Is it time for an International Vintage Computer Association? Was: Yo

From: William Donzelli <>
Date: Tue Jun 27 23:09:09 2000

> I must disagree with both of you... Museums provide one function -- that
> of conserving machines and ensuring that they will still be around in the
> future.

No, museums do more. They preserve the hardware (and software and docs
and all of the related physical stuff), as we all know, but they also
preserve the culture. In fact, in many cases, museums are more interested
in the culture behind an artifact than the artifact itself. For example,
tribal masks are interesting artifacts, made of exotic woods, and they
can tell all sorts of things about the artists and tools at the time it
was made - but the real value is the knowledge of how the masks were
used, who used them, why and when they were used, and so forth. In fact
archaeology is almost _all_ culture study - artifacts are just clues.

> Hobbyists provide a different function (IMHO) -- they carry on
> using the machines, ensuring that the operational knowledge is preserved
> a little longer. They may also pull them apart, modify them and restore
> them, and in so doing recreate some of the design information for the
> machine.

This is something the museums are starting to do, now that they are
starting to take the things seriously. For example, on one of the
submarine museums, a project is afoot to restore the stable element back
to operation. The main point of the project is not to show a working Arma
gyro system, but to preserve the methods (some would say magic) involved
with balancing the beasts from the few old men that can still do it. The
artifact will likely last for thousands of years if treated well, but
those old codgers are will be lucky to last another twenty.

> All museums that I have ever been in contact with would certainly -- and
> with good reason -- refuse to let me do the sort of things to their
> artefacts that I routinely do to my own machines. Like adding chips,
> sticking wire-wrapped (and reversable) modifications on the backs of
> boards. Like taking them _totally_ to bits and desoldering chips, etc. Am
> I ruining classic computers? Perhaps. But if I didn't do things like that
> then I'd not be able to share repair methods, etc, with other collectors
> and enthusiasts -- and yes, museums.

Well, yes, the museums would kick you out in a jiffy. The whole idea of
an artifact is to "freeze" it at some point in time, and keep it there.
It is far from a perfect world, and all sorts of things want to change
the artifact, destroying the "historical fabric" (official term). Museums
want to keep this fabric as intact as possible, but also may want to
restore the artifacts. It is a fine line - the well being of the artifact
vs. the value to the public. That is one of the reasons museum tend to be
very slow and careful. Even little changes rip the fabric, and it
_can_not_ be repaired.

Museums and scholars learned the hard way how to treat artifacts. Much
has been lost because of little (or sometimes big, in the case with
Egyptology) changes have built up into big changes, and documentation can
only go so far. Even mods that are reversable really are not. Changes can
be tiny, but they add up.

Now I don't think for even a second that I am going to change everyone
into "restoration cops", but it is something people should consider. Some
of us have very unique machines, some with a great deal of history behind
them, but it could all be lost forever.

> Both functions are highly valuable. I refuse to say which is more
> valuable (that depends on who you are and what you're interested in). But
> there's certainly a place for both groups in the world.

As I said, there is simply no way everyone will start acting like a
curator. In fact, I may very well get flamed for even suggesting such a
thing. Private collections will always exist, and a great deal of
knowledge will be kept private. The key is to get the museums and private
collectors to exist peacefully and exchange the knowledge (actually
easier than it sounds - this list being a good example).

> My experience is that museums are great if you want to see what the
> museum thinks that the average member of the public would (a) want to see
> and (b) would understand. But if you want to go way beyond that then
> you're not going to get very far.

Maybe the UK is different (I though the British were the kings of
museums?), but most US museums are quite happy to let the public research
the holdings. There may be a little bit of processing (paperwork and so
forth) to go thru, to make sure you are not a Bozo ready to walk away
with some artifacts, but it can be done. Credentials help a great deal -
thus the idea of an "official" retrocomputing organization has a great
deal of merit.

> Hmmm... Some of us do ensure that anything we discover about our machines
> is at least 'backed up' to one other collector, if not made public on a
> list like that one. And the things we discover are _not_ the sort of
> thing you're going to find out just by looking at a machine.

Who says that museums are just for looking anyway? The point of
collecting the artifacts is so they can be studied in detail.
> While most of us have machines that we don't mention publically, you can
> bet that if you start asking questions about them you'll get answers
> which at least imply they've _seen_ the machine in quite close detail.

That is great, and I thank everyone that does participate, but no doubt
there are many that don't. Just recently I was thru a round of
semi-academic talk on another list about the RDF (radio direction finding)
set Amelia Earhart used, and why she managed to get lost. Well, a friend
and I had some documentation about the Bendix system used, so we shared
it. Another guy I know actually _has_ one of these radios (a very rare
variant - the only one I know of), but he said nothing - added nothing to
the discussion. For our purposes, the radio in his collection might as
well have been a potted plant.
William Donzelli
Received on Tue Jun 27 2000 - 23:09:09 BST

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