[vcf-midatlantic] Vintage Computer Federation at Lehigh Valley FAST 2016

Todd George todd.george at gmail.com
Wed Sep 14 15:13:15 EDT 2016

(Full disclosure, some of the following is plagiarized and/or paraphrased
from e-mails that Chris and Doug sent to me.  Figured I'd throw it all
together and touch it up a bit for the list's enjoyment.)

As previously mentioned on the list, Doug Crawford, Chris Fala and I set up
a booth/exhibit on Sunday, September 11 (last weekend) at the Lehigh Valley
Festival of Art, Science and Technology at PPL Center in Allentown, PA.
The event was presented by the Da Vinci Science Center and Make Lehigh

The facility is awesome, it's a hockey arena that is normally the home of
the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.  They had a ton of space for everyone to get
their science, art and technology on!  The event was very high quality,
well organized and really cool, lots of freebies/handouts, kids were
painting things, dying coffee filters, launching bottle rockets, flying
drones, etc.  I actually didn't get as much of a chance to walk around and
take it all in as I had wanted.  Our booth was too busy!

The vendors and exhibits were very well designed and gave the kids a lot of
attention, a good experience and taught them something.  The were not just
pushing merchandise like seems to be a trend at some of the science
events.  Very refreshing.  Make Lehigh Valley had tremendous participation
in their solder classes.

The event appeared to be a smashing success.  It was free for attendees,
and the final count was 4,236 visitors.  There were over 50 exhibition
booths staffed by over 100 people and there were an additional 100+
volunteers mostly from local high schools helping with the event.

They also had roving Storm Troopers and other Star Wars characters, the
Penn State Nittany Lion was there, and apparently there were a number of
other mascots wandering around throughout the day.

We set up our booth with a similar approach to what we used for our
Commodore exhibit at last year's VCF.  For those of you not familiar, we
used metal shelving to convert our table tops into three-tiers where we
could present retro computers.  We had two 8-foot tables available for use
at this FAST event.

Our booth was busy from start to stop.  Kudos to the team!  We only had one
stoppage when we blew a breaker.  Too much retro fun condensed into a small
area.  Apparently our 30+ year old computers aren't power efficient enough.
 :-/  Hahah.

We had two processor trainers/SBC's set up (An HP 5036A and a Lawrence
Livermore Labs MST-80B), a Commodore VIC20 (running Space Invaders), SX64
(Running Chris' very cool power control program/hardware that switches AC
outlets on and off via Joystick control), a Commodore 64 (Running Ms. Pac
Man), a TRS-80 Model III (?) running Galaxy Invasion, a Commodore PET
running an awesome Space Invaders clone and an Atari 800XL running Ms. Pac
Man or Donkey Kong (depending on the time of day and what I booted on it).

We also had a few things I threw together to let kids print out a souvenir
on vintage dot matrix equipment.  First was a Commodore 64 running a new
program I wrote that prints banners on an old Epson dot matrix receipt
printer (kids were writing messages, etc. and printing them out, letters
print about 1" or slightly wider, about 2.5" tall, effectively unlimited
message length (well, 255 bytes in a string), and it tagged each banner
with "Vintage Computer Federation" and the web address.  Fun, cheap and
really fast.

I had also configured The Print Shop on a Macintosh Classic and plugged it
into an ImageWriter II.  I also converted the VCFed logo to MacPaint format
and The Print Shop format so we could have some fun printing the VCFed logo
on a dot matrix printer in crazy low resolution. We printed quite a few
signs as souvenirs as well.  It takes time to create and print a sign with
The Print Shop, if I were to do this type of presentation at another event,
I'd definitely bring two (or more?) complete setups to decrease the wait
time.  Maybe run it on other vintage gear aside from a Macintosh?  I think
the biggest challenge here is ribbon availability, as some of the dot
matrix printers are much easier to find ribbons for than others.  The Epson
receipt and ImageWriter printers that I had for this event are easy and
cheap to find fresh ribbons for.

I also had another Epson receipt printer set up with an Arduino and a big
red button that printed a VCF "business card" when you hit the button.  Had
our group name, web address, Twitter and Facebook links.  I gave these out
when people asked for a way to contact us, or how to participate with the
group.  Virtually unlimited almost-free business cards.  :-D  In a future
version of this Arduino program I want to have it print our logo and a QR
code, but I ran out of time for this event.  I already have a working QR
code print routine (it doesn't calculate the QR code, just prints it from
previously calculated hard-coded data).

Sadly, the ImageWriter was a bit too quiet to hear over the noise in the
facility, but the Epson printers were doing a good job of being absurdly
loud and attracting people to our booth.  :-D

The printers got a lot of action.  It might have been the noise and the
uniqueness of dot matrix printing, but one adult observer theorized that
kids simply really don't get to produce printouts at home.  We definitely
considered this a crowd pleaser.

We had the trainer computers there to show people what prototyping and
electronics/code experimentation was like 30 years ago, we compared and
contrasted it with Arduino/Raspberry Pi for anyone who was interested.

The kids at the event were probably largely in the 1st and 2nd grades,
definitely elementary school ages.  Some may have been a bit too young to
grasp exactly what we were tyring to show off with certain portions of our
booth, but they definitely had fun with the games.  It was mentioned that
this event attracted a lot of low income families and was an attempt to
generate an interest in the sciences giving these kids access to people and
things they might not normally have in their daily lives.  Next time, we'll
lower the shelf the monitors were on during setup and maybe get some step
stools to have at the booth to assist with the shorties.  A few of them
couldn't properly see the keyboards the way we had things set up due to
being vertically challenged.

We heard a few things loud and clear, we need to bring an Apple II (tons of
requests for this), Timex Sinclair (no lie, at least 3 people asked me
alone), had two requests for a Commodore 128 and a few people even wanted

One of our goals at these events is not so much to convey the computer
history as it is to give a bit of fun mental break from the serious
learning experiences, show off some technical curiosities, and to some
extent walk down memory lane for the parents.  Additionally, we hope to get
the kids interested in programming and technology, and show off how far
technology has come.  The hope is that something they see will spark an
interest in Code, Technology, Math, Science, etc.

We also met quite a few adults who had interest in the "hobby".  They took
pics of our signage, grabbed a "business card" or chatted with us about how
to find out more about the group.  This is a tertiary reason we attend
these events, but definitely one that is not to be ignored.

Doug heard a story from a lady there who's husbands grandfather worked for
the army and had commissioned decommissioned an ENIAC, apparently she has
the Remington Rand Eniac name plate and a family member has some portion of
the control panel.   We made sure she has VCF's contact info.  We invited
them to get involved and perhaps exhibit the pieces and the grandfather's

All-in-all it was a fun day!  I had talked with one of the Da Vinci Science
Center folks (I didn't catch her name/title) who was very impressed with
what we had put together for the event.

Unfortunately, we neglected to get a good picture of the table once it was
all set up (and before we broke it all down at the end of the day), but I
did throw some pictures we did take into an Imgur album for your enjoyment.

Also, the event website has a video...
http://www.davincisciencecenter.org/public-service/festival/ .  There was
another gentleman filming at the event, but I don't see his video online


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