Museum Meets Classroom with a Dash of Gaming in a Hackathon Atmosphere

by WordChazer

The Centre for Computing History is really taking shape now. The classroom has a full complement of BBC Micros and the first pieces of equipment have been put in the museum space.

Even with only a few people in the building, the excitement is palpable. There is an air of hope and an undercurrent of optimism. Odd bleeps and pings emanate from upstairs where my husband is hard at work expanding a small Midi Maze network between several Ataris. The smell of paint is strong as Jason, the founder and director, wields a roller with intent in the warehouse downstairs, smartening up some display cases.

The Museum Space is Coming Along

Down one side of the space, the display units are being lined up

Thanks to Jason's painting efforts, the display units for the Centre for Computing History are taking shape. The completed pieces are being lined up along one wall, while in the middle, he continues, undaunted by rain, thunder or hail outside.

The classroom looks much more serious with a BBC Micro on every desk, and brings back fond memories of my early encounters with these machines in secondary school.

Out in the foyer, the initial layout is becoming clearer, with the Rubiks Cube quite happily taking centre stage in the middle of the front office area while the work to unpack and check items brought out of storage goes on apace upstairs.

The working space

The Rubiks Cube display case
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Among the joys which have been relocated to the museum, alongside the four-machine Midi Maze which my husband is rebooting, are a PacMan clock, an Einstein computer and several other rarities.

It is hoped to establish connections with retro-tech fans in Poland, both to invite them to events in Cambridge and to benefit from swapping equipment with them. Eastern Europe had a ZX-Spectrum clone, and we are hoping to donate a standard spec ZX to the Polish guys in exchange for the rare sight of the Russian version (with expanded memory) on display in the UK.

Upstairs on the Mezzanine Floor

This area is the centre of much activity - usually!

The Einstein

Upstairs, where my husband is, as usual, to be found hidden away tinkering, the area was looking busy with kit but empty of people. The Einstein was under repair, having blown a gasket (rather inconsiderately, given its rarity) the day before. Smaller items, such as the PacMan clock pictured below, were beginning to appear on desks having been liberated from the archives, and testing of the machines the team hoped to take to the Revival convention in May was ongoing. These items show the differences in design employed by various manufacturers as well as the huge size of some of the older kit (see the Apple tower below and the reverse color keyboard on the Einstein, above).

Conversely, I am constantly amazed by just how small the original ZX Spectrum keyboards were. Even a modern Mac cordless isn't that small.

By the way, if you, as I do, love the reverse look of that Einstein keyboard, you can make your modern machine look just like it, as on this black and white color silicone keyboard cover skin for Macbooks. Although it has to be said that I like this nod to the old Spectrum rainbow logo too, in the form of a rainbow decal set for a Macbook. Almost makes me wish I had one now! But I digress.

PacMan clock
PacMan clock
Paula Thomas, April...
A large Apple tower
A large Apple tower
Paula Thomas, April...
Piles of kit, lovely kit
Piles of kit, lovel...
Paula Thomas, April...

So How DO you Build a Museum from Scratch?

...like this
Ever wondered how a museum gets started? The Centre for Computing History's new location is due to open later this year and this series of articles will follow progress.
Founding a museum is not a decision to be taken lightly. There are all kinds of points to be considered before it can earn a cent in revenue.
A dedicated band of individuals maintain, demonstrate and exhibit old computing technology from a base in eastern England.
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'Please Feed Our Mac with your Spare Cash'

(or charitable giving in 2013)

Downstairs once more, leaving my husband to it with the Midi Maze upstairs, I prowled the entire floor, taking note of the changes. There was much more in place to indicate the location as a charity, including the broken Mac below appealing for donations, as well as the prominent Museum Shop sign.

Ths Museum Shop sign

Broken-Mac-as-charity-donation-box

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My husband is hoping to use some of his coding scene connections to build a network of visitors, contributors and creative types of all kinds who can produce software to run on these machines or computer-related items to sell in the shop, thus benefiting both the museum and the designers alike. Meantime those with high-level contacts in the Cambridge computing scene are also hard at work doing their best to influence their contacts to help, assist, sponsor, mentor or agree to appear at one of the events already in planning for when the museum opens.

Meantime, I'm just writing it all up for everyone to read (and making a pest of myself at techy events around the country in the cause of advertising the museum and the forthcoming grand opening). This is slated for early June, and you can bet that work will continue right up until then to make the most of the displays.

Next Steps

In a week or so we'll all be at Revival in Wolverhampton, helping out there and putting the word out in the West Midlands. The planned grand opening is in early June, an event with Microsoft involvement, and from then on the Museum will only get bigger and better. I'll be documenting every step of the process, and probably having a great time doing it too.

Updated: 12/25/2013, WordChazer
 
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WordChazer on 07/27/2014

Thanks EmmaSRose. The museum celebrated its first anniversary this weekend, but unfortunately we weren't able to make the party.

Guest on 07/27/2014

WordChazer, The gargantuan Rubik's Cube is a colorfully nice, welcoming touch.
Computers have morphed so much in my lifetime that a museum is definitely in order.
Best wishes for the success of this museum.

WordChazer on 05/25/2013

I'll put it to the MD, kimbesa, and see what he says. It's an excellent idea, and one which may gain more interest in the project too. Thank you for your suggestion.

kimbesa on 05/25/2013

Awesome! I hope they will have an online virtual tour at some point, so I can visit from afar!

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