Task: Attend a Vintage Computer Festival
Needed: Time and travel
Time: 1-3 Days
Vintage Computer Festivals (VCF) are annual events held across the United States and beyond to educate the public about vintage computers and to celebrate the robust vintage computer community. It is a great opportunity to learn about old systems and to meet like-minded people who share your love for these old machines. Many of the VCFs sprang up organically over the years to meet a local need. Some of these are now managed by the Vintage Computer Federation that is a non-profit dedicated to enabling hobbyists and to spreading knowledge of computing history.
I attended my first VCF (East) this weekend in Wall, NJ. I was just there for one day and had an awesome time. The day started with a keynote by Ken Thompson who told a number of stories about developing UNIX at Bell Labs in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He was joined by Brian Kernighan who moderated the session. The room was packed as VCF East was celebrating 50 years of UNIX and everyone wanted to meet these two pioneers. The rest of the day consisted of time to visit the vintage computer exhibits, the consignment store, and various workshops on soldering and building single-board computers. I had a great time wandering around, trying different vintage computers, and just taking in the excitement from all the participants.
In addition to celebrating 50 years of UNIX, VCF East was celebrating 40 years of Atari. Joe Decuir gave the keynote (video here) on the last day and the Atari exhibit was the largest seen at any VCF. Allan Bushman, Peter Fletcher, Bill Lange, Curt Vendel, and several others were there with awesome exhibits featuring every Atari 8-bit and 16-bit machine. In addition, Curt brought a number of extremely rare prototypes and short-lived products such as the 815 disk drive and the 1090 expansion box. These were really fun to see in person. I had a great time getting to know the Atari community. In addition to the people mentioned I also met Nir Dary as well as Randy Kindig of the Floppy Days and ANTIC podcasts and Kevin Savetz of ANTIC. There were numerous other Atari people there. It was a very festive event.
Find a VCF near you and go! You will have a great time. Here is a list of the VCFs I know about:
VCF East – Wall, NJ
VCF Europe – Europe
VCF Italy – Italy
VCF Midwest – Chicago, IL
VCF Pacfiic Northwest – Seattle, WA
VCF Southeast – Roswell, GA
VCF West – Mountain View, CA
Now that I have been to a VCF I can’t wait to go back. If you go, be sure and prepare questions or even bring hardware you are having trouble with. There are lots of experts there who might be able to help you. It is a good chance to network and get to know the community. It is always more difficult to practice a hobby in isolation. Also, think about doing an exhibit yourself at one of these events. I plan to do one next year.
Here are a few photos of the Atari exhibit at VCF East 2019.