Annual Report 1977-78
The major activity of the Computing Service in the year ending July 1978 has been the slow and rather fitful implementation of the User Service on the ICL 2980. Delays have nearly all been due to the inability of the equipment provided by ICL to work to the contractual specifications at the times provided.
After delivery in July 1977, a date which was delayed due to industrial action, ICL attempted a formal trial on the computer in October but withdrew from the trial after 75% had been completed. A second attempt in January 1978 was successful and the computer was made available to users regularly, but in a limited way shortly afterwards. The equipment had also to pass a performance measuring test, the so called "Edinburgh Benchmark", by the end of February, a date which, because of the delays in delivery, was changed to March 13th.
At this date the Company had only succeeded in demonstrating part of the Benchmark and so were in breach of contract. The settlement of this breach is still not complete although terms of settlement have now been agreed and an agreement is being drawn up. The settlement takes the form of extra equipment, a somewhat discounted price and a further contractual agreement by the Company to provide extra software facilities on short term scales and in round terms the value of the settlement is about one million pounds. It is hoped that a regular and acceptable service to users will become available during the course of Michaelmas Term.
Building work on the Computer Centre was completed during the year with the exception of final modifications to the air conditioning plant. Whilst potentially serious this deficiency has not caused interruption to running and the plant should be complete in the summer.
In view of the enlargement of the Computer Centre and the increase in the range of facilities which the Service offers, the Committee expressed to the General Board the opinion that a greater degree of independence for the Service, in particular for Mr Scott, was called for. Following discussion with Professor Fox, Director of the Computing Laboratory, the General Board agreed and as of March 1st 1978, the Computing Service became a department in its own right and Mr Scott has been restyled Director of the Computing Service, a title in line with practice in other Universities. The Computing Service will continue to benefit from the advice given to prospective users of the Service by academic members of the Computing Laboratory.
As the ICL 2980 slowly provides a service to local users, so the time at which Oxford will offer a service to the seven other universities in the South East Region is also approaching. The first two universities, Kent and Southampton, will be able to do this towards the end of 1978
This, together with the Oxford usage of machines in London, Manchester and Cambridge has shown the need for increased co-operation between computing sites. The Computing Service has accordingly established a section whose responsibility is to sort out the problems of the users who try to use computers remotely. The staff visit other sites, deal with programming and operational problems and recommend ways in which such usage may be made more convenient. They are also responsible for documenting these changes.
The loss of one Senior member of the Service staff has had an increasing effect over the whole Service. At the time the vacancy occurred it was decided that in view of the very tight operational budget two more junior staff should be recruited instead of filling the senior post. This was the right decision at the time but it has become clear that it is still necessary to fill the senior post. It is hoped that it will be possible to fill this appointment in the course of the coming year.
The suspension and subsequent resignation of the Administrator has also had serious repercussions on the strain under which all the Service staff are working. The help afforded by the University Chest during the interregnum in particular the ? of Mr. B.T. Clinkard to act as temporary Administrator has been much appreciated and a permanent appointment is expected before the Michaelmas Term starts. The activities of the previous Administrator are being investigated by the police.
The Hardware Section of the Computing Service designed and built a Visual Display Unit for attachment to the University computers, choosing this development in particular as it would lead on to the ability to build similar terminals which would work on non-standard alphabets; this is now going ahead and terminals working in Cyrillic and Greek can be provided. The manufacturing and marketing rights of the design of the basic VDU have been licensed to an industrial company; so far royalties have amounted to just over £11,000.
Computing in the Arts
This year has been one of consolidation. Whilst the stream of research workers coming forward has not diminished, many of them now start by asking for facilities which are already available. As a consequence the lecture course "Computer Applications in the Humanities" was extensively revised and a book based on its content will shortly be published by Mrs Hockey. A joint grant for two years from the SSRC and the Computer Board has been made to fund the provision of a new package for concordance work which will replace the older package COCOA. An appointment has been made to this post and work has started on the design and implementation of the package. It is expected that the package will become an international standard for text analysis on computers.
? new texts were added to the English Archive which now includes a version of the first folio of Shakespeare's works, the complete poetical works of S.T. Coleridge, as well as an excerpt from "Goldfinger".
Additionally the University has purchased the works of four major authors from the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae, the entire corpus of Old English and eleven ? novels from the University of Manitoba. Further texts will be made available by local effort thanks to the Manpower Services Commission which has approved a work experience programme for three young people to work as data preparation operators for research workers in the Humanities.
This will temporarily ease the problem of making texts available to computers. Attention is now being turned to output facilities. Publishing on microfiche and computer typesetting are among the facilities being considered, and a joint project to output Japanese characters on the graph plotter is also in hand.
Computer Teaching Centre
Activity at the Computing Teaching Centre has continued and during the year more than 1,500 course attendances were recorded. Courses fall into one of three classes:
Two main themes of development are included in the third class, microprocessors and computer assisted learning. The Teaching Centre now offers two lecture courses on microprocessors, one on the hardware and applications including displays and demonstrations, the other on programming microprocessors and this includes the use of the processors themselves. An extensive collection of reference material is available and the staff of the Teaching Centre are available for system design.
Computer assisted learning is the technique in common usage at the Teaching Centre. Again a considerable quantity of reference literature is available and films have been made on a number of subjects including Statistics, Spectral Techniques, Programming in various languages, Computer Operating Systems, Numerical Methods and Microprocessors.
The staff of the Teaching Centre has remained unchanged in the year with a single operator and no technician. It is hoped that funds will be available from the Computing Service for the employment of demonstrators during the coming year.
At the same time one of the consequences of an SRC grant to the Department of Atmospheric Physics has been that the large lecture room, which is used extensively by the Teaching Centre, will not be available in the coming year. Building plans show an equivalent space being made available to the Teaching Centre by the summer of 1979 and in the meantime this opportunity is being taken to lay out the teaching facilities in a more rational manner.