Fifty Years Ago .... from the pages of Computer Weekly

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1969 in computing compiled by TNMOC volunteer archivist, Brian Aldous.
A selection of stories from Computer Weekly from the summer of 1969. The full archive of Computer Weekly can be seen at TNMOC, where there are special rolling displays of front pages from 25 and 40 years ago.

Digital microcircuits as learning cells in new machine

A learning machine developed at the Electronics Laboratories of Kent University, Canterbury, has been named SOPHIA. It is distinguishable from other such machines by the fact that it employs 12 digital microcircuits as learning cells, rather than large and costly analogue devices. The microcircuits, are of the SLAM, Stored Logic Adaptive Microcircuit, type. Each comprises a thin silicon wafer 2mm square which accommodates eight storage bits, three logic inputs and one output. (11/9/69 p3)

After 10 years 'tis sad, but Leo 2 must go

In the smother of activities in the computer world during Datafair, an item of news from the early days of commercial data processing in the UK became somewhat overlooked. It was the retirement after almost 10 years’ continuous service, of the Leo 2 computer at the DHSS at Newcastle-upon-Tyne. (11/9/69 p13)

Management Software Emphasised in Titan System

After two and a half years of operational working, Cambridge University’s Titan multiple access computer system now has more than 300 online users. Although limitations of the Titan (or Atlas II) hardware only allow for 18 terminals to be simultaneously on-line, and for a total of 60 consoles, the software written to manage the system appears to be effectively allocating the resources available. Titan was one of the very first multiple access systems to operate simultaneously in batch processing and on-line modes without giving precedence to either. (18/9/69 p14)

They’re on the Right Track in France

The French National Railway, SNCF, is now implementing the initial phase of an ambitious three-stage computer scheme whose broad overall purpose is to enhance profitability by tightening controls in a number of areas. Specifically, these controls are aimed at increasing the profitable mileage covered by goods wagons and passenger coaches, cutting costs and releasing tied-up capital by control over spare parts and other inventories, and speeding the flow of incoming cash by faster issue of invoices for freight carried. (25/9/69-Intl pI)

BCL display Multi-Susie at the BEE

A new office computer capable of handling complicated analyses and large volumes of data, claimed to be 10 times more powerful than anything previously produced by the manufacturers, has been announced by Business Computers Ltd. Called the Multi-Susie, it consists of up to three satellite desk units operating on-line to one main memory. All the units are capable of working together on one program or independently of each other on individual programs. (2/10/69 p1)

Mini-Computer given NRDC Support

A new all-British 16-bit word length mini-computer based on the products of the rapidly expanding integrated circuit industry is being backed by the National Research Development Corporation. Called the 18C, the computer is being developed by Arcturus Electronics Ltd. Production is to begin soon. By making use of the medium scale integrated circuits now becoming available, the 18C allows data to be manipulated between several registers without returning to the main memory with subsequent advantages in speed and ease of programming. (2/10/69 p15)

New Language for Machine Tool Control

A computer language that allows part programmers to produce control tapes for numerically controlled machine tools up to eight times faster than manual methods has been developed in Britain by GEIS for its nation-wide Dial-a-Computer service. Called GEAPT, it enables users of two- and three-axis point-to-point NC machine tools to dial directly through a GPO telephone network and offers direct access to a computer system from a terminal. (2/10/69 p24)

Digital control at Wiggins Teape vindicates itself

A computer control system installed as an experimental project at a cost of £200,000 is already vindicating itself at the Dartford paper mill of Wiggins Teape Ltd. In quality control, Wiggins Teape report that basis weight variations are now much less than half what they were before the computer - a Ferranti Argus 400 - was installed, while variations in some parts of the process have been cut to one-tenth. Equally significant, changes of grade of paper made by the machine, which used to take up to 20 minutes, are now completed in less than two minutes, and the project team are confident that change times of one minute will soon be achieved. Paper breaks have been cut by 60 per cent and the amount of unusable paper is decreasing. (9/10/69 p3)

Complete System for Shipbuilders

A suite of programs covering initial design of a vessel right through to final production has been developed by the British Ship Research Association at Wallsend. The suite, known as Britships - British Shipbuilding Integrated Production System, covers preliminary and detailed designs and lines fairing for the hull shape. It also includes the production of machine tool control tapes for cutting and bending of sheet metal for hull sections and members, data for ordering materials and information relating to scheduling and costs to assist management control. (16/10/69 p1)

Propellor Blades Machined Five Times Faster with N/C

The most technically advanced numerically-controlled machine in the world, now fully operational in AB Karlstads, machines new marine propeller blades five times faster than with conventional methods. Called the Spheromill ‘P’, this new multi-purpose mill has nine machine motions controlled simultaneously by a General Electric Mark Century 105C numerical control unit. (16/10/69 p8)

1906A trebles power at Chilton Atlas Lab

The Science Research Council’s annual report has formally announced the intention to have an ICL 1906A computer installed at the Atlas Computer Laboratory at Chilton. This will take place in the spring of 1971 and will treble the computing power of the laboratory. However, now that ICL have cancelled the 1908A which would have had about 10 times the power of Atlas, the question of what big machine to link with the 1906A is so far unanswered. (16/10/69 p28)

803B takes over from 802

After eight years faithful service at British Aluminium’s Chalfont Park operational research centre, what is believed to be the last Elliott 802 valve/transistor computer has been replaced. Bought in 1961 for £20,000 the machine has been sold to Electronic Brokers for a reported £275.  The British Aluminium operational research manager told Computer Weekly that the machine had to be sold because ICL, who did not have a servicing contract, could not provide 802 engineers. He said: ‘Basically, it was a good machine but it was limited with only 1K core store, however, it did have a 33-bit word length and we used several tricks to get the best out of it.’ (23/10/69 p32)

Train control net to use GEC-Elliott systems

Two computer systems, between them controlling displays indicating the whereabouts of over 200 trains, have been ordered by British Rail’s Eastern Region from GEC-Elliott Automation. An Elliott 905 system will
enhance the existing train monitoring system at Leeds to cope with 190 trains at a time. At Healey Mills, 20 miles away, a smaller 903 system will control 61 train displays. By October next year the two systems will cover between them 78 miles of train routes. (30/10/69 p10)

Honeywell launches modular control unit

Described as the basis of a ‘building brick’ system, Honeywell’s H112 digital controller, announced on Tuesday, is designed for use in tailor-made control systems using standard, off-the-shelf plug-in modules. The 12-bit stored program controller is based on a special purpose controller designed for use in a photo-typesetting system. Its main selling points are flexibility - 33 instructions and plug-in construction; low cost - £2,700 for a basic unit with 4K store; and reliability - mean time between failures of a logic module is said to be over two million hours. (30/10/69 p24)

360/75 to Strengthen Multi-Access at Harwell

Any time now, AERE Harwell are to take delivery of hardware which will upgrade their existing IBM 360/65 computer to a 360/75. The new system is scheduled to be operational in January, when it will support a large-scale system of multi-access from about 200 Teletypes and also fast data links from a number of small computers. A good deal of the Atomic Energy Research Establishment’s work is classified secret, but out of the expertise gained on defence and other projects they are in a position to offer advice and assistance to industry in a number of different areas of computing. One of these is in multi-access computing. The HUW system, Harwell Users’ Workshop, was designed at Harwell as a fully conversational file editing and remote job entry system, to which IBM’s own conversational RJE system has turned out very similar. Eight of the 200 Teletype lines now connected are linked to the GPO’s Datel network, so that users working at some distance can access the computer by telephone. (6/11/69 p24)

M1 system to warn motorists of hazards

Approximately 62 miles of the M1 motorway in Yorkshire is now controlled by a signalling and communication system designed to warn motorists of hazards ahead and to impose speed limits if necessary. The system has been installed by GEC-Traffic Automation, and is similar to one which has been in use on the M4 London to Maidenhead motorway since last March. In its early days the M4 system had a bad reception from motorists who either misunderstood or ignored its messages. (13/11/69 p24)

4/70 takes over V&G real time work

The first full-scale real time insurance system in Britain is to be set up by Vehicle and General Insurance, based on one of the largest ICL System 4/70 configurations in the country. The System 4, which is already installed at V&G’s computer centre in Northwood Hills, has supplanted the firm’s previous IBM 360/50.  Linked to the 256K System 4 will be a total of 48 Marconi-Elliott visual display units, controlled by two Elliott 905 computers. (20/11/69 p1)

£5m Russian order for 1900As

An order, worth £5 million, for five 1900A computers and associated equipment, has been placed with ICL by Mashpriborintorg, the central purchasing agency for the USSR. The order will, no doubt, be doubly welcome to ICL in that it comes at a time when their ability to maintain their pre-eminent position in the Eastern European market in the face of growing competition from US and West German firms, has been increasingly questioned. Unconfirmed reports suggest that the computers will be delivered in three stages. A 1903A with interchangeable disc units and magnetic tape storage facilities is scheduled for delivery in May, 1970. A year later, a second 1903A and a 1906A, now largest of the 1900 series, with both fixed and interchangeable disc units, will be delivered. In December 1971 a final delivery, again of a 1903A and a 1906A, will be made. (20/11/69 p1)

Production starts on UK hybrid

The first low cost hybrid computer to be manufactured in the UK, the EAL 580 desk top machine, is now being made by Electronic Associates Ltd at Burgess Hill, Sussex. It was introduced from the US in March at a basic machine cost of £10,000. Eventually it is hoped to produce more than 20 machines a year at Burgess Hill to cope with the increasing demand for this type of machine. (27/11/69 p32)