IRIS fails to deliver, an EDS80 gets in a spin again, notes from the archive and how to help us

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Another bumper edition for our regular blog readers... or to put it another way we've been a bit busy lately so the blog is late again!

VCF is only a month away... eek!

June 19th and 20th is getting closer by the week and we still have loads to do. It is certainly gearing up to be a very special event and a very exciting time for all at the museum, when the VCF finally kicks off. It is certainly all hands to the pumps now as all the organising by Simon H and team become reality.

IRIS is having a few off days

After many months of very reliable operation, IRIS, the air traffic control system, has started to play up more than usual. The problems range from not being able to boot off the Newman SSD (Solid State Drive) to the radar data replay unit generating lots of errors to the point where it eventually shuts down.

Peter V began by looking at the replay unit, the system we have no documentation on, to see if reseating various cards would clear the problem. Unfortunately during the investigations, the 'B' DAT tape drive (an Exabyte 8205XL ) finally failed - it had been making noises for a few months. This meant both of the original DAT tape drives had now failed; the 'A' drive having been replaced during the original restoration with an Exabyte 8900 drive that could read but not write the DAT tapes we used. Not having a spare DAT drive to hand meant we could no longer replay tapes. That was bad enough but we had a much bigger problem... we are unable to make any further copies of the DAT tapes as we had no drives that could write. So the search is now on to find an Exabyte 8205 or a read/write compatible Exabyte 8505 before any further investigations of the fault can be done.

ICL 2966 EDS80 drive is working at last

Some exciting news... well, for us at least... is that we now have a working EDS80 disk drive thanks to a newly repaired bearing assembly. A few months ago Delwyn managed to complete the repair of a number of EDS80 drives and at one point was able to boot off a diagnostic pack. However, after running for a few hours it was clear that the main bearings had failed, initially in one of the working drives but eventually in all of them making the drives unusable. Since then Delwyn has been trying to find a company who may be able to replace the failed bearings in the spindle housing - which needed many tons of pressure to extract the bearings. After finding a company who was able to take one of the spindles apart it was found that the bearing assembly was still readily available. Two weeks agao a repaired spindle assembly was fitted to a drive and after running successfully for several days, the system was able to boot off the diagnostic pack. You can follow the restoration of the ICL 2966 on the projects page.

Tidbits from the archive

In what is hoped to be a fairly regular contribution, our resident archivist Brian A has sent the following for inclusion in this blog edition...

Following the invention of the V2 rocket during the war, Arthur C. Clarke published his paper Extra-Terrestrial Relays - Can Rocket Stations Give World-wide Radio Coverage? Clarke's paper includes a prediction that within 50 - 100 years, this will be feasible.

Looking back now, 65 years on, the Soviet Union put the first satellite, Sputnik 1, into orbit only 12 years after Clarke's paper. 5 years after that, AT&T launched Telstar 1, the first communications satellite capable of relaying television and telephone signals through space. The first commercially available direct-to-home TV broadcasts became possible after the launch of Atlas 1A in 1988, 43 years after Clarke's paper, whilst GPS became possible 10 years earlier with the launch of NavStar 1 in 1978. But it took until the second half of Clarke's 50-100 prediction before High Definition TV broadcasts direct to the home were possible.

Clarke's original article from 'The Wireless World' of October 1945 is reproduced here - enjoy (note: file size is 391KB).

Archive Progress

Brian A has been beavering away over the past few months and work in the Archive is progressing well, with over 2000 items catalogued now. We have also received the Computer Weekly Photo Archive, to complement the 40 years' worth of Computer Weekly magazines received a month or so back, and he is now looking for a suitable way to make them accessible to visitors and researchers alike.

Wifi installation

Peter V and Barney are making steady progress on installing a museum wide wifi network thanks to a generous donation of equipment from a well know wifi company (the company and details of the donation will be made public soon). The work involves installing cat5 cabling for 11 wifi hotspots and sourcing several POE (Power Over Ethernet) switches to power the devices (which is much simpler than having to supply a separate power feed for each unit). There are also 2 outside extension aerials to cover the car park area.

Due to the building architecture running cables can be very tricky and time consuming, especially when some of the runs have to go through walls more than 1 meter thick (they certainly built them well in the old days!) and the existing holes are usually full. So a certain amount of drilling and route finding is necessary, even for some of the shorter cable runs. Also many of the cable runs follow the path that visitors normally take within the museum so doing the job without disrupting people makes the task even more complex.

Just to add to the fun of cable laying, additional wiring is also being installed to extend the museum clocks to the education, shop and archive end of the building so it's yet more ceiling tile jiggling and fighting with the resident rock wool above the tiles... Lovely stuff... NOT!

All being well the work should be completed in time for the VCF event.

IBM 1130 request for information

As part of the preliminary work on restoring this system, research has started to try and find all the maintenance, operation and service manuals for the system. Unfortunately the system came with no documentation so we are starting from scratch. While some manuals do exist on bitsavers and a few other websites (like, this is very limited and does not include any of the field engineering (FE) manuals which will be needed to begin the restoration proper.

Attempts to contact IBM have so far failed, so this is a general request for anyone who may have copies of manuals for the IBM 1130 system we have which consists of an 1131 processor containing a removable disk pack, an 1132 line printer and a 1442 card reader/punch. So if anyone can help with this please get in touch with the museum.

Money... Money... Money

Or more accurately a lack of it. As we indicated in the last blog, the museum relies entirely on donations from individuals and companies to keep it going, and the trustees spend many thankless hours encouraging people to help us out.

Finding the necessary funding to keep the museum running is an on-going challenge for the Trustees, especially as we still need to find £70,000 per year for the rent of H-Block and the fact that we get no monies from Bletchley Park, the government or the lottery. As part of the process of securing funds for the future, two major announcements have been made; The Corporate Foundation Sponsorship Programme which enables companies to donate £12,500 per year, for 3 years and the membership package for individuals which allows individuals to help the museum by donating £45 for a years membership of the museum. Both schemes offer incentives and preferential rates to exhibitions and our corporate events. We have had several companies sign up for the foundation scheme (details will be announced in due course) and over 50 individuals have signed up to the membership scheme.

So blatant plug time...If you are a company who are looking to contribute to a very worthy cause, run by a very dedicated team of volunteers please get it touch with Kevin Murrell. If you are an individual who would like to help the museum, please sign up for the membership scheme.

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