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About the DigiBarn Computer Museum or Why are We Doing This? 

Message from the Curator

Click here for "file photos" of Bruce at the DigiBarn

(feel free to use them for press coverage)

Want to know more about Bruce (he has another life, well, kind of!)?
Visit www.damer.com!

Dr. Bruce Damer, DigiBarn Computer Museum Curator, standing inside the Cray 1 Supercomputer (photo courtesy JM Valera)

The DigiBarn Computer Museum seeks to capture personal stories and track technological evolution through a large collection of vintage computer systems, manuals, videos, interviews, and other fossil relics of the "Cambrian explosion" of personal computing that ignited in 1975. When we get visitors who "burst into tears" upon seeing certain systems which may have defined their lives and careers, our cameras roll to capture the inevitable stories. Thus the interconnected redwood rooms of the museum constitute a kind of "memory palace" for the nerd-inclined and help us piece together the amazing story of the invention of personal computing and Cyberspace. It is my fantasy to one day "get professional help" (ie: a foundation grant or other philanthropic support) and really have the resources to fully document the people and their inventions, and thereby capture the true essence of this time in history. If you are interested and able to provide such support, please don't hesitate to contact me.

If you are inclined, please keep on reading, for there is more on the nature of this project to follow.

A Bit of Background

What and Where is the DigiBarn?

Overhead view of the DigiBarn

Other views of the DigiBarn

Other residents of the DigiBarn

The DigiBarn is a ninety plus years old barn constructed of old growth redwood that is part of the original "Ancient Oaks Ranch", a 19th century farmstead nestled deep in the Santa Cruz Mountains of Northern California. Serving six generations of families on the farm as a livestock barn for horses, chickens, hogs, peacocks and at one point housing an apple cider press, the DigiBarn was extensively remodeled by the Kriz family from approximately 1968 to 1998. The Kriz's extended the structure, back-built a concrete foundation and developed the upstairs hay loft into three rooms. In May of 1998, your host, Dr. Bruce Damer, offered to buy the ranch and this transaction consummated in August of 1998. Initially not knowing what to do with 5,000 square feet of pretty fine space, Bruce and his partner Ms. Galen Brandt used the barn for storage and some company functions for their firm DigitalSpace Corporation. Bruce christened the Ancient Oaks Ranch the "Digital Garden" in keeping with its more high tech garden mission. Thus the barn became the DigiBarn. In March of 2001, two pigs moved into the downstairs stalls and one piglet was born that June (surviving out of an initial litter of five). They are great gatekeepers for the museum and complement it with their incessant binary language of grunts (see the pig family above).

How the DigiBarn Museum got Started

Initiation of the DigiBarn Museum Project

Me among the Altos: pictures from the computer history museum

On March 2, 2001, my friend Jake Bowman and I took time out from the CONTACT conference at NASA Ames Research Center to visit the Computer History Museum across the street. This was a very exciting visit for me and stimulated the olde neurons into action that these old systems and their history was truly intriguing.

DigiBarn Computer Museum

On May 7th, 2001, joined by JM Valera and Allan Lundell, I made the first serious steps to start a collection, by actually plunking down hard earned dollars for several authentic pieces of digital heritage (aka "junk") on our innaugural visit to the famous Weird Stuff Warehouse. That same day a bonanza was struck at a visit to an Apple dealer going out of business where I bought a dozen Macs of 80s and early 90s vintage (some for as low as $1). They were so nice they threw in a Woz special edition Apple IIGS (see above), a system I had never heard of but came to respect. Carting all this home to Ancient Oaks in Allan's car we then had to cart it all upstairs, plunk it on the floor and voila.. instant museum (or rather, instant silicon junkheap). It takes more than this to create a museum and we invite you to explore our collections and other parts of this site so lovingly created for your nerdly history pleasure. See our pages on the Initiation of the DigiBarn Computer Museum project here.

Building of the DigiBarn Museum Space

Ron Meiners and Friends constructing what was to become the DigiBarn Museum

Wiring of the DigiBarn

The previous year, in the summer of 2000, a construction crew, friends of Ron Meiners and Lee Gilmore did a great job in construction on the three upper story rooms (the former hay loft). This was done in a work-trade swap which led to the wedding of Lee and Ron at the DigiGarden in October of 2000. See our photodocumentation of the construction project here. In the winter of 2001, modern windows were added to the outside of the DigiBarn upstairs rooms giving them a weathertightness necessary for real use. Earlier in 2000 full 100 MB ethernet networking was added to the upstairs rooms. So the space was now ready for use, but for what?

Where is the DigiBarn Headed?

Not Just Another Museum

While I would say we are similar to the mother of all computing museums, the Computer History Museum, in that our goals are to preserve computer history a key difference would be in our somewhat non-museum approach, for example:

  1. We are a 'hands on' place where (at the risk to breaking them) folks come here, boot up the systems, load their software and relive some of their past.
  2. We are about capturing the artifacts in order to capture the stories. For example, when guests come our cameras roll so that we can document the people and their lives behind the machines and software. The machines serve as a memory palace facilitating the recalling of the times and lives of people, especially how they interconnected with other people. This focus on the interweaving of lives and who met who when and why is inspired by James Burkes' connections approach to history.
  3. The last thing is that we are a bit more whimsical than most museums. For example, we are plastering the walls and ceilings with t-shirts because the t shirt is the symbol of nerd-dom and why not surround the museum visitor with it?

Bringing the Little Known Histories to Life

"Official" histories like you might see on "Triumph of the Nerds" leave out 99% of the real life and times, missing the rank and file folks who were hands-on building the industry rather than more well known industry leaders. So we now set about on the grand project of piecing together the little human histories of the birth of personal computing and of cyberspace from the bottom up. It is handy to have all of Silicon Valley just over the hill here, and we do get plenty of visitors. While these folks are still around and so handy we can capture some amazing stories.

So, feel free to read some of our stories, visit our online collections, explore our links, become a friend or visit us sometime or let us know about a dear old computer or other stuff for which you would like to find a home and make a donation. We are often asked if we are a non-profit corporation and for now the DigiBarn is remaining a private collection, although we are looking at establishing a non-profit foundation.

So Why are there ads on the DigiBarn site now?

For years I thought ads would lessen the pure informational value, spirit and intent of the DigiBarn project. However when Google came out with adsense I felt that, finally, someone had created an advanced yet subtle way of presenting sponsored links that I could accept as a part of this project. I have to tell you that this project (website and physical museum) is made possible through a lot of personal keyboard time and physical lifting and that none of this is paid for by anyone or any organization (its all out of the pocket of you-know-who). Occaisionally a kind soul writes a check on a personal level or buys me breakfast or volunteers their skills and time (and for this I am eternally grateful) but there is no other means of support of this effort. I am hoping that our many readers and contributors won't mind the ads, I have tried to make them subtle, and will support the overall concept. I am looking forward to seeing how Google manages to figure out what ads to run on a site which has a reference and content to just about every computer, software, company and such in the entire history of personal and interactive/networked computing!

So Who in Hades is Bruce Damer?

Bruce Damer (that be me, your curator) is a little known follower of the digital age, hopping around to be near the various "hot" spots of computer culture over the past 21 years or so. If you want to find out what my "real life" is like, visit www.damer.com. My path through computing history can be best summed up as follows:

Then I got crazy and started to COLLECT THEM ALL!

So if this doesnt scare you off, I don't know what will! Now ready to come and visit?

Most Sincerely and at your service,

Bruce Damer

Contact us if you have a story to tell, or other information about any topic in computer history, donations of physical artifacts on our wish list (or what you think we need), virtual contibutions such as pictures, movies, documents or text for the web site, to volunteer your time, or to request being signed up on our mailing list (its all on this one handy form).
You can also sign our guest book or sign yourself up on our mailing list to receive our newsletters and news of upcoming events or read about the DigiBarn in the news media and see DigiBarn TV and hear DigiBarn Radio. And of course don't miss our collections!
And our newest feature: the DigiBarn Blog!

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