m/c history








The Project

*** 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.

Slow Time:-
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 running.

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 a problem.

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 articles.

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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