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October 10th, 2008

The Birthday Machine

One of my favorite museums as a kid was the Museum of Science and Industry here in Chicago. It’s a kid-friendly museum with lots of interactive exhibits that were ostensibly about learning things related to science and industry. But who cares, here are lights and bells and knobs and pulleys!

As a young geek I gravitated towards anything involving a computer so one of my favorite things at the museum was the Birthday Machine. It was a computer kiosk but more… oh so much more. You’d pop in fifty cents or a dollar, and enter your birthday along with your name. A few minutes later a dot matrix printer would magically spit out a full page of information about what happened and what the world was like on the day you were born.

This was and always will be worth the shock value of prices because while inflation wasn’t accounted for, everything was cheaper. Gas was a quarter a gallon. Milk was a quarter a gallon. A loaf of bread was 2 cents, and the Post Office actually paid you to mail something.

I exaggerate a bit of course, but for me the magic was that this little 5’x2.5’x3′ computer had all of this information in it. Right there! It was impressive. How could it possibly know all of that stuff? It was magical.

I brought this up in part because I saw a bunch of “Remember When” books at a tourist stop recently. These books have the same concept, but are books instead of dot matrix pages and include ads and other things from the time. Impressively one can even buy CDs tailored to a birth year. I know! CDs! How quaint.

On top of all of that, any time I want to find out what happened on October 10, 1977, I can just head over to Wikipedia. Sometimes I think access to all of this information has spoiled us.

Posted in Childhood Memories

Ryan October 10, 2008, 1:54 pm

This sounds a lot like The Birthday Times:

There was something kind of magical about the whole process… it all felt very personalized, even though it was essentially just the same data spit out with your name on it.

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