Learning to let go
Posted by Trixter on March 16, 2009
There’s a happy ending in here, so don’t cry for me Argentina. Also, it rambles a bit. These conditions should come as no surprise to those who know me.
For many collectors, librarians, and historians in the field of computer preservation, there is a line between “productive” and “OCD hoarding complex”. I wouldn’t call it a fine line — it’s pretty broad — but a couple of measured steps in one direction and you can easily travel from museumland to crazyville. My collection, for example, takes up about seven bookshelves (software) and about 700 cubic feet of space (computers/hardware in the basement and crawlspace). I usually have three or four projects around me at a time, and so my work area is usually always quite cluttered. For my current state of project completion, I consider myself right on the line: If I acquire more stuff, it will progress from “cute little stockpile” to “life-threatening”. If I let go of some stuff, it will migrate down to the happy state of “collection”. But as a collector, it is against the fiber of my being to let go of… well, anything.
There are several things that tug at the heartstrings of a computer historian. The most common is the occasional report of a large collection that was junked because the owner (or widow) didn’t know what they had. Those are frequent enough (and geographically distant enough) that it’s easy to develop a callus. Less common are when collections are offered directly to you, but you don’t have the space/money/time/permission/health/etc. to accept them. Even less common are reports of collections that have been lost not due to negligence, but rather some sort of unexpected disaster (ie. fire, flood, etc.). All of these royally suck ass, for lack of a more eloquent colloquial euphemism. But the absolute worst is when you’ve done everything right — found assets, stored them properly, tagged and cataloged them — and circumstances dictate that it is you who needs to give them up before they have been fully processed. And that time finally arrived for me.
I decided to let go of arguably the golden nugget of my collection: My cache of Central Point Option Boards. The personal aftermath of this decision surprised the hell out of me, as I actually feel… better about the entire experience. (I lack the psychological knowledge to self-analyze why that is; suggestions welcome.) Why did I let them go? So I could attend a demoparty.
Let’s talk about demoparties.
One of the things I look forward to most in life (other than family events, of course) is attending demoparties. Europe is maggoty with demoparties (if you look hard enough, you will find at least one every weekend), but here in North America they are few and far-between. The most amount of major NA demoparties we have had in a single year is two, and that was last year! (And that won’t be repeated in 2009 because NVision will not occur this year.) And because NA is so big, it can be a significant financial investment to get to one if you don’t live nearby. Luckily, Jason Scott — probably at significant personal detriment — has committed to putting on no less than five annual large demoparties, which he both organizes and hosts. This year is the third one, and although it isn’t as big as some Euro parties, it definitely has the correct vibe, which is a major accomplishment for being so far away from the demoscene nexus. It’s got a room away from the convention that hosts it all decked out for coding, watching demos, meeting with sceners, listening to demo tunes, etc. There are compos (including a true wild compo) in front of an audience of at least 200 people. There are many scene in-jokes floating around. There is booze of exotic varieties, ranging from home brews to salmiakkikossu (salmari) and a lot inbetween. About the only thing missing is a bonfire — which is admittedly very difficult, since most NA demoparties are inside convention centers, hotels, or schools.
I mention the demoscene stuff because it is one of my first loves — and the Option Board is another. In fact, my involvement with the Option Board (is this starting to sound dirty?) goes as far back as 1987. I became so intimate with it (yeah, this is starting to sound dirty; my apologies) that I began to develop a sense for what settings to give the software based on the publisher of the game I was trying to copy before I even looked at the disk. Even today, I use Option Boards in my hobby work, sometimes even transferring difficult disk images to overseas colleages who are more adept at cracking than I am, so that they can be dismantled and released into the wild.
So. I love demoparties and I love my collection of Option Boards. I lacked the money to go to Block Party this year. I could sell the Option Boards, to get the money, but I hadn’t properly archived them yet (meaning, put up a web page about them, describe them and their usage, trivia, etc.), which is something I usually spend months doing — because I am anal about stuff like that. I was stuck.
So how did I resolve these two diametrically-opposed objectives? I cheated. I decided to perform a best effort at a quick documentation and archival process, and then sell them. For a single weekend, every spare moment of time was spent scanning manuals and other materials, copying software, taking photos, and writing up a small history of the boards and how to use them. All of this was organized into the Option Board Archive, which is now available for your leeching pleasure. In an age where the DMCA is used for repeated abuse, the Option Board is a historical curiousity: A product marketed specifically to break the law (if you used it inappropriately), so I am glad to have had the chance to make my contribution to the world of Option Board history. And as for the boards themselves, they are on their way to their new owners. Two of them are going to a computer history museum in Germany; another is going to the KEEP project in France; the other three are going to private collectors with an active interest in using them to further their vintage computing hobby.
I can’t see a downside to this:
- I get to go to Block Party, on my own terms (I’m paying my own way — my attendance is not conditional on any obligations. That means a lot to me.)
- I got the damn things archived and documented
- I get to see other vintage computing hobbyists enjoying the boards
- My family gets to see some more clutter go out the door
Life is good.
So does this mean I’m going to start liquidating everything I have, to achieve a zen-like state of higher conciousness? Um, hell no — at least, not before I’ve had a chance to archive it all properly. 2010 will be the year of the soundcard museum, mark my words. Now where did I put those Interwave cards…