The "Oops, it's been too long since the last one" blog

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A little late I know... the next one will be much sooner - anyway here is a summary of museum activities

A day out at the Science Museum

Work on the power distribution within Bletchley Park meant we had a free Saturday so a group of volunteers decided to visit the Science Museum in London. Many had not been there for years and a few were interested in what was on show in the computing section. So after various train journeys from parts of the country and a nice pub lunch we all trundled off to the museum. It is certainly an impressive place covering 7 floors but having walked around for a few hours were were all pretty knackered - you really need several visits to take in all that was on display. So it was off to the pub and for some a nice Italian meal. A good day out was had by all.

Elliott 803 tape reader problems

The paper tape reader finally gave up at the beginning of the month and refused to read any tapes. PeterO spent several weeks trying to discover the problem and replacing various worn out and damaged parts. Peter finally got it working again but it was shorted lived as it failed again the following Satuday, so a more thorough inspection was needed. PeterO, not being one to give up, finally managed to adjust the paper guides and fix various other components and the reader was back to it's old self again.

Calcomp 565 pen plotter on the Elliott 803

One of the peripherals often used on the Elliott 803 was a Calcomp 565 pen plotter. PeterO had been working on a software emulator for a Calcomp 565 plotter which was then connected to his 803 software emulator. This was started some time ago but he had not found time to finish it. Once the paper tap reader was fixed he decided to complete the plotter emulation and was able to demonstrate it working last week. The next stage was to get a real Calcomp 565 plotter working on the real 803. The museum did have a 565 plotter but it was in a bit of a sorry state and was missing the pen holder, but it did look serviceable. Our 803 may not have had a plotter fitted as it was missing the necessary interface board, so PeterOs next job was to work out a design for an interface board for the PTS (Paper Tape Station where most of the peripherals connect to) to connect the necessary plotter lines to the 803. This is almost complete so the next job will be to get the Calcomp 565 working again and get a new pen holder machined.

Drawing the museum logo

One of the things PeterO wanted to do was draw the museum logo on a plotter using the Elliott 803. While the actual hardware was some way off being usable (see above), he did have his plotter emulator working and a graphics library package written in Algol for driving the Calcomp plotter. So after creating an SVG file of the logo, he proceeded to write an Algol program to read in the SVG data and plot the results on the plotter emulation. This was compiled on the 803 emulator and run. The results on the first try were not as expected so several days of debugging finally found 2 integer variables being used instead of 2 floats. Once that had been fixed the museum logo appeared in all it's glory on the plotter emulator screen. Hopefully in the next month or so the real plotter will be restored to working condition, the 803 interface board designed and built and a working demonstration of the plotter in action - should be a nice change from the music!!!

IRIS behaving itself

That pretty much sums up the system... The Air Traffic Control system has been running very reliably over the past few months with only the occasional bad day and the occasional 'kick' to get it to respond. Fingers crossed it remains that way.

WITCH/HDC progress

Tony F, Jo and team are making steady progress on restoring the system to working order. In recent weeks work on the power supplies has been progressing, cleaning of the relays within the stores continues and 3 out of 9 store boxes fixed, tested and powered up with Dekatrons fitted. In recent weeks we have had several film crews in to film the restoration project and lots of publicity in the press. For more detailed information on the projects progress, please see the projects page.

ICL 2966 progress

Delwyn is making good progress on restoring the 2966 mainframe in the large systems gallery, although it is often 1 step forward, 2 steps back then 2 steps forward again. Over the past few weeks he has been working on getting the main memory working and has had some success. At one point he actually had all 8 Megabytes working but is suffering from intermittent faults on several cards and potentially ribbon cables. He has also been investigating the bearing problems which have affected all the top loading disk drives that had been working and has a local company looking to see if the bearing assembly can be refurbished or a new one made. A more detailed report on the restoration progress can be found on the projects page, along with what happened during 2009.

Ford visit

Last year, Ford UK kindly donated some early Wang equipment they no longer needed. Earlier this month several people from Ford UK and Ford Europe's IT group visited the Museum to do a formal hand-over of the equipment and they also recorded the presentation for their own internal TV station. They also donated a very rare large photo book detailing the history of Ford Motor Group.

VCF progress

Things are progressing very well with the planning for this event and we have already had a big response from potential speakers and various individuals and groups wanting to show off their collections. Once we have more things finalised we will update the VCF pages on this website. If you are interested in exhibiting your collection please contact Kevin Murrell or Simon Hewitt via email to

The new 'all in one' display

After moving the PDP8 cabinets from the WITCH gallery to scientific, there was a large wall area going spare. This looked like an ideal area for showing off many of the 'all in one' / portable or luggable computer systems that were originally in the 'hands-on' room, which now houses the 40 column punch card machines. So a group of volunteers spent one Saturday relocated 4 large wire shelving units from the far end of the museum and fitting it out with various examples of all-in-one machines.

Tunny Room revamp

One of the projects for 2010 is a revamp of the Tunny room and good progress is being made on this. Various ideas on how improve the layout of the equipment have been put forward and several 'artist impressions' have been drawn up for discussion. There is still some way to go before any work can start and the necessary funding to complete the project is still being worked on.

Education visits

Our educational visits seem to be growing in popularity since late last year. We are currently averaging 3 school/college visits a week with Lin, Derek and Sheridan doing sterling work organising and running the courses. We still have lots of plans for expanding the educational side of the Museum and hope to have more detailed information about the courses we offer shortly on the Museum website.

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