Hardware

Computers that defined the information age brought back to life

It's only fitting that the engineer Tony Sale should lend his name to an award honouring projects that keep the memory of early computers alive.

Sale, who passed away last year, embarked on a 14-year rebuild of the World War II Colossus - the computer which helped crack ciphers used to protect Hitler's communications with his generals - with nothing more than eight photos of the machine.

Last week the winner of the Tony Sale Award for computer conservation was announced in London by the Computer Conservation Society (CCS).

Dr David Link was presented with the award for having "made an outstanding engineering achievement in computer conservation".

Link was recognised for recreating a pioneering 1950s program that generated random love letters, and building a replica of the landmark Ferranti Mark I computer it ran on.

Link spent years sourcing Ferranti parts to build the replica console seen here. Underneath the covers is a modern PC running an emulator of a Ferranti running the LoveLetters program.

David Hartley, member of the CCS Tony Sale Award committee, explained why Link had been chosen to win the inaugural Tony Sale award: "Tony Sale did a remarkable job and he was an incredible character.

"We wanted to reward someone who had done something creative and clever of an engineering nature - building a machine, a replica or discovering some old software and getting it working. We wanted a project that Tony would recognise as being important," he said.

Hartley praised Link for his persistence in researching how LoveLetters and the Ferranti worked, and sourcing the parts to build the replica.

Photo: David Link

About

Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic UK. He writes about the technology that IT-decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

28 comments
RCBYDBINNORVA
RCBYDBINNORVA

My Dad installed & repaired what was called the UNIVAC Scientific Computer system for the Department of the Navy in 1963. He was a Data Systems Technician when he finally retured with over 32 years of Service in 1975. I bit my teeth on Punched Card systems of 80 & 96 column formats in the early tp late 70s, & worked my way into the IT field from there. RCBINNORVA

jharvie673
jharvie673

How many folks remember having to use word marks and AutoCoder in the IBM 14xx series?

syhprum
syhprum

I got to operate on a GEC built "computer" that played a sort of noughts and crosses game at the "Festival of Britain" exhibition in 1951 any one earlier ENIAC, Colossus or Zuse maybe.

TrueDinosaur
TrueDinosaur

The CHM also has 2 working 1401 systems. The 1401 was originally announced 1959 and withdrawn 1971.

yveslt
yveslt

IBM System 3, 96 column punched cards, no console, RPG II programming language. And at the same time (~1976) DEC PDP-11/45 running RSTS/E, Basic+ for programming, ASR-33 (teletype), acoustic coupler dial-up at 110 baud. Sysops actually toggled boot code everything it had to be restarted. Take me back!!!

mike.lambert@cps.gsi.gov.uk
mike.lambert@cps.gsi.gov.uk

.... I used to run a monthly payroll for 1200 employees on a machine (Univac 1004) with 2k of memory. The master file was on white punched cards, with variable data for one month punched onto red cards, then card-sorted into the master file. Next month, the data was on blue cards. So you could see from the other side of the room the status of the file. Prior to that, I used the Deuce with mercury tanks for memory - you put a sound pulse in, counted 32 machine cycles, and then put the sound back in if you wanted to remember it. With several of these, you had 32 bit Words to play with.... I still have the user manual somewhere....

gaschalk
gaschalk

The first computer I ever worked with was the IBM 360 using punch cards and magnetic drums(1972). My next was the PDP11 using paper tape to record programming and a teletype machine for I/O purposes. My first owned computer was a machine with no name that ran a 8008 chip with 8k of ram and used a logic board and teletype machine again. I went with an Apple 2 and then a Mac. From the 90's I have built from the ground up purchasing what I need to upgrade. Today, I have three systems at my residence that run from DOS to Windows 7. When will I recycle the old ones with be the great question that my wife keeps asking Stan

syhprum
syhprum

Programmers had to be a lot more economical in those days a production line would be controlled by a 32K memory machine while to day we use 1M for a jiggling icon.

count_zero_interuptus
count_zero_interuptus

What a slick piece of hardware. Binary machine language only, manually entered in the regisers. 16-bit Octal. First program test was to solve Ohms Law (E=IR) for any unknown and make it print the answer on the teletype. Great fun. Got an A. 1965. Wish I had that baby now!

ProfessorLarry
ProfessorLarry

I was there with Peter Samson in the early days of MIT's PDP-1, an engineering prototype donated by DEC. A significant proviso of the donation was that the computer be made available to undergraduates--unheard of in those days. (Ken Olson, Digital's founder, had no advanced degree,) Hands-on access to a powerful (for then) computer changed a lot of things and contributed to the roots of a generation of computer scientists--and hackers. While others were creating utilities and the first video games, I was programming modules for analyzing physics experiments by reading back the light from the programmed CRT beam after it passed through spark-chamber photos. The lure of long hours in intimate dialogue with a digital dream-machine was heady--and probably contributed to my becoming an MIT dropout. I did return, graduated, and went on to the first of several careers that straddled the divide between technologies and people, most recently as an industrial designer specializing in interaction design, and writing techno-thrillers (Web Games, etc.). What goes round, comes around. --Prof. Larry Constantine, University of Madeira

jnawrocki
jnawrocki

First programmed a 4K 1401, then a 10K word 7074, then a 16K 1460, 360 mod 30,... things have changed over the years but a lot of computers are still performing the same functions as they were back in 1962. Albeit a little faster.

toddjasp
toddjasp

I'm really glad to see some of this stuff fixed up. We restore old cars, and lots of other things, but it seems like old computers (because of their size and lack of modern functionality) get over-looked. Pretty cool!

syhprum
syhprum

I have fond memories the Siemens R10/R30 series which I believe was more or less a copy of the IBM360, I first encountered it in 1980 when it was well and truly obsolete but was used by the HELL company on their scanners for commercial reasons.

john.a.wills
john.a.wills

was the first mainframe I used after the ICL 1900, and was even better, at least from a programmer's point of view. Its command language was the best I have used, despite being based on German rather than English. This raises a question: why are modern systems not improvements on the TR 440? Unix is even worse than ISPF on TSO on MVS on IBM mainframe, which was what at least scientific users of other mainframe systems used to mock, and which also I have worked on. We seem to have gone backwards in some respects, and not obviously necessarily.

rsarson
rsarson

The ICl 1900 series, launched in 1959 included multiprogamming, and was easy to use - relative to the IBM 360.

trog7
trog7

I saw one of those units - a box about 15 (or 18) inch square, where you could choose O or X, and you first or the machine ... back in 1967, when on excursion with the Scouts to the Museum of Science and Technology in Sydney [ Aus. ] - ( I think the place is now called the Powerhouse Museum ) ... I remember a big line of people trying to beat the game, when some small boy on his dad's shoulders, calling let me try - actually beat the machine - first go !

Patrickgood1
Patrickgood1

I was worried for a moment there when you started out with the Apple / Mac stuff. It would have been so sad to think someone went through the 80's and 90's with only Apple products. Those litigious Cupertino control freaks. What has the World come to when Apple is now one of the top earners? I still don't miss the 360. An 8008 with 8K? Way too nouveau for this discussion. 8K? That probably used some of them there new fangled RAM chips.

trog7
trog7

32k nah... that was in the early 80s ! those old machines were talking in 2 to 8 byte blocks ... and as was in a photo that turned up last year, a "portable" 5MB Disk Drive weighed in at 5 TONS !

Patrickgood1
Patrickgood1

32K???? We would have killed for 32K! The IBM PC in 1982 only had 16K. Model: 5150 Released: September 1981 Price: US $1,565 ~ $3,000 CPU: Intel 8088, 4.77MHz RAM: 16K Don't let that 4.77 Mhz fool you. It took 4 clock cycles to execute a No Op. I give Microsoft all the credit for making software bloated as it is today. I give credit where credit is due. I also give Microsoft credit for lowering the bar on quality. Microsoft has done very well. making it socially acceptable to ship stuff that does not work well. And there are some that think Microsoft has not contributed to the current state of the art. AT&T jumped on that ship crap bandwagon all too quick. There was a time when I respected AT&T. That was a long time ago. Before 32K of RAM for sure. And now!! Those litigious Cupertino f--ks. To hell in a hand basket. Oh my, Oh my.

Patrickgood1
Patrickgood1

In 1983 we unplugged our 360 because it just was no longer worth the electricity to keep it running. That was in the days when a KW was reasonably priced. .Like a nickel candy bar. I haven't bought one since they when up to a dime.

maj37
maj37

Albeit a LOT faster!!! My first was a friends TRS-80 model 1, then went to school and they had an old IBM 360 I think it was.

SysExJohn
SysExJohn

The ICT (later to become ICL) 1900 was launched in 1964. I worked on its predecessor, the ICT 1500, which was a rebadged RCA 301. Then moved on to the, then new, ICL1903. Leant PLAN then COBOL. I joined ICL in the early 70s and stayed with them until the early 90s. I'd love to see a rebuilt RCA 301, octal operators console and all. No QWERTY keyboard for that.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen moderator

because nobody has rebuilt one...

NickNielsen
NickNielsen moderator

Do you do rain dances on holidays? ;)