VCF on the brain, guided tours of the museum start and more tidbits from the archive

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Today children, we will be looking through the round window where we can see the museum folk restoring their old machines, taking visitors around the galleries and getting excited about the grand VCF show in a couple of weeks.

The above may have jogged some of the older readers memories as the window reference was from an early children's programme called Play School. Each day viewers were taken through the round, square or arched window to show a film of various industrial processes or domestic industry. In some respects what the museum is doing is peering through a widow to show the past. What is even more interesting is the programme ran from 1964 until 1988, which coincided with the period when the British computer industry took off and home computers became the norm.

After that short interlude (we couldn't get a potters wheel this time!) we now return to our normal programming... so here is another bumper edition.

Vintage Computer Festival 19th-20th June 2010

With only 2 weeks to go almost all activity around the museum is aimed at getting everything ready for the event. We have a great line-up of speakers and the odd concert by a group calling themselves OMD (apparently a well known synth pop group from the past ) and our resident (ish) Chip tune mega-star Pixelh8.

Details of the event have been updated on our website here. Entrance to the event requires the purchase of a Bletchley Park season ticket which can be purchased at a discounted rate on-line here or you can pay the full price on the day. The season ticket gives you free return visits to Bletchley Park and the National Museum of Computing for 12 months.

It should be a really good weekend and a fascinating insight into computing history.

Guided Tours

We are always concious of the fact that the museum is not open as much as we would like, but being run totally by volunteers it is always difficult to get enough people in during the week to enable us to safely open to the public. Several weeks ago it was suggested that guided tours of the museum, in small groups, might be possible so Sheridan and Pete C aided by other volunteers came up with a proposal which was put to the Trustees. One of the main issues related to visitor safety so it was decided to limit the tour group to no more than 15 people which was a manageable size for a single guide. Late last month several trials were undertaken to see how it went and we are pleased to say it was very success full, with each of the tours fully subscribed.So from the beginning of this month we will be running guided tours of the museum, with the time and dates subject to volunteer availability, one some of the day we are not normally open. Hopefully in time we will have enough trained guides to be able to offer a tour every day, and when possible multiple times during the day.

Details of when a tour is available can be found at the Bletchley Park reception area in B block. You can also pick up a token for the tour there as well and places will be issued on a first come first served basis.

Museum wide Wifi

The newly donated museum wide wifi network is nearing completion. 10 of the 11 Access Points have been installed and cables supplying data and POE power have been run to them around the museum. Cabling and fitting of the devices is being done by our resident network mole Peter V, who has spent the last 3 weekends running cables throughout the museum, and going through many drill bits in the process. They certainly build H block well as drilling holes for cables have proved to be a very difficult task. In many cases the walls are over 1 Meter thick, not the sort of thing you get in today's houses and business premises. The plan is still to have it all in and working for the VCF so It's yet more cabling and terminating for Peter.

Tidbits from the Archive

Sixty years ago the NPL's Pilot Model ACE Computer ran its first program. Following his work breaking the Enigma codes, Alan Turing left Bletchley Park in 1945 and moved to the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington to develop his pioneering plans for a stored-program electronic digital computer. A team was assembled, including Donald Davies (who later invented Packet-Switching), Jim Wilkinson, Ted Newman and Mike Woodger, and the Pilot Model ACE subsequently ran its first program on 10 May 1950. In 1951 Mike Woodger published an article on the Pilot ACE in 17 February 1951 issue of 'Nature' magazine, a re-print of which has come to light in the NMoC Archive. Unfortunately, this has been damaged and some of the text is obscured. An attempt to extrapolate the missing words has been made in the margin but, if anybody else is able to work out the missing text, the NMoC would be happy to hear from them. The article is available in the on-line archive of Nature magazine. If any readers of this Blog have access to that archive, The National Museum of Computing would be grateful to receive a copy of the text to archive along with the original.

Woodger's article talks a bit about the Mercury delay lines used in the Pilot ACE - one of those Mercury delay lines, used in the full-scale ACE computer, was recently donated to the Museum. An article, by David Clayden, in RESURRECTION, Autumn 1990 issue, describes the making of Mercury delay lines - www.cs.man.ac.uk/CCS/res/res02.htm#g.

A photograph of the Pilot ACE Computer can be seen at www.npl.co.uk/upload/img_400/ace1950.jpg (the DSIR stood for Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, a forerunner of the present day Department of Trade and Industry, or whatever it is calling itself this week). The specification of the Pilot ACE can be found at www.alanturing.net/turing_archive/archive/l/l30/L30-001.html.

The BBC recently published an on-line article, news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/8683369.stm, about the part the Pilot Model ACE played in solving the metal-fatigue problem that struck down the de Havilland COMET in 1954.

At the end of its short career at NPL, the Pilot Model ACE was given to the Science Museum. This being its 60th Anniversary Year, it is hoped that it is currently on display at the Science Museum - www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/Centenary/Home/Icons/Pilot_ACE_Computer.aspx

Woodger's original article from 'Nature' of 17 February 1951 is reproduced here - enjoy (note: file size is 794 KB)!

Archive Progress

Cataloguing the Archive proceeds a-pace and discussions within the museum appear to be leading to a solution to putting the Archive catalogue on-line. A fellow volunteer recently asked what percentage had so far been catalogued and, off-the-top of my head, I said 1%. But thinking in terms of the number of boxes catalogued, it is more like 6%. However, a box might hold 5 ICL or DEC training manuals, or 200 Packet-Switching documents! Another volunteer has been blitzing the Archive storage boxes for duplicate Acorn and BBC Micro games and, in so doing, has released some 20 boxes back into use, a considerable cost saving at £3.50 per box. After an unexpected wait for delivery, special size acid-free pockets have now been received that have enabled the storage of some very fragile copies of 'Practical and Amateur Wireless' dating back to 1935 that were donated by Harry Fensom.

Projects

Just a quick note to say that progress on the museums restorations can be found on the projects page. One important milestone has been getting an ICL DRS80 disk drive working again thanks to replacement bearings (which are still available) for the main spindle and drive motor. This has an added benefit as the ICL System 25 and PDP 11/70 scrapbook system us similar drives (all manufactured by Control Data Corporation) and the drives on both those systems have had terminal bearing failures.

Storage / Workshop

Things have been progressing well in the mammoth task of clearing the storage area behind the Air Traffic Control system. David H is leading this work ably assisted by several volunteers. Most of the shelving and equipment has now been relocated to various other storage facilities nearby and planning of the layout for the new, visitor viewable, workshop is progressing well. There is still the issue of funding for this but hopefully this can be resolved and enable a much better area and environment for volunteers to work on restoring systems.

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