"Girl, let's climb too high for the stars to reach us." -Danzig/Girl

Get ready for another picture-intensive post that documents my family’s visit to the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California! The Computer History Museum is divided into 20 numbered rooms, which advance their way through the history of computers chronologically, and starts with a pretty old computer — the Abacus.

From a historical perspective this makes perfect sense, but it doesn’t do a good job in convincing a couple of kids that this museum is not going to be boooooring.

At least the first 10 rooms of the museum cover computers that were made before I was born. There were large sections of ENIAC…

…along with a large UNIVAC…

…and several other old computers. One room covered the development of transistors and another showed old analog machines designed to track trajectories. Again, all these things were historically interesting but did little to keep the kids’ attention.

One of the things that I found really interesting was this Enigma codebreaking computer from World War II. There was a short video playing next to the machine and the kids did think that was cool.

Another historical computer on display at the museum was this Cray 1. When I was a kid all I knew about Cray computers was that they were used in creating the graphics in The Last Starfighter. It’s cut off in the picture, but this Cray contained 32k of RAM and cost between $6 and $10 million dollars.

If you are a lady and think this museum sounds boring, then check out this computer from 1969!

This computer was designed to appeal to women and was designed to store recipes and live in your kitchen! For $10,000, owners would get the computer, an apron, a cook book, and a two-week course on how to program the thing. All the recipes were stored and presented in binary, which might explain why these kitchen computers from Neiman-Marcus did not sell well.

Also on display was this IMSAI 8080 computer. I don’t think anyone knows what this machine actually does. People only know it as “that computer from Wargames!”

The first room that really captured the kids’ attention was the one that focused on robots. There were several robots on display, from small toys to industrial machinery.

Then, as my dad would say, “this is where I came in.”

Starting with this Apple 1 (signed by Woz), the museum got into what I think of as the birth of home computers. While I know hobbiests dinked around with Altairs and other home machines, it wasn’t until they had monitors, keyboards, and simple storage that home computers came in to their own.

TRS-80 Model I

Retro Row

More Retro Machines

This was the first point in the museum where I could say, “I had one of those!” (Or in some cases, “I still have one of those!”)

One room contained a large display of peripherals, from early mice and keyboards to all kinds of controllers. Here are a few I recognized! Of course I owned (and own) Atari Joysticks and that Wico stick on the right, but that Archer joystick in the middle is the one we had for our Apple computer growing up as well.

The next part of the museum focused on computers in arcade machines. Two very famous arcade machines were on display at the museum.

Computer Space is, of course, the first coin-operated machine.

This was the first Pong machine (a prototype) that was put on location at Andy Capp’s. If you have ever heard the story about how the first arcade machine broke down because it was so jammed full of quarters that it would no longer operate, this is that very machine.

This room got more into computer software. As you can see by these games on display, this area focused on text adventures. A kiosk running Zork was on display and Mason spent a few minutes working his way through the first couple of screens.

There were three playable machines in the “computer game” area running a text adventure, Pac-Man, and Pong. All three were noticeably running emulators.

As quickly as the tour began, it ended. The last room focused on the “dot com” revolution. The coverage felt a little uneven with a lot of focus on early machines and not much on modern history. The kids would have liked more interactive exhibits (kids love pressing buttons and watching videos). Overall the museum was very enjoyable and we did learn some things. Seeing the old historical machines was exciting.

There was one last exhibit on display at the museum but I’ll be saving that for a separate post of its own.

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The drive to to Sequoia National Park was long — four or five hours from where we had stayed the night before — but oh so worth it. In less than an hour, we went from roughly sea level to an elevation of more than 7,500 feet. The road to Wuksachi Lodge is narrow and hugs the mountains. On their way up drivers are in the outside lane, giving them both a fantastic view and white knuckles. Fortunately there are multiple scenic “pull offs” so that you don’t have to take pictures while driving.

Once we arrived at the park, Susan and Morgan went one way while Mason and I went the other. While some of the trees in the forest are taller than others, all of them are tall.

The largest tree in the park is General Sherman. By volume, General Sherman is, by volume, the largest living thing on the planet. The tree is 2,300 to 2,500 years old; it’s also 275 feet tall, 102 feet around at the base and 25 feet around at the trunk. It’s a massive, massive tree. If you ever want to feel small, standing in the Sequoia National Park can help you with that.

On the way to the General Sherman tree you pass a couple of interesting things, like this fallen tree that you can walk through. Later in the day we drove through the auto log, a fallen tree that you can drive through.

We didn’t spend a heck of a lot of time in the Sequoia Park, but it was awesome to see and I know it was on Susan’s bucket list so that made it even more special. It was definitely something to stand in front of those trees.

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Susan has a knack for finding tours that are both interesting and free. One she found during this trip was a tour of the Jelly Belly Factory, located in Farifield, California.

Outside the factory are several “bean-wrapped” cars, including this one, a van, a VW bug, and several box trucks. These must be a great deterrent for road rage. How can you get mad at a car covered in jelly beans, even in California traffic??

The festive look continues inside the factory lobby.

While waiting for the tour to begin visitors are encouraged to visit the free Jelly Belly bar, where they can get two Jelly Bellies of three different flavors for free. I tried sour apple, pie a’la mode, and vanilla ice cream. Susan picked from the “gross out” menu and picked (I am not kidding) barf, snot, and (I think) skunk. Her response? “These are gross!” Our response? “DUH!”

Throughout the tour there were several Jelly Belly murals such as this one. Unfortunately most of them were inside the factory, where photography is not allowed. The murals varied in size and each one contained “between 10,000 and 14,000 individual beans.” This one of Ronald Reagan was in the lobby. Ronald Reagan loved jelly beans so much that a special container was built to hold them on Air Force One, and the blue Jelly Belly (blueberry) was created in 1981 for Reagan’s inauguration so that they could have red, white and blue jelly beans.

The factory tour consisted of walking around on a catwalk built above the factory floor and watching machines mix, tumble, and sort jelly beans. I’m not sure why photography was not allowed; it’s not like one could build a competing candy factory based off of a few iPhone pictures.

At one point in the tour we saw 8 people standing around a giant bin of jelly beans, picking red ones out by hand one at a time. Apparently someone dumped the wrong flavor into a mix and they were being manually removed.

Another thing I enjoyed seeing were these “Belly Flops,” Jelly Bellies that are abnormal in shape and get sifted out of the main mix. These were available for sale, although I believe they sell them in stores as well.

Like most tours of this kind, the tour ends in the gift shop, where shoppers (who have been smelling jelly bean wafts for 30 minutes) arrive with credit cards and appetites in hand. Susan got some Jelly Belly flip-flops while the kids and I got some bottles of Jelly Belly Cola. We all also received complimentary packages of Jelly Bellies.

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After completing our tour of the back studio lot of Warner Bros., we moved to some of the television sets. The first set we toured was the set of the television show Sullivan and Son. We have not seen the television show Sullivan and Son yet, but it was one of two sets we were allowed to take photos on.

Here is a picture I found online of the show. Below are pictures of my kids in front of the set.

This is what is referred to as a “dollhouse” set. It’s called that because the set has three walls (the sides and back) while the front wall is missing. The audience sits across from the set in these seats. The shows are taped before a live studio audience and the laughter you hear is real (not a laugh track). If a joke is performed and no one laughs, production is halted and the writers quickly rework the joke and re-shoot it.

After touring the Sullivan & Son set we toured two more sets. The first was the set of Big Bang Theory. Big Bang Theory has currently wrapped for the season and so almost anything that would be recognizable was covered with plastic tarps. So even if I had taken any pictures on that set (which I didn’t) they would be of rooms full of tarps.

The next set we visited was for a show called “Pretty Little Liars.” It was not a dollhouse set but rather a “practical” set, in which the rooms all had four walls. Once you get inside the set it’s like a bizarre maze. The entrance to the set was of a school hallway, with stairs that led nowhere and doors that led to people’s bedrooms. It was very strange and disorienting and I was continually reminded of how things in studios look “fake” but end up looking like real locations on the small and large screen.

The reason we were able to visit so many television sets was due to this:

That’s our cart, which had a tire blow out. (I’m innocent; I was sitting in the back!) With our cart out of service we had enough to visit the one still existing set from Friends, Central Perk.

Central Perk was the coffee shop the character from the TV show Friends frequented. The set is still fully assembled 10 years later and a good opportunity for photos. I have no idea what Morgan is doing in this photo.

At this point we moved to the museum portion of the tour. This is a lot of pictures of things from TV shows and movies so I will go quickly. Here are costumes from:

Big Bang Theory



More Batman


The Hangover

Charlie Sheen’s urn from 2 1/2 Men

Sandra Bullock’s space suit from Gravity

If you are a fan of Harry Potter, the entire second floor of the museum was dedicated to costumes and props from those films.

The last thing I’ll leave you with are these original line cartoon drawings. There were several of these (under glass) along with some storyboards from original Bugs Bunny cartoons. I really enjoyed looking at these up close.

I know the last couple of posts have been pretty picture intensive, but we saw so many cool things that I wanted to share — and trust me, we saw many more cool things that I did not include! To anyone interested in film history, I highly recommend the Warner Bros. back lot tour. We were very glad we did it.

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The Warner Bros. studio in Burbank, California offers daily tours of its back lot. This is one of the things I was really looking forward to seeing on the vacation and it did not disappoint. The Warner Bros. back lot consists of almost 30 sound stages and lots of other sets both indoors and out. Some of them were instantly recognizable, some of them were recognizable with a bit of prodding, and some you wouldn’t recognize in a million years.

Our tour began with a brief movie showing clips from nearly 100 years worth of WB movies, television programs, and cartoons. Between the four of us I would say we recognized roughly 20% of the clips. Many of them were from old movies and new television shows we had not seen. Once the movie was over we headed outsite, climbed upon our 15-man golf cart, and hit the road!

This is the first location our guide pointed out to us:

“Why are we looking at a dirt road,” we all asked. Apparently, this is the dirt road that a T-Rex chased a jeep down in Jurassic Park.

The road was only about 30 feet long and our guide explained that they drove up and down the road many times to string together enough footage for the chase sequence.

Just past this road on the left was a small cabin.

“Has anybody here seen TRUE BLOOD?” our guide asked. Nobody on the train had seen True Blood. “Oh well, if you had, then you would recognize this cabin as Merlottes Bar and Grill!” We quickly learned that telling the guide that we had not seen a movie or did not watch a television show didn’t prevent her from showing us the location regardless.

The pond on the right hand side was much more interesting.

This pond has been a lot of things, including the sea in Poseidon. However, what I recognized it from was this:

If you look closely you’ll see Pee-Wee Herman swinging across that very same pond.

Actually if you want see what the back lot looks like (at least the outside of the sound stages), watch the chase scene from Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. Here’s a shot of the fake backdrop Pee-Wee places to fool the security guards chasing him:

…and here’s a shot of the back lot itself.

There were tons of little places that you might only see in a few seconds of a movie. Here are a small set of steps that lead to nowhere.

(Note the square around the tree. All the trees are actually potted plants and can be added or removed depending on what the shot calls for.)

In the movie Gremlins, these steps are in the heart of Chinatown, and lead down to a mysterious shop where a man looking for a Christmas present for his son purchases a Mogwai!

Right around the corner from this was a small alley.

You might recognize it as the dark alley in which a wet Pee-Wee Herman runs into a bunch of thugs shortly before discovering Madame Ruby the Fortune Teller…

…or you might recognize those steps as the ones the orphans sing on in the 1981 version of Annie.

It was also the place where Spider-Man’s famous “upside-down” kiss took place.

A block or so away is the front of Annie’s orphanage. Many of the locations were difficult to recognize because the fronts of many of the buildings are actually foam core and can be switched from brick to rock to wood easily. Also all of the door knobs, lights, trimmings, and everything else are designed to be easily changeable.

One other interesting thing we encountered was the Mystery Machine, getting some fuel at the lot’s onsite gas station.

In Part 2 of this post I’ll be sharing pictures from some of the television sets and inside the WB museum.

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When people who know me find out I’ve never been to California, most of them are surprised. “It seems like your kind of place,” they say, and they’re partially right. I love movies and music and the entire entertainment industry and I love reading about and seeing “behind the scenes” of how those things operate. When I was a kid I used to tell people the reason I hadn’t been to California is because I was afraid I would never come back. As a young man that might have been true, but I’m afraid at this point the crowds, traffic and high cost of living would be too much for me to adapt to. “It’s a nice place to visit,” as they say.

The Hollywood sign and Walk of Fame was not the first place we visited chronologically, but thematically it seems like a good place to start.

I grew up seeing the Hollywood sign plastered in entertainment, from the original Muppet Movie…

…to video games, like Epyx’s California Games.

If you really want to see it, here is the sign as it appears in 80 different movies.

In reality, there are more than a few ways to get a good view of the Hollywood sign. By simply driving around Hollywood you can see the sign from lots of places. There are also hiking tours and other ways to get closer to the sign, although I found the iPhone’s zoom good enough to get a decent shot of the sign from almost anywhere. Our favorite viewpoint came from the Hollywood & Highland Mall.

As you can see, the mall was specifically designed to include a viewing area from which one can easily see the sign. Here’s a phone shot from the walkway itself.

As most people know, the sign was originally an advertisement for a housing addition and read “HOLLYWOODLAND”. The original sign cost $21k to erect in the 1920s, although many more millions have been spent maintaining it throughout the years. In 1932, aspiring film actress Peg Entwistle lept to her death from the “H”. After the war and during the depression, the Hollywood real estate business went bust, and the sign became the property of the city in 1944. In 1949, “LAND” was removed, leaving the sign to appear as it does today: “HOLLYWOOD”. The sign was completely renovated in the late 1970s at a cost of a quarter million dollars — in fact, for three months in 1978, the sign was completely removed while the letters were being restored. Today the sign is surrounded by a “state of the art security system” preventing people from getting anywhere near it without police helicopters quickly swooping in.

After viewing the sign we returned to the mall, walked out one of the exits, and found ourselves looking at this:

Grauman’s Chinese Theater (or simply Mann’s) is an iconic movie theater in downtown Hollywood which has been the home of several huge movie premiers, including this one you might have seen:

Later that summer, R2-D2, C-3P0, and Darth Vader had their footprints placed not in carbonite, but concrete.

On the sidewalk outside the theater is where we first saw stars from the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Two of the first ones we saw belonged to Slash and Godzilla, so the stars are not limited to real people. I had hoped to take pictures of some of the stars but there were literally thousands of people walking on them and getting much more than a quick phone snap of any particular star proved difficult. There are more than 2,500 stars on the Walk of Fame so without a map, finding a specific one would be pretty difficult.

We spent a few more minutes driving around Hollywood, stopping briefly at Hollywood and Vine and again at Sunset and Vine. It was weird to see so many locations and names that I’ve heard about in songs and seen in movies for so long.

We spent less than half a day in downtown Hollywood. I would love to go back and spend a week seeing everything.

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It’s funny how that carrot-on-a-stick promise of “it’s only a 2 1/2 hour flight from California to Oklahoma” turns into 11 hours after you figure in the drive to the airport, returning the rental car, time spent in the TSA security line and so on. We left our hotel in Pleasant Hill, California at 6:30am this morning, and arrived home at 5:30pm.

In the past seven days we visited Disneyland, the Warner Brothers Studio, Rancho Obi-Wan, the Jelly Belly factory, the Sequoia National Forest, Computer History Museum, and Alcatraz/Pier 39, with lots of other little stops and diversions along the way.

I’m going to spend the next week writing about our trip, saving the posts about Disneyland for the weekend. Look for lots of fun stories and pictures!

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Monday morning, we toured the Jelly Belly factory in Fairfield, California. The tour was free and only 30 minutes in length, but was a fun distraction and interesting.

Twenty-four hours later I found myself standing in front of the largest living thing on the planet.

General Sherman” is not the tallest, oldest, or wisest tree on the planet, but by volume, it is the largest. The tree is estimated to be between 2,300 and 2,500 years old, 275 feet tall, a diameter of 25 feet and a circumference of just over 100 feet at the base.

So — something small and something big. I’ll write more about each when I get back home this weekend.

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It’s the fourth morning of our vacation and I haven’t updated the blog because we haven’t had a lot of downtime yet. Here’s a brief recap of the past three days. I’ll be writing more and posting more pictures when I get home for sure.

Last Friday we flew out to California. As you all know by now I am not a big fan of flying but the rum and Cokes in first class make the experience a little more tolerable.

Saturday morning, bright and early, we went to Disneyland. It was the first time for all of us. We visited the park for 6 or 7 hours, took a midday break, and then returned later for another 4 hours. We used the Fastpass system to the best of our ability and got to ride most of what we wanted. I think all of us agree that we will come back in a year or two to ride see the things we missed. We had a great time there and one day is not enough time to see and do everything there.

Sunday morning we visited the Warner Bros. studio back lot tour. This was a tour of the 110 acre lot where many famous Warner Bros. movies were filmed, from the Big Bang Theory all the way back to Casablanca. We got to see lots of famous faux buildings like the orphanage from Annie and the hospital from ER, and we got to see a lot of costumes from Batman, Gravity, and Harry Potter. In retrospect I wish we had studied up on our WB history before attending. I’ll be posting a ton of pictures from this when I can get a faster internet connection.

Monday we drove north to Petaluma, California to visit Rancho Obi-Wan. Rancho Obi-Wan is owned by Steve Sansweet, owner of the largest privately-owned collection of Star Wars memorabilia. Steve owns everything you can imagine related to Star Wars and lots of things you wouldn’t dream of seeing there. His collection contains somewhere between 400,000 and 500,000 individual items, from books and posters to toys, artwork, and more, including lots and lots of one of a kind items. The tour is led by Mr. Sansweet himself and for four hours we (the four of us and three other guests) got a private tour of his 9,000 square foot personal museum. Steve Sansweet has authored 16 books on Star Wars, so he definitely knows his stuff. We took hundreds of pictures during the tour and I know we didn’t capture everything. Definitely the mecca for any Star Wars collector to see.

After the kids swim and rest this morning we’re going to go tour the Jelly Belly factory before heading out to the Sequoya National Forest.

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Each time a morsel of news related to the new Star Wars films currently in production hits the web, I get asked the same question by people: “Are you looking forward to the new Star Wars films?”

In short, I am.

I saw the original Star Wars the summer of 1977 shortly before I turned four-years-old, and the other two films on opening day. I may have previously mentioned that my dad took me to see Return of the Jedi opening day (May 25, 1983) the day after I had my tonsils removed. I remember standing in line outside the movie theater with hundreds of other Star Wars fans. I remember the theater erupting in applause when the film began, and again later when Luke sprung into the air to avoid being devoured by the Sarlaac, caught his lightsaber launched to him by R2-D2, and went all Jedi on Jabba’s henchmen.

From 1978 through sometime around 1984, my world was Star Wars. I asked for (and received) Star Wars toys for every birthday and every Christmas for six or seven years in a row. I spent Halloweens dressed up as Darth Vader and Stormtroopers and Chewbacca. I slept in a Star Wars sleeping bag with pillows in Star Wars pillowcases next to windows covered with Star Wars curtains and walls smothered in Star Wars posters. I went to school wearing Star Wars shirts, filed my homework in Star Wars folders, spent my time reading Star Wars books, comic books and newsletters (Bantha Tracks!), and eventually began actively collecting Star Wars toys.

The world wide web was not as mature back in 1999 as it is today. Video had to be compressed so that it would be watchable by dial-up users, which often left viewers with a viewable area the size of a postage stamp and compressed to hell and back in either Quicktime or Real Video format. I was at work the day the trailer for Episode I leaked in the spring of 1999, and when I first watched it — in a tiny, pixelated window on a Russian web page — I got choked up.

The debut of Episode I: The Phantom Menace was as big as any Star Wars release I can remember. People lined up just to buy tickets and lined up again to get into theaters. The day we showed up to buy our tickets the wait was already four hours long — fortunately for us we happened to see a friend of ours who was sixth in line! He bought our tickets and we attended the opening show at midnight. Another friend of mine also ended up with spare tickets so Susan and I ended up seeing it twice opening day.

Continuing the tradition I saw Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith opening day at midnight as well, meaning I saw five of the six Star Wars movies in theaters opening day.

Can I argue that the prequels were as good as the originals? Not really, no. They had plenty of reasons to dislike them (and a couple of reasons to hate them), but they had one main reason to like them: pure and simple, they were Star Wars. Yes, we all agree that Jar Jar was annoying, and, perhaps, Jake Lloyd was not the greatest child actor on the planet… but the chills I got when Obi Wan first met Anakin (or when R2D2 met C3P0) were very real. Those who focused on the maudlin scenes between Anakin and Padme missed out on the excitement of the pod racers.

My Star Wars acquisitions have cooled off since those early days. I still pick up old figures here and there from time to time and occasionally find something new to stick on the shelves, but it’s not like it used to be. I no longer sleep with that Star Wars sleeping bag or keep my papers filed in Star Wars folders, but I do have a “Star Wars room” in my house to display my collection, and more importantly, I still have Star Wars in my heart.

So am I looking forward to the new Star Wars films? You bet I am. They won’t be perfect. There will be things fans don’t like about them. With Disney now owning the rights to the Star Wars universe you can bet we will see marketing on a intergalactic scale. It’s very possible we will see another “Jar Jar” type character to help market the film to children.

At the end of the day, Star Wars is still Star Wars, and both of us — me the adult, and me the kid — will be there again on opening day.

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