The Computer History Museum

A few weeks ago I invited Bill Gosper to meet at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, at about noon, to talk about computers. As it turned out, the timing was perfect, and the museum was great.

At the entrance of the Computer History Museum there’s Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine  no.2. It’s absolutely humongous, filling up an entire room,and is insanely complex, even having a printing mechanism attatched. This many gears and cogs, though, only serves one purpose, to evaluate up to seventh-degree polynomials.

This is about 8 feet tall

Later in the day, we were able to see it in action, and it turns out that it has built-in n-core processing: Those rows of digits can evaluate more than 1 polynomial.

Oh, and it’s being put into Nathan Myhrvold’s (a CTO of Microsoft)

living room.

Soon, we went into the next room, dedicated to machines that played chess through the ages, which had cartoons, samples of code from the program, and the Deep Blue computer that beat Gary Kasparov.

We then went into the biggest room, Visual Storage, which was this humongous collection of computers, like a portion of the ENIAC, the PDP-1 (which used the Minsky circle algorithm that Bill Gosper and Julian Ziegler Hunts are trying to prove things about), the Utah Teapot, and even the legendary… Speak n’ Spell.

After that, we went to a pizza place across the street, where I showed Gosper some of my animations that I had put on my flash drive, and (almost) had a chocolate Italian soda. (Not carbonated chocolate milk, that tastes terrible).

We went back to the Computer History Museum just in time for a guided tour of Visual Storage, with Bill Gosper chiming in at points where he had actually used that computer, such as the PDP-1. Apparently they have a warehouse where 90% of their computers are kept, including the full ENIAC, the early army radar system, and other things that would make it a computer geek’s dream.

Overall, we had a great time, and Gosper liked the animations I showed him.

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