The Powerhouse museum encompasses a massive collection of technology and design. One aspect of particular interest is the computer and telecommunications collection.
Before the Internet, there was the Victorian internet – the telegraph. One of the more sophisticated telegraph machines is this one – the Wheatstone 5-needle telegraph. It was a combination transmitter and receiver, and was used used on English railways. This one was made c. 1837 – 1842.
The needles were activated in pairs by electromagnets to point to the letters. Perhaps this was the sort of machine used by Abraham Lincoln when he checked his t-mail (telegraph mail)
Another radical development was the Apple computer – the first version was built in 1976 in Steve Wozniak’s garage along with Steve Jobs, later joined by Daniel Kottke, Randy Wigginton and others. They made 200 of them – but it was the start of a personal computer revolution.
Each was handmade and users built them into a small case – bearing some resemblance to the ‘enigma’ encoding machine used by the Germans in WWII. Storage was by cassette audio tape, and a TV was the monitor. The machine used a MOS Technology 6502 motherboard with 8kb of RAM. The later ones used a Motorola 6800 board.
Then came telepresence in the form of virtual reality technology – remember the VR cafes of the 1990s? This was the start of truly immersive 3D environments. The accompanying data glove enabled the user to interact with the environment and fight dinosaurs and the like. When these were around I remember people complaining that the refresh rate was too slow and that the sense of disconnected movement gave people motion sickness. But it was a major step forward in immersive environment technology.
The Powerhouse is well worth a visit – check out the ‘Wedge’ 3D environment – one of the prototypes developed by the Australian National University.
It is open every day except Christmas day 10.00am-5.00pm, and is located at 500 Harris Street, Ultimo, Sydney NSW. There is an admission charge – you can find the details on their website.