Woz, IT Pioneers Add Panache to Computer History Museum Reopening

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Woz, IT Pioneers Add Panache to Computer History Museum Reopening

by Chris Preimesberger

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The Wizard of Woz

Apple-co-founder Steve Wozniak, a big-time Computer History Museum supporter, is interviewed at the Apple exhibit. Wozniak, now chief scientist with solid-state server maker Fusion-io, was named a CHM Fellow in 1997.

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Granddaddy of All Video Games

Atari co-founder (with Nolan Bushnell) Al Alcorn—who was on hand Jan. 11—was largely responsible for the pioneering PONG arcade game, which debuted in 1972 and is regarded as the first widely popular arcade and home console game. This one still worked as recently as 2003.

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Godfather of the Mainframes

The IBM 360 (c.1965) will always have a central place in computer history as the first mainframe computer to go mainstream. It also was the first computer to feature reusable software; when earlier computers needed an upgrade, all the older software had to be replaced.

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Early Computing Machines

A bit more mundane—but no less important across the history of computers—are the number of adding machines, hand calculators and other smaller instruments that came upon the scene in the 1960s and 1970s.

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Frances Allen, IBM Compiler Pioneer

Ms. Allen, talking here to a television reporter, was an upstate New York math teacher who started working at IBM to pay off her student loans. Later, she decided she liked that job better than teaching, so she stuck with Big Blue, becoming an expert in data compiling. In 1989 she became the first woman to be named an IBM Fellow. Yes, we're sure some good-natured jokes were involved!

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First Weather-Resistant Laptop

The Scout II, designed and built by Melard Technologies and released in 1999, offered water-resistant magnesium construction, rubber bumbers to absorb shocks and a floating-suspension hard drive— features all way ahead of their time.

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The IBM 305 RAMAC, introduced in 1956, was the first commercial computer to utilize a moving head magnetic hard disk drive for secondary storage. RAMAC stood for "Random Access Method of Accounting and Control." This machine held about 5MB of data; times have certainly changed. In 1957, it leased for $3,200 per month—equivalent to a purchase price of about $160,000.

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Norden-Sperry Bombsight

A planeload of factors—aircraft speed, weight of payload, altitude, wind speed, angles of delivery, etc.—all needed to be calculated inside the amazing instrument known as a bombsight. The Norden Sperry bombsights were used in U.S. Army Air Force B-17s and B-24s during World War II and were indispensible instruments in the U.S strategic bombing strategy in Europe and the Pacific.

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Anti-lock Braking System

The first Bosch ABS brake controller (1972) is on display at the museum. The controller receives speed and acceleration information from wheel sensors and activates solenoid valves in the braking system that enable the vehicle to stop quickly and safely as needed.

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Videos Tell Many Stories

There are several alcoves in the new 19-exhibit showroom where visitors can stop and watch archival video of early computing pioneers demonstrating their projects. Seymour Cray, Bill Hewlett and David Packard, John Mauchly, Thomas Edison, and several others are spotlighted. One of the more interesting names on display: John Brainerd, who worked with Mauchly on early electronic computers for military use in the 1940s.

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Old School Cabling

The inside of this 3-decade-old Fairchild LSI Bipolar Memory server is an amazing tangle of multicolored, spaghettilike wires that wouldn't stand a chance in today's machines.

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Nordsieck Differential Analyzer

This large analog computer was built in 1950 for about $700; it was one of the first to use electrical connections.

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To Him, Writing Code Is an Art Form

Longtime Stanford University computer science professor Don Knuth, 73, has taught many of the leading computer architects in the world today. As author of the seminal multivolume work "The Art of Computer Programming," Knuth has been called the father of the analysis of algorithms. Knuth was named a CHM Fellow in 1998.

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Sleek-Looking Exhibits

The CHM's carefully designed exhibit hall is roomy enough for large groups. Visitors can take as much time as they like to look over the history of computers.

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Apple vs. IBM: Two Worthy Competitors

Although the two major computer-creation companies in the world have settled into very different markets over the past generation, in the 1980s when personal computing started to take off, the two companies were constantly trying to outdo each other for the consumer attention. At this exhibit, you can view old PC and Mac television commercials and relive the early days of personal computer marketing.

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