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31556Re: [midatlanticretro] RCS-RI visit

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  • William Donzelli
    Jul 7, 2013
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      > Interesting, I had thought one of the two had become defunct and the other
      > took over.
      > The smallest state in the nation and they have 2 of the biggest museums on
      > the east coast ?!

      RCS/RI (Retrocomputing Society of Rhode Island, Inc. aka RCS) and RICM
      (Rhode Island Computer Museum), sprang up independently in Rhode
      Island back in the mid 1990s. Back in 1994, Mike Umbricht, John
      Teehan, and Dave Fischer (the guy that coined the Eternal September
      thing) formed a very informal group in Providence, RI. Shortly
      thereafter Carl Friend joined, followed by myself. Then, in 1998 RCS
      incorporated and became a real organization. Initially we were located
      in a mill on Eagle St., but had to move in the mid-2000s (I forget the
      exact date) to our current millspace in Atlantic Mills, only a mile or
      so away.

      I am not as clear about the formation of RICM, but it sprang up about
      the same time, and as Mike posted, originally had space in a very old
      mill to the south of Providence. Initially, the group had a weird side
      interest in British racing cars, and a number of members were more
      racing car enthusiasts than computer junkies - and this is why there
      was an early interest in British microcomputers at RICM, which
      continues to this day. RICM incorporated, I believe, about the same
      time RCS did, but went the whole 501c3 route.

      RICM and RCS have always been completely independent groups, but we
      are on very friendly terms, with a couple of members somewhat active
      in both. We have done rescues together, and have swapped machines in
      the past.

      RCS started as a general computing history group, and initially was
      interested in all aspects of computing. We had grand designs for a
      real museum early on. However, it became apparent quickly that our
      voracious appetite for gathering new machines and artifacts was
      getting out of control. There was no collection policy, so our space
      at Eagle St. filled completely up. At some point we were given fair
      warning that the building was going to be sold and we would have to
      move, so the members decided to implement a collection policy and
      enforce it. In the new space, only machines relating to science,
      engineering, and higher education were going to be collected and kept.
      During the move, we shed quite a lot of equipment and documentation.
      Much went to RICM, collectors, and so forth, but much of the more
      useless stuff was scrapped. Now, in our current space in Atlantic
      Mills, we adhere to our policy with a strict focus on what aspects of
      computer history we want to explore - this is why you will see no
      microcomputers at RCS, nor are there any business minis or mainframes.
      We are, once again, pushing the limits of our space, so we have to be
      very careful about what we can accept. One the plus side, for out
      monthly open houses (every 3rd Saturday of the month - we have been
      having these almost without break for nearly 14 years, holidays too!),
      we setup a work area outside our space in an extremely expansive
      hallway for the day. We simply pop up a table or two, run some cords
      out, a wheel whatever machine we are working on out into position. It
      pays to keep our internal hallways clear.

      RCS made a lot of mistakes in our past. Some of these mistakes have
      caused us problems, and have prevented us from moving in certain
      directions. We clearly did not live up to our grands plans.

      MARCH could learn a great deal for our experience, as well as that of
      RICM, but chooses not to. For years, I have tried to convince MARCH
      that it needs to get its appetite under control with a strict
      collection policy, otherwise it *will* run into exactly the same
      problem RCS and RICM has - an out of control ever-growing pile of
      artifacts that impedes progress and sucks away time, money, morale,
      and manpower. Organization becomes difficult, artifact inventory
      becomes impossible, morale suffers as work sessions turn into
      shlepping sessions, and the inevitable move to another location
      becomes a major undertaking. RCS and RICM, and a million other little
      independent tech history museums, have all suffered through all this.
      We could have avoided most of it with a little discipline and focus,
      but that is all history now. We can warn other, younger museums of
      these pitfalls that *will* be there - but it is up to them to do
      anything about it. Remember that the history of museums is full of sad
      stories, with new stories written every month.

      Today, RCS remains, as does RICM. We have settled down into a little
      niche, continue to have our open houses (find us on Facebook!), slowly
      get machines up and running, and generally have a good time. At this
      point we are stable, and have no plans to go away any time soon. I
      invite you all to come.

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