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Walter Bright

Dr. Dobb's Bloggers

Trash and Treasure

November 26, 2008

I've been programming computers for over 30 years now. That means there's a long trail of detritus left behind. I'm a pack rat by nature, so I've wound up with an awful lot of stuff. I've got computers, printers, software, manuals, games, computer magazines, modems, terminals, monitors, laptops, docking stations, drives, floppies, chips, books, etc., all stuffed in the basement, garage, and attic. Nearly all of it is mint and in perfect, but useless, working order.

What do I do with it all?

I could, of course, just throw it all away. But not only can I not escape the feeling that some day I might have a need for it (the thinking part of my brain knows this will never happen), I sometimes wonder if history will be lost if everyone just throws that stuff away.

For example, over on stackoverflow there was a person lamenting the demise of Computer Language magazine, and how all the great articles in it are not available any more in any form. Naturally, I have a stack of Computer Language mags in the attic. In the age of google and everything being available on the internet, CL articles are not. My inclination then is to scan them in, and make them available for free on my web site. But, alas, copyright law prevents this. So the articles will remain lost, unavailable, and useless to all. It's a crying shame.

It isn't just CL. It's PC Tech Journal, PC Magazine, Micro Cornucopia, Creative Computing, BYTE, even PCjr Magazine (!). Ironically, the only mags I threw away are the early PC Magazines, and I recently saw them on Ebay for over $30 each. The early BYTEs which I kept are worthless.

Then there's the software. I have a dozen DOS versions, even DOS 1.0. Lots of old compilers. Windows versions. Utilities. DOS extenders. Games. As far as I can tell, this stuff is worthless.

Hardware? I've got an original IBM PC, a Compaq luggable, and lots of clone machines. I've got early optical drives, floppy drives, laptop docking stations, printers, and even a terminal. The one computer I threw away was a Heathkit H11, and naturally it is quite the prized collectors' item now. The printer for it, a Diablo 630 daisywheel, is in perfect condition, and sounds like Cyd Charisse in Silk Stockings machine-gunning a typewriter when it runs. But, alas, it's worthless.

So what do you do with your old detritus? How do I tell what to keep, what will be a treasure, from what will always be trash? My judgement in the past has been hopelessly deficient.

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