This weekend I visited the Living Computer Museum to check out its amazing collection of vintage computers, and to see the annual Seattle Retro Gaming Expo. It was a fantastic experience and I highly recommend checking out the museum if you’re in the Seattle area. Check out photos of the museum and event below:
I started by checking out the ‘cold’ room where large mainframe computers run in an air conditioned environment.
The ramp up to the room raises the floor so cables can be hidden under your feet:
One thing you can’t tell from photos is how loud it was with all the mainframes, air conditioning, etc. running. There actually were ear plugs if you wanted them!
Here’s a short video to give you an idea what the noise was like–it’s LOUD:
A PDP-10 was whirring away computing things as best as its 1960’s vintage circuits could muster. It’s crazy to think the phone in my pocket is thousands of times more powerful than this beast!
Punch card reader for the CDC 6500:
Vintage ASCII art from the IBM mainframe:
This bittersweet memo about Xerox shutting down their computer division was pinned to one of its mainframes in the room:
Wait a second something looks familiar on that terminal, let’s take a closer look:
Nethack! (or maybe it’s Rogue?)
Maintaining all the computers is a full time job and requires quite a few tools and components:
A logic analyzer is invaluable for troubleshooting problems with these vintage computers:
Notes like this were taped to some computers and described their quirks and issues:
After checking out the mainframes in the cold room it’s on to the minicomputers.
There’s nothing ‘mini’ about these computers compared to what we use today, but in their day they were revolutionary for making computers more accessible to businesses, universities, etc.
Most of the minicomputers used teletype consoles to type in programs and read their output:
These older teletypes make a really awesome and distinctive clatter that you can hear in the video below:
The museum has a fantastic collection of Altair 8800 & MITS memorabilia. The Altair 8800 was one of the first microcomputer kits and helped lay the foundation for the home computer revolution:
Tips on how to use the Altair 8800:
Not long after the Altair 8800 took off more companies jumped in to the new home computer market. These home computers make up the majority of the museum and are all in perfect working order. You can sit down and start hacking away at any of them!
A quick hello world for the Commodore PET:
Something made this TRS-80 a bit upset:
I loved this display of homebrew computer club memorabilia:
A couple guys you might recognize who were big in the homebrew computer club:
Lots of great Apple computers in the museum (although surprisingly I didn’t see an Apple I on display!):
And of course the IBM PC was well represented too:
The clicky IBM Model M keyboard is beloved by many people, but in my mind the best keyboard ever is the Microsoft Ergonomic keyboard. It’s all about the wrist angle and support!
There’s other interesting Microsoft memorabilia in the museum, like the original ‘Surface’ computer:
There was a great display of computer memory and storage technology, starting with paper tape and punch cards:
This drum memory was created in the 1930’s!
Core memory woven by hand–this kind of memory powered the Apollo moon landing missions!
Awesome logo on this floppy:
There were lots of great infographics and other displays about computer history:
There was also a nice library section with many classic computer texts:
This IBM mainframe control panel wasn’t hooked up to a computer anymore, but instead had its lights animated with a microcontroller:
Check out the video of it in action:
Remember the ‘workstation’? The Living Computer Museum does:
In addition to the computers there was a great collection of early electronics and other related memorabilia:
Lots of interesting early Heathkit stuff too:
‘The Lure of Electronics’ — still holds true today!
My favorite part of the museum was the fact that anyone could walk up to a computer and start using it. You could play the Oregon trail or crack open a vintage BASIC manual and start hacking:
I love that the smartphone being used to lookup instructions for this PC is hundreds of times more powerful than it:
Try not to die of dysentery on the trail:
Kicking back with Minesweeper on Windows 3.1:
This is how you learned to use a computer like the Osborne 1, by poring over the manual and trying things–there was no Stack Overflow or Google to help you!
The Seattle Retro Gaming Expo was going on at the same time in a lower level of the Living Computer Museum:
There were a lot of retro games for sale:
I loved seeing all these games in their original boxes–it reminded me of seeing them on store shelves many years ago as a kid:
Ouch! Better bring your checkbook if you plan on getting into vintage game collecting these days:
Don’t drink and code–great advice!
This Jaguar was turned into a clock:
In addition to games and hardware there was artwork and other memorabilia for sale:
Plenty of vintage consoles and games were available to play for free too:
Mega Man 2, the best NES game in my humble opinion:
Perhaps the only place in the world that you could play an 8-player Steel Battalion mech combat game that day:
Awesome floppy disc badge for the event too:
All photos in this post taken by Tony DiCola and released under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.