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Docent at the Computer History Museum

At an ACM (Association of Computing Machinery) meeting in the Silicon Valley, I met Gwen Bell (spouse of Gordon Bell, VAX architect), who founded BCM (Boston Computer Museum). Gordon brought back artifacts that he had collected while co-authoring the book “Computer Structures” with Alan Newell (known for his contributions to Multi-disciplinary research) during his sabbatical at CMU (Carnegie Mellon University). Gwen developed an exhibit at the DEC office in Boston, Massachusetts. It became known as BCM.

Gwen introduced me to Karen, then VP (Vice President) of CHM (Computer History Museum). I volunteered to be a Docent. When Microsoft “bought” the division of DEC (where Gordon & his team worked), Gwen had to think fast. Only a limited number of artifacts were accepted for display at the Science Museum. The rest of the artifacts were air-freighted to Moffett Field in Mountain View, California with the hope that the “Computer Museum” will be revived.

For several years, the artifacts were displayed at the makeshift Museum in Moffett Field. A group of enthusiasts bought a building on Shoreline Boulevard, Mountain View that was owned by SGI (Silicon Graphics Incorporated, which under-estimated the challenge of reasonably priced GPUs [Graphical Processing Units]) and offered it to be a permanent home for CHM.

In the early days, only ten per cent or so of the artifacts could be displayed at a given time for public viewing. The display items had to be moved back from the Visible Storage to the storage house.

As a Docent, I had to show the visitors and explain [if requested] about the artifacts displayed in Visible Storage. In those days, only ten percent (or so) could be displayed for a period before rolling them out.

Thanks in part to the “Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation”, CHM could now exhibit 20 sections (from pre-computer era to the Internet age). In addition, there are special exhibits (e.g. autonomous vehicles, computer chess, Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine, …)

Retired engineers from IBM, DEC … worked on the “Restoration of Computers” Project. They “restored” three old computers using the original specifications and genuine parts (as much as possible). They are on display in working order.

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