Collections and calculators

I’m acutely aware that the Blog is very biased towards Claremont Tower, and the Collection’s Repository which is held there. Never mind! Even I (i.e. John Law) have not blogged recently, and so here’s a little picture to liven up your day.

11 uncatalogued items from the “Calculator sub-collection– see end of this entry.

My activities of “verifying the Catalogue” continue: “verification”, in this definition means just this: making sure that everything that Roger said that he had in his Collection (via his database), is actually there, so that we in the Committee know that we are starting exactly  where Roger left off.

This process of verfification has so far taken two years! Why? Well: we had to build a new repository to start with  – all of Roger’s collection had to be moved from other locations in Claremont Tower; our two companion  departments (School of Computing, and NUIT) moved to different buildings across town, causing immense disruption in terms of rescuing artefacts, and/or moving them; displays were organised in one of those buildings (USB); Claremont Tower itself became a building site last September (requiring special access procedures to be granted and strictly adopted); and above all because there are very few of us at present, and all of us very much part-time.

But the end is in sight! I have now been through a listing of the database several times, comparing the entries with the artefacts. I tell you what: if Artefact Number 1 were in position Number 1 on Rack number 1, and so on up to Artefact Number 429, this job would have been done a lot sooner; but in fact, the artefacts could not have been distributed more randomly. (But let me be clear: randomness is completely inevitable!)

This fragment of paper tape (24 hole) is dated c.1940 – it is thought to be a relic of the Harvard Mk 1. (Note the drawing pin for scale.)

I’m almost at the end of what I see as my final review. Not least because we have a new database/catalogue being written for us! Lindsay Marshall erupted on to the scene about 3 weeks ago, and already has an extremely functional model of a new Catalogue … which will be accessible to all via the web. (Roger had only a single licence for the database he used, which NUIT has renewed each year; this restricted any use of the database to one person — whoever was sitting at the project’s own laptop.)

Lindsay’s new Catalogue is coinciding with my finishing verifying the old database. This was not planned. (“planning”?)

This last week I have been working on a fascinating “sub-collection” of calculating machines, which belongs to a certain Professor of Computing, and has been a “sub-collection” of the larger Collection for many years. It was on display in School of Computing in Claremont Tower, but is currently in storage. Apart from abacuses, slide rules, and “ready-calculators” made for aeroplane navigators, this is the sort of device that makes up the sub-collection:

This picture of the handbook is more informative than if I had merely shown the machine itself 🙂

It behoves us all to remember that it was only a few decades ago that nobody  – from physicists and chemists down to accountants – could write, let alone use, computer programs: they didn’t exist. You had to do mathematics: hard mathematics! The devices in the mechanical calculator sub-collection gave, as it were, rocket-propelled assistance to those mathematicians, and were the technological miracles of their day.

When we have finished verifying the 420-odd catalogued artefacts, we already have about the same number again of new (well – far from “new”) items to catalogue – that will be another story, but thanks to Lindsay’s new catalogue there will be rather more of us doing that job 🙂

More donations!

On Monday 4th I visited Nigel Cross in Jesmond, a friend of Brian’s, who had some interesting artefacts from the early days of “micros”. These were his personal purchases, and must have cost a pretty penny in 1979. Nigel worked for Burroughs in those days, but he was (is) an engineer at heart, and he had bought these to assist in design and other private projects. Nigel says that it can all be made to work: the computer works, but the disk drives will need a little expert fiddling from an electronics buff.
SRM’s gateman very kindly let me into the site in my car to enable me to unload these down into the Sub-Basement: SB6 is now just about FULL.

This is an Apple II “Europlus”: Apple modified their successful II Plus for sales in Europe (also the “J” for Japan) in 1979: they changed the power supplies, and the video system from NSTC to PAL; etc. As you can see, it has two disk drives, and a modest monitor (B/W).

Apple Graphics Tablet. (The stylus is safe inside the Apple II, I am told.)

And here is Nigel’s plotter from that era: this Watanabe WX4671 retailed at $1400, plus $300 for the software, in 1981 … It _would_ still work, said Nigel, but the drive belt has split with age, as you may be able to see.

Progress in the Basement: a nice view towards the Loading Bay: a view, in fact, never ever seen before. (It was lunchtime for the lads: I sneaked into this area when passing.).