Travel Diary: Silicon Valley, CA

IBM Motivational Signs

IBM Motivational Signs c.1950. Computer History Museum. Photograph ©Larissa Shirley 2011

My boyfriend and I just got back from an enjoyable, if rainy long weekend visiting friends in San José, California. While there, we had the chance to visit some of the region’s many attractions. Here are 2 of my favorites.

San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose, CA
This museum of Modern and Contemporary Art is located in downtown San Jose. The space is gorgeous, and it’s a nice, small museum with only a few shows up at a time. This makes it extremely manageable for an afternoon visit.

While there, we viewed Robert Mapplethorpe: Portraits (through June 5, 2011), a show featuring this photographer’s work from the 1970s and 80s, mainly featuring black and white photographs of his celebrity friends from the NYC art scene of the era.

Computer History Museum, Mountain View, CA
This museum is dedicated “to preserve and present for posterity the artifacts and stories of the information age.”

Their main exhibit is a dizzyingly huge show called Revolution: The First 2000 Years of Computing, which features computing tools from slide rules to silicon chips in its 19 galleries.

My favorite piece was the ill-fated “Honeywell Kitchen Computer” (as seen in the 1969 Neiman Marcus Christmas Catalog). The tag line read, “If she can only cook as well as the Honeywell can compute.”  Neiman Marcus sold none of these machines, however it is generally considered to be the first computer marketed as a consumer product.

Their other major attraction is Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine No. 2,  a mechanical computer designed in the 1840s to compute algorithms. Because Babbage lacked the funding to build one in his lifetime, this machine was built in 2008 to his original specifications. This manually operated engine is a wonder to behold, and a truly stunning piece of engineering.

Larissa

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