Sunday, February 2, 2014

Computer History Museum

Computer History Museum in Mountain View, January 2014

I love the Silicon Valley vibe that comes from all the engineers and scientists.  For example, the Computer History Museum is 10 minutes from my house and is filled with folks who are passionate about the subject.  If you go be sure and allow some time to talk to the docents.  They are usually retired engineers from one of the original valley start-ups with interesting stories.
The most unusual exhibit is Babbage's Difference Engine No. 2.  Before calculators, engineers looked up certain numbers, like logs, in books.  Charles Babbage was very concerned about the number of errors in the books, so he designed a machine to do the calculations and set up the typeset.  He got some funding, but only for the first 7 years, at which point he was only ~1/3 done.  He improved the design, but was never able to get it built.  This machine is his improved design and the only other one in the world is at the London Natural History Museum.  The really cool thing is that we happened to be there when they were giving a demonstration.  It delivers one answer every 8 seconds, but you have to turn the crank at a constant speed or the machine will jam (a feature, not a bug!).  Thanks to Tim on the right, who is the designated turner!

They have many examples of the different computers, but my fave is the Cray.  They even let you touch it :)

One of the original Cray supercomputers, dubbed the worlds most expensive love seat.  The unique shape allowed for less wiring to be used-engineering PLUS design.

The guts of supercomputing circa 1976

They have many thoughtful exhibits that make the museum accessible to everyone-there are short videos and many familiar physical examples.  In the programming languages area they explain visually how they are all related.

Yeah Haskel!

They had a nice section on games
we played Pac-man and Pong.

Photo op for those of us who will never be on the actual Jeopardy.

PDP-1 which they won't let you touch, but will let you get very very close.

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