Tuesday 16th September 2014: Meccano to e mail – my career in engineering. Mike Wooldridge RCEA
Mike started his talk with a reference to Meccano – something which old school engineers are traditionally supposed to have cut their teeth as youngsters. From here he traced his entry into engineering via an apprenticeship with Allen West, an engineering degree, and a first job back at Allen West. He was soon moved into the Industrial Electronics Division where he was given the job of developing a constant horsepower drive for a crane. This is a control system that translates into: the lighter the load, the faster the hoist speed, and, more challenging, the lower speed. (See photo over page)
After several weeks of frustration and despair, he finally had a Eureka moment, followed by another one as the drive was re-engineered onto Thyristor bridges – a new technology at the time. He subsequently spent many challenging and rewarding weeks on site, commissioning dockside and Freightliner cranes. In summary, a constantly variable 5:1 speed range in both directions was achieved on a 400HP motor.
Having gained experience on analogue operational amplifier circuits, he then moved over to digital engineering and went to work for the newly formed Ministry of Technology Technical Support Unit. This unit advised government departments on these new fangled things called digital computers. In those days mainframe computers required a very tightly controlled environment and Mike spent his first 4 years advising, and carrying out trials, on these – more interesting than it sounds, especially as only one out of more than 8 that he trialled passed at its first attempt. He was also responsible for specifying and trialling an 860kVA no-break power supply for the newly set up Police National Computer.
Then he moved over to advising on the computers themselves and carried out many appraisals and trials on computers ranging from large mainframes (generally single tender ICL if the required power was greater than ‘1 Atlas’ power) to minis such as a DEC PDP11, or a CTL Modular One.
During this time, data communications steadily grew in importance. Modems gave way to Kilostream and Megastream links, and these gave way to the Internet. Mike was assigned to an ISO committee that developed standards for office documents and email. Although these were subsequently overtaken by what we see today – typically Microsoft Office running over an SMTP-based offering from someone such as Google or Yahoo, Mike feels he played a tiny part in specifying User Requirements for email – something which we all take for granted today.