*** 1301 Open Day 2004 ***
*** From Slow Time to Show Time. ***
An update on the progress from the " 1301 working party" of the Computer Conservation Society,
in re-building "Flossie", ICT 1301 Serial number 6.
This project started back in 2002 when I discovered that the Ex London University 1301 computer,
Serial number 6 ( the first of about 150 production machine's to reach a customer's premises )
still existed. Contact was made with the owner Roger Holmes, and work started during
spring 2003. This computer is now over forty years old and, by the miracle of a string of
caring owner's still exists, and has the potential to be restored.
The initial review of this project back in the winter of 2002, most of which was conducted
by email, between roger and myself. Proved that this machine which I had first worked on
in 1965, as an engineer, was not only re-buildable, but Roger also had the essential
spares " in stock " to do the job. This took the form of parts from a second 1301
Computer, from Liverpool Victoria's site on London, serial Number 75 , or as it was
nicknamed " Arthur ", also further spares from other machines.
It was often remarked during the year that the repairs were less of a Real Time
fix, and more of a Slow Time fix, this was just a running joke, which had an element of truth
which both Roger and I recognised.
During the spring , summer and autumn of 2003, we worked to recover the repair state of Flossie
to the point where we could, hand key program loops into store and we could run them. For a
1301 this was an essential start point as no, peripheral devices could be exercised without a
small program to drive the device. Work cannot continue during winter months, for two reasons.
The first is that we have no air conditioning, and condensation caused by repeated warming up
in cold weather would take its toll in the form of more rust. The second is that Flossie is
an initial contender in the " Second generation " Computer stakes and although
transistorised , the transistor's are manufactured from Germanium, not the later Silicon.
Germanium transistors have both a lower and an upper temperature limit. During the better
weather we can risk turning flossie on, and cooling is regulated by the simple principle
of opening doors, windows and if needed we could even use fans to assist airflow. Work in 2003
closed on a high, with an estimated 50% of the logic and store, in the form of the CPU
Work in 2004 started as early as we dared and we had to take time to debug the faults,
which have been added since the end of 2003. Progress has continued with our first
peripheral devices "almost" working which was the Card Punch, then two magnetic tape
units joined the list of working devices. The later can be driven under CPU control,
however we cannot yet get data from the magnetic tape until we fault find the data path
through the Data Transfer Unit, into the CPU.
We were faced in mid June of 2004 with the annual stoppage of work on the resurrection
caused by the classic car show, held at Buss Farm. During conversations jokes were
made about showing Flossie to the visiting public as a " Classic Mainframe Computer ",
and at 42 years old she did qualify.
Show Time:- Or are we off of our tiny mind's ?
At the next repair session the joke turned to serious discussion, and the result was that
we decided that we would " Go for it ". The plan being to judge the public response to
seeing Flossie " Under Power " and telling them of her history! Plans were set up and
precious repair time was put to making Flossie's area " Safe " for the public to enter.
Access was limited to the console end of the machine and in an L shaped area 10 ft by 20ft we
planned to let a few visitors, who might just " be interested", both see and hear the
machine and the magnetic tape's running.
A second session was needed to tidy the visiting area and set up what information displays we
could. We were helped on that day by Stuart Fyfe, one of the earlier owner's of Flossie.
Stuart also provided us with some display material showing flossie at work in Surbiton,
where she moved after the London University days.
We were quite prepared to be disappointed and get no takers. But as visitors to a classic
car show, were possibly of the right age to appreciate a little recent computer history, we
did prepare for a few visitors. My guess was that if we were lucky, we might get almost a
hundred visitors. On the day however, we were rewarded with a public response that not
only took our breath away, it also now convinces us that the age group issue is not
I was assisted on the day by my wife Rita, who assembled and marshalled the groups outside
the exhibit. She did a Great Job of of briefing the the visitors about what they were about
to see. Also in order to hold thier attention when the queue began to build up, she
introduced them to some of the historical background of early machines, which she was
familiar with, as a result of her earlier years working as a System Demonstrator for ICT/ICL.
Rita also had a small palmtop computer with her, which was used as a comparison of modern
speed and power for the visitors in the queue, it highlighted the progress of modern
technology and amused many of the people.
We started by trying to number each of the single sheet handouts and take just a first or
last name of each of the visitors. This was so we could justify any claim to a headcount.
However at a count of 69 visitors we had to abandon the name taking as the queue to
enter the show were getting too long. So we settled for just doing a head count on each
group, but still offered to number any individuals information sheet who expressed
sufficient interest, and wanted it as a memento of the day. The last sheet number
written for the day was around 130, so 60 or more people asked for the memento to be
personalised. Roger had provided about 400 sheets but we eventually simply ran
out of them.
So just what was the number of people who were prepared to stand for 7 to 9 mins in close
proximity to a 1962 maniframe, listen to its history, hear the hum of its fans. Watch the
Magnetic tape unit's twirl the reels, of half inch tape, bathe in the generated heat,
and get a first hand taste and smell of a Classic Computer. The answer is 576 Visitors.
And as they say " it could have been more ", we had to turn away visitor's to force a
closure for a lunch hour about 12:30. My voice was starting to fail after two hours
repeating the history story and answering question's. Further the decision to close
the display at 16:30 again had to be forced, as after another 3 hours of visitor
throughput, the voice and throat was suffering. It took a further 20 mins to close
access, at one point I moved my car close to the display shed to load up some of the
display, like a gazebo and chairs we had brought with us for the day. At least 17
more people made it past the car and negotiating past the brambles, ignoring the closed
sign to grab their chance to view Flossie.
What have we learned from the above ?
A. That interest is higher than I had expected by almost 500 percent, although Roger
estimated a close figure.
B. That age is not an essential barrier to this interest, Some children
asked for more information for school projects, some adults asked if we
arranged visit's for student groups. Some people remembered the 1960's
and seeing such a mainframe as Flossie, either up close or in magazine
C. That given the visitor's had decided to go to a Classic car show, Finding
a Classic Computer on the day was a bonus they had not expected, and mostly enjoyed.
D. That given the opportunity I believe this event is repeatable, provided we give
ourselves, a little more planning time. And staff the event with volunteer's who
have an interest in spreading the word, about the history of Computing and the
organisation which provide this service. This will give " Our Computer Heritage
" a larger stage and a wider audience.
Visitor's ( yes we had lots ! )
The two Magnetic tape deck's alive and kicking.
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