Add a Comment to this Note (list members only)
Dead medium: Computer Museum History Center; the Adidas Micropacer, the Whirlwind flight simulator, the Apricot Xi, the Cray NTDS
From: (Bruce Sterling)
Source(s): Jodi Mardesich, San Jose Mercury News Monday November 4, 1996 Austin American Statesman page D1

"TECH RELICS --Silicon Valley denizens look for right space for museum
"by Jodi Mardesich

"San Jose, California == For now, it's a warehouse filled with artifacts from hackers' garages and corporations' dark basements.

"But the Computer Museum of Boston wanmts to open a museum in the Silicon Valley to illuminate the history of the computer industry == as soon as it finds the proper place. The new Computer Museum History Center will display relics from 14 years of breakneck technological change, from ancient calculators and supercomputers to notorious virus software and games.


"The center's co-founders are C. Gordon Bell, a Microsoft researcher, and Leonard Shustek, co-founder of Network General Corp. And even as they search for a home, they're also still looking for nifty relics.

"Gwen Bell, founding president of the museum and Gordon Bell's wife, is a walking encyclopedia of the museum's contents. If you point to a dusty device, Bell can explain it. A single running shoe sitting on a cardboard box prompts her to point out the Adidas Micropacer, a pair of silver leather running shoes made in 1985. A sensor in the toe of the shoe connects to a microprocessor embedded in the tongue, which calculates speed, distance and the caloric output of the person wearing the shoe. The shoe never caught on in a big way and was discontinued.

"A pile of discarded mechanical calculators sits near the entrance. They were made obsolete by the advent of Intel's 4004 microprocessor, which spawned the first electronic calculators. But they're an important part of computing history.

"Also in the collection: early pointing devices that made possible the point and click graphical user interface, instead of the archaic command-driven interface of the past. Odd robots. Rows of stacked boxes brimming with research-and-development records. And 3,000 photographs of valley workers, their products and warrens.

"From the pre-PC days, there's part of a Whirlwind, a dusty, heavy, ancient-looking computer built for the Air Force in the late 1940s and early 50s, used as a flight simulator for weapons.


The collection of quaint computers in odd shapes and sizes brings the history of the industry to life. Besides the obvious, like an original IBM PC, there are odd footnotes to the history of computing, such as the Apricot Xi. The little-known, commercially unsuccessful Apricot used an Intel 8086 processor and ran DOS, but sported a Mac-like graphical user interface in 1984 == well before Microsoft released Windows.


"There's Seymour Cray's Navy Tactical Data System (NTDS) Unit computer. The 58.6 cubic foot device weighed in at 2,320 pounds. The NTDS, used for real-time tactical analysis and control of weapons, cost $500,000 at the time.


"The Computer Museum History Center is looking for museum-quality space, with high ceilings, the right acoustics, easy access, and room layout, said Carol Welsh, managing director. If the right location doesn't exist, it will be built."