The Bob Doran Museum of Computing – Impressions

The most incomprehensible thing about the Universe is that it is comprehensible.

Albert Einstein

Well, to call my visit tonight an impression isn’t quite fair. For the entire duration that I’ve studied and worked at Auckland Science, this display has been here. First curated by Prof. Bob Doran himself, and later in his honor and legacy. I am quite familiar with some of the displays, especially the Macintoshes on Floor 1, which I greet every morning when coming in to work.

Still, there is something new. Partially encouraged by my Greeks photography misadventure last weekend, for the first time, I brought along my macro and went to photograph some of the highlights.

As before, this is not a very curated experience. To do so would be beyond my ability and time allowance. But all images are organized spatially, and I will write more about why I chose to do this blog post at this exact point in time, near the end of this post.

I intend this gallery as one of those resource albums that video game artists would consult when creating a fictional world. That, or STEM educators. You may reuse all images that do not feature copyrighted content (magazines, documents, etc.) on a Creative Commons (CC-BY-SA 4.0) basis.

Choose your floor here.


Floor 5 – I/O, Storage, Logic, CAD


Floor 4 – Circuitry and DIY Culture, Computers Made in NZ


Floor 3 – Personal Computers


Floor 2 – Mechanical Calculators


Floor 1 – Auckland University’s First Computer, and Punchcard Rhapsody


Floor G – The Information Age Poster, and a stack of Apples


Closing Thoughts

I do a fair amount of numerical physics, and as such consider myself a “downstream” user of the glorious computation industry, itself enabled by generations of earlier scientists and engineers. Cray, HP, IBM, Apple … they are names I revere.

Not to say the following sentiment is purely endowed upon me by the few free pizzas I ate at Berkeley — I was fairly computation-versed before college — but after studying in California, part of me far more actively seeks a halcyon Silicon Valley vibes in both my professional and personal projects. A drive to change the world through persistence, and an almost-blind confidence that one’s work one day will.

I suppose what ultimately prompted me to briefly get away from my desk is the sense that winter is coming again, that tech companies are starting a wave of mass layoffs and hire freezes. That bubbles are bursting, and that the next while won’t be easy for many. Some of those making an emergency landing might not have been flight-worthy in the first place, but the runways will certainly be busier than usual.

For a long time now, there’s been an early draft on FWPhys entitled “A Physicist’s Guilt”. It mostly takes on an economic and humanitarian angle and does not per se concern my day-to-day research activities. I maintain a materialistic view of progress and history, that humanity is fortunate to break free from eons of infighting and hunger largely thanks to the serendipitous onset of fundamental sciences, of which I am honored a part. I am ever humbled to learn about how much people use their ingenuity to push the human race forward. Navigating the oceans, the industrial revolutions, and recently the global internet.

I have no positive regards for “Web3”, abuse of a term, and quantum computing is more bubbly than a cup of Dr Pepper straight from the tap. But at least people are still trying, seeking.

The Silicon Valley vibe I so long yearned for above is not itself a reason but the result of advancements in fundamental sciences. Humans have been squeezing the previous wave for a while, picking all the low-hanging Nuclear Fruits, and still unsure where the next point of growth will come.

While the journey is hard and arduous, alongside countless others, I will go on working.

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