Category Archives: TNMOC

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

Young students receive prizes in honour of Ada

Ada competition winners meet Colossus operators Margaret O’Connell and Irene Dixon (pic TNMOC)
Ada competition winners meet Colossus operators Margaret O’Connell and Irene Dixon (pic TNMOC)

Three winners of the Fascinating Ada Competition designed to inspire female students about careers in computing have received their prizes at Oxford University and their entries have now been published online.

At the Ada Lovelace Symposium, marking the bicentenary of the person widely acclaimed as the creator of the first-ever computer program, three young students aged between 5 and 18 received their prizes from two of the first operators of Colossus, the World War II code-breaking computer.

Competition

TNMOC sign 2

The competition, run by The National Museum of Computing (TNMOC) and the University of Oxford, in conjunction with cs4fn at Queen Mary University of London, asked girls what they would like to communicate to Ada Lovelace about twenty-first century technology. More than 250 entries were received and judged by a prestigious panel of women involved in computing today.

A parallel competition, with a similar judging panel, was also run in the USA by the Computer History Museum and today some of its entries are also published online.

Entries to the UK competition could be almost in any format and they ranged from hand-written letters, a poem and a song to emails, PowerPoint presentations, YouTube videos and other formats.

Ada Maisie Hards, aged 5, presented a series of photographs and captions showing how much computing technology has pervaded our everyday lives – and how Ada was the inspiration for her own name.

Amelia Doran won the 13-15 age group with an animated three-minute video explaining computing and highlighting some of the remarkable ways that it has changed our lives, but not losing sight of some of the negative implications of today’s technology.

Naimh Owens, winning the 16-18 age group, opted for a traditional letter to express lyrically her thoughts about today’s world “where people can communicate, delegate, deliberate and fascinate with technology”, but how she thinks Ada Lovelace would implore people to use technology to “discover and innovate … [but] not define us.”

Judges with a Colossal reputation!
Part of the Colossus gallery (pic TNMOC)
Part of the Colossus gallery (pic TNMOC)

The judging panel comprised operators of the very first Colossus computer, Margaret O’Connell and Irene Dixon, computer scientists Sophie Wilson and Professor Ursula Martin, journalist Maggie Philbin, author Betty Toole, animator/cartoonist Sydney Padua and Heinz Nixdorf Museum curator Doreen Hartmann. Shortlisting was undertaken by TNMOC volunteers led by Jill Clarke.

The prizes included tablet computers, Ada Lovelace books, and visits to The National Museum of Computing. We are very grateful to the sponsors of the UK prizes: Dixons Carphone, Penguin Random House, Oxford University and cs4fn.

Read entries online

TNMOC logoComputer History Museum logo

A selection of entries from the UK and US competitions are now available online on the TNMOC website and on the Computer History Museum website.

All the UK winners are as follows:

Age 13 and Under
1st Ada Maisie Hards
2nd Chandani Phelps
3rd Preetam Panesar

Age 13-15
1st Amelia Doran
2nd Alice Wilkening
3rd Matilda Ruth Joyce

Age 16-18
1st Niamh Owens
2nd Melissa Lee
3rd Mathusha Mohan

Groups

1st Amelie McKenna, Safaa Mirza, and Rebecca Allen from Stroud High School
2nd Elizabeth Peers, Rebecca Harry and Eleanor Kelly from Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School, Derbyshire
3rd Riya Stephen, Merin Benny, Ashlin Roy and Diana Sabu from St Anthony’s Girls Catholic Academy

Continue reading Young students receive prizes in honour of Ada

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

Christmas festivities and activities at TNMOC

Bytes Banner

Definitely getting into the festive mood now, The National Museum of Computing (TNMOC) at Bletchley Park, near Milton Keynes, is all set for some seasonal fun later in December!

And the sparkling line-up for their Christmas Bytes Festival includes robots, virtual reality, wearable tech, animation workshops, Arduino workshops, SoundBytes, code-breaking and more  – all running between Running 19th-23rd and 27th-30th December this year.

TNMOC logoDigital fun and games for all the family will be laid on every afternoon, 12 noon to 5pm, and you can see what’s on daily at TNMOC during the festival by following this link: What’s On at Christmas Bytes

Overall, the programme covers:

Roboscope

  • See and play with robots
  • Build & program your own robot
  • See NAO robots in action!

Coding and building computer-controlled devices

  • FUZE workshop introductions to coding
  • Arduino workshops and display to inspire you to create and build your own devices – you need to Register for this HERE
  • Scratch demos – controlling external devices like LEGO We-Do
  • try out Ocado Rapid Router

Virtual Realty and wearable tech

  • the latest in VR: Oculus Rift combined with a LEAP controller
  • Google Glass
  • convert your smartphone into a cut-down Oculus Rift!

Animation workshops

  • Use LEGO and animation software to enable you to create your own short animations.

SoundBytes

  • Create and mix music – digitally

Code-breaking

  • Meet Enigma and friends – crypto machines

and lots more!

How much?!

The great news is, all this is covered by the normal TNMOC Entrance Fees!

Visiting

For more information, check out The National Museum of Computing’s website, including their Visiting page.

 

Images courtesy TNMOC

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.

TNMOC to deploy Impero classroom monitoring

In the classroom at TNMOC (pic courtesy TNMOC)
In the classroom at TNMOC (pic courtesy TNMOC)

Students and teachers on the Learning Programme in the Classroom at The National Museum of Computing (TNMOC) on Bletchley Park, England, will soon be able to have first-hand experience of digital network monitoring software donated by the UK’s leading classroom and network management software provider, Impero Software.

The donation of Impero Education Pro licenses will enable the Learning Programme tutors to streamline the process and ensure that students are focused on the tasks they are set. The software will also help turn laptops on one side of the classroom into the functional equivalents of 1980s BBC Micro computers.

Welcoming the donation, Tim Reynolds, Chairman of TNMOC, said: “Impero’s education software clearly demonstrates how far IT in education has come in just a few decades. Our ever-popular BBC Micro workstations help students focus on the tasks they have been set. The modern laptops we also use don’t enable the same focus because they are connected to the internet. Impero’s software allows us to limit the laptops to whatever applications we choose.

“As part of our highly successful Learning Programme we are very pleased to be able to introduce teachers and students alike to the potential of classroom monitoring software and demonstrate computing past and present in a dramatic way.”

Sam Pemberton, CEO of Impero of Software, said: “We are delighted to partner with The National Museum of Computing and provide software licences for the Learning Programme classroom. Our classroom and network management software will enable students and teachers who visit the museum to have a more productive and safe online experience.

“Giving students the opportunity to work on 1980’s BBC Micros is a unique experience that will help them understand how far personal computing has come in the last 30 years.” Continue reading TNMOC to deploy Impero classroom monitoring

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.

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.