A trip back in time in Boston

From: Jim Willing <jimw_at_agora.rdrop.com>
Date: Sat Jun 14 11:13:19 1997

At 07:43 AM 6/14/97 -0800, you wrote:
>> > In particular, none of the Altairs I saw people building in the
>> > mid-70's worked as designed; there were typos in the assembly
>> > and to get reliable front panel operation most people had to tweak
>> > the one-shots that controlled the timing. Some of these
>> > modifications are well documented by John Zarella, in his Byte
>> > (1975:4 p78) article "Assembling an Altair 8800".
>> RE:8800 (A version)
>> BIG TIME! As someone that built one of the first it was a dog to get going
>> and I had scopes and all the goodies. I'd also worked with the 8008 before
>> and was Intelized as it were. A friend build one about 6 months later and
>> it was still flakey as hell. <snippage> I put it in mothballs about 84
and will likely
>> never use it again. To highly modified to even consider museum piece
and in
>> '79 it suffered a lightining hit and was never right since.
>I personally disagree with the "highly modified" == "not a museum piece".
>Museums which insist on having early computers be "as shipped from
>the factory" (or, as was more often the case "as assembled using the
>instructions") will be sorely disappointed in the event they expect
>them to run when turned on.
>As you point out, no real user of S-100 equipment ever bought an Altair
>or IMSAI and then never opened it up to swap out the CPU, replace
>the original memory card, or add I/O and a decent disk controller. The
>S-100 world in the late 70's/early 80's was incredibly varied and
>active; if a museum chooses to limit its collection to pristine machines
>with only original cards, then they aren't truly representing how
>leading-edge hobbyist, commercial, and industrial microcomputing was
>done in that time era.

I agree with Tim here. Nearly all of the early Altairs in my collection
(8800, 8800a) have some mods in them (all published in the MITS newsletter
"Computer Notes" if I recall correctly), although I must admit I do not
remember anywhere the horrors in getting mine working as I see frequently
described around here. I've even got an unmodified CPU or two about, and
aside from having to wait a couple of seconds after power up for all to
stabilize and then hitting the reset switch a time or two to get the CPU
into a rational state, I generally don't have too many problems. (keep in
mind, I ran my BBS system on my early Altair for over 10 years! It can't
be *that* bad)

As to their 'condition' in a 'historical' view, I can still document *all*
of the mods as being contemporary to the system so I do not see how they
could be viewed as lessening the systems value or historical significance.
You should see the number of factory mods on some of my PDP gear! (I can
document many of those too!)

Now, I will grant you that on occasion it is useful to return a system to
as close to an original condition as possible. In the case of the Altair
for instance, one of my units has the original 4 slot motherboard,
original power supply, and painfully little front panel switches. I also
keep an original CPU board and 256 byte memory board that can be installed
when I want it to be "original".

Curiously though, when I loaned one of my Altairs to Microsoft for a
preentation to the Smithsonian Museum, both parties were *much* less
interested in 'original condition' than they were in the designated topic
of the presentation. The Smithsonian staff had requested a demonstration
of an "original" Altair 8800 running the "original" Microsoft product,

Obviously, there are some contradictions here! An "original" Altair could
not possibly run BASIC. That required a minimum of 4k of RAM, I/O, and a
device that could read paper tape. Hardly "original" in the view of some.

What I finally provided them after some discussion (and pointing out the
above), was my oldest Altair (with the 4 slot motherboard), with an
original CPU card, an IMS 16k memory card, MITS 2SIO serial board, and a
MITS Microsoft Extended BASIC ROM board. Not "original" in the narrow
view, but best suited for purposes of this demonstration, and pertectly in
line with what was available around that time, with the possible exception
of the ROM board. I did offer to provide them with a TTY and the paper
tape (which would have been more 'historically accurate'), but the 40
minute loading time seemed to disuade them rather quickly.

But I digress...

I've got various views on why "museums" want to treat their displays in
such manners, (having some experiance with the local ones) but I don't want
to start down that path... (today...)


The Computer Garage - http://www.rdrop.com/~jimw
Computer Garage Fax - (503) 646-0174
Received on Sat Jun 14 1997 - 11:13:19 BST

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