Hidden Boulder Gem: The Media Archeology Lab

IMG_0019_2This is a picture of me completely and unapologetically engrossed in a game of Space Invaders on a VIC 20. Here’s an early commercial for it, featuring the one and only William Shatner.

Several weeks ago the team at the Media Archeology Lab (MAL) celebrated their accomplishments to date by hosting an event – called a MALfunction – for the community. Attendees include founders of local startups, the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences of the University of Colorado, students that are interested in computing history, and a few other friends. The vibe was electric – not because there were any open wires from the machines – because this was truly a venue and a topic that is a strong intersection between the university and the local tech scene.

Recently, Amy and I underwrote the Human Computer Interaction lab at Wellesley University. We did so not only because we believe in facilitating STEM and IT education for young women, but also because we both have a very personal relationship to the university and to the lab. Amy, on a weekly basis, speaks to the impact that Wellesley has on her life. I, obviously, did not attend Wellesley but I have a very similar story. My interest in technology came from tinkering with computers, machines, and software in the late 1970s and early 1980s, just like the collection that is curated by the MAL.

Because of this, Amy and I decided to provide a financial gift to the MAL as well as my entire personal computer collection which included an Apple II (as well as a bunch of software for it), a Compaq Portable (the original one – that looks like a sewing machine), an Apple Lisa, a NeXT Cube, and my Altair personal computer.

Being surrounded by these machines just makes me happy. There is a sense of joy to be had from the humming of the hard drives, the creaking of 30-year old space bars, and squinting at the less than retina displays. While walking back to my condo from the lab, I think I pinned down what makes me so happy while I’m in the lab. An anachronistic experience with these machines are: (1) a reminder of how far we have come with computing, (2) a reminder to never take computing for granted – it’s shocking what the label “portable computer” was applied to in 1990, and (3) a perspective of how much further we can innovate.

My first real computer was an Apple II. I now spend the day in front of an iMac, a MacBook Air, and an iPhone. When I ponder this, I wonder what I’ll be using in 2040? The experience of the lab is one of true technological perspective and those moments of retrospection make me happy.

In addition, I’m totally blown away by what the MAL director, Lori Emerson, and her small team has pulled off with zero funding. The machines at MAL are alive, working, and in remarkably good shape. Lori, who teaches English full time at CU Boulder, has created a remarkable computer history museum.

Amy and I decided to adopt MAL, and the idea of building a long term computer history museum in Boulder, as one of our new projects. My partner Jason Mendelson quickly contributed to it. If you are up for helping us ramp this up, there are three things you can do to help.

1. Give a financial gift via the Brad Feld and Amy Batchelor Fund for MAL (Media Archeaology Lab).

2. Contribute old hardware and software, especially stuff that is sitting in your basement.

3. Offer to volunteer to help get stuff set up and working.

If you are interested in helping, just reach out to me or Lori Emerson.


  • Cecelia Feld

    What a wonderful idea and a great way to clean out your attic or basement. May you live to 120 to look back on today’s technology and smile. We should have a conversation about what equipment we still have that you might want for the MAL.

  • LOL! You’re first computer was an Apple ][. The Apple vs. PC thing was there even then. My first was a TRS-80 Model I followed by the original IBM PC. Maybe that’s the ultimate origin of our different view of things. 😉

    • DaveJ

      Unless I am mistaken, Brad got his Apple in 1978 or so…before the IBM PC existed.

      • Yup – got it in 1978. But it looks like Frank’s first computer was a TRS-80 – which was “one of the other ones” (the third choice was a Commodore – first a PET and then a VIC-20). The other one I remember lusting after was an Ohio Scientific – http://oldcomputers.net/osi-600.html – a friend had one.

        • James Mitchell

          was founded in 1976 and the Apple II was introduced in 1977. (The Apple I was
          not a very usable machine.) So until the IBM PC came out in 1981, IBM was not a
          player. As to the competition Apple had with the other brands (Commodore, PET,
          TRS-80) I never thought of it as serious competition, I could never imagine why
          someone would choose anything other than an Apple II.

      • It was sorta sposda be humor. Guess not…

        • I got the humor – it made me smile!

  • I remember my Vic 20. I had cartridge games, a tape deck, and a modem that allowed me to connect to the Dow Jones and bulletin boards. Ahh memories.

  • James Mitchell

    I have fond memories of earlier computers I used: Digital
    PDP10s, PDP11s and VAXes, as well as the IBM AT. (I skipped the PC and XT
    because I didn’t want to use a PC without a hard drive.) But I don’t want this
    stuff around me. For me, whatever I am currently using is pretty good and
    acceptable and at the same time the absolute minimum horsepower I could
    conceive of using, so apparently I can ratchet up my expectations very quickly.
    What I will find interesting is when do we reach the point where we say, “I have
    all of what I need”? I don’t see that happening for at least 20 years. Right
    now the only real unhappiness I have is that the Internet speeds on my Verizon
    Wireless iPhone are way too slow. Other than that, I am fairly happy.