The Importance of Vintage Computer Workshops

I have always been inspired by the Homebrew Computer Club and similar groups that formed as part of the advent of the microprocessor in the mid 1970s. I was too young (and poor) to have been involved then.   

25 years later, aspiring hackers like me in what was then the new hobby of “vintage computers” could easily find ourselves stuck due to lack of resources and contacts. By the mid-late 1990’s much of the original knowledge needed to support homebrew computing-era hardware was fading away.  Those were the days before YouTube how-to videos, Ebay’s vintage computer parts, and the large volume of schematics and scans that have found their way to the Internet.  Sometimes the only source of how-to knowledge necessary to repair and use vintage hardware existed in the memories of the remaining persons who actually lived those times and still maintained their skills. 

In the mid 2000’s MARCH (Mid-Atlantic Computing Hobbyists) was formed as a club dedicated to vintage computer restoration and use. Progress was often slow, many mistakes were made experimenting with unknown hardware. Sometimes met at my house or other’s houses to undertake the process of re-learning lost knowledge, with whatever help we could recruit. I thought, let’s host and organize workshops in the spirit of the homebrew clubs, invite known experts from the time, and see if they’d be interested in teaching and sharing their knowledge to our club?   What better way to support our vintage machines than to employ the same techniques used when they were new? 

Eventually workshops became heavily attended and we moved the events to MARCH headquarters at InfoAge Science center.   MARCH eventually evolved to become VCFed (The Vintage Computer Federation). Clubs from all over the world connected through the VCFed to form a network for collectors and hobbyists. 

After I left VCFed leadership to start Kennett Classic I continued the tradition of workshops here as well.  Today most computer museums and groups run some sort of workshop events inspired by the original homebrew computing clubs.   Workshops keep the hobby alive.

Speaking of the original Homebrew Computer Club, one of the famous hackers from that time Steve Dompier died recently. Read More Here. Steve is the guy who discovered how one could use the RF signals eminating from the MITS Altair 8800 to form “a music of a sort”, in 1976. His project inspired me to make my own Altair RF music. You can read more about Steve, RF music and the project he inspired me to create, here.

Starting this summer we’re going to switch gears and put a greater emphasis on computer restoration, workshops and project work. Stay tuned, more announcements to come…