DEUCE - Happy Days - Happy Memories - Thin Nenseth

On holidays in England this summer 2006 my brother-in-law showed me how he found my name on an Internet WEB-site, within the history of DEUCE. Very interesting, I owe many happy days and memories to DEUCE and the fact that The Central Bureau of Statistics in Oslo 1958 had decided to buy this computer in cooperation with 'Norsk Regnesentral' (Norwegian centre of Computing, part of the Central Institution of Industrial Research, known as 'SI').

At the time I was maintenance engineer at SI's Norwegian Assembled Computer 'NUSSE' in Oslo, and was asked to go to Kidsgrove to learn the maintenance of the DEUCE. Being single and 'free' I accepted gladly. Derek Royle was in conference with the staff around NUSSE in this connection, I went through a little 'Exam' by him, remember particularly the question about the shape of a pulse train signal when sent in on a capacitor/resistor connection to the control grid of a valve. I think my answer granted me the trip to Kidsgrove in the summer 1958 which completely shaped my future life.My boss at the time was Civil Engineer Thomas Hysing, and I'm thankful for his confidence in my competence. He was in charge of the building of NUSSE, the first Norwegian built digital computer for commercial use, ready for practical use in 1955. So far about my background in the way of computers.

I arrived May-June 1958 in Stafford by train from the World Exhibition in Brussels, and was met by a Mr. Crosby from the EE offices in Kidsgrove. During the DEUCE course I stayed at Alsager Arms Hotel and got well introduced to English Pub Life. I felt very welcome there also with the Host and Hostess, Mr. And Mrs. Spoonley, though I did get locked out of his hotel on a couple of late nights out, I survived the cold autumn nights in the hotels boiler-room then (up to now a secret of my own). Allowed to take part in dart games I was labelled The Whaler, possibly due to my success in hitting a target of such a size. At this pub lived also Mr. Chatterley in the Drawing Office, and he kindly took me to the works and back every day in his little Austin.

I remember Arthur Bailey as a very kind, polite, patient and knowledgeable tutor, impressing on us that 'an enormous amount of thought has been put into the DEUCE'. As a guest to English Electric and the course I was invited to dinner with his family at his home, a very friendly gesture. I remember also being invited to something like an EE-boys home club enjoying the company of some of the DEUCE connected people. During the course I feel I learned a lot, not only about DEUCE, but about computers in general, and some English language as well , expressions like 'A horse of a different colour' or 'A different kettle of fish' is probably remembered by other members of the class as well. Gordon Jones and wife also made me very welcome in their home, and I don't easily forget a racing ride in the high back seat of his sporty MG car. As non-member of the Company I some days joined the classes dressed in my bright blue trousers and a bright yellow shirt, some days also wearing my Norwegian knitted (by mother) sweater in a striking black white pattern. Mr. Trundle grumbled about this to the staff, but was told by his subordinates (I heard through my connection in the drawing department) that he is a CUSTOMER, we can't do anything about that. Anyhow, when the course-picture was shot I seem to remember the course having been instructed to dress more formally. During a practice part of the course I met Bob McCall who was engaged in checking out a DEUCE machine that I think was due for Norway. In putting into practice the wisdom from the course I remember that I was presented with a problem of a pulse train input to a valve control grid, very similar to my 'exams test' under 'The Royle Man' in Oslo. I won a point indicating that the diode probably was faulty, a replacement fixed the fault. To this day I have been wondering if this was a 'framed' fault to test my capability. Bob McCall later came to Oslo to install our DEUCE and help running it in. While there he lived in Sandvika near Oslo, and we became great friends, he will probably remember trips in my old motorboat 'CHRIS-THIN' in the waters of Oslo harbour.

Bob McCall later took my wife, Christine, nee Tabinor, and myself off to Stoke Station to the start of our honeymoon, London-Paris-Copenhagen-Oslo, in 1960. I met Christine in the English Electric, Kidsgrove Works canteen, she worked in the drawing office. She was very young, and I got mentioned as "The Cradle Snatcher". We now live in my old home town, Stathelle, and have a lovely family. But that is a different story. You can see us in the works magazine 'English Electric and its people', Volume 15, July 1960, page 30, I wonder if there exists some kind of company archives holding all the issues of this magazine, I've tried to search the internet, but with no results. I think it was during this practice part of the course that I met Brian Bispham, very impressed by my strange forename he usually met me with the greeting ' How's Old Tin today'. I have a feeling that this greeting spread through the DEUCE gang. ( By the way, my forename is pronounced like the word 'tean').

John Newman also was in Oslo during the installment of Deuce, making an IBM input/output card machine work with the DEUCE. During the test runs I was able to point out a suspicious timing case in the communications between DEUCE and the IBM, I was appraised by John for having a point there. In concentrating the fault search on that timing, the problems with the peripheral unit was fixed. I felt a bit proud! I remember that Jack Richardson also visited the Oslo site once, perhaps during an English Electric inspection of the plant. Frank Thompson was one of the inspectors once, a very thorough man, making odds about the dusty conditions of our DEUCE, which he felt he had to point out in his report. I don't think he found much else to grumble about. Otherwise I had the impression that he enjoyed the visit. Another memorable visiting character was big Luigi Marciano humming around on a then popular tune repeatedly singing 'I can't help it- - - '(I don't know if it was his usual comment when coming across intriguing faults in the DEUCE). I had the impression that he was a gourmet type concerning food, one favourite obviously being ' pommes sautče'.

One of the difficulties with the running of DEUCE was that the machine was 'eating' radio valves. The valves could be OK for analog signal handling, but the smallest amount of noise spikes would disturb the handling of digital signals. The search for unstable functioning valves was on at every maintenance run, slight tapping in suspected areas was a standard method apart from bias testing. The drum was also a very sensitive unit, the wiper contact on the potentiometer in the head positioning servo tended to become unstable. I can't recall wether we had a standard routine for dealing with that. When programs were run this mechanism got a heavy beating! The other difficult thing was the mercury memory, contact between mercury and the send/ receive crystals seem to deteriorate with time. Working with mercury as we did then would not have been allowed by health authorities now. Odd Knutsen, a maintenance engineer who took over after I left (for a job in the HYDRO company near my home town), has to me uttered suspicion to mercury as a cause of later health problems. I also had Ola Grindal with me on the maintenance of DEUCE for a time, he also left for a job at the HYDRO company. We both ended up in work with instrumentation of automatic process control, in my case I became engaged in the introduction of computers in process instrumentation.

Reading P.J. Walkers talk of 1995 I very well remember quite a few of the maintenance problems I had with DEUCE. When he mentions the battery radio picking up the DEUCE's radio waves I remember using this effect to discover faulty actions hearing changes in the radio wave patterns when adjusting supply voltage levels while testing a French process control computer in my later job in the Hydro company. Well these are some of the memories that spring to mind thinking back about an interesting time of my working life.

This summer 2006 I came by this old site of English Electric at Kidsgrove, it was sad to see the old unused buildings in such a rusty dilapidated state with broken windows and surrounded by wild growing weeds.

Yours - Thin Nenseth - Previous DEUCE maintenance engineer.