Preserving Computer History Hack Chat

if (! history.learn) { history.repeat }

Wednesday, June 26, 2019 12:00 pm PDT Local time zone:
Hack Chat
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Dag Spicer will host the Hack Chat on Wednesday, June 26, 2019 at noon Pacific time.

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Join Hack ChatIn our age of instant access to the seeming total of human knowledge at the swipe of a finger, museums may seem a little out of place. But the information available at our fingertips is often only the tip of the iceberg, and institutions like the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California are dedicated to collecting and preserving the artifacts of the information age, and perhaps more importantly, providing context and making everything accessible.

The CHM is an incredible resource for anyone doing research involving the early days of computing. Dag Spicer is the Senior Curator at CHM, or "Chief Content Officer" as he likes to put it. Dag has been collecting, cataloging, and overseeing the largest collection of computer artifacts in the world for almost 25 years, and he has some stories to tell. He'll stop by the Hack Chat this week to share them, and to answer your questions about the history of computers and how studying the past shapes the future of computing.

  • Hack Chat Transcript, Part 2

    Lutetium06/26/2019 at 20:46 0 comments

    Backpropagated1:05 PM
    I have some old hardware I've been tinkering with(IBM 3290 and other IBM terminals, workstations originally branded AT&T and later Memorex Telex which I haven't positively identified yet but believe may 630 MGTs by AT&Ts branding, and they have a really neat magnetic trapdoor switch in the keyboard. If y'all would like a workstation and keyboard, I'd be happy to contribute one.

    Marcus J.1:06 PM
    This has been great. Some interesting resource links. Thanks Dag and team

    MrSVCD left  the room.1:06 PM

    Dag Spicer1:10 PM
    Hi @Frank Buss. Nice question. It depends on what your goals are. If they are more oriented towards the software side of things, of course emulation is your answer. However from a material culture point of view, there is a whole 'text' in the object itself that can be read, from which can emerge the engineering decisions, the trade-offs, the balance between I/O and processor (which would can physically see in a Cray-1), even aesthetic choices about industrial design and materials. Gordon Bell calls supercomputes of yore, 'beautiful sculptures' reflecting the times of their creation. For their embeding of both technical and cultural elements, we think it's worth have an exemplar of the 'real thing' to answer questions that cannot be answered via emulation. Great question... we have a small Cray-1 FPGA system in our main exhibit which gives a hint of the approach. They both have great value.

    monsonite joined  the room.1:12 PM

    Frank Buss1:13 PM
    many of these aspects could be captured with photos and schematics, but you are right, good to have the real hardware :-)

    Dag Spicer1:17 PM
    @Backpropagated Hey thanks for the offer! I think we're good for terminals of this vintage but really appreciate the offer!

    David N1:17 PM
    Punch card format still lives on! Modern "non ticketless" airline tickets still have the punch card format, because the machines to collate them have being developed from punch card machines!

    David N1:18 PM

    Frank Buss1:19 PM
    I use my iPhone with a QR code for airline tickets

    Backpropagated1:22 PM
    Any chance y'all have a service manual for the IBM 3290 with the plasma display, or know where I should start searching? One of mine needs some TLC.

    Dag Spicer1:30 PM
    Hi there, sorry nothing on the 3290... but up to 3277 here...

    Dag Spicer1:31 PM
    ok signing off.... thanks everyone: great questions and lots of fun!

    Boian Mitov1:31 PM
    Thank you @Dag Spicer :-)

    Boian Mitov1:32 PM
    Had a lot of fun in the Museum :-)

  • Hack Chat Transcript, Part 1

    Lutetium06/26/2019 at 20:08 0 comments

    Dag Spicer joined  the room.11:51 AM

    john joined  the room.11:51 AM

    Darryl N11:52 AM
    Visited the CHM back in 2015 with a bunch of folks from Linaro Connect, I had a strong emotional reaction to seeing my dear childhood companions on display in a fricking museum. Z80, 6502, 6809, etc. You kids today with your quad core 64-bit ARMs. Now get off my lawn! :-)

    Dag Spicer11:52 AM

    Dag Spicer11:53 AM
    Glad you enjoyed the visit! Feel free to come on by again -- we have a new software exhibit now, "Make Software: Change the World!"

    Yeah, same way for me at the Living Computer Museum in Seattle. I couldn't believe how many times I walked past a display and said, "Had that one too." My kids were appalled at both my nerdliness and my age.

    Dag Spicer11:54 AM
    Ha! "Gee grandpa, tell us how it was before the wheel!"

    DainBramage11:55 AM
    My son once asked me if cars had been invented yet when I was a child... I'm 45.

    Boian Mitov11:57 AM
    Hello everyone :-)

    David N11:58 AM

    MrSVCD joined  the room.11:58 AM

    MrSVCD11:59 AM

    OK, welcome everyone, glad you could drop by. I'm really excited to welcome Dag Spicer to the Hack Chat today. Dag is Senior Curator at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, which is an amazing resource for anyone with an interest in computers.

    Dag, can you tell us a little about yourself and how you came to be curator at the biggest computer museum in the world?

    Taiwo12:02 PM

    Frank Buss12:02 PM
    I like outdated computers

    Dag Spicer12:03 PM
    HI everyone!

    brianpagephotog joined  the room.12:03 PM

    brianpagephotog12:04 PM

    Mark DeLoura joined  the room.12:05 PM

    Dag Spicer12:06 PM
    Gosh this is genuinely an honor for me to be part of this great community today. My background "is inconsequential.. luge lesssons, summers in Rangoon..." I keed I keed! I went to UBC in Canada for the EE in 1986, woked as a "data over radio" engineer for a decade, then went back to university to study first history, the the history of technology. I was at STanford working (or *not* working) on my PhD when the opportunity to lead an effort related to preserving computers ... it was very nebulous... it's been 23+ years now... an amazing journey from a Quonset Hut at NASA Ames to our current building at the coner of 101 and Shoreline.

    Dag Spicer12:08 PM
    By the numbers: Budget: $8 million. Number of FTE: 65. Number of walk-in visitors: 125,000 per annum; Days CHM is rented out for events: >325 (which brings in another 100,000+ visitors).

    brianpagephotog12:08 PM
    I was a hardware cross-trained systems engineer working in product support & services for Amdahl Corp for six years -- working on the 470, 580, and 5890 mainframes.

    Woah - sounds like Smithsonian numbers. At least to the uninitiated.

    Daniel R. Dugan joined  the room.12:09 PM

    Dag Spicer12:09 PM
    Smithsonian is in a league of their own -- Annual budget = $3 billion

    Dag Spicer12:09 PM

    Dag Spicer12:09 PM
    If anyone has any questions, please fire away!

    Dag Spicer12:10 PM
    Brian: have you been to the Museum? We have a 470 V/6 on display you might enjoy!

    Andy Geppert joined  the room.12:10 PM

    Daniel R. Dugan12:10 PM
    Gosh, I have so many questions <3

    brianpagephotog12:10 PM
    Not recently, anyway

    Daniel R. Dugan12:11 PM
    ok, I was on the arpanet when i was a kiddo.

    brianpagephotog12:11 PM
    I believe this CHP started in Boston and then moved west...

    Daniel R. Dugan12:11 PM
    I still have my commodore 64 chat logs.

    Daniel R. Dugan12:11 PM
    where should I publish those?

    OK, I'll try one. What makes an artifact worthy of preservation? I mean, eventually you probably get your fill of C-64s and TRS-80s

    Daniel R. Dugan12:12 PM
    I want to add to the history of the internet, but I want to ensure data is secure. Who should I ask for help cleaning that data?

    Dag Spicer12:12 PM

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karamagezine wrote 05/18/2021 at 13:29 point

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Max wrote 06/28/2019 at 10:22 point

Hi! Currently working on a project, definitely related to computer history preservation :) 

Atari emulator for Hackaday Conference 2018 Badge:

Personally, I haven't had Atari console for several reasons: I'm too young, in 1982, when Atari VCS started to decline I was only 1 year old. In addition, in USSR, computers reached with significant delay, so, my first home computer was ZX Spectrum clone in 1993.

First time I faced with Atari was in regards to Machine Learning and Reinforcement Learning, when DeepBrain was able to teach computers to play Atari games using emulators ( This achievement was so fascinating to me that I started to learn RL and ML methods, which (two years later) end up writing a book about Reinforcement Learning methods, which also included Atari games as an example of methods used (

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[this comment has been deleted]

David N wrote 06/26/2019 at 17:44 point

Hi Manuel, thank you for your encouragement! David

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David N wrote 06/25/2019 at 17:40 point

Hello All, 

I sent the following (edited) message to Dag,  and would welcome any comments:

Subject: if (! history.learn) { history.repeat }

Hi Dag,

Your work of Preserving Computer History is really important. 

It can bring fresh, and valuable, insights into History, which is usually written by the winners, with many vital lessons for humanity being lost in the mists of time. 

I have been both a witness and a participant in the History, and Evolution, of Computer User Interfaces. 

I have pondered long and hard over the following question:

Did the invention, and the subsequent universal deployment, of the mouse result in the greatest hijack in human history?

I presented my case as a Hackaday Project last year:

Pages 1 to 8 of the project chronicles the Evolutionary Path Manipulation which resulted in current Computer User Interfaces.

Pages 9 to 12 deal with how we can easily make the current crop of computers, and mobile phones, more respectful of Human Dignity, as well as cutting down on Toxic Waste.

P.S. I worked for many years at CERN with Tim Berners-Lee, and I launched my Nathan Menu Master software in 1984, a year before Windows 1.0 was released.

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David N wrote 06/26/2019 at 03:00 point

Here are some of the UI hardware artefacts I developed in the 80s and 90s:

Here is the Windows and Java source code for my World Wide Inter Face:


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douglas.don79 wrote 06/23/2019 at 05:35 point

Does anyone know how to use rfcat and jamming also care to explain please. 

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