Wednesday, July 1, 2020

On the closing of Living Computers: Museum+Labs

As you might have heard, Living Computers: Museum+Labs has shut down; its doors will remain closed for at least the next twelve to eighteen months, and the staff is off to find new adventures.

I have had the honor of being an engineer at LCM+L for the last five years and I am still struggling to come to terms with this -- I've had time to let the shock settle in since I heard the news a month ago and I am still unable to really grasp the finality of the situation.  I don't know how to say goodbye.

These past few weeks I have been working on-site at the museum, helping to shut things down in an orderly fashion.  It feels like I'm preparing to bury a close friend, building an ornate wooden box, polishing it, lining it and driving the nails in.  Digging a hole.  Preparing some final words.  

And it really is a living, breathing entity that we're saying goodbye to; this museum is an undertaking that spans decades and has involved the blood, sweat, and tears of every person that has worked here.  It encompasses the souls and dreams and ideas of dozens of dedicated individuals -- educators, engineers, guest services, archivists, curators and benefactors. This museum that we built together has touched many thousands of lives across the world and each of them in turn has added something of their own.  It is meaningful, and it is important.

It hurts to let go, to bury all of this.  

I helped shut the big systems down on Monday with the rest of the engineering staff.  I have never heard the computer room this quiet before.  I'd be lying if I didn't shed a tear when turning Rosencrantz (the VAX, running perpetually for a decade) off, wondering when it would run again. 

Every artifact I look at as I wander through the rows of computers in the museum's basement brings back memories, or a longing for potential now out of reach.  I remember some of the first things I did after joining the team -- restoring the Interdata 7/32 and getting Wollongong V6 UNIX running for the first time and being able to share that with the world was really something else.  Working on the Alto emulator, I found myself chatting with legends from Xerox PARC, an experience that will be tough to top.  In the months before we closed, we all worked together to get V0 UNIX running on our restored PDP-7 and in so doing brought some truly important history back to life.  

I almost got over my fear of public speaking doing our engineering gallery talks and I came to realize that I actually enjoyed it.  I loved chatting with visitors, and the enthusiasm they all had for the place was amazing.  

We all did some amazing things here.  We all have so many stories and memories.  We all have so much to be proud of.

I want to thank all the wonderful folks I worked with at LCM.  This has been the greatest job I've ever had and that's due in no small part to the people I shared it with.  I will miss you all.  I also want to thank everyone who came to visit the museum over these many years -- thank you for letting us share it with you.  I have met so many new people, shared so many stories and have learned so many extremely cool things and I will never, ever forget it.  

Today was my last day.  At 5:45pm I walked out of the doors of the museum for the last time.  The hurt is still here in my heart as I write this but I know things will get better and that I will be able to move on. 

And someday, I hope, the museum will live again.



  1. Sad day- many of the items were from my collection. Hope it survives for technology sake. Sorry to see everyone leave but it must have been a very special ride for you all- not many have had the experience you have had. Thanks Paul (RIP) and hope we can reconvene in the future.

  2. Really sad. Just heard about it. Will the equipment be store and maintained during closure? I hope!!

  3. As a member of the Musée Bolo in Switzerland that is also facing difficulties, I'm quite sad to hear the news. What will happen to the collections?

  4. Former donor, too. And an old-timer who remembers and used many of these machines on day 0. Thank you for bring them to life. They will rise again.

    And I certainly hope and wish the same for you!

    -- pj


  5. This is very sad. We are sorry to see an important establishment in our field in such existential trouble. But from its beginning I worried about whether the financial and organizational mechanisms were in place to have it survive beyond the founder. It is an issue that all small museums face, and there are others in the same boat right now.

    At the Computer History Museum I tried hard over the last 25 years to establish a structure that gives it a chance to survive in perpetuity. Unfortunately that required making compromises that many purists criticize us for. It will take another 50 years to see if we succeeded, and I won't be around then to know.

    Len Shustek, now "Chairman Emeritus" at CHM

  6. Very sad.

    I didn't realize the large machines are going to be shut down.
    I thought remote access will still work (I just got the remote access a month ago to do some experiments).

  7. Maybe a group of tech people could set up a private Foundation and purchase the Museum. Someone could do a GoFund me page for donations too? And employ some of the Museums employees to run it.

  8. I love the place but it's so far away from me in London. I was imagining that when I retire I would move to Seattle and volunteer there. Maybe that could still happen one day.
    Regarding funding, have people contacted the big firms for sponsorship ? They built their worth on the pioneering innovation of the machines you curate. They owe it to their forebears to keep this history alive. Surely Bill Gates could fund this without blinking.

  9. How have tech companies or tech billionaires not stepped up to keep it going? They must have been asked, right?? I know the economy is bad and going to get worse, but this has got to be a pretty small amount compared to what they have

  10. Josh,
    My heart goes out to you and the other staff at LCM. I hope and pray that financial support can come into the Museum and bring all the great old hardware up and running again soon.

  11. Beautiful writing, Josh.

    It is clear that sharing has been the key at the LCM. If we think about it, nothing would be meaningful if not shared.

    Thank you,

  12. Hmm, just logged into Rosencrantz:
    Welcome to Rosencrantz! (VAX 7000-640 @ Living Computer Museum)

    Seems it's up again, at least for now.

  13. I just read the news. As founder and director of the HomeComputerMuseum in the Netherlands I am shocked. Especially because some of our visitors who visited LCM and us told us that we are much alike. When I heard this, I send out an e-mail offering help. Not that I claim to have the ultimate knowledge of building a museum (I'm just a Linux admin originally), but I started the HomeComputerMuseum in 2018 and without any help from sponsors or government money we pay our thousands euros of rent every month, even when corona hit the Netherlands. I found a way and I hoped to be able to tell LCM how I did it, so they could use it. But unfortunately, I never got a reply and perhaps I was already too late. Still, if a computermuseum or any other museum wants to know, just drop me a message via our website (contact form goes to me).

  14. Terribly sad news. So many hours spent sitting in the Totally 80s Rewind area, sharing the experience with our girls. Then upstairs to visit the C64 to write a sprite demo. On the the datacenter room to visit old friends from my early days of computing. This place is a treasure. My hope is that it comes to life again. Thank you, for everything you and your team has done for the community.

  15. The unanswered questions remain: 1) What is the current and future status of LCM 2) If LCM is permanently shuttered, what happens to the assets 3) Has the BOD met recently and come to any conclusions ? 4) Why cannot LCM open and still adhere to CDC (the medical CDC) guidelines ?

  16. This is exceptionally sad news.. visiting the LCM was on my "bucket list" so to speak and I hope to, by some miracle, visit the museum one day... assuming it survives. I too am curious as to what will happen to the equipment at the museum, especially the larger Mainframes and Minicomputers - I sure hope they may their way to other museums. As a collector of Minicomputers, I'd personally like to do whatever I can to save some of these machines from peril as I'm not too far away. As others have suggested, perhaps a GoFundMe or the attention of some wealthy technology enthusiasts may not be a bad idea. Fingers-crossed....