Nerd Vacations: The Computer History Museum in Palo Alto, California

Every now and then this geek makes her way out into the big, wide world for a look at how other people live their lives.  A few weeks ago I was in California for a teach conference and ventured out to Palo Alto to see where all of the magic is being made right now.  The first stop on the itinerary was the Computer History Museum.  We had initially budgeted about two hours to visit, but it ended up taking the whole day.  We literally left the exhibit hall, went across the street for lunch, then came back for a few more hours.  Honestly, I’ve never had such a good time at a museum.  Ever.

Here’s a description of the museum from their website:

Spend a day at the Computer History Museum. Find out why computer history is 2000 years old. Learn about computer history’s game-changers in our multimedia exhibitions. Play a game of Pong or Spacewar! Listen to computer pioneers tell their story from their own perspective. Discover the roots of today’s Internet and mobile devices. See over 1,100 historic artifacts, including some of the very first computers from the 1940s and 1950s.

You start out at the beginning of the term “computer.”  After a short video, you enter the exhibit hall where they introduce the abacus.  You get to see different historical calculators and slide rulers (I still didn’t quite figure out how to use a slide ruler.).  Then you progress into Babbage’s machine and all sorts of other stuff.  They allow photos (no flash) throughout, and there are plenty of neat historical machines all over the place:

I probably should have taken better notes when I took all of these pictures.  This computer is pretty old.  Definitely before the iPad came out.  I’m pretty sure of that.  Look at all of those wires!

This exhibit featured all of the old video game controllers.  I was a bit upset that they weren’t holding old-school Nintendo tournaments in the lobby, but a girl can dream, right?

Did I mention that they have happy hour in  the museum coffee shop?  We missed it because we spent all of our time inside the exhibit hall.

After spending all that time walking through the hallways of this wonderful place, we had just enough daylight to cruise through the Google campus, which is literally a mile away from the museum.

The next morning, we picked up the Apple campus for good measure:

It wasn’t as cool as Google, but there was a big store that had Apple t-shirts.  And no, we didn’t buy anything.  I spent enough on my computer that I feel like it should have come with a t-shirt (or an Apple wardrobe for that matter).  Anyway…

I have only one complaint about my trip.  This sign:

What does the Computer History Museum have against short people?  Huh?

But, seriously.  I forgive you.  The rest of the museum was 100% awesome.  If I lived in San Francisco, I’d probably hang out at the museum and sip wine while learning about the single coolest invention in the history of humanity (I mean computers, not fermenting grapes, although the two of them go nicely together in my opinion).

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