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This web developer’s side project? Fixing up vintage computers — and sharing the results with 100K YouTube followers

Through his channel, Action Retro, Ardmore-based Sean Malseed has connected with a national community of fellow tinkerers.

A creator panel at a Vintage Computer Federation event. Sean Malseed is third from the right. (Courtesy Sean Malseed)
When it comes to computers, Sean Malseed believes there’s no such thing as junk.

Malseed’s day job is as a web developer for a digital marketing consulting company. But outside of work, he enjoys fixing up and tinkering with vintage computers. He shares his hobby with the world through his YouTube channel, Action Retro, where he’s posted 240 videos and has more than 100,000 subscribers.

Call him the Philly-area champion of the retrocomputing trend.

“I love just old, ugly computers,” he told Technical.ly. “And I can kind of find something special in just about anything, even the most bland, early-2000s Dell computers there’s still something interesting. There’s something fun that can be done.”

In high school, Malseed would “rescue” old computers from people’s trash and try to fix them, then mess around with different programs and see what he could get the computers to do. Once, he experimented with the oldest and slowest computer he could find that would run AOL messenger. His skills are entirely self taught.

Malseed looks online, at flea markets, at yard sales and at swap meets for computers that spark his interest. His favorites are old Macintosh computers.

“These computers [are] just being chucked in the garbage, I think way too soon, when there’s still a lot of interesting things you can do with them,” Malseed said.

He launched his YouTube channel in 2020 when the pandemic lockdown started. He had been watching vintage computer videos online for a long time and decided to document what he was working on.

He filmed his early videos with his iPhone and a makeshift tripod. They featured no talking and didn’t show his face. Eventually, he started narrating what he was doing. Now he appears fully in all of his videos.

One of Malseed’s favorite projects involved connecting a bunch of floppy drives together, connecting the stack to a computer, and hosting a website on it.

He set the goal to post once a week on his channel and he said he’s shocked by how much he’s grown and all the positive feedback he’s received: Videos often garner hundreds of comments and tens or hundreds of thousands of views. Through YouTube, he’s also met friends, and more experienced engineers and developers have given him advice for his projects.

Malseed has also connected with the computer community through the Vintage Computer Federation (VCF), which hosts festivals around the country, and has hosted a display at the org’s annual event in New Jersey for the last four years. In 2023, Malseed attended computer festivals in New Jersey, Chicago and Dallas.

Another local tie: Drexel University professor Youngmoo Kim saw Malseed’s videos and even invited him to guest speak for one of his classes last year — Malseed’s first time speaking to a college class, he said, but he enjoyed talking to the students about computers and YouTube.

So, where does one store all this hardware?

Malseed used to keep a small collection of old computers in his former Kensington home. But recently, he moved to a house in Ardmore, where he’s filled the basement with about 100 computers. He doesn’t keep them all, though, and gives some away at VCF events.

A room with several computers on a desk.

Some of Malseed’s collection. (Courtesy Sean Malseed)

Going forward, the plan is to keep the Action Retro channel going, and to attend more events to meet online friends, Malseed said. He’s also trying to focus more on framing his videos so they’re interesting to people who aren’t already into computers.

“A lot of people are nostalgic for these things,” Malseed said, “and a lot of people want to see them and re-experience them.”

Sarah Huffman is a 2022-2024 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.
Companies: Drexel University
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