Preserving and restoring computer history
April 12, 2019 8:01 AM   Subscribe

Marc Verdiell is an engineer with an interest in restoring old computers and test equipment and documenting the process in detailed and fun YouTube videos. He has restored a Xerox Alto, a mechanical calculator from 1956, a Model 19 Teletype, and an HP Spectrum Analyzer, among other things. He often works with colleagues from the Computer History Museum of California, including Ken Shirriff who was recently featured on the blue. The team's current project is restoring an Apollo Guidance Computer, of all things. I never thought there could be so much drama in poking around in aged computers but here we are. (Oh, and he made his own R2-D2. Don't miss Marc's tour of R2LA, featuring adorable children in droids.)
posted by smammy (13 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Been watching CuriousMarc's channel for a while. I really love his series on HP terminals as well - very oddball stuff. Glad to see him in the blue.
posted by cyclotronboy at 8:42 AM on April 12, 2019

Watching him unstick that mechanical calculator with a can of WD40 sitting on the desk caused me actual physical pain.

Farg's ache. If you're unsticking a super complicated machine that's full of stuck parts because all the oil's gone gummy, why would you use a lubricant notorious for gumming up over time, especially on a machine with thousands of joints where the only way to lubricate them is to get in there and oil each one individually?

Tri-Flow, guy! TRI-FLOW! Get some teflon in those bearings! Or something with moly in it! WD40? Aargh!
posted by flabdablet at 9:11 AM on April 12, 2019 [6 favorites]

As much as i probably know less than this guy, i'm with you flabdablet. WD40 is to repairs/maintenance as hot glue is to crafts/costume making. I always find myself going NO STOP or turning off the video the instant i see it.

it isn't even a good penetrating lubricant!! o my god please stop no please!!!
posted by emptythought at 9:25 AM on April 12, 2019

I couldn't find where he used the WD40 but I think of it more as a solvent than a lubricant. In another video he deploys some clock oil which seems more up to the task of lubrication than WD40.
posted by exogenous at 9:26 AM on April 12, 2019

Which absolutely proves my point. The original restoration video was made in 2014; the preparation for Japanese TV one in 2017. So the machine had been in storage for three years since he first restored it, and when he got it out again it was gummed up and had to be re-lubricated.

If he'd used Tri-Flow instead of WD40 in the first place, that wouldn't have happened. Tri-Flow is a very light oil and a tiny amount of paraffin wax in a volatile solvent that also suspends PTFE nano-particles. It penetrates really well - way better than WD40 - because the solvent is very thin. When the solvent dries out, which doesn't take very long even from inside a bushing because it wicks out as the edges dry up, it leaves behind a thin film of PTFE-bearing wax on all the surfaces it's touched. These act as a dry lube that never gets gummy.

WD40 is a water displacement agent, not a lube (the clue is in the name!). It's good for getting wet automotive electricals to work again. Applying it to precision machinery is just offensive.
posted by flabdablet at 10:04 AM on April 12, 2019 [6 favorites]

A professor of the University of Iowa's department of computer science has been documenting the restoration of a DEC PDP-8 that was formerly used by the department of psychology and was designated as surplus until saved by someone who thought the CS department would like it. The computer sat around for a few decades and was again slated for removal, but, "...the CS department realized that restoring this PDP-8 would be an excellent way to celebrate the department's 50th anniversary (the department was founded in early 1965), so the machine was reclaimed from surplus, and on October 24, 2013, it was moved into space in the Communications Center formerly occupied by the Journalism department."
posted by Fukiyama at 10:05 AM on April 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

I’m cool with this being a “Tri-Flow is awesome” thread. (Cause tri-flow is magic awesome)
posted by nikaspark at 11:34 AM on April 12, 2019

Neat! I've been following CuriousMarc since he began filming the Alto restoration project, he features some very nifty vintage tech. Those old clockwork calculators are exquisite.
posted by Hot Pastrami! at 5:07 PM on April 12, 2019

That PDP-8-restoring professor of the University of Iowa's department of computer science is Douglas W. Jones, who has some glorious pages all about Punched Cards, Core Memory, Flexowriters and PDP-8s.
posted by scruss at 8:29 PM on April 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

the alto restoration is amazing. i can't get enough of this. waiting to see if the hard drive will actually boot has me on the edge of my seat! (i am being really serious i know i sound sarcastic but seriously this is so great)
posted by capnsue at 10:51 PM on April 12, 2019

Haven't watched the calculator videos, but have watched the Teletype ones. I'm competent at cleaning/repairing/refurbishing Siemens teletypes - learned as an apprentice - but hats off to anyone who repairs/refurbishes Teletype Corp. machines. I've done a couple, and they're that strange sort of mixture of technical cleverness and absolute WTF that you associate with British design, except horribly American. Never again…

As for Tri-Flow, great stuff, but there's certain places you don't want to use it - sliding bushes and gears on shuttling layshafts, between adjacent intermediate gears, etc. In those positions the wax breaks down under repeated shear & quickly gums up. Unfortunately, teleprinters & mechanical calculators are full of exactly those things.

The historically-used & recommended lubricant - Porpoise Jaw Oil - is, unsurprisingly, no longer available. Fine synthetic clock oil, mixed with some PTFE engine additive (e.g. Nulon E10 or similar, for thickness as required), is the secret I was taught for a suitable substitute.
posted by Pinback at 3:51 AM on April 13, 2019 [5 favorites]

Guess what I'm doing the rest of the weekend?

This is the best wormhole EVER! Thanks!
posted by james33 at 6:36 AM on April 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

Tri-flow is awesome, until it gets near Delrin. It makes Delrin swell and jam in close running tolerances.
posted by scruss at 9:34 AM on April 13, 2019

« Older The Most Interesting Man In Baseball   |   Shopping stopped at Stop & Shop Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments