Bletchley museum treasures vintage tech

Bletchley museum treasures vintage tech

Summary: ZDNet UK took advantage of a recent visit to Bletchley Park to uncover some of the thousands of items of IT heritage that the National Museum of Computing has in store

TOPICS: After Hours

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  • Acoustic coupler

    Acoustic coupler
    Prior to market liberalisation in the early 1980s, it was illegal to plug unapproved equipment into the phone system — if you could find a plug — and very difficult to get equipment approved in the first place. A common compromise was the acoustic coupler, which played data tones into the microphone and picked them up from the earpiece of a standard telephone handset.

    This was suitable for very slow speeds — 300bps or less — and was also very sensitive to ambient noise, being knocked, poor-quality microphones and many other ills. However, it was very flexible: combined with a Tandy Model 100 portable computer, it could give portable dial-up access from phone boxes, thus creating the very first generation of mobile data access.

    Photo credit: Rupert Goodwins

  • Anamartic wafer memory

    Anamartic wafer memory
    One of the ironies of computer memory is that multiple chips are made on one silicon wafer, expensively cut up and packaged, and then used next to each other in large numbers. Why not wire the chips together on the wafer, linking past ones that don't work, and just use that? That was the thinking by Ivor Catt, a British inventor, who sold his idea to Sinclair Research — thence a company called Anamartic, which got the results into production.

    Unfortunately, by the time the product hit the market in 1989, the cost of individual chips from the Far East was so low that there was no advantage in using what had proved to be a reasonably expensive way of doing things and Anamartic closed three years later.

    Photo credit: Rupert Goodwins

  • BT Merlin Tonto

    The Tonto was a rebadged ICL OPD — One Per Desk — an unusual project that saw UK mainframe company ICL take the internals of a Sinclair QL and rebuild them in a desktop computer that included telephony and a 1200/75bps modem. The idea was that this would be a universal office PC, with built-in Psion XChange software — word processor, database, drawing and spreadsheet functions — and microdrive data storage.

    The end result was surprisingly usable and on paper had a very good chance of establishing itself as a useful system. However, poor marketing and general bafflement saw it relegated to history's footnotes. Perhaps its most endearing feature was a voice synthesiser designed for answering machine messages; it had a vocabulary of a couple of hundred words with an office theme, but it was possible to make it say mildly racy things — "I am having my secretary under the table. Please call back".  

    Photo credit: Rupert Goodwins

Topic: After Hours

Rupert Goodwins

About Rupert Goodwins

Rupert started off as a nerdy lad expecting to be an electronics engineer, but having tried it for a while discovered that journalism was more fun. He ended up on PC Magazine in the early '90s, before that evolved into ZDNet UK - and Rupert evolved with them into an online journalist.

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  • Always pleased to see news about Bletchley. I was going to visit (again) this holiday period but the weather was too good!