WDA head office, Paris, May 7, 2011
Mathieu Charreyre founded the WDA association with two friends since childhood in 1996, with the ambition of creating France’s first information technology heritage museum. Today, the WDA’s collection includes several hundred computers, game consoles, calculators, games and programs from the 1970s to the present day. Over time, the WDA and its members have developed a wide range of activities and services based on their experience of restoring and repairing computers. Emanuel Lorrain (PACKED vzw) met Mathieu Charreyre to learn how the WDA manages the preservation and repair of their devices. During the interview, Mathieu Charreyre was briefly joined by Olivier Lippmann, a member of the WDA since 2009, and who has provided the association with his help and knowledge in the field of electronics.
PACKED: Could you tell us about your career and the birth of this collection?
Mathieu Charreyre: I am self-taught and I have been working in the field of information technology since I was 15, starting as a salesman in a computer shop in Paris. At that time, information technology was a world of enthusiasts and I met a lot of people who went on to become important figures in what would later be the sector of French-speaking Internet. In 1995, I worked for the first public Internet service provider in France: CalvaCom, then in 1996, I was the 20th employee of the company: Club Internet, which then had only been in activity for two months. I worked there from 1996 to 2001, first as a technician and then ending up as the manager of the Call Centre’s computer network. At the same time, I created the WDA association in 1996 that was initially based on a private collection that I had started with two of my childhood friends in 1988. By means of the WDA, I successively created two companies, in 2001 and 2005, that weren’t really a success. Today, a third ersatz of a commercial project; a service company based upon the knowledge of the members and on the resources of the WDA, is about to be set up. However, we want the heart of the WDA to remain voluntary and all these projects are aimed at supporting the unpaid voluntary activities of the association.
PACKED: Where is the WDA situated in the landscape of computer collections?
Mathieu Charreyre: In France, there are four major collectors with an associative status: Aconit1 in Grenoble, Silicium2 in Toulouse, and MO53 and WDA in Paris. Despite being younger, the MO5 association is better known to the general public than WDA. Aconit aims to become a true foundation, and possesses a major collection of electromechanical objects: these are very large computers.
PACKED: Are there connections between these different collections?
Mathieu Charreyre: Yes, there are some connections and the WDA is for example both a partner and a member of the Aconit. Since 2009 I’ve been trying to create what I call the “European Network for the Sustainability of Digital Heritage & of Collections”, in partnership with the CNAM4, the BNF5, the CNRS6, the Cité des Sciences7, the Bolo8 Museum in Switzerland and a number of other persons and associations. The idea behind this network is to try to unite all the collectors, whether they are private individuals, professionals or non-profit organisations like our own, so that everyone can specialise and excel in his own field.
PACKED: What do you imply by “to specialise”?
Mathieu Charreyre: I mean that everyone must emphasize their own particular know-how. One of the problems with the WDA is that its collection has become too generic, and this is why we regularly cut down on the size of the collection. In 2007, we had more than 900 pieces, and now we are down to 600 pieces, because we are trying to keep only the pieces that will be of real historic importance in the future. All of these collections and associations should cooperate and work intelligently. This is why the WDA pays annual membership fees to all these different associations. I launched the network so that even the personal collections of enthusiasts who don’t see the value of their collection can be connected. Someone who has gathered a collection over a period of several years may find that they have splendid pieces, which are impossible to find today. When these private collectors stop collecting for one reason or another, the network must act like a sort of safety net to avoid these pieces being thrown away. Instead, it will be possible to redistribute them inside the network.
PACKED: How did you start collecting?
Mathieu Charreyre: Like all the other nostalgic thirty-something collectors of today, we started buying the devices we wanted but could not afford when we were children. We started by buying what we could find on flea markets, even if it was in poor condition, and then we swapped these for machines that were more recent or in better condition. Sometimes, when this was possible, we would merge two machines to obtain one good one, whilst trying to respect the serial number and trying not to separate a machine from its box. We wanted the machine to have the same serial number and the motherboard9 to have the same date in the serial number.
After a while, we ended up getting all the machines we wanted and the collection was then going in too many different directions. In a bit of a compulsive manner we found ourselves with almost the entire Apple collection in 2007, which meant more than 130 different pieces. Then it appeared to us that it was useless to keep certain pieces that weren’t really of interest. We had almost every model and we decided to concentrate on the real innovations and important technical changes, and forget the modifications that were more of a response to the commercial factors of the time.
PACKED: Apart from direct purchase, how do you get all this equipment?
Mathieu Charreyre: In France, companies generate a lot of digital waste and because of this, they are subject to being fined. To these companies, we offer an attractive alternative; they give us their waste and we keep the parts that interest us. All the rest gets sent to what we call the « junk room ». These types of donation arrive four to five times per week and we turn down about the same amount. This can also be an advantage for their accounts, because it is considered to be a donation to a non-profit organisation. A number of private individuals also bring us pieces and it is often them who bring us the most interesting pieces, and in the best condition. Very quickly, we realised that rather than visiting second-hand traders where the dealers were already making lots of money by selling any old thing, we simply had to be patient. Three months ago, an eighty year old lady came in to bring us a great number of new games consoles still wrapped, which had never been opened, including a completely new Nintendo NES10, a number of Game and Watch11 and still more new consoles and Olivetti12 computers. All these machines were in perfect condition and I was really curious to find out where they had come from. In fact, she and her husband had played all the competitions they’d come across in magazines for 20 years, and they would often win and there was a room in their house dedicated to prizes from magazines: television sets, cameras, etc. For sixteen years now, we have been well known as a non-profit organisation, and people are starting to realise that we take care of these items, and that when they are brought here they are in good hands. It is also the last free and voluntary junk service in the region around Paris.
PACKED: Is this why you have to refuse certain offers of equipment?
Mathieu Charreyre: Yes, because our offer to companies and to individuals is to recover their computer equipment, whatever this may be, in exchange for a signed piece of paper including the serial numbers of the machines testifying that they made a donation to the association. In the 1990s, this system allowed us to obtain some beautiful pieces from companies, but since 2000 we recover almost entirely “disposable” equipment, which is of no use to us at all.
PACKED: How do you handle these multiple deposits that are of no use to the collection?
Mathieu Charreyre: Less than 1% of the equipment we receive goes to the tip. This is possible thanks to the partnerships and exchanges with other collectors that we’ve known for nearly 20 years. When it involves old items and I have a double, we will try to do a swap. All the pieces that have no historical value and that are considered to be disposable are given away. If it is very recent equipment, that is to say less than five years old, it will be restored by the volunteers of the association in exchange for financial compensation. This compensation represents between 40 to 60% of its generally quoted value. Any equipment that is of historical value will be refurbished according to WDA standards and offered to other collectors for exchange. We do not sell collectors items, as we do not wish to outbid the prices practiced by certain dealers.
PACKED: Which machines do you consider to be “disposable”?
Mathieu Charreyre: The term “disposable” is not necessarily derogatory; it designates the equipment that from the WDA’s perspective is of no particular interest, because it is part of a commercially mass-produced series. They are neither rare pieces, nor are they of any historical interest. For example, the Optiplex by Dell13 that we received recently are machines that, after just one year, could be found in all companies, whilst making a fortune for Dell. However, it is not the first model of its kind, and it is of no interest to us. What’s more, these computers use plastic, aluminium and electronics that are very low-grade. It’s this type of computer that we will quickly refurbish and pass on so we can receive other donations. It is essential for the WDA that the donation/refurbishing process be completed quickly. First of all, we check if the machine works and if it doesn’t work we recover certain parts.
PACKED: Are computers such as the iMac G314, which were also very popular, also considered to be disposable?
Mathieu Charreyre: In 2007, we possessed almost the entire Apple range, including these iMac G3s in “5-flavors”, that is to say in all the different colours in which they were sold. After a cut in the Apple collection, we decided to keep only the Bondi-Blue, which was the first model in this translucent iMac G3 series. There is such a large number of models, which differ only by the capacity of their hard-drive or their colour, and the logistics that would have to be deployed in order to try and freeze and preserve each one of these machines would be too great, especially with cathode ray tubes. Cathode ray tubes are very complicated things to preserve. For the Amstrad computers for instance, instead of having the same monitor in as many examples as there were different Amstrads, we keep only one of each model compatible with several generations of computers.
PACKED: So you do not keep one monitor for each base unit?
Mathieu Charreyre: No, we have neither the time nor the space to do that. It also depends on the machine to which the screen corresponds. Recently, we received a Micral15, which is a very beautiful piece for our collection. We received the original monitor at the same time, and we are going to preserve the set. Unfortunately, we do not have enough room to keep two examples of each monitor. Out of the 600 pieces we preserve, the monitors are not even counted because they are considered to be accessories, just like keyboards or mouse devices. For the WDA, a collection piece is a machine: a calculator, a games console, a computer or a telephone. For the monitors, we simply try and keep the one that is in the best condition and can be preserved for longest. At the present time, CRT monitors are a major issue, because it is very complicated to freeze them. For the WDA, the machine is often more interesting than the monitor, and this determines our priorities. If the machine has to work for a test, I think that it will always be possible to emulate or to recover the video signal to re-display it on more recent monitors or with different displays that will exist in the future. However, even for the computers, we still have choices to make
PACKED: What steps do you take to slow the deterioration of the tubes?
Mathieu Charreyre: We discharge the tube so that there isno longer an electric current in it.
PACKED: How do you store the documentation related to the equipment?
Mathieu Charreyre: The association has a local server that stores digital copies of all the electronic and wiring diagrams that we have on paper, as well as all the documentation that we recover directly in digital form from the web.
PACKED: Do you have a virtual library for the documentation?
Mathieu Charreyre: Yes, we keep both the digital and paper versions. For the collection, we want to keep the object as it was when it was sold with all the original elements. This includes the box and the manuals, if they were provided with the machine. For Alice computers made by Matra16 for example, we preserve the device with all the technical and electronic diagrams that were supplied with the machine as standard.
PACKED: So you preserve the machine in the state in which it was sold?
Mathieu Charreyre:Yes, and we neither add nor remove anything. For example, Oric Atmos17 computers would start up as soon as they were plugged in, and had to be unplugged to switch them off. Later on, a little switch placed between the Oric Atmos and the power supply was offered as an option, although the computer was still delivered without this as standard. Despite the fact that we have recovered several of these switches thanks to the CEO18, we do not preserve them with the computers. Unlike the manuals, they are preserved separately.
PACKED: So, the computers are always stored in their original packaging?
Mathieu Charreyre: Yes, and we avoid stacking the boxes one on top of another because they can sometimes be fragile. In the case of the Matra Alice, for both the 32 and the 90, it is the French cartoonist Moebius19 who designed the computers and the graphic style of the documentation. The boxes in which these computers were sold were sort of red suitcases similar to the cases in which Hilti sold their screw guns. These are sturdy boxes, but because there is a drawing by Moebius on them, we have covered them to protect them and avoid any scratches. The resin used to make the box is not of very good quality and so we have wrapped it in cellophane to slow its decomposition as much as possible.
PACKED: Which types of services does the WDA carry out for other collections or persons?
Mathieu Charreyre: Mainly restoration. In 2007 for example, in collaboration with the Aconit, we restored some machines for a commercial for Renault. The Aconit provided the equipment and we provided our know-how in the restoration of materials, because since 2005, we have carried out a large number of non-aggressive restoration tests on plastics, polymers and other resins used in the manufacturing of equipment. We use products that we have tested on a selection of plastics and resins over a period of more than ten years. As a consequence, I sometimes do auditing and restoration of certain private collections. Certain other computer collectors have implemented de-yellowing processes that are very aggressive on the plastics and accelerate their deterioration in two or three years. The plastic recovers its whiteness, but it becomes so porous and fragile that it then breaks very easily. I think that you have to be able to accept that unfortunately, certain plastic surfaces will yellow a bit. It is the case for Amstrad20 monitors that have always been manufactured out of low-grade plastic. Of course, you should restore them when you can, but it is important that this doesn’t reduce their life expectancy. What we try to do at the WDA is to freeze them in time as much as possible to avoid having to intervene afterwards.
PACKED: Do you also have techniques to “isolate” the electronics?
Mathieu Charreyre: When a machine is taken into the collection, whether it’s a computer, a games console, a calculator or a telephone, we immediately isolate everything that can be considered to be flammable such as capacitors or batteries. The objective is always to try and freeze the machines in time.
PACKED: What does to “isolate” a component in a computer signify?
Mathieu Charreyre: In the case of capacitors, this means unsoldering them and for batteries, this means removing them entirely and storing them separately in an airtight package. The goal is to remove any electrical activity from the device to protect it from any premature ageing of the components. In this manner for example, you avoid alkaline battery leaks that can cause terrible damage by attacking the plastic of the machines. About ten years ago, we lost some very beautiful pieces because of this. A leaky capacitor can also have catastrophic consequences, if the liquid attacks the resin of the PCBs21. Depending on the type of resin, the plastic will then become porous, rubbery or change colour, etc…
PACKED: Does all the equipment go through this process of isolating the components?
Mathieu Charreyre: Certain types of equipment are less problematic such as calculators and mobile phones, for example. However, at the same time we have had problems with old liquid crystal displays that leaked. Each time, we must think of solutions to avoid this type of thing, but it is often on an ad hoc basis, there is no standardised approach. We try and freeze the machine as much as possible, and when the device must be used, we will re-solder the components to put it back into working order.
PACKED: There are a lot of capacitors in a computer; which ones do you remove?
Mathieu Charreyre: The ones that are most likely to be faulty, for example all those that are linked to the regulation of the voltage of the different electronic components of the computer. They always keep a little bit of power in them and present a potential risk. Amongst these, accumulators are the most dangerous, that is to say batteries and rechargeable storage batteries, including the ones that are soldered onto the motherboard. A battery that is not used and left inside a machine will start to leak in less than ten years, whatever the conditions of storage.
PACKED: Have you also developed strategies for the metal parts of the computers?
Mathieu Charreyre: We have worked on different processes for metal and iron oxide such as the removal of rust. This is something we have worked on with the Aconit, because it is a major problem with their collection. Our collection includes mainly items made of plastic in that the oldest ones date back to the early 1970s. The Aconit, on the other hand, collects items, some of which were produced in the 1950s and 1960s. But the IBM PS/122 for example is made only of metal and this is also the case for the IBM PCs of the 1980s. These are machines that weigh 30 kilos and rust loves this kind of metal and becomes one of the main problems. Each time, for metals as for plastics, we carry out tests.
PACKED: What other types of problems do you encounter?
Mathieu Charreyre: There are also problems with mechanical parts because in the large disc players, there are belts made of rubber that becomes porous. For this, there isn’t really any solution unfortunately. The WDA has a large collection of modems, some of which work with membranes, because these were acoustically coupled modems working by means of modulation. These acoustic membranes, which were used to reduce ambient noise, were made of rubber. Whenever possible, we try to preserve them by storing them almost in a vacuum.
PACKED: Does this mean that you remove the belts from the machines?
Mathieu Charreyre: Yes, because otherwise there is a risk that they might disintegrate. We try to find two or three other belts that will be compatible even if these are not originals, and to this aim reference lists are very useful. We wrap all the belts in cellophane and they are put away in the box with the machine. Within the network of collections, we used to be partners of an association called CPC Hardware. This association had developed real expertise in the domain of electromechanical restoration of Amstrad CPCs: the electronics, the floppy disc drives and cassette players… They had recovered the references for the different models and evolutions of the Amstrad CPC and bought large quantities of belts from a factory in Germany, which made these with the right tension and the right length, despite not being originally intended for Amstrad computers.
PACKED: Are associations such as this what you consider to be specialists?
Mathieu Charreyre: Yes, just as the European Oric Committee (CEO) specialises in Oric computers. There are three Oric computers in all: the Oric Atmos, the Oric-1 and the Oric Telestrat. The members of the CEO are experts on these computers; they are between fifty and sixty years old and they know them perfectly. They have an electronics engineer called Jean Boileau, and each time one of our Orics needs to be maintained, we entrust him with it rather than tinkering with it ourselves. He unsolders each component and tests them one by one. He unsolders certain chips and adds a rack so they can later be removed much more easily. He will unsolder any chips or EPROMs and add a rack to them so they can be plugged into the card more easily. The CEO has modified all of our Orics in this manner, and all of the chips can be isolated, including those that hold the ROM. We prefer to entrust them to specialists, based on the idea of a network.
PACKED: Apart from these associations, are there also governmental initiatives with which you collaborate?
Mathieu Charreyre: We have attended several of the meetings held by the curators of digital heritage of the CNAM as guests to express our point of view. The issue that was raised was how to be sure that the equipment preserved in the basement of the CNAM will be in the same condition in 50 years. My opinion is that not only will we never be sure, but also we can be sure that it won’t be. Then, the BNF (National Library of France) approached the WDA as part of the project they called ‘the acquisition of video cultural heritage’. This involves all kinds of software: programs, games, drivers, etc, which we regularly supply them with for all kinds of platforms and on all kinds of media, whether these are cassettes, tapes or CDs, etc. The BNF sends us request lists on which we base our work. The BNF works to very strict standards and wishes to preserve absolutely everything, including the anti-copy protections, etc. Vincent Joguin, who was president of the Aconit, developed Disk2FDI23, a program that allows media from different platforms to be recovered: Apple, Amiga, etc. and to create from this an archive containing the data. Like its name implies, Disk2FDI creates files in FDI format. It’s a program that has been approved by the BNF and we own a complete licence, which is very useful to us, although we do use other programs so that we are not dependent of a single standard.
PACKED: It is a program that allows data from different media to be recovered?
Mathieu Charreyre: It is a rather complex and restrictive software and hardware platform in the sense that you need a machine of a certain type and there are rules that must be respected so that the data can be saved. We have set up a standard machine that allows us to recover data from about twenty different media. These FDI Rips were thought out to be as sustainable and as portable as possible. Vincent Joguin was closely involved with questions of sustainability and he is a collaborator of the European project KEEP24 of which the BNF and the CNAM amongst others are participants, and which aims to create a portable emulation core. The idea of this core is to make existing emulators and future emulation solutions as durable as possible. However, the initial data remains essential and it is important to take care of it, because floppy disks,audiocassettes as well as other types of tape become faulty very quickly.
PACKED: Is the transfer and recovery of data from legacy storage media a service offered by the WDA?
Mathieu Charreyre: Yes, three weeks ago for example, we recovered some data that was stored on SyQuest 44Mo25 disks. We possess more than 200 different drives, and this is something we are asked to do more and more frequently. However, there are media such as certain 8” disks that are very complicated to transfer, because there are several different 8” drives and also because, depending on the platform used - whether it is Datamaster26 or something else – the sectors are formatted differently. Adjusting this takes a long time.
PACKED: Does the WDA often participate in exhibitions by lending equipment?
Mathieu Charreyre: In 2007 we were able to produce an exhibition called L'Homme Nomade at the town hall of Boulogne, which included just under 130 items. Generally speaking, we do not do exhibitions if our demands cannot be fulfilled. For example, having PVC of sufficient thickness to protect the machines against ultraviolet rays, and having no direct sunlight on the computers, or having the machines arranged at a certain distance from the audience so that people cannot touch them, etc. Unfortunately, it is rarely possible for all of these conditions to be met and in this case, I pass on these requests for exhibitions to other collectors who might be interested. The idea of the WDA has always been to work in a durable way. We haven’t been collecting machines for the past twenty years just to see them cease working in ten years time.
PACKED: If a museum has a problem with a device, can they contact the WDA to obtain a machine, spare parts, or assistance in repairing a faulty appliance?
Mathieu Charreyre: Yes, the WDA offers maintenance services for private individuals and for companies. As well as our collection, we possess millions of spare parts for a great variety of equipment. Thanks to the experience we have acquired over time, we are starting to realise that 60% of the time, such or such a defect is the most common on a given machine. For example, on a particular generation of iMac G527, well-known failures are the capacitors of what is called the VRM (Voltage Regulator Module). In the same way, each device has its Achilles’ heel and for our collection we have set up strategies for preventive conservation. For example, the Silicon Graphics O228 has a very fragile CD slot and we remove it from all the units that we conserve. On the other hand, faulty capacitors such as those of the iMac G5 are simply removed because we consider them as interchangeable components.
PACKED: Certain technicians have a tendency to think that it is preferable to switch equipment on from time to time, notably to keep the capacitors in good condition?
Mathieu Charreyre: Yes, there are indeed several schools of thought, but I would think that if an object is inert and that all that is in some way “alive” in the object is removed, then this inertness will allow it to be preserved for longer. Capacitors are considered to be consumables, so I prefer to remove them to be sure. By default, we do not trust the capacitors, although we keep the originals once they have been removed. The capacitors are not rare components, apart from the very big ones; they are always easy to find. In the meantime, we isolate the capacitors from the machines simply to avoid them ageing inside the device and seriously deteriorating it. Manufacturing plays an important role in the ageing of components. We recently received a stock of computers from an insurance company that had bought machines assembled in China with no brand. The computers were only 5 to 7 years old and all the capacitors on the motherboards were faulty. In a similar computer sold by Dell at around the same time, the capacitors were often still in perfect condition, whereas these ones had literally exploded. Olivier Lippmann: Chemical capacitors are the components that are the most prone to having their characteristics degrade over time. Indeed, inside, there is a sort of liquid or acid gel, and with time this product ends up slowly evaporating, as the rubber seal through which the terminals protrude is no longer airtight. In the worst case, the liquid may leak and corrode the components situated around it or attack the tracks of the circuit board. Even without being used, a capacitor bought new and stored in the right conditions will have problems after about thirty years. There are also dry capacitors consisting of an insulator placed between two sheets of aluminium. This is soaked in a resin and is normally completely inert. Over a period of several decades, this resin ends up losing its qualities and depending on the function and location of the capacitor, you might face major damage caused by the explosion of the component. For a tutorial on the WDA forum, I repaired a power supply and on the photos you can clearly see that the capacitor has split and burst open.
PACKED: Can applying voltage help it last longer?
Olivier Lippmann: It all depends on the way in which it is used, but I would think that the more voltage and electric current flowing through a component, the more it will suffer and age more quickly. This is particularly true when this type of component is used in switched-mode power supplies.
PACKED: Are capacitors the most unstable components?
Olivier Lippmann: Yes, in particular when they are used in environments with high power and/or high frequencies (video, power supplies, emitters, etc.). By comparison, a resistor changes little, as it is simply made of carbon or metal film. However, after a certain number of hours of use, even the resistors that have an impressive life span will wear out if they are used under high voltage or intensity, this is the case in switched-mode power supplies – that is to say all power supplies today – which are small but submitted to very high power. There are high peaks in the electric current and voltage, which end up wearing the component prematurely. In poor-quality power supplies, 1 to 2W resistors are used whereas they require a capability of 5W. They work for six months and end up burning and cutting out. As for PCBs, it greatly depends on the way in which they were built. Old PCBs or transistors, if they are stored in dry conditions and without static electricity, can be preserved for a long time. On the other hand, I have already seen rusty terminals in certain second rate circuits of low-cost manufacture.
PACKED: After a certain amount of time, the components lose their stability, as it were?
Olivier Lippmann: Yes, indeed. To begin with, the component is designed to deal with a certain voltage or a certain current. Over time, it loses its original characteristics and endures an ever lower amount of power, and then it eventually burns out.
Mathieu Charreyre: As I was saying earlier, each device has its Achilles’ heel, and to improve our knowledge of these, we organise reviewing sessions. It was in organising one for Apple IIs29 that we noticed, for example, that there was a problem with the power supplies.
Olivier Lippmann: When we plugged in the screens, they would work for a short time then suddenly, a bit of smoke would appear and the fuses would trip. Systematically, a capacitor of the power supply would stop working because of the intense current running through it. It is a well-known and recurrent problem of Apple IIc monitors, which were built by a subcontractor that had used components that didn’t respect certain standards. In the best case it trips the mains, and in the worst case it burns.
PACKED: Could one say that the smaller and denser the electronics become, the harder it is to retain the stability within a device?
Olivier Lippmann: Indeed, the smaller the components and circuits are, the harder it becomes to manufacture them and the less tolerant they are. Another consequence of miniaturisation is that all the electronic components are much closer to each other. Twenty years ago, a capacitor with the same specifications was four times the size of the same capacitor manufactured today. It is the same for PCBs; in thirty years the transistor count of integrated circuits has gone from a few thousand transistors to several hundred million in the same space! As a consequence, the power required to supply these circuits is also on the increase and today it is almost essential to allow for meticulously designed cooling systems, without which the circuits would only work for a few more seconds before burning out. Today, manufacturing an integrated circuit is top-flight chemistry because the distances between the elements are tiny: just a few nanometres. A processor manufactured thirty years ago and preserved in the right conditions will probably work with no problems in thirty years’ time, whereas a processor built today and preserved in similar conditions; I wouldn’t bet my life on it. There are metals that interact with each other and a large number of chemical phenomena that take place. If we compare this with the automobile industry, a car built 50 years ago was heavier and was less spacious, but it was more robust or, in any case, very easily repaired. Today, a car will hardly run for three or four years without any problems. One of the reasons for this is that there are a lot more electronics in a modern car and a car is subjected to conditions of humidity, of hot and cold that repeatedly cause thermal and mechanical shocks that subject the components to high stresses.
PACKED: Do microchips also change over time? Can the information they contain disappear?
Mathieu Charreyre:Up to now, we have observed that the life expectancy of the chips is fairly good. It is rare for us to have machines in which the ROM30 no longer works. It happens, but it’s rare. Because this type of component is vulnerable to light as well as certain electromagnetic currents, we have dumps, which are Rips of these ROM we preserve. What’s more, the chip itself can be replaced by another, as long as the capacity and the dimensions are identical. If you download the dump to it, it will work; the chip is just a storage device, just like a floppy disk.
PACKED: Some of the problems that electronic equipment encounters would seem to be linked to the conditions of storage. Where and how are your machines stored?
Mathieu Charreyre: Between our various outbuildings, we have a total of 230m3 of storage, shared between different locations. Some are in the South of France, and certain machines are distributed between the different members of the association. The storage places are also selected depending on the immediate need we may have for spare parts. These places must not be too dry, but above all they must not be damp and it is of course essential that they are weatherproof. Good ventilation is important and ideally, all the parts should be placed next to each other without touching, but this requires a lot of space.
PACKED: How is the collection referenced?
Mathieu Charreyre: The website and the association’s cataloguing are done in PHP31MySQL is a relational database management system (RDBMS). Depending on the type of use, it is open source or proprietary. It is one of the most widely used database management systems in the world, both by private individuals (mainly for web applications) and by professionals, and it competes with Oracle and Microsoft SQL Server. Source: Wikipedia.with a MySQL32 database, including the forum. For each entry, there are several fields: type, category, inventory number, condition, identity of the donator, if it is a swap, etc. The number and the type of fields depend on the category in which the item is, depending on if it is a games console, a processor, a computer, a program, a game, etc. Some of these fields are visible externally when you visit the WDA website, others are not.
PACKED: What type of information is not made public?
Mathieu Charreyre: The “restoration”, “maintenance” and “cleaning” fields for example, because they include the brand names of products we use, which are only available internally for the association’s members. You would also find the date at which a treatment was started, finished and in what way; for example: treating rust on the screws, unfinished reassembly or a swap of ports, etc. This can allow us to know if the plastic has been damaged due to a certain treatment, amongst other things. However, other information is available regarding the restoration of the machines. For example, the “acquisition” field regroups the photos of the notable donations that are made to us, that is to say those that contain interesting objects. I reuse these photos to compare their condition before and after restoration. There are also links between certain machines in the database and the forum if it contains an interesting relevant resource. For example, when a restoration work has been done, I find that it is interesting to link the description and the corresponding discussion in the forum to the device’s page.
PACKED: This is one way of preserving the WDA’s knowledge. In what other ways do you preserve this knowledge?
Mathieu Charreyre: I have not yet tackled the question of knowledge as an issue of utmost importance for the WDA, considering that I’m only 35 years old, but it’s true that we will have to think about this. From time to time, we have interns, which we teach certain things, which allows some of our experience to be passed on. I do also record interviews of certain collectors with my dictaphone. For the time being, this documentation is not very organised, these are simply audio files that are stored on the association’s server. For example, I did this for a TRS-8033 collector and for someone close to the Fédération des Équipes Bull34, to whom I asked several questions. These individuals are starting to become old, and it would be a shame if their know-how, their anecdotes, and what they can tell us about the history surrounding a machine were not well documented.