MARCH frequently asked questions -- updated Sept. 29, 2014
1. What is MARCH?
MARCH is a user group for people who enjoy collecting, restoring, using, and exhibiting antique/vintage computers. Our name is an acronym for Mid-Atlantic Retro Computing Hobbyists. Our club's legal name has an "Inc." on the end because we're incorporated as a non-profit in New Jersey. However we do not yet have federal 501(c)3 tax status.
2. Cool, I have some old-school Pentium IIs, and even a 486!
Sorry, but that's not what we do. By "antique/vintage" we mean things that are far more historic. We start (with some exceptions) at the mid-1980s early GUI systems, go into early-1980s/late-1970s 8-bit microcomputers, back into mid-1970s homebrew kits and single-board computers, then find our way into 1970s/1960s minicomputers when "mini" meant as big as a desk or refrigerator. Finally, we're into mainframes of the 1950s and 1960s. Of course, we also focus on all sorts of books/magazines, cultural artifacts, I/O devices (teletypes, terminals) peripherals, software, storage hardware (keypunches, magnetic/paper tape, etc.), and everything from this realm. Not counting mathematical tools such as a slide rule, our oldest computer artifact is an IBM 082 punch card sorter, from 1948.
3. I'm a nerd and live somewhere between Connecticut and Virginia, yet I never heard of you before.
Andy Meyer reiterated his idea for a regional user group in the second half of 2004. Evan Koblentz started the Yahoo discussion group (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/midatlanticretro/) in the beginning of 2005. MARCH became a legal entity later that year. Our expertise is technical, but we're not so good at marketing. Please help!
4. So I have to live in the Mid-Atlantic part of the U.S. to join?
Nope. That description just conveys where most of our members and activities are concentrated -- in the scalene triangle between Hartford, Pittsburgh, and D.C. -- but people from beyond these areas are certainly welcome to join us.
5. What does MARCH actually do?
In addition to the busy discussion list here in our Yahoo group, we also operate a bricks-and-mortar computer museum on the New Jersey shore. Currently our museum occupies almost 1,500 sq. ft. in a wing of the InfoAge Science Center, located in Wall Township, New Jersey. We also host various events throughout the year including the Vintage Computer Festival East (see question #11), technical repair workshops, and our legendary holiday party.
6. InfoAge Science Center? What's that?
7. InfoAge is a relatively new museum and 501(c)3 non-profit organization. Its construction began in the late 1990s and it opened in a "beta" mode in the mid-2000s. Its facility is a whole campus, not just one building. There is a very rich history here. The campus was built by the Marconi America Wireless Telegraphy Co. as a receiving station in 1912, was used as a communications laboratory by the U.S. Navy during WWI, and then was in private hands. It became a U.S. Army Signal Corps R&D lab just before WWII and remained so until the 1990s. Congress decided to close the lab and sell the land. Instead, local historians recognized its history and formed InfoAge. Now the campus is on the National Parks Service's National Register of Historic Places. InfoAge is also a Black History Site and had several other federal and state designations related to its service before, during, and after WWII. Public hours for our wing are Sunday from 1pm to 5pm. We're also open on many Wednesdays, and some Saturdays. You can also make an appointment. For more about the museum and campus history please visit www.infoage.org.
8. Okay, so back to this computer museum of yours. What's there?
Our museum has five exhibits: Mainframes, minicomputers, homebrew-era computers, business microcomputers, and consumer microcomputers. We have many ideas for more exhibits, and we plan to implement those ideas just as soon as we move from our current space on campus into a larger building next door. That could happen in another year or so.
9. Do the computers just sit there or can I use them?
We strive to restore our systems to operational condition. Some computers, especially the microcomputers, are relatively easy to restore and easy to replace if necessary. Others, such as our minicomputers, require a more serious effort. We make every effort to have these computers available for our members' use and to demonstrate them for visitors.
10. Can I help restore the computers?
Yes! Join our group, get to know us, and volunteer to help out.
11. What else does MARCH do?
Lots of fun stuff. In addition to our discussion list and our museum, we also host special events. Our flagship event is the Vintage Computer Festival East. "VCF East" is a multi-day celebration of computer history! It includes a hands-on exhibit hall, lectures, consignment room, book sale, food, prizes, museum tours, and more. Our first edition of this hobbyist convention was VCF East 3.0, in 2006, because the first two editions were run by a different organization. VCF East 4.0 was in June 2007; VCF East 5.0 was in Sept. 2008, VCF East 6.0 was in Sept. 2009, VCF East 7.0 was in May 2011, and VCF East 8.0 was in May 2012. We skipped 2010 and 2013. VCF East "9.1" was April 4-6, 2014. VCF East 10.0 -- a.k.a. "VCFeX" -- will be April 17-19, 2015. Details are frequently updated at http://www.vintage.org, http://wwww.facebook.com/vcfeast, and http://www.twitter.com/vcfeast.
We also produce smaller exhibits at other events such HOPE (Hackers on Planet Earth conference), NJ Science & Engineering Festival, Philadelphia Science Carnival, Trenton Computer Festival, and World Maker Faire. In addition, we have social events, tech days, museum days, a winter party, etc.
12. I still don't get it. Where can I learn more about what's antique/vintage?
Many places. Pick up a copy of the book "Collectible Microcomputers" by Michael Nadeau. Or for non-micro aspects, go online. Heck, go online anyway. Check out the classiccmp.org mailing lists; vintage-computer.com/vcforum, old-computers.com; and many, many, many others. (If you're interested in specific machines, just post your question to our discussion list and we can refer you to the best sites.)
13. What's behind the scenes of this wacky endeavor?
We have some de facto officers; an official set of bylaws and all that boring stuff is being worked on... we're just so busy having fun that we keep procrastinating. The officers are (Evan Koblentz - prez), Jeffrey Brace and Corey Cohen (VPs), and Justin Jernigan (treasurer).
14. Members? Is it like just you and two buddies?
We're much bigger than that! We have dozens of members, and around 300 people in our Yahoo group. Our youngest member is in his teens; our oldest is in his 80s.
15. What's it cost to join?
Nothing. MARCH membership is free (as in beer).
16. So how do you fund the club?
Our primary fundraiser is the Vintage Computer Festival East, during which we sell tickets, exhibit space, and various items. We also have an annual donation drive. Sometimes we also rent artifacts for use at film/television props.
17. Can I make a donation of artifacts or funds?
Yes! Contact us first, and we'll make arrangements. Info is in the very next question of this FAQ.
17. I have a question.
Okay. Reach out to us! Do so by posting to our message boards or pinging me (evan@... / phone: 646-546-9999) ... ask us anything, we're not shy! (And moreover, unlike some computer clubs, we're not cliquey. All are welcome here!)
18. What else should I know before diving in to MARCH?
If you're a nerd who thinks really old computers and their related technologies were cool, then give MARCH a chance. You'll be glad you did. Also, if you were wondering, we're NOT a bunch of old farts who sit around and whine about how much better things used to be. Quite the contrary: we're a bunch of young and mid-life farts who ... ooooh maybe we said too much. :)
19. What is your web site?
We're at www.midatlanticretro.org.
20. Why does your web site suck?
Its simplicity is by design.