Hack Chat Transcript, Part 1

A event log for Preserving Computer History Hack Chat

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

lutetiumLutetium 06/26/2019 at 20:080 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I like outdated computers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
that's correct Brian -- we began as a corporate museum for DEC in Marlborough, MA. DEC spun off the Museum in the eary 1980s where it had its own building at 300 COngress Street on Museum Wharf in Boston. In 1996, the Museum in Boston, known as "The Cmoputer Museum" (TCM) moved its colleciton out west -- that's when I joined.

Mark DeLoura12:13 PM
Thanks for being here Dag -- I love the evolution of the museum over the years! Are you aware of a system or database anywhere for tracking existence of old hardware around the world? Here in Seattle we have Living Computer Museum, which has some great running hardware, but if I wanted to find, say, operable IBM System/360 hardware somewhere in the world, where would I start?

brianpagephotog12:13 PM
Okay. In the 1980s there was a computer history collection at a community college somewhere near Palo Alto.

DrG12:14 PM
My thanks also for being here Dag. If you had to, could you break down the museum, with regard to time periods, into say 4-5 key "eras" with their respective representatives?

brianpagephotog12:15 PM
Would you happen to know the P number of that 470/v6?

Daniel R. Dugan12:15 PM
I have to step away. Can you reach out to my via IM with my answer?

Thank you for your time.

I'll make sure I send you the transcript, @Daniel R. Dugan

Dag Spicer12:16 PM
Nice question Dan! So we have several criteria we use to assess an historical object's importance. Our first priciple is known as 'the ten year rule' whereby we try to wait until at leat a decade has gone by before deciding on whether to accept something into theMuseum persmanent collection. This decade waiting period gives us historical perspective, allowing us to determine whether the object had impact and shoudl be preerved or, coversely, was an "interesting failure" instructive in its own right, and so collected for that reason as well. Other criteria include: Is the object from a smeinal inventor (Seymour Cray, Woz, Torvalds); was the object, while perhaps not impactiful in tthe public sphere, have been important in patent litigation or in the evolution of an idea?

Andy Geppert12:16 PM
Hi Dag. Appreciate the mission you guys have. Very inspirational to visit CHM.

Dag Spicer12:17 PM
Thanks Andy!

David N12:17 PM
Hi Dag, thank you for being here. From your perspective, can you see any "wrong turnings" in the history of computers. Especially User Interfaces?

Dag Spicer12:17 PM
Note: We make excpetions to the 10 yar rule

Dag Spicer12:18 PM
for example, when the iPod and iPhone came out, we "had a good feeling" they were going to be influential.

brianpagephotog12:18 PM
How about the Newton?

You did better than I did - I thought they'd flop

brianpagephotog12:19 PM
Do you get a good many scholarly researchers using your collection?

I think it's important to note that CHM isn't just an old hardware collection. They preserve the institutional memory of the industry too. Case in point: when writing an article about the history of the dual-inline package, I hit them up for info. They bent over backwards to help me out, and they even have the original lab notebooks from Fairchild that document the invention.

Dag Spicer12:22 PM
David: Wow, that is just a huge question... I guess if I had one obsveration from the history of technology it is that technology takes a long time to 'wink out.' I thought punched cards really hung in thee much longe than they needed to, for example. :_) When I look at computing historically, WIlliam Gibson's (I think) quote, "The future is already here... it's jsut unevenly distributed" really ring true. We get inklings of advanced work in labs, garages -- off the grid essentially -- but they remain 'islands in a stream of pesistent existing technology.

I mean, notebooks with Andy Groves' handwritten notes. What kind of a goldmine is something like that?!

Dag Spicer12:24 PM
Thanks Dan! David Laws and David Brock are CHM's two semicondcutor curators. They are tuly awesome. Have a look at Laws' "Silicon Engine" timeline of semiconductors:

Daniel R. Dugan12:25 PM
Thanks @Dag Spicer ! I appreciate your work!

Dag Spicer12:25 PM
Thank you Daniel!

DrG12:26 PM
Dag, you mentioned "determination of impact" as a criteria for inclusion. How is that determination made for items from the 1960s and 1970s? For example, I have always felt that the 6502 (KIM-1) had a huge impact. But not because it was more powerful than say the Z-80 or even the 6800, but rather its price....which put it into the hands of many more people.

Dag Spicer12:28 PM
Hi DrG, 6502 Forever! (Literally: it still exist in IP core form! and has a supe strong advocate in William Mensch and his AZ-based Western Design Center! I see y'all did some work with his Mensch Micro a couple of years ago:

David N12:29 PM
I don't want to take up too much bandwidth, but I have posted my take on the Past, Present, and Future of User Interfaces in just 12 pages that I have referenced in my comments to this Hack Chat. Any feedback would be most welcome.

Dag Spicer12:30 PM
Neat. I will check it uot

DrG12:32 PM
Without disrespecting the 10 year rule as mentioned, what item from 'today' do you think will be among the Museum's most cherished? Could you speculate?

Dag Spicer12:34 PM
Ha! Good one! Hmmmm...

MrSVCD12:34 PM
I am looking to make a "perforated paper tape" punch, do you know of anyone who has already done this?

Dag Spicer12:36 PM
If I had to choose something, I might look at something in the GPU / AI chip space... The Tensor Processing Unit... Amazon's version too... that kind of thing.

Dag Spicer12:36 PM
Software is a tougher question given its distribution method now.

Dag Spicer12:38 PM
@MrSVCD I think I would buy one (used) and refurb, rather than trying to build one de novo. There is some precision stuff going on...

Marcus J. joined  the room.12:39 PM

DrG12:40 PM
Does the museum have a collection of the historic periodicals and data books?

Alex Bochannek joined  the room.12:43 PM

Dag Spicer12:44 PM
@DrG Hi there! It does. Any specific journals or data books in mind? Our curator Al Kossow runs the unbelievably cool website, where you can find loads of databooks: Check out his site in general: it's the single largest reporistory of technical information on historical computing machines in the world. One guy did it all. All 4,700,000+ pages!

DrG12:45 PM
WoW thanks so much for that link!

Alex Bochannek12:49 PM
Former colleague of Dag's here, so I will throw a softball question ;) What's your favorite artifact on display? In the collection? Why?

Dag Spicer12:50 PM
You first.

Dag Spicer12:51 PM

Frank Buss12:51 PM
looks like has mirrored bitsavers, maybe easier to search:

Alex Bochannek12:52 PM
Can't just pick one favorite, but I think the TRICE is very, very cool. (Disclaimer: I used to be the curator for analog computing at CHM.)

Wondering about the logistics of running a museum with a lot of physically large artifacts. How/where do you store Big Iron pieces that aren't on display? And how do you keep them from rotting away?

Dag Spicer12:53 PM
Ok, I'll bite. I like the German ENIGMA machine, because while technically a very simple device, it had enormous human conequences on a scale never before seen in history.

Dag Spicer12:55 PM
Hi Dan, We have levels of (offsite) storage that hold the 98% of the collection that is not on display at any one time. These are environmentally controlled secure facilities. As you can imagine, it costs a lot to keep a Cray C90 at 65 degrees, 40% humidity for a century or more...

Yeah, I think that's what gets me about museums. So much more that you don't see in the exhibits is squirrelled away, and that probably where most of the budget goes.

DrG12:57 PM
I am a fan of the Ken Burns style of documentation and I am curious as to how a museum captures, for lack of a better term, the "under culture" in contrast to academia , commercial or defense....from the Model Train clubs, to the Byte shops, the back of Radio Shacks - all of it? How do you preserve and display that? [sorry if I am hogging questions] ...rare pictures , notes, early hand-drawn schematics ???

Alex Bochannek12:58 PM
Dan, have a look at

Dag Spicer12:58 PM
... ("dot, dot, dot") This points out a big part of the function of a Museum -- to be an 'ark we send into the future' so that generations to come can know what happened dring our lives, one of the most productive periods of technical advancement in history.

MrSVCD12:59 PM
I just found that ECMA has scanned a lot of their old standards documents and put them on the web:

MrSVCD12:59 PM
Including some paper storage solutions.

Backpropagated joined  the room.1:00 PM

Frank Buss1:01 PM
isn't it sufficient to save some images, manuals and construction documents of the old computers, and maybe provide a JavaScript emulator for your old Cray?

OK, that was a really fast hour. Too fast for me - I love talking about old hardware. But I want to let Dag get back to work if he has to, so I'll say thanks for stopping by today and that I really appreciate it, and the work the CHM does. Can't wait to stop in for my first visit.

Of course, if you can stay on, Dag, feel free. The channel is all yours. And everyone can rest easy next week - no Hack Chat. I figured all the Americans would be cutting out early for the 4th of July festivities. We'll start again on 7/12 with Jesse Vincent from

DrG1:05 PM
Thanks for the visit, chat and all the links.

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