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Video Welcome to the Goodwill Computer Museum (Video) 72

Goodwill Industries rehabs computers and sells computer parts, at least in Austin, Texas. The Goodwill Computer Museum is a natural outgrowth of that effort. In this video, museum curator Lisa Worley takes Slashdot's Timothy Lord on a tour of the museum. Remember that TRS-80 you threw away in 1982? Well, they saved several of them to stimulate your nostalgia-based pleasure nodules. Ditto many other devices both common and rare, including a pre-Dell computer made and signed by Texas computer celebrity Michael Dell. So sit back and enjoy the ride, as Timothy does the walking and Lisa does the talking, kind of like Night at the Museum -- but without CGI dinosaurs and other life forms getting between you and the classic computers.

Lisa: We are in the Goodwill Computer Museum which is here in North Austin. The Goodwill Computer Museum has been in this location since 2005, although the collection itself has been around since the mid ‘90s. It started as a few shelves and the Computer Works store which is our next door neighbor, cool things coming through the recycling stream. We do 215 million pounds of recycling of electronics here every month.

Tim: Wow!

Lisa: Yes, it is an amazing amount of stuff that comes through. And so as these really cool pieces started coming through when we started the electronics recycling, guys in the Computer Store were basically like “This stuff is really awesome. We shouldn’t pull it apart and recycle it. We should show this to people.” And so it started small, ‘Relics of the Past is what it was called, a few shelves in the store. But when we built this headquarters building for Goodwill here in Austin they actually dedicated this space for the museum. So we’ve been here since 2005.

Tim: Now, how many pieces do you have on display?

Lisa: On display we probably have 75 to 100 pieces. It’s a small space about 1200 square feet. The collection itself is absolutely enormous. We are in an offsite warehouse location right now. Maybe 5000 to 7000 pieces of hardware; we also collect software documentation, all sorts of stuff like that – that collection is also enormous.

Tim: So we are looking at the tip of the iceberg here?

Lisa: Oh yes, yes. Do not let the small size sway you to think that we don’t have a very big collection, because it is absolutely enormous.

Tim: Now, how do things that are here, at the museum, typically get here?

Lisa: As I said, originally everything started coming through the recycling stream, but in the last couple of years a lot of that, especially the older pieces, I think they’ve already come through, so we don’t get a lot through the recycling stream anymore. And now that people know we are here, I get phone calls and emails with people actually donating directly to the museum. So we have these great provenanced pieces, we know that you donated it to us, you bought it here, you used it for this. And those are stories that we can share when we actually exhibit these things like how did people work with the pieces.

Tim: Now I think of the people who will watch this video, many of them, and I mean many of us, have _____2:33 what we think of as a little museum. What kind of criteria do you use to determine whether something is actually worth putting on display or even keep in your collection?

Lisa: Right. So we have a few things that we look at. Because we have such an enormous collection already of stuff that has come through the recycling stream, sometimes if you call me and you say, “I have a TRS 80 Model 1”, well, we have some of those in the collection, but do you have the history of your piece, does it still function? If it functions, then we might take that, and use it as a replacement for the one that we don’t know anything about, and switch those out. Otherwise, we look at: Does it work? Does it look good? Do you have any documentation with it? And do we already have it in the collection or not?

Tim: Now one thing, before we started the camera _____3:22 what packaging to narrow what comes here, and look at the things that are from the North American market?

Lisa: Yes, yeah, I mean we have limited storage space. And so we really had to think about what is the most important to the stories we want to tell and so North America based although as I said, if something really awesome comes through, I might change my mind and keep it.

Tim: With that let’s go ahead and go through some things that you’ve got on the wall here?

Lisa: Okay, great.

Tim: We got over here just on the wall withmostly Apple stuff, and I noticed some Dell from over here from 13 years ago.

Lisa: Right. It is a really neat legacy free PC that in some ways I feel it is like the AMD 5015, this is basically just to hook up to the internet and get your work done. It is a really neat piece. It is so very compact, I was really surprised when I saw it. I’d never seen anything like this before.

Tim: And right behind that, we have one of my favorite nostalgic computers, the Audrey here.

Lisa: It is so pretty. This came in multiple of colors. We have it in yellow, green and white in the collection. This is the only one of the three that we have that has everything with it, so the power cord, the stylus, the manual; all three of the ones in our collection work. So it is a beautiful touchscreen. And it is a really neat piece.

Tim: Really neat. Let’s walk around a little bit and I know also you’ve got some communications devices here, I’ve never seen in person one of these Braille printers before.

Lisa: Yeah, I had never seen one before. They are really cool. And Goodwill’s mission is to work with people that have barriers to employment, and so we and our collection, we like to try to make sure we collect those things that represent that also. So the Braille reader, that you would put under your keyboard or under your laptop, and so people can actually read what’s on the screen, and the same with the coupler and the printer, so for phone calls, there is this nice little LCD screen there, and you can also print it out on a little receipt piece of paper, your conversation.

Tim: That’s very neat. Now, I’d like to walk around the edges a little bit more. And just check out some of the very older stuff on the far wall here.

Lisa: Yeah. You want to start with the PDP 8S? So this is a piece that actually a former volunteers got running again. So they worked for months to get this piece up and running. So you can see it has fans on the side, over here, it has got its power cord.

Tim: I like the Plexiglas.

Lisa: Yes, yes, of course custom made, to fit over the top of that. I love that you can see inside so when we get school groups through here, we can show like, them this is the difference between pulling out my smart phone and what we use now versus something like this - they are so big. And it is a beautiful piece. And it went on sale, it cost $10,000. That’s an amazing amount of money.

Tim: Now is this a machine that can turn on?

Lisa: I don’t know. I actually admit that I’ve never turned it on before, I don’t know.

Tim: You’ve been on the _____6:34.

Lisa: I would be very nervous. We actually have a restoration manual that the last volunteer put together. It is this huge 3-inch thick binder of every step he took going through testing and rebuilding it.

Tim: Yeah, and I guess you have a mixed mission here both to display, and some pieces are restored back to working function.

Lisa: Yes, and in the past, it had been more of a restoration focus. When I came on board, we decided that it was really important to know everything that we have in the collection. So we’ve sort of stopped restoration for now. We are doing inventory of absolutely everything that we own. We are putting it into a database that we are going to make available online by next year, so people can see what we have in our collection. While testing for functionality and making notes, things that don’t work, that need help, once the inventory is done, we can say these are candidates for restoration and then return to that mission.

Tim: With the volume of recycling you mentioned, it seems like a pretty deep task to take on.

Lisa: Yes, absolutely, absolutely.

Tim: Now what about the state _____7:40.

Lisa: You know, I don’t really know a lot about this. It’s gorgeous. I love the colors. You can see the big platter down here, I don’t believe that this one works.

Tim: And next to it, we have an even older device.

Lisa: Oh yeah. Again talking to school kids about ‘this was your computer screen, this is your printer.’ This just came in a couple of months ago from a donor here in town in beautiful condition, other than this. Actually at the storage, we still have the paper tape that goes with it. So yeah, 1965.

Tim: And this famously is the variety of the place, not the individual one where the “@” sign came for email. That is a pretty neat historical legacy down on a piece of hardware.

Lisa: Yeah, yeah.

Tim: And I guess telex is, nowadays people ask for fax numbers, and I should start to get them a telex number, because it seems about as historically interesting.

Lisa: Yeah, people still fax yeah.

Tim: And in the corner, you have a floppy drive.

Lisa: Right, this thing is like solid metal. It weighs a good I don’t know, 15 to 20 pounds. We ran across this when we were doing the inventory, because again there is no provenance with this. It’s just this floppy drive. I was considering de-accessioning it from the collection. And all of my volunteers said “Absolutely not. We have to have this. It is so awesome.“ And so then, we were picking out new items for the exhibit, I said, “Well, what would you guys like to see in exhibit? You work with this stuff just as much as I do.” Half of them said this, “You have to put this out.” So, there it is.

Tim: We are probably _____9:26 birthdays by what size floppies were in use when they were born.

Lisa: Yeah, it is funny, holding up like floppies like this. People are – I had – they know clearly that they were that big. It is really cool.

Tim: Now, let’s go again around the _____9:39 you have a pretty nice wall here, all-in-one units. You’ve got everything from purely terminal to you’ve got, Matthew Broderick’s _____9:54 breaking machine here, not the actual one and you got Commodore PET, you have got TRS 80.

Lisa: Right, the trinity of computers, right?

Tim: And I want to actually take a _____10:07 to theright over here, I see another TRS 80, which is a little more unusual, explain this to me in just a bit.

Lisa: So, this came out in early 1980s, and it was basically the TRS 80 Data Terminal. So people – so business travelers could take this on the road, remotely hook up to another computer and do their work on the road.

Tim: And so, this is the MacBook Air of 1982.

Lisa: Yeah, there you go. And honestly, much, much lighter than something like the Kaypro or all those Osbornes, they weigh like a ton you know.

Tim: Now what about the display capability of the portable kit, hook up to a television?

Lisa: Oh this? No.

Tim: Surely, it is internal.

Lisa: Yeah, and it is like a thermal paper roll that you could order for that.

Tim: So, it is basically, as far as display, it’s lot like Model 100. It’s a

Lisa: Yes, yes, absolutely, with the _____11:05 yes. Yeah.

Tim: Another one that we’ve got here, that really seems ahead of its times in some ways, is the Apricot

Lisa: Yeah, that thing’s really cool. And again Apricot is a UK based company, so do we keep it, or do we not keep it, it is so cool, this is another one that the volunteers said, ”Absolutely, you have to keep this. It is wonderful.” So 1984, wireless keyboard, the mouse is actually called a light pipe, infrared. This computer had speech recognition technology, so they had over 4000 words; the problem was you could only hold 64 words in RAM at any given time, so limited but still cool.

Tim: Absolutely.

Lisa: I mean 1984, it was 11 years old. It is amazing.

Tim: Now, this is just because of the UK connections it reminds me a little bit of where we would put Raspberry Pi in 30 years from now. I think they’re going to be recognized as sort of an interesting milestone.

Lisa: Right, right, absolutely.

Tim: Is there anything on the floor that we’ve been walking around here that you really like to show off that I’ve ignored so far.

Lisa: You know, I don’t know that to people know about Datapoint. Yeah, that is a really cool story. The guys moved here, and opened up the computer company in San Antonio and many people consider these and the 2200 over here especially like what is the first personal computer? It is an all-in-one personal computer 1970. That’s super early. And obviously these were used as like mainframes, but still a really nice piece. We have a large collection of Datapoint items. One of the sons of one of the co-founders lives here in town and so, he has been really instrumental in donating documentation and hardware to us.

Tim: And I know Michael Dell has been involved with some donations here as well.

Lisa: Yes, actually right over here. We have a very early PCs Limited and when it came through the stream, it was – everybody was really excited and so, we went to Michael Dell and asked him if he would actually sign the PC, so he signed the keyboard and actually the side of the terminal over here.

Tim: So, this is one of the ones that he was building in the dorm room at UT?

Lisa: You know, I don’t know but it is definitely an early one. I mean that would be really cool, right?

Tim: It really would. He is one of the famous computer drop-outs, these big three probably lot more that, if you look at it that way.

Lisa: Lucky.

Tim: Now also would you have some bigger pieces under here, I realized that these are technically on display the same way some of the others are?

Lisa: Right, I mean yeah.

Tim: It had some of these really large either storage in some cases. Here is a

Lisa: Right, this 8-inch.

Tim: Interesting box here, I always see Radio Shack Computers. I very rarely see associated larger verticals like this, and this is a disk system, you mentioned you are not sure how much this actually held, right?

Lisa: I do not know. I’ll admit that I have not done a lot of research on that. But we had a really cool peripherals in general come through. So, these are really neat. We also had with the Model 3 a really early screen printer, have you seen those, they print out like in a barrel shape, on like a receipt paper, I have never seen anything like that before. It was really cool.

Tim: Great, yeah. I think people are going to be intrigued to see some of the _____14:44 display here, but like I said, some many people have interesting things, that they probably would like to see on display, right, is there a way for people to get to contact you and say, ‘I have got an interesting piece of hardware’, wondering if they are interested.

Lisa: Yes, absolutely. and my email address is on the page.

Tim: And if anybody gets to Austin and wants to visit, what is the best time to come?

Lisa: We are actually open every day of the week, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 to 8 on the weekends.

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Welcome to the Goodwill Computer Museum (Video)

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Nothing ever becomes real until it is experienced. - John Keats