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Robin Davies: Reminiscence

Robin Davies, LEO Engineer then joined IBM.  

For my first 15 months at 24 Minerva Road I worked in post-design services. The LEO III/F (sold in two versions as Leo 326 and Leo 360) was working but not at full published speed. My job was to assist Tony Williams in making the modifications necessary to reach that speed. All this while the first customer machines were built and being commissioned at 42 Minerva Road. This continued while a number of them were shipped.

I don't have any documentation. All I do have are two flowcharting templates, my toolbox, my miniature drawing board and a lot of very happy memories.

There has been talk of an experimental machine, nicknamed LEO IV, but I knew nothing of it at the time, and still don't. The System 4/50 was not actually designed at Minerva Road. The logic of the machine was that of the RCA Spectra 70/45. The project team merely converted the circuit boards to use UK-sourced components. The only machine designed at Minerva Road after LEO III/F was the System 4/60. The architecture was by Maurice Blackburn and me. Tony Williams led the logic design team.

One major sub-assembly, the Standard Selector Channel, was working on 16 December 1968, the day everything was switched off and LEO engineering in London stopped dead. The 4/60 used a few design features pioneered by the later LEO machines. I stole a bit of it which is now in your museum.

My days of writing stuff that was secret ended years ago. Oddly enough it started at Minerva Road in a rather strange way. One day when Maurice and I, each in our adjoining offices (his had the window!) were at work on the System 4/60 architecture, we had an unexpected visitor - a gent from the EELM Patent Department in Kidsgrove. The idea of patents was new to me, but he explained what they were and asked if we had any ideas that he could Patent. Apparently Lord Nelson was in the process of selling EELM to ICT and he wanted the company's worth to be maximised. 

Patents could be valued and added to the balance sheet. After he left, we had a think and produced a few outline suggestions which we sent him. He chose one that he found to be suitable, we wrote it up, and it was duly published. I think I still have it.

I was interested to read about Cynthia Reid, who was at Minerva Road when I arrived. She was the only female engineer there, working alone on the Lector mark-sense document reader (great LEO invention by the way, and a classic example of user-driven innovation). Anyway the joke amongst the younger engineers was that the lady working on the document reader was called 'mis-read'.

At about the same time, there was a tale told about Len Lenaerts which may or may not be true. Apparently he was working on a the design of a paper tape reader that was ten times faster than the current (Elliot’s) one being shipped with LEO III. However unlike its predecessor, its paper output did not drop into a steel bin. Rather, it became so statically charged that it suspended itself in the Earth's magnetic field. It is said that the first time he ran it the paper stream went across his office, out of the door, down the corridor and finally piled itself up on somebody else's desk. Probably an exaggeration. 

Date : 2020

This exhibit has a reference ID of CH60186. Please quote this reference ID in any communication with the Centre for Computing History.

Robin Davies: Reminiscence

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