'LoveLetters' wins first Tony Sale Award

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LoveLetters computer art installation wins the first Tony Sale Award for computer conservation

The National Museum of Computing reproduces this release from the Computer Conservation Society:

11 October 2012

The inaugural Tony Sale Award has been won by Dr David Link for his computer art installation LoveLetters, a replica of a 1951 computer with reconstructed software that generates texts to express and arouse emotions.

Dr Link's LoveLetters reconstructs the 1951 Ferranti Mark 1 computer which executes the original recovered software by Prof Christopher Strachey, a philosopher and pioneer in programming, to generate automated "love letters". Visitors can interact with a functional replica of the Ferranti Mark 1 containing many of its original components, to gain an authentic impression of the look-and-feel of the original computer.

The Tony Sale Award, managed by the Computer Conservation Society and sponsored by Google was set up to recognise achievements in the growing area of computer conservation. Tony Sale, perhaps best known for leading the team that rebuilt the Colossus computer, helped establish the Computer Conservation Society, co-founded The National Museum of Computing and was a key figure in starting the campaign to save Bletchley Park in the early 1990s.

Rachel Burnett, who chaired the panel of judges and is Chair of the Computer Conservation Society, said: "We were delighted by the quality and variety of the entries to this the first year of the Tony Sale Award. The nominations clearly developed the idea of computer archaeology and their exciting diversity made the task of judging very challenging!

"The winning entry by Dr David Link is both a brilliant technical construction and a work of art. Its fusion of art, engineering and history celebrates one of the first artistic applications of the computer in a visually attractive way. The wide cultural appeal, originality and touch of genius of this entry set it apart for us and has given us an inspiring first winner of the Tony Sale Award."

Dr Link said: "I feel extremely honoured to officially step into the footsteps of a Colossus as bright and wonderful as Tony Sale. I am most grateful for the recognition of my work and I thank the members of the Computer Conservation Society, without whom the project, and the fun connected with it, would not have been possible."

Peter Barron, Director of External Relations at Google, which sponsored the Award, said: "It's important that we preserve not only the memories, but also the machines, if we are truly to understand and learn from our computing heritage. Google is delighted to support this award to recognise the unsung heroes who invest their time and skill to bring computers of the past back to life. Congratulations to all who took part."

Other nominations for the first Tony Sale Award were:

DEC PDP1 restoration led by Dag Spicer of the Computer History Museum in California, USA: a computer restoration project of Digital Equipment Corporation's (DEC) first computer.

Time-Line Computer Archive by Michael Armstrong & Sandra Hodson, in Wigton, West Cumbria, UK: aiming to collect, restore and exhibit all types of early computers and electronics.

Z3 reconstruction in Hunsfeld, Germany, by Professor Doctor Raül Rojas: a reconstruction and simulation of Konrad Zuse’s Z3 Computer, originally built in Berlin between 1938-1941 and destroyed during World War II.

Notes To Editors

1 About the Ferranti Mark 1 LoveLetters reconstruction

In 1951 Ferranti produced an industrial version – the Ferranti Mark 1 – of the Manchester Baby, a prototype of the first fully electronic universal computer controlled by software, built by a team of engineers at Manchester University, headed by Frederic Williams and in cooperation with Alan Turing and Max Newman. The programs used then have mostly been lost, and 50 years later the number of surviving contemporary witnesses was very small.

In 1953-1954, one of the very first software developers, Christopher Strachey, using the programming system devised by Alan Turing, used the built-in random generator of the Ferranti Mark 1 to generate texts that intend to express and arouse emotions – or, ‘love letters’.

The source code of the software survived in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, but the algorithm could not be read and the functionality of the program was impossible even to guess at. To analyse it, meant resurrecting the original machine’s software and re-running the algorithm.

In 2006 David Link tried to execute the source code, but a sub-routine was missing, and he coded the procedure itself for integration with the authentic files. Then the generation of the love letters began. Meanwhile the real routine was found and incorporated.

“LoveLetters_1.0” consists of two parts. In the installation, the visitor interacts with a functional replica of the Ferranti Mark 1, which conveys an impression of the different components and the functionality of the first computer. By executing the original code of Strachey’s software, it continuously generates 'loveletters'. These are projected on a large screen at another location, in a public space, where everybody can read it.

If the visitor manages to compose his or her name on the switches of the console using the five-bit code the machine was originally programmed in (Baudot), the loveletter will carry this signature. “LoveLetters_1.0” allows people to publicly address algorithmically generated loveletters to each other.

Once a day, at a randomly selected moment, the machine autonomously reads out loud a loveletter on the megaphones mounted on the outside wall of the exhibition venue and prints it on the reconstructed Creed 7 teleprinter from 1931. (This machine helped in organising the British response to Hitler’s threats.) When somebody successfully enters his name, the Mark 1 plays “God Save the Queen” on the “hooter” (loudspeaker). The loveletters generated can be downloaded from the project’s website or be copied onto a usb stick on site.

On the electronic tabloid display, the visitor can investigate the historical background of the first computer by studying authentic documents and photos of the time.

The computer art installation was first on display at the Centre for Art & Media Technology Karlsruhe in 2009, one of the leading media art museums in Europe. It has been on display since at different centres in England and Germany.

It is complete in itself and is also part of a larger project to safeguard the entire scientific Mark 1 software from 1948-1958.

Weblink: http://alpha60.de/loveletters/2009_zkm/

2 Links to the other nominated Projects

DEC PDP1 restoration led by Dag Spicer of the Computer History Museum in California http://pdp-1.computerhistory.org/pdp-1/index.php?f=credits

Time-Line Computer Archive by Michael Armstrong & Sandra Hodson, in Wigton, West Cumbria, UK http://t-lcarchive.org/

Z3 reconstruction in Hunsfeld, Germany, by Professor Doctor Raül Rojas http://www.inf.fu-berlin.de/inst/ag-ki/rojas_home/documents/ResearchProj...

3 About The Computer Conservation Society
The Computer Conservation Society is a joint venture between BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT, the Science Museum and the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester. http://www.computerconservationsociety.org/

4 The Tony Sale Award Judging panel
The panel of judges was chaired by Rachel Burnett, solicitor and author, who is also chair of the Computer Conservation Society. Other members were Professor Martin Campbell-Kelly, computer historian; Norbert Ryska of the Heinz-Nixdorf Computer Museum in Paderborn, Germany; Doron Swade MBE, museum curator and author; Chris Burton, engineer and computer conservationist; Nigel Sale, son of Tony Sale and manager of a technical team at Google; and Bill Thompson, journalist, commentator and technology critic. The late Brian Oakley was originally the Chair of the panel, but sadly he died in August 2012.

Media Enquiries Stephen Fleming for the Computer Conservation Society Palam Communications t 01635 299116 e sfleming@palam.co.uk

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