ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

I Am No Longer Attending Vintage Computer Festivals —

I spent some time trying to figure out when to make this announcement in a way that didn’t seem like direct sabotage; the day before the VCF East event seems about right.

Years ago, clearing out the Information Cube, I donated its contents to roughly 10 organizations, carefully splitting things up for the best home, as I’d been entrusted with these materials by many great folks who believed I’d make the right choices. Videogames went to the Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment, books and many printed materials to the Internet Archive, piles of game-related magazines went to the Strong Museum of Play, multiple sets of Wired magazine went to a scanning group, and so on. This was a shipping container worth of material, so we are talking dozens and dozens of crates, received by trustworthy and great folks across the entire country.

Among these donations were a set of publications, mostly IEEE-related but with a few other sets of titles, to the Vintage Computer Federation, based in New Jersey. The donation was roughly this:

To make this donation, I paid for the containers, filled them, put many issues in bags, and then rented a truck to drive them the roughly 70 miles to the VCF headquarters in Wall, NJ. There I dropped them off and went home. This was roughly 2017.

A number of years later, I contacted the Vintage Computer Federation to ask how the magazines were doing, if they were part of a project, or if I needed to transfer them elsewhere.

I was told they tossed them out. Every one.

However, I was told, they had decided to keep the plastic boxes, and were making use of them.

As a result, I’ll state clearly: I have no intention of attending the Vintage Computer Festival or doing any sort of interaction with the VCF team again.

I’m mentioning this because I went to so many of the festivals, I know people would be expecting me to go, and I get mail every year looking forward to my attendance. I have indicated I would not be there, but not totally explained why. Now I have. I consider attendance to be an endorsement of this action, and I am fundamentally uninterested in whatever clumped-together set of words they might consider an apology. The concern is dead to me.

I also want to take this moment to clearly state that Evan Koblentz, the director of the Vintage Computer Federation for many years, who took the original donation, had absolutely no say or part in this pulping of historical magazines, having been driven out of the organization years before. Evan has always been a steel beam of dependable honesty and directness in all the years I’ve known him, which is bordering on decades at this point.

There’s not much else to say. Go if you want, but I won’t be there. Hopefully I will see some of the nice folks I know from the event in other contexts. Otherwise, it has been quite real, and they’re memories I won’t trash for their containers.

Categorised as: Uncategorized


  1. P Becker says:

    This is just awful. You deserve an apology – those artifacts might not be able to be replaced.

  2. Dave Velociraptor says:

    What a desperately sad thing to read. People have a duty of care with this stuff. No wonder you’re not going again.

  3. Carlos says:

    That’s great, they decided to keep the part that can be replaced anywhere, anytime, and toss the irreplaceable stuff. That’s incredible. Simply incredible.

    • tetro says:

      Finite resources require tough choices, so I can understand it to some degree. To not contact the original donator prior to tossing is unforgivable in my opinion.

  4. John A. says:

    News to me. I have been detached from most news for about 15 years. But this made it through. Will do some more digging to see what I missed.

  5. Ralphw says:


  6. Aoife says:

    This is heartrending to hear, and that they did not notify anyone of this is the icing on the irresponsible cake. I’ve never been to a VCF (or any con for that matter) for a variety of reasons, primarily monetary and mental health related, and I sure as hell won’t attend any VCF-operated or aligned event now.

  7. MW says:

    IEEE stuff are not directly computer magazines – they contain mostly scientific stuff how things work. These are journals You look for if You want to know how the MO drives work, how to fix Belady’s paging anomaly or how some algorithm is developed, usually with quite edible mathematical proof :). For a technology-oriented people this is a loss, especially that a lot of these “base research” is applied even now.
    However, what I see with many “vintage computer” associations (in my country, IDK how it’s with VCF) they are more interested in selling keychains in the shape of Pacman or Pong joysticks than in preserving historical or useful stuff.
    A few years ago there was a similar thing with a local “vintage computer” club, which got, as a donation, the only missing part to a desk-size computer they had to make it running. The machine was unique, they had a full set including software on replaceable hard disks, and they finally got the missing memory board… So they desoldered every DRAM chip in this board and fixed a bunch of Spectrums with them to show games. The unique software had to wait for research and recovery.
    Good luck! Verify everyone’s domain, as for these associations one thing may be useful, and another will be useful for someone else.

    • hnch says:

      On the IEEE’s website you can buy access to articles from their magazines from the last 100+ years, and I guess that’s the reason you can’t just scan magazines and put them on the internet to be read for free. The IEEE is rather fierce in enforcing their copyright.

  8. Richard Holland says:

    just insane

  9. bebna says:

    Hurts to just read it and can’t fathom what I must feel for u. U’r definitely stronger than me to keep so calm in this situation.

  10. Sellam Ismail says:

    It is unfair of you to disparage all of the VCFs based on the actions of a few numbnuts at the VCFed. If anything your gripe is against the people who directly run VCF East (and indirectly, VCF West). Direct your ire at those people and/or those events. Leave the rest (and the VCF) out of it.

  11. Hasan says:

    We need a code or conduct for any organization that considers itself to have any historical focus. Don’t throw anything out without a vote including 60% of members. The determination of value should never be an executive decision. Sometimes the value of certain things is only apparent to a few people in the group.

  12. Chris Hanson says:

    Tell me you don’t know how archiving and collection management work without telling me you don’t know how archiving and collection management work.

    You might be surprised to hear that libraries recycle books and museums regularly cull their collections too.

    • D Davidson says:

      Lol, maybe start with a quick Wikipedia read on Jason Scott.

      • Chris Hanson says:

        As if I don’t know who he is. Why do you think I find this surprising?

        • Jacob G says:

          Jason Scott of all people knows about archiving and collection management. Of course he knows that Libraries recycle and cull books.

          So your false initial comment is either coming from ignorance, or malice. Thank you for confirming for us it’s malice.

          • Chris Hanson says:

            Or perhaps I have some insight into what actually happened by dint of knowing people involved whose telling contradicts Jason’s tale of woe.

          • Jacob G says:

            I am not sure why there is no reply button to Chris’ reply. Perhaps there is a comment depth limit.

            No, that you have “some insight” into what happened* does not mean the comment claiming Jason Scott doesn’t know about archiving has any merit. It means you think this story in and of itself is not being reported well. Which you could lead with rather than the malice, I might add.

            Also Chris, the rest of us can and have searched for this story elsewhere to see the other side of the story too. I agree with Jason’s follow up, and that the material was redistributed (without contacting Jason first) rather than destroyed is hardly mollifying.

    • Duncan says:

      That “Tell me you don’t …” phrasing doesn’t sound cool and never has.

      • Lewis Collard says:

        Yep. As with all sarcasm, it usually comes from those who are too afraid to state a point directly, or who are too post-something-or-other to really have any point at all. The former can sometimes be persuaded to make a point without it; the latter are best politely ignored.

  13. Kevin Capracotta says:

    just wrong and the gall to keep the totes and not send them back, to not even return them with an explanation. boycott on your behalf

  14. Tech Cowboy says:

    If they didn’t want them, they should not have accepted them. What a crime.

  15. Eugen Mezei says:

    I bet the driving out happened when funds poured in.
    It is always the same. Enthusiast do the work and do it sacrificing their time and own money. They think this is absolutely ok. Than somebody gets the idea that it would be nice to be sponsored or tap some funds. So they do and often have success. (Lets say they get money for a digitasation project. Interestingly not the person doing that work before for free gets the money but a new guy arrives to do it.) That is the point where the parasites arrive and drive the old members out. From then it goes downhill. The new ones are only interested in getting the more money for the less possible amount of work. So their activity gets hypsterish oriented, as such actions sell best.

  16. anon says:

    They could have just call you to return them, and you would decide what to do, perhaps donating it to another preservation society. This is the cruel and idiotic move by the VCF.

  17. EKL says:

    I completely understand the slight. This would hurt me a lot if it happened to me. It’s betrayed trust.

    Unfortunately, this sort of thing happens all the time in the preservation sphere. It doesn’t matter whether the subject matter is electronics or seashells. The grunt work in these types of organizations is almost always done by volunteers. Volunteers all have different knowledge levels, different interests, and different priorities. One can’t hope to be able to supervise them at all times – nor would one want to, since that tends to make them feel stupid and makes them loath to come back and volunteer again.

    The only reliable way to preserve historic texts is to pay professional archivists to digitize them. Often enough, this is just not a practical option. Even if the money is available, the hiring process can be quite difficult. There are only so many of these professionals out there to go around. And one has to contend with storage & logistics while the materials wait their turns.

    Sometimes, you just need to get some stuff out.
    Sometimes, the person you trust to hold onto your stuff – just has to get some stuff out.
    And so on.
    There really is no professional or personal expectation for back-contacting. There cannot be. Once you get rid of something, it is simply not yours anymore. That is how the world has to work. You can’t be leaving strings attached all over the place. Otherwise, no one would ever want to accept your donations. This is a hard truth, but that’s the way it is. Trust me, it sucks, I know.

    It isn’t healthy to hold lifelong grudges. I trust that Jason will eventually find his peace on this one.

  18. Evan Koblentz says:

    One of VCF volunteers, Adam Michlin, is spreading lies about me in his defense of tossing what Jason donated.

    On various forums in the last day or two, AM posted that VCF’s donation policy back then was to take everything no matter what.

    That’s a blatant lie! I was in charge of VCF then, as Jason noted, so nobody knows better than me about the policies at that time. The policy was to take only what we needed OR what was too important to pass up. Thus, I turned away tons of stuff.

    AM or anyone else is welcome to exercise their free speech and disagree with my decision to take or reject a particular donation back then, but it’s NOT COOL to lie and blame this whole thing on “previous management” as he did.

    AM was a volunteer back then; that’s true. As such, he certainly wasn’t privy to all of the executive decision-making. I left the organization in December 2019. My memory of him is that he spent most of his time running his know-it-all mouth and trying to tell me how to do things. Thus, the more he did so, the less I kept him in the loop.

    Do not trust anything he says.

  19. Ted says:

    Blasimous evil doers! Chinese water torture is too good for em! Death by firing squad too good for em! Death from boredom for being forced to use MS Winodows too good for em. A thousand deaths from,pinhead too good for em!

  20. Marcus says:

    When you donate something it’s not yours anymore and it’s up to the person or the organization to do as it pleases. I don’t think it’s fair for you to think that just because you donated something that it Has to be kept and maintained things change management change, and your items were tossed, unfortunately And that’s the way it goes.

    • Jacob G says:

      That’s only true in a legal sense (after giving it to them, it’s there property). And given I don’t see Jason suing or threatening to sue them, this isn’t in such a setting.

      Ethically, it’s important for an organization that explicitly brands itself as preservationist to, well, help preserve the things they are given.* It is completely fair game as grounds for criticism (if they did indeed throw them out). That they didn’t preserve the material in this case is clearly seen as damaging to their brand as a result, which is why you’re seeing some… harsh criticism of this post from members of VCF (rather than comments along the same lines as yours).

      * The first line of VCFed’s mission statement: “Our mission is to preserve computing history through education, outreach, conservation, and restoration.”

  21. Aron Insinga says:

    The IEEE will soak you to let you see their content, so VCF could have put the hardcopy magazines in a library setting for access, or storage for future reference, and I think they could have scanned them for conservation, but they could only post them after the copyright expired. That’s not a reason to toss them. And remember that IEEE magazines include technical journals, but also less dry magazines like Computer and Software with a overviews of the current state of e.g. i18n, or forecasts on the future of some area e.g. computer architecture. Even the ads in trade magazines can be useful for some research. But I’ve also learned that, when handing something off to an organization, no matter how friendly they are, one needs to include a letter documenting what your understanding is of how it is to be used. If the organization can’t agree to that, they should refuse to accept the material. If you establish conditions, you should document that. (Note that there are questions about such conditions on the IRS forms regarding charitable donations.) But once it is theirs free and clear, it is theirs. A textile museum near me a while back sold off some of its collection of antique spinning wheels to cover their debts, and closed its doors for good. At least some of the wheels went to another museum, IIUC. (Similarly, AFAIK, we’re waiting to see if Paul Allen’s family cares about a bunch of obsolete computers and will see that they are preserved, or will sell the machines for the scrap metal to clear out the building to sell it, or something in between. IMHO he should have created an organization and donated his collection to it, to keep the machines out of his estate and in the hands of a board of people he trusted to do the right thing.) Of late, to prevent misunderstanding, I have been clearly stating in a letter with any donations that the organization may use or dispose of the material as they desire. Long ago, I don’t recall the exact words spoken, but I should have documented whether something was a donation or a loan, for my own memory if nothing else. [FWIW, I know nothing about the organization and management of the VCF.] Take care.

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