Alan Turing.

mosaix

Shropshire, U.K.
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Not quite sure where to post this. If a mod wants to move it, feel free.

I spent the week-end in Greenwich. Visited the Observatory, the Planetarium and the National Maritime Museum. Also got to the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum.

On the way home, on Monday, we visited Bletchley Park the home of the WWII code breakers. It's quite difficult to find - old habits die hard. :rolleyes:

There's a lot there about code breaking and Alan Turing. Yesterday I re-read the chapter Cracking The Enigma from Simon Singh's book The Code Book. (Can't recommend this book highly enough).

I'm ashamed to say that, even though I've read the book before, I'd forgotten just how much we owed Alan Turing (and the other code breakers) and how shamefully we treated him.

He played a fundamental part in the cracking of the German Enigma encoding machine and many feel that the work done at Bletchley Park shortened the war by as much as two years.

He didn't live long enough to to receive any public recognition. In 1952, whilst reporting a burglary to the police, he naively revealed that he was having a homosexual relationship. The police felt they had no option but to arrest and charge him with Gross Indecency. The newspapers reported the trial and conviction.

The Government withdrew his security clearance and he was forbidden from working on research and development of the computer. He was forced to consult a psychiatrist, and take hormone treatment that made him impotent and obese.

On the 7th June 1954 he ate an apple that he had dipped in cyanide and died at the age of 42.

He was a true genius.
 
Yes he was a genius. It's too bad he didn't get recognition for the good he did before his death. I've heard the Cyanide kills instantly and in fact it can go right thorugh the skin. What does is keeps the cells from getting their oxygen. It depends on the concentration.
 
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Greenwich is easy for me to get to, so I've been many times. The Market is good, and some good old pubs with food.
On the way home, on Monday, we visited Bletchley Park the home of the WWII code breakers. It's quite difficult to find - old habits die hard. :rolleyes:
Isn't it right in the centre of Milton Keynes? I've looked at their website before and thought about going - you didn't say if it was worthwhile? More importantly, would there be anything to remotely interest a teenager? :rolleyes: It would be a long trek for me.

My wife's great uncle worked there during the war. I know he worked at Hut 3 and that Hut 3 housed Army & Air Sections Enigma Intelligence from July 1940 to February 1943. Hut 3 housed the analysts who interpreted the material that Hut 6 deciphered. I wondered if the museum might have any more information that might tell me what he himself actually did.

I didn't know the details you give about Alan Turing, only that he was tried and committed suicide.
 
Isn't it right in the centre of Milton Keynes? I've looked at their website before and thought about going - you didn't say if it was worthwhile? More importantly, would there be anything to remotely interest a teenager? :rolleyes: It would be a long trek for me.

My wife's great uncle worked there during the war. I know he worked at Hut 3 and that Hut 3 housed Army & Air Sections Enigma Intelligence from July 1940 to February 1943. Hut 3 housed the analysts who interpreted the material that Hut 6 deciphered. I wondered if the museum might have any more information that might tell me what he himself actually did.

It seems to be south of Milton Keynes, Dave. But don't try and find it with a SAT-NAV and post code, it'll take you totally to the wrong place. Head for Old Bletchley and then look out for signs.

We arrived after lunch and didn't really have time to do the place justice. We only had time for the main museum and didn't get time to see the huts. The museum concentrates on the Enigma and the Bombes (they've rebuilt one) but there's also some interesting stuff on WWII.

We intend to revisit (the ticket is valid for 12 months), besides the huts there's also a reconstructed Colossus. I would say it's well worth the visit with lots of interest for a teenager.
 
One thing that I failed to mention. I was always curious to know why the British government kept the breaking of the Enigma secret for many years after the war.

The reason?

There's two. First the Germans, believing that Enigma was uncrackable, continued to use Enigma until the early 70's.

Second, the Allies captured thousands of Enigma machines as they overran German forces in the last months of the war. The British government distributed these to Commonwealth governments assuring them the the machine was secure. These Governments used the Enigmas for years, not knowing that the British were listening in on their diplomatic communications.
 
Isn't international diplomacy wonderful!!

I have taught courses serveral times at GCHQ Cheltenham (but not in the new doughnut building) and they have a museum there that is, believe it or not, classified. I was not allowed to see it (I had to be accompanied everywhere including INTO the toilet - though not the cubilces thank goodness) but apparently once a year they have a sort of open day when the employees' families can see it... go figure. They did tell me that there is still some stuff from that period, including some of the actual workings of the Enigma machines, that are still classified.
 
I just think it is sad that so many people were not allowed to talk about what they did during the war; essentially winning the war. My wife's great uncle died in 1995 and never talked about it. The Bletchley Park website has similar stories. They were conditioned not to talk about it. This work saved tens of thousands of lives, made the Normandy landings possible and cut the war short by about two years, but for 30-40 years was still top secret.
Bletchley Park

Contrast that with very recent politicians published memoirs and this book on Afghanistan that the MOD spent a couple of million to be pulped but which is still being published.
 
There's a book- Deceptions of World War 2 - that scratches the surface, avoids a lot of events, some of which are still adversely affecting individuals today, but it looks like the rewrite is complete and WW2 history has solidified.
According to theory, covering mistakes insures they will happen again.
 
I visited Bletchley last week and found the reconstruction of the Bombe and Colossus fantastic. How they managed to do that from pieces of torn plans and the odd few broken components is unbelievable.

One other thing to add about the British workers not being able to talk about what they did was that as a result they have never been properly credited with the contribution they made to the history of computing. Obviously, after WWII the USA had more money and was able to go on and build ENIAC (the first "Turing Complete" computer) but Colossus was still the worlds first programmable electronic computer.

I still don't think the full truth is known. There was a BBC Timewatch programme about Tommy Flowers work on Colossus on TV last year. Even today, some information is still restricted by GCHQ.

I'm not sure it is really a great family day out, but if you are interested in WWII history it also has a Winston Churchill exhibition, children's toys and household items, model trains, classic cars, and exhibitions on Pegasus, Alan Turing himself, and the use of Carrier Pigeons in war.

The easiest way to find it is to take the train to Bletchley which is on the Watford Junction to Milton Keynes line - you can even get a train straight from East Croydon.
 
For those who don't know, the centenary of Turing's birth is next Saturday (23rd June). A truly great man.


(I expect a lot less fuss on the Beeb than there is with Bloomsday. Not that I begrudge the latter.)
 
The pity is that he didn't live to see the recognition he so richly deserved. It is high time we learned the lessons of such stupid actions as were taken in his case, and began to grow up, before we find ourselves with even more such regrets....
 
Neal Stephenson's CRYPTONOMICON offers an intiguing fictional slant (how fictional I don't know, I assume NS did some research) on Turing and code breaking.
 
The pity is that he didn't live to see the recognition he so richly deserved. It is high time we learned the lessons of such stupid actions as were taken in his case, and began to grow up, before we find ourselves with even more such regrets....

To be fair, in this case we have tried. Though it is difficult.

There was a petition in 2009 to have Turing posthumously pardoned but the conclusion was that he had been convicted of what was at that time a crime. There is no suggestion that the 'crime' was not committed, just that it wasn't 'fair'. Since then that law has been changed but the point is it was the law then and therefore there is no grounds for what was at that time a perfectly legitimate conviction.

The fact is that the conviction, though legal and correct, was essentially malicious and that is the real crime. The best that can be done for that is what Gordon Brown did at the time; issue a formal apology.

The Justice Minister Lord McNally stated:

"It is tragic that Alan Turing was convicted of an offence which now seems both cruel and absurd, particularly... given his outstanding contribution to the war effort," he said.

"However, the law at the time required a prosecution and, as such, long-standing policy has been to accept that such convictions took place and, rather than trying to alter the historical context and to put right what cannot be put right, ensure instead that we never again return to those times."

And about Gordon Brown:

In 2009 former Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued an official apology to Mr Turing, labelling the treatment he had received as "utterly unfair" and "appalling".
 
My comments were not about Turing's case overall, but rather what it represents: a mindset which is still very much with us. Nor was it aimed at the UK alone; America is, if anything, extremely backward in addressing this and getting past this sort of thinking. (Of course, the GOP also seems to be quite fond lately of passing legislation which is calculated to completely erode the hard-won rights of women as well. Take a look at the number of bills dealing with erosion of contraceptive rights, etc.)

It is high time we got past this bronze age, moronic, myopic, and quite frankly stupid way of thinking, and rid ourselves of these unconscionable prejudices. As long as we hold them we not only make victims of people like Turing, to whom we all owe a debt of gratitude; but, as I say, continue to create new regrets for ourselves by continuing such asinine behavior.
 
Hear hear JD. Unfortunately I don't see it happening anytime too soon. As you say if anything the tide seems to be moving the other way. Or at least thinking about it.
 
I don't think this Anniversary is going to be forgotten:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-17662585

Not to take anything away from Turing; he was a genius, but he was a mathematician and most people will have heard his name before. I think the Post Office Engineers at Bletchley are the ones who have been forgotten. They built computing machines using bedsteads and duct tape, and then lived until old age with no acknowledgement of their work.

As for the homophobia and his suicide - it was a different age. The treatment of women and of people with different skin colours wasn't great either. There is a copy of the Gordon Brown apology at Bletchley. I'm not sure about this modern urge for politicians to apologise for anything and everything though. It seems a little silly to me. Can I have an apology for the Todpuddle Martyrs from the Government? Why doesn't the Queen apologise for the Norman invasion?
 
'Tisn't an apology I was referring to; apologizing for the actions of others is, in my opinion, a silly practice anyway; one can only apologize for the actions of oneself. (One can deplore the actions of others, and sympathize with those who suffered because of them, or even aid them at times... but apologizing for them? No.) On the other hand, much of the same mindset is still very much with us, often given a veneer of change, but scratch that surface, and the prejudices are still the same, because the underlying reasoning hasn't changed all that much. This needs to be addressed and rectified. In other words, we need to bloody well grow up!

As for the postal workers you mention -- yes, they do tend to be forgotten, which is also unjust, and should be rectified whenever possible. Credit should be given to all who made such contributions, and their memories should be honored....
 
So not just my TomTom then!

The treatment Mr Turing received during his life time was harsh and sad. However I’m not a fan of revisionist history and Mr Browns apology, no matter how well intentioned. The past is the past and we should view the past for what it was, not what we’d like it to be (odd line, I think it works!), how else can we learn.

I like the idea of the UK handing out enigma machines – ‘Yes, perfectly safe old bean, mum’s the word eh!’
 

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