Oldskooler Ramblings

the unlikely child born of the home computer wars

Journey’s End

Posted by Trixter on April 21, 2013

I was part of the first wave of people tackling the gigantic task of preserving personal computing gaming history in the early 1990s.  (I suppose pirating software in the 1980s counts too, but scanning materials and interviewing people began, for me, in the 1990s.)  Without connecting to others or knowing what was out there, I started to hoard software and hardware where financially possible and appropriate.  I collected software I considered hidden gems, that should be given their due in some public forum before being forgotten.  I grabbed many Tandy 1000s and other early PCs to ensure various works could be run and studied.  I was an original member of the abandonware movement.  I wrote articles on how to get old software running on modern machines, and contributed to software that did the same.  I co-founded the world’s largest gaming database so that information about these works could be consumed and researched by millions.

I did this all before Y2K.  When you’re the only guy shouting in a crowd, you tend to look the lunatic, and that’s pretty much how most of my friends and family saw me.

Look around the preservation landscape today and much of what I was working towards for years has come to pass.  There are many vintage hardware and software museums, both physical and virtual, including some dedicated to gaming.  There are some wonderful emulators that get closer and closer to the real thing each year.  There are even some curated collections online.  (There are many more curated collections offline, orders of magnitude larger than what is online, but in a decade or so I believe these will move online as well.)  Most importantly, there are established communities that support these efforts.  All in all, I’m pretty happy with how things have turned out.

Looking around all of my possessions inside my home, I see the fallout of what I was trying to accomplish many years ago.  I see no less than five PCjrs, three identical Tandy 1000s, three identical IBM PC 5150s, and multiples of Macs, Apples, C64s, and Amigas.  I see crates and bookshelves and closets filled with hardware and software.  I see clutter where there should be a nice desk for displaying a computer in a respectful way, or an easy chair for reading or watching TV.  It’s too much.  It’s time to let most of it go, and focus like a laser on the things that are the most important.  I will be disseminating most of my collection, both software and hardware, in the following year.

What I will continue to do, however, is archive and preserve software, as there is still a ton of IBM PC software from the 1980s that has not yet been released into the wild.  I am also committed to creating the “sound card museum” project I keep threatening to do.  To those ends, I will retain a few systems that will allow me to achieve both of those goals.

So, I’ll still keep buying and collecting vintage software — the difference is, I won’t retain the software after preserving it.  Consider me a vintage personal computing clearing house.

11 Responses to “Journey’s End”

  1. Alkivar said

    hopefully much of this gear you are ridding yourself of will go to museums and other collectors who will treat it with care.

  2. VileR said

    Good on you — sounds more like a refocusing of efforts than an “end”; sometimes weeding out the dross is a necessary step.
    (I’d gladly take one of those Tandy 1Ks off your hands, if I thought it was likely to survive trans-atlantic courier carelessness that is….)

  3. Makes perfect sense to me. Now that there are actual museums, proper collections etc. you can contribute to, it makes little or no senes to have all all this software and hardware at home. But as a collector, I can resonate with just how hard it is to let these tidbits go — in a way, owning an “über retrogaming machine” or an A1000 is part of my self-image, and it makes these items very hard to part with. Still, it’s the only sensible way to go and I wish you the best of luck in finding loving homes for beloved pieces of history.

    • Trixter said

      Always a kind and thoughtful post from you :-) Thank you. I do plan on retaining a few machines for myself — I could never let me 5160+5161 go after trying to obtain it in parts for 15 years, and of course my 6300 will stay with me as it was my first machines. But yes, there will be quite a lot of storage space in the house in about 18 months…

  4. A similar hardware/software purge/triage took me about 2 years, on and off, to accomplish. Its hard. You’ll probably take several passes at it tightening retention standards each pass. Allow for some reflection time between culling passes. I got rid of some stuff in a frenzy I wish I’d retained. It may pay to setup a disposal staging area where things can be reflected on for a bit before dropping the hammer.

    One thing I did was decide if something’s genetics were worth preserving, and I made an executive decision to kill all hardware that used those miserable Dallas chips (ex PS/2 Model 35/55/65). I did a couple of Dallas grind/peel/solder mod jobs to fit a CR2032 carrier off some junk Pentium mobo, but the effort was too much for the gain. When you’re young, time is unlimited and “I’ll get to that someday” projects are easy to accumulate, as you get a bit older you realize time is a limited resource, and all those shelved projects have become a psychological drain. Once removed from sight, I found my mood improved considerably

    I also made an executive decision to kiil scads of genericlone adapter cards. How many unidentifiable driverless IDE paddle cards do you need? My answer was zero. I kept several ST01’s, and various Adaptec and Future Domain cards I could find drivers for, and a the oddball stuff like caching IDE controllers.

    I read your page on the Editors. Consider using an EGA card rather than CGA. No “snow”. The switches on the EGA can be set so it’ll emulate a CGA and drive a CGA display. It can even be configured with the switches to drive the monochrome displays. The EGA driving CGA display doesn’t need the memory daughter card, a non-upgraded basic 64k EGA can drive the CGA display.

    If you’ve got a Hercules Plus card laying around, the Brief editor can be configured to do a 43 line mode with that card too. Its not super fast, but those extra lines make quite a difference in your visual perception of code when programming. 25 lines isn’t a lot of visible context.

    • the staging area idea is a good one. I came up with an “ice floe” procedure for getting rid of machines, and it does help.

      • Trixter said

        Can you describe this procedure in more detail?

        I was thinking of dedicating a table (for hardware) and a few bins (for software) where the table has an IN and OUT end, and the bins are IN and OUT as well (OUT software means it’s been imaged properly and is ready for dissemination).

        • I suffer from analysis paralysis and general brain freeze-ups when it comes to getting rid of my old systems. I figured I needed some ritual / procedure to follow to quell that.

          The first steps are simple reality checks:
          * Does the system still power-on? (how broken is it?)
          * What does the system do that’s unique? (How easy would be it be to replace or re-acquire?)
          * Is there any expected near-term use, or has it been collecting dust ever since it was acquired? (Is it spare parts for other systems no longer in the collection?)
          * Does the system have any personal or historic significance? (Keeping things because they were free isn’t always a good idea.)

          If it’s time to say goodbye:
          * Take photos or videos of the system.
          * Copy logs of the boot process (dmesg) or videos famous applications.
          * Run some benchmarks or other reality checks. I like to “build the world” for NetBSD, run openssl benchmarks, and potentially bonnie++ and lmbench.
          * Write some notes and keep a journal in case you feel like reminiscing later.

  5. bits don’t take much physical space these days, and can be crammed into increasingly smaller physical spaces as time goes on. these days it almost seems more effort to decide to throw them away than it does just to carry them forward to the next generation of storage technology.

    physical computers, on the other hand, are relatively incompressible, at least if they are to remain functional. :)

    since surplus unix workstations started following me home in the late 90s, I’ve been wrestling with reconciling reality with my dreams. systems that are currently powered up and performing useful work are one thing, but when systems have sat on the shelf for the last decade collecting dust, it’s increasingly hard to justify keeping them. (which of course makes me want to get some sort of rotation schedule in, but I’m just kidding myself…)

    I completely empathize with you, and share in your gut-wrenching feelings of retroactively losing potential knowledge.

    • Trixter said

      I’m coping by taking many pictures of systems before I let them go, and only let them go into the hands of other collectors (ie. not the dump). I’m also going to purchase both a high-speed duplex scanner and a guillotine paper cutter for archiving things that I can destroy, and also purchasing a contactless (ie. camera) scanner for things that must stay intact, like software I plan to resell. All of this costs about $1500 but it is a small price to pay for being able to save things, and $1500 is a lot less than the many hours of therapy I’d need for either holding onto everything and losing my family as a result, or trashing it all and not being able to deal with the guilt :-)

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