It was an early start with the coach leaving the university at 06:00 for the National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park. The plan was to stop for a break about half way and to arrive by about 10:00, which would give us time to tour Station X in the morning for historical context, have lunch, then see the rest of the museum.
Things didn’t quite turn out as planned! We left just after 06:00, collected a student at Magor services and headed along the M4 to our planned break at Leigh Delaware services. But as we left the services and started to accelerate up to motorway speeds the coach refused to go into high gear. Oops! What turned out later to be a blown solenoid in the automatic transmission system left us all standing on the motorway embankment for an hour while we waited for a local coach to arrive to transport us to the next service station, where we would be met by another bus to take us on to our destination.
Oh dear we have broken down!
The whole crew of 36 on an embankment on the M4!
But we got there in the end, arriving at the National Museum of Computing at about 13:30, and headed straight into the second half of the planned day starting with the Colossus and Tunny galleries. The museum is housed in a cold and sometimes damp hut that is a listed building by virtue of it being the first purpose-built computing centre (for 10 Colossus machines during WW2).
Colossus – the first semi-programmable computer
From there it was on to look at the rebuilt Harwell Dekatron (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harwell_computer) Then it was on for a whistle-stop tour of everything else.
The Harwell Dekatron Computer
Unsurprisingly we were a bit rushed to get through the galleries, but nevertheless, managed to get a good sense of the old computing technology, and the rich heritage contained within the museum. Students particularly enjoyed playing retro games! We all got a sense of how far computing has come in 70 years, and how much it might change even during our working lives.
Some of the staff remembered lots of machines from the 1970s/1980s – and remembered programming machines that are now on display in a museum. Staff were able to relive their younger days with the BBC Micros from the 1980s and the Cray 1 from the 1970s with its built-in sofa (and computing power comparable to the iPad 2!).
BBC Micros from the 1980s
Sue reliving her youth
Afterwards we got back onto coach (the fourth one we had been on that day!) for the trip home and learned that the M4 was closed at Chippenham with diversions and delays all round. We weren’t even out of it once we got off the motorway, as even late at night it took us almost an hour to get through the roadworks along Fabian Way and into the city centre. Despite this, the students took it all very well and didn’t complain. In fact, laughing and joking was the order of the day, even after hours in a traffic jam. A great time was had by all and we think it’s going to be one of those trips that sticks in the memory for some time! Thanks to everyone who came and Carlene for organising the trip! 🙂
Tom, Ryan, Angelo, James and Caleb (Electronics Year 2) on the bus