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Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Computer History Museum - Mountain View, CA

Recently I attended a private party at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA. It doesn't always look like this. It was lit up that night with special event lighting. Did you know you can rent the entire museum for private parties and corporate events? This means you can use the outdoor patios and courtyards, downstairs and upstairs gallery areas, the Grand Hall and the Hahn Auditorium both on the second floor for hosting events of all sizes. You can also allow your guests to tour the museum during your event.

This diagram is from a photo I took in March 2010

Hubby and I took his nephew to the museum in March 2010 while he was here on vacation. We didn't realize until we got there that the main exhibit area was still under development. Disappointingly, only the red area in the picture above was open to the public.

The Babbage Mechanical Computer

One thing we did see that was really cool was Charles Babbage's completed Difference Engine No. 2. It was quite fascinating. It is, in the most simple terms, a giant, printing calculator. The stories behind it, Charles Babbage inventing it, his attempt to complete it and how the museum ended up with a model to display, were really interesting. There are only two in existence and it took 17 years to complete the first one which is on display at the Science Museum in London. It was completed 131 years after Babbage's death. Wow. How wild is that? It's described this way on the Computer History Museum website:

"The completed machine works as Babbage intended. Its 8,000 parts are equally split between the calculating section and the output apparatus. It weighs five tons and measures seven feet high, eleven feet long and is eighteen inches deep at its narrowest. As a static object it is a sight to behold - a sumptuous piece of engineering sculpture. In operation it is an arresting spectacle."

The second completed machine was made for the benefactor who funded the completion of the output portion of the first machine. He wanted one for his own private collection but allowed the museum in Mountain View to display it before it was delivered to him. And what made it super cool? We were able to see it work the day we were there.

Close ups of the Babbage Difference Engine No. 2.

Now that the entire museum is complete you can literally spend an entire day there. Maybe even two if you wanted to study each display, watch all of the videos and listen to every audio track that accompanies many of the displays.

A portion of Charles Babbage's Difference Engine No. 1 (1832)

Early Calculators

As I wandered about I have to admit it wasn't really my scene. I'm more of an internet geek, not a computer geek LOL. But, I knew even though it wasn't my thing I was certain there are lots of people out there who would love to be there. For them, seeing these old computers would probably make them feel like the way I feel when I see beautiful vintage beads, delicious pastries or miniature donkeys. I decided to make the most of my evening and share with you what the museum has to offer so that if computers are your thing, and you ever have the chance, you'll make the time to visit the museum because I'm pretty certain you will love it!

Mathematical Tools

Holleriths Punch Card System

Type 80 Card Sorter (1925)

Thomas Watson, Sr.'s IBM "Think" mantra

Analog Goes Electronic

The Fairchild Semiconductor μA709 Operational Amplifier


A Ballistics Control System

Missile Electronics

Missile Guidance System

SAGE Graphical Console

The Nordsieck Differential Analyzer

One of three screening rooms at the museum.

Finally! I stumbled upon the Personal Computer section which was what I'd been looking foward to the entire time.

Years ago I saw the movie "The Pirates of Silicon Valley,"  and after the many tribute programs memorializing Steve Jobs after he passed away, to see the early model Apple computers at the Computer HIstory Museum in Mountain View kind of felt like when I saw the Mona Lisa at the Louvre in Paris.

The Apple-1 (1976)

The Apple II (1977)

Apple Lisa II (1983)

The Macintosh (1984)

Computer Games

Aaron Paint Systems by Harold Cohen

There was even a computer that could paint! This was unexpected but really shouldn't have surprised me.

The Neiman Marcus Christmas Catalog Kitchen Computer

And this one cracked me up. The Honeywell 316 was offered in 1969 through the Neiman Marcus Christmas catalog for $10,600. None were purchased even though they came with an apron, cookbook, a two week programming course and you could store your recipes in it.

As you can see there is something for everyone (even me) at the Computer History Museum. Currently the Revolution exhibit includes:

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

Hours are:
The museum is closed Monday and Tuesday
CLICK HERE to view hours Wednesday through Sunday

Computer History Museum
1401 N Shoreline Blvd.
Mountain View, CA 94043

Admission is:
- Free to children 12 years and under
- Free to Museum Members
- $15 for the General Public with discounted rates for Seniors, Active Military and Students.
- There are also special Geek packages available that include memorabilia from the museum and the Revolution exhibit.

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