By Jim Scheef
Uncle DACS needs you
The people who work hard to make DACS a viable club, the board members and SIG leaders, need your help. Overall attendance at meetings and at SIGs is down. Why is this? Are the topics no longer interesting? Are we presenting the wrong topics? I was disappointed by the turnout for the November general meeting on the impact of the Patriot Act, although the smaller room at the Danbury Library did appear almost full. Attendance almost always drops when we have a change of venue. I thought this was a fascinating, timely, important and even personal topic, but apparently most of you did not agree enough to come to hear the speakers.
So, what do you want to see at the general meetings? E-mail your suggestions to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will do our best to get or produce what you want but keep in mind that Microsoft is no longer speaking at user groups. This is the second year we have not had a speaker from Microsoft and there are no longer any other “large” software companies.
Will the Elections
Have an Impact?
How many times in the last six years did we hear President Bush say “Elections have consequences”? Well, the future looks much brighter for issues like Net Neutrality and privacy rights. On the other hand, the possibility of regaining fair use rights to the digital content you buy is somewhat cloudier. If you look at the House roll call vote on Net Neutrality (see http://clerk. house.gov/evs/2006/roll239.xml) you can see that the election will have a great impact here. In the Senate, the committee on commerce killed a Net Neutrality amendment on an 11-11 tie vote. Over the last two years, fourteen bills related to technological privacy failed. Who knows, maybe I’ll be able to write about Congress in a more favorable tone!
Saving Old Computers
Do people call you a pack rat? Do you still have your first computer? What about the one after that? Have you ever thought it would be cool to have a computer museum? If you answered yes to any of these questions and you enjoy playing with the old as well as the new, then you might be interested in my “other computer club.” Back in 2004 the Trenton Computer Festival (TCF) advertised exhibits of antique radios and “vintage computers”. The former sounded interesting while the latter was intriguing. At the fair I found a racquetball court filled with about a dozen guys tending tables of old computers. The next couple of hours were filled with talk about the MITS Altair and other S-100 machines, Commodore Business Machines (what Commodore made before the 64), early portable computers like the Grid, and, of course, the Apple II. There was also a guy manually entering the boot sequence code into an early DEC PDP using the front panel switches (yes, just like on the MITS Altair only the computer is much bigger) so I didn’t interrupt him. The most out spoken of the group told me about their Yahoo Groups’ e-mail list and gave me a pamphlet he had written about all the computer museums in the US.
To keep this story short enough to fit in this column, I’ll skip ahead and tell you that I’m now the treasurer of Mid-Atlantic Retro Computer Hobbyists, Inc. (www.midatlanticretro.org) which they acronym as MARCH. Shortly after that TCF, they became affiliated with an organization that is turning the former Camp Evans Army base in Wall Township, NJ, into the InfoAge Learning Center (www.infoage.org). Camp Evans has morphed many times since it was built as a hotel by Marconi (yes, that Marconi) as a site for his early trans-Atlantic radio communications. More recently Camp Evans was used for RADAR and SONAR research during and after WWII so the site has a large history related to technology. Located as it is on the Jersey Shore near Belmar, the site has great potential as a museum site. Key to getting all this going is some far-sighted financing provided by Wall Township. Somehow InfoAge was given a large collection of computer-related artifacts and they needed an organization to adopt this collection and help build it into something. MARCH is now one of several “member clubs” at InfoAge. There are two radio clubs, one on deep sea diving history, a WWII military group (the really big iron), etc. All of the clubs are building museums within the space provided by InfoAge with the basic costs of running the facility covered by the township for a limited period of time.
MARCH is an organization for people interested in vintage computers. What, you ask, is a “vintage computer”? Well naturally, that depends on who you ask, but let’s just say it’s something at least ten years old and is based on technology that is now obsolete. We held a swap meet in October in Wilmington, DE, where the rule was that anything you brought had to me made before 1990. This let me sell several Zenith Z-110 computers. Zenith introduced this line about the same time as IBM did the PC. The DOS we all knew and loved was not a sure bet in 1981 so the Z-100 and Z-110 had two CPUs, an 8088 for DOS and an 8085 to run CP/M. As soon as the museum rooms at InfoAge are ready, I plan to donate my IBM 5110. This was IBM’s attempt at a personal computer before the PC. Other MARCH members have even more historic personal computers to exhibit. One MARCH member has two IBM mainframes actually running in his house with a third that can only be turned on during cold weather. We are hoping to focus the museum on East Coast computer manufacturers like Digital, AT&T, Commodore, Wang, UNIVAC and even IBM. I recently took delivery on behalf of MARCH of a DEC VT-180 (Digital’s first meager attempt at a personal computer) that is in absolutely pristine condition). Other donations to our exhibits include a PRIME mini-computer, a DEC MicroVAX, a Banyan server (the largest ‘PC’ I’ve ever seen), and an early Intel ‘demonstrator’ system.
Personally, I have two goals for the museum. The first is a reference library of any and all kinds of documentation— from mainframe and mini-computer manuals, to those “easy installation” sheets for setting the jumpers and switches on PC expansion boards from the 80’s – before “plug and play.” Remember how hard it was to add new hardware to your PC? If one board had a conflict with another board, the computer would not boot! We had an entire SIG devoted to helping members solve modem problems. If you wanted to restore a vintage PC, would you remember how those jumpers worked? Neither would I, so this library could be a great resource. I have a complete collection of BYTE Magazine that will help get the library going along with a box or two of pamphlets from PC expansion boards. If you have old installation sheets that you have been meaning to clean out and would like to donate these to MARCH, please let me know. Any mainframe and mini-computer manuals are also most welcome along with early Doctor Dobbs and similar computer magazines. I know this library sounds like just an excuse to clean out my attic and that thought has a lot of truth!
My second project for the museum is what I call the “Green Screen Experience”. This would use terminals spread around the museum to display information about the exhibits, MARCH, the museum and a catalog of the entire collection. The key is to display information in an easy to use format that is based on the technology of the era. Right now the plan is to drive this using the MicroVAX. Exactly how it will work remains to be seen. If you have VAX experience or suggestions for the Green Screen Experience, please let me know.
It’s not like I didn’t have enough to keep me busy with DACS, but the opportunity to help build a real museum has been really fun so far. Of course its ski season now…
Jim Scheef is past president of DACS.