Vintage Computer Festival Midwest 18

Last weekend I attended Vintage Computer Festival Midwest 18 in Elmhurst, Illinois. This year I didn’t set up a display table, but I did give a presentation as I have done in previous years. CelGenStudios has posted a nice walkthrough video that will give you an idea of the event.

The Architecture of Terminals

My presentation was titled What’s Inside a Terminal? A Comparison of Architectures (video at the link). As I’ve studied various models of terminal over the years I noticed that there were some similarities to microcomputers. This shouldn’t be too surprising as early microcomputers included: a CPU, a keyboard and a video display. Later model terminals included these same items, but with different capabilities tailored to their purpose as a video terminal, rather than as a general purpose computer. However, terminals predate microcomputers by a number of years and went through some earlier architectures tailored to their purpose as an interactive interface to a computer located elsewhere.

Slides for the presentation

Tidying up and preparing for a new phase in the collection

I spent some time down at the warehouse last week tidying up. Mostly this meant moving boxes from the garage door area over onto some pallets. It might be time for some unboxing videos on our YouTube channel in preparation for the next phase of work with this collection.

The next phase of this collection is to begin the slow and steady task of refurbishment and repair of the items in the collection to bring them into working order and maintain them in that condition. For now that probably means checkout, refurbishment and repair of the terminals in the collection. These are the easiest things to work on individually and in quantity represent the most number of items. Some SGI workstations might also get some attention during this initial checkout phase. A decade earlier at the previous warehouse location, the Octane workstations were all inventoried and put into working order with hard drives installed and IRIX loaded. Last year when preparing to attend VCF Midwest, I pulled an Octane out for a quick inspection and while it powered on, it displayed a fault indicator on its light bar. I didn’t have time to investigate further or examine other units, so I simply prepared a static display instead of an active display.

Over the years that I’ve been pursuing this hobby/obsession/goal of a museum dedicated to the history of computer graphics, the collection grew to its current size. In previous years, some things were not difficult to find if you monitored the right web sites. The government surplus auction sites yielded a bunch of large SGI machines as they were decommissioned from Boeing in St. Louis. Since that singular event, I’ve not seen similar large SGI machines anywhere. Here and there the occasional deskside Onyx or Onyx 2 would show up on ebay (freight shipping only, please!), but those haven’t shown up for a long time. A lot of the various terminals I’ve collected have also become quite scarce, even though they are smaller and can be shipped without much difficulty.

So it appears that I collected the right stuff and the right time, or in many cases the last time such things were not difficult to obtain. This is great news for the collection because it means that I have assembled enough of the right items into a single place. The bad news is that now I have the large task of refurbishment and repair ahead of me. I guess it’s high time to put that electrical engineering degree to work!

Computer Graphics Museum YouTube Channel

I’m pleased to announce that the museum now has an associated YouTube channel!

One of the most difficult tasks of any museum is deciding how to best present information to the public at large and YouTube is a great medium for this. On our channel you will find a video tour of our collection when YouTuber CuriousMarc came to visit our warehouse. CuriousMarc has many vintage computing equipment restoration videos on his channel, including a series of videos on restoring the NASA Apollo Guidance Computer to a fully working system.

Over the last few years, Richard Thomson has given a number of lectures on graphics history to the University of Utah Graphics Seminar. We plan on capturing these talks for YouTube in the future. At the Vintage Computer Festival Midwest 2019, Richard Thomson presented one of these lectures on the AT&T Pixel Machine, an interesting piece of hardware with many similarities to modern GPUs in desktop PCs. You can watch other videos from the festival on the VCF Midwest YouTube channel. Richard Thomson will be presenting another one of these lectures at the VCF Midwest 2021 event.

BitSavers Posts CDC ICEM Documentation

BitSavers has just posted scans of Control Data Corporation‘s Integrated Computer-Aided
Engineering and Manufacturing (ICEM) Engineering Data Library (EDL) as used on the Control Data Network Operating System (NOS). ICEM was a minor player in the overall CAD market, but ICEM Surface gained a prominent position in car body design. You can browse the documents on BitSavers.

For an overall history of the CAD industry, I recommend David Weisberg’s online free book The Engineering Design Revolution.

Xerox Alto Restoration

Over on YouTube, CuriousMarc has been chronicling the restoration of a Xerox Alto workstation. Marc has the advantage of living in silicon valley, so he gets to have drop-in visits from the creators of ethernet to help with the networking debugging and assistance from the folks who created the Alto. Check out his Xerox Alto restoration playlist on YouTube for a series of very interesting videos!

New Hosting Provider

The Computer Graphics Museum has changed hosting providers to XMission, Utah’s largest independent internet service provider.  Our new provider gives us improved access to our hosting environment allowing us to work on providing better services going forward.

Things have been proceeding behind the scenes, but difficulties with our hosting environment prevented us from sharing those efforts with you.  Obviously, we are back to sharing news again!

One of the next big projects for the museum is to create a searchable catalog of artifacts in the museum’s collection.  This will be easier to prototype and deploy with the improved access.