This week in Historic Computing

Here’s a round-up of historic computing activities from the last week.

The Great Exhibition of the North

Our Great Exhibition of the North exhibit received some press write-ups. In addition to the University Press Office piece mentioned a few posts ago, syndicated pieces appeared on the School of Computing and Newcastle Helix websites, and an item has been in circulation on the campus-wide message displays. It was also picked up by local paper The Chronicle.

On the back of this publicity, we have received several enquiries from folks about the existing items or the eras in which they were operational, as well as offers to loan or donate additional items. We are trying to follow up all enquiries as quickly as we can. Thank you for your interest!

We’ve enriched the exhibit with a custom-printed banner, providing some further information on the context of the artefacts, as well as a promotional A-frame outside the building to attract audiences.

Mainframe exhibition

Our next major permanent exhibit will be centred around artefacts from the IBM 360/67 mainframe computer that was installed in Newcastle in 1967. At the time this was the largest IBM computer in any british University and Europe’s first time-sharing computer.

Amongst the artefacts that will form part of this exhibit are the a 3D printed scale model of Claremont Tower Sub Basement 12 (SB12), the room within which the IBM 360/67 was situated. This model is being produced by two very talented volunteers in conjunction with researchers from OpenLab. From the machine itself we have the Dynamic Address Translation (Associative Memory) engineer’s control panel and the Operator’s console, the latter of which we are intending to “bring to life” as our first interactive exhibit component. We are very keen to provide interactive elements wherever it is possible and sensible in the context of the exhibit.

We have been planning to organise an opening event for the unveiling of this exhibit once it is ready and some discussion about the best time for that took place over the last week. We have settled on “reading week” in the next academic term, which will be at some point in mid November. More on this, of course, as we plan it.

A major work item for us before this can take place is organising the careful moving of these artefacts from their present location to the Urban Sciences Building.

short-term exhibit

Our fourth new display case arrived Today. This was originally designed for the microcomputers forming part of the GEN exhibit but we ended up shuffling things around in order to open that exhibit as early as possible. With our IBM exhibit unveiling now set for mid-November, the opportunity has come up to put together a short-term “bridging” exhibition from the end of GEN until then. The School is very keen for us to produce something which is as interactive as possible, and has as much relevance to the incoming undergraduates as possible. We have been working feverishly to engage with this brief and hope to unveil an exciting plan in due course!

Bits and Pieces

Of note this week was the acquisition of some artefacts relating to the BBC Domesday Project of 1986. We will write more about that in a subsequent blog post.

We’ve continued to explore options for upgrading our main catalogue system; we’ve received several enquiries about loans or donations of equipment for our exhibits which we are steadily replying to; several of the team have put effort into keeping in touch with friends, family and acquaintances of the group to update them on goings on.

Finally we are discussing issues of access for the current location of the majority of our stored artefacts, as the NUIT (Computing Service) personnel are moving to a new building, and the vacated location is undergoing significant refurbishment. This will make access difficult for us, although it should pose no risk to the items themselves.

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