So What Happens First when Equipping a Museum?

by WordChazer

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.

So, the Centre for Computing History museum building is ready. The roof is fixed. The gas supply is sorted. The builders have gone. The founder had a good weekend at the Gadget Show Live and is bubbling with ideas, plans and hopes. There is a pile of furniture in one corner and a pile of TVs in another. What next for the fledgling Centre for Computing History in Cambridge? Four volunteers gathered last weekend to tackle tasks and catch up on events since the inaugural meeting.

As can be seen in the photo, the museum door has gained some decoration.

First Task - Tidy Up the Museum Space

Let the dog see the rabbit, as it were

On arrival, there were piles of everything everywhere in the foyer. Wood to build partition walls was stacked next to kit from the Gadget Show. Donated items which had arrived during the week as the word spread about the museum's existence were next to furniture, a cash register sat on the floor in the corner and the reception area was beginning to take shape with various bits of furniture in place.

There were a couple of racks by the door, the Museum Shop signs were up and in the shop area, there were some more racks with displays slowly being placed on them as things came to light from boxes.

The first task we had was to move all the fragile kit well away from the area where the walls were going to be built. All the technical items were quickly moved into the main warehouse area. One of the volunteers set to with the tools to construct a partition wall while I wandered round taking stock of the changes and adding to the photographic record.

Piles of TVs in one corner...
Piles of TVs in one...
Paula Thomas, April...
...some racks...
...some racks...
Paula Thomas, April...
...and a classroom set up.
...and a classroom ...
Paula Thomas, April...

Task Two - Construct One Classroom

The easy way to make a classroom area

Once the wall was secure, the serious task of setting out the chairs and tables in the classroom began. My husband, having returned from his recce upstairs into the staff-only computer repair area, was tasked with removing ten boxes containing trestle tables from a cupboard, whilst I carried them over to the classroom area and the other volunteer set them up, whilst his wife washed the floor around us.

The area has more than enough space for extra tables as needed, but as the wall is only half- constructed at present, we left the tables in three rows of three with one at the front for the teacher/presenter. The idea is to have a projector fixed to the ceiling joist, projecting onto the wall freshly built earlier.

It is also hoped to find a sponsor for the area and name the room after them, allowing for upgrading of the current trestle tables and replacement of the chairs in due course.

Next Challenge: Shift those Arcade Games


Arcade machines to be moved.

The arcade games had to be moved from the back wall too. Can't have the class distracted by bleeps, whistles and pings, now. Fortunately, we soon realised that the consoles might be 6-foot- plus-tall and seemingly unwieldy, but they were fitted with wheels, which made them easy for two people to move. One of the machines had been so overcome by the excitement of Gadget Show Live that it had expired as the show began, leading to a rather droll message being taped to its front, asking for funds for repair.

In the meantime, I headed into the areas I hadn't explored before, finding the beginnings of the museum set up in the main warehouse space, as well as a very tempting Sinclair C-5. 

I died...please help fix me!

The museum has three, but I was unable to ascertain if this was the one which worked or not. One of these days, I promised myself, I will find out.

The room which appears to have been the foreman's office overlooking the warehouse will make a great place for the teaching staff to retreat, as it has windows on all walls, allowing observation of people both in the main space and the foyer area. There are also extra phone and network points in there too.

The foreman's view of the warehouse area

 My husband tells me that since I last visited, the classroom area has been further refined, more of the embedded screens are ready and the foyer is really taking shape. In addition, the painting has started in the warehouse area, and last he saw, at least a third of the floor had been whitewashed. More of the in-house systems are now working, as well as some of the equipment, which my husband successfully connected up on his last visit. He is particularly proud of the Midi Maze game set up he was able to complete, allowing several Atari ST machines to be 'networked'. This illustrates one of the earliest computer gaming networks available and is still considered a landmark in computing history.

A screen set up for the museum
A screen set up for...
Paula Thomas, April...
The view from the foyer into what will become the museum area
The view from the f...
Paula Thomas, April...
The interior of a Sinclair C-5
The interior of a S...
Paula Thomas, April...

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Much Work Still to Do

No resting on our laurels yet!

The new home for the Center for Computing History museum is beginning to take shape, and after a few weeks' dedicated work, it is easy to see improvements. There is still a list of chores to complete, people to approach, things to source and an entire programme of events to design, fund, and find people to present.

It's a good way to step away from the screen for a while, meet new people, get some exercise and feel good about what we're doing too. In Cambridge, the spiritual home of computing in England, it is especially apt that a museum should be opening to celebrate that rich and diverse history.

Cambridge and Computing

How the 'Silicon Fen' came to be, and the contribution the city has made to the world of computing.

In pictures: How Cambridge Computer Lab changed the world
Cambridge Computer Laboratory was where it all started. 75 years later, the geeks are still at home here in the Fens.

Big ARMs from little Acorns grow.

Red Gate Software
Oracle and SQL development.

Raspberry Pi
Simple coding for modern geeks. Designer Eben Upton is a Cambridge alumnus with strong ties to the city.

Why can't the UK produce world-beating tech companies?
The BBC's Technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones marks the contribution that Cambridge has made to computing.

Why you should visit The National Museum of Computing in the grounds of Bletchley Park, near Milton Keynes.
The location: a village hall in Swannington, near Coalville, Leicestershire. The atmosphere: a cacophony of bleeps, whistles, pings and assorted other electronic music.
Assorted Ataris, numerous Nintendos, a Jupiter, a few Amigas plus many old arcade gaming machines were all on show in rural Leicestershire one wet weekend in May 2011.
Updated: 12/25/2013, WordChazer
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