Sunday, 1 August 2010

(My) Computing History

I was on a while back about visiting The National Museum of Computing at  Bletchley Park   

Wrapping up RSS and smashing atoms

Today we finally got there!
Elliott 905.
This was one of the first computers I worked on at Marconi Space and Defence systems. The control panel includes buttons that allow you to single step through your program. These is also a "Cycle Stop" switch that shows you the internal operations of the computer.
The software was loaded from paper tape. The reader is on top of the control panel. The paper tape punch is to the left of the control panel. The doors house the 19 Inch rack mounting units for the power supply and rack of processor boards, core store unit, and probably an Autonomous Transfer Unit. The ATU was an early Direct Memory Access interface (DMA).
A sample program can be found here.

IBM 1130.
I programmed one of these at College. The program was run from punched cards.
More detail cam be found here.

PDP 11/34.

This computer I used at CCL/Travicom. There were several computers in the 11 range. More stuff cam be found here.
I worked on various PDP computer in on different operating systems and languages. 
RT-11 was a singe user system.CCL used TSX on top of RT11 to make it multi-user. The RSX-11 operating system was a lot cleverer. Dave Cutler the project leader on that system at DEC, later went on to lead the development of Windows NT.

I also worked on PDP 11 computers at Racal. Following on from contraction at Racal I moved on to the DEC-VAX and the VMS operating system at Northern Telecom.
After Northern Telecom at Travicom that had taken over CCL, computing was now mainly on IBM PC clones.

I had a look around to see if I could spot any disks that I had worked with. I remember the RL01 and RL02,
The RL01 had 5 Megabytes of storage, and the RL02 a massive 10 Megabytes of storage.

We spent quite some time in the computer section, and also had a look at the rebuilt Colossus computer. Colossus was world's first large-scale, electronic programmable computer. It was created to crack the codes used to conceal the messages that Hitler's generals were sending to each other. More here.

As our tickets are valid for 12 months we will have to visit again, and explore more in depth. We did not have much time to look over the rest of the place. We did have time to look at the rebuilt Bombe as well. The Bombe was an electromechanical device used by cryptologists to help decrypt German Enigma-machine-encrypted signals. There is some interesting stuff about Alan Turing here

Andrew Hodges says on his website that "But I would say that in 1945 Alan Turing alone grasped everything that was to change computing completely after that date: above all he understood the universality inherent in the stored-program computer. He knew there could be just one machine for all tasks. He did not do so as an isolated dreamer, but as someone who knew about the practicability of large-scale electronics, with hands-on experience. From experience in codebreaking and mathematics he was also vividly aware of the scope of programs that could be run." 

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