Vintage Computer Festival East Is This Weekend

This weekend the InfoAge Science and History Museum in Wall, New Jersey will once again play host to the Vintage Computer Festival East — the annual can’t-miss event for anyone who has even a passing interest in the weird and wonderful machines that paved the way for the supercomputers we now all carry around in our pockets. Ticket holders will have access to a program absolutely jam packed with workshops, talks, and exhibits that center around the dual themes of “Women in Computing” and “Computers for the Masses”, plus a consignment and vendor area that almost guarantees you’ll be going home a little poorer than when you got there. But hey, at least you’ll have some new toys to play with.

For those that can’t make the pilgrimage to the tropical wonderland that is the Jersey Shore in April, all three days of the Festival will be live-streamed to the VCF YouTube page. There’s even an official Discord server where you can chat with other remote attendees. We’re glad to see more events adopting a hybrid approach after two years of COVID-19 lockdown, as it gives the far-flung a chance to participate in something they would otherwise miss completely. That said, there’s no virtual replacement for the experience of browsing the exhibits and consignment areas, so if it’s at all possible we recommend you get yourself to InfoAge for at least one of the days.

Incidentally, don’t worry if you’ve got the sneaking feeling that it hasn’t been anywhere near a year since the last time the VCF descended on Wall Township. The 2021 Festival got pushed to October because of the lingering plague, but rather than permanently change the date going forward, the 2022 Festival has returned to its traditional season. Of course that means the wait until VCF 2023 will seem unusually long after this double-shot, so here’s hoping we see another swap meet at the InfoAge campus before the end of the year.

Don’t Miss The VCF Indoor Swap Meet This Weekend

We don’t need to tell you that these last couple of years have been a real drag for in-person events. But at long last, after a bit of a false start last summer, it seems like we can finally start peeking our heads out and getting back to doing the things we love. So why not celebrate by taking part in that most sacred of geek pastimes: poring through boxes of dusty old gear in search of some electronic treasure?

On Saturday the Vintage Computer Federation (VCF) is holding an indoor swap meet at the InfoAge Science and History Museum in New Jersey, and everyone’s invited. Vintage computers will naturally be the main attraction, but if their previous events are any indication, you should expect the tables to be filled with a healthy mix of general electronics, classic games, and amateur radio gear as well. The doors open up at 8 AM sharp and it’s free to get in, so we’d suggest showing up early for the best selection.

A little less than a year ago we visited the previous VCF swap meet, which back then had to be held outdoors due to COVID-19 concerns, and were blown away by the selection of weird and wonderful hardware up for grabs. From arcade cabinets to luggable PCs and 3D printers, there was a little something for everyone, and all at rock-bottom prices. The only real gripe we had was the lack of on-site food and beverage, which according to the VCF website, has been addressed this time around. No word on whether or not there’s an ATM handy though, so you might want to stop and get some cash before heading to the relatively remote Camp Evans site.

After the swap meet wraps up at 2 PM, be sure to check out the Vintage Computer Federation’s permanent collection at InfoAge, as well as all the incredible exhibits and mini-museums the site has to offer. If nothing else, we strongly recommend you take the walk down the road to the TLM-18 Space Telemetry Antenna that Princeton University currently operates as Linux-powered software defined radio telescope.

The fine folks of the VCF are also hard at work putting together their annual East Coast Vintage Computer Festival, which will take place at InfoAge on April 22nd to the 24th, so mark your calendars.

Vintage Computer Festival East Reboots This Weekend

We don’t have to tell the average Hackaday reader that the last two years have represented a serious dry spell for the type of in-person events that our community has always taken for granted. Sure virtual hacker cons have their advantages, but there’s nothing quite like meeting up face to face to talk shop with like-minded folks and checking out everyone’s latest passion project.

Luckily for classic computer aficionados, especially those on the East Coast of the United States, the long wait is about to end. After being forced to go virtual last year, Vintage Computer Festival East will once again be opening their doors to the public from October 8th to the 10th at the InfoAge Science & History Center in Wall, New Jersey. Attendees will need to wear a mask to gain access to the former Camp Evans Signal Corps R&D laboratory, but that’s a small price to pay considering the impressive list of exhibits, presentations, and classes being offered.

In fact, it’s shaping up to be the biggest and best VCF East yet. The Friday classes cover a wide range of topics from CRT repair to implementing a basic video controller with a FPGA, and the list of speakers include early computer luminaries such as Michael Tomczyk, the Product Manager for the VIC-20, and Adventure International founder Scott Adams. A little birdie even tells us that if you bring your copy of Back into the Storm, our very own Bil Herd will be sign it for you after his talk on the history of the Commodore wraps up Saturday evening.

If you’d rather get hands-on you can always take a walk over to the Computer Deconstruction Laboratory, InfoAge’s on-site hackerspace. Glitch Works will be on hand with several popular kits such as the XT-IDE, an 8-bit ISA adapter that lets you connect (relatively) modern drives to classic machines, and the R6501Q/R6511Q Single Board Computer. A bit rusty with the iron and would rather start on something a little easier? Not to worry. Neil Cherry, a staple of the Hackaday comment section since before we switched to color pictures, will be instructing hackers young and old in the ways of the flux during his all-day soldering classes.

Of course, no VCF trip is truly complete until you’ve searched for treasure in the consignment room. The space has been expanded for 2021, and considering how long folks have had to clean out their attics and garages thanks to the pandemic, we’re expecting a bumper crop of interesting hardware to wade through. If the turnout for the VCF Swap Meet in April was any indication, we’d suggest bringing some extra cash with you.

As a proud sponsor of the 2021 Vintage Computer Festival East, Hackaday will naturally be bringing you a first-hand account of the overall event as well as a deeper look into some of the incredible exhibits on display in the very near future. But words and pictures on a page can only go so far. If you’ve grown tired of virtual events and are looking to peek your head out, we can guarantee a trip to InfoAge this weekend will be well worth the gas money for anyone within driving distance.

VCF Swap Meet Takes Step Back To Move Forward

When computers were the sort of thing you ordered from a catalog and soldered together in your garage, swap meets were an invaluable way of exchanging not just hardware and software, but information. As computers became more mainstream and readily available, the social aspect of these events started to take center stage. Once online retail started really picking up steam, it was clear the age of the so-called “computer show” was coming to a close. Why wait months to sell your old hardware at the next swap when you could put it on eBay from the comfort of your own home?

Of course, like-minded computer users never stopped getting together to exchange ideas. They just called these meets something different. By the 2000s, the vestigial remnants of old school computer swap meets could be found in the vendor rooms of hacker cons. The Vintage Computer Festival (VCF) maintained a small consignment area where attendees could unload their surplus gear, but it wasn’t the real draw of the event. Attendees came for the workshops, the talks, and the chance to hang out with people who were passionate about the same things they were.

Consignment goods at VCF East XIII in 2018.

Then came COVID-19. For more than a year we’ve been forced to cancel major events, suspend local meetups, and in general, avoid one another. Some of the conventions were revamped and presented virtually, and a few of them actually ended up providing a unique and enjoyable experience, but it still wasn’t the same. If you could really capture the heart and soul of these events with a video stream and a chat room, we would’ve done it already.

But this past weekend, the folks behind VCF East tried something a little different. As indoor gatherings are still strongly discouraged by New Jersey’s stringent COVID restrictions, they decided to hold a computer swap meet in the large parking lot adjacent to the InfoAge Science and History Museum. There were no formal talks or presentations, but you could at least get within speaking distance of like-minded folks again in an environment were everyone felt comfortable.

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Remoticon Video: Intro To Modern Synthesis Using VCV Rack

Modular synthesizers, with their profusion of knobs and switches and their seemingly insatiable appetite for patch cables, are wonderful examples of over-complexity — the best kind of complexity, in our view. Play with a synthesizer long enough and you start thinking that any kind of sound is possible, limited only by your imagination in hooking up the various oscillators, filters, and envelope generators. And the aforementioned patch cables, of course, which are always in short supply.

Luckily, though, patch cables and the modules they connect can be virtualized, and in his 2020 Remoticon workshop, Jonathan Foote showed us all the ways VCV Rack can emulate modular synthesizers right on your computer’s desktop. The workshop focused on VCV Rack, where Eurorack-style synthesizer modules are graphically presented in a configurable rack and patched together just like physical synth modules would be.

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Hackaday Links: March 1, 2020

Talk about buried treasure: archeologists in Germany have – literally – unearthed a pristine Soviet spy radio, buried for decades outside of Cologne. While searching for artifacts from a Roman empire settlement, the archeologists found a pit containing the Soviet R-394KM transceiver, built in 1987 and apparently buried shortly thereafter without ever being used. It was found close to a path in the woods and not far from several sites of interest to Cold War-era spies. Curiously, the controls on the radio are labeled not in Cyrillic characters, but in the Latin alphabet, suggesting the radio was to be used by a native German speaker. The area in which it was found is destined to be an open-cast lignite mine, which makes us think that other Cold War artifacts may have fallen victim to the gore-covered blades of Bagger 288.

Good news for Betelgeuse fans, bad news for aficionados of cataclysmic cosmic explosions: it looks like the red giant in Orion isn’t going to explode anytime soon. Betelgeuse has been dimming steadily and rapidly since October of 2019; as a variable star such behavior is expected, but the magnitude of its decline was seen by some astronomers as a sign that the star was reaching the point in its evolution where it would go supernova. Alas, Betelgeuse started to brighten again right on schedule, suggesting that the star is not quite ready to give up the ghost. We’d have loved to witness a star so bright it rivals the full moon, but given the times we live in, perhaps it’s best not to have such a harbinger of doom appear.

If you plan to be in the Seattle area as the winter turns to spring, you might want to check out the Vintage Computer Fair Pacific Northwest. We visited back during the show’s first year and had a good time, and the Living Computers: Museum + Labs, where the event is held, is not to be missed. The Museum of Flight is supposed to be excellent as well, and not far away.

Mozilla announced this week that Firefox would turn on DNS over HTTPS (DoH) by default in the United States. DoH encrypts the DNS requests that are needed to translate a domain name to an IP address, which normally travel in clear text and are therefore easily observed. Easily readable DNS transactions are also key to content blockers, which has raised the hackles of regulators and legislators over the plan, who are singing the usual “think of the children” song. That DoH would make user data collection and ad-tracking harder probably has nothing to do with their protests.

And finally, sad news from California as daredevil and amateur rocketeer “Mad” Mike Hughes has been killed in a crash of his homemade rocket. The steam-powered rocket was to be a follow-up to an earlier, mostly successful flight to about 1,900 feet (580 m), and supposed to reach about 5,000 feet (1.5 km) at apogee. But in an eerily similar repeat of the mishap that nearly killed Evel Knievel during his Snake River Canyon jump in 1974, Mike’s parachute deployed almost as soon as his rocket left the launch rails. The chute introduced considerable drag before being torn off the rocket by the exhaust plume. The rocket continued in a ballistic arc to a considerable altitude, but without a chute Mike’s fate was sealed. Search for the video at your own peril, as it’s pretty disturbing. We never appreciated Mike’s self-professed Flat Earth views, but we did like his style. We suppose, though, that such an ending was more likely than not.

Vintage Computer Festival West Is Almost Here

If you’ve got an interest in technology, a penchant for that particular shade of yellowed plastic, and happen to be located in the California area, then we’ve got the event for you. The Vintage Computer Festival West is happening this weekend, August 3rd and 4th, at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California.

The Vintage Computer Festival offers a truly unique experience for anyone with a passion for all the silicon that’s come before. Where else could you sit in on a roundtable of early Apple employees discussing the bevy of authentic ultra-rare Apple I computers that will be on display, or get up close and personal with a restored Apollo Guidance Computer? If you really want to dive in on the deep end, Hackaday’s own Bill Herd will be in attendance giving his lecture about the effects of heat and time on the internal components of decades-old pieces of hardware.

Still skeptical? Perhaps you’ll get a kick out of the exhibit that celebrates more than two decades of Quake by hosting a LAN game where the classic game is running on less common platforms like the RS/6000 series or the Sun Ulta. If you’re interested in seeing modern reconstructions of classic technology, there will be plenty of that on display as well. Eric Schlaepfer will be showing off his transistor-scale replica of the iconic 6502 microprocessor, and you won’t want to miss the Cactus in all its rainbow colored toggle switch and blinkenlight glory.

Of course, if you’re in the market for your very own piece of computing history, there’s no better place to be. The consignment area gives showgoers a chance to buy and sell all manners of vintage and unique hardware, harking back to the days where the best way to get your hands on a computer (or the parts to build one) was by attending a dedicated event. Plus, no shipping fees!

Put simply, there really is something for everyone at the Vintage Computer Festival. Even if you weren’t around to experience Apple II or Commodore 64 in their prime, these events are a rare opportunity to learn about the early days of a technology that today we all take for granted. Have you ever wondered how programs were entered into those early computers with nothing more than a bank of toggle switches and an array of LEDs? One of the passionate exhibitors at VCF will be more than happy to walk you through the process.

At the end of the day, preserving this technology and sharing it with future generations is really what it’s all about. Just as in previous years, Hackaday is proud to sponsor the Vintage Computer Festival and further their goal of ensuring this incredible shared heritage isn’t lost.