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Tom Brooks: Memoir

Tom Brooks joined LEO as a programmer in 1963 as his first job after graduating.  After learning Intercode and later CLEO became working with Renold Chains and subsequently on a number of Post Office applications.  

After his days working with LEO became involved with the Marconi Myriad. He reports on the first experimental use of braille on LEO III at the Post Office led to more frequent use of Braille and how one of the programmers involved, Norman Verrill, in 1969, set up the "British Computer Association of the Blind".   They are the oldest computer association for blind and partially sighted people in the world.  By the time that the British Computer Association of the Blind was set up, the first System 4 machines could also support braille.  I have asked a friend for some details of the use of braille on those System 4s around the year 1970 to illustrate the continuity of development.

John Paschoud adds: “I don't know if I can add much to the Blind Programmers story.  I never actually met any (of the blind programmers), and I think it must actually have been when I was Ops SDPO at Barbican NDPS Computer Centre (which was trials and EE System4, rather than production and LEO326, with most of the programmer teams based at Docos House a short distance away).  But they were very similar to the barrel line-printers on the 326s at Charles House, Kensington CC.  The process involved fitting a rubber sheet about 0.5mm thick between the hammer array and paper, and removing the ink ribbon, so that printing dots in Braille code would leave raised dots on the paper.  Then adjusting the hammer force carefully so they didn't actually puncture the paper.

I used the same technique a few years later, on a much later timesharing mainframe (a DECSystem-10) because a completely blind little boy joined the Cub Scout pack where my wife was a leader.  So we found software to translate the text of some of the Cub Scout Handbook into Braille, and I made a Braille-print kit for our lineprinter and 'borrowed' it for a few evenings.”

Date : 2020

Creator : LEO

This exhibit has a reference ID of CH53394. Please quote this reference ID in any communication with the Centre for Computing History.

Tom Brooks: Memoir

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