Digital Den launch party

October 28th, 2013 10:59 AM
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Mary Hopper began making waves this August when she announced her intention to found a computer history museum in Boston. News of the Digital Den was picked up by Open Apple, the Retro Computing Roundtable, the Boston Globe, and Apple II Bits.

The museum continues to evolve into a extant institution, as evidenced by the launch party held on October 20. As a backer of the museum's Indiegogo campaign, I received an invitation to the event, where I was pleased to make the acquaintance of Dr. Hopper, Adam Rosen of the Vintage Mac Museum, and Ian S. King of the Living Computer Museum, as well as catch up with fellow retrocomputing enthusiast Dave Ross. On-hand were classic computers such as the Apple II, TI-99, and Nintendo Entertainment System, as well as newer tech like the Oculus Rift. It was an encouraging occasion for a museum that continues to seek a permanent home.

My photos from the event are posted below and are available under a CC-BY-NC license. The book featured below, Gordon Bell's Out of a Closet: The Early Years of The Computer [x]* Museum, is available online as a PDF. For more photos from the event, including a silly one of me by Rus Gant, see the Digital Den's first exhibit photos.

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A computer history museum returns to Boston

September 2nd, 2013 6:41 PM
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Eight years ago, I took Ryan Suenaga to the Boston Museum of Science, whose "ComputerPlace" exhibit featured an Apple II with a copy of VisiCalc. Although exciting to see, this one display was the extent of Boston's preservation of computer history. The Computer History Museum, now a Silicon Valley landmark, had its humble beginnings in Boston, where it lived for 15 years. Upon its relocation to Mountain View, California, no similar establishment remained in Boston.

Northeastern University lecturer Mary Hopper aims to rectify that. As the Boston Globe reports, when the Computer History Museum left Boston, Hopper started collecting computer artifacts (including an Apple II Plus), waiting for the day she could donate them to whatever local institution took the CHM's place. With that not having happened, she's now setting out to establish her own computer museum: the Digital Den. To do so, she's turned to crowdfunding site Indiegogo to raise $25,000 by September 23. She's presently at 6% of her goal.

How this project got so far under the radar baffles me. I asked local representatives of @party, the Artisan's Asylum, and KansasFest, and nobody had heard of this endeavor. I'm also concerned about how vast an enterprise Hopper is undertaking — there's more to starting a museum than having an inventory. However, a visit to the Den by local retrocomputing enthusiast Dave Ross resulted in an encouraging report:

Mary is every bit as impressive as her bio makes her out to be. She's done some impressive work and has been involved with making sure her work and the work of those around her were preserved well before they could be considered "history".

She's also been talking to lawyers and other museums to get a sense of what she can legally do for fundraising and what kind of donations she can accept. It's refreshing to see that kind of due diligence.

If Hopper can accomplish what no one else has tried in more than a decade, then I will do what I can to support her — and already have, thanks to Indiegogo. I look forward to visiting the Den for myself!

Letting go is hard

January 16th, 2012 12:00 PM
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In the Vintage Computer Forums, a thread was started last week entitled "Letting go of a collection is hard". The author, who joined the site for the purpose of sharing his plight, wrote:

I've finally decided to sell my large collection of Apple II clones. It's a big step for me but it needs to happen. So today, I began testing and photographing the systems and writing the formal listings for eBay. Ugh. This is depressing! I knew it would be hard but geez. I didn't expect to feel so sad about it. The odd part is that I haven't even seen these computers (out of the box) in at least 10 years so why should I feel so sentimental about them? I don't know but I'm not enjoying letting go.

As a collector and historian, I enjoyed the thrill of the hunt. I also enjoyed taking each system apart, cleaning the grunge off, and restoring them to working order. I would try to discover whatever I could about the companies who made these computers and whenever possible, I made contact with the actual people who helped design them. I cultivated friendships with fellow vintage computer collectors and spent hundreds of hours building a website about what I had found. So in many ways, it's not just a bunch of old computer junk that selling, it's more like I'm letting go of a part of my life that I thoroughly enjoyed at one time. Letting go of these systems IS the right thing for me to do, but it's not a pleasant experience at all.

Ernest didn't detail why he's getting rid of the machines: is it a financial matter? Is he downsizing his house? Has a significant other dictated, "That old junk has to go"? All these reasons are more or less valid, and as someone who recently moved for the first time in ten years, I can appreciate the desire to have less "stuff" to truck around. But it's also hard to know what the future will hold. After I decommissioned my dial-up BBS in 1997, my Apple IIGS sat unused for more than a decade. It was only three years ago that I dusted it off and booted it back up, adding a physical component to the emulation I'd relied on in the meantime. Having that machine back up and running serves many purposes: it's a point of pride, a necessary aspect to a file transfer setup, and a workplace conversation piece.

And, as with Ernest, the Apple II is a touchstone. It represents and parallels the course of my life, reminding me where I come from, what I do, and why I do it. To lose the Apple II would not rip those qualities from my heart, but it would make me infinitely sadder to not have a physical reality that mirrors what I know and feel inside. I'm glad to know I won't need to experience that disconnect anytime soon.

Have you ever had to get rid of once precious inventory? What made you do it, and how did you feel? Have you ever regretted it?