Computer History Museum reopens in Mountain View

MOUNTAIN VIEW — After being closed for two years because of the pandemic, the Computer History Museum reopened Saturday, and visitors could once again let their inner nerd geek out as they explore the history of technology.

Visitors could say hello to artifacts such as one of the first robots created, Shakey the Robot, which looks like a big metal box with arms, or Pong, one of the first video games.

MOUNTAIN VIEW, CALIFORNIA – FEBRUARY 19: A Nintendo 64 is displayed at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif., on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group) 

Kirsten Tashev, vice president of collections and exhibitions at the museum, and other staffers were still refreshing themselves Saturday on all the information the museum has to offer before giving tours to guests.

Tashev said she’s hoping for the trendiness of museums — like the Ice Cream Museum and others that have become more popular as people look for new experiences away from their homes — to attract people to the center, and get them eager to learn more about the history and future of their tech devices.

“People have a certain impression of computer history,” Tashev said. “But it’s a human story and shows how we can solve things. People who are technical are going to be in love, and people who are not are going to be like ‘Wow.’ ”

The museum aims to decode technology through “preservation, connection, exploration and conversation.” Some exhibits feature “Easter eggs,” or hidden messages, and “nerd jokes” for people more familiar with computers and technology, along with other hands-on experiences and learning hubs.

Glossing through the software simulation exhibit, Shelley Alred, of Hayward, said it was her second time at the museum, but Saturday was her first time getting the full experience.

Alred said she her husband were looking for museums to go to over the weekend, but weren’t sure if the Computer History Museum was open. When they found out about the opening, they decided to make the trip over to explore on Saturday morning.

After her first 30 minutes at the museum. she said learning the story and applications of MRIs interested her most and the exhibit she related to the most.

“I get a lot of MRIs for health reasons, so it was interesting when I saw how it actually works,” Alred said.

The exhibits range from computer history to the future of software.

In the “Revolution: The First 2009 Years of Computing” exhibit, people can tour an array of multimedia experiences that chronicle the history and inventions of calculators, computers, gaming, cellphones and other devices throughout the years.

In the “Dec PDP-1 and IBM Demo Labs” exhibit, museum-goers can learn how the DEC PDP-1 mini-computer — one of the world’s first small, interactive computers launched in 1959 — “captivated a generation of hackers with its real-time capabilities, advanced graphics” and interstellar game Spacewar

MOUNTAIN VIEW, CALIFORNIA – FEBRUARY 19: Old computers are displayed at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif., on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group) 

People can also experience the sights and sounds of a 1960’s business center featuring “the popular IBM 1401 mainframe computer,” a very large metal box, sometimes called the Model T of the computing industry.

In the “Make Software: Change the World!” exhibit, visitors can learn the history and applications of MP3, Photoshop, Wikipedia, texting and World of Warcraft and explore a car crash simulation. It’s meant to introduce visitors and students to programming concepts and hands-on coding activities.

The museum also offers a learning lab with hands-on activities, with educational tours.

And there are numerous computing artifacts like the UNIVAC, the first commercial electronic computer in the United States. and oral histories from creators to get people to think about the history, present and future of everyday technology.

MOUNTAIN VIEW, CALIFORNIA – FEBRUARY 19: The Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif., on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group) 

Tashev said she expects another revolving exhibit to open soon with the first exhibit in the series potentially being about technology in the 1990s.

Dave Hoyt, a Saratoga resident and a volunteer who leads tours at the museum, said it was “great” to see a wide variety of people there on Saturday morning. Staff didn’t know what kind of turnout to expect for the opening because the museum has been closed since March 2020, he said.

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