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Ferut

The Manchester computer arrived at the end of April, 1953, and was called Ferut for "Ferranti, University of Toronto". Unfortunately I never used this computer, only seeing it on visits to Toronto and later in Ottawa after it was moved to the National Research Council. I can recall being shown Ferut in Toronto by Wally Fraser who was the Defence Research Board's representative in the Computation Centre. I have nothing but the fondest memories of Wally. He remarked once that he was often so fatigued after a day's work that he dreaded driving home in the evening through the Toronto traffic. He died at a relatively early age of a heart attack.

It was possibly Wally who gave me a copy of Chapters from the Programmers' Handbook (Edition 2) for the Manchester Electronic Computer (Mark 2), a report of some 70 pages reproduced on paper 8 1/2 inches by 13 inches and dated March 1953. This manual may have replaced the ad hoc manual prepared from memory by Dr. D. G. Prinz of Manchester when he was attending the Association for Computing Machinery meeting in Toronto. I must have read this manual fairly carefully as there is considerable underlining and many of the programming examples have been checked indicating presumably that I had studied them.

The long opening paragraph entitled "General remarks on electronic computers" indicates how little was understood about computers at that time and might be quoted in full:

Electronic computers are intended to carry out any definite rule of thumb process which could have been done by a human operator working in a disciplined but unintelligent manner. The electronic computer should however obtain its results very much more quickly. The human operator with whom we are comparing it may be imagined as supplied with various computing aids. He should have a desk machine, paper to write his results on, and more paper on which is written a detailed account of how this calculation is to be carried out. These aids have their analogues in the electronic computer. The desk machine is transformed into the arithmetical unit, and the paper becomes the "information store", or more briefly the store, whether it is paper used for the results or paper carrying instructions. There is also a part of the machine called the control which corresponds to the computer himself. If his possible behaviour were very accurately represented this would have to be a formidably constructed circuit. However we only required him to be able to obey the written instructions and those can be made so explicit that the control can be quite simple. There remain two more components of the electronic computer. The are the input and output mechanisms, by which information is to be transferred from the outside world into the store and conversely. If the analogy of the human computer is to be maintained these parts would correspond to his ears and voice, by means of which he communicates with his employer.

This paragraph is interesting in the amount of detail that was considered necessary to compare the structure and functioning of a computer solving a problem with a person doing a calculation with a desk calculator. Also we cannot help but notice the use of the pronoun "he" throughout, as if it were only men who performed arithmetical calculations. This is especially ironic here as one woman, Beatrix Worsley, played a very important role in the early development of computers at Toronto. We shall make some remarks about her career in the section after the following one.

We give just one example of machine-language programming for Ferut to show just how different it was from any language used today. The example, taken from the manual referred to above, gives the scalar product of two vectors whose elements are stored in specified locations.

I believe I can remember reading somewhere the whimsical comment that the occurrence of the solidus "/" in programs served as a reminder to programmers in Manchester of the amount of rain that fell in that city.

Pat Hume has written one paper on the development of software for Ferut including a compiler called "Transcode", and another one which he co-authored with Beatrix Worsley specifically about Transcode.


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