Project progress, members day, a request for info and looking forward

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Having finally escaped from TNMOC (it took me over a month to dig the tunnel) I'm hoping to evade capture long enough to complete another bumper edition of news from the corridors of our increasingly popular computer museum...

The Elliott 803 plotter has arrived!

The Calcomp 565 plotter arrived on 2nd October and the grin on PeterO's face was something to see. We were told it originally came off an Elliott 503 system and was last used on an Apple ][ but after a quick inspection PeterO informed everyone that is was actually one supplied for the Elliott 803 system. It also had a very nice 'Elliott orange' Elliott logo on the front. During the following week and after a detailed inspection by PeterO, the plotter was then slowly powered up using a variac power supply and everything looked fine. PeterO then spent the next week getting the plotter working on his 803 hardware emulator and it worked without any issues. The following Saturday it was connected to the real 803 PTS and produced it's first plotted picture; a Kingfisher. You can see a YouTube video of the plotter in action here.

Progress on the ICL 2966 mainframe

Over the past few months, Delwyn has been working on extracting the data from the diagnostic disk pack. Having first got a working disk drive by replacing the main spindle and motor bearings, he then designed and build an interface card to enable him to connect a laptop to the drive. He then wrote some software to 'talk' to the drive and was able to extract the data off the disk pack one track at a time. A bit more research and software later he was able to create a tape image of the disagnostic software. Then using a laptop connected to a tape interface controller he designed a few months earlier, he wa able to get the 2966 to load the diagnostic programs. He was now in a position to run the diagnostics to enable the system to be properly tested.

The past month has seen a major step forward in the restoration with a some of the core systems now functioning most of the time. There is still a lot to do, and to learn but each week has seen the system get further and further through the diagnostic tests as the problems are identified and solved. You can follow the progress of the restoration on the projects page.

The IBM 1130 needs your help

About 18 months ago the Museum received an IBM 1130 from Liverpool Museum on a long term loan. The system consists of an 1131 processor with 4 or 8K of core store (still to be determined), 2315 integral removable disk drive, an 1132 line printer and a 1442 card reader/punch (model 5, 6 or 7 not sure which yet). As with many systems in the museum we are planning to restore the system to working order if possible, but due to a lack of documentation this project is currently still on hold. We have tried to contact IBM via various people both within and outside the company but so far our requests have not yeilded any further information. The main problem is the maintenance manuals, without which any form of restoration cannot start. We have managed to find some logic diagrams and field mantenance manuals for the 1131 processor and disk drive in hard copy form and some other manuals in electrocic form from bitsavers and other websites, but we have found no manuals for the 1142 reader/punch or the 1132 line printer. So this is a general request for anyone who may either have copies of manuals for the 1130 system or may be able to help us locate such manuals.

Tidbits from the archive

Ever had a win on the Premium Bonds? Indeed, how many people today know what Premium Bonds are, given that the minimum purchase is now £100? Launched and operated by the Post Office in 1957, Premium Bonds were, in effect, 'lottery bonds', the first such in the history of the UK, or so believed. More of an investment scheme whereby you bought a £1 bond which was then entered into a monthly draw for the opportunity to win a life-changing amount of money, your money was safe. If your bond did not win, you did not lose your initial 'stake', it would be entered into all subsequent draws or, if you wished, you could sell your bond back to the Post Office. Unlike the National Lottery of today where you buy a £1 stake and, if you do not win, you lose your money.

The equipment used to randomly generate the winning Bond numbers was known as Electronic Random Number Indicator Equipment or ERNIE for short. One of the engineers at the Post Office Research Station at Dollis Hill who worked on the development of ERNIE was Harry Fensom, who had worked with Tommy Flowers on the building of Colossus. Harry's daughter recently visited the museum and donated his collection of papers on the development of ERNIE. Amongst these one document, un-signed and un-attributable but believed to have been written by Harry Fensom, ' General Description of the Electronic Random Number Indicator Equipment' outlines the principle of operation of ERNIE. Another, an article ' Computer selects Premium Bond Winners' by Harry Fensom, Eric Bubb and RK Hayward, from Electronics of 1 July 1957, goes into more technical detail on the workings of ERNIE. Both of these documents are linked below.

The 1956 paper, believed to have been written by Harry Fensom, is reproduced here (note: file size 1,196 KB). The article 'Computer selects Premium Bond Winners' from Electronics of 1 July 1957 is reproduced here (note: file size 2,804 KB).

Members day at the museum

On 16th October we had our first members day where museum members were given open access to the museum and volunteers before the museum opened officially. This involved a special guided tour (thanks KevinB) and being able to get up and personal with many of the machines in the museum (and the odd volunteer that came with it!). They were also invited to attend our weekly meeting and make a contribution if they wanted too - which they did.

It was nice to hear those that attended had a really good time. We hope to arrange further members days in the future, details of which will be send out to the members via email.

There is a chill in the air (and in the museum!)

It's that time again when the dark evenings are approaching fast, there is a distinct chill in the air and the windscreen scrapers are out in the mornings... It also means at the end of October the Park changes to their Autumn/Winter opening times and this means the computer museum will also close 1 hour earlier at 4PM.

This is also the time when the museum relies heavily on the heating system which, in the past has been less that reliable resulting in some very chilly opening days. However this year, with the new boilers in place, we should be OK even though the age of the building means there are many gaps for the heat to escape from. Over the year repairs have reduced this problem somewhat but it's an on-going battle with the elements.

Things to look forward too...

Having received very generous donations recently, and with increased funding and sponsorship from other parties we are planning to undertake a number of major projects over the winter period. Some of them are still very much hush hush but what I can say is there are several new galleries in the planning stage which we hope to complete early next year, and the whole museum is having a much earned facelift of paint and carpets. It's going to be a very busy winter I think.

Appologies to those who may have seen an incomplete version of this blog earlier, which was posted by mistake.

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