Year 9 Trip to the National Museum of Computing

When we arrived at the National Museum of Computing, the first thing that was demonstrated was a Lego Mindstorm robot which was programmed to solve a Rubik’s cube. It took 90 seconds! We then took a tour of the museum and were able to see the Lorenz machine and learn how it works.The Lorenz machine was used by high level Nazis to transmit important messages. It would therefore have been a great help to the Allies if they could break the encrypted messages, and so they built Colossus.At first Colossus could only decode messages in 3 to 5 days as well as having other flaws in the machine, leading to the need for an updated model.The new updated model, the first time it was turned on, was able to solve the code in 45 minutes.

After learning about this we were able to do some coding on 80’s computers – let me tell you, you needed a lot of patience! The computers also made a high-pitched sound which was really annoying.We learnt about Moore’s law which is based on the principle that the speed and capability of computers can be expected to double every two years as a result of increases in the number of transistors a microchip can contain.This couldn’t be better shown with the calculator: the WITCH machine was essentially an early calculator yet it was enormous and took up a whole side of the room, and now a calculator can fit in your pocket. Lastly, we investigated Alan Turing’s quote “A computer would deserve to be called intelligent if it could deceive a human into believing that it was human.” We had to try to figure out if we were talking to a human or a computer, which might sound easy but it was really hard.Then we had a chance to program a bot to imitate a human and it was a lot of fun.

I really enjoyed the trip, learning about the advancements in technology and seeing all the old computers. I thought it was really interesting seeing how much smaller the computers have become; they went from massive machines to tiny chips that could easily get lost on the floor. My favourite machine was the WITCH. It was a large calculator that was capable of doing very long equations. It also looked and sounded very interesting with lots of flashing lights from the transistors and there were a lot of clicking noises.We also coded a snake game on an old BBC Master computer. I really enjoyed this as we got a feel of how it used to be before all of our modern technology. One of my favourite parts was playing old retro arcade games on old computers, including Pac-Man and Space Invaders and we even had a go on an old pinball machine! Finally, we tested our intelligence.We were matched up with either another member of the class or a bot and had to have a conversation then guess which we were talking to, as well as coding our own AI.

What a great trip! Thanks to all the teachers for arranging it for us.

Anouska S, Year 9