York’s Computer Museum

When people say “best kept secret” they usually mean “tourist hotspot,” but the computer museum (called The Jim Austin Computer Collection, or the Computer Sheds) in Fimber, about 40 minutes out of York, is York’s best kept secret, and it’s anything but busy. In fact, we should keep it between you and I. I would be pretty sad if it suddenly became a major tourist attraction because as it is, it’s pretty much the best collection of artefacts that I’ve ever seen (and all the guys who keep it running were only too happy to talk computers with our group of 5 people who ventured out of York). I’d wanted to see this collection since 2008, when I first heard about it, but this was my first opportunity to do so, and I’m glad I did (and that I went with a bunch of people who knew more stuff about old computers than I do – and I’m pretty enthusiastic about them).

Jim Austin Computer Collection York Computer Sheds

Jim Austin Computer Collection York Computer Sheds

One of the best things about this place is that it hasn’t had “museum heritage management” done to it yet; it’s still got that sense of discovery, you’re not just seeing what some overpaid museum education officer wants you to see, you get to see everything. And touch some of it (if you’re careful and sensible). There’s other electronic equipment besides computers – televisions, cameras and radio equipment are also represented in the collection.

Jim Austin Computer Collection York Computer Sheds

Jim Austin Computer Collection York Computer Sheds

Jim Austin Computer Collection York Computer Sheds
A 1917-1920 wireless (radio) receiver device.

There’s no cafe, there’s no gift shop, no ticket office, and no twee middle aged women reiterating the same 5 facts every 20 minutes to new tour groups; there’s just boatloads of computers, and the people who love them (and they do actually have a boat). It’s fitting, because that’s really how the whole computer movement has progressed. There are so many stories of “Windows started out as two enthusiastic guys in a garage,”  “Apple started out as three enthusiastic guys in a garage,” and so on, that if this place got the proper museum treatment, I’d be sad.

Jim Austin Computer Collection York Computer Sheds

Jim Austin Computer Collection York Computer Sheds

Jim Austin Computer Collection York Computer Sheds retro motherboard

Jim Austin Computer Collection York Computer Sheds
This unassuming device is what was used to make punch cards (the input in very old computers).
Jim Austin Computer Collection York Computer Sheds punch tape
And this is some punch tape (which would have been done on a different machine to the one pictured above).

The Jim Austin Computer Collection reminds me of why I fell in love with archaeology – and exactly why I have no intention of working in a museum. This stuff is real, it feels real, it’s being taken care of by people who know about it, and I recognized loads of the stuff that was there. More than that, it felt alive. There’s no arbitrary reductionism going on to cheapen the past to make it more palatable for people with short attention spans. I wish I could say the same for most museums.

But if this place did become a ticketed, gift-shopped museum, I think it’s the one museum I’d actually enjoy working at.

I have more photos, but since the majority of my readers are not computer enthusiasts, I shall save them for another time.

If you are in the area and would like to visit the Jim Austin Computer Collection, further details can be found at their website. Personally I found this to be a great day out, although I wouldn’t recommend it for (chronological) children unless they’re sensible and very well behaved. Entry is free but it would probably be polite to get in touch in advance so someone’s there to open up the place for you.

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In Pictures: York Floods Monday 28th December 2015

So I went out a little earlier today and found some even better pictures of the floods.

York floods inventive boat made of oil drums 2015 paddled with shovels spades shopping.
These two lads made this boat out of oil drums lashed together, and they are paddling with garden shovels and are on their way to the supermarket.
York floods inventive boat made of oil drums 2015 paddled with shovels spades shopping.
Another good picture of the boat made of oil drums.
York floods 2015 rescue team in action checking safety flooded underwater disaster pictures
Across the road, a rescue team is going door to door. Phone lines are down across the city, so elderly people are particularly vulnerable.
York floods 2015 rescue team in action checking safety flooded underwater disaster pictures
A much better, more in focus picture of the heroic rescuers, although this one makes it look like they’re on dry land rather than wading through 2 feet of water. They are dragging a boat around with them but I was struggling to get a good shot as I was about 100 feet away and my zoom lens was extended as far as it would go.
York 2015 floods people affected trolley baby possessions.
These people found an abandoned shopping trolley on the street and put their baby and possessions in it before walking past this trolley park of distinctly different trolleys. Still the family looks pretty happy. I guess you would if you spent ages walking around holding stuff then found a trolley.
York historic building damage rowntree wharf floods 2015
Rowntree Wharf, a historic 19th Century building, is underwater and the road has become a river.
York historic building damage York walls floods 2015
The water has travelled higher than the eathen mounds, which are remains of the Roman walls, and has reached York’s Medieval City Walls in places.
York historic building Red Tower damage York historic building floods 2015
This old building, called ‘Red Tower’ was built in 1490, and marks the end of the walls on this side of the city.

After yesterday’s trip around town, I was left worried about the rabbits in pets at home on Foss Islands Road because, while the water hadn’t reached them, it had cut off the whole shopping area from being accessed.
Today, I am pleased to report that the rabbits are all safe and snuggled, some brave members of staff went to Pets at Home today and opened up the shop, and I have photos showing they’re all warm and dry and well-fed:

pets at home safe buns york floods
The bunnies at Pets at Home are being looked after by staff members who braved the floods to ensure the pets all got fed.
york floods 2015 rabbits pets affected
The bunnies at Pets at Home look happy and relaxed in their warm, dry housing, thanks to the amazing effort staff made to travel to and open the store today.
York floods 2015 expensive looking car underwater
In other news, a very expensive looking car with the back window left open for some reason. I hope the council don’t enforce parking tickets until the waters recede.