All photos here are Creative Commons, if you need any content for your own media or discussion.
This is not an exhaustive coverage – just an overview of my personal experience with the time I had to be in the exhibit hall.
This took place during the weekend of June 23rd to June 25, 2023. At Davidson-Gundy Alumni Center located in the University of Texas at Dallas. That weekend was hot and humid! I’m from the DFW area and this season felt atypical for the area, with the humidity reminding me of being in Houston. We had “triple digit temperatures” (meaning, above 100 degrees Fahrenheit). I forgot to get a photo of the building itself. The only introductory image I have is one of the university entrance signs. But what was important is the little white sign in the grass that said “VCF this way” on it!
This was my first time both exhibiting and speaking at VCF. We arrived early Friday morning. The building itself was unlocked around 8am, and us exhibitors took liberty of a back door entrance (as the university staff requested for us to avoid excessive wear on the nice wooden doors near the front entrance — in particular exhibitors with very large items, like whole couches!). Black table clothes were provided for most of the tables (they prioritized that on the Silver and higher contributors, as I was a Silver — the contributor tier was noted on the event map also). I was placed along the edge wall and had ample power outlet, but I did note that some of the inner table folks complained about lack of outlets (and not bringing their own power extensions) — eventually appropriate extensions were strung across the room.
I finished setup around 11am for the table setup work, and as we were leaving for a lunch break a very brief (under 5 minute) rain came through. It was rather odd since the entire day was otherwise full blue skies. We ate at Aloha Chicken and Shrimp nearby and I recall the lady there appreciating the free car wash.
The official event start was at 2pm Friday and several talks were scheduled, but I had to bring my daughter back home (a little over an hour away). Also, my throat was feeling slightly sore (I think from a lot of more-than-usual speaking the prior two days), and since I was scheduled as a speaker later that weekend, I decided to just rest for the remainder of the day.
The Venue View: Here is a broad view of what the inside of the Davidson-Gundy Alumni Center halls looked like with nearly all the exhibitors set up. The high ceiling did help give a more open feeling. It got a little cramped on Saturday, but (at least to me) not overwhelmingly so.
Atari / Commodore / PC / Mac
As a few miscellaneous highlights…
- Great presence of Atari (VintNerd, T.A.C.O.) and Commodore (here) user groups
- PC/Mac is also grouped here only since I had very few shots (photos) of them anyway (several Lisa systems on display)
- Bo’s SuperPET had a power supply issue! On Sunday Bo helped me test my Commodore VisiCalc disks using his 8050 drive and my MiniPET.
- The PET 2001 was reasonably priced and in great condition. I didn’t get a chance to see how much RAM it had. PET’s are neat systems (I have a 4016 model) and I hope that 2001 finds a good home.
- The portable Compaq 486 did catch my eye – I’ve been looking for a vintage system to run OS/2 on and prefer a smaller footprint system than a full desktop. But I need one that can also boot with a CD-ROM (as the OS/2 install media I have is on CD).
- The Compaq II 286 running PETSCII Robot was neat to see!
- A fully setup AutoCAD on an IBM PC (with the plotting device, that was fun, I never had the chance before to use one of those)
- The Mac was demo’ing a VGA connection, while playing Oregon Trail. We later visited the National Video Game Museum (about 15min drive), and my daughter did a successful speed run of Oregon Trail on the IBM PC XT they had setup there. [ see the very end for more info about the NVGM! ]
I had to put Tandy in its own section since Fort Worth (and the DFW area) is “home” of the Tandy/Radio Shack empire. While that empire did crumble eventually (the “Radio” “Shack” lights are no longer on the towers downtown), that legacy is still here – and the CoCo community remains alive throughout the world.
Highlights from above…
- The excellent TandyVIS (Video Information System) collection. The left-adjusted R logo is a welcoming site for local enthusiasts!
- The KAYPRO on the left here isn’t part of Tandy, but a good friend of mine had one when we were growing up. He was always fond of it and the CP/M operating system.
- Seeing a working TRS-80 (model 1) and in pristine condition is a treat. The Quick Printer II was neat to see. My parents neighbor, Micheal Singer, started Medical Manager (that became WebMD) – he got his start in software after purchase of a TRS-80 Model 1 for $600 at a local Radio Shack. (read about it in the later half of “The Surrender Experiment: My Journey into Life’s Perfection”)
- A pair of Tandy portable systems (I was saving up for one of these many years ago!)
- The Tandy Color Computer 4!? Even if just a case mock-up, it is amazing to see the concept.
For about two minutes, I had Usagi’s Centurion all to myself! But I was “star struck” and didn’t dare actually touch it. Usagi (a Texas native) has had a wonderfully documented journey in restoring this esoteric early 1980s system back to life (including its hard drive), see here.
The board next to the Centurion is a different project, where Usagi is building a vacuum tube based computer from scratch! The control input is the small board at the bottom right (control as in toggle switches to input opcodes).
Remixes: These are modernized versions of the classics: PDP-8, Altair, KIM-1, and a 6502-based system called the Superboard III. Featured by Briel Computers (here).
The Round/Radar CRT: There is an outstanding story here of a terminal recovered from a creek and restored (work in progress on the keyboard) — there were additional photos of the terminal caked in mud. But on top of that terminal was this small “round CRT” that actually was from an old radar system! I didn’t get to meet Jarrett at the time, but I did speak with his father for a bit. Some of the work on this CRT is documented here.
HP9830A: I knew that a local enthusiast in the DFW area here did have one of these, so I’m very glad to see it be on display here at VCF SW. On top of that, I noticed it was also powered on! I had never seen one in person, so being able to interact with the system was a pleasure. I didn’t get to meet with the owner — I attempted some programming, but wasn’t very successful. One thing I’ve honed-in on about vintage systems is the evolution and variations of the ENTER key: EXECUTE, RETURN, ENTER. And this 9830A has an “END OF LINE” key (which later ended up as a quote used in the remake of the Battlestar Galactica series).
And I have to say: I still call this a calculator. I realize it is internally a fully capable computer system, but the “user experience” of the single line screen is quite limiting. But also interesting is the camera has the same refresh-rate issue with that single line LED (in person the full line “10 PRINT HELLO” was visible).
The Tektronix 4054A: The Tektronix series began as a 6800-based system, often associated with use by the Navy and Air Force (who then had a great desire to improve the performance of these systems). Per the owner, the 4054A here is from around early 1980 era (for context, the earlier 4051 model is from c. 1974). While the system has outstanding resolution for its time (at a little over 4000×3000), it still takes nearly a minute for the processor to display a full image (video TBD). The owner had a great collection of themed images, and had also personally ported a few games like Asteroids, Star Trek, and Adventure (using BASIC and including audio capabilities). On top of that he did an Arduino-based solution as a proxy for the internal DC300 tape drive.
For me this was my favorite part of this VCF, to see such a grand system in the hands of someone who has complete mastery about it.
See VCF thread discussion here.
Summary of the above…
- The HP Jornada brought back some memories, as my father used one for awhile.
- The Atari Portfolio was the same system John Conor used to hack a couple systems in the movie Terminator 2 [ note, see this website as a great archive of which computers have been used in which movies – starringthecomputer.com ]
- HP 200LX Palmtop PC-4MB, “palmtop” was a term I hadn’t heard in quite awhile.
- Not just one, but two IBM ThinkPad 701C‘s on display! These are highly excellent models of the ThinkPad series, and I finally got to see how the keyboard actually “folds in” while closing the case. The owner also explained the intricacies of the battery, that has a kind of “ID chip” that normally only allows IBM brand batteries to be used – until now! (see 701c.org)
Highlights of the above…
- A closed-caption enabled looped playback of the Domesticating the Computer videos (alternating between Mandie and Aaron Editions), which is a walk-thru of a poster series that my daughter and I started on last year in 2022 (and some CoCo folks helped with the narration!).
- The IBM 5100 and some related artifacts. Same exact one as presented here.
- Sharp PC-5000 with a running loop sequence of six BASIC demo programs that I put together (and stored on the bubble memory cartridge, set to autoboot to the sample programs). The PC-5000 features a “nearly silent” thermal printer as shown here (not a screaming dot matrix).
- My MiniPET case setup (changing the software throughout the day, including my own simple game that I wrote in 2021 for the PET called DestinyHunter). Which has made me realize the “lost art” of self-play demos that arcade games used to have.
- Also an original copy of Commodore PET VisiCalc and manual, and the great “red book” that teaches all about the PET system.
As things settled down a bit Sunday afternoon, I got time to catch up with AJ of Forgotten Machines (here). I had come across some original IBM 5100 tapes (off eBay) that, as far as I’m aware, aren’t archived anywhere. Before attempting to load them on a physical drive, we hoped to find an expert to help improve our odds (such as by digitizing the content and attempting to read it on new media). And AJ was up for trying!
AJ has a kind of “Uncle Fester from Addams Family” persona, which I mean in a very positive way (very energetic). AJ was using his own custom homebrew equipment that we jokingly called “Doc Brown Style” (ironically, the actor Chrispher Lloyd played the character Uncle Fester in one of the Addams Family movies – and also played as Doc Brown in the Back to the Future series).
AJ showed how he is able to fully control upper and lower heads of his “universal QIC reader” device (that he designed and built), to seek out data within tracks. The DC300 tapes used in the IBM 5100-series, and Tektronix systems of around those same year, used a 2-track system as opposed to the more elaborate 9-track tape systems. But finding the exact track positions requires a specialized device, which is exactly what AJ has built. Getting insight into this process was great – and we think that we did find and record a session of data. But VCF Staff was getting exhausted and security had to close up the building – we’ll resume this work over the coming months!
The Panel Speakers
A special session took place on Saturday across the street from the hall, with various YouTube favorites from the vintage computing community. This was a great session hosted by Bil Herd of hackaday (see here for info about Bil himself).
UPDATE: The professionals work fast! The Panel Talk for this VCF is here.
My only highlights here is:
- Custom “VCF treats” were made available to the speakers in a break area. Very fun!
The images below didn’t quite fit in a particular category, but I felt demonstrate a kind of variety of things one finds at a VCF:
- I’ve seen “split keyboards” before (and tried some over the years), but the one here was more unusual than normal.
- Hauling and setting up a working teletype was neat to see. With a literal “bit bucket” it was punching away most of the weekend.
- An odd Atari keyboard keypad expansion module was interesting.
- Kevin’s work on the Turbo9 (6809) by itself isn’t unusual. But what was unusual here is seeing a fresh (2022) copy of the thesis work – from the same University of Florida that I went to (and I recognized the thesis format very well). I got a brief moment to meet with Kevin, really fascinating work he has done here.
- In the “free stuff” tables, I came across a large book titled “THEOS” – which sounds like some ancient Greek God name. But I couldn’t help reading it as “THE OS” – and sure enough, THEOS is some OS! This particular book was describing the version of around 1990 (then for the 386). I had never heard of “THEOS” before but decided to leave it on the “free stuff” table. When I get less projects someday, maybe I’ll remember to come back and look into what THEOS was all about. (first edition Sept. 1988, Walnet Creek, CA).
- Also on display were some Russian early computers (notice the keyboard characters)
There were some exhibits I didn’t get any photos, but I wanted to mention them:
- Sergio’s HP Pen Plotters: restored and very rare to see in action. I’m glad he got these working and shared with the public. To avoid extensive wait times, the print quality had to be dialed down – so we could get a plot out in a couple of minutes (rather than hours). The technology is similar to the modern Slicer approaches used in 3D printing (i.e. deciding the most efficient path to do a plot).
- Nybbles and Bytes (here): June’s 4pm presentation on programming was really great, and she makes it a lot of fun starting with a “boring” QuickBASIC sample, then within minutes evolves it into a more elaborate program, while explaining what each evolution of the program that the change is solving. For example, just using newer version of QuickBASIC had more efficient libraries to speed up certain things, or to solve certain flicker issues we had go into some inline assembly. I wished my daughters’ school had this kind of presentation rather than using Scratch.
- Neighbor: Paul (here) had some excellent C64 and Atari equipment, the synth work sounded great!
- Neighbor: The FujiNet folks (here) with a peripheral to help get vintage systems on the internet
I won one of the auctions!
I then called my wife and teased that I had bought a fish tank at the VCF auction! The Apple IIe that I acquired included a copy of Fishies (a “fish tank emulator”), so she was quite relieved it was a digital fish tank that didn’t require any maintenance. It was a real treasure of software that came with the system. I grew up on Tandy CoCo systems and so this was my first vintage Apple system. The system included the Z80 card, which means I can now also experience CP/M (thus also reducing my need to get an OSBORNE-1).
I had a chance to get unopened boxes of an Apple IIe at a prior VCF West a couple years ago, but since I was flying commercial I just couldn’t coordinate the shipping at the time. VCF Southwest in this case is local to me, so I was more open to buying larger items. Thus, I went ahead and bid when the Apple IIe was offered!
The auction ended up being a lot of fun — just to learn about the items offered (such as tempest equipment) and watching the experience with a professional auctioneer. But I think this ended up dampening sales for certain exhibitors. The issue was that the professional auctioneer ended up late due to traffic, the exhibit hall had to be closed up (by security) before the auction had ended. So, a lot of people were saving up their money for the auction, then for those who didn’t get their desired item they couldn’t get back into the exhibit hall to then do deals with exhibitors (as most attendees were only there on Saturday).
Several exhibitors were grumbling about this the next day – and perhaps sales were maybe lackluster for other reasons. The VCF staff did have provisions for a UPS shipping to be on-site, so that was very convenient for those traveling from out of the state. Announcements were made several times throughout the day that this service was available. And that volunteer staff was on hand to help loading any heavier items.
I hope the vendor-oriented exhibitors don’t get overly discouraged about this! Just having the systems on display, to motivate discussions and stories being told, is still a very worthy public-outreach activity – which can still translate into online sales, and “there is always next year!”
The VCF Staff and volunteers deserve a lot of credit on helping things run fairly smoothly. The street signs setup in the early morning were great, the large projector and periodic overhead announcements were great, setting up tables and chairs was great. The only criticism I can think of is for more roller carts to be available for folks loading and unloading (and maybe marked with a sticker or color tape on which are “VCF Staff” or University provided, versus other personally owned carts) — also I think maybe the location of the talk-rooms relative to the main hall area was a bit unclear (and how limited the seating was). Things weren’t perfect, but you have to cut them some slack: there is no rehearsal opportunity and volunteers aren’t all equally informed on things. But it was still a very successful and enjoyable event!
My only gripe is: no one in Texas brought a Datapoint 2200!? Well, perhaps next year. That is another legendary system with its start down in San Antonio.
SIDEBAR… The National Video Game Museum
The NVGM was the Platinum sponsor for this VCF SW. They are located within a large building that is also home to a (book and media) library, railroad museum, science museum, and small art theater. It is located a bit north of the VCF UT Dallas exhibit hall, about a 15-minute drive.
The museum is somewhat biased towards console gaming (including a fully active arcade at the end), but there is a good mix of home-computing gaming as well (including a long row of vintage systems running popular games and fully available to the public to use). The museum does appropriately start with Pong and the Magnavox Odyssey. IMO, the split is roughly 60% console and 30% classic PC, and 10% other (e.g. board games).
- While my daughter did her OT speed run, I took on the Coleco version of H.E.R.O. (complete with the ADAM upgrade). She was tackling the river mini-game, I was blowing up walls in a helicopter pack.
- Surviving Oregon Trail, even with only one family member alive, still brings a big smile! Not many points though during a speed run (even with carpenter double point bonus).
- Dragon’s Lair is famous as being the first laser disc game.
- The Jaguar was the first 64-bit game console (you can see the arcade in the next room on the left)
- We enjoyed some Duck Hunt in the 1980s typical-kids-room mock up
- In the arcade, our favorite was 4-player Gauntlet with some fellow museum visitors (my personal favorite is a toss between driving in Spy Hunter and the Tron challenges)
Next to the NVG museum is a very excellent library – a good place to also relax, charge phones, and check out the T-rex model (hint: the head swivels!).