VCF East 2023 – Exhibits
Exhibits are one of the main aspects of VCF that brings the general public: to gets hands on experience with various vintage equipment and interact with experts that know all about that equipment. Some exhibits demonstrate new modern-age equipment that may enhance or add some capability to an old vintage system.
The Apple II below was one of the first exhibit you encountered as you entered the exhibit room. While it looks “messy,” I think it is a good presentation of the reality of using paper tape to store information. Aside from digital encoded data, the program running on the Apple II is interactive: you can command it to type in your own custom message and have it printed on the tape. Back in the day, some paper tape like this was prone to tearing and would have to be carefully taped back together.
Exhibit of Corey Cohen.
I won’t be going through every exhibit, because (1) it ended up being too crowded to really get time at each station and (2) I also had some specific guest speaker talks I wanted to attend throughout the day. So, I just didn’t get enough time to get to them all, which were spread across four different rooms on the complex.
I’ve grouped these into a few categories. CATEGORY 0 is a general category, with a single shot of a variety of exhibits. CATEGORY 1-9 are more specific, with several shots of an exhibit I was able to get time with.
CATEGORY 0: General highlights of some exhibits
Shout out to…
Tandyland (Mike Loewen), I enjoyed trying out Tandy Xenix OS for a bit.
Heathkit H-89 (Alex Bodnar) / H8 (Glenn Roberts)
Rocking out with Apple Synth (Dan FitzGerald, Erica Andrews, Andrea King)
Living Books: Interactive Animated Stories (Peter Fletcher / Heather Fletcher)
All You SGI Folks 🙂
One highlight to mention: The Tandy Model 102 was running a program where you select option 1, type in a single row message, and then the message would be broadcast onto the Weather Station mock up being displayed (see Behind the Screens – Genericable). This was an actual presentation of how banner messages (also called a “crawl”) would end up scrolling across displays on millions of TV viewers many years ago.
CATEGORY 1: Core64 Interactive Core Memory (Andy Geppert)
Core memory was developed and used in the 1960s in mainframes and even the Apollo spacecraft. Andy really knows his stuff about this technology and was even making and repairing kits on the spot. I picked up one of the kits, as a project to do with nephews over Thanksgiving or Christmas break later this year.
CATEGORY 2: Usagi Electric’s Old Stuff (David Lovett)
YOU TUBE: Usagi Electric – YouTube
David drove his Mini Centurion up from Texas! To me Usagi Electric is famous for his vacuum tube work, where he really gets into some of the raw fundamentals of electronic computing.
In the image below, the Centurion is off while David was being interviewed outside. But later I got to see a full demo of it in action (like compiling a BASIC program into binary, as the system doesn’t natively interpret BASIC).
CATEGORY 3: PDP-8 ASCII Art Photo Booth (David Gesswein)
ASCII Art link from VCF East 2023:
ASCII Art and Picture Capture (pdp8online.com)
Gesswein drove his PDP-8 four hours to the festival, then encountered some hardware issues on the first day. I saw him sitting in his wooden chair, pouring over schematics and books for several hours. Just another day for David though, he’s been presenting this for several years now. On the 2nd day, we were all very happy to see that whatever-the-issue-was had been resolved.
To elaborate a bit on that, my recollection is as follows (being the gist of what I understood): the first issue was a solder contact on the processor card. This wasn’t entirely fixed, but David found he could press it during startup at the appropriate time and then things would proceed just fine from there. A second issue was related to the 9-track tape inadvertently being set to read-only (which David attributed to “an idiot DEC software programmer”), this prevented the copying of a necessary intermediate file. Then while resolving the first issue, a third issue arose related to some issue with DIP switches (maybe some got toggled inadvertently?). In any case, this early 1970s PDP8 was now running software to do the interesting task of converting digital imagery data into ASCII art!
Note, there were two options us users could choose: (option #1) take a photo for about 5 seconds, wait a couple minutes for the printout (which includes both a histogram of the data then the converted ASCII image). (option #2) we stand for about 90 seconds, with the computer collecting data using multiple color filters. The data then gets consolidated into a JPEG that can then be e-mailed to us (I think around 640×480 resolution). This showing digital photography using 1970s tech!
I appreciate David taking the time to explain the 9-track vacuum tube function, I hadn’t seen that before and better appreciate how those 9-track tape systems worked.
NOTE: Davd mentioned to me that he had adjustments to the software, to better help at removing background content from the photo (which can speed up printing and also let the main image subject stand out better). Since he had just gotten things repaired and re-set up that morning, he didn’t get time before the crowd to dial in these settings.
CATEGORY 4: Adventure and Colossal Cave (Marcus Mera)
Marcus had a very excellent setup: playing Colossal Cave on an actual teletype (as it was originally played). Then other versions on TRS-80, Apple II, IBM PC, followed by the released-this-year modern VR version by Ken Williams (and the presenter here, Marcus, was one of the artist involved in that project! see here).
Marcus also presented an original Microsoft Adventure box, which was effectively the first game released for the IBM PC on launch in 1981. (see here) That’s super rare and neat to see.
But what was more impressive to me: seeing an actual physical copy of Sierra Online Wizard and the Princess. Even though it was the Atari 400/800 version, it represents 1980 software and would be preceded only by Mystery House and Mission Asteroid (which we then referred to Ken’s book to help remind ourselves what graphic tablet device they used in making those games – does anyone still have a working VersaWriter?). Ken and/or Roberta very likely packaged this copy themselves, as they were still taking house-calls on game hints during the release of the HI-REZ adventure series.
Note that this is not the same as the Scott Adams Adventure game series. Scott was active at around the same time (late 1970s), but more so on the TRS-80 platform (including the office Model II version).
Thanks Marcus for displaying and sharing these, really neat to see that part of history.
NOTE: When I was preparing my Domesticating the Computer video (see here), I had searched out for a photo of Wizard and the Princess like this and was never able to find one. So, I’m grateful that now one is available!
CATEGORY 5: Exploring IBM Classroom LAN Administration System (Chris Lenderman, Kevin Moonlight)
What caught my attention here is what I call “the worlds smallest IBM ThinkPad.” That’s my quote, it’s not official. There were these two little IBM PalmTop PC 110‘s from around the mid-1990s. I’m not sure what processor, memory, and overall stats were – but they apparently could do VGA since one of them was running Windows.
And if you look very closely, one of them has a 3D re-printed screen bezel (the thing that holds the screen itself)! Between the lower unit on the table versus the elevated one near the monitor, you’ll notice some subtle differences between the screen bezels. Very good job on that, hardly anyone noticed it from the original.
CATEGORY 6: Totally Normal Computing (Michael Stanhope/Mac Shack, Sean Malseed/Action Retro, Steven Matarazzo/Mac84)
See Action Retro (YouTube): Action Retro – YouTube
The SOL-20 is one of my favorite vintage systems – because of the fusion of metal and wood, but also because in 1976 it represents the real kick-off in consumer home personal computers (that is, something you can buy or order from a store and an accessories catalog listed in magazines). The SOL-20 was a viable system but couldn’t manage to scale up in production and quickly got overtaken by competition within a couple of years later. The inventor of the SOL-20, Lee Felsenstein, was involved in many other projects (including development of the OSBORNE-1 a few years later).
Sean Malseed himself also helped us get an Apple-1 going with an SD card being used to run ELIZA, the first “ChatGPT-like” program (originally written by Joseph Weizenbaum in the 1960s, then with various ports throughout the 1970s). In her presentation later that day, Liza Loop made a comment that Joseph had named the ELIZA program after her! We’ll have to research into that, but meanwhile this is a good way to help remember how to pronounce her name (e-liza, not “lisa”).
Running anything on an Apple-1 isn’t quite straightforward: first BASIC itself has to be loaded, then the available programs are loaded via their address shown in the listing. I noticed some younger folks giving up fairly quickly on using the system – a little “how to” poster might help next time. This multi-step load process is very reminiscent of the Altair 8800 and even the PDP-8.
CATEGORY 7: 8-Bit Guy
SEE YouTube: The 8-Bit Guy – YouTube
David Murray remains very active and well known within the vintage computer community. He puts a lot of thought, talent, prudent quality and passion into his projects and products, which many fans continue to appreciate.
David has ported his modern-game PETSCII Robots to many retro systems (Apple, IBM PC, C64, PET, VIC-20 and some consoles like Sega Genesis), and he has several other titles such as PlanetX (all written in assembly!). Keep an eye out for the Commander X16 later this year, a new system that David has been involved in developing and promoting.
CATEGORY 8: The Tech Dungeon
As promised, Tech Dungeon had some interesting 3D printed projects.
CATEGORY 9: Novasaur and Gigasaur TTL Retrocomputers (Alastair Hewitt)
Alastair fairly recently moved here to the States from the UK. A very nice gentlemen who really knows his TTL hardware. I think it is a very interesting project because with just a few TTL chips and a core set of a couple dozen machine code instructions, he is able to emulate running the entire CP/M OS!
But one drawback is that the CPU is handling the video display. He still had some interesting audio and video demo software, with the performance directly proportional to how many video scan lines were drawn (as opposed to being delegated to a separate display chip that could handle that task in parallel).
I’m still interested in getting one of these when Hewitt makes them available soon. They are like a tribute to the original Datapoint 2200 or Wang 2200 (early TTL-based systems from around 1971/1972).
NOTE: The “Windows XP Background” image below is static – his little TTL system isn’t actually running Windows. But it’s a funny suggestion that it could. The point is that it is able to draw so many colors and at a decent resolution.
I spoke to one of the electronics-gurus at doslabelectronics.com about “de-lidding” one of my IBM MOSFET chips from early 1970’s. They said they could probably do this, but the actual MOSFET may be encased in resin that would take time to clear out. I’ve yet to see a clear photo of the inside of those IBM “silver can” chips, so some time over the summer I hope to send this out and report about the result:
There were also various talks/discussions throughout the day in another hall. In fact, my main reason for coming to VCF East was exactly for the opportunity to meet with Liza Loop. I highly respect her work (see LO*OP Center here). To me, she is a living legend of the computer industry (it’s like meeting someone like Grace Hopper – which I never got the chance to do so, so I’m thankful and honored to have now been able to meet and talk with Liza Loop).
I won’t elaborate much more on these talks, as I suspect each of these will be available via some streaming within the next week.
VCF also featured two other buildings with equipment setup for soldering! There was C64 programming and repair of various parts. I went there in search of one of the raffle stamps (I only ended up finding 3 out of 4!). But I saw there were kids learning about components (like how certain electronic components can be installed either way, while some the direction is important) and grown adults were programming sound on C64 (and it was fun seeing big smiles when they got it working!).
For reference, here is what those rooms looked like.
Speaking of the raffle: the ticket folks at the front didn’t tell me when the raffle was (but to be fair, I didn’t ask). So, I didn’t prioritize that as much as I should have. The raffle was done at the end of the last talks on Saturday, which I should have anticipated as being the most reasonable time to do it (with the most people being around to claim the reward). To enter the raffle, you had to find 4 stamps hidden within the event. I found one in consignment area, one in the InfoAge computer exhibits, then a third in the main VCF exhibitors area. I thought I had covered every area, but never did come across the 4th location. But clearly many other people did and submitted their raffle ticket.
NOTE: Each stamp had a different shape. I found “X”, “star”, and “FILE.” Not sure what the 4th missing one was, if anyone knows? 🙂
The first raffle prize was an unopened NABU and the second raffle prize was an Apple IIe that looked to be in fair reasonable condition. We were nervous at first since it took about 4 draws to find a winner for the NABU. But the Apple IIe was less dramatic, it was won on the first draw of a matching raffle ticket.