Oral history of British science

Edwards, David (Dai) (Part 3 of 13). An Oral History of British Science.

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  • Subjects

    Computer Software; Electronics

  • Recording date


  • Recording locations

    Interviewee's home, Preston

  • Interviewees

    Edwards, David B.G., 1928- (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Lean, Thomas (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 3: Comments on first duties as a research student: mending power supply; installing equipment designed by TK and GT; improving CRT store as a result of discussions, sometimes over lunch. Comments on problems and advantages of CRT memory, with comparison of random access CRT and serial delay line and AT's technique of optimum programming. [07:15] Comments on importance of CRT for computers. Remarks on programming: using programs to test hardware, receiving no training in programming, importance of mathematics at the time, subroutines. [10:20] Description of programming Manchester computer: errors, adding sound, watching CRT monitor, programming around errors in CRT store. [15:40] Remarks on errors in CRT stores, cooperation of Mr Allard of GEC in supplying CRTs, IBM's problem with pollen on their CRTs. Comments on relation between Manchester and GEC teams. [20:30] Remarks on other components, such as the EF50, EF55, EA50, initially coming from TRE. Remarks on: early history of CRT; FCW's move to Manchester with TK and Arthur Marsh, who left shortly after to be replaced by GT; state of computer when DE and TT joined the team in September 1948. [25:40] Remarks on early opinions of computing: exciting, useful to users. Comments on computer team at Manchester: FCW, TK, GT, TT, AR and DE. Remarks on being responsible for improvements to CRT, as published in a 1953 paper. [short pause] Comments on performing experiments to resolve a dispute with Canadian named Katz over working of CRT. [31:30] Remarks on different types of CRT memory and the Jan Rajchman designed RCA Selectron memory. Remarks on MN: seeing him occasionally, MN's Mersenne prime program. Remarks on excitement of getting first program running. [35:30] Comments on MN's role in early Manchester computing, MN's Royal Society grant, MN deciding to work with FCW's computer. Remarks on later learning more about early days of computing. [39:20] Comments on working with Ferranti, including TT and Ianto Warburton [IW], on the Ferranti Mark 1: Remarks on differences in deadlines, progress reports, visits to factory. [44:20] Comments on users: AT's use of extended prototype, DE and TT staying overnight to ensure his programs ran smoothly; Gordon Black [GB], who worked on optics; official user service only expanding after Ferranti Mark 1 arrived. Further remarks on working with AT to transfer data from drum store, DE providing technical support with the CRT. Remarks on AT: stuttered, mind worked fast, pleasant if you could communicate with him. [49:00] Remarks on MN: senior, distant. Remarks on the two sorts of people interested in computers in early days: engineers interested in digital technology and desperate users with complex problems. Remarks on desperate users: GB, optics, Atomic Energy Agency, Met Office and crystallographers such as Derwood Crookshank from University of Leeds. Remarks on expecting aeronautical engineers to be interested but RAE favouring analogue computers. Further remarks on working with crystallographers. [53:15] Comments on later consulting for Hilger and Watts company, improving Ferranti crystallography equipment by using a DEC minicomputer to control instrument, with favourable response from the SRC and winning a Queen's Award for technical innovation. Remarks on working of instrument's checking facilities. [01:00:25] Comments on reliability of early computers; problems with power supply and CRT, preventive maintenance; fixed point arithmetic causing lost digits, as suffered by GB, solved by floating point arithmetic.[1:04:20] Remarks on programming difficulties. Remarks on: working with technicians in early days, helping other research students, cut and pasting his thesis together on paper for typing by secretary, occasionally dealing with Bursar on financial matters. Remarks on lab technicians Arnold Vaughan and another Arnold and workshop technicians who helped FCW and TT; research students in other areas, such as Peter Hoffman who moved over to computing. [1:10:10] Further comments on activities of lab technicians and importance of getting on well with them. Remarks on TT: did same courses as DE, applied to FCW for research at same time, travelled to Manchester by same train as DE from Wales. Remarks on working for FCW, urgency of work, anecdote about not switching machine off to solder new components. [15:40] Comments on TK: learning from his thesis while spell checking it, similarities to FCW, anecdote about TK throwing DE in at the deep end when designing magnetic drum transfer equipment, good relationship with FCW, senior PhD student, FCW and TK both trusting people to work once competence proved. [1:19:35] Remarks on GT, anecdote about DE rescuing GT's discarded computer notebook from bin and later presented it to Simon Lavington [SL] to assist in writing history, interested in work but with different interests to TK, left for Ferranti quite quickly. Remarks on AR, background at English Electric, work on multiplier. Remarks on limited knowledge of work of FCW, TK and GT at TRE, except for circuit design and a story about TK working in Canada. [1:25:50] Remarks on GT being excited by work. Remarks on knowledge of MN's work at Bletchley Park. Story about an IEE lecture where DE was questioned about claims of transfer of equipment from Bletchley Park. Remarks on history lectures for the IEE. [1:30:00] Remarks on secrecy of AT's homosexuality. Comments on MN's computing contributions: B-store, programmes on Mersenne primes leading to new instructions, consulted over Mark 1 machine code, MN's own original computer project not getting very far. Remarks on AT's contributions: design of random number generator, though pseudo random numbers proved better; provided teleprinter equipment. [1:35:50] Remarks on learning from TK's project report for TRE, never reading Von Neumann's 'First Draft', slow publishing of journals at the time, limited availability of published articles on computers and Moore School information. Remarks on reading other literature with TT, but deciding that original research was the best option.

  • Description

    Interview with computer scientist and electrical engineer David (Dai) Edwards.

  • Related transcripts

    David (Dai) Edwards 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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