The New Computer Museum facilitates the preservation and exhibition of a wide range of computing systems in their original state for the public to experience and enjoy first-hand.
The New Computer Museum’s collection includes over a hundred personal computers covering most major brands along with key peripherals such as drives and printers. There is also a software library with all of the necessary operating system, utility and productivity software needed to retrieve almost any data created on personal computers since the first Apple and similar early vintage microcomputers (yes, that means we are up to the challenge of running and/or recovering content from almost all analog and digital media formats).
One of the main goals of the New Computer Museum’s physical space, if or when there is one, will be to offer a public computer lab and software library for use by private individuals, non-profit organizations, educators and artists across New England. It would be modeled on Harvard’s Libraries and Archives approach, but the facilities and services would be available to anyone with a non-commercial need.
Yes, okay, that’s very nice, but how did it happen? Where did it all come from?
Version 1.0 Studio-E Collection (1994-1996)
The initial computer collection was the foundation of a popular and conveniently located small business named Studio-E that Mary Hopper established between Bow and Arrow streets on Mass. Ave. in Harvard Sq.. Truth be known, the initial collection was simply made up of the computers that she had accumulated during her doctoral work in Educational Computing and Technology at Purdue University. Some other computers were kindly contributed by Bob Lawler, Hopper’s doctoral adviser, mentor and friend. Then still others came from Harvest Computer, and yet more equipment and support came from the closely affiliated Accessories Plus. Studio-E had more computers of more variety than any other business in the area (including Kinkos — they copied us!), and Hopper was known by the moniker “The Computer Lady” to locals in Harvard Square (and sometimes still is from time to time). That was a fun time to be part of Harvard Square — lunch or dinner often came from Bartley’s, the Tasty was still in business back then, and yes, they even filmed Good Will Hunting next door!
Version 1.1 Educational Collection (1996-2011)
After Studio-E closed, the collection shifted to being used for educational activities shared with Dr. Hopper’s students in pop-up lab style events in her courses at MIT in her “Post Doc” days and then at Lesley University where she became a professor in Technology in Education. Among other things, the collection expanded to include the hardware and software needed to continue to run the applications that Hopper studied during her doctoral research at MIT and Brown as well as her postdoctoral work in Comparative Media Studies at MIT. The size and value of the collection slowly and steadily grew as she expanded the collection to be the ultimate, “ideal” set of materials to support her work “mentoring” courses in multimedia and educational robotics for the national program in teacher education at Lesley University.
In short, up until this point, most of the reasons for expanding the collection can simply be traced to being relatively straightforward, carefully maintained extensions of Hopper’s professional activities, and almost all of those are documented here on her professional archive http://world.std.com/~mehopper. (Yes, for the really, old timers,” that still says “std,” which of course stands for “Software Tool & Die” — home of the online book initiative!)
Version 1.2 Expanded Collection (2012-2013)
In 2012 Dr. Hopper started teaching a course in Digital Media at Northeastern University. It was a large lecture style format, but she still updated the collection (extensively!) and offered special lab days where she would do a “pop-up” lab to give students hands on experience with some of the hardware and software she talked about in her lectures. The course events were great fun and well received, but things started to get out of hand — it took a UHaul van to get the collection to the pop-up class events. Then she started teaching a course on digital narrative, and the idea of “lab days” became absurd. It was literal a “pop-up” computer lab, and that’s when it transitioned to “impractical” to do (i.e. painful)!
Version 1.3 Digital Den Public Archive (2013-2014)
Dr. Hopper finally came to grips with the fact it would be far more practical and effective to move the students to the collection rather than the collection to the students, so she collaborated with Metropolitan Storage in Cambridge to establish a “relatively” public venue where it was feasible to do one-off events for her students and also make the collection available to the general public in the Boston area. This had the makings of a new, much needed computer museum, so she decided to make it official and announce as much, and this drew a certain amount of attention from the press (along with other computer collectors in the area, country and even world).
Here’s video interview done by the Boston Globe that captures what was there at the time.
Here’s a less elaborate “quick-pan” of the collection as it was a few years ago.
The hardware and software collection was actually much larger than was pictured at that time (much of it wouldn’t even fit, then), and the collection has more than doubled in both size and diversity since then.
This is also just a description of Hopper’s original collection. There have been many donations since then, and there are also some partners who are more than willing and able to provide whatever would be needed to setup and maintain a vintage computer lab if there is ever a real, physical location to hold it. The lab would also include numerous brands of graphics workstations (Sun, SGI etc.). Of course, pictures are better than words, and videos better than that, so here is a video that illustrates the point nicely.
Here’s a full rundown of what happened during the year that Digital Den was open and public at Metropolitan.
Digital-Den@Metropolitan Open Hours
Digital Den also hosted open hours from July to December 2013 —
the specific dates and times can still be found in the blog.
Slide show” 9 Museums that want your legacy tech
(Daniel Dern, Computer World, October 3, 2013)
A link to the slide show was on SlashDot, and it made it to the top page!
SlashDot post, October 3, 2013
The Globe and Mail, Toronto
Why brainiacs love Boston: The city’s Top 10 geeky hot spots (Judith Ritter)
Society of History of Technology
Mary Hopper presented at …
SIGCIS Workshop: Recomputing the History of Information Technology
Sunday, October 13, 2013 in Portland, ME http://www.sigcis.org/workshop13
Digital Den’s primary activity in 2013 was taking the lead in facilitating the creation and launch of a NEW Computer Museum in the Boston area, and we sponsored the NEW Computer Museum Launch Party in October.
NEW Computer Museum Launch Party
Sunday, October 20, 2013, 5 pm – 9 pm
1st Exhibit 5-7 pm
Launch Party 7-9 pm
Middlesex Lounge Restaurant
315 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge
Boston Tech Breakfast Meetup
Mary Hopper presented at …
Boston Tech Breakfast Meetup, Friday, November 8, 2013
Microsoft N.E.R.D. Center, One Memorial Drive, Cambridge, MA
NEW Computer Museum Brunch Meetup/Update
Saturday, November 16th, 2013, 11 am – 1 pm
Asgard Irish Pub, 11 am – noon
350 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge
Metropolitan Storage, noon – 1 pm
134 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge
Saturday, December 14th, 2013, noon – 1 pm
134 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge
This was the last event held at Digital Den’s Metropolitan location. There were a number of visitors who enjoyed hands-on demos of Digital Den’s growing interface collection (including the brand new Oculus Rift DK1).
Digital Den sponsored a NEW Computer Museum Meetup
Version 1.4 Pop-up Museum (2014-2015)
After the success of the launch party and Hopper’s presentation at Tech Breakfast, it was obvious that people preferred to experience the collection as constructed “exhibits” in the context of “pop-up” events rather than in the “archive-like” setting at Metropolitan Storage. Thus, instead of keeping an expensive archive space open to the public, it was closed and the focus shifted to hosting larger and public “pop-up” events in 2014. The New Computer Museum Meetup was formed to announce events and manage attendance.
There was an active and relatively successful outreach initiative that resulted in numerous collaborations at the time.
A number of Mary Hopper’s former students also joined the team and provided their invaluable support by generously contributing their time, expertise and equipment: Mark Micheli, Nathaniel Pierce, Nicholas Potvin and Jared Brown.
A list of events held is on the Meetup site, and it is available on this site, too here.
Many of them were planned to correspond to the monthly festivities of the Flea@MIT.
The New Computer Museum did develop a wonderful and enduring community of friends and supporters during this time, and we remain grateful for their support!
Computer Museums: here & there, now & then…
Sunday, January 19, 2014, 12:00 pm to 1:00 pm
Microsoft NERD Center
One Memorial Drive, Cambridge, MA
This was a test drive a new meeting location (it was warm and had great views!). Mary Hopper also shared the results of the year long survey of computer museums and vintage collections. The group then recessed to Champions at the Marriott in Kendall Sq. for beer and conversation sponsored by Adam Rosen of The Vintage Mac Museum.
New Computer Museum Sampler, Evening Update & Social
Friday, March 14, 2014, 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm
Microsoft NERD Center 1 Memorial Drive, Cambridge, MA
The evening started with a brief presentation followed by playtime with a sample of collections provided by a variety of exhibitors. This event was designed for dedicated supporters and stakeholders as well as newcomers and students.
Alas, not all that surprisingly, it became obvious that “pop-up” events were not sustainable. It was essentially just returning to the original lab activities Dr. Hopper held for her students, but the collection had grown a lot since then, and now there were partners, so the logistics required to organize, set up and tear down required way too much time and energy from the all volunteer team. The term “nightmare” was heard more than once, so they collectively agreed that hands-on events should be put on hold until/when/if a permanent, or at least semi-stable, public location could be established.
Here is a great article that captured the state of things at the time.
Boston Globe’s BetaBoston
Digital Den creator pushes for a new Boston-area computer museum (Daniel Dern, BetaBoston, March 24, 2014)
Hopper also participated in less hands-on, events during this time.
Digital Arts Preservation in the Northeast
Wednesday, April 23, 2014, 7:30 pm
Boston Cyberarts Gallery
141 Green St, Boston, MA
A panel of experts discussed what could be possible and worthwhile for the New Computer Museum to do specifically in the area of the history of digital arts. This event was being held in collaboration with Art Technology New England and Boston Cyberarts.
Greater Boston Cultural Convening
Thursday & Friday, May 8 & 9, 2014, 10 am – 6:30 pm
The Strand Theatre
543 Columbia Road, Boston, MA
Dr. Hopper participated in the panel New Urban Narratives & Technologies.
There were also forays into participating in regional events in the Mid-Atlantic (New Jersey, VCF-East) and South (Georgia, VCF-SE).
Friday, April 4 – Sunday, April 6, 2014
InfoAge Science Center
2201 Marconi Road, Wall, NJ
The NEW Computer Museum went to Vintage Computer Festival East 9.1 and showed the newly updated and expanded Children’s Machines exhibit!
Computer Museums: Here and there, now & then…
Saturday, May 3 & Sunday, May 4, 2014
Vintage Computing Festival Southeast 2.0, Roswell, GA
Dr. Hopper presented at Vintage Computing Festival Southeast 2.0 which was sponsored by the Atlanta Historical Computing Society and Computer Museum of America.
This was a fantastic event that provided the opportunity to meet Lonnie Mimms (Computer Museum of America), David Greelish, Alan Hightower and Brian Stuart (Atlanta Historical Computing Society).
The Computer Museum of America’s Apple Pop-Up Museum was particularly inspiring.
Computer Museum of America’s Apple Pop-Up Exhibit
Here is another attendee’s very well done photo gallery of the VCF exhibits…
Retro Innovations Store’s Photo Album
Needless to say, one outcome of this visit was a much more elaborate vision of what an evolving regional computer museum could look like — this had a major impact on the vision of what the New Computer Museum might become in the future.
There was also an adventure all the way out West to Los Angeles!
Friday – Sunday, June 6 – 8, 2014
Los Angeles, CA
Digital Den took their Immersive Interfaces exhibit to this year’s Immersive Education Initiative’s conference hosted by The Getty (J. Paul Getty Museum) and Loyola Marymount University (LMU) in collaboration with the Smithsonian Institution and the Western USA Chapter of the Immersive Education Initiative (iED West).
On the one hand, these trips were fun and informative excursions. On the other hand, devoting extremely limited resources to them ultimately felt short-sighted. The main goal of the New Computer Museum is to establish and sustain a “real” physical location in the Boston area. Spending scarce resources to attend and celebrate other region’s initiatives ended up distracting us from efforts that emphasized “growing our own” local resource. The New Computer Museum respects and celebrates the work of other regional centers of computer history, preservation and innovation, but now we are completely focused on establishing a real, physical location in the Boston area.
What to do?
By September of 2014 things had moved along to the point where it was clear that new decisions and directions were in order. The Flea@MIT was winding down for the year, and so it was near the end of the “computer season” in the Boston area. It was at this time that a few things came together at a couple of events over a single, critical weekend that helped to finally crystallize the vision of what the New Computer Museum might become.
First, Mary Hopper ventured down to Providence to visit with Michael Umbricht and Dave Fischer at the Retro-Computing Society of Rhode Island for their regular monthly open house on the third Saturday of the month (http://www.rcsri.org/). It was her first visit there, and it was very encouraging to see all of the excellent work they are doing to restore important systems like a Symbolics 3630 lisp machine and even a Cray J916! They were also celebrating an impressive 20th anniversary during that time.
Then, the next day was September’s Flea@MIT, and Lonnie Mimms of the Computer Museum of America came up from Atlanta for a visit. Mary Hopper had the pleasure of introducing him to some local collectors and also gave him a tour of some MIT computer history hot spots.
The conversations that weekend about two different, but equally important models of other regional computing history sites helped Hopper to solidify her vision of what the New Computer Museum could become.
So, what will it look like?
Coincidentally, around the same time over the summer of 2014 Hopper also participated in a number of events related to her long-term interest in immersive media, virtual reality and related topics.
Boston VR Meetup
Wednesday, July 23, 2014, 6:00 pm – 9 pm
275 Third Street, Cambridge, MA
We took some of our best demos to the New VR Hardware and Demos event.
Which way to the holodeck?
Friday, August 22, 2014, 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Microsoft NERD Center
One Memorial Drive, Cambridge, MA
Have you heard? VR is back! Or is it? Is it hype or real? Can you really feel like you are walking around Paris, Egypt, the Moon or Mars from the comfort of your very own chair? Attendees found out, and better yet, got to try it themselves! They also heard about the past, present and future of the VR industry in this area and even learned how they could make your own VR experiences.
Schedule: 6 pm Welcome & Demos, 7 pm Presentation by Mary Hopper, 8 pm Final Demos
New Computer Museum Meetup event page …
Needless to say, it was not a very big jump for her to shift to considering the possibility of using her skills in these areas to create an application to illustrate her vision of what the New Computer Museum would look like. This was especially true because some of the New Computer Museum supporters were in attendance at this last event and “strongly” encouraged her to consider doing it. Basically, a few of them pretty much told her, “dah!”
The idea of the New Computer Museum, Virtual Edition was born!
Version 1.5 Virtual Museum (2015)
The goal of the virtual edition of the New Computer Museum is twofold. It demonstrates the vision of what the “real” New Computer Museum has the potential to become, and it also stands on its own as a valuable educational experience for use in classrooms.
An rapid prototype was created in SecondLife in Spring of 2015, and it is still available here.
Then early drafts of the 3D virtual museum made in Unity3D were demonstrated at a series of events over the summer of 2015. These were just drafts, so the galleries and exhibits were only a small subset of the full version.
So, that brings us up to where we are today!
The goal of the New Computer Museum Virtual Edition is twofold. It demonstrates the vision of what the “real” New Computer Museum has the potential to become, and it also stands on its own as a valuable and entertaining educational experience. This is particularly true because of the extensive material included in the “Guide” on this site (see right side margin). Finally, the VR Edition of the New Computer Museum is also an exploration of how the new wave of 3D tools can be used in the context of museums and art galleries.
Here is a press release about the New Computer Museum, Virtual Edition
There was a small release celebration on Sunday, October 18th, 2015.
The New Computer Museum, Virtual Edition is now available on this site as a downloadable application (Zip/.exe).
This file was created with the Unity3D game engine, so it requires a computer up to running AAA games (“triple A games”). An example of a machine that it runs on is an Intel® Quad Core™ i7-4700MQTurbo and a 3.4 GHz 4th gen NVIDIA GeForce GT 740M plus 16 GB RAM. Be sure to use a machine up to the task!
Once you download the file and unzip it, you will see a folder called NEWCM-DRAFT1b and a NEWCM-DRAFT1b.exe file on your desktop. If you click on the NEWCM-DRAFT1b.exe the application will run. After you are running the application, you will see these instructions for navigating and interacting with the content.
All posters and almost all objects in the application link to content and interactive activities on the web. The “title poster” in each exhibit links to the appropriate page in the guide on this site, while other posters and objects link elsewhere. There is an overlap between the links within the interface and what you will find in the guide on this site, but there is not 100% correspondence.
Unfortunately, this version is still limited. There are fewer galleries and objects because the current provider does not allow file sizes over 50 mb. There is a far more extensive version with more fun objects available for preview on CD that can be provided upon request.
Future virtual editions of the museum will include more exhibits and galleries, and those will all be available online. Of course, ideally, the next chapter of this history will be about a real life, physical location somewhere in the Boston area. If you want to hear about future developments, be sure to sign up for the New Computer Museum Meetup.