World’s Oldest Computer Festival is This Weekend

There was a time when owning a home computer was kind of a big deal. In the days before the popularization of the Internet, so-called “computer shows” were the best way to meet with others to swap advice, information, and hardware. Of course today, things are very different. The kind of people who are building their computers just buy the parts online, and everyone else is probably using a $200 laptop from Walmart that isn’t worth spending the time or money on to upgrade.

Small sampling of the talks at TCF 2019

So while the Trenton Computer Festival (TCF) may have started in 1976 as a way for people to buy early computers like the Altair 8800, over the years it has morphed into something much closer to the modern idea of a “con”. Those who visit the 44th TCF on March 23rd at the College of New Jersey will likely spend most of their time at the festival attending the 40+ talks and workshops that will be happening in a span of just six hours. But anyone who’s got some cash to burn can still head over to the flea market area where they’ll be able to buy both modern and vintage hardware.

Talks run the gamut from Arduino to quantum computing, and if you don’t see something that piques your interest in this year’s program, one might wonder how you found yourself reading Hackaday in the first place. If you manage to find some spare time between all the talks, the New Jersey chapter of the The Open Organisation Of Lockpickers (TOOOL) will be there giving a hands-on lock picking class, and if you don’t mind taking the crash course, you can even get your ham radio license. All for the princely sum of just $20 at the door.

In fact, there’s so much going on at TCF that it can be somewhat overwhelming. As I found out during my visit last year, the number of simultaneous events means you’ll almost certainly have some difficult decisions to make. I’ll be making the trip out to the College of New Jersey campus again this year for TCF, and will have plenty of Hackaday stickers and buttons to give out to anyone who manages to stop me while I dash between talks.

10 thoughts on “World’s Oldest Computer Festival is This Weekend

    1. Unfortunately, no. Some presenters record their own talks and (I would assume) post them online, but there’s no official recording of the event. It’s a shame, but considering the number of talks and rooms that they run at the same time, I’ll admit it would be a quite a challenge to do it well.

  1. Trenton is fun, but it also sucks. Too many things going on at the same time. It would be cool if they kept the better sessions for the evenings as the fleamarket is hard to pass up in the daytime. Also, it seems in NJ that everybody smokes. I think it is a state law or something. The only place to get away from the black cloud is in the buildings and sadly they suck in outside air so while you are not in the midst of smoke proper they are like being in a giant ashtray. Still if you have never been, it is a fun fest.

  2. The talks are often great, and I love stopping by the Toool room, but I sure miss the days when the flea market section was huge. Even without PC Clone parts, there were all kinds of one-of-a-kind goodies. Boxes of unknown laptops, obscure and expensive IC’s for $3, He-Ne lasers, radiation detectors, robots, Ham equipment, and sometimes even a stuffed toy or something else my daughter would find interesting. The market section is still like that, but it shrinks every year.

  3. As a former attendee and presenter at TCF, I remember it very fondly. While I did not make the first 1 or 2 years I did regularly attend it while I lived in NJ to a point. Once this was the “well tcf is only x months away” and was the only way many of us got parts (used often) that we could afford. Then came the age of the computer show, the sat or sun event that all the vendors went to — started as every couple of months thru out the region, so it was ok I need this — where am I driving in the next 2 weeks to get it. The the shows got so often it was pick a weekend and withing 60miles, you could find a show — problem with this was this is also when the Internet exploded.
    So no more need to wait for X, just search for it online, now for hobbyist on budget it’s search aliexpress for cheap stuff.
    I truly hope more people are at the talks than the fleamarket but I rarely saw that as the case back in the day — not to saw that talks weren’t well attended, but I also remember years when we had 20,000 people descend on campus for 2 days (and the havoc it reaked on parking and locals)
    I wish this fest nothing but the best and hope it lives on long after I do.
    I still remember on of my years selling where I pulled in at 2:30AM in the morning friday night to get a spot easily (and I was local to the event). One year while selling AI had a talk to go to, hadn’t sold everything but had sold everything I cared about — rest wasn’t coming home one way or the other. Look at the guy nest to me and said :Hey, if anyone tries to steal the rest of the sale items — Encourage them!”

  4. My talks were always packed but I always put at least one person to sleep. ;-)
    I can’t present this year but I’ll have my Home Automation Board and I’ll be sitting at the Vintage Computer Federation table representing both VCF and CDL (a local maker Space in Wall NJ). I’ll have my Tandy MC10 (I actually like the 6803 processor but not as much as the 6809).

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