Published in The Coast Star on May 18, 2006 by Matt O’Brien on page 2


Andy Meyer [left] and Kelly Leavitt, two vendors at the Computer Vintage Festival East 3.0*, showed off computers from the 1970s and 1980s that revolutionized technology for the 21st century.

      The old and outdated were revered as remnants of a bygone era and showcased once again. Possessions were taken out of storage and dusted off. Vendors and patrons grew nostalgic through conversation. Antiques were looked over to see how they had held up over the years.

      While it sounds like scenes from a local historical society antique show, it was not. Rather, the Infoage Center in Wall Township hosted the Vintage Computer Festival East 3.0 where products from companies such as Atari and Commodore were plugged in and fired up — on all eight bytes.

     Saturday’s festival was sposored by VintageTech and the Mid-Atlantic Retro Computing Hobbyists [MARCH] organizations.

   The festival drew in vendors and visitors from all over the country, judging from the various out-of-state license plates near the InfoAge Science and History Center building’s parking lot.
The festival, which has been hailed as a “Silicon Valley tradition” since 1997, has usually been hosted in Boston when on the East Coast. This was the first time VintageTech and MARCH held the event in New Jersey.

      “The show appeals to all ages and anyone interested in the history of computers,” said MARCH President Evan Koblentz.
Throughout the Marconi Hotel were computers the size of large kitchen appliances, as well as old forgotten video games, early 1980s laptops, Apple computers from the late-1970s through the Macintosh era of the 1980s, Apollo spacecraft computers and a range of guest speakers.

     The video game table was a popular display with youngsters who attended Saturday’s computer festival.

     The vendor for the table, Carlson Stevens, was displaying old Nintendo games from the early-1980s that never made it to the United States.

     He relayed a story to onlookers that the Japanese games never saw the light of day on the U.S. market because of investor jitters following the 1983 “game crash.”

      The game crash resulted from Atari’s failed game, E.T. The company had produced millions and millions of copies, which sold poorly. Out of frustration, the company supposedly took the remaining copies and destroyed them by burying them in the desert somewhere out west. The book, “Lucky Wander Boy,” describes the Atari debacle that sparked the game crash, Mr. Stevens said.

     “A lot of people think it’s an urban myth but it really happened,” he said.

      It wouldn’t be until 1985 that Nintendo began to fill the market void that Atari created two years earlier. Nintendo, looking to avoid Atari’s almost fatal error, only introduced six proven, quality games per year into the American market from Japan. The games that never made their away across the Pacific are the ones Mr. Stevens collects and sells on eBay. He also travels across the country attending similar festivals and conventions selling his games or networking with fellow garners.

     The original Nintendo game system, Nintendo Famicom, was released in Japan in 1983.  It was redesigned and released in the U.S. in 1985 as the Nintendo Entertainment System. Many of Famicom’s games, system features and accessories were never brought over to the U.S.

     InfoAge officials also had their own demonstration, as well.

     Frank O’Brien, of InfoAge, was busy during the course of the day discussing the Apollo Guidance Computer that had a total of 2K erasable and 36K read only memory.

     The astronauts of the day trusted the guidance system to navigate to and from the moon. It provided guidance and control for ascent, earth and lunar low orbit, lunar landing, rendezvous and earth entry.

     It was explained the system was created in the 1960s when most computers filled an entire room. The Apollo Guidance System was small, relied on low power and included capabilities that are advanced by the day’s standards. The technologies used for the Apollo computer are commonplace today, perhaps because of the effort in the early 1960s that were made on the computer.

      The guidance system had over 100 interpretive instructions implemented as subroutines where up to seven large programs and 15 short tasks could be executed at once.

     Aside from the Apollo Guidance System’s amazingly small size for its day, IBM computers of that time were the size of a washer and dryer, which were displayed by vendor and collector Michael Ross.

      The 1970s minicomputers were something small to medium sized businesses would use for typical office work at a price of $50,000. People could use the IBM’s for spreadsheet and other applications that are used today, though they were a lot less graphical, Mr. Ross said. The 3x IBM, one of his machines that were featured Saturday, had 12K of memory built with a 30 MB disk.

      “This one was used by one guy who kept it for 25 years,” Mr. Ross said of the 3x IBM computer.

       The four large computers represented IBMs evolution to mini-computers from 1960s to 1970s that were produced in an IBM plant in Rochester, Minn.

      Columbus, Ohio resident David Smith, also a collector, was impressed with Mr. Ross’ collection. He said the four computers were interesting and was amazed with what their functions were 30 years ago.

     As evidenced from the laptop display, the computer industry was stressing “smaller is better” at an early stage in the technology timeline.

      The Epson HX-20 that was made in 1982 and sold for $800 contained 16K to 64K of memory and featured a built-in micro cassette drive. The machine weighed 3.75 pounds.

      The Gavilan Corp. produced a laptop in 1983 that sold for $4,000. It boasted 64K to 288K of memory that included a now-popular touch pad. It weighed 10 pounds.

     The Microoffice Roadrunner was made in 1982 and sold for $1,795 that contained 48K to 164K of memory and featured basic and word programs in ROM. It weighed five pounds.

     To learn more about MARCH, visit www.midatlanticretro.org. To learn more about InfoAge, located at the former Camp Evans and U.S. Army electronics R&D facility, visit www.infoage.org

Web editor corrections / Notes:  The event is the Vintage Computer Festival East 3.0
Page created December 31, 2006