IT memorabilia in Windsor - Part One

Various artefacts

BCS is holding a series of events up and down the country to celebrate its 60 Year Anniversary. Part of the first event in Windsor saw BCS members bringing in some IT-related artefacts as talking points for members to chat about and to bond over. BCS Multimedia Editor Justin Richards was at hand to talk to some of these members about their nostalgia-inducing memorabilia, and here’s some of what he encountered.

Palm Pilot 3C

Carol Long MBCS brought in a Palm Pilot 3C, which was her pocket computer from 2000 - 2002. It was the device that she used to record the first minutes of the BCS Women’s Group on when they formed their first committee in the Institute of Directors in 2001.

She said: ‘At the time everyone was fascinated that I could have this really small computer in my pocket; it was my diary, had my contacts and I could type documents using the fold-up keyboard that went into the other pocket, so I could walk in with the power of what most had on their laptops, write up the minutes and then email them to people very quickly. So BCS Women were using some very modern technology right from the start, and proving that girls could use geek stuff!’

Palm Pilot 3C

When I asked her about the fold-up keyboard she replied: ‘It was wonderful - you can collapse it into four pieces and it slips into its own case. There’s one button to open it so you can get it out fast. It’s very robust and quite responsive. At the time, I was moving from mechanical keyboards to big mainframe keyboards. It was robust enough to cope with me having learned to type on card punches. It’s also very flexible and very light.’

The last time Carol used it was in 2002 when she changed over to a laptop because she was using Microsoft Project and got a mobile phone as well, so the benefits of the Palm Pilot had ended.

Carol Long is one of the founder members of BCS Women and sits on the Quality SG committee. She’s also served on the Hampshire and Milton Keynes branches, spent time on the central membership committee and she’s currently on the Risk and Audit committee for the group.

Fowler’s Calculator

Matthew West MBCS, who’s been BCS member for about 30 years, brought in a Fowler’s Calculator from before we had electronic calculators. Matthew explained: ‘Most people, engineers at least - and I’m an engineer - would use a slide rule, but the problem with a slide rule is the accuracy changes as you go down the slide, because it’s a logarithmic scale you’re using.

The Fowler’s Calculator is a circular slide rule and it compensates for the fact that the accuracy changes by having concentric circles, so the bits that would be very accurate are on the inside and have less distance to go and the bits that would have been less accurate are on the outside so there’s more distance, so you can be more accurate overall. Otherwise you use it in much the same way as a slide rule.’

Fowler's calculator

Matthew last used the device in anger in 1971 when he was doing his A-levels. This particular one was his father’s as his own broke. Apparently, it’s relatively easy to use, although you have to do a bit of mental arithmetic to help decide which ring you’re reading the answer from. Matthew says: ‘It would comfortably give you three, sometimes four, decimal places, which was good enough for what you’d want to do as an engineer.’