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.

Weird Inductive Mice

The consignment/vendor area is always a great place to check out the also-rans of computing history. Before everyone had a mouse, CAD designers, and artists needed a way to precisely map an absolute position on a piece of paper to an absolute position in a design program. The solution was the Numonics Grid Master and other inductive/electromagnetic mice. Instead of wheels and balls and optical sensors, these mice use a coil and an active mouse pad to precisely map a cursor to real-world dimensions. Now we have Wacoms and scanners and such, but this is one of those technologies I really wish was still around. I found two inductive mice in the consignment shop, twenty bucks would have taken them both home.

Other Consignment Goodies

Offered with minimal comment.

Two Million Dollars Worth Of Apples

If you want to see something spectacular, here’s two million dollars worth of Apple computers. There were three Apple I computers on display at VCF East, one a Mimeo replica (you can build your own for less than $2k), and two originals, one a Byte Shop board, another an NTI model. Only about 200 original Apple Is were ever produced, and the auction prices are consummate with the rarity. Basically, these computers are worth about a million dollars apiece. Why are they worth that much, when [Bil Herd] has rarer and much more interesting tech in his basement? The cult of the turtleneck, or something like that.

Silverball and Tillies

While this isn’t directly related to vintage computers or the Vintage Computer Federation, there is a really neat museum of sorts just a few miles away from VCF East. The Silverball Museum Arcade is a 10-minute drive from VCF, and oh boy is this thing a blast. There are dozens of pinball machines from the 50s to the glory days of the 90s packed into an arcade on the boardwalk. Ten bucks gets you an hour of free play on all the machines, twenty-five gets you in all day, and the entire place smells of funnel cakes.

The curation of this museum/arcade is rather interesting, and it seems like someone at the Silverball museum knows what they’re doing. There are pinball machines from almost every era, and all the machines are very good examples of the state of pinball at the time. There are, of course, a few informational signs placing all the machines in context.

The collection of video games is where this place really stands out. MAME machines are a dime a dozen, and a well-built cabinet can recreate most of the classic arcade games. However, there are a few games with weird controls (the trackball for Centipede, the rotary controller for missile command, and whatever Asteroids is trying to be). MAME machines usually don’t bother with these early experiments in user input. Most of the arcade games in the Silverball museum use these strange control schemes, making this one of the best hands-on museums for vintage arcade tech.

This is not the best Jersey boardwalk arcade I’ve ever been to. That title goes to Seaside Heights before MTV, Sandy, and a fire tore through the place. I’m not sure those arcades even exist anymore (Hackaday meetup idea?), but the Silverball museum is an awesome way to blow an hour and ten bucks.

VCFs Of The Future

The first Vintage Computer Festival of the year is over, and there’s more to come. Last year, VCF West was on DEF CON weekend, but since that’s been bumped up a week we’ll probably end up in Mountain View during the first weekend in August. VCF Southeast is in Hotlanta at the end of this month, and the midwest con is happening in September.

21 thoughts on “The Best Of VCF East

  1. I saw a springboard style circuit ala the radio shack xxx-in-1 kits, clicked this page and was rewarded with nothing of the sort. Total click bait Brian. Good read though, the link collection posts are my favorite

    1. I’ve got one of those sitting in my closet, the same one from my childhood. I want to say that it’s the 130-in-one with the NAND gate and the opamp. It’s wired up as an AM radio. But the only thing that I can pick up with it at night is some weird, conspiracy theory talk show.

      Very nostalgic. Except for the bit about aliens and alternate history.

    1. I actually own one of the Indy briefcases they made as promo material back then.
      SGI did not just have great looking cases, they usually made something slightly wacky out of them for promotional purposes. My favorite, which I do not own, yet, is the Espressigo. It actually is a working espresso machine in an SGI case.
      I can recommend googling for at least the Espressigo and enjoying some nerd chuckles.

  2. The Apple I is so rare because Steve Jobs did not want to deal with support. He instituted a buy-back / trade-in program and as they came in, the pile was occasionally put through a bandsaw then to the dumpster. Of the original production, only a few remain.

    1. Kenbaks, for example, are much more rare than the Apple I. That’s the point, that rarity alone doesn’t account for the price, there is also a certain cachet. Like the Piper Cub.

      1. Scarcity, demand, historical significance, did they lead to the biggest company in history, and other things I’m sure. Just saying that 200 number was cut way down back in the 1970’s.

  3. How do Wacoms work? Magic or induction? You can have mouses (pucks, lens cursors) for Wacom tablets, which act as mouse pad. They just aren’t cool anymore.
    Time for tablet hacks. Or repairs, they are prone to stupid issues.

  4. Orinokonx01, Australia is possible! I’m the director of Vintage Computer Federation which is the non-profit group that produces VCF East and VCF West. We are actively considering where else to bring the show. We’re going to announce a new place this summer :) and there will be more announcements down the road…

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