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60 Years of Business Computing Started With Tea Shops 89

Posted by Soulskill
from the at-a-steep-price dept.
theshowmecanuck writes "The Telegraph has an article talking about the 60th anniversary of The Lyons Electronic Office I (LEO I), complete with an old video from the mid '50s about LEO II. The LEO I was the first major computer business system. It was installed at a large catering company in the U.K. named J. Lyons and Co. that operated a chain of tea shops among other business interests. So, blame them or praise them, November 17, 2011 will mark 60 years since the day in 1951 that the Brits started the age of business computing. All hail our tea- and biscuit-powered computer overlords."
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60 Years of Business Computing Started With Tea Shops

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  • Minecraft (Score:5, Funny)

    by Deathnerd (1734374) on Friday November 11, 2011 @05:33PM (#38030156)
    My first thought when watching the video? "I can totally make that in minecraft..."
  • by Anonymous Coward
    What the fuck? Seriously, what. the. fuck.
    • by antdude (79039)

      Ditto. How do we get rid of it? I couldn't find the options to remove it. :(

      • by RockDoctor (15477)

        How do we get rid of it? I couldn't find the options to remove it. :(

        The option isn't in the standard options. what you need to do is submit several dozen stories (they don't necessarily need to have been accepted), contribute a few thousand comments, and keep your karma at "excellent" for a decade or so. Then you'll be offered an option : "As our way of thanking you for your positive contributions to Slashdot, you are eligible to disable advertising. "

        It might only take 5 years, and only "very good" karma

        • by antdude (79039)

          [sighs] I wonder if we can block it with Ad Block Plus. Hmm!

          • by RockDoctor (15477)
            That may or may not work, but I believe the intention of the site's managers is to encourage improvement of the standard of debate on the site.
  • Book reviewed (Score:5, Interesting)

    by frisket (149522) <peter AT silmaril DOT ie> on Friday November 11, 2011 @05:41PM (#38030240) Homepage
    I reviewed Georgina Ferry's book [slashdot.org] "A Computer Called LEO: Lyons Tea Shops and the World's First Office Computer" for /. in May 2003.
    • by Mark Hood (1630)

      It's a good book (as you stated) and I bought it off the back of that review...

    • Great read - I'll have to dig out my copy and reread it.

      I remember being quite blown away by the use of mercury delay lines for storage - not exactly environmentally friendly, but a hell of an idea for the time.

      Now if only Tony Wedgewood Benn hadn't been allowed anywhere near the computer industry in the 1960s...

      • by Anonymous Coward

        The LEO in the London Science Museum will never be powered up because the mercury has been removed from the delay lines on grounds of health and safety. There is also a TNMOC project to rebuild EDSAC that is currently struggling with the need to replace the mercury delay lines with something less toxic.

        I can recommend the book.

      • The history of the Lyons company [amazon.co.uk] is pretty interesting too.

    • by RockDoctor (15477)
      I was thinking to myself ... there was a programme on BBC Radio 4 a few years ago about LEO and it's context, and I was wondering if there was a podcast of that. The dates you give would be about right for the (putative) podcast(s) to be derived from the same book. Do you know of it's existence?

      [Update] My searching reveals the list goes from "A Brief History of Mathematics" to "A History of the Brain" without passing through "A Computer Called Leo". Unless you know of other lists.

    • Loved that book. One interesting thing was the huge difference in sales for IBM computers vs UK vendors. There was/is a cultural difference between the US/UK that meant IBM sales reps had an easier sell in their home market than Leo sales reps.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 11, 2011 @05:42PM (#38030248)

    To this day, the Yanks haven't made a dent in Britain's total domination of the crumpet industry.

    • by blair1q (305137)

      Seriously?

      You imagine the largest single seller of "english muffins" on the planet isn't McDonald's?

      Really?

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Muffin != Crumpet. Seriously.
      • by ledow (319597)

        Any foodstuff with a nationality in it's name will never have been heard of by people within that nation.

        English muffin. Someone once tried to tell me about "English cucumbers" (which apparently have no skin - what the hell?). The French call custard "Creme Anglais", etc. Italians have an ice cream called Zuppa Inglese (when we've never had any such thing).

        None of which you'll EVER find in an English restaurant at all.

        • by kenh (9056)

          Canadian Bacon

        • by Nursie (632944)

          "English cucumbers" (which apparently have no skin - what the hell?)

          Likely a way of preparation - For a traditional tea you may take the skin off the cucumber before putting it into the delicate little sandwiches you serve.

          Of course, IMHO, this takes away all the taste the (already watery) cucumber has left.

        • by blowdart (31458)

          Actually, being a brit in the US I can answer this. English cucumbers are different, it's down to variety. The US cucumbers tend to be more knobbly and thicker skinned, and need peeling. The English cucumbers are what we'd get in the UK, sold sealed in plastic, thin skinned and go in my gin and tonics.

          Don't get me started on bacon.

  • It is better to go 3 days without tea, than a day without gcc.
    -- Ancient chinese secret.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    "60 years since the day in 1951 that the Brits started the age of business computing."

    Sshhh! You'll upset all the yanks who think they invented everything.

    • by fsckmnky (2505008)
      bah .... We don't think we invented *everything* .... but we did invent the idea of not paying all your crazy repressive taxes.

      Now we have have our own crazy taxes, so feel free to return the favor. ;)
      • by xaxa (988988)

        bah .... We don't think we invented *everything* .... but we did invent the idea of not paying all your crazy repressive taxes.

        Now we have have our own crazy taxes, so feel free to return the favor. ;)

        That's OK, you don't make me pay your taxes.

        Although, you make my dual nationality friend who lives and works in England pay your taxes, which is strange.

        • by fsckmnky (2505008)
          It's a strategy called "convince the majority to piss on a minority" and sadly, works all too well on the public.
      • by xaxa (988988)

        This is a bit off-topic, but it's not the most interesting story.

        If you'd like to compare how much tax you pay with how much I pay:
        - go to ListenToTaxMan [listentotaxman.com] (put a salary in £ in the gold box)
        - add £800 to £2500, on average, of local tax ("Council Tax"), depending how valuable your house is.
        - add 20% of everything you buy (VAT), although 0% on some "essentials" like many kinds of food, books. And only 5% on electricity.
        - if you drive, petrol here is £1.34/L. About 80p of that is tax (5

        • by bolthole (122186)

          if you drive, petrol here is £1.34/L.

          and do note that comes out to about £5/US gallon. which is about $8/gallon.

          now try complaining about "high gasoline prices" in the US. (odd about the mangled bit before the pound sign. it isnt in my editing box)

          • by xaxa (988988)

            now try complaining about "high gasoline prices" in the US.

            Then try walking somewhere, and using public transport, as I did on my recent trip. People would walk up to me and ask if I was OK, or ask where I was visiting from. People who don't look poor mostly Just Don't Walk.

            (I asked the hotel receptionist for directions to an art gallery, and she recommended a taxi for a 900 metre walk!)

            • by mattack2 (1165421)

              or ask where I was visiting from.
              (I asked the hotel receptionist for directions to an art gallery, and she recommended a taxi for a 900 metre walk!)

              So you *were* visiting from somewhere else.

              (Translation: around half a mile. A meter is a little more than a yard, so ~= 2700 feet, a little over a half a mile.)

              • by xaxa (988988)

                or ask where I was visiting from.
                (I asked the hotel receptionist for directions to an art gallery, and she recommended a taxi for a 900 metre walk!)

                So you *were* visiting from somewhere else.

                Yes -- but I wasn't expecting people to be able to work that out based on my appearance and choice of inner-urban transport.

                (Translation: around half a mile. A meter is a little more than a yard, so ~= 2700 feet, a little over a half a mile.)

                900m is about 9 minutes brisk walk for me (100m/min).

                • Yes -- but I wasn't expecting people to be able to work that out based on my appearance and choice of inner-urban transport.

                  Welcome to the land of strip malls and automobiles, where sidewalks are too expensive to build, and only the dirt poor and Mexicans should be seen using their feet for anything.

                  • by baegucb (18706)

                    One of the guys I work with doesn't drive. He found he got offers of rides by walking along carrying an empty gas can.

      • by iserlohn (49556)

        Sigh... it wasn't about taxation - it was about lack of representation - the unfair taxation was only a symptom of the problem...

        BTW, that's the same thing that the OWS protesters are on about. They are spot on, while your corporate masters would like you to blame everything on taxes and start your own TEA party chapter.

        • by fsckmnky (2505008)
          No, sadly, the OWS protesters are not spot on. The problem is not wall street. The problem is politicians who, rather than use data driven decisions to do whats best for the entire country, continue to bow to special interests from both the right, and the left, in the name of self preservation. Then, after implementing "the next great solution to a problem that doesnt exist" ... fail to monitor the effects of said changes. Wall street is not the problem, "Roman Council 2.0 -- Bread and Circus" is to blame.
          • by iserlohn (49556)

            http://i286.photobucket.com/albums/ll117/sadloc/04reich-graphic-popup.jpg [photobucket.com]

            The problem is that fairness in society has been eroded in the name of profit and wholesale greed. This is in large part because those that had much to gain effectively took control of not only government, but also political discourse by controlling the media to hard sell the great supply-side and deregulation myth. I don't think you can interpret those numbers in any other way.

            I'm not expecting much from you, however. If you saw the c

            • Re:shhhh! (Score:4, Informative)

              by iserlohn (49556) on Friday November 11, 2011 @08:36PM (#38031664) Homepage

              Here's the original source graph from the NYTimes if anyone is interested.

              http://www.nytimes.com/imagepages/2011/09/04/opinion/04reich-graphic.html [nytimes.com]

              • by iserlohn (49556)

                And here is the original NYTimes article that presented the graph -

                http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/04/opinion/sunday/jobs-will-follow-a-strengthening-of-the-middle-class.html?_r=1 [nytimes.com]

              • by fsckmnky (2505008)
                That is an excellent graph of the problem ... but contains no insight into a potential solution, other than the date range in which the inequality occoured. The data from that chart, needs to be aligned with various other sources of data, in order to find what exactly the problem is associated with. It's not logical to review the data outlining the problem, then run off screaming "shit is all screwed up damnit fix it fix it fix it tax that f'cker over there more!" because taxing that guy over there more mig
                • That is an excellent graph of the problem ... but contains no insight into a potential solution, other than the date range in which the inequality occoured. The data from that chart, needs to be aligned with various other sources of data, in order to find what exactly the problem is associated with.

                  1979 is the year that Margret Thatcher got into power, followed in 1981 by Ronald Regan. There's the problem: the set of principles those two established as the norm - laissez faire, market economy, anti-union, low tax (for the rich), monetarism. Basically, if you look at any issue and ask What would Thatcher do? That's the problem right there. Do the opposite of what Thatcher would do and you're probably in the right direction for solving the problem.

          • by cjsm (804001)
            Sure its corrupt politicians - politicians corrupted by the wealthy. You talk like the politicians are equally corrupted by the poor and the rich. Bullshit. 99% of the corruption goes in favor of the rich, along with a few crumbs thrown by the Democrats to the poor and middle class. If the working and middle class had any power, we'd have had single payer heath care, instead of a giveaway to the insurance companies. There would have been real bank reform instead the watered down bills which basicall
        • by fsckmnky (2505008)
          FYI ... I have no corporate masters ... I am self employed. As for the TEA party, try to understand how, when your government is ineffective, the logical solution is less government, and more personal responsibility, not a larger, more ineffective government.
          • by swalve (1980968)
            That is the exact same logic homeopaths use. Less is more! "Is your house drafty? Your insulation is ineffective. Better install less next time!"
            • by fsckmnky (2505008)
              I think perhaps your emotions have clouded your logic. Homeopaths advocate the use of "a little bit more of the problem" to fix the "really large amount of problem." ... ie "hair of the dog that bit you." Which, when constructed into a proper analogy, would be "Your house is drafty ? You need to open more windows and doors."
              • by swalve (1980968)
                That's tea party logic, part two, of course: Deny, derail and nitpick. How about addressing the point? How is less of something more effective?
              • by Pope (17780)

                Homeopaths advocate magic to solve medical problems.

          • by iserlohn (49556)

            Wrong again. It's not that government is not effective.. actually it is too effective.. in furthering the military-industrial-financial establishment and transferring the wealth of the middle-classes to the rich...

            http://www.businessinsider.com/what-wall-street-protesters-are-so-angry-about-2011-10?op=1 [businessinsider.com]

            The only people the benefited from the increase in productivity in the past 30 years are the rich. That's what the OWS protesters are angry about.

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by fsckmnky (2505008)
              It's no secret that business is motivated by profit. It's also no secret, that government is responsible for the environment in which business operates. Another non-secret, is that money flows towards those who treat it well. Businesses, large and small, use money, to obtain more money. This is why the rich get richer. They treat money really well. This is not a crime.

              Those who understand money is a tool, and a form of communication, will undoubtedly do better than those who do not understand as well how
              • by Forbman (794277)

                yes, but how many of said "rich" business people also benefit from the largesse of the government, but don't want to have that called "welfare"? That could be government contracts, subsidies, or the government picking up costs for those businesses... Obvious conditions are the government eating the cost to clean up after businesses have long gone out of business, storing their hazardous wastes for them, etc.

              • by iserlohn (49556)

                Just another round of talking-points and logical fallacies, but really, you're wasting your time.

                The protesters aren't saying "business is greedy ... we want money too". That might be what it sounds to the elite (and to you). To the rest of us, they are highlighting the unfairness in the current system and they want the voices representing the rest of us heard, not just the voices paid for by monied interests.

              • by sjames (1099)

                If so, why are they not called "Occupy Washington D.C"

                That has been tried to death. This time they figured they would explicitly point to the problem area that D.C. needs to fix.

                The message the OWS protesters are choosing to send to the public at large, is, "business is greedy ... we want money too" .... contemplate the irony here.

                The only irony is you being unable to comprehend a demand for fair distribution.

                FYI ... the OWS protest group has supposedly had $750,000 donated to it. How can you continue to cry about no opportunity, when you operate a business that has as low an overhead as camping in a public park, and generates that much in revenue ?

                If all of that cash went to a single person for a year's work, they still wouldn't match the bonus check of one of the people they're complaining about. If it went to 10 people for a year, it would make a decent income. Going to 100, it's not even minimum wage. Going to 1000, it's not even going to cover lu

  • by ColaMan (37550) on Friday November 11, 2011 @09:26PM (#38031990) Homepage Journal

    Kudos to the board of Lyons for being so interested in new technology.

    A large catering company, doing its catering thing, scopes out the current state of the art and decides to give 3000 pounds - a considerable sum in the '50s - and an engineer's time to a university to complete a prototype, then goes on to spin it into a pretty successful business in it's own right.

    That's a pretty big leap into the unknown for a catering business.

    • and people got trained that computing was a tool to solve business problems. not - the more familiar now - here's a bit of kit who can we talk into buying it... yet another great product mismanaged. there again the British government got it all wrong - just like the Enigma machine & Alan Turing - better to hound him to death (as a gay security risk); hand the technology to the USA and block any use of any UK based experience for 30 years...
  • by cvtan (752695) on Friday November 11, 2011 @09:30PM (#38032010)
    After showing off a pile of hardware the size of a small house, the announcer states, "...and it can be installed anywhere!".
  • by Animats (122034) on Saturday November 12, 2011 @01:55AM (#38033146) Homepage

    The LEO series continued for a while. A few mergers later there was the English Electric LEO Marconi KDF9, [wikipedia.org] an elegant stack machine closer to a Java VM than anything in current hardware. English Electric Leo Marconi was swallowed up by International Computers Limited, which was formed by the merger of Ferranti and International Computers and Tabulators, which had been formed by the merger of Powers-Samas and the British Tabulating Machine Company.

    This mess was partially owned by the British government. ICL was never very successful, and its main customer was the British government. It ground on until 2002, until it was finally sold to Fujitsu.

    • The main problem was government "assistance". Harold WIlson's soviet style policy of merging Spurs and Arsenal, turned out to be a bad idea, as in the car industry. Winston Churchill said "export or die" and when Mrs Thatcher decided to back the "die" option it was the final nail in the coffin. We are still sufering from that today.

      In reality the UK was massively ahead of the USA in software until Mrs Thatcher. Under her government there was a barrage of media coverage encouraging the public to believe tha

      • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

        Don't underestimate Thatcher - she freed us from the tyranny of the coal unions (and it really was a tyranny), and we have benefitted from that and other such acts ever since.

        • by lastx33 (2097770)
          Unfortunately, Thatcher and her City backers didn't believe there was any future in making things and pursued policies to run down industry in the UK. They believed, as has every government since and indeed most governments around the world, that the only thing that matters is the comfort of the spivs who make their fortunes by gambling in the casinos that are the financial centres of the world. The reason for this is clear - the spivs fund the political parties. Thus, off-shoring to the cheapest labour mar
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            At the start of Thatchers reign, coal was running at a huge loss, steel was running at a huge loss, the energy companies were running at huge losses, British Rail was running at a huge loss etc etc etc See where I'm going with this?

            There really is no point in propping up a domestic industry which has no market - find other, better things to do.

  • by Dynamoo (527749) on Saturday November 12, 2011 @02:07AM (#38033178) Homepage
    Lyons didn't just make tea and computers.. a couple of miles away from where I live is an underground munitions factory (ROF Elstow [bedfordshire.gov.uk]) which was operated during WWII by the Lyons company. It might seems daft going from tea to weapons, but Lyons tea shops were models of how to handle the supply chain and distribution, so it all worked rather well.
  • So then, considering what the British mean when they say "biscuit", would these have been the first computer cookies?

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