Computer has a comparatively short history versus engineering, chemistry and medicine. However it makes up for its brief existence with a large amount of historic events and breakthroughs.
Which is why its important to document and archive these exciting times, whether it was the first modem, the first commercially successful video game or the latest version of Windows.
There are a few places in the UK that are dedicated to this history of computing:
- The Computer Conservation Society, in London
- The Centre for Computing History, in Cambridge
- The History of Computing Collection, in Manchester University
However they all pale in comparison to the extensive collection maintained by The National Museum of Computing (TNMOC) in Bletchley Park, Milton Keynes.
When you visit the site, you are able to fully immerse and interact with most of the machines and tech they have on display there. If you get lost or want to ask questions, there is a small troop of passionate volunteers who will happily talk your hind legs off about magnetic tape storage or the Bombe machine.
The main attraction has to be the Colossus machine. It was fascinating to watch the valves and rotary switches pulse and click. It should be noted that the Colossus wasn't used to break Enigma, it was used to determine the configuration settings of the Lorenz Machine. Which would then allow Turing's Bombe machine to crack the codes.
Other displays of interest to me were the massive hard drives which weighed hundreds of kilograms and could only store 20mb of data. The retro video games hall with classics like; Lemmings, Asteroids and Super Mario.
It was also nice to see a collection of handheld devices and PDAs. One that stood out to me was a Psion 5 series PDA that my dad used to use back in the late 90s.
My favourite tidbit of knowledge came from the Teletype and IBM punchcard machines. These machines ran with a default limit of 80 characters/columns. As the years progressed and the interactive terminal took over, this limit was still kept. So if you open your terminal up in Linux/Apple etc. you will have a maximum of 80 characters displayed per line (unless otherwise configured to another value).
All in all its a great place to visit and it would be adviseable to spend at least a whole day there to get the most out of the museum.
It is worth noting that there is a bit of politics going on with the museum and its neighbour; the Bletchely Park trust. So please be aware that to get inside the museum you need to go through the Bletchely Park signage and car park and eventually you will see the site nestled in the centre surrounded by fencing (which is unfortunate).