A trip report: three days in Glasgow

Last week @Revaldinho and I travelled to Glasgow, for a computer-history-related conference and a bit of sightseeing. Let’s start with the sightseeing - we found some Sinclair devices in the Riverside Museum, which is predominantly a transport museum, offering a simulated ride on a Sinclair C5 which I had a go on. There was a Spectrum in a display of 1980s desirables (Stormtrooper outfit, anyone?) and a couple of calculators near the C5 to keep it company. Appalling photos by me, clear and sharp photos by @Revaldinho:

Here’s some software, including the Make-a-chip CAD application, probably not useful for designing the QL:

And upstairs, the calculators near the C5 and the Zeta e-bike motor, being a Cambridge original (Type 3) and a Cambridge Programmable:

After the Riverside, we visited the Hunterian museum, where we saw many wonders, including Kelvin’s Harmonic Analyser - a set of disc-globe-cylinder integrators from 1876 which does a sort of Fourier Transform by mechanical means and reduced months of effort to something rather less:

On the open-top bus ride around the city, we were lucky to glimpse some retrocomputing: a classic Mac, or perhaps an SE, and a gaggle of iMacs. These were in one of three or four computer shops on Argyll Street, one of which was unpromisingly called E-Waste.

At the history conference itself, which covered all sorts of IEEE-related topics, there was also some computer history: the transputer network, and then NCUBE and then myrinet cluster used to simulate power distribution networks in Japan; the WEIZAC and GOLEM machines made in Israel; Simon Lavington’s story of all 9 Ferranti Mark I machines including the secret one which went to GCHQ; our own presentation on Ferranti’s innovative and long-lived but commercially unsuccessful F100-L 16-bit microprocessor; Ed Owen’s story of Harry Huskey the chief designer of the Bendix G-15 - a design he first created and then shopped around to companies not yet making computers; a story, again from Japan, of using Z80 to control the ladders of the latest fire engines; the story of computing manufacture in Czechoslovakia, where fault-tolerant techniques were necessary due to reliability trouble; the sad story of VIPER, the UK’s proven-correct micro; the evolution of DSP capabilities from AMI’s S2811 to AMD’s ADSP-21xx; the story of TI’s DSP chips, starting with the skunkworks Speak’n’Spell; a snapshot of handheld computing with emphasis on Sharp’s 1211; a celebration of women engineers including Kathleen Booth, Winifred Hackett, and of course Ada Lovelace got a mention. We also missed some things which ran on a parallel track - looks like Zuse and Bush got mentions, and the mechanical devices of Vladimir Karapetoff sounded interesting too.

Unfortunately the proceedings are likely to land behind a paywall. Possibly the various authors will write, or have written, elsewhere. HISTELCON itself reappears every two years, somewhere in the world. We were lucky to be around for a relatively local one.

I feel I may need to buy Lavington’s book…



Kelvin’s Harmonic Analyser’s looks interesting.

Maybe it works on the same principles as Albert Michelson’s harmonic analyzer which Bill Hammack breaks down in his book and video series on it at his site.

1 Like

An interesting thought! Bill Hammack’s engineering videos are uniformly excellent (in my opinion) and the Harmonic series is, I think, the closest he’s got to computing.

My guess is that Kelvin’s machine, and similar, are suited to tide prediction and other not-really-periodic-in-a-useful-sense functions, whereas Michelson’s is tied to periodic functions. But I might well be wrong - I think it depends on how the discs in the disc integrator are driven. I was surprised to see Fourier did his work back in 1807.

There’s another disc-globe-cylinder machine in the Science Museum, which I snapped in this visit in 2012: