Tag Archives: siliconvalley

Geeking out in Silicon Valley

As if wandering around a conference centre before the start of the conference wasn’t enough, I also went to the south of the Bay Area to visit some of the major sights in Silicon Valley.

I started at the excellent Computer History Museum. I don’t doubt that most people would find this mind-numbingly dull but I thought that the large archive of “significant” computers was great. It would be easy to argue over the machines that were on display, the ones that were more significant or, well, less American1.

Still, that’s nit-picking. It was great to see the PDP-8 — the successor to the PDP-7 that the original version of Unix was written for — and a couple of Cray-1’s. Purely for nostalgia value, it was great to see the Sinclair Spectrum (my first computer) and the ZX81 (the name of this website). I also remember wanting to get a QL because a friend had one and because it was cheap and powerful and had a great built-in programming language.

I’m guessing that many people reading this won’t have heard of the Xerox Alto. You can think of this as the first machine with what might be recognisable as a Graphical User Interface — or the point and click interface that we’re all used to now with the Macintosh and Windows. Talking of the Macintosh, the NeXT Cube is in many ways the precursor to the modern Mac. I remember getting some of the marketing bumph from NeXT when they were still being manufactured. I wasn’t completely sure why they were cool or what I would do with it if I had one, but I wanted one. The connection? Well, this was Steve Jobs company after he was booted from Apple in 1985 and the operating system forms the foundation of Mac OS X2.

There were lots of other interesting (mainly bigger and older) machines but these are the main ones that stood out to me. They have a policy of only displaying machines that are ten or more year old in order to get some perspective and decide what is truly significant. It will be interesting to see where they go in the next few years. Most of the interesting stuff in the last few years has been either in software or in gadgets that are not traditionally considered to be computers (such as iPods and mobile phones).

Unfortunately, the major problem with the rest of the valley is that it’s just a bunch of office buildings. Even the ones where interesting work is going on are still just office buildings. So I went to the other side of Mountain View to have a quick look at Google and then a quick stint on the freeway to Cupertino3 to have a word with the iPhone application review team (not really).

And from there it was back to San Francisco for some good food and some more traditional sight-seeing.

  1. Some would argue that the first “modern” computer was built at Manchester University in the UK, but there are a number of good contenders. []
  2. Actually, if you want to go further back, NeXTStep is a variant of Unix which we can trace back to the PDP-7 in 1969. []
  3. It seemed right that I’d take the picture of the Infinite Loop sign using my iPhone. []