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Q&A: Evan Koblentz Talks about the Vintage Computer Federation

April 12, 2016
Check out the non-profit Vintage Computer Federation if you fondly remember the past.
I am always pleasantly surprised by the response to articles about older technology. If you are in or near New Jersey, you might want to check out the Vintage Computer Federation’s VCF East show this weekend. I talked with Evan Koblentz, president of the Vintage Computer Federation, about the show and organization.

What is the Vintage Computer Federation?

Koblentz: VCF is a 501(c)3 non-profit existing for and led by computer history enthusiasts. Just as there are thousands of people worldwide who collect, restore, and exhibit antique cars, so too are there people whose hobby is vintage computing. Generally, hobbyists focus on artifacts of the 1960s-1980s.

What’s interesting about old computers?

Evan Koblentz, co-founder and president of the Vintage Computer Federation

Koblentz: Lots! Just like antique cars, which had chrome, fins, and whitewalls, before they all started to look the same and got boring. Computers before about the mid-1980s had character! You could fix them yourself at a detailed hardware level and you could understand their code without being a Ph.D. in computer science. These computers were colorful, fun, and very accessible. Even minicomputers and mainframes of the 1960-1970s are very collectible today. Many people are still developing applications and peripherals that make vintage computers do modern things, such as mass storage and IP connections.

What does VCF do?

Koblentz: VCF has five main activities. One, we produce the Vintage Computer Festival events, which is a series of family-friendly weekends around the world to celebrate vintage computing. Two, we operate the Vintage Computer Forum, which is the largest online discussion site for the hobby. Three, we incubate regional chapters, such as our founding chapter in the U.S. Mid-Atlantic area. Four, we run a hands-on computer museum via the Mid-Atlantic chapter, which has a facility in New Jersey. Fifth, we provide resources to the press, film makers, researchers, and so on.

When are the upcoming festivals?

Koblentz: VCF East is this week (April 15-17) at the NJ museum, which is co-located at the larger InfoAge Science Center, in Wall, N.J. VCF West is Aug. 6-7 at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif. A partner of ours is hosting Vintage Computer Festival Europa later this month in Munich.

What’s happening at VCF East?

The first day is mostly technical classes on how to fix very old stuff, plus there’s an eight-bit game programming hackathon. Saturday and Sunday are when the exhibit halls will be open along with our computer museum, a consignment area, and the rest of the InfoAge facility. Each day has a keynote speaker. Friday’s keynoter (lunchtime) is John Blankenbaker, who invented the Kenbak-1 personal computer in 1971. Saturday’s speaker (morning) is Stewart Cheifet, of the 1980s PBS television show “The Computer Chronicles” and Sunday’s speaker (also in the morning) is Dr. Ted Nelson, who was a 1970s microcomputing visionary. Meanwhile, the exhibit halls will feature dozens of hands-on examples of everything from DEC minicomputers to 1970s homebrew kits to 1980s eight-bitters, all up-and-running. There will be exotic systems (Apple 1) and very common systems (for example, the Commodore 64). The exhibit halls are very family-friendly.

How can I find out the details, buy tickets, get involved, make donations, and that sort of thing?

Koblentz: It’s all on our website at www.vcfed.org.

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