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Computer museum a techie’s paradise

Ian King

Ian King

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IF YOu GO

LIVING COMPUTER MUSEUM: 2245 First Ave. S., Seattle, www.livingcomputermuseum.org. Open Thursday, noon-8 p.m.; Friday, noon-5 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Adults, $5; students, seniors, active military, $2; children 12 and under, free.

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Updated: December 12, 2012 6:08AM



SEATTLE — For tourists with an interest in Seattle’s role as a high-tech hub, there hasn’t been much here to see, other than driving over to Microsoft headquarters in suburban Redmond to take pictures of a bunch of buildings.

But Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen has just opened the Living Computer Museum, with displays of old machines — all in working order — along with a wish list of items he’d like to add, just in case anybody has an old tape drive or super-computer sitting around.

Visitors who stop by the nondescript building in an industrial section of Seattle south of the baseball stadium are likely to see technicians in white lab coats working on the machines. But this place is not just for nerds and techies. Since the museum’s Oct. 25 opening, many visitors have been families, and their questions have not been the expected queries concerning technical specs of machines, but rather where did the curators find these artifacts and what was their purpose.

And items here are not behind glass with “Do Not Touch” signs. This is a place where you’re welcome to pull up a chair and relive the days when you played Congo Bongo on a Commodore 64 instead of doing homework.

Visitors of a certain age are also almost guaranteed to see the first personal computer they ever touched — Radio Shack TRS-80 or an early Apple, perhaps — but the centerpieces are the bigger, older, flashier machines.

One of the oldest examples is a PDP-7 made by Digital Equipment Corp. It’s the size of an office cubicle and was designed in the mid-1960s to do just one operation in a physics lab at the University of Oregon. The curators believe it is the only working model of its kind in the world.

Displays throughout the museum explain how much computers have evolved in the past 50 years and feature some amusing old photographs, including one shot of Allen sitting at a keyboard with a young Bill Gates looking over his shoulder.

All the equipment is from Allen’s personal collection; the high-tech billionaire is committed to putting more cash into building his collection for both educational and nostalgic value.

“He’s extremely passionate about this place,” said Christina Siderius, a spokeswoman for Allen’s company, Vulcan Inc.

Allen is a collector of epic proportions, but he doesn’t keep his toys locked away in a private vault; he likes to share. He has two other Seattle museums: the Flying Heritage Collection featuring his airplanes, and the Experience Music Project, a museum of popular culture and science fiction.

Allen has an appropriate surrogate in Ian King, the museum’s senior systems engineer who sports a beard and kilt. “I’m a collector myself,” he said. “I have about 30 machines at home in my basement” AP



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