The pitch to my wife was simple: “Feel like spending the weekend in Seattle?” That’s how I ended up at the inaugural Vintage Computer Festival Pacific Northwest last weekend, and I’m glad we made the five-hour drive into The Big City to check it out. Hackaday is a VCF sponsor, after all, so it seemed like a great excuse to make the trip. That it ended up being two consecutive days of great Seattle weather was only icing on the cake of being able to spend time with fellow retro computer aficionados and their dearest bits of old hardware, in a great museum dedicated to keeping computer history alive and accessible.
The fact that Seattle, home of Microsoft, Amazon, and dozens of other tech companies, has until now been left out of the loop in favor of VCF East in New Jersey and VCF West in Mountain View seems strange, but judging by the reception, VCF PNW is here to stay and poised to grow. There were 20 exhibitors for this go around, showing off everything from reanimated PDP-11 and Altair 8800 control panels to TRS-80s from Model 1 through to the CoCo. Almost every class of reasonably transportable retro hardware was represented, as well as some that pushed the portability envelope, like a working PDP-8 and a huge Symbolics 3640 LISP workstation.
At some points onlookers outnumbered exhibitors three-fold, cramming the aisles between displays and making it tough to get up close to chat. Almost every exhibitor was swarmed with people asking questions, pecking commands into keyboards, or taking selfies with the hardware. I only got the chance to talk to a few exhibitors, like David Cooper with his impressive collection from the TRS-80 ecosystem. My first programs were typed into a Model 1 at the kind forbearance of the manager of my local Radio Shack, and playing Sea Dragon with my son on a machine I haven’t touched since the 1970s was a real treat.
VCF PNW also hosted a series of interesting talks, only one of which I managed to hear. Paul Laughton talked about following his passion to a programming career that spanned from mainframes to micros, including the early days of Apple, working on a $13,000 contract to develop Apple DOS, meeting his future wife at the Homebrew Computer Club, hanging out with Jobs and Woz, and writing the book on Atari DOS and AtariBASIC. He eventually wound up writing firmware for one of the first consumer digital cameras at Logitech. Paul is now a docent at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, home of VCF West, using his spare time to write and maintain the BASIC! For Android app.
And while the talks and exhibits were what attendees were there for, it was impossible to not wander out into the host venue, the Living Computers: Museum + Labs. This place is a real treat for anyone interested in computers on any level. The main floor has a lot of exhibits geared to kids: a self-driving car simulator that takes you on a virtual ride past the Krusty Burger on Main Street, Springfield; VR and AR demos; and interactive robot displays. But the upper level has the mother lode of hardware: every Apple from the original to the Mac, Ataris, Osbornes, Commodores, and even machines from MITS and IMSAI. If you cut your teeth on a personal computer anytime between 1975 and the “Dude, you’re getting a Dell!” days, chances are good they have it on display. Plus there are dozens of minicomputers and a beautiful display of big iron in a climate-controlled computer room.
But the best part of the museum? Almost every exhibit was operational, and touching was most definitely encouraged. We were amazed to see almost every keyboard occupied by someone entering the “Hello, world!” equivalent for the particular architecture. Very few artifacts were locked away from prying fingers, and even those that were labeled as not for touching were generally accessible enough so that you could get up close for a look. It’s really a great museum, and well worth a visit when you’re in the area. And it seems like the museum benefited from the VCF attendees — word has it that the museum broke its attendance record, previously set by a Minecraft event.
All in all, VCF PNW was a great success, and congratulations are due to the production team, especially producer Mike Brutman. Thanks too to Rob and Evan of the Vintage Computer Federation for the hospitality, and to Matisse from LC:M+L for getting us set up with credentials for the day. Here’s hoping that VCF PNW is here to stay, and that the 2019 event will be even bigger.
27 thoughts on “Great Beginnings For Vintage Computing In Seattle; VCF PNW”
Not sure who Rob is.. But Mike B. Evan K, Jeff B. Corey C. and Eric K. from VCFed put on a great show! Seattle certainly did not disappoint. Here is another stack of photos:
And extra thanks to Hack-a-Day for co-sponsoring the show!
Thanks for sharing the pictures!
Rob is Rob S. from the museum … he was a big part in helping us make this work from the museum side.
The Symbolics 3640 is the smaller version of the 3600. Now that’s a big “personal” computer!
Hmmm…if you live long enough and don’t throw things out enough you wind up a vintage computer aficionado. I’ve got at least three of these in storage (small systems – no PDP) – I may have to look into it.
Or if you are poor and can’t afford modern computers you fall into it through thriftstore finds.
Or garage sales in college towns.
Yeah, time to begin to donate my 8″ floppies and drives and imsai stuff.
So what did your wife do while you were nerding out?
Maxing out his credit card. :-P
If there was a vendors’ room at VCF, they could both max out credit cards.
She was right there with me! The kids were there too, enjoying the museum. The family that nerds together stays together, after all.
After the Festival we hit Ivar’s for a seafood dinner and then went to IKEA. The one in Renton is the closest one to us, and we had some things to pick up. Breakfast at the Public Market in Pike Place the next day, then back to Idaho. Lovely weekend.
You’re a lucky man. My wife would have zero interest.
Spokane trip to/thru Idaho w my best electronics oal ea soring saw (skinny) hwy mountain baks w many small waterfalls roadside. Beautiful. Met him between High School yrs in 8 hr a day etech class w Ed Carlson, instructor per excellance. Best 2 summers of my life, Spokane.
My wife went with me too, and we had breakfast at Pike Place in the morning before the show. It was a beautiful weekend.
My family is nerdy as well.
I think that its great.
The official “pile of photos” from exhibitors, volunteers and staff … https://photos.app.goo.gl/QPfZ4WXPdIdUo5gn2
And Dan, thanks for making the drive – it was a pleasure to meet you. I wish I had more time to show you around but it looks like you did well.
This photo here…
is reminding me of a project I think could be beneficial to museums maybe? People get their old computers out and say “what now, I have nothing to run on it?” You can and SHOULD run legacy stuff, but what if there was e.g. a standard Chess program, Pi calculator, Sudoku solver, power/angle tank game, multi-user chat app etc. that could be run on a bunch of different systems? Then visitors could hands-on compare the performance of the different machines.
I would have loved to go.
I have an Osborne in need of sys disks and an old NCR Tower in need of someone with more eldritch knowledge than I.
There’s always next year. =)
HaD seens almost well positioned to add a craigs-list type nerd-needs, area.
Haves and wants and somewhat segmented.
All those racks and racks of hardware, an no HP equipment in sight. No respect at all. :-)
You missed this one that I posted: https://photos.google.com/share/AF1QipNrraAqs5Y131AvN9dLsmyTft1X9yBQKivSb17J_XKaS1DaM8Eyb71Ptdn02UC5OQ/photo/AF1QipNJJH-MqOfYtDruWUj4mriWbYP1mOUvjVsFebaJ?key=Y05BZjFnYmdRbzlNcFFPZEg1SE0tT3BiSHE1c0tR
Thanks Evan, I hadn’t seen that one. 2117F with a 13037C disc controller, 7906 disc drive, 7945 disc drive and a pair of 7970E tape drives. Nice! I also spotted a 2645 terminal in someone else’s photo.
Aw, see a couple AIM-65s on the shelf there, like my dad had when I was a youngling.
Didn’t see any Honeywell kit. The Honeywell Bull 6000 System was a beauty.
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