Category Archives: Computing history

TNMOC: Technology powering 50 years of Milton Keynes

Virtual fun at TNMOC (Pic TNMOC)
Virtual fun at TNMOC (Pic TNMOC)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the birth of Milton Keynes as a new town, The National Museum of Computing (TNMOC) at Bletchley Park is hosting a special weekend on 21-22 January 2017 highlighting the past, present and future of computing.

For the first eight years of Milton Keynes’ existence, the existence of the code-breaking Colossus computer, was still secret. On this special anniversary weekend, visitors to The National Museum of Computing can see the world-famous rebuild of Colossus together with the array of technology that has followed in its wake and powered the development of Milton Keynes. There will also be glimpses of technologies to come.

Fun and fascination at TNMOC

During the weekend of 21-22 January 2017, visitors can:

  • Find out about MK and smart cities and come up with your own ideas on what tech and apps we will be using in 50 years’ time in MK.
  • Come face-to-face with a rebuild of world’s first electronic computer, Colossus, and discover its key role in shortening the Second World War.
  • Use Gamar, an augmented reality app, to explore the museum via a brand new museum trail.
  • Relive wartime Buckinghamshire and join the Home Guard as they patrol the museum and provide opportunities to try on a uniform plus more.
  • Discover the wonder of wearable technologies like Oculus Rift to discover new possibilities in virtual worlds.
  • See the world’s oldest working computer, the WITCH, and watch in amazement as it flickers and clicks to perform calculations at 1951 computer speed.
  • Become a Robot Brain Surgeon with our friends at Tech Camp. To book a place please visit http://www.techcamp.org.uk
  • Code and play games on our 1980’s BBC micros.
Ten-year and anniversary offer

Also, to celebrate the Milton Keynes anniversary year and ten years of the existence of The National Museum of Computing, MK families get half-price entry! It is only £10 (normal price £20) for a family of up to 2 adults and three children (under 16). Just bring proof of residence within an MK postcode.

For more information, see the TNMOC website: http://www.tnmoc.org/

Images courtesy TNMOC

REVIVAL Solstice 2016 – a resounding success!

View from the stage at REVIVAL Solstice 2016 - click to enlarge
View from the stage at REVIVAL Solstice 2016 – click to enlarge

Veteran retro gaming/arcade show organisers Revival Retro Events returned to take the retro scene by storm once again last weekend, after a break from major events since 2014.

Breaking new ground with a brand-new venue for the show, the event took place for the first time in the spacious Stadium Suite at the Banks’s Stadium (previously known as Bescot Stadium) – the home of Walsall Football Club in the West Midlands!

After a smaller comeback event last November in Wolverhampton, this year REVIVAL executed a mighty return to the scene with the aptly titled REVIVAL Solstice 2016 on 30-31 July.

Loads of fun and excitement on cab or computer!
Loads of fun and excitement on cab or computer!

Bringing back all the attractions of their previous fun-packed summer exhibitions, the latest show included:

  • Over 100 playable retro consoles and computers
  • Over 50 classic video arcade machines and pinball machines
  • On-stage competitions run by the Retro Lords, and prizes (including a Sinclair ZX Spectrum +3 donated by sponsors Retro Computing News!)
  • A selection of traders offering various retro collectables
  • The return of the guest talks panels and new gamer’s theatre
  • Reasonably priced, fully licensed bar and gamer’s snack bar
  • serving hot and cold food
Pinball wizards at REVIVAL Solstice 2016
Pinball wizards at REVIVAL Solstice 2016

The venue had the advantage of not being far from the M6 and right on the doorstep of Bescot Stadium Railway Station, although it’s fair to say the location caused a little confusion with some drivers finding it not so easy to locate as they thought.

One of the Retro Lords running a contest on stage
One of the Retro Lords running a contest on stage

But with hundreds attending on each day of the weekend, it’s clear that retro fans had more than enough to encourage them to beat a path to Bescot for more REVIVAL retro fun!

One of the several wheelers and dealers at REVIVAL
One of the several wheelers and dealers at REVIVAL

And our editor and publisher Stuart Williams, who spent the Saturday there in retro heaven, couldn’t agree more – and he came on the bus from Bloxwich!

Continue reading REVIVAL Solstice 2016 – a resounding success!

RCN Review: Electronic Dreams by Tom Lean

Electronic Dreams by Dr Tom Lean
Electronic Dreams by Dr Tom Lean

As someone who was first introduced to ‘real’ computers, as opposed to sinister science-fictional devices, during the British home computing revolution of the 1980s-90s, when I was in my twenties, I have always been fascinated by both the technical and the social history of computers, as well as the people who designed, created, built and marketed them. After all, in many cases, we owe our modern, computer-saturated, hyper-integrated world to them.

So, I was particularly intrigued to hear of a new book which focuses on a number of these aspects, since while there have been many excellent coffee-table type ‘nostalgia’ books about video/computer games and gaming published in the last few years, there’s not so much out there about the more serious side of things.

Do androids dream of electric nostalgia?

The new book I’m referring to is Electronic Dreams by Dr Tom Lean, which was issued by mainstream publishers Bloomsbury in February, and a very interesting volume it is too, particularly bearing in mind its rather Kubrickian subtitle ‘How 1980s Britain learned to love the computer’.

The publishers are clearly targeting both the well-established popular science market and the boom in ‘cyber nostalgia’ and ‘retro computing’ which has already seen the rise and rise of the retro gaming book in recent years, but in a very different way which also makes the work of interest to historians, amateur or professional, of social and technological history.

Surprisingly in this sector of the market, the author is in fact an historian of science, currently based at the British Library, where he is working on Oral History of British Science, a major project concerned with the collecting and archiving of life-story interviews with 200 figures from the recent history of science and technology.

From the author’s mouth
Tom Lean (pic courtesy of the author)
Tom Lean (pic courtesy of the author)

Retro Computing News spoke to Tom Lean, who told us a little about himself and how he came to write the book, which offers an insight into the thinking that lies behind the words and pictures:

“I was born in Port Talbot, South Wales, best known (or perhaps not) as the home of the Dragon 32 home computer. I only actually saw a Dragon 32 once as a child, but both my parents were teachers so every summer they’d borrow a BBC Micro. I guess that, and the Commodore 64 they eventually got me, was my introduction to home computing, but by then it was the later 1980s and I think I probably missed microcomputing’s glory days at the start of the decade. How I became a historian of home computing is a long story, but the short version is: I sort of fell into doing a masters on the history of computing after studying history and computing as a joint degree at the university of Kent, because it seemed like a fairly logical choice at the time – what else are you going to with a degree in history and computing?

“After that, I was hooked, and ended up doing a PhD on the subject at university in Manchester, home also to the world’s first stored program computer, the 1948 ‘Manchester Baby‘ and Ocean Software, who probably wrote about half the 8-bit games I played as a child. So by background I’m an historian of science and technology, and I’m really into understanding the various ways that society interacts with technology and how people use it in ways that designers often didn’t foresee. I’ve been interested by the history of home computing for about a decade. I’m just old enough to have some nostalgia for it, but there’s something about technologies at that messy, formative stage when people haven’t quite figured out what they are for or what they should be like that fascinates me.”

On the subject of Electronic Dreams itself, Tom went on to say:

“The book was an idea I was playing around with for sometime. My day job is an oral historian of science and technology at National Life Stories at the British Library. Interviewing old scientists and engineers about their lives and work for Voices of Science (http://www.bl.uk/voices-of-science) is fascinating but it’s kept me pretty busy over the last few years. It was only a couple of years ago when Electronic Dreams was picked up for the splendid new popular science series from Bloomsbury-Sigma that I got the chance to write the book at last.”

So, this was going to be an historically-relevant work, not just a childhood nostalgia-fest for the modern age, and all the more interesting for it.  No page after page of glossy gaming graphics in this chunky tome; the illustrations, which are gathered together in a few pages in the centre of the book are a small but thoughtfully-chosen selection of pictures of historic, mostly British, home computers, with an early mainframe, a couple of magazine covers, a few period adverts and, inevitably, a handful of classic games, including two of my favourites, 3D Monster Maze on the Sinclair ZX81 and Elite on the BBC Micro, both classic achievements of their time and platforms.

The bulk of the book, which is of a slightly more academic style but very readable and by no means dry and dusty, seeks to interest the reader, and succeeds admirably, by presenting the fascinating story of how computers invaded British homes for the first time, as people set aside their science fiction-derived worries about ‘electronic brains’ and ‘Big Brother’ and embraced the newly-affordable wonder technology of the 1980s.  Little did we know, back then, that those somewhat paranoid concepts of the 1950s-80s would come back to bite us in this closely-networked 21st century, but that is another story…

Continue reading RCN Review: Electronic Dreams by Tom Lean

Shacked up with EDSAC in Reading

James Barr in the 'Edshack' (pic courtesy TNMOC)
James Barr in the ‘Edshack’ (pic courtesy TNMOC)

A home workshop in Reading, England is today playing a vital role in the reconstruction of EDSAC, the Cambridge University machine that sixty-five years ago led the world’s computing revolution and today is being reconstructed and assembled at The National Museum of Computing (TNMOC) on Bletchley Park, where the process can be watched by museum visitors.

The Reading workshop, affectionately named Edshack, belongs to James Barr, who not only has the rare skills required to help in the reconstruction of EDSAC, but also has a computing pedigree that can be traced directly to the machine that first ran before he was even born.

EDSAC, full name the Electronic Delay Storage Automatic Calculator, was built in Cambridge, England in the years following the Second World War and was the first high-speed electronic computer ever to go into service at a University. Because of its remarkable speed, it enabled new approaches to scientific research, which were previously impossible, and was used in at least two Nobel-Prize winning research breakthroughs.

Intricate wiring of the control chassis (pic courtesy TNMOC)
Intricate wiring of the control chassis (pic courtesy TNMOC)

In Barr’s workshop, key components of EDSAC’s central control system are being reconstructed. He is one of the very few people in the country who could attempt such a task. It requires a knowledge of thermionic valves that were used for wartime RADAR and preceded the invention of transistors and silicon chips. They were the only devices at that time fast enough for high-speed computing technology. He also has had to research and re-discover the ways that 1940’s valve circuits were made to perform digital functions.

Continue reading Shacked up with EDSAC in Reading

Happy 200th birthday Ada!

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

Today is a day which should not only inspire women to an interest in computing, but a day which we should all celebrate as having a direct link to the modern world which surrounds us in 2015 – the 200th anniversary of the birth of the legendary Ada Lovelace.

Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace (1815-1852), was the English daughter of a brief marriage between the famous 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)
Programming pioneer

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 now 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. Based on the language PASCAL, ADA is a general-purpose language designed to be readable and easily maintained.

For more information, see: http://findingada.com/book/ada-lovelace-victorian-computing-visionary/

Happy Birthday, Ada!

REVIVAL set to return after Winter Warmer success

Just part of the REVIVAL Winter Warmer (pic by Johnnathan Taylor)
Just part of the REVIVAL Winter Warmer (pic by Johnnathan Taylor)

Popular British retro gaming and computing event REVIVAL looks set to return in the New Year with all guns blazing, according to chief organiser Craig Turner – not surprising, judging by positive comments coming from the crowds attending their latest show.

After the success of last weekend’s smaller, but still beautifully marked, REVIVAL Winter Warmer event held at a leisure centre near Wolverhampton, the volunteer-supported exhibition and gaming extravaganza is heading onward and upward into 2016!

The popular combination of vast numbers of arcade machines, pinball games and legendary home consoles and computers made available for use at events by the organisers, exhibitors and supporters, combined with retro traders, plus talks and star guests at their bigger events, means REVIVAL has never had much difficulty getting gamers and geeks through the doors.

At ground level, gaming galore! (pic by Lee Mather)
At ground level, gaming galore! (pic by Lee Mather)

Putting on a major event of this kind on a small budget is never a simple affair, however, and it’s a lot of hard work as well as fun, as Craig Turner, of Turnarcades fame, said recently:

“After a tough first few events that went beyond our expectations and became a little harder to handle, future plans for REVIVAL were uncertain last year. After a major change early this year though and thanks to our dedicated team of die-hard enthusiasts, REVIVAL Winter Warmer has been solidly organised and was well-prepared well in advance this time. It was never certain though that we would again be in a position to return to full form. The primary decider was always you, the gamers, that buy the tickets and share in the hobby with us…

“After crunching the figures, I am pleased to announce that despite initial reservations about moving venue and trying a mid-sized event, ticket sales have been strong since day one and I can officially confirm that REVIVAL WILL RETURN IN 2016 not only with a full-scale event in Wolverhampton, but plans are underway for two additional events with a different focus that will be going outside the Midlands to reach gamers around the country!”

REVIVAL logo

REVIVAL has always been an event by gamers, for gamers and the organisers have been keen to stay true to their retro-gaming roots, which has aided in their success, as Retro Computing News found out at last year’s massive REVIVAL event at Wolverhampton’s Dunstall Park racecourse.

Last weekend bodes well
The REVIVAL Winter Warmer team, organisers and volunteers
The REVIVAL Winter Warmer team, organisers and volunteers

Mr Turner, speaking after the well-supported Winter Warmer weekend, said:

“Our first show in over a year REVIVAL Winter Warmer 2015 is now over and based on feedback so far, was an overwhelming success! With a sellout crowd on Saturday and an unusually large Sunday crowd too, we doubled our expected turnout with a head count just short of 700 people over the weekend. A huge thanks to all who attended; visitors, staff and guests who all contributed to an unrivalled atmosphere that our events have always been renowned for!

“Such an event wouldn’t be possible without a well-balanced team of true retro gaming enthusiasts that make up our organisers, floor staff, setup volunteers, exhibit contributors and entertainment. I would like to say a huge thanks to all of my family and crew who helped make Winter Warmer what it was and committed their efforts to bring every attendee a great time – it couldn’t be done without them. Allow me to introduce our main team [pictured above, Ed.] for last weekend, and thanks to the miracle of powerful high-resolution image editing, been able to seamlessly blend in one of our main team members who was unfortunately on a logistical errand while this shot was taken.

“Be sure to give props to these guys if you see them again or have any stories to share from the event!”

Well, we can’t say fairer than that, and despite the illness that sadly kept our editor Stuart Williams away from this year‘s Winter Warmer, Retro Computing News is already looking forward to covering next year’s REVIVAL event in person, so watch this space!

For more information and to keep up with these events, check out REVIVAL’s official website and the Facebook page.

 

All images courtesy REVIVAL and individual photographers.

Royal Mail Yearbook features first programmable electronic computer

A Colossus Mark 2 computer being operated by Dorothy Du Boisson (left) and Elsie Booker (courtesy The National Archives)
A Colossus Mark 2 computer being operated by Dorothy Du Boisson (left) and Elsie Booker (courtesy The National Archives)

An in-depth article featuring the famous British World War II computer Colossus (the world’s first programmable electronic computer) and its designer Tommy Flowers (1905-1998) features in the 2015 Royal Mail Year Book that explores the year’s Special Stamp issues.

Inventive Britain Colossus Stamp
Inventive Britain Colossus Stamp

In February this year, as part of its Inventive Britain series, Royal Mail issued a special issue commemorative Colossus stamp with a special launch in the Colossus Gallery at TNMOC.

In Royal Mail’s 2015 Year Book, Tommy Flowers and Colossus are honoured again with a four-page article written by Prof Brian Randell of Newcastle University about the development of the code-breaking computer, the secrecy surrounding it, the eventual disclosure of its existence to the public in 1975 and Tony Sale’s subsequent tribute to it in the form of the Colossus Rebuild at The National Museum of Computing (TNMOC) at Bletchley Park near Milton Keynes, England.

Thomas 'Tommy' Harold Flowers, MBE, c1940s
Thomas ‘Tommy’ Harold Flowers, MBE, c1940s

Kenneth Flowers, son of Tommy Flowers, told TNMOC: “It is very gratifying to see that Colossus and my father’s contribution is becoming increasingly recognised. As my father always said, Colossus was a team effort, so I do hope that the families of all those involved in t he creation of Colossus feel as pleased as we do by this latest tribute.”

Tim Reynolds, Chairman of TNMOC, said: “For so many years the incredible achievements of Tommy Flowers and his team had to be kept secret, so it is now very satisfying to see widening recognition. People like Professor Brian Randell, whose researches led to the public disclosure of the existence of Colossus in the 1970s, and Tony Sale, who headed up the Colossus Rebuild team, have helped reveal the amazing story and ensure that future generations can be inspired by the astonishing feat of the deciphering of Hitler’s most secret cipher.”

You can read Brian Randell’s article here.

 

Information courtesy The National Museum of Computing.

REVIVAL’s Winter gaming event will warm you up!

Revival banner
Revival banner from the big 2014 event

Retro gamers and retro computer fans in the UK looking for one last fix before Santa calls have an important event to look forward to this year – the REVIVAL Winter Warmer 2015!

This new event, over the weekend 28-29 November,  marks the long-awaited return of Britain’s best dedicated retrogaming event to the Midlands, and as the name suggests, is expected to be a precursor to the organisers’ return to full scale in 2016!

The Winter Warmer, although it will be on a smaller scale than the show we covered back in August last year, will still be packed with plenty of the usual REVIVAL flavour with, according to the organisers:

“…over sixty consoles and computers, multiplayer gaming, on-stage competitions, the best in retro-related traders, well-priced food and alcohol and best of all for this smaller event, we are still cramming over 45 arcade and pinball machines into the event space to ensure our unrivalled ‘arcade ambience’ atmosphere!”

The Winter Warmer will be at a new venue, Brookfields Leisure Centre, Wolverhampton, WV10 7LZ, and tickets are booking now: https://www.tickettailor.com/checkout/view-event/id/33301/chk/af20

Becky and Craig turner get retro
Becky and Craig turner get retro

Ever-enthusiastic REVIVAL head honcho Craig Turner of Turnarcade fame, goes on:

“The success of this show will determine what we bring to 2016, so be sure to come along if you’ve never been before or if you’re a show regular, squeeze in this one last date to see out 2015 and support the full-scale return of the UK’s best dedicated independent retro-gaming event! Tickets are on sale now and already half sold, so with just 6 weeks to go, grab yours NOW to avoid disappointment!”

Poster

You can download a poster in jpg format by clicking on the smaller image below.

Revival Winter Warmer poster

Event coverage

Retro Computing News is aiming to cover the Winter Warmer on the Sunday, as our editor Stuart Williams is committed to attending a horror anthology book launch in nearby Walsall on the Saturday, because he has a story in it! Hope to see you there!

Further info