Ideas & Anecdotes

If you have an idea which you think is of interest to other friends or a story about the Rise and Fall of Reginald Perrin, sorry ICL, then send them to ideas@friendsoficl.org.uk

Ideas

GEORGE 3 on a PC!

 

We not only have some correspondence about VME on a PC (see below) but also a lead into something even more challenging

 

This is a website about the George 3 project  - http://www.personal.leeds.ac.uk/~ecldh/ccs/george3.html

 

In 2003 David Holdsworth  & Delwyn Holroyd  did a public demonstration of the system at the Axis conference at Bletchley Park (Axis was formerly the ICL 2900 Users Group).

 

They have two George filestores, one from a British Steel installation obtained by David in 1998, and the Manchester Grammar School filestore from 1985 which Delwyn happened to have.  They are currently in the process of making the work more publicly accessible - the main problem (one of manpower really) is in providing documentation electronically and stripping down the filestores we have to remove personal information.  Eventually the aim is to host a system based on the MGS filestore on the internet, allowing users to log on using a Java 7181 VDU emulator, or via telnet as an emulated teletype

ICL VME on Intel Architecture

As a quick note regarding the request from PJM about running VME on Intel Architecture. ICL were selling systems to run VME, with other operating systems (Windows NT4 & a Unix (SCO I think)), combined in the same cabinet, from 2001 at least. One of the systems was code named "Daffodil" -- honest.

The VME system ran on a couple of Pentium Pros (200MHz) and the "PC" which ran it, used standard PCI cards housed in a industry standard rack mounted case.  It was selling well when I left ICL in 2002 and there were plans to develop the system further.

If you want any more information, just ask and I'll try to find any notes from that period, but I don't know the price to buy one. As regards size -- about the same size as an american refrigerator.

Derek Huskisson

To Anyone who cares!

A long long time ago.....from my somewhat uncomforable slumped position under the table at Champagne Charlies in Swinton, in a place time forgot,......I thought I heard someone say that there was some research into adapting VME for INTEL architecture?

Was it just a drunken dream or did anything actually happen?

Being an TPMS/IDMS/COBOL/SCL weener (and a child of the sixties) I would love to get my hands on a port of VME to intel - I might never go out again!

Just a thought before they strap me down for the night.

Regards
PJM
 

Putney and the ICT 1301 lives again

If you remember the ICT 1301 in putney, then just to let you know there is a project running this year to rebuild one of these machines. The project is running in darkest Kent, and represents the last surviving 1301 in captivity. If you would like to see how we are getting on with the project then visit :-http://web.onetel.com/~rodritab/index.htm to cheer us on or ask awkward questions like ! what are you going to do with it when it works again. We look forward to your support.
Rod and Rita Brown

Here is one from Phil Sugden

Do you want to earn some 'pin' money?
Do you want to avoid even more DIY and gardening?
Do you want to get out from under your partner's feet?

Sign up as an exam invigilator with your local school, college or university.  They usually have difficulty in finding enough people of the right calibre, particularly during the summer exam season.  There are also autumn and spring exam periods.  It can be more challenging that one might expect - students do turn up not knowing which exam they are supposed to sit, where they are sitting it and whether they have been entered or not; and English is not always their first language. The pay is not megabucks but it is a socially worthwhile occupation -  and it does not last for ever!

If you are interested in one person's experience contact Philip Sugden; email philip.sugden@iclway.co.uk or telephone 020 8866 9588.

Anecdotes

All stories, well almost all, gratefully received!

RAF 1904A

As a young Supplier General at RAF Honington, I was posted in 1974 to Computer Services at HQ Strike Command, RAF High Wycombe for my first 'hands-on' experience of modern technology. The 1904A with 'George 3' computer there was not only used by various RAF personnel but appeared to be also a development machine for ICL. I remember the lengthy (about 20 mins) startup procedure. First, startup the huge alternator - wait for it to stabalise then press the button to start the power supply to the computer. Go to one of the main computer cabinets, open it to reveal a line of rocker switches and follow the key stuck to the inside of the door to manually start the computer using these rocker switches in the right order. Then we could start work with this huge machine in its air conditioned dust free atmosphere, sitting at the teletype and loading the various reel to reel tape decks with the 12 inch diameter reels of tape from the library, often struggling with 'Object quotas' and 'chapter quotas' to try and get through the days work as quickly as possible. It a separate room 3 girls were busy all day producing the punched cards with another 3 girls opposite checking the work done. At the end of the main room was a small office with a couple of teletypes and a couple of the then very new VDUs where the programmers could come to try thinks out. We could see these people through a large window (known as the fish tank). ICL provided some games that could be played on the computer such as Golf, Battleships etc.
At lunchtime occasionally very senior officers would come to see the new system and ask for permission to play one of the games from 'the fish tank'. It must have been the only place in the RAF where a lowly Senior Aircraftsman could say 'NO' to the Marshall of The Royal Air Force and be guaranteed that there would be no repercussions.
We were told that this 1904A with its blue & grey cabinets replaced an earlier valve computer built by A.E.I. (was it an 808 or a 1010) which had then gone into 'preservation' at a college in Manchester - I wonder if it still exists.
When I left Computer Services in May 1975 to do my bit in Cyprus following the Turkish invasion, a transformation was going on with some of the cabinets having turned orange & grey - something about a new 2900 being installed.
Happy days.
Roy Lambeth
bus driver,
Durham City

ICL 2955

I was an operator for a bureau running an ICL 2955, George II. I remember one night a disturbing screeching sound coming from the master catalogue drive (an EDS80) and subsequently having various error messages appear on the master oper, upon waking my shift leader (Clive, you know who you are !!!) he suggested I run down the drive and try placing the pack onto another drive. After screwing in the pack and spinning up again this horrendous screeching noise emanated from the drive once more ! at this point Clive suggested getting the backup catalogue disk out and trying on the original drive, ouch !!!! same problem, anyway after about 4 or 5 attempts of trying to mount various other volumes on a selection of the remaining EDS80’s we promptly placed a call with ICL only to be told it sounded like a head crash and not to load on any other drive !!! double ouch ! The Ops manager was duly informed and came to site, ICL already being here diagnosed as suspected a head crash on the master catalogue pack, our resulting diagnostics and actions meant that between myself and my shift leader we had managed to destroy 4 disk packs and an equal number of drives ! as they say you make mistakes and learn to never make them again, I shall always remember the noise made by this pack having its platters gouged out by the read/write head of the drive !!!!

Colin Rogers,  Account Manager, Trinity Expert Systems plc, Microsoft Gold Partner

SPO aka SAPO aka SPD Christmas Bulletin

Anyone who was at Kidsgrove in the late 60s, early 70s will probably remember the SPO Christmas Bulletin. It was also issued as SAPO and SPD Christmas Bulletins, depending on the current naming policy of ICL. It was a rag mag type production, produced each Christmas to raise money for charity.
I have scanned the 1972 edition into http://homepage.ntlworld.com/alan.walker90/spo/spo.htm. I think it shows the world was a different place then.

 Alan Walker

The ICL Eulogy

In the beginning were two tribes in the land of Britannia, the Samasites and the Hollerithites, known to all as the round holers and the slotted holers.  And many were the battles fought in their name as they hurled there engines of war against each other . But even as they ranged their batteries of Samastronics against the might of the 915, the Indian Blanket Manufacturers  tribe had entered the battle  from the west and swept all before them. Thus it came about that the elders of the two tribes of Britannia joined their forces to fight the new enemy and the new tribe was called ICT.

And the engineers of ICT, with support from the plains of Emidec and the mountains of Atlas, laboured mightily to produce a new battle weapon to fight the 360 Series and the new weapon was called the 1900 series. And the 1904 begat the 1904E and the 1904E begat the 1904A and the 1904A begat the 1904S .

But even as the begatting was being begotten a new force appeared  from the lands in the north and the tribe of English Electric Leo Marconi, and all stations to Crewe (change for Kidsgrove)  appeared , clad in their blue raiment, and rained down their System 4 on the field of battle. And many were the wars fought as  the J operating system  was pitted against the might of George 3.

But the rulers of the kingdom of Britannia  were sore troubled for they desired a strong indigenous computer industry and they spake unto the elders of the two tribes and said “ Get your act together lads or else”   And thus in the year 1968 was born the tribe of ICL.

 But still all was not peace in the land as the elders of the two tribes and the sons of the elders and the sons of the sons of the elders fought for the top jobs even unto the lowliest Account Manager.

And there arrived a new prophet called the lord Cross who gathered together the troops and declared “ I have seen a vision and the vision shall be called New Range and it will fire shells tipped with the deadly VME” . But for a time the troops were puzzled as only the wisest of the sages in the kingdom were able to comprehend the mysteries of such wonders as the Orthogonal Instruction Set and Reverse Polish Notation. And there puzzlement grew even greater as the acolyte of the lord Cross, Brian O’Heron, devised new ceremonies and liturgies for the ICL tribe and declared that only if a salesman could walk around the ramparts of Hartree House 200 times  whilst hauling the weight of a 750 page  Blue Border would he be granted the keys to sell the mighty 2900 engine. But soon all was well and the rulers of the kingdom bought the 2900 by the score and ICL prospered.

But  Cross passed on and one day a new prophet appeared unto the tribe and the lord Bonfield, for it was he, travelled to the east to the land of Fujitsu and returned bearing a shining cube for the family of Gorton to build into their engine of war. And the elders of Fujitsu liked the product so much they bought the company. But even as they laboured , new stars were arising in the firmament and the lord Bonfield declared  “ We will follow the new star called Unix”. But even as he spake the barbarian hordes from Microsoft and Intel  were sweeping all before them and ICL was sore troubled. And the lord Bonfield spake again and said “ There is no profit in shifting tin, we must change our battle strategy to Services Marketing” . But the lord Bonfield moved on to a higher plane and the elders who were left began to worship a new god called Flotation.  And the god Flotation promised the elders untold riches when they cashed in their share options. But  the tribe wasted  their inheritance on ceremonies like the annual Massaging of the Balance Sheet and alas the new god was a false god  and soon his statue was toppled to the ground.

 And the elders of Fujitsu cried “Enough”, and the name of ICL was consigned to that dark hall wherein lie the spirits of those names that have passed before such as Univac and Control Data  and Burroughs and Digital and many more. And soon the voice of ICL was heard no more in the land save in strange gatherings of the faithful who met to break bread and drink wine and remember the glories of that once great name.

For the Golden Oldies

You might want to have a look at the site http://www.old-computers.com/news/default.asp

    including the OPD! 

From Phil Sugden

Here's some starters for ten in MS Word format or HTML from Phil Sugden, and for those of you who don't remember Moor Hall, the Grange or Bradenham Manor just be thankfull, you'll live longer.

Some from Stuart Battersby

I recall commissioning of  a dual 29?? in Yorkshire Water around 1977/78. At one point during the process of site acceptance the air con went AWOL and basically cooked the machines. After that we kept getting random store and processor failures and couldn't get near meeting acceptable MTBF. In trying to force errors on site the engineers took to "worrying" the system in a most unusual way. The smelly stuff really hit the fan when the customer IT director walked into the machine room to see the CS service manager smashing a four-foot length of 4 by 2 against the chassis to "worry" out the dry joints caused by air con failure.

On the same project (I was software performance/benchmark consultant at the time) we had a great time sitting at the back of the YWA programmers' room  (all in lines rather like a training room) sending MAC style VME broadcasts to various folks imitating VME Result Codes with some really spurious error messages such as "4256789: Error Offensive shirt being worn"
or "5567289: Type slower - OCP overload occurring."

Then there was the Norweb 2960 test machine that caught fire on the floor at West Gorton immediately underneath the smoke detectors. There was plenty of smoke all around the detectors...but not a hint of an alarm.

There was a junior operator on the same project who brought an EDS 200 pack over from the Norweb main offices in Manchester to Gorton on a winter's day and loaded the pack straight onto the drive ..... only to find a disc error.  Suspecting the drive he tried the next one ..... likewise.  We stopped him after a total of 5 drives were ruined by a cold and deformed disc pack.

Also on Norweb as we were installing the first ever dual 2900 outside of Kidsgrove (2970s) we had major problems configuring all the hardware in this resilient system. Basically everything was dualled and there were many combinations of routes to reach any particular peripheral.  In those days before GROPE (General Reconnaissance of Peripheral Environment) for all this configuring we had to enter all the routes and devices into the system via a card pack at boot time. Anyway we just never could get everything on this configuration set-up. No matter in which order we tried something always broke and we only got half the system working. Eventually (after struggling manfully for 3 or 4 days) we all piled in a car and drove from Manchester to Kidsgrove and presented our problems. I had only drawn the first 4 boxes of my config diagram on the whiteboard when out came the comment. "Who sold them that then? We don't support two SACs, never have done".     Dohhhh!

A story from Steve Cooper

I joined ICT in 1967 as a computer operator in Putney, moving to Reading in 1968.  In those days the programmers used to submit their 'jobs' to the computer operations department for us to run on the machines.  The jobs came in boxes containing punched cards or paper tape, with an instruction sheet to tell the operator what to do.  We would run the job, write any comments on the back of the instruction sheet, and it would get sent back to the programmer.

If a job involved the reading of punched cards, and the program crashed part way through the pack, we would identify the last card read by reversing it in the pack and writing on the instruction sheet "Last card read reversed".

I remember one particular job we ran at Reading.  On the first four times the job was submitted it failed at the same place.  We dutifully returned it each time, identifying the last card read by reversing it. On the fifth day the programmer brought the job down to us personally and wanted to watch it run.  He said that when he submits the job all the cards are around the right way and he couldn't understand how one kept getting reversed!