Oral history of British science

Furber, Steve (Part 2 of 5)

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  • Subjects

    Computer Hardware

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  • Recording locations

    Interviewee's office, University of Manchester

  • Interviewees

    Furber, Steve, 1953- (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Lean, Thomas (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 2 [1:40:57][Interview Two: 20 August 2012] Remarks on SF path between school and Cambridge University: SF completing secondary school early; SF taking a year between school and university working for The Nuclear Power Group at Radbroke Hall, Knutsford, and at McGill University in Canada, and at summer camp in USA; starting Cambridge in 1971. [01:28 pause-phone] Remarks on Cambridge: studying mathematics tripos, part 3 maths in fourth year, then PHD in Engineering; elements of maths tripos, run by Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics and Department of Pure Mathematics and Mathematical Statistics; SF favouring applied mathematics; relation of fluid dynamics and flight. [03:25] Remarks on lecturers: pure mathematician John Conway, who created Game of Life simulation; Lucasian Professor of Mathematics Sir James Lightill's lecture on how to crab an aircraft to land in crosswind; Lighthill's lecturing style and energetic personality; Lighthill later examining SF's Phd on intermittent flight of birds; description of John Conway, anecdote about his use of gown as blackboard duster and teaching style. [07:40] Remarks on: workload at Cambridge, nor very high, lectures and going through examples for supervisions; Cambridge mathematicians often having item to run societies; computing on maths course using a Modular 1 computer, designed by Iann Barron pre INMOS; idiosyncrasies of using Modular 1 computer, with its storage scope displays; anecdote about SF self built Sinclair calculator kit, which he never used on maths course; typically solitary nature of learning maths, anecdote about recent collaborative maths project. Remarks on life at Cambridge: anecdote about SF's dreary start when he was dropped off by his parents at Cambridge in St John's College; joining 20th Century Church Light Music group, where he met his wife to be; SF future wife Valerie Elliot, who was training as a teacher at Homerton; SF first meeting with wife, gentle start to relationship, marriage in 1977; SF joining lacrosse club. [19:00] Remarks on St Johns rowing club, the Lady Margaret Boat Clu : anecdote about why St John's were not being allowed their own rowing club; anecdotes about rowing as an eight, cox John Proctor's problems steering, not winning their oars in the May Bumps; SF finding rowing painful, probably causing back ache whilst later playing lacrosse; social life for remainder of university; description of May Bumps rowing racing on the River Cam. [25:58] Remarks on: friend Pete Hobson, now a Vicar, SF's best man and room-mate; accommodation arrangements at St Johns college, near former Cambridge University MP's room; anecdotes about 'Big' Bob the Porter at St John, Bob remembering SF years later when he brought colleagues from Acorn in Cherry Hinton to climb college tower; SF few thoughts on what to do after university, maths an obvious choice to study; changing nature of Cambridge Part 3 maths, anecdote about SF being retrospectively awarded a MMath recently. [32:50] Remarks on Part 3 maths: anecdotes about deformation of materials course, incomprehensible tensor mathematics, armour piercing weapons; anecdote about SF approach to exams, leading to high marks; project on intermittent flight of birds, SF leaning toward PD on fluid or aerodynamics, influence of James Lighthill's course on bio-fluid-dynamics; Shôn Ffowcs Williams, who later became SF's PhD supervisor, an expert in aeroacoustics; Lighthill referencing SF's project in a publication; [39:05] description of project findings on intermittent flight of birds, form drag, based on hypothesised models; SF first class undergraduate degree, pass in Part 3. [42:48] Remarks on PhD: James Lighthill leaving; moving to engineering to do a PhD with Shôn Ffowcs Williams; PhD inspired by animal flight and Lighthill's work based on data on insect flight from biologist Torkel Weis-Fogh; conventional aerodynamics ineffective for small animals, leading Encarsia Formosa wasps to fly in a different way; PhD thesis 'Is the Weis-Fogh principle exploitable in turbmachinery?' on applications of insect flight to jet engine efficiency; description of potential use of Weis-Fogh effect in jet engine compressor design; use of experimental rig to test theory; problems of Weis-Fogh effect engine surviving bird-impact; PhD still cited in different context. [49:55] Remarks on doing a PhD: theoretical basis of SF PhD; small amount of experimentation, expanded on in subsequent research fellowship; solving analytical fluid dynamics; simplified assumptions, such as Lighthill's use of Weis-Fogh's data, and SF's simplified modelling of turbine blades. [52:10] Remarks on supervisor Shôn Ffowcs Williams: adoption of Welsh version of his name; SF fellow research student Ann Dowling, now head of Engineerign at Cambridge; Ffowcs Williams's work on Concorde noise reduction; description of Ffowcs Williams' energetic character; anecdote about games of bowls after Emmanuel College lunches. [54:55] Remarks on: SF PhD in a slightly different area to Ffowcs Williams' other students; SF office in Wolfson Noise Research Unit; isolated nature of SF PhD work; fellow PhD students Ann Dowling and one who worked on anti-sound; primitive nature of computers, Computer Automation LSI-4, SF building own computer which he used for word processing, printing through LSI-4 daisy wheel printer; description of daisy wheel printer and it's advantages to IBM golfball typewriter printer; novel nature of SF word processing PhD. [1:00:20] Remarks on growing interest in computing:interest in aircraft, flying Gliders at Duxford; joining Cambridge University Processor Group [CPUG] c1976; SF hopes to build a flight simulator; SF buying chips by mail order from California and building own computers using Verowire and a Signetics 2650 processor; using computers for data logging; story about Hermann Hauser and Chris Curry planning a microprocessor consultancy, recruiting from CUPG, Hauser offering him a job, meeting in Fort St George pub with Hauser, Curry, Chris Turner; [1:04:55] early work on fruit machines drawing SF into Acorn, then called CPU Limited; fruit machine work drawing in Roger Wilson from CPUG; anecdote about SF hand building Science of Cambridge MK-14 computer, inspiring Roger Wilson to design the Hawk computer, later Acorn System-1. [1:06:30] Remarks on CUPG: meetings with speakers; anecdote about Roger Wilson finding bug in SF's computer; informal meetings; Emry Williams. helping SF with oscillator on his second computer; membership; microprocessors; simple nature of building computers in 1970s and 1980s, sparking large personal computer industry; comparisons between 1970s computing and today's Raspberry Pi and other computers; limitations of Verowire at high frequencies. [1:11:50] Description of how SF built his first computer: talking to people; microprocessor choice; use of program held in ROM to run various part of computer; hexadecimal input and display; programming in Hex, address auto-incrimenting; SF building cassette interface for software storage, EPROM blower, and other peripheral cards; obtaining components through CPUG and hobbyist electronics magazines such as 'Wireless World' and 'Electronics Today International', a role currently taken by Maplins; [1:16:58] making printed circuit boards [PCB] at home in sink with ferric chloride; SF enjoyments and earlier history building electronics, 741 Op-Amp for music; analogue and digital electronics; anecdote about appreciating the high speed of microprocessor whilst single stepping a program through searching for a bug over 45 minutes, using a TTL logic probe. [1:21:57] Story about how SF joined Acorn: realising late in research fellowship that he could make a living out of computing; SF circuits used in prototype BBC Microcomputer in 1981; SF considering career options, possibility of post-doc in Califronia; Acorn winning BBC contract convincing SF to join Acorn when his research contract finished. [1:24:37] Remarks on: Hermann Hauser first approaching SF to join CPU; SF joining Acorn formally at end of fellowship; Sf feelings when first offered work for CPU on fruit machines; description of SC/MP processor based systems used in electronic fruit machines and their use to control lights and mechanisms; anecdote about protecting fruit machines from interference from electric cigarette lighters; anecdote about people looking for patterns in testing of machines. [1:30:25] Remarks on early work for CPU Limited: early premises shared with Science of Cambridge in King's Parade; background of Science of Cambridge as lifeboat company set up by Chris Curry for Clive Sinclair; BBC's 'Micromen' programme about Chris Curry and Clive Sinclair; CPU and Science of Cambridge sharing space; move of CPU to own offices off Cambridge Market Square, before move to Cherry Hinton, now used as ARM headquarters. [1:33:50] Remarks on 'Micromen' compared to SF's memories of time: SF never meeting Sinclair; BBC researchers interviewing SF; artistic exaggeration of some episodes in history; differences between SF and Sam Phillips the actor who played him, such as smoking. [1:36:45] Remarks on: CPU and Science of Cambridge working in same building; Clive Sinclair not that interested in Chris Curry's activities. [1:37:20] Remarks on SF research fellowship: continuation of PHD Work; experimental rig; SF Rolls Royce research fellowship at Emmanuel College; balancing of research fellowship and CPU work, mad week building BBC Micro prototype; Acorn not paying him in money but equipment.

  • Description

    Interview with computer scientist, Steve Furber

  • Related transcripts

    Steve Furber interviewed by Thomas Lean: full transcript of the interview

  • Related links

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

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