I was in Seattle last weekend for RacketCon—the biggest and best yet, thanks to those of you who were there. (Those who weren’t can watch the livestreams.)
A local programmer recommended I stop by the Living Computers Museum on my way out of town. Another suggested the Seattle Pinball Museum.
Tough choice. Would’ve been pinball, except there was no parking nearby. The Living Computers Museum, OTOH, had plenty of parking.
But I’m afraid things went downhill from there. As a programming enthusiast, I really wanted to like the LCM. Their collection of historical computer equipment is vast and fantastic. Many of the machines are displayed in working condition, including several mainframes. (Unlike the Neon Museum in Las Vegas, where everything is broken.)
Not working, but still impressive to see, is their Enigma machine:
But the presentation—the explanations, the contextualization—is disappointing. The LCM spends little time on what makes computers interesting in general, or the special historic & technical features of specific models. For instance, a wall-sized diagram depicts a chronological history of programming languages. But doesn’t show (or even tell) what makes them different and interesting.
Worse, the LCM devotes most of its attention to the desktop-computer market of the ‘70s and ‘80s, largely framed as a victory of Bill Gates / Paul Allen / Microsoft over various foes, especially Steve Jobs. (No coincidence of course—the LCM was founded by Paul Allen, who apparently still feels inadequately recognized.)
Everything before or after the desktop-computer era is glossed over. For instance, the museum dedicates floor space to an Atari 400—nobody’s idea of an essential computing artifact—but has no room to explain the origins of the internet. (Nor Microsoft’s long-running entanglements with antitrust investigators in the US and Europe.)
My advice: unless you’re dying to play Oregon Trail on an Apple II, look harder for pinball-museum parking.
Paul Allen died in October 2018. The Living Computers Museum permanently closed in July 2020.