March 15, 2009

Computer History Museum, Mountain View


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photo by Donald Kinney
Hey, all of you geeks, with a little help from Wikipedia I could probably fake this, but if you need a real explanation of magnetic core memory, I'm going to have to send you over to:
http://ed-thelen.org/comp-hist/navy-core-memory-desc.html



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photo by Donald Kinney

I always wonder about the people who sat at these machines, flipping switches and keeping an eye on the dials...   Did they have grumbly bosses and nit-picking co-workers?   Was their dream-job that of processing data?   What else would they have rather been doing -- and why weren't they doing it -- and did they ever do it?



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photo by Donald Kinney

And sometimes I wonder if those operators ever saw the beauty of the design -- all as clean and functional as possible -- and all those colorful flashing lights to watch...   Just like Christmas!



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photo by Donald Kinney

Way back in the early '60's my father worked as an accountant for the Monterey Public Schools, and I remember him having to attend a week-long IBM "boot camp" where they gave an overview and explained how to use the new electronic data processing equipment that the school district had just purchased.

The computer room at Monterey Schools was large, with large and very expensive machines sorting punch-cards and spewing out long ribbons of wide green-bar paper.   I clearly remember the "programmer" wiring up boards with wire jumpers -- his programs looked like spaghetti when he was finished.



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photo by Donald Kinney

During WWII the Germans used mechanical devices to encrypt their radio messages.   The best known of these machines is the Enigma, which was initially invented in 1918 for commercial applications.

To assure success, on land, sea and air, the Germans needed the fastest and most secret communications system available for the time period.   The Enigma cipher machine, designed to protect the secrecy of business messages, was adapted for the purposes of combat.   Additional refinements to the machine, during the war increased its complexity, thus making the messages harder and harder to decipher.

In fact, the German Navy started buying Enigma machines as early as 1925 and the Germany Army following shortly thereafter.   The Germans placed a great deal of confidence in the Enigma, believing it to be completely unbreakable.   It wasn't...



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photo by Donald Kinney

The Commodore PET (Personal Electronic Transactor or maybe rumored to be named after the "pet rock" fad) was designed by Chuck Peddle.   It was first presented at the January, 1977, Winter Consumer Electronics Show and later at the West Coast Computer Faire.

The Pet Computer also ran on the 6502 chip, but it cost only $795, half the price of the Apple II.   It included 4 kb of RAM, monochrome graphics and an audio cassette drive for data storage.

Included was a version of BASIC in 14k of ROM. Microsoft developed its first 6502-based BASIC for the PET and then sold the source code to Apple for AppleBASIC.   The keyboard, cassette drive and small monochrome display all fit within the same self contained unit.



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photo by Donald Kinney

Woz and Steve showed the prototype Apple I, mounted on plywood with all the components visible, at a meeting of a local computer hobbyist group called "The Homebrew Computer Club" (based in Palo Alto, California).

A local computer dealer (The Byte Shop) saw it and ordered 100 units, providing that Wozniak and Jobs agreed to assemble the kits for the customers.   About two hundred Apple Is were built and sold over a ten month period, for the superstitious price of $666.66.

In 1977, Apple Computers was incorporated and the Apple II computer model was released.   The first West Coast Computer Faire was held in San Francisco the same year, and attendees saw the public debut of the Apple II (available for $1298).

The Apple II was also based on the 6502 processor, but it had color graphics (a first for a personal computer), and used an audio cassette drive for storage.   Its original configuration came with 4 kb of RAM, but a year later this was increased to 48 kb of RAM and the cassette drive was replaced by a floppy disk drive.
http://gadgets.boingboing.net/2009/01/26/steve-jobs-introduce.html



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photo by Donald Kinney

The "Crown Jewell" as you walk in the door of the Computer History Museum is an exact copy of Difference Engine No. 2, built faithfully to the original drawings of Charles Babbage, circa 1850's.

It consists of 8,000 parts, weighs five tons, and measures 11 feet long.   A lecture and fascinating demonstration of the Difference Engine is given at 2PM.

Here is a great video on the Babbage Difference Engine:
http://www.computerhistory.org/babbage/

Here is an overview of the Compuer History Museum on YouTube:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z6zeq-dD5dI

Admission to the Computer History Museum is FREE -- (they have a lot of wealthy backers, donors, and corporate sponsors).


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3 comments:

Salty said...

Extremely interesting post!

It is hard to believe that we have come so far in so short of time. I wasn't working with computers quite that early, my first PC experience was with an IBM 286 machine. They seemed amazing at the time but compared to the machines of today they were pre-horse & buggy.

Tomate Farcie said...

Wow, impressive post!! I will have to come back and check out the videolinks later.

I know this is going to date me somewhat (shrug) but my first personal computer was a hand-me-down Apple IIe. I thought it was the "cutest computer ever." I think I still have a picture of it some place. I remember the IBM PC's with floppy drives, and of course, late 70's we had mainframes. I remember the punch cards (better not drop these things!!!), the paper band that came out on the side, and of course, the huge print-outs coming out from these dot matrix (?) printers... The IT guys would sometimes program the computer to print goofy things like Mickey Mouse, stuff like that, with lines of letters and numbers only.

Kind of like this:

http://www.tipandtrick.net/wp-content/uploads/2008/04/eye.gif

and at the time it was a BIG DEAL! :)

You mentioned the IBM "boot camp" That reminds me of a documentary I saw once, in which an engineer or former executive of IBM was interviewed and he was saying that when he started out way back, not only did you have to wear the same tie, suit and white shirt as everybody else, but even your socks had to match what the others were wearing! hmmmm...

Great post!! Thanks :)

Tomate Farcie said...

The vidoes were great! Thanks again for taking the time to write this elaborate post!

 
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