Punched-card computing reborn: the Virtual Flossie experience
How do you present one of the UK’s first commercially successful business computers to a modern audience in a meaningful way when the system is just too big to display?
That was the challenge faced by The National Museum of Computing (TNMOC) on the 60th anniversary of its ICT 1301 – a 65-square-metre giant nicknamed Flossie with an incredible story that deserved to be told.
The 1301 has everything: designed by a genius computer science engineer; worked on by a leading campaigner of women’s workplace rights; targeted by terrorists; TV and film roles… oh, and next-generation technologies that for the first time put computing in the hands of ordinary users.
We wanted to present the 1301 and Flossie using an experience as human as her name.
The answer was an interactive, online experience called Virtual Flossie that gives visitors the opportunity not just to see but to use this titan.
In a six-month project working closely with TNMOC’s skilled programming volunteers and the enthusiasts who’d operated and saved Flossie, I helped produce a precise, 3D, interactive model that visitors can view in 360 degrees online.
We transferred authentic, 1960s punched cards to digital, allowing visitors to load and execute them by adjusting Virtual Flossie’s switches and dials. Best of all, visitors can span the virtual and physical worlds by outputting their results to paper punched cards to take home – no mean feat!
Finally, working with the team and original sources, I crafted an online story around Virtual Flossie using original materials including never-before-seen 8mm video footage of an ICT 1301 at British Rail in Peterborough in 1962, period photos and video interviews with those whose lives are entwined with the 1301 – and Flossie herself.
The National Museum of Computing
Concept development and evaluation, content strategy, source research, copy and script development, system development and evaluation, media development, video editing, web-site design and development, project management and delivery, social-media integration.