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1970 Press Releases
St Catherine's Atlas Fellowship
Computer Weekly: 04.06.70
J. E. Doran, recently of the Department of Machine Intelligence and Perception at the University of Edinburgh, has been elected to a research fellowship offered jointly by St Catherine's College, Oxford and the Science Research Council's Atlas Computer Laboratory at Chilton, Berks.
Using the Computer to Make Films
Finacial Times: 09.06.70
Auckland Star: 25.07.70
One of Britain's leading computing centres may seem an unlikely place to find a team pioneering new techniques of film-making. But a score of British schools have lately been shown a series of short films on thermodynamics entitled Change and Chance produced entirely within a computer. The techniques has immense possibilities in management - in simulation, research, training, even marketing, for example.
This team, believed to be the first in Britain to make computer films, is with the Science Research Council's Atlas Computer Laboratory near Chilton in Berkshire. Change and Chance, its first full scale production, is an ingenious portrayal of Second Law of Thermodynamics, planned as part of the Nuffield A-level physics Project. Animated sketches generated by the computer are used to depict the throwing of dice many thousands of times - something the professional animator would find extremely difficult to do.
But situations quite impossibly expensive to model in any other way - say events too fast to follow - can be simulated by computer animation. What is more the Atlas Laboratory's technique, although embryonic, is cheaper, says Bob Churchhouse, than film made by professional animators. Churchhouse, deputy director and head of programming group, which includes the team working on computer animation, puts the cost of his film at between $107 and $643 a minute. These prices are expected to fall. The cost of human animators ranges from $57.86 a minute for the simplest work (like rolling titles) up to $2143 a minute for top-quality work, and has every prospect of increasing. Each minute of computer film needs about 30 minutes of Atlas time.
The machine's sketch of Goofy is a good example of its artistic talent. This talent resides in a program called GROATS (Graphical Output on Atlas using the SC4020), written almost wholly in Algol by F. R. A. Hopgood.
The Stromberg-Carlson 4020 is an automatic electronic microfilm recorder developed in the United States by a General Dynamics subsidiary.
Only three or four of these machines exist in this country at present, although Ferranti is developing a similar one.
It consists of a TV-type display tube but, unlike TV, draws its picture not from broadcast video signals, but from IBM magnetic tape. A cine camera, pointed at the vertical display with its film under automatic control, films scenes thus generated for the movie producer. All this paraphernalia is tucked away inside a black box.
The GROATS software package already allows the Atlas movie makers to use many of the professional techniques. For example, they can define the limits of picture area, so that the producer can employ zoom effects simply by changing these limits. They can even do a dissolve - when one picture goes out of focus while another comes in - but it's more like erosion Mr Hopgood admits for the computer is gradually replacing lines.
Solid blocks of black come a bit expensive on computer time, so they tend to stick with fairly simple line drawings. But they can superimpose a background.
GROATS offers a relatively simple approach compared say with Beflix (Bell flicks), the Bell Telephone movie language, which employs an ingenious alphabet of density values to portray light and shade and give the picture texture. >But with GROATS they can shield, window, rotate or reflect a portion of the picture, thicken or darken lines, and break the line up.
Complex symbols, too, can be generated in this way. With the help of another Atlas program called COCOA, Mr Churchhouse's group has produced concordances of Greek and Arabic texts.
Computer animation has already been used by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to simulate the behaviour of a spacecraft when rolling. From film generated this way they decided what was making it roll. Britain's Atomic Weapons Research Establishment at Aldermaston uses the technique to simulate the events of an explosion.
Gifford and Partners, consulting engineers to the tracked Hovercraft project, which is laying a stretch of experimental track north of Cambridge has used GROATS and the Chilton Atlas to make its own film of the ride of the hovertrain on its track - to help with track design. Another simulation, carried out this time by the Atlas team, generated events believed to have taken place 200 million years ago, when the earth's singe continent began to break up and drift apart, for a piece of film on continental drift for the BBC's Horizon programme.
But the Laboratory's big production so far is Change and Chance, the series of six short science films for British schools. These aim to show how chance arranges the energy among atoms in a crystal; that chance alone can account, for example, for the one-way flow of heat from a hot body to a cold one. It is an approach through the statistics of molecular chaos, introduced to the sixth former by a chess board and counters, the moves of which depend on the throwing of dice.
But whereas the student is given a board with 36 pieces, the film he is shown invokes a far bigger board with 900 pieces.
It tries to resolve any doubts in his mind that the game could ever reach a steady state. At one point a run of 20,000 moves is made in a matter of seconds, with the results displayed by the film as a histogram which oscillates rapidly as it approaches the steady state - Financial Times service.
Cardiff chair for Atlas man
Computer Weekly: 5.11.70
To fill a new post created at University College, Cardiff, Dr R. F. Churchhouse has been appointed professor of computing mathematics and director of the computing centre from January 1.
As head of the programming group and deputy director of the Atlas Computing Laboratory over the past seven years, Dr Churchhouse has been actively concerned with the development of university computing in Britain.
He was a member of the working party which produced the Flowers Report in 1966 and is currently chairman of the working party on software for the ICL 1906A computer.
Dr Churchhouse's interests in computing are particularly in the field of pure mathematics, information retrieval and the analysis of literary texts.
Rutherford Laboratory chooses a 360/195
Computer Weekly: 19.11.70
AFTER protracted discussions with ICL and Control Data as well as IBM, and a long wait for the Treasury decision makers to arrive at a conclusion, the Science Research Council has at last announced that the Rutherford High Energy Laboratory's choice of a new computer is an IBM 360/195.
In the end, the Rutherford chose IBM again because of the continuity this offered. They will be able to replace the CPU of their three-year-old 360/75 installation without unduly disrupting the computing service to the laboratory. The laboratory's computing staff have not made many alterations to IBM's operating software, which in this case is a combination of MFT2 and OS, but have added a considerable amount of specialised software, particularly for on-line work, for data capture from high energy experiments.
Because of the fact that CERN in Geneva has Control Data equipment, the Rutherford had discussions with Control Data on having a 7600. But to change to Control Data now, after three years' work in the development of their own software, would involve the laboratory in considerable expense, not to mention disruption of the service. In a sense, Control Data lost their chance at the time the 360/75 was ordered, by being able only to put a 6400 at a price comparable to the 360/75. The Rutherford also had discussions in some depth with both ICT and English Electric before the merger, and these were continued with ICL after it. But eventually it became clear to both sides that ICL had only the 1906A to offer as a machine comparable to the 360/ 75, and could not provide information on anything bigger, such as project 52.
IBM's delivery date for the Model 195 is about 12 months from now, and the Rutherford people are still hoping they can be ready for it then, though they are having to review their time scales. The order has been awaiting Treasury approval, having been passed by the experts of Mintech, since before the general election, and it will now be a race to get the £100,000 extension to the laboratory's computer room built and ready in time. The total value of the new hardware will be about £3,500,000, and this time it will be bought and not rented. Initially the only hardware to be installed will be the CPU and two megabytes of main core, but part of the order is for IBM's new 3330 disc storage unit, which about a year later will replace two rented 2314 units.
A third 2314, which was purchased, will remain. The two drums in the existing configuration will also be replaced by IBM's 2305 fixed head storage unit, and the configuration will also have 12 tape units and four line printers among its standard peripherals.
Besides being used for experiments and research at the Rutherford Laboratory, time on the new installation will also be available to university and other research users via the Atlas Computer Laboratory, which is due to take delivery of its ICL 1906A next summer. The two laboratories, both part of the Science Research Council, are on adjacent sites at Chilton in Berkshire.
£3.6m IBM computer for U.K. atom centre
Financial Times: 17.11.70
BY TED SCHOETERS
BRITAIN'S Science Research Council, whose Computer Board. recently deplored the lack of a really big British-built machine for the universities, has now placed an order with IBM for the latter's super-scale computer. The £3.6m. IBM-195 will be delivered from a U.S. plant to the Rutherford High Energy Laboratory, Chilton, Berks, in the autumn of 1971.
It will be the mainstay of the central computing facilities provided from Chilton and will be used by Rutherford Laboratory staff working on the Nimrod particle accelerator.
SRC's Atlas Computer Laboratory, nearby, which houses what is probably the largest computer system ever built in Britain - the powerful but ageing Atlas built by Ferranti - will also take time on the new machine to extend its own computing services to universities and other research centres.
This is the second of these enormous machines to be ordered by Britain. The MeteorologicaJ Laboratory at Bracknell announced a few months ago that it is to set up a system built around a 195-the only machine, in its opinion, able to contain enough information to permit accurate long-range weather forecasting.
The Bracknell unit will provide valuable back-up to the new Chilton installation as it is being brought into service.
Chilton was a candidate for the big 1908A computer planned by ICL until the latter company cancelled this machine and started to re-design it last year.