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Old Computers Resurrected As Instruments At Bletchley Park 109

Posted by timothy
from the brunsviga-adding-machine-in-da-house dept.
arcticstoat writes with a snippet from bit-tech.com; musician Matthew Applegate "plans on assembling a virtual orchestra of 20 retired relics of computing at the National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park. The choice of venue will even allow Applegate to feature the infamous Colossus Mark 2 computer in the event, which was used for code-breaking in World War II and was recently reconstructed at Bletchley Park in 2007. ... A wide selection of computing fossils be used in Applegate's final musical presentation, which is called 'Obsolete?' This includes the Elliot 803 (a 1960s machine with 4KB of memory), the aforementioned Colossus Mark 2, a Bunsviga adding machine (pictured) and a punch card machine. As well as this, there are also some machines that will look nostalgically familiar to kids who grew up with the home computer generation, including a BBC Micro, an Atari 800XL, a Dragon 32 and an Amstrad CPC464." The article's list of the members of this "orchestra" makes an interesting checklist of computer hardware history.
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Old Computers Resurrected As Instruments At Bletchley Park

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  • Awesome (Score:5, Funny)

    by GMonkeyLouie (1372035) <gmonkeylouieNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Saturday March 07, 2009 @10:37PM (#27109655)

    I fully approve. It's definitely time to rethink what obsolescence means, and this musical presentation seems like it will be amazing from an angle of reimagining what old computers are really for.

    I will take my kids to see it and tell them that when I'm old, I want them to arrange me in a formation with other old people and make us all make beautiful coincidental sounds that could be construed as music.

    • Re:Awesome (Score:5, Funny)

      by Mr. Bad Example (31092) on Sunday March 08, 2009 @04:33AM (#27110865) Homepage

      > I want them to arrange me in a formation with other old people and
      > make us all make beautiful coincidental sounds that could be construed as music.

      Might I suggest Bach's "Get Off My Lawn and Fugue in D Minor"?

    • by ivucica (1001089)

      Agreed. I'm born in 1988, but war in Croatia took its toll. So, I was raised on computers in library: 386, old Macintosh II (at least I think that's its name). Also CPC464 was my first home computer. I still dream of coding my own mini-OS for CPC :)

      • by turgid (580780)

        I still dream of coding my own mini-OS for CPC :)

        Then stop dreaming and start coding! :-)

        • by ivucica (1001089)

          Sadly, the Day is Not Long Enough (007) :/

          • by turgid (580780)

            Oh yes it is! Believe me, but don't try to do everything at once. Start with, "Hello, world!" Before you know it you'll have multi-tasking. :-) Go on, I dare you :-)

            • by ivucica (1001089)

              Well, a week would probably be enough for a basic OS... if I had a day to begin with :P

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by pwainwright (1028772)

      Damn, that'll teach me not to throw out obsolete stuff. I wrote a simple piece of music software for my Amstrad CPC464 back in the mid-eighties. It took input from the keyboard (using shift/ctrl for sharp and flat, if I recall), displayed musical notation on screen and played it through the primitive sound chip.

      I eventually got it to play one of Bach's 48 (preludes & fugues). I seem to recall that it had 4 channels, so could cope with the 4-part counterpoint pretty well. The sound chip was horrible,

  • by jackb_guppy (204733) on Saturday March 07, 2009 @10:37PM (#27109659)

    Poor Forbin! He will be locked up alnight with that sex female computer scientist.

  • Huh? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ScrewMaster (602015) * on Saturday March 07, 2009 @10:41PM (#27109687)

    As well as this, there are also some machines that will look nostalgically familiar to kids who grew up with the home computer generation, including a BBC Micro, an Atari 800XL, a Dragon 32 and an Amstrad CPC464.

    What, no Apple ][?

    • Re:Huh? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by lokedhs (672255) on Saturday March 07, 2009 @11:07PM (#27109829)
      The Apple II was never big in Europe. The above-mentioned machines were much bigger back then. In fact, even though I was raised with computers during that time, I have never actually seen an Apple II in real life. The others, however, are very familiar to me.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        The Apple II was never big in Europe. The above-mentioned machines were much bigger back then. In fact, even though I was raised with computers during that time, I have never actually seen an Apple II in real life. The others, however, are very familiar to me.

        Oh, I understand that, but the Apple ][ predates most of the others and is worthy of an historical footnote. Besides, if they want to limit this to European brands, they should remove the Atari from the list as well.

        • by janrinok (846318)
          [quote]Besides, if they want to limit this to European brands, they should remove the Atari from the list as well.[/quote] [p]No, that is not what they want to do. They want to include those computers that were [b]popular[/p] in Europe, not limit the collection to those that might have been produced here. I wonder if they want to take ownership of my original Nascom 1 and Nascom 2, complete with 5.25" floppy drives and a whopping 5Mb (yes - Mb) hard drive?
        • by Dogtanian (588974)

          Oh, I understand that, but the Apple ][ predates most of the others and is worthy of an historical footnote. Besides, if they want to limit this to European brands, they should remove the Atari from the list as well.

          Where did it say they wanted to do that? I think they were focusing on computers that were popular here. Which obviously biases it towards UK machines, but doesn't exclude American ones.

          While the Atari 800XL was never as popular here (or as well-supported) as the Spectrum, C64 and Amstrad CPC, it still had a notable user base.

          Dixons (UK electronics chain) sold a lot of them at knock-down prices during the mid-80s.

        • >they should remove the Atari from the list as well.
          But as the OP said, the Apple II was fairly rare (I've only ever seen two examples in the wild and one in a shop) but the Atari's were reasonably popular as the preferred state of the art home micro until the C64 came along.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        Aside from the Atari 800XL, the other computers were practically unknown in the U.S. Well, the Amstrad wasn't unknown, but the Amstrad never gained a significant following.

        The Apple II was one of the best selling "home computers," along with the Commodore 64 and 128 and (later) the Commodore Amiga line.

        FWIW, I've never seen an Atari 800XL IRL, either. ;) (But I have seen the Amstrad).

        I think the reason the Amstrad never caught on in the U.S. is because it was released in 1984, well after the CP/M and the

        • by bhtooefr (649901)

          Also, the BBC Micro was sold here... but was a complete and total flop, as it was, as I've heard it, quite expensive, and had half the RAM of the (much cheaper) Commodore 64 or the Apple //e. And, there wasn't a BBC computer literacy project here in the US, so... no incentive to buy THAT EXACT MODEL.

          • by danhuby (759002)

            The BBC Micro was a completely different machine to the C64. It was built for schools, and so had a large metal case for robustness and extra slots on the PCB for upgrades (it could be upgraded significantly).

            Regarding the Apple II, I'm not sure it was even sold in the UK. Certainly I never saw one. The first Apple I saw or even heard of was a Mac which many schools had just one of (due to a supermarket-run Computers For Schools scheme iirc).

            Atari machines on the other hand were popular in the UK, but mai

            • Re:Huh? (Score:4, Informative)

              by jacquesm (154384) <j@wwPASCAL.com minus language> on Sunday March 08, 2009 @04:03AM (#27110789) Homepage

              The bbc micro sat in a yellow injection moulded plastic case.

              It had no 'expansion slots', but it did have several connectors at the edge of the pcb that you could use for expansion (berg connectors).

              These included:

              - printer port
              - the 'tube', a bi-directional link for a second processor
              - the user port
              - the 1Mhz bus.

              Internally there were a number of option rom sockets, which with some trickery could be used for a ram expansion (bank switched 16 k windows).

              There were no 'slots' of any kind.

              I'm not sure which computer you are referring to here but I have never seen a bbc model b encased in anything other than plastic unless it was done as a custom job.

              • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                by wwwillem (253720)

                Internally there were a number of option rom sockets, which with some trickery could be used for a ram expansion (bank switched 16 k windows).

                I designed and built an expansion board for these 12 additional (4 on the motherboard) bank switched ROMs. I sold 100 of those (as a kit) in Holland. Must have been 1983/84. I still have one of these lying on the desk in my basement. :-) Sweet memories....

            • by EricTheRed (5613)

              Apple II's were sold over here, they were just not that prevalent.

              I didn't see an Apple II until the early 90's but now have one in storage - not used it in about 10 years.

              I've got an Apple III as well and they are even rarer - didn't know they existed until I was given one instead of the owner dumping it.

              • by bhtooefr (649901)

                The Apple /// wasn't that common here, thanks to major design flaws on the first version, causing it to completely flop, and nobody bought the ///+ after the fiasco with the near-100% failure rate of the first shipments of the original ///.

              • Apple II's were sold over here, they were just not that prevalent.

                Yes; the UK hospital my Dad worked at had Apple IIs, but this was one of the few (if only) places I saw them in the UK. Had I not seen them there, it's quite possible that I'd never have seen one at all.

                They actually sold Euro-specific versions [wikipedia.org]; reading this I find out that (supposedly) these were mono-only (yuk!) because the smart but NTSC-specific hack Woz used to get crude colour on the original didn't work with PAL.

                This explains why my Dad (who used the things quite extensively) was never aware that

                • My memory of the machines of the era was that the Apple II was too expensive in the UK to be widely used as a home computer. Even the BBC Micro was a bit on the expensive side and most UK home users of the time had one of the Sinclair machines that were much cheaper.

                  The company I worked for had an Apple II bought specifically to run Visicalc. As far as I remember, this was the main driver for sales of Apple II in the UK until the arrival of the IBM PC and Lotus 1-2-3.

            • by jacquesm (154384)

              large metal case ? you must be referring to some bbc model that I'm not familiar with, I thought I had all of them! Especially the 'slots' bit is somewhat confusing, do you by chance mean the option rom sockets or do you mean the berg connectors at the bottom ?

              • I worked in a local authority computer workshop in the 80s and there was a period when BBC micros were in very short supply. During this time we were getting imports from Germany and these BBC micros had a different spec to the uk ones. One major difference was the whole motherboard was enclosed in a very sturdy metal faraday cage. Presumaby german rules on RF interference were tougher than ours. On another note regarding Apple IIs. I'm a Brit and I learned to program on one of those and would love to see
          • by jacquesm (154384)

            Comparing the bbc to the commodore is like comparing a very well made german car to a zastava.

            • by bhtooefr (649901)

              But I'm guessing consumers here looked at the spec sheets, saw the Commodore was cheaper and had more stuff, and had a MUCH, MUCH larger user base here, and went for it. :)

          • by grumling (94709)

            But because it used an ARM chip, lots of us use its descendants every day to make phone calls.

            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by wwwillem (253720)

              Wrong!! The BBC Micro had a 6502, just like the Apple ][ or the Commodore 64.

              The successor of the BBC Micro was the Acorn Archimedes, based on a RISC CPU developed by Acorn. This chip is the one that later became the ARM chip, now found in many phones and PDAs.

              • by bhtooefr (649901)

                Well, technically, that CPU was the ARM all along...

                (I've done a fair amount of research on the things, and I'm trying to get a RiscPC - which runs either an ARM6, ARM7, or StrongARM - but originally was going to try to get one of the original models. Kinda tricky here in the US, as Acorn never officially sold any ARM-based machines (or any machines other than the BBC Micro B) here. They apparently were planning on selling the A3000 in Canada, but I don't think that happened.)

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anne Thwacks (531696)
        As someone who did development for Apple ][ add-on hardware in the UK, I can tell you the APPLE ][ was HUGE in the UK. its penetration of the business market was incredible, because you could not run a business without Visicalc if the competition had it.

        Only businesses with a PDP11 or DG Nova did not need an Apple ][, The Apple ][ cost about GBP100 and used about 30W, while a PDP11 or DG Nova cost at least GBP10,000, and used about 30kW.

        • by hattig (47930)

          The Apple II cost a lot more than that in the UK. Around £1000 (I'd have to look up the prices in the old computer mags I have), so it's no surprise that it never got popular in the home. Acorn should have made a home version of the BBC micro - I guess that was the Electron that sadly never did that well.

          What was popular in small business was the Amstrad PCW series of CP/M systems (that came with a word processor out of the box) between 1985 and 1992.

        • As someone who did development for Apple ][ add-on hardware in the UK, I can tell you the APPLE ][ was HUGE in the UK.

          Huge would be, at best, a relative term. It may have had some popularity behind the scenes in businesses (still being in short trousers during the early 80s, I can't really comment on that). I know that my Dad used them in his work at a hospital.

          But even that latter example was (and is) about the only place that I've seen Apple II in the flesh. They were also bordering on nonexistent in the UK educational field and as mass-market home computers.

          Only businesses with a PDP11 or DG Nova did not need an Apple ][, The Apple ][ cost about GBP100

          £100? I'm calling bullshit on that, and it makes me que

          • £100? I'm calling bullshit on that

            You could be charitable and assume he's just missed a zero off the end...

            From what I remember* of 1980/1981 prices, and HP-85/86 was about 3k with interface cards, a Sharp MZ80B a few hundred quid, so for an Apple 2 (with a CPM card, which I can just about remember using) 1-2k sounds about right for 1980.

            *it was a long time ago.

            • by Dogtanian (588974)

              You could be charitable and assume he's just missed a zero off the end...

              You're right; after I'd posted that I realised that I kneejerk responded to what was probably an honest mistake.

              It didn't help that I was already somewhat sceptical about his claim that the Apple II was "huge" in the UK. I felt (and still feel) that this was somewhat misleading, although on the smaller scale of an earlier era (pre-Spectrum/C64/PC) and in the field he was working in, he may have had a case. However, I still see no evidence that the Apple II was popular in the same large-scale way that (app

    • Sinclair Machines (Score:3, Interesting)

      by turgid (580780)

      I'm more surprised there are no Sinclair machines in the orchestra (ZX81, ZX Spectrum) since they were what drove the home computer revolution of the early 80s in the UK.

      The ZX81 was incredibly primitive in order to get its price below £100. I think it was the first ever computer you could buy for under £100. It had no colour and no sound, 1k of RAM in its base configuration and 8k of ROM that managed to include some very useful floating-point maths!

      There was a hack you could do to in machine

  • Infamous? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Brett Buck (811747) on Saturday March 07, 2009 @10:47PM (#27109723)

    Why is the Colossus "infamous"? It's famous, and it's use saved thousands of lives and shortened the war.

            Brett

    • by ScrewMaster (602015) * on Saturday March 07, 2009 @10:59PM (#27109785)

      Why is the Colossus "infamous"? It's famous, and it's use saved thousands of lives and shortened the war.

      Brett

      Possibly the submitter is German.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Fishchip (1203964)
      It's infamous. You know, -more- than famous.
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Soulshift (1044432)
        Like how inflammable is more than... flammable?
      • by Scottar (969033)
        In-famous is when you're MORE than famous. This computer Colossus, he's not just famous, he's IN-famous. 100,000 pesos to perform with this Colossus, who's probably the biggest computer to come out of Bletchley! Man I'm bored
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      Why is the Colossus "infamous"? It's famous, and it's use saved thousands of lives and shortened the war.

      Because of that one time it took over the world. [wikipedia.org]

      Sheesh, kids these days. No knowledge of history.

      • Re: (Score:1, Flamebait)

        by Brett Buck (811747)

        Kids, eh? I've *dropped* more card decks than you have *punched*, sonny! I watched that movie *when it came out*, and before that chick was married to Mongo OR Webster's mom. That movie, and prisoner episode The General was when I first realized that computers were intrinsically evil. I have seen nothing since to alter that opinion.

        BTW, before you go look it up, what was the name of the degenerate atheistic prevert Commie computer that it linked up with? I know that off the top of my head.

        • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward

          I watched that movie *when it came out*, and before that chick was married to Mongo ...

          I don't know what you are talking about. You kids are making me feel old.

          Movies? Sheesh! In my day, we only had Projecting Kinetoscopes [wikipedia.org] for entertainment.

          • Eh, projecting kinetoscopes, dang fool kids. Magic lanterns were good enough for us, and we were darn glad to have them.

                        Brett

        • The Soviet computer is called Guardian - when they connect together they become Unity.
      • by fbjon (692006)
        Damn, I haven't seen that movie. Could someone who has please tell me why everyone is about fall over or have already gone horizontal, and why everyone generally looks pretty uncomfortable in the poster? [impawards.com]
    • by carlzum (832868)
      Thank you, I thought there was some nefarious event in Colossus' history that I wasn't aware of. I spent 20 minutes searching the web for stories about chained-up computer scientists or it's role in bombing orphanages.
    • by danhuby (759002)

      Confusing 'famous' with 'infamous' probably.

  • a bit more useful (Score:5, Informative)

    by johnjones (14274) on Saturday March 07, 2009 @10:47PM (#27109725) Homepage Journal

    bbc report with sound and video

    open in a tab then buy tickets !!!

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/7895853.stm [bbc.co.uk]

    tickets links -

    March 20th, 2009 http://www.etickets.to/buy/?e=2285 [etickets.to]

    March 21th, 2009 http://www.etickets.to/buy/?e=2373 [etickets.to]

    regards

    John Jones
    http://www.johnjones.me.uk [johnjones.me.uk]

  • 50 years from now, they'll be using the 'obsolete' BlueGene/L to do stuff like this...
  • by eyrieowl (881195) on Saturday March 07, 2009 @11:32PM (#27109957)

    I highly recommend "The Symphony for Dot Matrix Printers", by The User. You can find it on eMusic I think (probably elsewhere as well). It's like being in the computer lab of yore, but with style. :)

  • music (Score:3, Funny)

    by nnet (20306) on Saturday March 07, 2009 @11:42PM (#27110003) Homepage Journal
    I'm guessing this won't be a progressive rock thing....
    • I'm guessing this won't be a progressive rock thing....

      depends on the cymbol selection, I believe... I think its the splash

      I hope this isn't just the start of the Next British Invasion... following Bletchley Park in rapid succession come moppy obsolete cpu orchestras from Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham... a sensation sweeps in from both coasts causing teenage girls to rush around in bunches and sceam uncontrollably... a teen in Tulsa spikes his hair and dyes it purple... t-shirt sales go through the roof... tragedy strikes when a rare mini computer and a p

  • A drum is a instrument. A computer - well could be, but for real.

  • Yeah, I know that the venerable '81 had no "sound" but it could make noise through it's cassette interface ... and somewhere I have an old book for ZX-81 machine code programming which has a program which would play music out though the TV's FM audio ... but it does require de-tuning the channel frequency just a little bit because the '81 doesn't have a audio modulator either.

    I really enjoyed my visit to Bletchley Park back in 2005.... wouldn't mind spending another relaxing and pleasant day there again in

  • a dragon 32 :) ? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jacquesm (154384) <j@wwPASCAL.com minus language> on Sunday March 08, 2009 @03:53AM (#27110779) Homepage

    I had one of those beasts, it was a british clone of the TRS-80 color computer.

    6809, the 32k of ram was actually 64k and if you fiddled a bit with the memory controller you could copy the rom to ram and modify the code. Quite a nice little computer!

    I wished someone would keep such a line of machines alive for kids today to learn how to code on. There is absolutely no way you're going to completely 'grok' that machine on your desktop, one of these small machines you actually stand a chance.

    Best school I ever had...

  • CPU complexity now sufficient for creative output:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-c4nhGS0OL4 [youtube.com]

  • They are useful.

    They are fruitful.

    Everything that boots is beautiful!

    Built to last... the future is the past!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-c4nhGS0OL4 [youtube.com]

  • Pictured? (Score:3, Funny)

    by Binestar (28861) on Sunday March 08, 2009 @08:22AM (#27111837) Homepage
    This includes the Elliot 803 (a 1960s machine with 4KB of memory), the aforementioned Colossus Mark 2, a Bunsviga adding machine (pictured) and a punch card machine.

    I read the slashdot summary and I have to say, the Bunsviga adding machine looks a lot like a grounding plug.
  • Let's hope he knows how to program the Pokey chip for 16 bit sound, otherwise it will play out of tune:

    http://www.atarimagazines.com/compute/issue34/112_1_16-BIT_ATARI_MUSIC.php [atarimagazines.com]

  • by Locke2005 (849178) on Sunday March 08, 2009 @11:44AM (#27112977)
    This includes the Elliot 803
    I think you mean the Elliott 803 [wikipedia.org] You're welcome.
    • by Julo1 (754857)
      What a memory. I used an Elliot 803b (8kwords - 2 instructions and a modifier per word!). The Library was handwritten (really a manual) by Hoare. A great start in CS. Had a nice Algol68 compiler and it played music! (AFAICR the MSB of a word was fed into a speaker - the fetch rate had to be sonic! - the machine could run almost 2000 instructions/second). BTW some micros popular in Europe - such as Sinclair based on Z80 ages after Elliot and far from it's style - - are completely forgotten?
  • Not that I disapprove in theory, but it's fast getting to the point where I can't really justify turning on anything that draws over 5 watts of power to do any sort of computing, aside from my high-powered CS research.

    On the other hand, this is art, so cost is irrelevant.

  • A wide selection of computing fossils be used in Applegate's final musical presentation,

    Ok, who was the wiseass who invited the RNC [colbertnation.com] to start writing /. summaries?

  • A 5500/275? Bizarre choice to represent Apple. As others said above, the Apple II would be the logical choice. But if going with a Mac, one of the original all-in-ones (anything from the 128k to the SE/30, really) would be good. But a 5500/275? Those were pretty crap Macs.

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