About nmoca

Most entries in this blog from 'nmoca' will be entered by John Law (ex-member of staff of University Computing Service, and a voluntary curator of the Collection). 'nmoca' is the ID assigned to the voluntary group looking after the Roger Broughton Historical Computing Collection; there are half a dozen of us.

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.

Moving Floor 3 display to safety

Today I (i.e. John Law) moved the contents of the two cabinets on Floor 3 of Claremont Bridge down into Mezzanine M12.

We have had this display on Floor 3 for about 9 months – we moved it last year from Tower Floor 6, where Roger had set it up for CompSci some years previously. When re-displaying it, we improved the documentation (tidying up Roger’s wording and the labels themselves) and adding a few minor extras. It has ended up a very good display, focusing on core store/memory, disk storage, and “antique I/O”, such as paper tape and cards.

The display will now have to go into mothballs until a space can be found for it. It is likely to be some months before permission is given.

The cabinets will have to be dismantled and carefully stored: this will be a major operation, since not only are they very delicate (perspex), but they are extremely heavy. 2 or 3 people will be needed: the operation will have to be planned carefully.

While emptying the cabinets, I met Paul Kobasa (one of the newer members of our CS History Committee). Although new in NUIT, Paul worked for a long time as the Library’s IT support: he has many contacts, and some very interesting ideas about how we might request help from that direction … to be continued, we hope!

Claremont Tower is now empty of people, and the Bridge is following rapidly. NUIT will be moving to Black Horse House at the start of October. Estates and the contractors will close the complex “to the public” presumably in October. We are hoping that access to our spaces below Basement Level will remain open for enough of us to be able to continue Museum work during the year that they say it will be closed.

To remind you of this display, here’s a combination picture of the two cabinets, showing 90% (I had already started the job) of their contents:

25 June: CT Activity

  • On my “Monday visit” for this week I …
    Replaced a few of the captions in the Floor 3 display cabinets (what had been the Floor 6 cabinets, before CompSci moved to USB). Some of the items had been removed for display in the new CompSci Reception cabinet, in the USB: I am replacing these with appropriate items, and changing the captions if they are no longer accurate. I also took the opportunity of editing a couple of the existing captions.
    Why bother with these displays, with NUIT moving in (or before) October? Because this is a public display-in-waiting, and it behoves us to take good care of it as such.
  • Which raises another important point: we will have to move those cabinets in the next few months, before Estates come thundering in with their bulldozers. In a masterpiece of moving, two of our favourite porters (supervised or rather watched by me) moved them down from the 6th Floor in October last year: it was an amazing feat. Next time they move, they will have to be disassembled, and the pieces very carefully wrapped in acres of protective materials: I would guess that this will be at least a whole day’s work for two people.
  • Next today, I did a reconnaissance on an item belonging to the Museum which is in CT 111: this is a Memorex 3680 disk drive, which weighs about 160 pounds (70kg). It is sitting on a metal cabinet, which I discovered for the first time today is something called a Xerox Fury (disk drive): I couldn’t find this in Google today; it isn’t mentioned in the catalogue as far as I know.

    So just for the record, I have a place in mind to store this in the SB; again, it will require a team of people – preferably three I think – and will take about 1/2 hour. I’m expecting to do this when I return (see below).
  • Finally, I made more solid progress in catalogue verification, though only had half an hour to work on this.
  • Finally finally: CSH-SIG Committee members should be alert to the fact that Estates are already moving into CT (it was depressing to see stickers on doors in the Basement today). I have made very small steps to establishing liaison with Estates, and will make a bigger effort after I “return to work”. Now that we know we have Michelle on at least one of the relevant committees, this should be a lot easier.
  • One thing that occurred to me today: we need to get our spare keys from Reception before they move to Black Horse House, because when they do move, all their keys will be given to Estates.

Finally finally finally: I am now away until Monday 16th July. I’ll be in Canada, and so won’t welcome any phone calls or texts; however Whatsapp works, and I’ll be reviewing email now and then.

The name of the MOCA

“The museum” refers to the Roger Broughton Collection of Historical Computing Artefacts.  When we started this project [see below], we called it MOCA (in imitation of MOMA – a name familiar to us arty types) – Museum of Computing Artefacts; hence the ID being used to write these blog posts – nmoca.

The name has changed through usage in the last 18 months, partly to fit in with the general thrust of the project [see below], which is to preserve and to celebrate the history of computing, particularly at Newcastle University, and particularly with regard to educating those who wish to know.

For all I know, the name may change again, but one thing will not change: the inclusion of “Roger Broughton” in the full title. To learn more, see Roger’s original website, the intro to which explains all.

Somehow, we need to include another name: that of Professor Brian Randell of the School of Computing, who has not only donated or loaned dozens of valuable artefacts himself, but who has been the formidable driving force behind the entire project, since long before some of us joined it, in December 2016. However we haven’t yet found a way to name this “REBBRMOCA”.

The project“: a group of 6 or 7 people, some full-time University staff, some retired (and therefore even more busy), are making a sustained effort to consolidate and to “curate” Roger’s collection, in his lamented absence. Thanks to help from the University’s computing service (NUIT) we have some space for the repository; thanks to the School of Computing we have display space in their new building; thanks to generous financial help from the School, NUIT, and not least the Catherine Cookson Foundation, we have been able to make considerable progress this year (2018).

If you have questions, please email comp-artefacts@ncl.ac.uk

Finally, for my own experimentation, here is a picture …

A-blogging we will go

John Law here: I’m going to try and blog my sessions in the museum, instead of sending out emails at (what has become) random intervals.

In adition to blogging, I hope to record the story of the museum so far, since I became involved in December 2016, so that we have a record of what has been done, and therefore what may have to be done again in the future!

“Telling the story” will necessarily be brief highlights, and I think is probably going to be held in files rather than the blog, which will otherwise become cluttered with “old news”.