Inside Silicon Valley’s Beloved Computer History Museum

(TNS) — It is been called the geek’s Valhalla.

The Laptop Background Museum in Mountain View, the world’s most significant assortment of computing artifacts, offers these innovations as ENIAC, the digital whiz the speedy Cray-1 supercomputer the moveable but major Osborne the famous Apple I personal laptop and Enigma, the historically considerable Globe War II device used to encrypt Axis troop actions.

But believe that us when we say that you do not have to be a geek’s geek to love this museum. There’s a full display screen on a teapot (the legendary curved 3-D model kick-begun the planet of CGI). And a shrine to Pac-Person.

We tapped into the boundless enthusiasm of senior curator Dag Spicer, a former components engineer and complex writer whose car license plate reads “TURING1” — a nod to the amazing mathematician who cracked the Enigma code — for his guide to the highlights. When the museum reopens to the general public early this year, you will be prepared.

Here’s an edited edition (aka a compressed file) of our conversations:

Q. What is the oldest relic in the museum?

A. The oldest object in the collection is a established of Napier’s Bones, a pre-computing artifact from about 1700. It is a attractive set of picket rods, with multiplication tables delicately etched on them. Making use of the rods, multiplication can then be diminished to addition, and division to subtraction.

Q. Which exhibit prompts the techies’ jaws to drop? And what is the jaw-dropper for non-techies?

A. There is some overlap in astonishment issue amongst techies and non-techies. For instance, RAMAC — the world’s first disk travel — holds about 3.75 MB of facts and is the measurement of a refrigerator, which almost everybody finds very astonishing.

For the technically inclined, I think viewing an initial Seymour Cray layout notebook for the Cray-1 supercomputer is really exciting, as is the visually gorgeous Cray-1 alone, which sits ideal beside it. The Cray-1 was the speediest personal computer in the planet for around 5 a long time.

Q. What never we know about the Nazis’ Enigma and the code-breakers?

A. German armed service Enigma operators employed codes that have been altered at varying intervals — as Environment War II went on, there have been frequently multiple code alterations for each working day. The Enigma strategy was mostly damaged by a few Polish codebreakers in the 1920s. The British constructed on their function and automated it at scale to enable helpful, urgent, substantial-scale enemy code-breaking.

Enigma machines are nevertheless very a great deal in circulation, albeit as collector’s products. Since their circuitry is very uncomplicated, most however get the job done or can be built to work. They are quick to run, reliable and rugged — as would be predicted of a engineering for armed service use.

Fun truth: Occasionally, contests are held to decode first Enigma messages. A vintage message is despatched out in excess of the air via Morse code, and whoever can decode it first wins!

Q. Do you seriously have an important piece of laptop heritage that arrived from a Sunnyvale bar, of all sites?

A. We do! It’s the one particular-of-a-type 1972 Pong online video match prototype that was initial set up at Andy Capp’s Tavern in Sunnyvale. Two weeks after setting up it, Pong engineer Al Alcorn was asked to look at on the machine as it appeared to be broken. Rather of becoming broken, Pong’s coin box was truly complete of quarters, exhibiting that there was a nutritious industry for video clip game titles. The business Alcorn labored for, Atari, would guide a video clip game revolution.

Q. Did the museum inherit anything from the now-defunct Fry’s Electronics?

A. We are in dialogue with them now, actually. They were being a key portion of Silicon Valley record. We hope we can preserve some of their products so future generations can have an understanding of what a special organization and cultural institution they ended up.

Q. Geeks may possibly believe paper is passé, but you have pretty a collection of files. What’s one of the cool parts of ephemera?

A. 1 of my favorites is the punched card holiday wreath designed in the 1960s. IBM described the “IBM Card” in 1928 for its mechanical workplace equipment. Cards ended up produced by the billions until eventually rendered obsolete by on the net input approaches in the mid-1970s.

Talking of paper, we also have 1 of the greatest paper archives in the history of computing in the world, with practically just one linear mile of usually uncommon and special paperwork from top thinkers and pioneers in computing. For the duration of COVID, we have seen a extraordinary enhance in the range of exploration requests and persons accessing our archives. So laptop or computer record marches on, in spite of points.

Particulars: When the museum reopens, uncover specifics on workshops, occasions, several hours and admission at 1401 N. Shoreline Blvd., Mountain View.

© 2022 the San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.). Dispersed by Tribune Articles Company, LLC.

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