[rescue] Private collections for the public good? (Was: Cheapest Cray?)

Skeezics Boondoggle skeezics at q7.com
Mon Apr 26 18:38:35 CDT 2004

On Mon, 26 Apr 2004, Jonathan C. Patschke wrote:

> I mean, the concept would be so cool:  Privately fund it, and have it
> open to anyone in Austin to play with for a modest donation, on the
> honor system.  Hell, reserve cray.ci.austin.tx.us for it.  Support it by
> selling "My other workstation is a CRAY" bumper stickers or whatever.

I was thinking about putting up some silly designs on cafepress for a few
fundraising items of that nature... and forming a non-profit so that I
could start some kind of interactive museum... I should try to hook up
with Paul Pierce, the guy here in Portland that has the massive collection
of old IBM iron...

> Rather than being a dusty rusty piece in a private computer collection,
> it could be an active member of the computing community in Austin.

That's the great fun, for me, in collecting old machines - getting them
running their "native" software again.  It's also why I get upset at
people who want to run Linux or *BSD on every box they acquire ("to make
them useful again") - part of preserving history is showing that today's
machines and software all have roots, and that keeping some funky/obscure
OS alive is just as important as the funky/obscure hardware.

(My take on the Java thing is "gee, a type-safe 'C' on top of a byte-code
interpreter for portability?  25 years ago we called that 'Pascal' and the
UCSD P-system." :-)  Heh heh.)

> I would -GLADLY- donate my time and energy to maintain it if we could
> get them to come off it.

Having just had one job wind up - most of the equipment is shipping out
this week - I just found out that my fallback/part-time job is about to go
away too.  After June 30, I'll probably be looking at unemployment, and to
be honest, I'm kinda welcoming it - I'm in dire need of a vacation... but
after that, I'll have to find some income generating activity again.  

Anyway, Dave commented a week or two ago about how it sucks to have to
spend so much time scrounging to make a living, when there are so many
more interesting projects to be working on.  I've been thinking about that
too, and how cool it would be if there were some way to form a grass-roots
organization that would create fellowships, so that people with
interesting ideas could take 6-12 months with a reasonable salary to work
on some idea, without having to scrounge around for living expenses.

I'm thinking it could be some sort of a not-for-profit foundation, an idea
incubator, where we bootstrap it ourselves and own shares and vote on the
list of candidates and ideas to fund.  It could operate like a VC fund,
where in the case that a funded idea turned into a profitable enterprise,
the foundation would receive a modest return on the investment, which
would then help fund future ideas.

The main thing is:  NO SUITS.  We'd hire the most non-suit suit types we
know to handle some of the legal/accounting BS, but for the most part this
would be a highly democratic, somewhat "blue collar" kind of organization.  
We'd pick the ideas based on technical merit or usefulness, not on whether
some marketing guy thinks they could make a fortune on it.

I'd love to have a year to develop some ideas, putting the CS6400s online
and making them accessible to the public.  In my ideal world, they'd be
_visible_, too - like, in a cybercafe where people could actually log in
and play, with the machines humming away behind the big glass wall, and
coffee/sandwiches/t-shirts/mugs/etc. could help defray the operating

I'd love to be able to build a proper datacenter space that could house
other people's machines too, sort of a regional self-funded
"supercomputing center" not reliant on federal dollars, but for
applications like games, rendering, science apps, teaching, etc. -
something the average geek could get into, not just modeling nuclear
blasts or fluid dynamics or doing weather prediction or other high-end
stuff that is typically too remote.  I bet local schools could come up
with all kinds of interesting experiments that kids could run, and use a
block of cycles to run their stuff.

As an aside:  I was thinking the other day about what would happen to all
my stuff if I got hit by a bus.  I suppose I could pick one of the
existing computer museums around the country, and instruct the executor of
my will to offer my machines to them.  Or have the foundation be the
beneficiary, since I'd rather that people interested in _running_ the gear
would have the opportunity to keep them alive, not just pushing them off
into a dusty warehouse or some static exhibit somewhere.

I just wonder if there's some way to get a grant or some private
investment or donations to get something like that off the ground.  After
four years of running my own shop, I've been so spoiled - I'm virtually
unemployable at this point. :-)  The notion of going back to fix someone
else's busted network and be micromanaged to death by some PHB makes me
utterly cringe.

Nobody's doing startups anymore... The Solaris/UNIX world continues to
give ground to Linux/Windows attrition, and I feel like a real dinosaur
these days.  Who needs an architect, an infrastructure guru, when you can
throw mountains of cheap crap at every problem and call it "good enough"?  
With the notion creeping in that systems administration means running some
"rpmup2date" weekly cron or clicking on Windows Update when the
hole-of-the-day is announced, we're sliding back into that pre-Y2K level
of disrespect and misunderstanding, and salaries offers are already
showing it.  I've probably forgotten more about operating systems and
programming and systems architecture than half the junior trade-school
sysadmin types out there will ever learn... [Think about how many people
set their terminal preference to VT100 emulation, for instance, and don't
have the slightest clue what a VT100 was or why they need to emulate


Just tossing out some ideas.  I should probably update the ol' resume
(been heel dragging on that) but I might, just for giggles, make a few
calls or send a few letters and see what starting a computer history
foundation would entail.  Getting our collections out of the garage or
basement and in front of the public (on the web or in a storefront or
interactive exhibit of some kind) would be a pretty neat enterprise.  My
old PERQ demos would totally blow minds. :-)

-- Chris

More information about the rescue mailing list