Modeling Computers on Omeka

Draft of an Omeka Display for Computer Hardware
Draft of an Omeka Display for Computer Hardware

This week I’ve been working with Omeka a good deal, experimenting with an approach to modeling and documenting a computer system through it.

I see two “issues” presently. The first is what metadata and what documentation needs to be provided for MITH’s purposes, the second is how to present and organize all this information.

It seems desirable to try and model hardware and computing systems through component pieces and parts. This allows one to describe the specific locations of a certain types of firmware and software, and it allows parcelling out documentation to a flexible level of granularity or generality depending upon the item being described (e.g. a motherboard, a ROM chip, a connector, a floppy, or a computer system).

For example Apple IIe systems either have Apple DOS or ProDOS on them. Specifically, that software is located on the PROM chip of the Disk II controller card, and it operates with Applesoft II BASIC, located on a ROM chip on the motherboard. What appears as a fluid interface on the screen is really two pieces of software in two different places, and each has a distinct history and properties. Articulating this distinction seems especially appropriate for organizations that will be using their systems for research and media access, and would like to assess the details of a machine or of media at a glance.

There isn’t an organization I’m aware of that is doing this for its audience or users at this point. It seems typical to document extensively at the level of the computer system. That is intuitive, especially in the timeframe that saw so many vertically-integrated personal computers (Commodores, Apples, IBMs) but the march of PC clones complicates that approach.

In another light one can see this as the popular ideal of the computer. For example, the iMac: it looks like it doesn’t have any parts, like it sprung from the forehead of Jobs, fully formed and completely capable. And it is pleasing to the eye.

Anyways, it’s been really edifying to do this research. Omeka’s API has been pretty capable for this sort of task too.

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