Oral history of British science

Land, Frank (6 of 18). An Oral History of British Science.

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  • Subjects

    Computer Software

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  • Recording locations

    Interviewee's home, Ivybridge

  • Interviewees

    Land, Fred Frank, 1928- (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Lean, Thomas (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 6: Comments on LEO aptitude test: tough, quick; Mary Coombs [MC] on same course; lectures given by existing LEO team, such as programmers Leo Fantl [LF], John Grover [JG] and Derrick Hemy [DH], whose work on LEO initial orders was similar to David Wheeler's [DW] at Cambridge, and which FL later worked on; [05:37] taught rudiments of programming, in assembly code. Remarks on features of programming in assembler, including symbolic codes and subroutines, influence of DW and Maurice Wilkes at Cambridge University in making a generally usable computer, unlike Manchester team. [10:00] Remarks on: Lyons engineer Lenaerts, who was sent to work with Cambridge team; limited hardware content of programming course. [12:09] Description of early LEO computer and its features: acoustic delay lines, arithmetic units, intricate wiring, small operating system with functions such as printing the log. [18:13] Comments on reliability issues: passed point of previous stoppage log; backup copy of computer contents made so that jobs could be restarted easily in event of problems. [20:02] Remarks on early days spent learning how programming worked in practice: discipline of checking programs as machine time was costly; value of checking as a learning exercise, such as learning from DH's clever programming; [24:23] working within limitations of computer performance and store. Remarks on input and output: punched cards, manual input, paper tape, printers; using binary punched cards, with check sum; David Caminer [DC] insistence of maintaining high programming standards and great attention to checking before programs entered into machine. [29:25] Remarks on DC: early Lyons career in systems research office; occasionally difficult to work with, stickler for perfection; hated and appreciated at the same time; became good friends with time. [32:18] Remarks on diversity of programming team: LF, mathematician; John Aris [JA] classicist; Mary Blood, languages; FL, economist; Lyon's search for a skill beyond mathematics; John Gosden's outstanding programming and software design skills, later an advisor to US government; inward looking nature of team, meaning they didn't notice approach of American companies; [35:55] rational thought processes and analytical mind sought by LEO; Peter Hermon [PH], who later developed British Airways computer systems. [38:21] Remarks on social life at LEO: clubs, sports grounds; DC's insistence that work came first leading to long hours; hierarchical nature of Lyons facilities, such as different canteens and toilets; privilege of eating in director's dining room when working at night. [41:15] Remarks on early career development at LEO: raise to management level, F grade, with its privileges. Short description of a typical working day, writing programs, checking programs, discussion with others. [43:45] Comments on managers: TRT: ex-Cambridge wrangler, recruited by Lyons in 1920s, father of LEO, frighteningly by naively intelligent – [46:52] with example of Ford motor company job; Simmons, company intellectual capital, transformed business processes; close contact with managers initially, leading to deeper understanding of systems. [50:55] Remarks on: talking with colleagues, such as JG and LF about work, checking each other's work; excitement of preparing tax tables when budget was released; [54:41] meetings with potential outside clients, such as Nivison’s Stockbrokers; constantly stimulated; seeing their role as improving jobs, until world changed when IBM and computer mass producers appeared putting the emphasis more on computers than their uses.

  • Description

    Interview with computer programmer and information systems theorist Frank Land.

  • Related transcripts

    Frank Land 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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