VCF East X: The Mega Mix

The Vintage Computer Festival East was last weekend, and now it’s time to wrap everything up. We’re going to start this off with a video of the biggest, most intolerable jerk on the planet walking around the boardwalk at Ashbury Park. Thanks to [Fran] for filming it.

That video, despite the wretched casting director, included the reveal of the PDP Straight-8, the 50-year-old minicomputer that was repaired and refurbished by [David Gesswein] just this year. You can see some pictures of that and more below, and a little more on [David]’s website.


Old computers mean chiptunes, the bleeps and bloops of SIDs, POKEYs, and those weird Yamaha things, right? Nope. [Anthony Stramaglia] exhibited a Fairlight CMI, one of the first digital sampling synthesizers. This is actually [Bob Moog]’s Fairlight. Before digging into the the technical details and pics, here’s a short jam session:

The Fairlight CMI is basically a dual-CPU computer based on the 6800. The computer includes two 8″ floppy drives for storing samples, and a number of voice cards to buffer and play the samples. A green CRT (with a lightpen) is the UI, and yes, you can draw samples on it. It’s an awesome piece of tech that can be heard on just about every record made in the 80s.

Apple Oddities

A working Lisa 1
A working Lisa 1

The Apple Lisa was released in early 1983 at a price of about $10,000 USD. Nearly all of these units were defective, with the Twiggy floppy drives failing left and right. In 1984, Apple released the Lisa 2 for about $5,000 USD, replacing the Twiggys with reliable Sony disk drives. The Lisa 1s were quietly disposed of. You would be correct to assume that Lisa 1s are incredibly rare, and a working Lisa 1 is nearly unheard of.

[Cory Little] brought in a few of the rarer Apples for his exhibit. Included is a IIc+, with the terrible LCD, a III+, a Lisa 1 and Lisa 2, and a very interesting Apple I that is completely wire-wrapped, just like the [Woz] original.

The Consignment Shop

If you go to a Vintage Computer Festival, you’re going to come away with more than you came in with, and I’m not talking about a deeper appreciation of the history of recent technology. No, people are selling old computers here, and there are some goodies.

That’s just about it from VCF East X, at least until the videos from [Brian Kernighan] and [Bob Frankston] are uploaded. Until then, I will leave you with this:

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21 thoughts on “VCF East X: The Mega Mix

  1. Wow. Was that my Televideo 910 in the background? It’s comforting to see that Fran really is a geek. The actual lighting off of the PDP computer was a little anticlimactic. Really cool that he got a computer almost as old as me working.

    1. Certainly many of the synth-driven groups used Fairlights (if they could afford them), as at the time they were considered the best available. I remember seeing Vince Clarke when he was in Yazoo (Yaz in the US) playing one on TV. Another owner was Kate Bush, even now people on forums are still trying to work out what samples and waveforms she used on tracks like “Running Up That Hill”

    2. Use of the Fairlight was so prevalent during the 80s that Phil Collins went so far as to state in the liner notes of his No Jacket Required album that “There is no Fairlight on this Record.”

      Here’s a list of popular songs and artists using a Fairlight. Hell even ZZ Top used it extensively on many of their hit songs, “Sleeping Bag” being one of the most obvious.

  2. I had an Atari Falcon030 on display. Very rare bird indeed. I don’t think anyone from Hackaday stopped by to see it. They were at the Amiga booth next door. I would have enjoyed meeting you.

      1. I hope to attend next year, but not sure about having an exhibit. I had an awesome time, but all of the preparation, transport, set up and breakdown was a tad overwhelming at times.

        I’m glad you enjoyed the show.

    1. I am sorry I didn’t get a chance to stop over and see the Falcon030, Peter, it’s rare enough that I wish I had one in my collection. And I exhibited the Lisa 1, so I know from rare. ;-) And for the record Brian, it’s corey, not cory. But thanks for the nice photo spread!

  3. The only thing all this content reminds me of is how you use to be able to code for four months in ASM, BASIC, C, or COBOL, or Fortran and retire on the sixth month because companies would pay a fortune for pretty much any computer automation they could buy rights and code for..

    I’ve met multiple people who could basically retire off what they made off <10,000 line programs that did things like manage employee clock-ins locally. I now write way more complex stuff in days and weeks and am lucky to make $1,000 for each.. Most notable software like popular game apps now are at least 250,000 lines with huge libraries of bitmaps and configurations, and that doesn't even count the back-end.

    The economic shift is interesting. To be a bedroom programmer and compete these days with a big-market product requires years based time-investment.

    1. Unfortunately the Fairlight I exhibited at VCF was having some last-minute power supply glitches, which prevented all of the voice cards and/or the graphics card from being plugged in simultaneously without crashing the whole machine.

      I had some excellent Page R sequences to demo. but alas, they wouldn’t load without all of the components plugged in. The original factory library synth sounds are definitely cheese, however there were demos of other quintessential Fairlight sounds as well that were not captured here.

      I was disappointed that I could not show off its full capabilities, so I am hoping to bring it back as part of another exhibit at a future VCF East, this time fully working. :)

  4. I actually got the AT&T keyboard. Has a DE9 shell, so I can’t use it on any regular computer. Can’t find a pinout for the life of me either. Curiously enough, it uses a technology for the switch similar to the IBM Model Ms. Good find IMHO, but I wish I could have gotten one of the touch terminal keyboards…

    1. That’s because I confirmed for the seller, (who was shocked that I knew what it was) that the keyboard was from an AT&T PC 6300 computer. Perhaps the most unusual system out there. I got my start on the strange and slightly bollixed world of the PC using that fellow…..

      1. I arrived at that conclusion myself via several Geekhack pages about it, but all of them had PS2 connectors on them. If my Model M loses a keycap, I have spares now at least

  5. For the record, the Fairlight CMI used closer to 10 6800 chips, not just two. We know this from attempting to emulate it in MESS. The damn things are all *over* the I/O boards.

    1. Correct, but only on the Series III, which has dual 6809 processors, plus a 6809 on each voice card and a 68000 (later upgraded to 68020) for the waveform processor card.

      The Series I (that was at VCF) and Series II (and IIx) only have dual 6800 or 6809 CPU’s respectively.Their voice cards were much simpler.

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