They’re Alive! Can YOU help keep them working?

Sophie Wilson, co-designer of the BBC Micro, with the Beeb emulator on her smartphone (pic TNMOC)
Sophie Wilson, co-designer of the BBC Micro, with the Beeb emulator on her smartphone (pic TNMOC)

Over the past year more than 4,500 students have visited The National Museum of Computing on the museum’s Learning Programme, and many of them used an original 1980s BBC Micro computer to hack a computer games program and perhaps gain their first experience of coding in BASIC. (The others used a BBC Micro emulator on a modern laptop.)

It’s one of the most popular parts of the Learning Programme and high on the list of requested activities for returning groups.

Now, the museum, which is based at Bletchley Park, Milton Keynes, is appealing for help in keeping their collection of about eighty hard-pressed ‘Beebs’ alive – and for more people to join their BBC refurb team.  It is looking for people familiar with the computer and its peripherals, including disk drives and monitors.

Two factoids demonstrate the endurance of TNMOC’s Beebs 33 years on:

  • 2,250 hours of BBC BASIC coding each year
  • 78,000 key presses per BBC computer annually

The Beeb has certainly stood the test of time. Teachers reminisce about their introduction to computing while the students get a thrill from this uncomplicated and rewarding introduction to computer programming.

Here’s a short video about the Learning Programme to give a flavour of how important these machines are in the context of learning about computer history.

The BBC Micro Cluster at TNMOC goes beyond the Learning Programme too. It’s used by the general public, visiting corporate groups and a few of the micros often escape on tour to external exhibitions and displays.  In addition, some machines form part of static displays.

The Beebs wait patiently for eager hands... (pic TNMOC)
The Beebs wait patiently for eager hands… (pic TNMOC)

The main problem that tends to occur with these otherwise robust Acorn computers is two capacitors in the power supply that dry out and, if not replaced, may explode with a very unpleasant smell. Thankfully, these are relatively easy to replace due to the design of the computer.

The TNMOC team changes the capacitors as part of standard procedures which can also include replacing sticky keys and the odd other component that may fail. They are, after all, getting on a bit, despite being tough as nails!

Keeping the BBC cluster going is down to the skills of a TNMOC volunteer team. So if you would like to apply to join that team, please email volunteering@tnmoc.org and see the Volunteering section on the TNMOC website.

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Competition for teenage girls to mark Ada’s 200th birthday

Watercolor portrait of Ada King, Countess of Lovelace (Ada Lovelace), 1840
Watercolor portrait of Ada King, Countess of Lovelace (Ada Lovelace), 1840

Coming soon – Teenage girls with an interest in computing and technology are being invited to enter a competition to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of Ada Lovelace.

The competition, run by The National Museum of Computing and the University of Oxford in conjunction with Cs4fn at Queen Mary University, London, asks girls what 21st century technology they would like to tell Ada Lovelace about.

Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace (1815-1852), was the English daughter of a brief marriage between the Romantic poet Lord Byron and Anne Isabelle Milbanke, who separated from Byron just a month after Ada was born. Four months later, Byron left England forever. Ada never met her father (who died in Greece in 1823) and was raised by her mother, Lady Byron.

Trial model of a part of the Analytical Engine, built by Babbage, as displayed at the London Science Museum (pic Bruno Barral/Wikipedia)
Trial model of a part of the Analytical Engine, built by Babbage, as displayed at the London Science Museum (pic Bruno Barral/Wikipedia)

Ada was a brilliant mathematician and writer, chiefly known for her work on mathematician Charles Babbage’s early mechanical general-purpose computer, the Analytical Engine.  Ada met Babbage in 1833, when she was just 17, and they began an extensive correspondence on the topics of mathematics, logic, and ultimately all subjects, including his designs for the Engine. They became lifelong friends.

Her notes on the Analytical Engine include what is recognised as the first algorithm intended to be carried out by a machine. Because of this, she is often regarded as the first computer programmer.  The computer programming language, Ada, was named in her honour in 1979.

Full details of the competition will be announced at the beginning of July.

Potential entrants and others wishing to receive details, should please email: Ada.lovelace@tnmoc.org with Ada in the subject line.