Storage, network issues and tidbits from the archive
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Another bumper update on activities at the museum over the past several weeks and a few more interesting tidbits from the archive...
The never-ending storage reorganisation
Our aim to try and store as much stuff in as little space as possible continues at an increasing pace. We have a number of storage areas both within and near the museum which has, over the past few months, had a major reorganisation. This mainly involves removing lots of items stored on the floor and old shelving, installing new shelving and racking, sorting through all the items collected and re-storing those items that need to be kept . So far, this activity has enabled several areas of the museum to be cleared of stored items making it available for additional exhibits and in one area a possible workshop for restoring/repairing equipment. We still get donations of equipment weekly so this activity is likely to continue for some time yet.
Museum network problems
It is safe to say parts of our network are not as up-to-date as we would like as it has grown up over time as and when networking equipment became available / was donated. Originally we were using some Newbridge network ATM switches from the late 1990s, giving us a 155Mbs fibre link from one end of the building to the other. We then acquired some Cisco catalyst switches from 2003/2004 which allowed us to increase the number of network points and enabling us to run Gigabit Ethernet over the fibre connection. Since then the network has expanded to cover most of the museum and more recently with the introduction of the wifi network and some additional internal servers.
Over the past few weeks several people have been reporting occasional slowdowns when using the museum network and at times a complete loss of internet access. Sometimes this has been cured by rebooting the router on our ADSL line but often this makes no difference so it is unlikely to be the broadband connection itself. So an investigation is under way to try and discover what the cause is. Several possible causes are being looked at; faulty switches, network loops, packet storming, a rogue server flooding the network with traffic, spanning-tree problems (we use switches from different manufacturers) or a general mis-configured network. Normally issues such as those can be identified quickly by using suitable network monitoring equipment, but that is way beyond our budget. Fortunately most of the switches are managed and collect traffic stats so hopefully with some freely available SNMP monitoring programs we should be able to identify where the problems might be and come up with strategy to resolve it. The investigation continues...
Our resident archivist, Brian A reports on his recent activities in recording and indexing all the items in our museum archive...
"To date some 4,000 separate items have been catalogued in 97 boxes, that is over 10% of the archive, the main section of the archive having a capacity of 960 boxes, and is in addition to the 3,000 partially catalogued items from the Bletchley Park Archive. Recent inclusions are the previously misplaced ICL 2966 documentation and a large quantity of Elliott 803 documentation including all but 4 of the 803 Commissioning Programs. Three items which have just come to light are 153 year old Victorian Patent documents for Metallic Bedsteads, Valves (the plumbing variety) and Safety Valves. Whilst these have nothing at all to with computers, they may well be of interest to collectors within other disciplines and, initially, it has been suggested that we offer them to the Victoria & Albert Museum for inclusion in their collection.
Bletchley Park recently asked the Museum to take a further quantity of items that are believed to have been donated to them by the Open University. A brief visit a couple of weeks ago identified that, whilst there was much that would be useless to the Museum, there were some very valuable documents. Bringing back and cataloguing what could be carried by hand identified a number of documents from Ferranti's London Computing and Information Handling Laboratory which were clearly the subject of MoD contracts, some, at the time, on the Secret list. Consequently, as there is no pressure from Bletchley Park to remove this material in a specified time-scale, the decision has been taken that we will accept it, at our speed, and junk what is not relevant.
Following the impromptu clear-up for the VCF, shelving and contents in the archive corridor have been tidied up, two shelf racks have been secured to the wall and a display, accessible to the public, of Personal Computer World (PCW) begun. PCW ran from 1978 to 2009 - so far an almost complete set from 1978 to 1995 has been catalogued. It is hoped eventually to be able to display a complete set of all 31 years' of PCW. But care is urged by those accessing these magazines, some are in a less than good condition. A suggestion has been made to make these more accessible, especially to our tour guides but, as ever, space to do this is a problem - but watch this space, discussions are already in-hand with other Curators within in the Museum who might be able to house this material."
NPL Technology of the Internet Gallery
Following the hurriedly produced booklet on 'The Birth of Packet Switching' that accompanied the launch of the NPL 'Technology of the Internet' Gallery, a revised version is now available in the Museum shop. Put together by former members of Donald Davies' Team this booklet commemorates, as does the NPL 'Technology of the Internet' Gallery itself, Donald Davies' invention of Packet Switching. The front cover is a depiction of the complex plane that Davies chose as the Entrance Hall tile pattern for the new Computer Science Building at NPL and, inside the front cover there is a photo of the original centre 'zero' tile and links to more information on the subject, one by Brian Wichmann, one of the NPL mathematicians of the time. This is an NPL, Crown Copyright, publication, but the National Museum of Computing has a complete copy of the artwork and a letter of authority to print additional copies.
More anecdotes from the archive
Our resident archivist, Brian A has a few more tidbits from our ever expanding archive.....
Further to the 5 June Blog item on the NPL Pilot Model ACE computer, the full, undamaged, text of Woodger's article has been provided by a new volunteer with access to the Nature archive. This enables the Museum to archive the full text along with the damaged Reprint, and is reproduced below for the purposes of this Blog. Also attached is NPL's 1953 Patent Specification on behalf of Alan Turing for his invention of the Acoustic Delay Lines that were developed for the ACE computers, and which has come to light in the Archive.
In a more light-hearted vein, now that the BBQ season has finally arrived after the long cold winter and spring, the attached American Standards Association (now a part of ANSI) Standard K100.1-1966, Safety Code and Requirements for Dry Martinis, was tabled at a meeting of the ASA X3J3 committee developing a standard for FORTRAN. This is a 'spoof' Standard in exactly the typeface and style of American Standards of the time, developed as an example to Standards committee members of how to lay out a Standard. It has absolutely nothing to do with computers or computing, but it is good fun and, hopefully, it will make your summer BBQs go with more of a swing.
The full, undamaged, text of Woodger's article in Nature magazine of Feb. 17, 1951 is reproduced here (note: file size is 31KB) The NPL Acoustic Delay Line Patent Specification is reproduced here (note: file size is 1,872KB) The American Standard Safety Code and Requirements for Dry Martinis is reproduced here (note: file size is 211KB)
How you can help the museum
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 just to pay the rent on 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 many 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.