Kevin Standlee (kevin_standlee) wrote,
Kevin Standlee

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Computer History Museum

Lisa and I would have driven home today, but it has been snowing with chain restrictions over Donner Summit, so we stayed in Union City an extra night (we made these plans a few days ago based on the weather forecasts) after having delivered up the Astro to my favorite mechanic in Fremont yesterday. This left us with a day on our hands, so we decided to go see something we've been telling ourselves we'd go see sometimes, and that we'd kept putting off: the Computer History Museum. While were in the building for GarciaGate, that was upstairs in their function space, and for all the time I've been in the Bay Area, I'd never actually seen the museum. No more excuses: we went to see the place for real.

I didn't bother mentioning this to johnnyeponymous; he's busy with Cinequest.

We spent most of the day at the museum, but I didn't take a lot of pictures. However, when it came time to go see the demonstration of their Difference Engine (the second and probably final one ever built), there came a photo op that even Lisa (who is notoriously camera-shy, spending most of her time behind the camera, not in front of it) couldn't pass up:

Expensive Seat
Near the Difference Engine is one of two Cray-1 supercomputers the museum has on display, out in the open where you can sit on what has been described as "the world's most expensive loveseat."

Inside the Cray
As you can see, Lisa was really into this computer.

Difference Engine
After this, we watched the demonstration talk of the Difference Engine. This is an amazing piece of mechanical work. This Difference Engine, one of only two that exist (the other is in the Science Museum in London, where somehow we managed to miss seeing it during our trip there last year), is built to Charles Babbage's plans, using the kinds of metal that would have been available at the time he designed it, and to the same degree of accuracy that would have been available at the time. (As the person giving the demo explained, they had to get the machine shops doing the work to "dumb down" their equipment to a lower level of accuracy than they normally do these days.) It works, and is simply beautiful to watch. The actuators on the back side (this picture is of the front) in particular are mesmerizing as they spin.

I'm not sure we did complete justice to the place in just one visit. In particular, I faded out mid-afternoon and had to take a break at the Cloud Cafe. We may need to come back again and start halfway through the exhibits in order to spend more time reading them without thinking about how much our feet hurt.

After leaving, we popped over to a place where I could show Lisa the access to the lower Stevens Creek Trail, which gives an interesting view of the safety-training area way back behind Moffat Field. A storm was blowing in, and there was a gorgeous double rainbow that I couldn't fit into the field of my camera phone; however, a few minutes later the rain came, rather hard and cold, and we beat a hasty retreat to the Rolling Stone and drove back to the hotel, where we ordered out for pizza and called it a day.

Tomorrow we thread our way between two forecast storms, as the forecast calls for there to be no snow most of the daytime hours, and therefore we expect the chain controls to be lifted long enough for us to get back home to Nevada.
Tags: lisa, museums, weather

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