The First 2000 Years of Computing

On the same day that Verizon and Apple made highly-expected tech history on one coast, a newly revamped museum made tech history visible, tangible, and fun on the other.

On Tuesday morning, the Computer History Museum previewed its newly-restored campus to the computer press. The museum, located in the heart of Silicon Valley, officially opens on Thursday, January 13.

Technology moves quickly, with profound effects on how we live our lives. "Everything we do is now run by computers," Dr. Leonard J. Shustek, told us. Shustek is Chairman of the Museum's Board of Trustees. With computers one of the "four or five major inventions" in human history, many important pioneers still alive, and everything changing at a rapid pace, "We have to record what's happening. That's why it's important that we do this."

The heart, brain, CPU, and hard drive of the revamped museum is the huge and permanent exhibit, Revolution: The First 2000 Years of Computing. Starting with the abacus, the slide rule, and an amazing contraption from ancient Greece called the Antikythera Mechanism, the exhibit works its way slowly through analog computers, punch cards, mainframes and minis, personal and portable computers, to the personal digital assistants of the 1990s--precursors to today's smartphones. (In order to maintain a historical perspective, the museum doesn't display anything less than ten years old. It collects and preserves newer items, of course.)

I found plenty of tempting detours along the way. A section on Digital Logic includes a graph on Moore's Law and an interactive demonstration on Boolean Logic. A display of early mice makes you wonder about manipulating a computer with a large block of wood. And the Network section, located near the end between Mobile Computing and What's Next, starts almost at the beginning again, with the telegraph.

The Museum appears willing to criticize major corporate players...with caution. A section on IBM includes a photo of company president Thomas J. Watson, Sr. in a meeting with Adolph Hitler in 1937. But a placard assures visitors that Watson eventually returned the medal the Nazis awarded him.

An online version is planned to go live in March.

Other exhibits, which, combined, take up only a fraction of the floor space devoted to Revolution, include a Babbage Difference Engine and a restored, working DEC PDP-1--the first commercial computer designed to be worked by a single user.

The Computer History Museum is located at 1401 N Shoreline Blvd. in Mountain View, California.

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