Friday 1 September 2017

Seattle's Living Computer Museum

I stayed in Seattle as a guest of Railbookers, Visit Seattle and the Fairmont Olympic Hotel, though I paid my own airfare to the USA.

When I visited Seattle in 2015, I was struck by how many museums it had which referenced either technology or the future (or both).

One exception that referenced both technology and the past was the Living Computer Museum, in the industrial district of SoDo; named in the American style after its location South of Downtown.

Established by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, the museum is dedicated to presenting the history of computing via working models of computers over the decades, which visitors are welcome to use.

To its credit, it has Apple computers on display as well as PCs.

This is the Apple Lisa, a 1983 computer which was one of the first to feature a graphical interface rather than a simple command line. It was inspired by a then decade-old groundbreaking graphical design by Xerox, which never fully capitalised on this brilliant leap in usability.

A large room at one end held a assortment of huge mainframe computers that looked as though they'd been salvaged from the set of 2001: A Space Odyssey...

... though I most enjoyed sitting down and interacting with the individual computers. This early AT&T machine had a vertical page-shaped monitor. I wonder why that didn't become more of a thing? For writing, it would have made a lot of sense.

I enjoyed a game of Hangman on this DEC VT131 terminal...

... and wrote a note in Notepad on an early IBM PC running Windows 1.0:

And of course, I had to play a game of Pac-Man on one of the early games-based computers, the Atari 400:

There was a lot more to the museum, including guided tours. It may look a bit dry in images, but all the explanatory captioning was very good and it was involving, even for a layman who's merely used computers a lot in his work.

Since I visited, the museum has renamed itself Living Computers Museum + Labs, adding a section dedicated to emerging technologies such as virtual reality and self-driving cars.

But I'll always have a soft spot for these older devices, which helped us in the transition from the hard copy working world, to that dominated by the IT of today.

Living Computers Museum + Labs is located at 2245 First Ave South, Seattle, USA. Entry fee US$12. For opening hours and other details, visit its website.

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