Sunday, July 6, 2008

Computer History Museum

On Saturday, William and I went to the Computer History Museum that is close to our house (like a 5 minute drive). It was FREE which is hard to beat. They had this cool replica of a machine imagined by Charles Babbage back in the 1800s and so they recreated it using his plans. It basically was a away to automatically get the derivatives of up to a seventh degree polynomial. We saw a video about how it was developed and how it functioned, but we had sadly missed the last demonstration for the day ;-( They had some exhibits detailing some of the old computer developments and how they had changed over time (I wish they had explained more about the how each one was actually different- eg, function- rather than just giving the historical facts).
They had a special exhibit about the development of computer chess and how a computer was able to actually beat a chess world champion back in 1997. The underlying processes are actually just calculating basic probabilities and options in moves- just at a super fast rate. The programmers also tested the program with other chess masters before hand to learn about even more options for moves. They also showed excerpts from the match where we were able to see the stress on the world champion's face.

They have another room containing "visible storage" of many of the old computers (like the HUGE ones that were first developed) and some of the different style monitors and also older calculators. They had an indepth tour that we chose to skip (which was a good thing) because it spent over an hour in this one room- which would have been way too long for us, even a computer nerd like William!). Again, the major complaint is that they don't really understand how these basic machines worked- I had to ask William to tell me the differences from today's computer and some of the basic premises behind them. It is crazy to think that this was how huge the computers used to be.
We might come back another time to have one of the shorter 1/2 visible storage tours and to see the machine in action but are happy that it is FREE.

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