The Best Of VCF East

Last weekend was the Vintage Computer Festival East in Wall, New Jersey. While this yearly gathering of nerds nerding out on old computers might be a bit too obscure for some, there are always amazing exhibits of actual historical importance. A few Enigma machines showed up, and the rarest Commodore goodies made an appearance. We saw the pre-history of Hackaday and ‘maker’ culture with Southwest Technical Products Corporation, and found out it was probably, possible to build a RepRap in the 80s. You can’t know where you’re going unless you know where you came from, and even though the old timers were a bit more grizzled than us the Vintage Computer Festival shows how little things have actually changed.

What was the coolest and weirdest stuff at VCF? What does the Silverball pinball museum look like? Check that out below.

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VCF: Popular Electronics And Southwest Technical Products Corporation

Hackaday owes a lot to the hobbyist electronics magazines of yesteryear. Back in the day, Popular Electronics and Radio-Electronics would publish projects and articles about DIY electronics – more or less the same editorial purview we hold today. Some of these projects would become full-fledged products, and you need only look at the Altair for what can happen at this confluence of publishing and engineering.

One of the more popular companies to come out of these hobbyist trade magazines was SWTPC, or Southwest Technical Products Corporation. This was the company that brought one of the first microcomputers to the masses with the SWTPC 6800. This wasn’t just a homebrew microcomputer company – there were Nixie clocks, test gear, and stereo preamplifiers – all things that could easily find a place on the pages of Hackaday today.

This year at the Vintage Computer Festival East, [Michael Holley] brought out the test gear he’s been collecting for the past few decades. These are machines that wouldn’t be out of place on any DIY electronics blog today. This is by all accounts the pre-history of the maker movement.

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VCF East: Enigma Machines In The Flesh

At the end of World War II, the Germans ordered all Enigma cipher machines destroyed. Around the same time, Churchill ordered all Enigma cipher machines destroyed. Add a few decades, neglect the efforts of Polish codebreakers, and make a movie about Alan Turing and an offensively historically incorrect love interest, and you have a mystique around these rare, innovative cipher machine.

At the Vintage Computer Festival East, I was privy to what is probably the largest collection of Enigma machines on the planet. The exhibit comes from [Tom] and [Dan Perera] of Enigma Museum. Right now, they’re they only place where you can go out and simply buy a real, wartime Enigma machine. The price? Well, there is a pair of million-dollar Apple I boards at VCF. The Enigmas go for about a fifth of an Apple I.

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VCF: The Guys Keeping Up With Commodore

This year at the Vintage Computer Festival, war was beginning. The organizers of the con pulled a coup this year, and instead of giving individual exhibitors a space dedicated to their wares, various factions in the war of the 8-bitters were encouraged to pool their resources and create the best exhibit for their particular brand of home computers. The battle raged between the Trash-80 camp and the Apple resistance. In the end, only one home computer exhibit would remain. Are you keeping up with Commodore? Because Commodore is keeping up with you. This exhibit from [Anthony Becker], [Chris Fala], [Todd George], and [Bill Winters] among others is the greatest collection of Commodore ever assembled in one place.

This year’s Commodore exhibit was a free for all of every piece of the hardware Commodore (or Zombie Commodore) has ever produced. Remember netbooks? Commodore made one. Remember when people carried dedicated devices to play MP3s? Commodore was there. Did you know you can spend $20,000 USD on a 30-year-old computer? That’s Commodore.

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VCF East: Before There Was Arduino, We Had Balls

Today, if you want to teach kids the art of counting to one, you’re going to drag out a computer or an iPad. Install Scratch. Break out an Arduino, or something. This is high technology to solve the simple problem of teaching ANDs and ORs, counting to 0x0F, and very basic algorithms.

At the Vintage Computer Festival East this year, System Source, proprietors of a fantastic museum of not-quite-computing equipment brought out a few of their best exhibits. These include mechanical calculators, toys from the 60s, and analog computers that are today more at home in a CS departments’ storage closet than a classroom. It’s fantastic stuff, and shows exactly how much you can learn with some very cleverly designed mechanical hardware.

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VCF: 3D Printing In The 80s

The Vintage Computer Festival East is going down right now, and I’m surrounded by the height of technology from the 1970s and 80s. Oddly enough, Hackaday frequently covers another technology from the 80s, although you wouldn’t think of it as such. 3D printing was invented in the late 1980s, and since patents are only around for 20 years, this means 3D printing first became popular back in the 2000’s.

In the 1970s, the first personal computers came out of garages. In the early 2000s, the first 3D printers came out of workshops and hackerspaces. These parallels pose an interesting question – is it possible to build a 1980s-era 3D printer controlled by a contemporary computer? That was the focus of a talk from [Ethan Dicks] of the Columbus Idea Foundry this weekend at the Vintage Computer Festival.

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Next Weekend: The Vintage Computer Festival East

Next weekend is the Vintage Computer Festival East in Wall, New Jersey. We’re going, and you should be there too.

The VCF East is the largest gathering of retrocomputing aficionados on the east coast. It’s three days of talks, exhibits, a flea market, and a pow-wow of the greatest minds buried under obsolete technology. No VCF is complete without a few talks, and this year is shaping up to be great. Keynotes will include [Bjarne Stroustrup], designer / implementor / inventor of C++. Computer historian [Bill Degnan] will give a review of 40 years of ‘appliance computers’, and [Tom Perera], Ph.D. will be giving a talk on the Enigma machine.

The exhibits at VCF are always the star of the show, and this year is no different. Highlights include mechanical computers, the finest from Silicon Graphics, and a version of Unix published by Microsoft. The individual exhibits are always great; last year the world’s first digital camera made an appearance. If you’re in the area, this isn’t an event to miss. VCF is going down at InfoAge, a science center at the former Camp Evans — a military installation that is best described as, ‘DARPA before World War II’.

Hackaday is proud to once again sponsor VCF East. This has been going on for a couple of years now and our Art Director, [Joe Kim] has created some incredible art as part of the sponsorship. Click on the thumbnail of this year’s art to embiggen. The VCF West art from last year is a stunning take on the Macintosh and last year’s VCF East art reflected the retro hackathon we sponsored.