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June 26, 2007

Vintage festival a step back into computer history

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Remember that old Commodore 64 that wasn't so reliable, is archaic by today's computer standards, and you wish you still had for its novelty and nostalgia?

You can actually touch one again and maybe even buy it.

The Vintage Computer Festival, which will showcase computers of many makes, sizes and conditions, is scheduled for July 14-15 in Purdue University's Stewart Center, Room 218. The event will feature speakers from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and exhibits from 2-5 p.m. both days and costs $5 per person. Those ages 17 and under will be admitted free.

"This will be a fantastic event for anyone who's interested in the history of computers or in collecting them," said event organizer Patrick Finnegan, Purdue's Unix-Web system administrator. "It showcases just how computers have evolved from the big, bulky models of 20 years ago to the sleek, compact ones of today. It's really a neat experience for people who are old enough to have been in at the ground level when computers were introduced to the public and to younger people who don't quite grasp the evolution of computers."

The event is receiving financial support from the university's Rosen Center for Advanced Computing.

Joe Cychosz, a programmer at Purdue's Birck Nanotechnology Center, is among the list of speakers. He will talk about "supercomputers of yore," those that were designed by Seymour Cray. Finnegan said the computers were years ahead of their time because Cray had insight into combining electrical theory, mechanics and other engineering disciplines to increase computer speed.

Sellam Ismail, who founded such a festival in California, will be among the other speakers. He will give a short talk about the Vintage Computer Festival and vintage collecting in general. The first of what would become an annual Vintage Computer Festival was held in California's Silicon Valley 10 years ago.

Finnegan learned of the festival through a classic computer newsletter, and he hooked up with Ismail for a festival at Purdue. This year the Silicon Valley event celebrates its 10th anniversary, and Finnegan will have his third Midwest event on the Purdue campus. Two other regional vintage computer festivals will take place in the United States, and one is scheduled for Europe.

Finnegan's said his satisfaction isn't derived merely from organizing the Midwest festival.

"I've had an interest in playing with older, bigger computers for a long time," he said. "I found that bigger machines are more interesting to play with than your average desktop PC."

A consignment sale will be part of the festival. Attendees can bring computers to sell, and they will have the opportunity to buy. Some collectors also buy and sell parts, Finnegan said.

"It's similar to collecting some particular china or antiques," Finnegan said.

He said the event attracts two kinds of classic collectors: museum collectors wanting completely polished, original and well-documented parts that came with the system, and those trying to restore systems and make them useful.

Finnegan expects around 20-25 exhibitors with computers ranging from 10-25 years old.

Refreshments will be available, and T-shirts will be for sale.

Writer: Jim Bush, (765) 494-2077,

Source: Patrick Finnegan, (765) 496-1752,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

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