10 things to celebrate about Swindon, No 6: The Museum of Computing

Thursday 19th August 2013

Swindon Museum of Computing

This post, as you can tell, is a very early post on this blog, featuring the Swindon Museum of Computing. I really need to have a word with my chum Simon Webb, get a guided tour, and redo it. But this will give you the idea.

computing museum logo - The Museum of Computing Swindon
Hmm. Not quite eh?
Hmm. Not quite eh?

Small it is – but it’s perfectly formed.  A real little gem tucked away in Theatre Square is The Museum of Computing Swindon.

I had a lovely little wander around wallowing in nostalgia as I went. Oh – the Commodore 64 – how I remember thee! My favourite game on that was wonderfully animated Trivial Pursuit. The TP character got super cross and he stamped his foot with impatience if you took too long to answer the question. There were all manner of other animations on it too. The pain in loading the cassette was worth it I reckon.

Then there was the BBC Micro – oh how I coveted one of those. And all the different Macs. Or Macintoshes as they were then. Remember the translucent coloured ones? How achingly cool were they? Well they’ve got one of those.  Amongst a whole host of splendid things.

It’s a bug’s life

There’s a lovely display and explanation of how the term ‘bug’ came into being which I’ve looked up on the internet – how fitting …

The term “bug” was used in an account by computer pioneer Grace Hopper,who publicized the cause of a malfunction in an early electromechanical computer. A typical version of the story is given by this quote:

In 1946, when Hopper left active duty, she joined the Harvard Faculty at the Computation Laboratory. There she continued her work on the Mark II  and Mark III.

Operators traced an error in the Mark II to a moth trapped in a relay, coining the term bug. This bug was carefully removed and taped to the log book. Stemming from the first bug, today we call errors or glitch’s [sic] in a program a bug.’ Which is really rather wonderful is it not? 

There is though evidence to suggest that use of the term “bug” to describe inexplicable defects has been a part of engineering jargon for many decades and predates computers and computer software. Hardware engineers might even have used the term to describe mechanical malfunctions. For instance,Thomas Edison wrote the following words in a letter to an associate in 1878:

‘It has been just so in all of my inventions. The first step is an intuition, and comes with a burst, then difficulties arise — this thing gives out and [it is] then that “Bugs” — as such little faults and difficulties are called — show themselves and months of intense watching, study and labour are requisite before commercial success or failure is certainly reached.

old poster advertising a pocket PC the size of a suitcase.
Osborne Personal PC

But hey – I reckon I prefer the explanation that the museum gives don’t you? It’s a much more interesting and poetic explanation!

A rather large personal computer

As I wandered round I saw a somewhat amusing poster advertising a ‘Personal PC’ that was the size of a small suitcase. Hmmm. Well it all had to start somewhere eh?

The museum puts on all sorts of special events, exhibitions and activities that lets the kids get really hands on so it’s a great place to keep them entertained and stimulated for a couple of hours or more at very little expense.

Find em on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MuseumOfComputing and see what they are upto.

See more in Ten Things to Celebrate About Swindon here.