England’s answer to Emmett Brown

Dr Emmett Brown was the eccentric inventor of the time-travelling DeLorean in Back to the Future.

Colin Furze is an English guy who loves making weird stuff. He says of himself:

everyone seems to think i’m some some sort of mechanic/engineer person but in reality i’m just a plumber. The things i make are made with tools that proper engineers would laugh at but i’m proof you don’t need an expensive lathe and huge welder to create something amazing. What you do need though is a place to do stuff and the right people to help ask when needed and also someone to tell you you will fail as that drives you on abit more. As far as a workspace i have a good workshop at home but its not always been like that as when i lived at me parents my dad would not let me in the big shed we had there and it wasn’t until he died that i could really make stuff properly. It was quiet mad as i had to do everything in my bed room at one point i even had a lathe in there which i bought of ebay for £70 and it was the oldest mucky thing ever which resulted in oil being sprayed up the wall at one point so if you have kids for god sake let them in the shed or at least help them.

His grammar may not be the best, but you can’t fault his philosphy!

One of Colin’s inventions is a jet-powered bicycle, Norah, dubbed “The most dangerous unsafe bike EVER” by Colin himself:

What’s it like to ride? At speeds up to 35mph (56km/h) it’s “ok, rather pleasant.” Between 35 and 45mph (72km/h) “it goes where it likes and is quite hard to control.” At 50mph (80km/h) “you have been lucky to stay on during the 45mph shake, and just wait for the tyres to blow…”

Guinness World Records has rewarded Colin’s efforts – he holds records for the largest bonfire (more than 1400 cubic metres), the longest motorcycle (14m) and the fastest speed on a mobility scooter (115km/h). He’s also created the “world’s fastest pram”.

We need more people like Colin with his manic laugh!

Rebooting a dinosaur

SBS reports that “The world’s oldest computer has been rebooted by two dedicated engineers who have spent nine years bringing it back to life.”

Roger Holmes and Rod Brown, working in a barn in Ashford, Kent, have returned the ICT1301 computer, known as Flossie, to full working order. The machine, which measures six metres by 6.7 metres (20 feet by 22 feet), and cost £250,000 in 1962, was originally bought by London University to organise exam grades and print certificates. Flossie was delivered to the University on 19 September 1962, so she has just celebrated her 50th birthday.

Working on the ICT1301
Working on the ICT1301 in Kent

The computer’s memory alone weighs half a tonne… all 12 kilobytes of it! Yes, that’s 12kb; there are 1024kb in a megabyte, and a modern smartphone can have 8192 megabytes (8 gigabytes), which makes Flossie’s memory seem rather inadequate :).

Roger Holmes at the ICT1301 console
Roger Holmes at the ICT1301 console

The front panel of an ICT1301 was used in The Man with the Golden Gun as well as Doctor Who and Blake’s 7.

It’s interesting to note that there’s an unrestored ICT1301 at Otago Settlers’ Museum in Dunedin, New Zealand.

The Computer Conservation Society (of which Holmes is a member) visited the restoration project and has a report, complete with photos.

The project has its own website, which includes the history of the machine, reports of public open days, photos and a video, and other information. It also includes a report of a visit by the original designer. (The site—appropriately enough, I guess—features a binary clock. Let me know if you can read it!)