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Hardware Technology

Computer History Museum Gets the Attention It Deserves 53

mcpublic writes "For years the Computer History Museum has been quietly collecting and displaying the computational relics of yesteryear. Now, finally the New York Times Arts Section shines the spotlight on this most nerdy of museums. Speak Steampunk? You can find a working replica of Babbage's Difference Engine in the lobby of the museum's Mountain View, California home. Of course, the vast majority of the collection is electronic, and though 'big iron' is king, that hasn't stopped dedicated volunteers from bringing back to life pioneering 'mini' computers like the 1960 PDP-1 and the first video game software ever: Spacewar!"
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Computer History Museum Gets the Attention It Deserves

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Visited this summer. They have quite a collection of computer games.

    • by dingen ( 958134 ) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @04:30PM (#41501271)

      You should definitely check out the Heinz Nixdorf museum [www.hnf.de] in Padenborn, Germany. It's the largest collection of old computers on display anywhere in the world. Make sure you get the English audio tour from the reception though, as nearly all of the texts within the museum are written in German.

      It truly is an awesome place, with lots of wonderful machines, including (but by no means limited to) a piece of a Jacquard loom, a real German WW2 Enigma, lots of huge old IBM machines, a full Zuse Z11 (including a modified typewriter to function as printer!), some PDP's, a Xerox Alto, an Altair 8800, an Apple I. One could spend a week in there, it's simply amazing.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 29, 2012 @05:31PM (#41501669)

        Make sure you get the English audio tour from the reception though, as nearly all of the texts within the museum are written in German.

        Ich spreche Deutsch, du unempfindlichen Klotz

        • by dingen ( 958134 )

          Well even if you are able to comprehend the German texts, I'd still recommend you get the multimedia tour, as it is a great way to guide you through the museum. Without it, you can't help but feel a bit lost, as there is just so much to see there. And there's some pictures and video's there as well which aren't featured in the museum itself, so if you're a completionist, that's a good reason too to invest another 2 euro's into the little HTC Android box they give you to tour the museum with.

  • You are not alone (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jaromil ( 104349 ) * <jaromil@dy n e . o rg> on Saturday September 29, 2012 @03:00PM (#41500647) Homepage Journal
    Right on!
    FYI Another "Working Computer Museum" up since about 15 years in Palazzolo Acreide, Sicily, nearby Siracusa,
    privately run by volunteers and collectors: http://museum.dyne.org/ [dyne.org]
    (website in Italian and some english, remote access to computers offered via telnet and ssh)
    Definitely the way to go. Wait another 20 years and we'll all be establishment :^)
    • Yes, i was there one time. The people in Palazzolo Acreide are friendly and the guys at the museum treat that ancient hardware good.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 29, 2012 @03:23PM (#41500829)
    People have to understand the history of technology, otherwise they forget what it took to get here, or worse, they attribute every single invention to NASA or space. Nothing irks me more than people who are willing to forget entire generations of researchers, scientists and general tinkerers just so they can continue to believe in their space mythology.
  • Core Memory (Score:5, Interesting)

    by djl4570 ( 801529 ) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @03:31PM (#41500875) Journal
    It's easy to forget that early computers used expensive labor intensive ferrite core memory. Core memory had to be assembled by skilled technicians who threaded each core on a matrix of wires. I once heard that four kilobytes of twelve bit memory cost over thirty thousand dollars back in the early sixties when silver was still the coin of the realm. These old relics were also power hungry. Sac State once had an RCA 301 that was stashed in the Non Destructive Testing lab (The building was adjacent to the river levy and immediately south of the Guy West footbridge and at the time used for storage.) We counted nearly a farad of capacitance in the power supply modules. I wonder what became of the core module from that machine. We used it as a display piece during a couple of open houses.
    • I was just playing with some cores the other day. I found them on ebay a while back, two bottles each with 1.2 megabits of 1/64" diameter ferrite donuts. Add your own wire and sense amps.

      These things would have been threaded with three 46 gauge wires each. They had machines to make that easier, but not quite automatic. http://www.nixiebunny.com/ibmcore/ibmcore.html [nixiebunny.com]
  • by PolygamousRanchKid ( 1290638 ) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @03:37PM (#41500927)

    I call it, "Computer History Museum!"

    Every geek has one of these museums at home: cables with biomorph connectors, interfaces to nowhere, Ninja Star shaped floppy disks, 1K ICs, a smokey fan . . .

    You just can't part with this stuff . . . you WILL find a use for it someday . . .

    • Ah, so true. Oldest piece of computer history I have is a 4 kilobit core, though many of the bits have broken off of it. Apple II disk controller cards, 4116 memories, random power supplies, various Macs, any number of modems...

      • It's all fun stuff. The most interesting pieces I have are an IBM 704 module with eight IBM vacuum tubes, and a CDC6600 cordwood logic module (see it on Wikipedia). Just sold a Remington Rand tube module to a collector. Apparently, it was the only one from its type of computer still in existence.
  • by AK Marc ( 707885 ) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @03:55PM (#41501063)
    I went to The Computer Museum (Boston) before The Computer History Museum was ever opened. I hadn't realized The Computer Museum was closed until this article and I looked it up. Like the Boston Museum (the official owners of The Computer Museum after the merge), my local museum has some computer stuff on display, but an Atari 2600 and other garage sale level equipment on display in good condition isn't the same as a room-sized CPU, annotated and with lights.
    • When the Boston museum closed, I'm not sure how much of a loss that was. Most of the computers were new PCs running displays showing all the neato things new PCs could do. The ones that weren't were Amigas and Ataris, but they were all covered with painted wooden boxes and wrapping paper, so you couldn't tell what they were, because that would involve showing actual computer history. The Macs had their own room with huge Apple banners all over the place, and all the machines were running game-quality edu

      • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
        It was back 20+ years ago now, but I remember most the room-sized annotated CPU. And the history of computing for the local museum starts at about 1980, there is little back before then. I do remember some displays of older stuff there I still haven't seen elsewhere, but for as good as my memory is of a trip 20+ years ago to a museum, I don't recall if it was any actual hardware or pictures of hardware, not that it matters significantly, when you are 20 feet away behind glass, as museums usually do.
  • by safetyinnumbers ( 1770570 ) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @04:04PM (#41501115)

    Sitting on a Cray, and seeing the Utah teapot.

  • Meanwhile In Europe (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Ganty ( 1223066 ) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @04:07PM (#41501137)

    For those of us on the other side of the pond there is a reasonably good computer history museum at Bletchley Park. The computer section at the Science Museum in London is also well worth a visit providing you remember that the Pilot Ace is on the ground floor.


    • as one living in continental Europe: I never had the feeling that the UK believed it is part of the continent. The Channels seems to be wider than the Atlantic...

      • The Channels seems to be wider than the Atlantic...

        I remember once visiting my Grandparents' home near Dover and noticing they could see France out their kitchen window. I was stunned to learn that while they had visited us in Canada, they'd never been to France. Not once. When I asked why, their reply was simple: "Because it's full of French people, dear."

      • by jaromil ( 104349 ) *
        Right. It is Europe that is part of the UK.

        -- YACHM: http://museum.dyne.org/ [dyne.org]
  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @04:09PM (#41501145) Homepage

    Classic science and engineering museums have been dumbed down. The Smithsonian used to be hard core, back when they were in the Arts and Industries building. The assumption was that visitors knew something about the subject and were there to see the historic original. The Henry Ford Museum used to be hard-core. ("Capacitor, Cornell-Dublier, 1932"), but they added more "explanatory" exhibits.

    The South Kensington Science Museum (now the "London Science Museum") has gone soft, too. I saw it in 1985 and 2002, and it felt dumber in 2002. They still have Maudsley's lathe (the first really good machine tool) on display. But the collection of James Bond cars from movies was getting the attention.

    • The Smithsonian used to be hard core, back when they were in the Arts and Industries building. The assumption was that visitors knew something about the subject and were there to see the historic original.

      Placing technology in its historical and social context is part of the job of the modern museum.

      Rosa Parks Bus [hfmgv.org]. Driving America [thehenryford.org]

      How much can you learn from a static display ---- how much more from the dynamic?

      John Bull: Riding the Rails [youtube.com]

    • by Osgeld ( 1900440 )

      " I saw it in 1985 and 2002, and it felt dumber in 2002. "

      chances are, you were dumber in 1985 and the "musums" have stayed the same.

    • by awfar ( 211405 )

      Agreed about the radio, electronics display; on my last trip to the Henry Ford, I was sorely disappointed it was largely gone. I prefer museums that are mostly conservationists, vs. the educational focus; they apparently pay the bills by turning the museum into a field trip destination for schoolchildren. Compared to many, many years ago at the Henry Ford where they had much of their vast collection on display, from steam tractors, dynamos the size of a house, old vacuum cleaners, to electron tubes, much of

  • by linebackn ( 131821 ) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @05:00PM (#41501465)

    It's great to see computer history getting some more attention. Many people like to turn up their nose at anything "old", but there is much that can be learned from computing history. There was much innovation and not all ideas were fully explored.

    And the mistakes of history are repeating themselves. Anyone who thinks touch screens are new should look up the 1983 HP 150 touch screen computer.

  • When they trot out an iPad 2 (which has more LINPACK compute power than a Cray-2 BTW)

  • I remember sometime around the late 1970's or early 1980's of seeing an exhibit, in Atlanta, of Soviet Computer Technology. This was perhaps during one of the thaws in the cold war that happened at that time. The one thing that I remember most clearly was a complex machine that had automated the threading of ferrite cores to form memory planes. These were all hand made at that time. It was the star of the show. Of course it was also invented in the same year that the last ferrite core based memory was
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Because we all know that nothing really exists until it's acknowledged by a parochial east coast newspaper.

The intelligence of any discussion diminishes with the square of the number of participants. -- Adam Walinsky