Manchester Baby 

I’m at Manchester Museum of Science and Industry (they used to call it MoSI but no more, something to do with branding…)

Ive been learning about Baby (see pics), rebuilt in the 90s to the original spec. It uses the Williams-Kilburn Cathode Ray Tube memory store, which I found hard to grasp until today, when a helpful volunteer showed me it close up. Never underestimate the value of physical demonstration to get across difficult concepts. 

The store holds 32 words of 32 bits each, or 128 bytes in new money. This was used to store programs and data, in the world’s first proper stored-program computer. 
They used to have iPads in front of the machine, to encourage people to compare computing power between 1948 and today. However they found that this distracted the kids and diminished the message. 

I’ve used clips of The Imitation Game showing another early machine (Turing’s Bombe) and drag/drop guess the year of the old machine exercises in my classroom, but I think I’ll plan a trip here at some point. 

How would you get across the difference between 128 bytes and 750 instructions per second, and the power of an iPad? 


By mraharrisoncs

Freelance consultant, teacher and author, professional development lead for the NCCE, CAS Master Teacher, Computer Science lecturer.

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