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Expedition [Computer History Museum]

scrottie has been keen to go visit the Computer History Museum, even though it's all the way down in Mountain View, aka the Crotch of the Bay Area. When asked, he reported that it would take something like 8 hours to get there by public transit, so eventually I looked things up and discovered that it would only be a 50-mile bike ride from home. Or, you know, a 20-mile bike ride if we took the BART down to Fremont, across the Dumbarton Bridge and through some sections of the Bay Trail that looked interesting.

So despite the lingering head cold, yesterday, we went.

Bicycling through Fremont reminded me a little of bicycling in Arizona - wide, flat streets - except speed limits were 35 mph, not 45, and in many places the bike lane had a huge buffer area. We reached the museum just in time for lunch at the cafe. It tasted better than you might imagine based on this photo. Veggie wrap, tomato-cheddar soup, and mac-n-cheese.

S outside the Computer History Museum

We then spent the rest of the afternoon checking out everything.

From a museum design standpoint, the museum designers did a nice job with the material - no information overload, lots of stuff presented with more-or-less appropriate context, attempts to be as inclusive as possible given the extremely white-man history of computing, et cetera. We were highly ambivalent about the self-driving car display (aren't they called trains?), and I was disappointed that the Babbage Difference Engine No. 2 exhibit was closed, but on the other hand, the collection of robots was highly entertaining and it was cool to see some of the old vacuum machines and learn how many of the early innovations worked. Early disk drives were the size of a washing machine, yeesh!

I only took a handful of photos.

A sign on an IBM 1401 restoration/demo project, one of those machines that works on punch cards:
Sign on IBM 1401 demo computer

It was next door to a PDP-1 demo lab. Unfortunately neither was active during our visit.

This handmade derivative calculator was the coolest:
Handmade derivative calculator

(BTW the professional photos on the Computer History Museum's page are probably way better and more informative than mine)

"Telefunken" is now one of my new all-time favorite words. Also, look at all those plugs and knobs! Toggle switches galore, too. Some of the oldest machines also had convenient features like cigarette lighters and ash trays.
Telefunken computer

S had me read The Mythical Man-Month at one point, so I was amused to see it on display. It's still relevant.
Predicament leading to the Mythical Man Month

Display of what the museum labeled as the world's tiniest computers, three of which are pictured on the tips of golf tees:
Tiniest modern computers

The ride home. The Dumbarton Bridge is in the background, with a train bridge just in front of it.
View of Dumbarton Bridge from the Bay Trail

The Crotch of the Bay Area is swampy.

Then BART with the bikes:
Bikes on BART


( 4 remarks — Remark )
Feb. 23rd, 2016 03:36 am (UTC)
Oh, man, that's awesome. I'm envious.
When HP came out with their first removable-media disc drives they were quite similar to washing machines: big ol' monsters, close to a cubic meter. One of the engineers noticed that when they did a seek that required moving across the disc surface, the whole case twitched. He also noticed that they had 50 of them in an array in one room, for the chip designers to run/store their simulations on. So he wrote a simulation that required a large number of multitrack accesses at a fairly specific rate, and fired it off one day at the end of work, and the next morning all the disc units were all crowded over in one corner of the room, up against the door, because they'd jolted themselves across the floor like a herd of turkeys, preventing access to the room until someone crawled over the wall.
Feb. 26th, 2016 07:17 pm (UTC)
This is HILARIOUS. :^)
Feb. 27th, 2016 02:15 am (UTC)
Clever engineers are terrifying.
Feb. 28th, 2016 10:44 pm (UTC)
"extremely white-man history of computing"

During the early days of programming, on the ENIAC through Cyber systems and early punch card IBMs, programming was done almost entirely by women. The attitude towards programming then was that all you had to do was translate math and high level design to computer code, so data entry was most of the work, and data entry was women's work. 60s era NASA space programs tended to run software written by women.

Management was of course male, because 50s/60s/70s. Despite the CHM's efforts, there's still a lot of erasure stemming from the male management. I think they did a better job with ethnic erasure than gender erasure, including the German dude who invented missile guidance and the Japanese invention of flash memory and so on. There were parts of one of the early German Mark electromechanical relay computers there. I didn't see anything on Grace Hopper who is easily as important as the various men they featured. They made some effort with the Ada Lovelace display, but IMO, they still have some work to do.

They were really sparse on the 80s. About half of the stuff then had the American 6502 CPU and the other half the Japanese Z80 chip. There was really no mention of that. Some of the home computers and game machines had British chips too. I think there was a nod to the ARM chip (British, that now runs all smartphones).

I think it's a fairly new museum. Hopefully with time they can they figure out more interactive exhibits too. Emulations of guidance systems comes to mind. The US military has a history of capturing foreign missiles, taking the explosives out, hooking up faked sensor input, and testing them in all kinds of scenarios to see how they react and respond. That would be cool... and emulating the real luner-lander code (written by a women) in a simulator and having people try to fly it with a virtual set of knobs and switches...

They have an awesome collection of old machines, but a lot of things there made me cranky. The gift shop should have programming books for kids, not just history books. They should have the FlashBack retro-remade game systems. You should be able to press a button and have the computer-generated-art machines generate you some art (or music). A working handwritten analysis machine (a stable of state fairs for years in the early days of surplus analog computer hardware) would be fun.
( 4 remarks — Remark )

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