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Alive 12
Website Review
                             'Binary Dinosaurs'

              "Tracing the history of Home Computing from 1972"
This  is the website for one of the largest and most extensively  documented
private  collections  of old computers around.  It is the sole property  and
concern of Adrian Graham,  aka 'Witchy'.  It started as a joke from his wife
in  1998.  She  remarked,  when  it  was suggested that old  computers  were
collectible,  and worth lots of money, that they could be picked up from any
car boot sale, cheaply. So our hero goes off, and picks up an Enterprise 64,
with  a  boot-print  on the casing!.  He figures out that "If I got  one  of
these, I can get anything!"

"The rest as they say, is expense!" He added.

Now  we  are  at 2005,  and the collecting continued apace.  The  minimalist
Enterprise  64  collection  has  grown since  then.  The  Binary  Dinosaur's
sanctuary  currently  holds 415 machines (provisional  and  likely  outdated
total),  from  72  manufacturers.  In  there  you can find anything  from  a
Magnavox Odessey games console,  to the likes of NeXT Cube,  Amiga 4000, and

Witchy  makes  a  point of doing as much of his  collecting  as  cheaply  as
possible. Most of his acquisitions are items which have been literally given
away to him,  as they were genuinely unuseful,  or taking up space,  or even
slightly dead pending restoration. He is amusingly sceptical of a lot of the
Ebay  collectors  hype.  He  is seen to best effect pouring scorn  on  those
listings with "L@@K!  ULTRA RARE!!!",  or even 'BEYOND RARE!',  whatever the
hell  that  means?  Also common pitfalls of sellers trying to bait  tattered
honey-traps  for unsuspecting collectors might include describing  items  as
'Sinclair era', or the best one, a Vic 20 as coming from the 1960's.

To  get  to  the  meat  of the site,  there  is  a  section  called  "Museum
Inhabitants",  where  all the good stuff is listed by manufacturer.  Easy to
find  for Atari and Commodore,  but you have to think a second for the likes
of Tangerine for the Oric.  Still it is a logical system.  Each manufacturer
has its own sub-directory, with loads of links going off to the hardware and
other items collected for them.  There are copious screenshots,  and many of
the  items  have a story about them,  what condition they came in,  and  how
Witchy came about getting them.

Of immediate interest to the readers of this publication. Of course Atari is
well represented. It comes in with 33 members of that section of the museum.
There is a short potted history of the early days when Nolan Bushnell was  a
boy,  then a listing of what's available. This starts with a revision 1 2600
console,  and  ends  at  the  Jaguar.  It takes in most of the  more  common
consoles and computer models on the way, and some rarer ones like the 1200XL
and the Tramiel era Atari 8086 PC's.  There are conspicuous absentees,  such
as  the  later  Stacey,  Atari TT,  Mega STe and Falcon.  Also,  there is an
unclaimed  world  of  rare prototypes and limited run models,  such  as  the
Falcon Microbox, Panther console, and ST Book. But I guess some of these are
just too rare to get hold of easily?

There  is  also  quite  an extensive collection  of  the  console  cartridge
software,  and  peripherals,  such  as  the various models of data  cassette
recorder, floppy drives, and even an "I love Atari" bag!

It's  not  just  about Atari though,  longtime rivals,  Commodore,  have  45
entries,  including a hobby-build computer from the very early days, the MOS
KIM-1. Their story ends with the Amiga 4000.

There  is  a large range of other manufacturers represented,  with  lots  of
'names' from the 8-bit era, such as Sinclair Research, Amstrad, Dragon Data,
Tangerine  Ltd  (for  the Oric),  and many more.  There are quite a  lot  of
obscure  "no-hit wonders" such as the Open University "Hector"  micro.  (Who
they? - ed.)

There is hours of reading through, casual browsing, and looking longingly at
photos  and screenshots of old machines to keep you happy.  More than enough
for any retro-geek.  I like the style of this site as well. 'Witchy' has put
more  effort than most into his descriptions of the exhibits,  and  displays
lots  of  nice personal touches,  and mini-blogs of his attempts to  restore
some of these machines back to working order. This stands nicely in contrast
with  the  fairly dead and impersonal style of a lot of the  other  'museum'
sites for retro-computers.

The site is attractively laid out too, with a styling owing some inspiration
to  the Mac Classic desktop!  Navigation is dead easy,  from a control panel
near the top of the page, just underneath the title masthead.

Apart  from  the  archive section with the  museum  inhabitants,  there  are
several other areas of interest.  I've already mentioned that Witchy takes a
sideways  look at Ebay auctions.  There is a wish-list of wanted stuff,  and
unsurprisingly, the  Falcon,  Mega  STe and TT are all on there!  There is a
page of links to other computer museums and related sites of interest. There
is also a sub-section with several pages of scans of original advertisements
for  these old computers,  when they first came out,  and all promising that
they,  and no other,  were the last word in hi-tech cool. Ah, how we all kid

There  is also a nice little report,  with many screengrabs,  of the Classic
Gaming  Expo 2004,  I think there should be a similar report for 2005 coming
soon? (hint!)

I  think  it might be appropriate for Witchy himself to sum  up  the  raison
d'etre for this site.

"The question you're all thinking is WHY? and the answer is 'because I can'.
Really  though,  I cut my teeth programming on the Sinclair series from  the
ZX80  upwards (said ZX80 was borrowed off my Physics teacher in 1980  and  I
learned recently that it had bitten the dust a long time ago) and I'm now in
a position to buy all the other machines that were around at the time that I
wanted but couldn't afford, being a humble skoolboy who couldn't be arsed to
get a saturday job."

"Obviously (to me) the museum inhabitants are important historically -  1972
saw  the birth of home video games with the Magnavox Odyssey,  1977 saw  the
release  of  the venerable Atari VCS,  1980 saw the release of the  Sinclair
ZX80 - the first home computer under 99ukp,  1982 saw the first  video  game
market crash and the release of the Sinclair Spectrum, 1985 saw the great UK
home computer market crash as lots of companies ran out of money etc as well
as  the  release of the Commodore Amiga,  Sir Tim Berners-Lee  invented  the
World Wide Web on a NeXT Cube, the list goes on!"

The collection lives in virtual form on the website.  Most of the items have
to  be  packed  away,  owing to lack of space.  Sometimes some of  the  more
interesting  machines  can be seen at places like the Classic  Gaming  Expo.
Witchy's  ultimate aim is for this virtual collection to become real,  if  a
decent chunk of suitable space becomes available.  This is also on his wish-

To conclude,  I  think  this site is one of the best  retro-computer museums
around.   The sheer love of the site's author for his  subject  shines right
through.  For  total entertainment on a rainy day when nothing else seems to
shift the blues, this site cannot be beaten!

And here's the obligatory link.

CiH, for Alive Xmas Special,Dec '05

Alive 12