Oral history of British science

Brooker, Tony (Part 10 of 14). An Oral History of British Science.

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  • Type


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  • Subjects

    Computer Software

  • Recording date


  • Recording locations

    Interviewee's home, Thorpe-le-Soken

  • Interviewees

    Brooker, Ralph Anthony, 1925- (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Lean, Thomas (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 10: Discussion on origins of Autocode, work with DW, problem of machine limitations, examples of instructions, trade off between speed and performance, [06:12] problem of attention to detail in machine code programming, differences between mathematicians and engineers notation, examples of standard problems dealt with through procedures. [09:10] Comments on early users of the computer service, typically engineers and scientists, later social scientists, later importance of data analysis to political scientists at Essex University, popularity of Autocode amongst users, external users such as ICI and other universities, copying of Pegasus Autocode by others, spread of computing to other Universities, users from Nottingham and Leeds Universities. [14:27] Remarks on use of computers by political scientists at Essex and X-ray crystallographers at Manchester. [mic adjustment] Remarks on leaving users to get on with it after instructing them. Remarks on other staff in the Manchester computer service: woman assistant recruited by AT; 2 assistants recruited by FCW, one who left to Aldermaston, other Roger Livesy a civil engineer; later civil engineering colleague. [22:45] Remarks on users becoming interesting in computers for their own merits not just their use, such as David Howarth. Remarks on taking over computer service tasks from AT, taking users to AT. Story about AT reinventing optical theory to help a lens designer from British Instrument Research, who later went to work in atomic energy computing. [29:12] Remarks on: an optic post-doc student from another department; external users from other universities and companies, such as Metro-Vickers, Elliott Brothers and ICI, who took him on as a consultant. [31:52] Story about secret work for external computer customers such as Avro and Fort Halstead. [34:51] Remarks on Mark 1* computer and differences from earlier machine, users from other places, feeling patriotic about British atomic bomb, sanctions against South Africa and Iran, cold war importance of nuclear weapons. [40:47] Remarks on constraints on computer use. Comments on relationship with engineers, such as TK, reference to Imperial College adder design, limited interaction. Comments on TK: liberal minded, nice but could be ruthless if people weren't up to job. [45:17] Remarks on FCW, with a story about TB's communist past precluding him doing secret work. Story about an attempt by Sandy Douglas [SD], who worked for an American company on a computing problem routing BP tankers, to get TB to help recruit staff and FCW's reaction. [52:05] Comments on AT: Derek Jacobi portrayal, telling TB he was being prosecuted for homosexuality, physically strong, trial and female hormone treatment. [1:01:22] Remarks on intellectual competition between engineers and mathematicians, status of TK, FCW and AT as stars of the scientific establishment. Story about taking difficult problems to AT and AT's interest in dappling of cows. [1:05:05] Comments on formal lunches with FCW, TK and AT, AT's ideas about gravity, talking about hovercraft, meeting James Lighthill, meeting PB. [1:09:29] Story about dealing with FCW and PB to obtain research assistants. Remarks on having little to do with Dai Edwards' work on hardware, story about recruiting Keith Bowden [KB] to Essex from Manchester. [short pause to sort out TV noise] [1:14:46] Remarks on talking to TK rather than DE about design of computers, KB and working on programming peripherals such as X-ray crystallography. Remarks on DE's concentration on hardware compared to TK's overall perspective. Remarks on enjoying time at Manchester: closeness to climbing sites; marriage; finding it more friendly than Cambridge, where he didn't have a college but gained an MA. Remarks on lunches at Cambridge University.

  • Description

    Life story interview with computer scientist Tony Brooker

  • Related transcripts

    Tony Brooker interviewed by Tom Lean: full transcript of the interview

  • Related links

    Visit this interviewee's page on the 'Voices of Science' web resource

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