Annual Report 1976-77


This report covers the year ending July, 1977.

The major activity of the Computing Service has been planning and preparing for the installation of the ICL 2980. This culminated in the delivery of the machine early in July. Installation and testing will follow and final contractual testing has to be complete before March, 1978. It is unlikely that the full tests will be achieved by this data but this should not effect the start of a service to research workers.


In June, Dr. C.J. Cheetham, the Programming Group Manager, resigned from the Computing Service and took up an appointment with ICL Ltd. Dr. Cheetham joined the service when the KDF9 was "on its last lap" and was largely responsible for the successful software developments achieved on the ICL 1906A. He also was responsible for much of the detail which was incorporated into the contract for the ICL 2980. With the approval of the general Board, the Committee has agreed to leave this post vacant temporarily and to recruit two staff at a less senior level.

Building Work

Throughout the year the building contractors, Johnson and Bailey, have been heavily involved with the construction of a new computer room to house the ICL 2980. Work has also been carried out on both the interior and exterior of the houses from 7-13 Banbury Road. These are now complete and work is proceeding on the interior of 15-19 Banbury Road.

It should, however, be recorded that one aspect of this work is still incomplete; the air-conditioning installation. Formal testing of this equipment in April showed omissions from its specification and modifications are only now being planned. Trials have, however, been conducted to demonstrate to ICL that the environment for the ICL 2980 can normally be maintained within their specification.

Existing Equipment

The ICL 1906A has continued to provide a satisfactory service throughout the year. Some interruptions, due to building activities have been inevitable, and most of these have been kept to a minimum. Building dust and dirt did, however, contaminated the exchangeable disc surfaces and the effects of this were noticed by users for about two months afterwards. Serviceability has, however, decreased since financial economies have resulted in there being no cover by ICL maintenance staff outside prime shift. Thus, faults which occur outside normal working hours sometimes result in extended periods with no service.

As mentioned in last year's report equipment which enables computer results to be made available on microfiche and microfilm has been purchased along with equipment for processing the resulting film. This has been installed and has been available to users since Easter. The service is proving popular; and it is hoped that it will eventually be extended to enable graphical results to be incorporated as well as text.

Equipment in Departments

As part of its policy to enable computing to be available to workers as conveniently as possible, the Committee has again invited departments to make bids for consoles to be sited in those departments. A large number of replies have been received and most of them have been accepted. It will not, however, be possible to implement this extra facility until the ICL 2980 has been proved capable of running such a service.

The Computing Service has now reached an agreement with Dacoll Ltd., concerning the right to manufacture and market terminals based on the Computing Service design. An order for a further batch of terminals has been placed with the Company. These will be distributed to departments in due course.

Remote Computing

The installation of a second CDC 7600 computer at the University of Manchester Regional Computer Centre was achieved early in 1977 and Oxford Users have been using that resource. This has proved to be a more convenient source of computer power than the installation at the University of London Computer Centre and usage of the latter has dropped. The combination of the two sites made 10% of the power of a CDC 7600 available, roughly equivalent to the power of the ICL 1906A.

Computing Teaching Centre

Staff and equipment are unchanged from last year but the demand for varied courses increases. As many as three courses are given a week during full term. Attention has now turned to the implementation of Computer Aided Learning (CAL) courses and seven topics have been tackled so far. These are all of a statistical nature and courses on Linear Regression and Harmonic Analysis are proving popular.

Attention is also being given to helping users determine the characteristics, capability, (and cost) of microprocessors. A considerable stock of reference material is held at the Centre and demonstration chips can be examined and used. It is hoped to give courses on this topic next year.

Many junior members contribute to the running of the Teaching Centre and varied projects are undertaken. Thus, surveys of population movements in the Gilbert and Ellice Islands and in East London have been made, a study of "Suppressed Aerial" design has been undertaken in conjunction with the British Aircraft Corporation: a comparison of medieval melodies has been attempted using data smoothing techniques.

Computing in the Arts

Courses on computer applications in the Humanities have continued this year with practical work making small concordances. Information retrieval methods have been incorporated in all of them. More than ? students attended the courses on the programming language SNOBOL. More attention has also been given to statistical studies of literary style and a new package (OXEYE) made available for stylistic analysis of English text.

Our library of texts in computer readable form expanded rapidly with the acquisition of the LIBRI archive of classical texts from Dartmouth College, New Hampshire. Later in the year the Oxford Archive of English literature was started; this will act as a clearing house and depository of English texts in machine readable form. Texts will be held in a standard format, and made available to research workers as required. Only copying charges will be incurred by users.

It is interesting to note the wide range of subjects which are being tackled by users: verse scansion of Latin hexameters and Sanskrit poetry, an analysis of Celtic coins including findspots and physical characteristics, thematic analysis of 3000 pieces of music written for the Lyra viol, and a collective biography of teachers in Italians Universities in the XVth century.