Vintage Computer Festival at Bletchley Park

Last Saturday fellow geek Richard Tubb and I travelled down to Bletchley Park for the first ever Vintage Computer Festival here in the UK.

I’ve been to the National Computer Museum before but this was a far more interactive experience.

The mansion and various marquees around the site were filled with tons of retro systems that were all powered on and ready for use.

It was geek heaven!

Every possible system from my childhood from Acorn, Commodore, Amstrad and Sinclair was there and it’s amazing the things people are still doing with them!

For example, this is a compact flash card plugging into the back of a Spectrum!

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I even found my first love 🙂

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While the Spectrum +3 wasn’t the first computer that came into the Parkes household (there were lots!) it was the first that was actually mine.

This is the power supply from said computer.

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It’s difficult to explain WHY I took this picture but if you’re a bit of a geek you’ll get it 🙂

As well as the equipment on show there were various speakers and we sat in on Christine Finn’s presentation which talked about how “organised” computer collecting came about. She’s an archaeologist by trade which gives her a different insight into how and why we should keep old technology other than the reasons someone like me would have! She gave a really good presentation about her experiences in Silicon Valley during the dot-boom in the 90’s and it’s subsequent bust.

She wrote a piece in the Guardian a few years ago which is worth checking out.

She also has a book on the subject called Artifacts: An Archaeologist’s Year in Silicon Valley which Richard purchased and had signed!

In addition to the computers on display a large chunk of the mansion was taken over by the Retro Computer Museum.

This organisation keep old computer systems alive for the purposes of gaming! This was also one of the other lectures we took in. They were raising awareness of what they do and it was interesting to see the difference in body language when moving from the actual presentation to the Q&A session. Their enthusiasm really jumped out and they very much of the attitude that the old systems should continue to be used for their purpose and not locked away in a box.

Due to funding they don’t have a permanent site so hold an open day twice a year. The next one is at that the end of October so I’ll be certainly be visiting! There is also a much larger event going on later in the year but there is a full post to follow on that 😉

So the games itself.

Every possible system you could think of was there to play with

From the Atari 2600 to Commodore Plus 4 to Amiga 1200 to Neo Geo, to Playstation 3. If you can think of it, it was there.

Richard and I played Battle Chess on an Amiga 1200 and Sensible Soccer on an Amiga CD32!

Also, one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen .

Guitar Hero on the Commodore 64.

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Picture courtesy of Richard Tubbs Flickr Account

Someone created an adapter to plug a Playstation guitar into the machine and coded a game for it! The 8-bit beeps were amazing though we both sucked at the game itself.

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 Picture courtesy of Richard Tubbs Flickr Account

As mentioned above there were a couple of marquee tents on site. One of them was entirely dedicated to the Amiga and were were there when they announced the launch of a new Amiga – the X100.

I can’t really tell you anything about it though as they didn’t bother to give the speakers microphones so didn’t hear a word they said! I think this site may have some more information over the coming months.

We ended our day at the Spectrum tent.

While the coolest thing I saw was Guitar Hero the geekiest think I did has to be this,

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Picture courtesy of Richard Tubbs Flickr Account

Tweeting from a Spectrum!

I came across a video of this on YouTube recently (and shared it via Facebook and Twitter of course) so it was great to actually see it in action.

As I’ve already mentioned there is still an awful lot of things going on with some of these “old” systems. We even saw a recently developed game, complete with modern packaging. It looked amazing.

Richard couldn’t resist much more and came away with a couple of purchases. Just as he was making his mind up he realised he didn’t have a tape deck to load programs from. A gentleman stood next to us said that an MP3 would work just find and proceeded to pull out his iPhone and played the sound Galaxians would make during loading.

It’s common sense when you think of it but all the same ingenious!

I picked up a book called Electronic Brains: Stories from the Dawn of the Computer Age and even managed to get it signed by the author Mike Hally

We had a really great time and the event was actually run on Saturday and Sunday. Next time I’ll definitely be there for both days!

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Andy Parkes is Technical Director at Coventry based IT support company IBIT Solutions. Formerly, coordinator of AMITPRO and Microsoft Partner Area Lead for 2012-2013. He also isn't a fan of describing himself in the third person.

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