Visiting the Computer History Museum

Wed, Dec 28, 2011

This blog has been quiet for a while…

  • Real life has a habit of taking over during the holiday season.
  • New work project - getting up to speed on Android programming.
  • … yes, I have been playing skyrim.

So I haven’t had much time to write for a while.

However, I did get a very nice break over christmas where I went down to California and managed to finally visit the Computer History Museum - Yes, I am a geek, this is a technical blog, deal with it!

I really, really enjoyed the visit. I had almost the full day, but I wish I had a few more hours - I’ll have to plan a second trip. The museum is very well organized, although I wasn’t always 100% sure I was going in a chronological direction.

Most of the museum is dedicated to the main exhibition Revolution - The First 2000 Years of Computing, taking us through from the Abacus to the World Wide Web:

  • Calculators
  • Punched Cards
  • Analog Computers
  • Birth of the Computer
  • Early Computer Companies
  • Real Time Computing
  • Mainframe Computers
  • Memory & Storage
  • The Art of Programming
  • Supercomputers
  • Minicomputers
  • Digital Logic
  • Artificial Intelligence & Robots
  • Input & Output
  • Computer Graphics, Music, and Art
  • Computer Games
  • Personal Computers
  • Mobile Computing
  • Networking
  • The Web

I grew up with personal computers in the 80’s, 90’s and beyond, and I’ve read a lot about what I (used to) think of as computing history… Xerox parc, Doug Engelbart and Ivan Sutherland, Homebrew Computer Club and early Apple and Microsoft days… and I went in expecting mostly personal computer stuff, but I now realise that there is much, much more to computing history than just the personal computer.

I mean, of course, I knew of the Babbage Engine, the Eniac, Enigma, Collosus and Cray and such, (not to mention the Abacus and the Slide Rule), but I hadn’t really put them into context until wandering (in chronological order!) through the museum, and it was really fascinating.

I also really enjoyed seeing some of the computers I grew up with, the Commodore64, ZX Spectrum, Amiga, SpeakNSpell, Little Professor… and of course the games, Pong, Atari, PacMan, Infocom…

I have only a few, very very minor negatives:

  • Coverage is broad, but not necessarily deep - the nature of museums.
  • As a software guy, I thought programming was a bit short changed.
  • Wish the store had a larger selection of books.
  • They have an awesome programming languages chart on the wall, but not available to purchase (yet).

Even so, I highly recommend any self respecting computer geek taking a day out to go visit in person, or even just online:

Here are some photo’s of the bits that stood out for me (in no particular order):

UPDATE: _The links below may be out of date because the computer history museum display is subject to change

The Altair 8800 - a heavy influence on the homebrew computer club
The Xerox parc Alto - amazingly ahead of its time
The Amiga - best 16 bit machine ever!
The original wooden Apple 1
Atari 2600 - a gaming classic
Babbage Difference Engine #2 - not built in his lifetime - not until 1995!
The Xerox parc hippie bean bag
Welcome to the Computer History Museum
The Commodore64 - my first computer - learned Basic and 6510 assembler on this
A Cray super computer
Eniac - WW2 Workhorse
Eniac Diorama - takes up the whole room
Eniac on a Chip - Moores law in action
The germans WW2 enigma code maker
Ahhhh games, my favorite reason for computing
I spent many childhood years playing Infocom text adventures
Awesome flow chart of the the history of programming languages - wish there was a poster version!
Holy Crap! an online Craigslist in the 70s - go readup on it!
Doug Engelbarts original wooden mouse prototype
Ha Ha Ha - Officer Mac
What pixar built before movies
The original Pong prototype machine
Welcome to the Computer History Museum
Ha Ha Ha - Dot Com Boom at its finest
Childhood memories - Speak n Spell and a ZX Spectrum
The ZX Spectrum - nowhere near as good as the Commodore64
You arent graphics programming until you have a spinning teapot
The mechanical Turk
Classic Windows vs Mac