Demand for CERN’s Mercury computer had increased rapidly since its arrival in 1958, and by 1960 it was time to impose some sort of order on the users: “The present informal arrangement where every programmer may contact any operator makes it impossible for the operators to work efficiently.” A Users’ Committee was set up (see the minutes of the first meeting), a reception desk was established and some rules laid down.
“Programmers have always the strong tendency to ask the operator to perform various emergency actions as soon as their programmes fail. If the operator follows such directions computer time is usually lost unnecessarily. If she refuses (as she is supposed to do), experience shows that people tend to argue. Consequently every effort will be made to have no programmer in the computer room outside normal working hours.” Any questions were to be directed to the Office of the Programming King, Mr Lake.
What is a computer? Why does CERN need the new ‘number crunchers’ anyway? These are some of the questions Lew Kowarski tries to answer in a special issue of the CERN Courier devoted to computing at CERN in 1972.
In his introduction he explains that high-energy physics is not just about hunting down and photographing strange particles, as though they were so many rare animals. Other articles give details of electronics experiments, bubble chamber experiments, data acquisition and analysis, mathematical computing applications in theoretical studies and more. But it is perhaps the advertisements that really capture the state of the art nearly half a century ago
Fans of vintage British TV science documentaries might enjoy this early precursor to Tomorrow’s World. On weekdays (when the outside broadcast cameras weren’t needed to cover sports fixtures!) the Eye on Research crew visited scientific laboratories and research centres to discuss topical issues.
This was the BBC’s first regular science and technology series; it broadcast over forty episodes on a wide range of subjects between 1957 and 1962 (they are listed on BBC Genome). Presenting live from CERN on 24 February 1959, we see Raymond Baxter deploying all his famous interviewing skills to help some distinctly nervous scientists explain their work to the viewers. The soundtrack jumps a bit, but it’s still worth a look.