A computer museum - who needs IT?

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A computer museum - who needs IT?

Postby YetiSeti on Thu Jun 25, 2009 10:22 pm

Just a few broad questions to hopefully help start and stimulate a detailed discussion :

Does this country want a computer museum?
Does it need one (or several)?
Should it be publically funded?

For me, the first question of want is one of demand. Given that there are no public computer museums thus far, is there a demand? A need, perhaps from the perspective of a 'who knows best', is asking whether there is a need, despite there not being a want. Finally, while talk is cheap, museums aren't, so who is going to pay for it?

My own concept and plans are a bit wider, encompassing and teaching the concepts of ICT in general, but illustrated through NZ's computing & gaming history (because that's what I own, and what I grew up with). Your ideas may be different, and if you care, you may wish to say what flavour your own museum might take and add some more questions into the fold.

What I put on trial are the very notions of: Are public museums needed when the private enthusiasts are doing such a good job of preserving the vintage items, and at their own expense? In this information age, do we even need a bricks and mortar museum when we can take it online and present information through clicks and portals? Museums are after all just places where you learn about things, but so are web sites. Again, in this current age (because that's how information flows), for me, it's not about learning the history, but gaining an understanding of the present and future, illustrated through an examination of the computing/technological history of this country. Or, should it be sufficient that in society we are just consumers of technology of which understanding is not neccesarily a prerequisite.

For anyone serious, we could perhaps take discussion and a further collaboration of ideas to the likes of GoogleDocs, and even do some prototypes in user friendly environments such as SketchUp or Alice for a virtual walkthrough.

------

C= Clinton
Home of the Retrowe Museum
A private collection of vintage computers, gaming consoles, electronics, software, books and paraphenalia from the 70s an 80s, that wants to be a public collection.


Readings

Wanted: Someone to save Australia's IT heritage
http://www.zdnet.com.au/news/hardware/soa/Wanted-Someone-to-save-Australia-s-IT-heritage/0,130061702,339286612,00.htm

Aussie computer museum side-steps closer to dump: Insight - Hardware - ZDNet Australia
http://www.zdnet.com.au/insight/hardware/soa/Aussie-computer-museum-side-steps-closer-to-dump/0,139023759,339289542,00.htm

Australian Computer Museum Society
http://www.acms.org.au/

UK Computer Museum faces closure - ZDNet.co.uk
http://news.zdnet.co.uk/hardware/0,1000000091,39377527,00.htm

Done right - The National Museum of Computing (UK)
http://www.tnmoc.org/home.aspx

Some huff'n'puff on our Knowledge Economy from 1999
http://www.med.govt.nz/templates/MultipageDocumentTOC____17256.aspx

The Digital Strategy (aka Knowledge Economy rebranded)
http://www.digitalstrategy.govt.nz/Case-Studies/
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Re: A computer museum - who needs IT?

Postby tezza on Fri Jun 26, 2009 11:18 pm

Clinton,

Interesting thoughts.

I’m of the opinion that it’s important to preserve IT history (and certainly New Zealand’s IT history) for future generations. Not just the machines but the history itself i.e. the who, where, how and why. This is one of the reasons I’m scanning those Bits and Bytes and making them available.

After all, the IT revolution was just that. A revolution! It’s changed society and the history of the late 20th century will be noted for its impact on humans, just as the industrial revolution was.

One of the reasons I started my System 80 site was that, at the time, there was little info on the web about this machine, and yet it was reasonably significant here in the early days. However, it wasn’t really significant out of Australasia so any info or history about it could have easily disappeared.

As to physical museums, well I don’t have strong thoughts about this. …the question is who pays and is there enough demand? As you say, the web can go a long way towards preserving the information, and private collectors can go a long way towards preserving the machines (although it’s not easy with LARGER machines). In the future museums might be interested in running temporary exhibits from a private collector from time to time, so people would see them in the flesh now and again. This might be the most likely scenario.

Anyone else have any thoughts?

Terry (Tez)
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Re: A computer museum - who needs IT?

Postby linuxlove on Sat Jul 18, 2009 3:17 am

while i'm not in nz, i think a computer musium is a good idea, however i think this one should be different than a normal computer museum:
instead of having all the computers under glass, have them out for people to use, except for some really rare ones. just my US 2 cents :D
i spend more time on the Vintage Computer Forums:
http://vintage-computer.com/vcforum
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Re: A computer museum - who needs IT?

Postby gavo on Sun Aug 23, 2009 9:13 am

tezza wrote:As to physical museums, well I don’t have strong thoughts about this. …the question is who pays and is there enough demand?

Anyone else have any thoughts?


I'd like to see a permanent section in Te Papa or the the Auckland Museum that contains machines, consoles, software, equipment that had some local inspiration, manfuacturing history, or perhaps just localised distruption in NZ. That in itself could be a small collection - I dont know.

As for the idea of a general computer museum that contains pretty much anything the museum can get its hands on, I for one am all for it - but then again I am a geek (sad but true).

To get a feel for if this would really get any visitors, we probably have to figure out a different target auidence to ask - school kids maybe?

The interweb is a great source of information, so perhaps the NZ vintage computer museum could start out as a web pressence only, and then maybe loan collections to physical musems, then maybe if demand is great enough find a public location to house its full collection that is open to the public (perhaps not every day, but perhaps on weekends or something).

I see eDay is approaching again - I suspect most of the vintage kit was presented at the early ones and dumped - but if someone were to form a NZ vintage computer museum club/society/something - it might be a good idea to hook up with these guys to see if some kit could be saved.

Cheers,
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Re: A computer museum - who needs IT?

Postby tezza on Sun Aug 23, 2009 10:34 am

Although I haven't seen it, I believe Auckland University's computer science department has a small permanent collection.

As to eDay, yes, I'm sure a lot of classic gear is handed in. The good thing is that the organisers seem to be aware of vintage computer interest, and anything of that ilk (assuming it's intercepted and identified) can end up on Trade Me for a low reserve, where anyone interested can bid for it.

I got my Atari 400 from such a sale.
http://www.classic-computers.org.nz/col ... ri-400.htm

I see there is one on Trade Me for sale right now! Classic machines and built like a tank.

Terry
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Re: A computer museum - who needs IT?

Postby YetiSeti on Sun Aug 23, 2009 4:26 pm

tezza wrote:As to eDay, yes, I'm sure a lot of classic gear is handed in. The good thing is that the organisers seem to be aware of vintage computer interest, and anything of that ilk (assuming it's intercepted and identified) can end up on Trade Me for a low reserve, where anyone interested can bid for it. Terry


As the eDay effort is largely volunteer based, the organisers, who don't necessarily know what is and isn't vintage, rely on assistance to help pick these items out. I only saw a couple of items from where I live listed on trademe, despite myself and some other people I know seeing some old bits in the containers that never made it to listing. Other cities did pretty well going by amounts listed for auction. I think it's best to ask and see if they do have some spotters to help out.

I suspect for the last eDay because the vintage laptops, luggables, & XTs have traditionally been low in demand compared to the snazzy 8-bit gaming computers more probably fell by the wayside. They also don't stand out quite as much as the funky shapes of the other 80s computers among the rest of the junk (which are the vintage items of the next decade we'll regret not keeping anything of) that is thrown away. Heck, I consider a 286 to be pretty rare and have not yet seen one here, but I doubt anyone on trademe would buy one if listed. I hope this year a bit more respect is shown for these whole table hogs and room fillers and I think now collectors are seeing them as more desirable relics.

It certainly makes for quite an event on trademe around that time of the year.
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Re: A computer museum - who needs IT?

Postby YetiSeti on Thu Apr 15, 2010 11:18 pm

Time to revive this old thread and for me to re-read it and see what I haven't replied to.

I'm interested in knowing what people in which cities currently have or have had the idea/dream/wish of a opening public computer museum in their home towns or cities. I haven't figured out if Dunedin is the place for me given that mine is the only large-ish private collection down this way that I know of (the mythological collection of Allan Rogers aside), however I think a couple of combined collections would give some overseas museums a definite run for the money.

It's just a pity there's the lack of mini's and mainframes (though some nice stuff at the Early Settlers' Museum here), prototypes and other rarities and obscurities that are found in museums overseas. I think with ingenuity, the right design and presentation, focus on services and loads of funding (yeah, the easy bit), something more than comparable in quality to overseas offerings could be set up.

I'm open to relocating to another country if that were the only way to realise such a vision. But articles I have linked to in earlier posts show computer museums are not exactly top institutions considered worthy of funding which does leave me feeling a bit disillusioned.
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Re: A computer museum - who needs IT?

Postby tezza on Sat Apr 17, 2010 9:05 am

YetiSeti wrote:Time to revive this old thread and for me to re-read it and see what I haven't replied to.

I'm interested in knowing what people in which cities currently have or have had the idea/dream/wish of a opening public computer museum in their home towns or cities. I haven't figured out if Dunedin is the place for me given that mine is the only large-ish private collection down this way that I know of (the mythological collection of Allan Rogers aside), however I think a couple of combined collections would give some overseas museums a definite run for the money.


I have more limited goals Clinton. As some point I'd like to exhibit my machines, many of which are museum quality. There are a couple of ways I could do that. One is to organise a limited "temporary" exhibition at the local museum (together with talks and presentations). The other is to build some kind of "space" at home where people could come and have private viewings by appointment.

Both these things though are in the far future. I have a full time job and other interests which keep me busy, and it probably wouldn't be until retirement in 13 years or so before I could organise the above. In the meantime I'll keep trying to keep the history alive through this site and interacting with other enthusiasts such as yourself.

As you've seen from the links you've researched, computer museums are a hard row to hoe. Funding is always tight and uncertain. That's not to say I'd pour cold water on anyone else's effort to develop one. I'd applaud it and support it. It would need 100% full-time committement and access to a good network of funding agencies and sponsors. It's not something I'd think about taking on myself.

That being said, I'd lke to see a small section of Te Papa devoted to New Zealand's own computer developments, such as the Poly for example.
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Re: A computer museum - who needs IT?

Postby gavo on Mon Jun 07, 2010 6:34 pm

Just to revive this a bit. I was up in Auckland a few weeks ago and visited Motat (www.motat.org.nz). Scattered throughout the exhibitions were a few computers, mostly used as props for other displays. Its an interesting place thats for sure.

Anyway, last week I dropped them an email asking if they'd like a Lisa 2, IIe and original 128k Mac. If they do, maybe Motat can be the start of a NZ computer museum. I'll post what thier answer is when I get it.
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Re: A computer museum - who needs IT?

Postby tezza on Mon Jun 07, 2010 9:00 pm

Hi Gavin,

There was a guy (John Pratt) who years ago did have a computer exibition at Motat. It didn't remain as a permanent fixture though, possibly due to funding issues.

One of the problems with vintage computer exibition is they do require space, some looking after, and individual machines need fixing now and again. You could also argue you need people with a flair for display who can "tell the stories" in an interesting and interactive way.

Unfortunately, all this requires money (i.e. funding) :(
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Re: A computer museum - who needs IT?

Postby YetiSeti on Tue Jun 15, 2010 11:31 pm

Hi Gavin,
An overdue reply to this thread and your message so I will start with some thoughts and ideas that have been rattling around and bouncing between the ears lately.
gavo wrote:I'd like to see a permanent section in Te Papa or the the Auckland Museum that contains machines, consoles, software, equipment that had some local inspiration, manfuacturing history, or perhaps just localised distruption in NZ. That in itself could be a small collection - I dont know.

I like to think that technology is so important and the field sufficiently deep and wide that it is deserving of its own place and presence, especially with what I would like to present. Te Papa or some existing museum would be a good start but hopefully not the be all and end all.

Such a section could handily stimulate and develop the motivation to visit the more comprehensive and established technology museum and since something would be better than nothing, in the meantime it's probably the best bet and way to promote an awareness and appreciation of NZ's computing history. If systems were put in place to monitor and measure its interest, this could provide invaluable information for putting together a business case for an independent and more comprehensive museum.

The brief of my museum concept would not just be about NZ as may be the requirement of other museums. I think most museums are already quite set in what they're about and it would be difficult to teach about computers and technology in a more broad sense through these institutions, e.g. Te Papa would be constrained by it's NZ focus and the Early Settlers' here by its region focus.

There is a danger with a static historical display as a museum might present it, is that the history tends to stay just that - pages of history. Technology is dynamic, live, changing - electric. One challenge of a modern museum as I see it is to bring the lessons of history to the present, to make it live and make it relevant. With a technology museum the actual items can be brought to a functional state and using the original items rather than ones that are simulated or artificially constructed (try and bring a real dinosaur to life!). The issues that surround technology are perennial and spans all disciplines and there is the opportunity to create a rich experience that moves it from a traditional 'look and learn' pedagogy to one that is look, engage, think and reflect. That is a much better model for learning and it might even be fun.

gavo wrote:As for the idea of a general computer museum that contains pretty much anything the museum can get its hands on, I for one am all for it - but then again I am a geek (sad but true).

Just the day prior to reading your post I was thinking about this. While someone smart or brainy in general may be labelled a nerd or geek, how many vocations out there also have the label of geek or nerd ascribed as in 'computer geek' or 'computer nerd' in such a commonplace way? Only 'mad scientist' came to mind. Social misfit, poor fashion sense and never going to get laid connotations aside, what I am trying to highlight is the passion, enthusiasm and drive that a 'computer geek' or 'hacker' has developed in his or her field of interest. I call the failure of the education system that it doesn't develop geeks in all subjects whereas at least to myself it seems so achievable.

gavo wrote:To get a feel for if this would really get any visitors, we probably have to figure out a different target auidence to ask - school kids maybe?

In this case there is no target market, as all demographics are covered in the respect that technology applies to everyone and no one escapes its clutches, muawa hhaaahaaa (sorry, mad scientist)

But, yes, the biases I have is towards the educational market, and home computers, consoles and gaming because of what I mostly have in my collection. I don't have the minis and mainframes and of course the range and variety of what is on offer in NZ is pretty poor in comparison to everywhere else overseas.

Where we can shine over the more elaborate computer museums with their vast and variegated inventories, is by staying true to the ethos and spirit of old school computing where creativity and innovation was borne from the ability to work with limits and constraints and the strive and drive to make more from less.

gavo wrote:The interweb is a great source of information, so perhaps the NZ vintage computer museum could start out as a web pressence only, and then maybe loan collections to physical musems, then maybe if demand is great enough find a public location to house its full collection that is open to the public (perhaps not every day, but perhaps on weekends or something).

I think once you give someone something for free it's pretty hard to extract money from them or try and monetize your service later on. I'd love to do it all on the internet, but then people wouldn't want to visit or pay for a physical museum. The art of the internet point of presence is in how to make your web site not look like the well crafted advert that it really is. (Yoiks! http://www.tnmoc.org/ says it costs 500 quid a day to keep their operation running). The idea is not to try and guage the demand, but try to create the demand, and make people appreciate and understand the need for something real as taken to (my crazy) conclusion, brains in a jar or bodies hooked into the matrix are where I think things are heading towards.

There's room in NZ for a few computer museums I reckon. My ideas expand to creating a technology and innovation centre of which the museum is a carrying theme. There are social messages and industry behaviour I would like to keep in check that people outside of the technology sphere tend not to care much about or are ignorant of, but really should be educated on. Not everyone wanting to set up a computer museum may be as concerned as I am about some of these issues. My last resort is to abandon the museum idea and just write a book.

gavo wrote:I see eDay is approaching again - I suspect most of the vintage kit was presented at the early ones and dumped - but if someone were to form a NZ vintage computer museum club/society/something - it might be a good idea to hook up with these guys to see if some kit could be saved.

All in the past now, but I'm not sure why some items from where I am didn't go up for auction and wonder how much it could have been the case elsewhere. There was at least a C64 which was shown in a photo and mentioned in the local paper in an article. I guess there were wider issues such as http://www.trade2save.com/blog/2009/10/27/new-zealand-eday-tarnished-by-e-waste-scandal/ to deal with???
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Re: A computer museum - who needs IT?

Postby gavo on Thu Jun 17, 2010 7:03 pm

It is all a bit of a dilemma. I suppose by the time "traditional" museums wake up to the idea of preserving computing history and technology, they better hope that there have been enough individuals around interested enough to preserve it for them. This is certainly the case at the moment, but as we pop off (not to be too morbid), will our kids care about our antique collections, or just bin them.

As an aside, I haven’t had a reply from Motat to my email or phone call yet, which I assume means they aren’t interested (I actually for some reason thought they would be).
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Re: A computer museum - who needs IT?

Postby tezza on Thu Jun 17, 2010 9:40 pm

Yes, I think it will be up to guys like us to preserve this material in our private collections, at least for a while. I'm sure someone will appreciate the preservation efforts in the years to come though.
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Re: A computer museum - who needs IT?

Postby YetiSeti on Tue Jun 22, 2010 11:01 pm

Twitter on a ZX Spectrum And other wonders from the Vintage Computing Fair
http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/06/21/vintage_computer_fair/

Aside from Twitter on a ZX Spectrum (which almost would make me want to use Twitter), the comments on El Reg by people heavy on the reminiscing of having a Dragon (which coincidentally there is one for sale on trademe at the moment), and there being a first Vintage Computing Fair in Britain recently (which is a great idea), note there's also a mention of the state finally giving recognition (and the opportunity to receive money !!!) to Bletchley Park.

Well NZ might not have the past, places or persons of prominence to promote that Bletchley Park provides, technology is not all primroses and the premise I propose is to juxtapose the promise, positives, potential and possibilities against the perils, problems, pessimism and physical and philosophic end points. (I spit when I talk)

That's my point of difference for a social museum/technology centre, just sometimes I think I'm quite alone in how I perceive things.
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Re: A computer museum - who needs IT?

Postby Mr President on Fri Jun 25, 2010 11:48 pm

I also, on my own and not knowing of this website or the interests of people like yourselves, have dreamed of starting a computer museum. And not just an online one but a physical one where people can come in and sit at a desk that looks like the one they sat at 20 years ago, and turn on a machine that looks like the one they worked at 20 years ago and runs the same OS and software. As time goes on it will become impossible to keep the old hardware going and such pieces would be for looking at only but you could still have the software running. I picture glass cabinets with specimens of processors and RAM like the ones used for butterflies and other bugs. Descriptions on the walls of how the innards of a computer work (or worked), how it impacted society. I see schools bringing classes in to learn about computers in the modern day. There may be mini golf and a cafe for those not so keen on the "old junk".

I shudder at the thought of the stuff I've let pass through my fingers over the years.
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