back to article Save hefty Dr Who and Bond girl 'Flossie', pleads vintage computer man

Engineer and vintage computer enthusiast Ron Brown is struggling to save Flossie, one of the world's oldest working computer mainframes and a bonafide movie star, from extinction. The '60s era ICT 1301, which was a prominent feature in Scaramanga's lair in Bond film The Man With The Golden Gun, is currently being housed in a …

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  1. Peter Simpson 1
    Mushroom

    BP power consumption

    With all these old machines and their power and cooling requirements, BP's electricity consumption will soon be back at wartime levels!

  2. Tom Wood

    Fun and historically interesting as it is

    you can't keep everything for ever.

    1. Steve the Cynic

      Re: Fun and historically interesting as it is

      They are, of course, not actually trying to keep *everything*. But "one of each" would be sort of nice, especially since in this case we only have one of this "each" to keep...

    2. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Fun and historically interesting as it is

      >you can't keep everything for ever.

      It isn't 'everything', it's roughly 0.5% of all its kind.

    3. Captain TickTock
      Holmes

      Re: Fun and historically interesting as it is

      A bad case of:

      http://www.theregister.co.uk/2012/10/19/something_for_the_weekend_throw_away_dilemma/

      1. Anonymous Coward 101
        Thumb Down

        Re: Fun and historically interesting as it is

        It's just an old computer that was in a not-well-remembered Bond film and a few old sci-fi TV shows. It has no historical significance whatsoever. Why care?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Fun and historically interesting as it is

          "It's just an old computer that was in a not-well-remembered Bond film and a few old sci-fi TV shows. It has no historical significance whatsoever. Why care?"

          It has more historical significance than the average El Reg commentard and I wouldn't like to be abandoned in a farm shed.

      2. TeeCee Gold badge
        Coat

        Re: Fun and historically interesting as it is

        You reckon we should keep it in an old shoebox under the bench "just in case"?

      3. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Fun and historically interesting as it is

        Well, there was a hint of friendly competition amongst us hoarders in that thread. This bloke who has restored 'Flossie' would be hard to beat!

  3. Dave 126 Silver badge

    video from 2007

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VsBPuUJPvKg

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: video from 2007

      Awesome!

      I distinctly my great uncle had the guts of one of those exact tape drives in his shed and a stack of reels. I think he successfully converted it for 9-track audio recording and editing.

  4. Irongut

    Pics?

    With staring roles in Bond, Dr Who and Blake's 7 where are the pics?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Pics?

        Shouldn't that be "Staring *at* the Computer"? :-)

    2. Martin Budden
      Go

      Re: Pics?

      http://www.michael-milsom.org.uk/mdm/1301/1301star.htm

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Not the ICL...

      ...but here's an article (with pics) about another big old mainframe which had a career in movies after it retired from computing:

      http://www.wired.com/wiredenterprise/2012/10/movie-computers/

  5. fLaMePrOoF
    Boffin

    Corrections...

    Actually Flossie has significantly more than 2kB of 'memory'...

    On-board storage is comprised of ferrite cores, a type of iron-based magnetic core, which holds around 12 kilobytes of storage space, as well as three magnetic drums which can store around 72 kilobytes each of data.

    The main storage system is formed of exchangeable reels of magnetic tape, each containing 2mb of data, when formatted. A maximum of eight reels can be used at once, giving the machine a maximum operational storage space of around 16 megabytes.

    1. phuzz Silver badge
      WTF?

      Re: Corrections...

      That's more than my Amiga!

  6. Patrice
    Go

    more action shot video

    Here`s another interview of flossie http://www.itv.com/news/meridian/2012-10-20/9-year-reboot-brings-computer-back-to-life/

  7. Not_The_Droids
    Stop

    So which is it...

    "She takes up 25 square feet of space"

    Or the ITV article: "The machine, which measures 20ft by 22ft,"

    I have room in my cubicle for the first...

    Not so much for the second...

  8. GettinSadda
    Boffin

    From this article: "She takes up 25 square feet of space and weighs five tons."

    From the restorer and current owner: "It weighs five tons, occupies 700 square feet and uses 13kVA of three phase electricity."

    I wonder which of them is right?

    1. GettinSadda
      WTF?

      Aditional...

      Oh good grief - I have just realised I know this machine!!

      I used to work with a guy called Stuart Fyfe who often told us about the ICL mainframe that he had bought. When I worked with him he had already passed it on to Roger Holmes, but I got to know it pretty well from all the stories over the years we worked together!

      1. Jan 0

        Re: Aditional...

        Minor correction, it was International Computers and Tabulators that built this computer.

        ICT got transformed into ICL a bit later.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Aditional...

          Where was it built? Letchworth? Perhaps a local museum would take it on, but then again Bletchley isn't that far away.

    2. Steve Knox

      Just a guess...

      but perhaps the article should read "25 feet square"?

      That would make it 625 square feet, within spitting distance of the 700 square feet figure from the current owner.

    3. Alan Ferris
      Coat

      Pedant Alert!

      Unless Flossie is very, VERY thin, I suspect that she takes up a number of cubic feet

  9. James Hughes 1

    Unbeleivable

    No-one - NO-ONE has mentioned that it has rounded corners. Probably.

    1. Dave 32
      Devil

      Re: Unbeleivable

      Rounded corners? Didn't Apple patent that?

      Ohoh, is this another case of prior art invalidating one of their patents?!?

      Dave

      1. GitMeMyShootinIrons

        Re: Unbeleivable

        This is one seriously sizeable tablet. Even too big to describe as a suppository.

  10. Anonymous John
    Happy

    I worked in an office that had one of Flossie's relatives in 1966. A £50 discrepancy was eventually tracked down to a blemish on a punched card. Happy days!

  11. Jean Stone

    Just think...

    All that power and space and restoration effort just to have a place to store a Dungeon savegame.

  12. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge
    Facepalm

    Big iron

    @GettinSadda, I'm sure it's the 700 square feet figure. I just can't see the museum not being able to spare 5 feet by 5 feet somewhere on premises. (Roughly) 25 feet by 25 feet? That's a bigger deal.

    To those who are pointing to the hoarding article -- this isn't hoarding, when you have the last of a model left. I find it an odd double standard that people will think nothing of keeping an old car around that is inefficient, slow, poor handling, unsafe, and often unreliable just BECAUSE it's old, but when it comes to a computer that is now truly one-of-a-kind, and has been in movies and TV, it's hoarding. (Note it pains me to describe collecting classic cars that way -- I said it to make a point.)

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

  13. stu_san
    Facepalm

    Why save it?!?

    Why save this computer? Why would we save anything? Why save paintings, old potsherds from archeological sites, trophies from old games played decades ago, pictures from the 1900s, 78 RPM records (or old cylinder records for that matter), antique cars, boomerangs, spears, arrows, swords, cannons, baskets, houses in the Swiss Alps, the Spirit Of St Louis, the Spruce Goose, the Glamorous Glennis, the Enola Gay, the Queen Mary, the Eiffel Tower, Tower of London, the Great Wall of China, they Pyramids on Giza plateau, the Forbidden City in Beijing, Roman breastplates, amphorae, the Antikylera Mechanism, a bit of melted glass-like ground from the Trinity site, the stuffed pelt of the MGM Lion (saved in an attic in McPherson, Kansas), the Vasa from Sweden's seas, old sardine tins from a century ago, covered wagons from two centuries ago, steam locomotives, silent movies, signs from roads and inns and gas (petrol) stations that no longer exist, memorials on ancient battlefields and grave sites, books (and stone tablets and dried clay tablets) from people who died anywhere from decades to thousands of years ago and millions of other artifacts from humans around the globe? Why save any of that?!?

    Because, you moron, without knowing where we came from we cannot know where we are going. Because reflections from the past illuminate our present and, in so doing, our future. Because we can easily forget that, even though some ideas are old, it does not make them any less ingenious or, in fact, *relevant*.

    Do we need to save the eggshells from this morning's breakfast? Probably not. A computer from the 60's? *DEFINITELY*!

  14. James 100

    Move it to the cloud!

    About 2k of Javascript should emulate it full-speed in anyone's browser these days...

    Keeping one working would be nice, though - even if it is a struggle with such a huge, power-hungry beast. I suppose the bigger picture is: could the resources needed to keep the ICT 1301 alive be better used to preserve a dozen other "first" items - computers, routers, switches - instead?

    Good on him for making the effort here though, I do hope he succeeds.

    1. stu_san
      Facepalm

      Re: Move it to the cloud!

      Maybe just the fact that it is physically saved is enough. Simulation is being done for other processors (see Altair), but these older machines, like the Bombe and Colossus at Bletchley, are unique unto themselves.

      Personal note: As a high-school student I tried to save a decommissioned Univac SS80 ("Solid State 80") but was rejected by the IT dept director. I then tried to get the manuals and the compilers (FORTRAN II!), but was refused; "proprietary info" the director said. Two weeks later the machine was junked out back of the high school shop, having been ravaged for parts, lights, and wires. That machine was the last one Seymour Cray had "worked on" at Univac before moving on to CDC. The design was implemented in both transistors and "magnetic amplifiers" (whatever those were) as a side-by-side study; I am not sure but I think the production units used the mag amps. It used magnetic drum rather than cores. In its own way, a unique machine.

      I have toyed with the idea of writing a simulator, but without the compiler or other code from the Masters (instruction placement on the drum to improve speed was an art), it would be a mostly useless exercise.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Move it to the cloud!

        A mag amp is a very clever implementation of quite a simple principle. With a regular transformer you put AC in the primary winding, and so long as the power is within specific limits you get AC out the secondary. With a mag amp, you have the same magnetic coupling, but you also have a third winding which you put a DC current through. It has the effect of saturating the core of the transformer which makes it less efficient at passing through the AC signal. Thus you can electrically vary the power you get out of the secondary.

        These predate transistors, but they are still found quite often in modern power supply designs. e.g. the 3.3V output of a typical PC power supply is often derived from the 5V winding of the main transformer by passing it though a couple of mag amps in front of the rectifiers.

  15. Paul J Turner

    Yet another link to pictures etc

    http://www.kentonline.co.uk/kentonline/news/2012/october/23/flossie_the_computer.aspx

    A bit of an interview with Roger Holmes too.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Windows

    YeahI sympathise with the makers / owners... kind of.

    On one hand lots of really amazing stuff got created and then as is the nature of things, that everything tends to get viewed after a while, as an impediment in it's own right, and then it too gets sidelined as the better, easier, faster, cheaper, more efficient, and greater functionality comes on line, largely as a result of the formers inherent weakness's and impediments.

    By subjecting it to "The Hanson 1,001 Test", where ever so amazingly amazing products or process's have to be manually repeated basically 1001 times. It soon becomes evident that unless the product or process is really sorted out properly, that there are things about the device and or process, that start to drive you absolutely nuts, because they are wasteful, excessive, time consuming, counter intuitive, idiotic or needlessly difficult.

    Kind of like traceability and registration and certification... where every step of the process is thoroughly documented and analyised.

    Which is really great for things like NASA and the production of rockets and space launches... but filling out forms in triplicate, and waiting for approval from the senior administrator, the accounts department and the spares dept, does not lend it's self well to the rapid use of a fire extinguisher, prior to it's use.

    Thus the restoration of this machine - in it's day it was a really brilliant design, made by really clever people and it served a purpose.

    But now those times and technology are gone, everything has evolved in a kind of exponential way, and the machine would be hard pressed to keep pace with a decent pocket calculator, running on a few AA batteries.

    The only real advantage to it's being kept in a functional state of affairs, is it's EMP proof and Skynet can't interface with it.

    Aside from that the examination of it, which makes clever people think, and it's an inspirational piece of work, and the 40 thousand miles of exposed wiring, and punch card interfaces etc., ARE the fore runners of the elimination of the wiring, by putting it all on chips, and the current IO systems, where things are read by lasers, and read write heads etc..

    On one hand it is important to keep working examples of mile stone steps in the evolution of our species and our technology - they are good reference points.

    But on the other hand.... after some 5000 years, the only thing left standing is made of stone.

  17. earl grey Silver badge
    WTF?

    It's bad juju

    burn the witch!

    keep the computer.

    numpties, you can never have enough.....

  18. Davywormwood
    Unhappy

    I'm a big fan of all things retro so I'm bait sad abou this like, definitely think. They should save it.

  19. jon 72
    Terminator

    Save Yes, Restore No

    Give it a once over with some T-cut and put in the flashing Christmas lights I say.

    Something retro for the weekend...

    http://drexfiles.wordpress.com/2011/03/26/time-tunnel-computers-aka-ansf-q7-of-air-force-sage-radar-systems-today/

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