A Trip to the Living Computer Museum

in Seattle…

One of the neat things about living in Seattle is that Seattle has quite a lot of retired philanthropic bazillionaires about the town.

One of those bazillionaires is Paul Allen ( $MSFT co-founder ). He’s founded a handful of museums and other things around town, including Living Computers museum + labs.

Well, I got the chance to go there this evening ( FREE from 5:00-8:00pm on First Thursdays ).

Boy I tell ya what, it really brought back some memories, and exposed me to some computers that I had only ever heard about from “the old folks” back when I was first getting into the computer biz as a professional back in the late 1990s.

I grew up with video game consoles like the Atari 2600, Coleco Vision, and the greatest system of all Nintendo Entertainment System. And I was fortunate enough to have PCs in the house since fifth grade or so. We ran DOS, Windows 3.1, up through maybe Windows 95ish. I didn’t get to see any unix until I entered the workforce, though. Linux wasn’t yet widely in use.

The BIG IRON was reserved for those with much deeper pockets. Even with my first couple of computer jobs, the commercial entities I worked for were really looking forward to replacing their unix machines with the much less expensive Linux. I worked in unix ops ( titled as a SysAdmin ), but we always seemed to be right next to the Mainframe Ops.

Let me tell you friends, mainframe ops had lived through some shit. They were nearly exclusively vets, and they were all also excellent storytellers ( I grew up in Mississippi )

Some shit like DISK PACKS

These operators relayed stories to me about how the mainframes had enclosures that disk platters ( for storage ) had to be loaded into. The platters were bigger than your face, and they held nearly no storage. They weighed a ton! They’d also described that once the right disk pack had been located and set into position, you had to use a handle to lock the platters down.

In my imagination, I pictured these middle agend men in bunny suits, trying hard to set the platters into place without damaging anything.

Well, the truth is not quite as exciting 😂. It turns out these platters were in plastic cases, and the plastic cases had handles. Still pretty cool.

quarter for size disk pack 3 disk pack 2 disk pack 1

Some shit like CRO based displays

Yep, once upon a time, the old CRT was our only interface to graphics. I’m particularly fond of the stereoscopic option on the whatever this thing is. PDP10? Something older?

(vid) control data 6000

An old 9600 8N1 terminal. I don’t really know if it was 8N1. (vid) 9600 baud terminal

Some shit like punchcards

My friend Barry had this awesome story about how he had several boxes of punchcards, and for whatever reason he was moving these boxes from one facility to another. He loads up the bed of his truck, and off he goes.

The thing you need to know about the roads in Jackson, MS, ( or pretty much anywhere in Mississippi that’s got Yazoo Clay as its geological foundation ) is that they are TERRIBLY BUMPY. Like, flatten your tire if you hit the pot holes head on kind of bumpy.

Ok, so Barry’s tooling down the road in his pup truck, finds a pothole, miraculously doesn’t puncture his tire, but.. the punchcards have popped their top and shuffled themselves into the bottom of his truck bed. For all I know, Barry had 10 punchcards back there to reorder, but to hear him tell it, there were tens of thousands of these things. While they were numbered, my man Barry reportedly spent way too much time putting them back in numerical order.

Everytime this story got told ( and it was told and retold, like all great ops war stories ), someone nearby would chime in with a halleujah and a boy it was a dark day when the programmer forgot to number those cards.

punchcard tooc

Some shit like physical models to practice development on

I had no idea this was a thing. it’s pretty cool. (vid) physical dev model

I noticed that chapter 4 in the manual was Arithmatic Operations, though. CHAPTER FOUR WAS ADDITION. Can you imagine?

Some shit like random other computers I’ve used

Here’s the Apple IIc, which we had at my middle school. I was a big fan of Oregon Trail back in the day. apple IIc


While this perl book isn’t technically a computer, it does hold a near and dear place in my heart. I think I broke the spine on this book less than one year into ownership, and I kept The Camel Book at the ready for the better part of 4 years. It was a really good book. camel book

Some shit like random other computers I’ve only heard of

Macintosh Plus???

macintosh plus


(vid) NextCube

Cap’n Crunch 2600 Hz Whistle

Cap'n Crunch Whistle

Hand Woven Core Memory!!

hand woven core mem

Nintendo Famico

nintendo famico nintendo famico front

Atari 2600




Amiga something something rampage


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