was at it’s very beginning – better than revisiting my fading memory. But sorry for diverting on a tangent :)
It was a long 8hr trip from Pittsburgh but we made it. I carpooled with a youngster, Matt Patoray — who lives a little further in Youngstown, OH. And is quite fluent in the art of vintage computing as well as the antique television technology, both TV’s and Studio equipment. We went off into the dark and foggy night on the Pittsburgh turnpike at midnight on Thursday — don’t ask me if there was a Grue lurking about :) <checkout the Get Lamp music video)>
As usual there’s always some rain to slow us down, but it wasn’t very bad this year. But I forgot one thing after driving about 6hrs, there was a reason I was getting sleepy — I should have taken a nap first !! I’ve been up for 23hrs straight, from working, getting the van packed, and just plain wired for the trip — haven’t done that in a loooong time, not since my 20s I think. So we pulled into one of the travel plazas on the turnpike to take a nap in the van while parked there in a somewhat vacant lot. I set the alarm on my lameass Android phone(that’s another story) for 30min, but I was so tired that I didn’t notice it wasn’t saved. We wake up 1hr later – shit !! But it wasn’t that bad after all, we would still get there around 9am with plenty of time to setup.
As always the pre-show preparation on the Friday before the event can get a bit nerve racking. Evan Koblentz, Prez of the MARCH Computer Museum, is the one who organizes VCF East – along with his colleagues, Andy Meyer(1st Vice-Prez), Bill Degnan(2nd Vice-Prez), and Justin Jernigan(Treasurer). These guys put on a great show every year –
aside from the little quirkiness , it’s still a great place to be – NO EXCUSES. So I like to kid around with Evan while helping him out to setup the exhibit halls :) Just so to bring some levity in the very long day — Hey Evan !!, why not put the table over here ?! Do we really need to sell the Microsoft books too ?! Where’s the Food ?!…..
I videotaped almost everything from the event and will have it posted on YouTube in a few days. Dave Sica along with Matt Patoray have also made the official museum videotaping, using studio video cameras, which will be available in due time. Everything from the lectures, workshops and the exhibits were videotaped by all of us. I wish I had paid more attention to some of the exhibits as they did have some extensive demonstrations which should be on video. I did tape some of them. But that’s one more thing to put on my Checklist for next time.
Oh and don’t use an Android phone to videotape anything – it’s such a toy – you risk losing some video clips, I noticed, when using so much memory for the videos. I lost some very good footage of the Teletype workshop – I only have 2 remaining clips from this which will be included in the video. But still not enough to see the valuable info from Wayne, the guest speaker, who provided this during the workshop. Hopefully this will be repeated in the near future – AND I’ll have a extra camcorder this time to videotape it – since there’s several things going on at the same time. And then maybe I’ll get on tape the actual moment of who wins the “Who smoked first” contest :) You can see some of my videos from past years on my YouTube channel – Ragooman[link]
As I mentioned, it’s a great place to meet friends, catch up on old stuff and shoot the breeze about the event, it’s always much better than chatting on the IRC channels or posting on the forums. It’s great to see what projects your friends are working on up close and in
person. This is always far better than to read a posting, or looking at pictures online. You get to see up front how the different hardware operates and how the software responds from your input, either on the front panel switches, command line, or even with the click of a mouse. And of course as the day ends we all look forward to chow down at a local restaurant each night. Only to devour as much food and beer as we can while conversing in all native tongue variants of computerspeak :) The waitress must be thinking — “are these guys going to tip well ??” – we sure do ! So I urge anyone to make it to this event if you have the chance.
The lectures are always an important part of the event. These are scheduled before the exhibit halls open, so you can always attend anyone of these beforehand. It makes for a unique lasting memory too when you get to listen first hand to how these people
experienced the early days of computer history. And you get to meet and greet all the speakers before and after the lectures — and get your favorite book signed by the author :) That always gives it the personal touch which makes for a great event. There were a host of luminaries at this event, from David Ahl (editor of Creative Computing), Roger Amidon (of Xitan/TDL), Dick Moberg (founder of the Philadelphia Area Computer Society), and Larry Stein (owner of Computer Mart of Iselin, N.J.), John Dilks (producer of the PCC ‘ 76 in Altantic City,NJ), Ruth Lewart (Bell Labs programmer of TRADIC computer), Don Caselli (programmer from Monrobot Computer), Mike Agranoff (folk singer and lyric poet), Joe LaViola & Al Rollin (UNIVAC I) and Michael Holley(SWTPC history).
I had the pleasure of meeting one of the top engineers at Commodore computers from the 1980s, Bill Herd. It was really great talking with him about my Transistor Logic Workshop
and some good ol’ hardware hacking. My buddy, Chris Liendo, was gracious enough to snap a photo of us. It was real nice talking about the intricacies of designing computer hardware from his projects at Commodore to even the little transistor logic circuits from my workshop. I only wish there was more time to talk some more but he was getting pulled in every direction with all the visitors there, that’s certainly understandable.
This was my 3rd time around at making the event’s T-shirt for VCF East. Just want to say thanks to the MARCH group for giving me the chance to let me be creative and express my myself in this lifelong hobby.
It’s another part of the scene about the computer hobby that I grewup with from visiting the old computers shows in the 70s. We had everything from ascii art t-shirts to the famous designs from George Beker — which were typically found in almost every issue of Creative Computing. On the left, you can see the image of the t-shirt design I made[click image for bigger view]. I made another one this year, called Highway to Hex, that’s also available . You can see the design here
There’s also a Book Sale & Consignment where you can *always* find cool vintage stuff that will suit anyone’s taste. Not only is there books, but anything from computers, peripherals, software — you name it ! I think this is better than any flea market in the country. They mightwant to expand this into a separate room for next time – just so that there’s enough
room for this and then we have room left over for exhibitors :) This helps draw more people each year as more consignments come in to raise money for the museum. I found two very good and original books on FORTRAN programming.
This year there were two workshops, one called “Teletype 101“by Bill Degnan, and the other “Build Your Own Transistor Logic” by me. They were shorthanded this year in the workshop scene, so I put my “virtual” hand up and offered this idea about building transistor logic. This is not the first time I held workshops, but this topic was a first. So I had to scramble a bit in getting it prepared on time.
There was quite a bit of little parts involved for each kit, about 40 transistors, 150 diodes, 100 resistors along with a plug-in experimenter board with a 44pin card edge, and the manual which I had to write. I included a edge connector in case they have the urge later on to build a card rack using a backplane just as in my homebrew PDP-8 project. I also attended the Teletype workshop, it was great picking up lots of handy information and tips about getting a teletype hooked up and ways to refurbish them. There was a special guest, Wayne, that was invited to show us all about the nitty gritty details about repaiting teletypes. It was wuite a bit of valuable information in the short time
allowed for the workshop. Somethign that could easily expand into a daylong session. Also, prior to the workshop – as pre-game exercise so to speak — learning the fine art of…. removal of the mouse nests and rodents. I think the record that day was 2 dead mice in one teletype – which were completely flat as a pancake from being mummified, probably sitting around in them for 30yrs :) And I finally got to bring home a ASR 33 teletype !! …been waiting 30yrs to get one.
I also made an effort to put on an exhibit this year too. Basically I combined it with my workshop and homebrew PDP-8 project(cardrack in center of table) with a display about the work done with Transistor computers from the 50s and 60s. There’s a copy of an old advertisement on the display board from 1953 about Radio Shack selling transistors – only a few years after they were made available. They were already on the cutting edge of technology – so you could go downtown and buy them yourself ! The technology behind the transistor was quickly outpaced by integrated circuits in computers by only a few years. Yet they kept making transistor computers up until the end of the 60s. All the while,
integrated circuits were gaining in the market for computer design way before the end of the 60s. I still find the work done with making transistor logic a very distinct step in the evolution with designing computers. While being less advanced than integrated circuits but still far ahead of vacuum tube technology, you still had wide flexibility when it comes to designing the logic. Because you still have access to lowest level of logic gates to see how DeMorgan’s Theorem, when using boolean alegebra, can reduce the transistor count to save on components. This is before you even start to check your Karnaugh Maps to further reduce the complexity in each logic circuit. As time went by, this technique was basically lost when integrated circuits became predominant in designing computers. You no longer design on the transistor level, but rather on the gate level. So the extra space it takes to use the redundant logic gate on a silicon die became insignificant due to it’s lower cost.
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