Computer ◆ Conservation ◆ Society

Old news from the CCS

September 2014

Forthcoming Redesign of the Maths/Computer Gallery at the London Science Museum

On September 12th, it was announced that the present Computer/Mathematics Gallery at the London Science Museum has attracted a donation of no less that £5,000,000 from one David Harding founder of Wilton Capital Management, a hedge fund company. The new gallery which is due to open in late 2016, will replace the current gallery.

Planning is at an early stage, but we hear that Pegasus is not likely to remain, nor the Babbage Difference Engine. On the other hand the Powers-Samas punched card office is thought to have been included in the initial plans and there is a possibility that the Elliott 401 may be put on public display for the first time.

More detail here.


March 2014

Announcement of The Alan Turing Institute

In his budget speech, the Chancellor, George Osborne announced the creation of The Alan Turing Institute which is to be a new research organisation to investigate methods of analysing huge quantities of "Big Data" to find patterns. A budget of £42,000,000 has been allocated to support this work. Organisations, including existing universities, will be invited to bid for the new institute later in the year.

At least two Alan Turing Institutes have been set up previously, one in Holland and another by the late Donald Michie in Glasgow in 1983 which latter closed in 1994 (a fact which seems to have escaped the notice of the Daily Telegraph) due to lack of clients.

Manchester MP John Leech immediately suggested that Manchester University would be an appropriate site for the new organisation, saying "Alan Turing's contribution to Manchester was enormous...". CCS members will, no doubt, have their own views about that.


February 2014

Disagreements at Bletchley Park/National Museum of Computing

At the end of January a dispute between TNMoC and the Bletchley Park Trust which has been brewing for some time burst into the open as a result of a BBC News report which can be viewed at www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-25916048. A comprehensive summary of the dispute may be found at tinyurl.com/tnmocvsbpt.

CCS is closely related to both TNMoC and BPT and feels that it would be inappropriate at this stage to comment. We hope the dispute can be resolved without further adverse effects to both parties. In the meantime, we feel obliged to let members know what is going on.


November 2013

Alan Turing Pardon

Alan Turing was granted a posthumous Royal pardon on Christmas Eve. This follows a long campain to have his 1952 conviction for gross indecency set aside.

Reaction was generally positive. Iain Standen, head of the Bletchley Park Trust opined "Turing was a visionary mathematician and genius whose work contributed enormously both to the outcome of the war and the computer age"

Turing's biographer, Andrew Hodges was less effusive -

"Alan Turing suffered appalling treatment 60 years ago and there has been a very well intended and deeply felt campaign to remedy it in some way. Unfortunately, I cannot feel that such a 'pardon' embodies any good legal principle. If anything, it suggests that a sufficiently valuable individual should be above the law which applies to everyone else. ...... For me, this symbolic action adds nothing.

A more substantial action would be the release of files on Turing's secret work for GCHQ in the cold war. Loss of security clearance, state distrust and surveillance may have been crucial factors in the two years leading up to his death in 1954."


November 2013

The National Museum of Computing

has been pledged its largest-ever single donation of £1 million and is seeking the required matched funding to double its value. The donation will be phased as matching funding is received and will enable the Museum to develop its enormous potential. Early priorities include refurbishing the Museum and increasing its capacity for visitors and exhibits.

The donor, Matt Crotty, a technology entrepreneur and a trustee of TNMoC, said; "To help the development of a Museum such as this is an exceptional opportunity that comes once in a lifetime. I have watched this organisation grow and make astonishing achievements with very limited funding. My decision to donate has also been motivated by the increasing public awareness of the significance of digital heritage and the role and understanding it can play in inspiring current and future generations to become engineers and computer scientists."


August 2013

The Centre for Computing History

has recently completed its long-awaited relocation from Haverhill to Cambridge. Their website gives details.


July 2013

A poem of praise for Alan Turing

CCS member Marion Whistle has composed a short poem remembering the life of Alan Turing here.


April 2013

Innovation Poll

The Science Museum and other similarly distinguished organisations have recently held a poll to determine the most important British innovation of the last 100 years. Turing's notion of the "universal" computer was voted first out of 87 with the World Wide Web coming in at number six.

More details here.


March 2013

A History of the History of Bletchley Park and Colossus

In February Professor Brian Randell visited the National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park and, in front of the rebuilt Colossus, gave a fascinating talk on how, in the early 1970s, he uncovered the then secret of Bletchley Park and Colossus. Crossing swords with the security services and the then Prime Minister, Professor Randell slowly teased out the truth of the long hidden world of Bletchley Park.

Now available on video here.


November 2012

Harwell Decatron ReBoot

After a three-year restoration project at The National Museum of Computing, the Harwell Dekatron (aka WITCH) computer was rebooted on 20th November 2012 to become the world's oldest original working digital computer.

Now in its seventh decade and in its fifth home, the computer with its flashing lights and clattering printers and readers provides an awe-inspiring display for visiting school groups and the general public keen to learn about our rich computer heritage.

The 2.5 tonne, 1951 computer from Harwell with its 828 flashing Dekatron valves, 480 relays and a bank of paper tape readers clattered back into action in the presence of two of the original designers, one of its first users and many others who have admired it at different times during its remarkable history.

Kevin Murrell, trustee of TNMOC who initiated the restoration project, said: "In 1951 the Harwell Dekatron was one of perhaps a dozen computers in the world, and since then it has led a charmed life surviving intact while its contemporaries were recycled or destroyed. As the world's oldest original working digital computer, it provides a wonderful contrast to our Rebuild of the wartime Colossus, the world's first semi-programmable electronic computer."

The Harwell Dekatron computer first ran at Harwell Atomic Energy Research Establishment in 1951 where it automated the tedious calculations performed by talented young people using mechanical hand calculators. Designed for reliability rather than speed, it could carry on relentlessly for days at a time delivering its error-free results. It wasn't even binary, but worked in decimal -- a feature that is beautifully displayed by its flashing Dekatron valves.

By 1957, the computer had become redundant at Harwell, but an imaginative scientist at the atomic establishment arranged a competition to offer it to the educational establishment putting up the best case for its continued use. Wolverhampton and Staffordshire Technical College won, renamed it the WITCH (Wolverhampton Instrument for Teaching Computation from Harwell) and used it in computer education until 1973.

After a period on display in the former Birmingham Museum of Science and Industry, it was dismantled and put into storage, but "rediscovered" by a team of volunteers from The National Museum of Computing in 2008. With the blessing of the Birmingham museum and in conjunction with the Computer Conservation Society, the team developed a plan to restore the machine and to put it once again to educational use at TNMOC.

Kevin Murrell recalls its rediscovery: "I first encountered the Harwell Dekatron as a teenager in the 1970s when it was on display in the Birmingham Museum of Science and Industry -- and I was captivated by it. When that Museum closed, it disappeared from public view, but four years ago quite by chance I caught a glimpse of its control panel in a photograph of stored equipment. That sparked our ideas to rescue it and we hunted it down."

"The TNMOC restoration team has done a superb job to get it working again and it is already proving to be a fascination to young and old alike. To see it in action is to watch the inner workings of a computer -- something that is impossible on the machines of today. The restoration has been in full public view and even before it was working again the interest from the public was enormous."

Delwyn Holroyd, a TNMOC volunteer who led the restoration team, said: "The restoration was quite a challenge requiring work with components like valves, relays and paper tape readers that are rarely seen these days and are certainly not found in modern computers. Older members of the team had to brush up on old skills while younger members had to learn from scratch!"

Here is a report from the BBC news website featuring Kevin and Delwyn talking about the machine.

You can find more information on the machine here.


October 2012

Tony Sale Award 2012

The Tony Sale Award, sponsored by Google, was set up to recognise singular engineering achievements in the area of computer conservation achievements in the growing area of computer conservation. The first Award was presented at a ceremony held on 11th October, at the BCS, London.

The winning project is the Ferranti Mark 1 LoveLetters, reconstruction of software for text generation submitted by Dr David Link who is based in Cologne.

This computer art installation is a functional replica of the 1951 Ferranti Mark 1 computer.

David Link reconstructed software developed by one of the very first software developers. In 1953-1954, using the programming system devised by Alan Turing, Christopher Strachey used the built-in random generator of the Ferranti Mark 1 to generate texts intended to express and arouse emotions - or, automated 'love letters'.

The project's fusion of art, engineering and history celebrates one of the first artistic applications of the computer in a visually attractive way. It is conceptually brilliant and technically impressive in its research and reconstruction, with wide cultural appeal, originality and a touch of genius.

Even more details here.


October 2012

Pegasus arises

Wonderful news from Len Hewitt, Project Leader for Pegasus. He writes:

We had our first switch on of Pegasus for 3¼ years yesterday. Peter Burton the engineer the Science Museum is employing to prove the machine is safe to run needed to have the machine running for a couple of hours for him to record temperatures and voltages in various areas. Chris Burton, Peter Holland, Rod Brown and I attended from the C.C.S. with Charlotte Connelly from the Science Museum. We had some minor problems which were overcome. One was a fuse blowing episode in the CPU caused by the back wiring being disturbed in cleaning but this was rectified. We ran with HT on for over an hour with some packages unplugged just to check voltages and temperatures. Then, after some minor repairs, we ran for another hour with all packages in and we were able to do drum transfers, execute instructions on the hand switches and Start And Run attempted to read paper tape from the Tape Reader. The machine appears to be 95% working. The air conditioning engineers need to gas up the system and we are trying to persuade the Museum to let us do this before I leave on the 1st November as the air conditioning engineers need power on to gas up the system.

We were all delighted at the progress and it speaks volumes about the initial design of the system.

Meanwhile members will also be interested to hear that a new book on Pegasus by Hugh McGregor Ross and Colleagues has just been published. Entitled "Pegasus The Seminal Early Computer" it traces the ancestry of the design back to Elliotts and forward to the ICT 1900. Full of technical detail, it costs a modest £9.95.


August 2012

The Society was saddened to learn of the death of its past Chairman, BrianOakley CBE on Friday 17th August.

Brian Oakley spent most of his career as a highly regarded civil servant in the 1960's Ministry of Technology and its successors specialising in information technology.  He was the chief official of the Science and Engineering Research Council, BCS President (1988-9) and chaired the board of the University of London Computer Centre (ULCC).  He is best known as the Director of the Alvey Programme (1983-7) the UK government's response to the Japanese 5th Generation Computer project.

But it is as our Chairman from 1996 to 2000 that we shall remember him.  He remained on the Society's committee until 2003 and was still attending meetings in 2012.  In due course a full obituary will appear in Resurrection.

May 2012 Another Vintage Computer Festival? - See here for more details about this exciting event!

August 2011

Tony Sale 1931-2011

The CCS is sad to announce the death of Tony Sale. Tony was a founder member of the CCS and has been a committee member since. Tony is of course most well known for his rebuilding of the Colossus code-breaking computer at Bletchley Park.

There is more information of the National Museum of Computing's web site here, and on the BBC here.


July 2011

Computer Conservation Society Projects feature in royal visit to Bletchley Park

On Friday 15 July, the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh visited Bletchley Park to meet some of the veterans involved in the World War II code-breaking achievements. As part of the visit, the Bombe reconstruction was demonstrated to the Queen by Jean Valentine, one of the veterans who regularly shows the machine to visitors; while John Harper, leader of the Bombe team, explained about the machine's reconstruction to the Duke of Edinburgh. The visit also included a visit to the National Museum of Computing which included a demonstration of the Colossus rebuild by Tony Sale.


June 2010

Britain´s largest celebration of vintage computing is to be held at The National Museum of Computing (TNMOC)
in Bletchley Park from 19-20 June 2010.

Vintage Computing Festivals originated ten years ago in California´s Silicon Valley to celebrate our computing heritage, and are now regular events held across the USA and in Germany. The June 2010 event at TNMOC will be the first in the UK and will pay particular tribute to the British contribution to the development of computing. The festival is open to all, and will be of particular interest to CCS members. The event includes many exhibition stands, a full lecture programme, machine demonstrations, computer games and challenges, bring-and-buy sale, and performances of electronic music.
For more and for up-to-date details see www.tnmoc.org/vcf-gb.aspx.


17th September 2009

We have decided to reschedule our CCS event marking the 50th anniversary of the Pegasus computer in the Science Museum from December to May 2010. There is a risk that the repairs would not be completed in time - see the following statement from the Science Museum.

"On Wednesday 29th July 2009 there was a small electrical fire in the Pegasus computer during its demonstration by CCS volunteers on gallery. As a result of the incident all demonstrations of the Ferranti Pegasus computer, and the 401 working party at Blythe House, are currently suspended. The museum is conducting a formal investigation into the actions of staff post incident, the management of hazards, particularly asbestos within the Museum's collection, and the supervision and training of volunteers. At the end of this investigation a report will be completed, so that NMSI management can have complete assurance that any future activities of the CCS or other operators are planned, operated and supervised within legal requirements of Health and Safety and NMSI Health and Safety policy. CCS volunteers are thanked for their patience and cooperation during the investigation and in the implementation of its outcomes."


5th September 2009 Joint event between the CCS and the BCS Edinburgh Branch to be held on 22nd September at the University - on JANET - the first 25 years. See event page.

3rd September 2009 A new CCS working party has been formed to restore the Harwell Dekatron Computer - which in later life became known as the WITCH computer. The machine has been moved from storage in Birmingham to The National Museum of Computing where the project is based. Click here more information about the computer, and click here for more information about the museum project.

12th August 2009 Demonstrations of the Ferranti Pegasus computer are currently suspended, following an electrical fault in the machine. The Science Museum is investigating the causes of this fault and its implications. On completion of the investigation we hope to be able to repair the machine in time to celebrate its 50th anniversary. If repair is possible we currently anticipate that gallery demonstrations will recommence according to their regular schedule: fortnightly on a Wednesday, between 11 - 3pm on a date to be decided.

22nd July 2009 A new issue of Resurrection has been posted to all members - No 47 Summer 09
1st July 2009 CCS founder Tony Sale honoured by The Open University for his work on Colossus - more here
12th June 2009 The Science Museum announces Centenary Events - and you can vote for one of 10 Centenary Icons - computers are represented by the Pilot ACE.
14th May 2009 The CCS held it's AGM on May 14th - Click here for more details.
12th May 2009 Early ICT 1301 computer alive and well in Kent - now a CCS working group and demonstrated on a CCS visit.
April 2009 Bombe Restoration Project receives major Heritage award - click here for more
1st March 2009 Issue 45 of Resurrection has now been posted to all members.
1st January 2009

CCS Founder honoured - Dr Doron Swade awarded a MBE for services to the History of Computing.

Doron Swade inspired the founding of the Computer Conservation Society, and has been on our committee since the birth of the Society in 1989.

Doron is best known for his research and leadership on projects to build historically accurate 'Babbage Engines' - for more see a recent BBC news item.

Doron's recent work on exhibiting and communicating the overall history of computing was then topic of a recent talk to the Society - and stimulated much discussion among members.

The Society congratulates Doron on this award.

20th November 2008 Issue 44 of our bulletin`Resurrection' has been posted to CCS members.
A contents list for previous issues of Resurrection has also been added to the society web site.
27th August 2008 Bletchley Park Funding Campaign gathers support - more needed. See Story and background for CCS members.
25th August 2008 Issue 43 of our bulletin`Resurrection' has been posted to CCS members. Please contact the society secretary if you have not received your copy.
15th August 2008 The Summer 2008 Issue of our bulletin`Resurrection' has been posted to CCS members.
21st July 2008 CCS chairman David Hartley, acting on behalf of the President of the BCS, presented medals to UK computer pioneers at the Digital60 day Manchester - see details of medal ceremony.

Chris Burton was also presented with a medal to to mark his leadership of the of the Baby replica re-build, on the 10th anniversary that achievement. More on the significance is in a Digital60 interview with Chris.
30th June 2008 Our CCS events page now has details from Autumn 08 onwards.
20th June 2008

David Caminer - Computer Systems Pioneer and personality - died 19th June aged 92

The Leo Society website has a news item with links to a number of obituaries.

18th Jun 2008

Other events open to CCS members

9th July National Archive of Educational Computing event in London - New Learning '08 - Connecting the Future to the Past - free but booking required.

13th July Visit the restored ICT 1301 computer - a working second generation mainframe from the 1962 era, on public display in a barn at a classic car show in Kent - click here for details - see the end of the introductory paragraph.

22nd - 24th July BCS Computer Arts Society Specialist Group - EVA London 2008 conference on Electronic Visualisation and the Arts at the BCS Southampton Street, London - booking required.

27th May 2008 New CCS event in Manchester on Friday 20th June at 14:30 - a Celebratory Seminar open to all on the history of computing and the influence of Manchester computer designs - part of the Digital 60 anniversary celebrations of the first stored program computer.
27th May 2008 Announcement about the CCS Bulletin - a tribute to our editor.
Thanks to Nicholas Enticknap for his excellent work as editor of our publication 'Resurrection', for 42 issues over 18 years.
Nicholas is handling over to our new editor, Dik Leatherdale.
Issue 42 has been completed by Nicholas, and will soon be sent out to Society members. You can also view Resurrection issues online.
18th Apr 2008 The CCS March seminar on the legacy of the BBC Microcomputer is the subject of an article in Personal Computer World - it includes a story about the origins of the ARM chip. There was also a leader story in The Guardian.
20th Mar 2008 An excellent CCS event on Thursday 20th March about the innovative BBC computer education and Computer project, and what it led into - from the people who made it all happen - for more in the BBC news coverage click here for the interviews and also here for more coverage.
7th Mar 2008 Manchester CCS meeting on 18th March - start time brought forward to 17:00 - click here for more details
4th Mar 2008 The Bombe rebuild web site has been updated with additional material following completion of the rebuild project - click here for more details
28th Feb 2008 A BCS Oral History Project meeting on 'Women of Station X' on 7th March may be of interest to CCS members - click here for more details
27th Jan 2008 Our new CCS Events page has been updated with details on events in February and March - click here for more details
14th Jan 2008 Our links page now includes a link to the ICL archive catalogue housed at the Science Museum
17th Dec 2007 John Harper, leader of the Bombe Rebuild team receives Honorary Fellowship of the BCS - Click here for more details
14th Nov 2007 The National Museum of Computing launch their cipher challenge - Click here for more details from the museum
For more information about the project click here for a BBC Page covering the Colossus Challenge
3rd Sep 2007 More detail is now available for each of our public lectures.
17th Jul 2007 Completed Bombe rebuild Project officially opened by the Duke of Kent - click for more details