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Are computer museums 'bad'?

falter

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I would hate to think of a world without museums, they are so important to the preservation of the history of mankind, but they are not perfect and they are not always the ideal place for artifacts. They ARE generally a safe place to store artifacts as the museum staff will know how to preserve items so that they won't age prematurely, so to speak but they do have cons. That being said, a museum is not going to do much with any particular item beyond keeping them safe and accessible, they are not likely going to make a video/documentary will tons of general information as well as specific on the particular item with detailed images that will be seen by thousands of people.

I think you, Brad, are much more than a collector, you are a self taught, freelance vintage computer historian (without the paperwork to prove it ;) so having such an important artifact in your possession is in many way like having it in the hands of museum, even better than having it in the hands of a museum in some ways, I think. I have learned a huge amount about the early days of the personal computer from watching your videos, as have many others, so I think people like you play a role similar to what museums play when it comes to the teaching about and the preservation (in a variety of way) of these artifacts. And besides, eventually your collection will probably end up in a museum, and likely in working order with documentation of the restoration, which I think will make it more likely for a museum to display it and possible allow interaction with it. The last thing I will say is this. Remember when you are thinking about doing something to a rare piece like this to not to think of it like a collector or a seller who knows that the more untouch, unaltered a piece is the more money it will bring and the more valuable it will be to another collector, that's not how a museum would think of it, while they also would prefer things to by untouched and unaltered but they know that doing so doesn't necessarily damage it's history or it's value as a rare artifact, know what I'm saying?
Thank you! I just want to protect Grant's legacy. When someone puts a Dymo label on something to announce they built something and when, that means they want to be remembered for posterity, in my book. So whatever I can do to honor that I will. Just want to check in and make sure I'm on the right track.
 

pkhoury

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But private museums are private, and I have issues with the notion that contributing to one is just helping someone fatten their own collection of toys.
You bring up a good point. I acquired a substantial amount of inventory from what was left of the Houston Computer Museum. Some of it I bought, and a lot of it I got cheap or for free from the last custodian of the warehouse; he researched a lot of the things there, but he's in it primarily for the money, rather than collecting (I make my living selling a lot of that stuff, but I don't believe in gouging people, either). That place had all kinds of amazing things - a Cray, Suns, HPs, DEC galore, IBM galore, you name it. In the end, the stuff I didn't get went to the San Antonio computer museum (I think they go by SAMSAT), and it's semi-private, and I presume a lot of stuff they got won't be open to the public, either.

I did acquire at least a pallet's worth of IBM mainframe documentation and I have no idea where I want it to go, where it can be archived/visible by all. I definitely don't want to sell it, lest it go to a private collector and nobody sees it again.
 

pkhoury

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I visited a dinky little computer 'museum' in San Antonio ~ 10-12 years ago...we were attending a convention and we just had some free time. They had a few things there, nothing terribly impressive (by the standards of the personal collections on here) and for most of it, they were fine if you sat down and experienced them first hand. I don't even remember if there was a charge but if there was, it was very inexpensive. We had fun.
This isn't the museum I referenced in my last post, is it? I know of a museum in San Antonio I have yet to visit that focuses a lot on Datapoint, as one of the directors used to work there.
 

snuci

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There is definitely a need for computer museums as they are the keepers of historical artifacts. Without them, a lot of people wouldn't see the more rarer computers and computing artifacts that are just not attainable or even visible in the age we live in. We are in an unusual era where computers are relatively new and anything from 1975 and up is still attainable though there are very rare items one is not likely to attain.

But we are also in a different era than our forefathers who could only see rare historical artifacts in places like a museum. Now adays, as individual owners of some of this "computer history", we have the ability to broadcast to the world via various types of media so sending something to a museum, at this point, does not guarantee that more eyeballs will see it. In fact, as you have a YouTube channel, there is a potential for more people to see the item than in a museum, and I am not talking about the casual observer who walks by something and says, "That's cool", and then keeps walking. Enthusiasts who are seeking out some of these computers have the ability to see items in videos, blog posts, websites, etc. in far more detail than in a museum. They also have the ability to interact with these owners in a way that is unique to an item being in a museum. As vintage computer enthusiasts, we have the ability to put up videos or have web pages, social media posts, etc and make these rare computers even slightly more accessible.

I am personally conflicted about museums. Large museums have the resources to store your items and perhaps put them out on display occasionally but there are just so many Altair 8800s they can accept before they turn people away. Smaller "museums" or public displays have a more enthusiast attitude but the longevity of the items remaining in a historical collection may be in jeopardy over time. Consider the "Personal Computer Museum" in Brantford where the owner passed away. I think parts of it were sold off and I don't know what happened in the end but stuff like this happens so one doesn't know if a smaller public collection like this is the right answer.

I am particularly sore about the wooden PET that was "found" in a museum after much searching. It was mis-catalogued and computer enthusiasts had to go find it. When they did find it, two of the original engineers had very restricted access and when asked to be able to display it at a computer show, the request was denied. Now, I get that it is a one-of-a-kind item but as far as I know, it's still in storage and the only signs that anyone knows it's still existing is because Leonard Tramiel and John Feagan's were allowed to see it and they took some pictures. That said, I was not there to know specifics on access as I only heard about it but I know that many Commodore enthusiasts would pay to see it if the prototype wooden PET was a display all by itself.

When one considers survivorship, if you're ready to "lock it up" for histories sake, and a reputable museum is willing to take it, a museum is a good place. However, while other enthusiasts still have these computers in their collections, it might not be time for that just yet. I've personally lent things out for shows, taken specific pictures for people who are working on a restoration, ran and recorded video of a computer to confirm an emulator was running true to the actual hardware, shared software and firmware, done my own restorations to get something to work, etc. I've also given up a few parts to people who had a need for them so they could repair their computers. I've also reached out to other owners for information or pictures myself, when needed. Unfortunately, all of this stuff pretty much ends when it hits a museum.

There are good things and bad things as you mentioned in your OP. One just needs to consider what is given up if/when something is donated to a computer museum.
 

syzygy

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This isn't the museum I referenced in my last post, is it? I know of a museum in San Antonio I have yet to visit that focuses a lot on Datapoint, as one of the directors used to work there.
No, and I am certain because I made a mistake in my text. It was not San Antonio, but San Diego. I have been to both and both for conventions. I know this one was San Diego because a couple of us went to Tijuana and a couple of us stayed around San Diego. I was in the latter group. In the evening we met again...San Diego not San Antonio (although I went on the river walk there - but no computer museums). Also the place I visited did not have palettes of anything at the time - maybe 15 units in total....again from memory. Also, I remember these street trolleys that you could ride all over the place on a day-ticket for a few bucks. Every so often, transit cops would hop on and politely ask to see tickets and 1/2 the trolley would get off. It was during one of those instances that we saw a sign for the museum. It was a second story walk up as I recall.
 

pkhoury

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No, and I am certain because I made a mistake in my text. It was not San Antonio, but San Diego. I have been to both and both for conventions. I know this one was San Diego because a couple of us went to Tijuana and a couple of us stayed around San Diego. I was in the latter group. In the evening we met again...San Diego not San Antonio (although I went on the river walk there - but no computer museums). Also the place I visited did not have palettes of anything at the time - maybe 15 units in total....again from memory. Also, I remember these street trolleys that you could ride all over the place on a day-ticket for a few bucks. Every so often, transit cops would hop on and politely ask to see tickets and 1/2 the trolley would get off. It was during one of those instances that we saw a sign for the museum. It was a second story walk up as I recall.
I'll have to keep that in mind next time I'm in So Cal. But San Antonio has a museum apparently. I have yet to go there, but I know they took a TON of vintage CRTs, some which worked with specific systems, and was told the intention was to glue them together to create a "wall of CRTs" as part of an exhibit. The guy who had the selling rights to what was left of Houston at the time wanted exorbitant prices for CRTs and in the end, it was a free-for-all. I got what I could as well, but shipping them is a problem as well.
 

falter

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There is definitely a need for computer museums as they are the keepers of historical artifacts. Without them, a lot of people wouldn't see the more rarer computers and computing artifacts that are just not attainable or even visible in the age we live in. We are in an unusual era where computers are relatively new and anything from 1975 and up is still attainable though there are very rare items one is not likely to attain.

But we are also in a different era than our forefathers who could only see rare historical artifacts in places like a museum. Now adays, as individual owners of some of this "computer history", we have the ability to broadcast to the world via various types of media so sending something to a museum, at this point, does not guarantee that more eyeballs will see it. In fact, as you have a YouTube channel, there is a potential for more people to see the item than in a museum, and I am not talking about the casual observer who walks by something and says, "That's cool", and then keeps walking. Enthusiasts who are seeking out some of these computers have the ability to see items in videos, blog posts, websites, etc. in far more detail than in a museum. They also have the ability to interact with these owners in a way that is unique to an item being in a museum. As vintage computer enthusiasts, we have the ability to put up videos or have web pages, social media posts, etc and make these rare computers even slightly more accessible.

I am personally conflicted about museums. Large museums have the resources to store your items and perhaps put them out on display occasionally but there are just so many Altair 8800s they can accept before they turn people away. Smaller "museums" or public displays have a more enthusiast attitude but the longevity of the items remaining in a historical collection may be in jeopardy over time. Consider the "Personal Computer Museum" in Brantford where the owner passed away. I think parts of it were sold off and I don't know what happened in the end but stuff like this happens so one doesn't know if a smaller public collection like this is the right answer.

I am particularly sore about the wooden PET that was "found" in a museum after much searching. It was mis-catalogued and computer enthusiasts had to go find it. When they did find it, two of the original engineers had very restricted access and when asked to be able to display it at a computer show, the request was denied. Now, I get that it is a one-of-a-kind item but as far as I know, it's still in storage and the only signs that anyone knows it's still existing is because Leonard Tramiel and John Feagan's were allowed to see it and they took some pictures. That said, I was not there to know specifics on access as I only heard about it but I know that many Commodore enthusiasts would pay to see it if the prototype wooden PET was a display all by itself.

When one considers survivorship, if you're ready to "lock it up" for histories sake, and a reputable museum is willing to take it, a museum is a good place. However, while other enthusiasts still have these computers in their collections, it might not be time for that just yet. I've personally lent things out for shows, taken specific pictures for people who are working on a restoration, ran and recorded video of a computer to confirm an emulator was running true to the actual hardware, shared software and firmware, done my own restorations to get something to work, etc. I've also given up a few parts to people who had a need for them so they could repair their computers. I've also reached out to other owners for information or pictures myself, when needed. Unfortunately, all of this stuff pretty much ends when it hits a museum.

There are good things and bad things as you mentioned in your OP. One just needs to consider what is given up if/when something is donated to a computer museum.

Yeah I'm curious what happened to the machines that belonged to Personal Computer Museum. I understood at one point the bulk of the collection went to UofT Mississauga, but it seems like it's mostly the games. That is indeed the problem with small private museums - they're vulnerable to their owner passing, especially if they have no plan in their will, or a will at all. That's why I respect people like David Larsen, who chose to merge his collection into CMA rather than leaving it to fate whenever he passed. Whatever happens to my stuff, I just don't want it ending up in the trash.

But then museum size isn't a guarantee either, right? LCM by all rights should have been set for a century. I'm really not sure why it's still closed.. but I know there were a few people who donated stuff there on the understanding it'd be secured for the future.. only to hear rumors of potential sell offs. Really hoping that doesn't happen.

You are brave lending stuff out.. everything I've lent I've ended up losing either by the person I lent to or by shipping! Got really reluctant about that.
 

Unknown_K

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Museums are great for keeping historical machines around that collectors could care less about.
 

bnelson

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Dunno, although it isn't a "Computer Museum", this place really impressed me when I visited.
I am pretty sure this is the museum I was remembering while I read this thread that I really enjoyed quite a few years ago. I remember standing inside the "horseshoe" of a Cray-1 while we were there. While it was strictly a display machine, still very cool for a machine that was THE machine when it was introduced.
 

furball1985

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another side of it is once you donate to a public museum besides the item possibly going into storage forever and never being displayed is a private person will never own it or enjoy it again.

we are all curators of our own museums and we are here for a infinite amount of time i feel it would be better when the time comes to hand it off to the next person that could enjoy it and possibly use
the item.

Like the movie Toy story 2 (watered-down); Is it better that all the rare toys go to a museum never to be touched again or enjoyed personally, or they end up with someone that cares for them and still gets to play with them and when the time comes hand it to the next owner that will care for them and play with them.
 

krebizfan

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BBC Radio interviewed the owner of floppydisk dot com. Lucky guy all that free advertising about a decade after the end of floppy disk production, just about when lots of users will realize important data should be copied to other forms of media.
 

Chuck(G)

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It's a lot worse than that--libraries, in particular, have mothballed huge collections of digital media without having preserved the information and are now faced with problems of data recovery, which is a different kettle of fish than conversion. What I find fascinating is that the employee of the customer needing services is now younger than the media and has little understanding of the old stuff.
 

NeXT

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But then museum size isn't a guarantee either, right? LCM by all rights should have been set for a century. I'm really not sure why it's still closed.. but I know there were a few people who donated stuff there on the understanding it'd be secured for the future.. only to hear rumors of potential sell offs. Really hoping that doesn't happen.

You are brave lending stuff out.. everything I've lent I've ended up losing either by the person I lent to or by shipping! Got really reluctant about that.

Vulcan has made it indirectly clear they want Paul's unprofitable pet projects removed from their portfolio. Paul had many dreams for the LCM and the result was a wonderfully polished product but it never turned a profit. There's a difference between what was essentially an old man's collection running the façade of a business in an attempt to make the artifacts of the collection available for the public to look, touch and use and an actual registered company that needs to make money or go under.

That brings me to your other point that a lot of people got chuffed when they heard their items donated to the museum might ultimately be broken up and redistributed. I've been asked countless times over the years to give away or donate to a "museum" or private collection and have been stubborn to do so because in the past I've seen hardware simply disappear because they ran out of money/space and closed or they amassed machines after begging everyone, played with it for a while, got bored and sold it. One of the big reasons I make videos and take tons of pictures on the things I do is because it supplements my willingness to show everything off in a way that doesn't make it feel locked away and not to brag (too hard). I don't like taking in things that are obscure, rare or unheard of and then never talk about it. Pictures and videos supplement the wishes of others for now.

I know one particular place that initially started calling itself a "museum" in 2018 and ever since has been sucking up any and all old hardware they could get their hands on, along with having other people scout out other items to buy and add to the collection. In the meantime the ideas on how it would open and operate got increasingly more lavish, while the opening date kept getting pushed forward more and more. At some point post-COVID the museum branding disappeared and the building is now piled to the ceiling (25 feet above in multiple rooms) with computers, parts, monitors, software and it's basically a hoard of FBM buys, Pony Express purchases, other people's projects that are in for repair and lots and lots of donations that were ultimately broken up, recycled or resold once it was in the door. Nothing is properly organized anymore and systems are heaped everywhere in varying states. Very scary Computer Reset vibes. These are the kind of museums I try to carefully screen out. THAT is a "bad" museum.

A museum controls its inventory. It's not necessarily environmentally controlled (sorry Bruce, as much as I loved a CRAY II covered in cobwebs the mouse issue was kinda gross) but they know when to call their limits both when it becomes entirely unmanageable or begins to cost more than is justified. I've been hoping for over a decade now to find an older commercial space akin to the LSSM to setup both static and running machines for demos but PNW prices for mid-century or just older buildings has made such a venture absolutely uneconomical, so the collection has lived inventoried, boxed, stacked and stored in storage the whole time, making careful that while the aisles are narrow, it's not something that in 20 years will be a mess of moldy boxes, collapsed packaging and inaccessible rooms.
 
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whartung

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Vulcan has made it indirectly clear they want Paul's unprofitable pet projects removed from their portfolio.
Vulcan is obligated to liquidate itself in its entirety. Pauls entire estate is to be sold off with the proceeds given to charities. But they have some control over the timing. There was a recent article on how they're dragging their feet on the selling of the Seahawks and Trailblazers (both have parties interested in buying these properties). But they're choosing to wait.
 

whartung

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One of several.

Those familiar with the details of the Paul G. Allen Trust tell me there isn’t a lot of wiggle room for trustee, Jody Allen. The trust was established in 1993 and includes billions in assets, including the NBA’s Trail Blazers and NFL’s Seattle Seahawks.

“Paul directed that the trust be liquidated upon his death and the assets used to fund his passion projects,” a source said. “None of this is up in the air. The instructions are clear: The sports franchises and everything in the trust must be sold.”
 

ScanDisk

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I've visited Syd Bolton's (R.I.P) "Personal Computer Museum" in Brantford, Ontario.

There were many system setup and working, and we were allowed to use them too, also they kept them in working order and do repairs and such. I think something like that, would be a good thing, both from an education perspective and a "keep them working" perspective.

If it's just some system in a glass display case, that's just a waste.
 

Al Kossow

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Vulcan is obligated to liquidate itself in its entirety. Pauls entire estate is to be sold off with the proceeds given to charities.

That article you pointed to says “Paul directed that the trust be liquidated upon his death and the assets used to fund his passion projects,”
Which is very, very different.
There is nothing in there about Vulcan having to liquidate, and I have never read any such thing.
 
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