About nmoca

'nmoca' is the ID assigned to the voluntary group looking after the Roger Broughton Historical Computing Collection; there are half a dozen of us. We use nmoca when we need to do things using the University's systems. Most entries in this blog from 'nmoca' will be entered by John Law (ex-member of staff of University Computing Service).

A typical visit to Claremont Tower at this time

Quick (ha ha, say some) report on what I did on Friday 18th, to give an idea of how things are going at the Repository in Claremont Tower.

  1. Parked at 1025; went to Black Horse House to borrow the key for the Mezzanine steel door; went to Estates Security, to sign out a radio for emergency use (working alone in the building without a radio is now, rightly, not permitted); signed in at McAlpine’s gatehouse and entered the Tower at 1045.
  2. The main job at present in CT is demolition: they are ripping out all the breezeblock walls in the Basement. This is incredibly tough, dirty work, and creates what seems like a faint mist: it is plaster dust, hanging in the air: all the men wear facemasks. It’s no hazard to those of us going downstairs (it takes about 4 seconds to go from the entrance to the stairs) but the dust does make its way downstairs, and – almost invisibly – covers the floors, and everything else. A plan has been devised to prevent “the mist” going Below Stairs, and hopefully next week it will have been put in place.
  3. Some of my time in the Tower today was taken up with talking with Estates and SRM, who visited to check this problem, and with actually starting to clean the floors on the Mezzanine (I have my own brush (:-)), and I found a vacuum cleaner, but there is no water (in the building)).
  4. For the rest of my time, I moved on to the Catalogue Verification exercise, which at last is going well again. I’m now tackling the filing cabinet in Roger’s Office, which contains all his catalogued documents. These range from a single test punch card, through to a set of programming manuals for the English Electric KDF9 computer (1964 – 1972); there are also many unique artefacts, such as (ex-confidential) internal letters proposing the acquistions of the various mainframes that Newcastle had, machine room plans, network plans, and manufacturers’ manuals about installing those juggernauts. I’m a little over 1/2 way through the filing cabinet.
  5. Then it was time to leave: reverse the process in (1) above.

A routine has now been established, in this new year, and we are picking up speed again.

The Grey Mist .. having fallen to the floor.

Last workday of 2018

I haven’t blogged for a couple of weeks, partly because the overheads of actually getting into the place outweighed the amount of actual work done. I visited on 7th , 14th, 18th and today the 21st.

Each visit managed to make a little more progress towards getting into a productive work pattern. On Tues 18th we had network restored for the laptop in our office, thanks to the generous help of Jeff Craig (NUIT); this enables email and web searching (obviously), but also backing up the laptop to the University filestore.

There have been various hitches in access to the building (at least it shows how good Sir Robert McAlpine’s security is) but all have been overcome so far. We are becoming familiar faces to SRM’s people, and this also is a good thing.

We (and NUIT as a whole) continue to appreciate the warm cooperation that we get from SRM’s site foremen, and also from the gate staff whom we see most of.

And from the point of view of this Project, I cannot emphasise enough the widespread support we get from NUIT staff, in all their various roles, each of whom will go out of their way, if asked, to help us out of a difficulty. First and foremost I will mention Jason Bain (Assistant Director, Infrastructure), who has quietly given us extremely significant support at several crucial stages, right from the start, in 2016, when we first sought a place to store Roger’s Collection.

Finally:  I happened to be Last Man Out today: Phil the Gateman was just coming to lock up as I left. It was nostalgic being momentarily alone in the Tower, and remembering times past, when – on the last afternoon of work before Christmas – we’d merrily wend our way to the Computer Room, to pick people up to go to the pub(s). The one who stayed behind to look after the Computer Room while we were all out on the town would be Roger.

“We’re having some work done”

The Sub-Basement is relatively untouched, but not so the rest of the Tower. The Basement for example is going to be wonderful when it’s finished, but meanwhile…

Basement, corridor outside Janice’s office

Opposite corridor (Basement Entrance)

Data Prep Room

Director’s Office


BOMs and Bulbs

I was able to do something positively useful today, as well as cleaning up and checking doors (see entry below), and this was to (a) check the BOMs that we have, for imminent display in the USB and (b) retrieve some spare bulbs 🙂

This is a BOM – Basic Operational Memory Unit. (It has nothing to do with Bletchley’s Bombes) :

Roger tells you all about BOMs here — it’s a great web page; see the link 3rd from bottom, which shows you where the BOMs fit in on the 360-67 mainframe. There were eight BOMs in 1967 (in two immense cabinets), but NUMAC later bought another two memory units, thus making 16 in all … thus giving this juggernaut One Whole Megabyte of memory. There are two in the Collection: one wonders where the other 14 went — not all to the scrapman, I’ll bet.

I also retrieved some spare bulbs that we can put in any blank holes that we find in the 360 console or the DAT panel — I knew we had some somewhere, and by golly I found them.

Back to Claremont Tower: service is resumed

Long entry sorry: important to record procedures in case of accident, premature demise, and so on and so forth..

Today I was able to visit the Claremont Tower Repository again for the first time since 5th October (see entry).   The Repository is where the Roger Broughton Collection actually lives: it feeds the Computing displays in the Urban Sciences Building.
On Monday I was issued with the correct Personal Protection Equipment by NUIT, and Safety-inducted by SRM (Sir Robert McAlpine), who have an extremely strict safety and security regime.  Today I made my first foray alone into the building, and it all worked (entrance is by fingerprint).

I was glad to find that our “territory” was unchanged from when we left on 5th October (not by any means a certainty: I was very relieved). Before going to CT, I had to go to Black Horse House, where NUIT now live, to sign out the key which is needed to enter the specific area where our two offices are: the steel security door  now remains locked, since NUIT staff are no longer permanently located in CT.

Changes made: there is no water in the building (this does not mean that there will be no flood!  although it does reduce the odds); emergency lighting has been installed all over the lower floors, because they are now one of the builders’ fire exits. This installation has caused muck and dust to be deposited all over the floors. I spent a little time sweeping up, so that your feet don’t crunch wherever you walk. I’m sorry: I forgot to take pictures of this interesting part of a curator’s job.

I  checked each of our locations: all seem to be untouched, and our four locked doors were all still locked. I remain nervous:  SRM are not going to go below Basement Level, but there is a  large air conditioning contract going on in the Sub-Basement, there are signs that Estates keep doing “things” in the Sub-Basement, and in addition yet more contractors will be coming some time in the next few months to upgrade network cabling. In short: I have no jolly idea of what is going on, or is planned to be going on, in these sensitive areas.

Finally: the network in our office has gone off, so we cannot email from there, or back-up the catalogue to central store, etc. I am contacting the relevant people to enquire about this.

A moving moment

(I sink to the depths of the rest of the media by using a punning title. But it’s a good pun.)
Yesterday Dr Clive Gerrard (retired Assistant Director, Computing Service) and I (John Law) moved the front console of the IBM 360/67 from Claremont Tower to the USB, in preparation for the 360-themed display which, it is hoped, will open in the first week of November.

The console (which fronted the CPU of the mainframe) moved into Claremont Tower, along with about 12 tons of the rest of the computer, in August 1967. The mighty machine was decommissioned and scrapped in 1984. Roger saved many parts, among which the front console was the prize exhibit.  The console lived in various places for the next 34 years, until yesterday.

Today (5th October) is the last working day of NUIT in the Claremont Building: next Monday all staff move to Black Horse House (behind Civic Centre) — for good.  This ends 51 years of Computing’s association with Claremont Tower  …. but not quite!  The Computer Room in the Sub-Basement remains intact (as it had to), and systems staff will continue to visit it. For the foreseeable future.

This was taken in the very early 1970s. Console at work! Or rather not: the lovely Ada is surrounded by concerned System Programmers: a glitch has occurred, work has come to a halt. Keith Barnett and Pete Whillance are the two SPs that we can see.

The console spent most of its retired life (so far) in Roger Broughton’s office.

An unfamiliar view, of the back of the console. See the wonderful work of IBM’s engineers in designing and bulding this thing of beauty. Clive and I are about to pack it up …

… in its bespoke transportation crate.

Luxury transport awaits.

And so we leave Claremont Tower to Sir Robert McAlpine…

… for the bright open spaces of the Urban Sciences Building, at The Helix.

The Last Moving Day [in Claremont Tower]

Today Sir Robert McAlpine (Builders) started closing the net on the Claremont Complex (Tower, Bridge and Daysh): all entrances/exits are gradually being closed for access, and the complex is now officially a building site.

The lifts are now unavailable (from 1700 today), and just in time we managed to move a pile of “stuff” from Bridge Floor 3 to the Sub-Basement refuge; this pile included the two back walls from the famous “Perspex Display Cabinets”, and three boxes of miscellaneous bits (now known as artefacts) which Adèle has fielded from the crowd leaving the Bridge next week, as NUIT move into Black Horse House. Kevin Dixon (Infrastructure Support Group) helped me move the great unwieldy back walls to the SB: our thanks to him, and we’ve noted him down as a strong lad, for future reference 🙂

Our storage space is now crammed out with moved items, and new items: my own task in the next few weeks (if I get into the SB), will be to tidy up and organise all these things, and hopefully retrieve some space.

On that topic, certain members of NUIT staff will have to be granted access (under very strict conditions) to the SB, and we are hoping that one or two others may be permitted on to that list (including me). There will now be a couple of weeks of uncertainty while handover is completed: the operation for Sir Robert McAlpine is very much complicated by having to allow access to non-employees through their site.

Below, you can see the tidying-up task now required in SB6…

The back walls, crammed into SB6; they are facing another prize: the mural which was part of Claremont Tower Lobby for 40 years or more.

Here on the floor you see the Silicon Graphics workstation that Adèle received from ICAMB (Med School) two weeks ago. It weighs a ton (not quite).

A box of “stuff” rescued from the WEEE recycling; includes tools used by networking engineers, as well as computing electronica.

Foreground: another box, ditto. Background: two shelves-worth of “The Wendy Bond Donation”, which comprises an eMac, and a Macintosh Performa 600, with Stylewriter.

Perspex display cabinets moved (90%)

Today I completed the moving of the two perspex display cabinets from Bridge Floor 3, down to storage in the Sub Basement, SB17.  This “room” used to be a broom cupboard under the stairs: we occupied it a few weeks ago, thinking it might come in useful, and it has.

The two cabinets (which are spectacularly good, for displays) were bought by the School some years ago, and used to be on Floor 6 of the Bridge, displaying historical hardware  for the benefit of Computing students.

They were moved to Floor 3 (NUIT) when the School moved last year to USB — thanks to Adèle for the idea, and to Michelle for organising the wonderful porters who moved them bodily – assembled – down to Floor 3 (see below); this was NOT, repeat, NOT, an easy operation: the cabinets are extremely heavy, yet every part is very delicate, being polished perspex.

They have provided a slightly up-graded display for NUIT staff for almost a year, but now NUIT are moving out, and so we had to rescue them before Estates move in with their contractors, builders, and waste disposal people.

NUIT staff have effected this rescue: Adèle is ‘Project Manager’, but Paul Kobasa has been the major helper in doing the work., which has taken many person hours. The cabinets had to be dismantled, wrapped in heavy duty clingfilm, and otherwise protected, and finally moved to a “safe place” (we hope).

The two back walls remain on Floor 3 (too big for me to move alone) but we hope to have them out of there next week.

Christian and Phil, the porters who engineered the move, 13 Oct 2017. Christian is just over 6′ tall; each cabinet weighs more than he does.

Each cabinet has 11 pieces; they have been laid flat, on top of pallets (in case of flood!), and with a layer of 25mm polystyrene between each piece. The doors (on left) were just too wide to be laid flat. There remain the two back walls (6′ x 4′) .. a 3-man lift (two to lift one to open doors). Adèle has carefully labelled every piece, to maximise possibility of successful re-assembly.

One cabinet has had “corner protection” (cardboard bits) added; there was no time to do this on the other cabinet.

Finally, the two pedestals have been snugged in, standing on their own “flood protection” (will an inch or two be enough?).

Moving our “Big Units”

There are a few “big units” in the Broughton Collection. These have been stored in the Loading Bay for decades, unmoved since they were decommissioned in 1992. Although inside a solid, underground, concrete shelter, they have put up with freezing cold, the dark (poor creatures!), and occasional weather penetrations through the Loading Bay roof.
They had to be moved out, because of an impending delivery of new A/C equipment. Many thanks indeed to Matt, Rob and Kieran of the Insfrastructure support team (who look after the Data Centre, aka the Computer Room).

To my surprise, the units all “rolled” easily out to their new temporary home, though they took some shoving (see weights in the pictures) (we let the lads do the shoving).

We have festooned them with notices (but could not find enough tape!), and some rudimentary information for the curious. Few people will pass by this location, but those who do need to be dissuaded from fiddling: we won’t get any more of any of these items!

Big Units in new location

Memorex disk from Amdahl Ops Console, and a Xerox Trident T200 disk unit

A little presumptuous, as regards “destined”, but no harm in dropping a big fat hint.

Here, and below, an idea of the filth on parts of these units. This is the tape drive.

Composite of the “rudimentary info”, gleaned mainly from Roger’s website. His pages for these units are fantastic (like so many others).


A direct link with our first computer (1957)

As a result of the publicity for the displays at the USB, Prof Randell was contacted by Peter Bowes, who is Technical Manager for the  University’s SAgE Faculty. He wondered if we had more photographs of the Ferranti Pegasus, which was the University’s (and the North East’s) very first computer. Peter’s father helped install the Pegasus in 1957!

We don’t [yet] have more photographs, but we did find Pegasus log books, which contain entries from HD Bowes, Peter’s father:

A page from 1958

Peter was really delighted with this photograph, and his mother also when he sent it to her. She, too, was involved with computers in those early days, being a mathematician by profession.  It’s good to have established this early link!  Our search for more photographs of the Pegasus [with people] goes on.

An article about the IBM PC

Here’s a piece of paper I found in a random folder of Roger’s “stuff” in his office the other day.  It’s dated 2005, you will note.  Our own original IBM PC is currently on show in the  displays created for the Great Exhibition of the North, in the atrium of the USB.

As so often, Roger has created a superb web page for this artefact, which is worth a look at http://moca.ncl.ac.uk/micros/IBM.htm    It can be seen from this entry that Roger had the thing working, and illustrates a made-in-Newcastle editing program.