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Remembering June 23 - Birthdate of Alan Mathison Turing, Computer Genius of Bletchley Park

+3 votes
Jun 22, 2017 in Programming & Design by Virginia (4,850 points)

Officially credited with shortening WWII by two years, there is even speculation that without Turing, the war could have been lost. He deciphered the German Enigma machine; so unbelievably complex that Germany had total confidence its codes, changed daily, could never be cracked.

Perhaps more than anyone else, Turing also contributed to development of the modern computer, as well as an early pioneer of artificial intelligence.

                                                          * * *

Turing suicided out in 1954 age 42, persecuted by prevailing British anti-homosexuality laws of the day. He did it with a cyanide-laced apple, in such a way as to allow his mother to believe his death was accidental - which she did always believe, all her life.


3 Answers

Rooster Jun 22, 2017

I know that I've read that Turing cracked the Enigma code machine but there are many claims that the Poles had cracked the code already. Much debate about who actually was first to crack the Enigma code. Certainly Mr Turing had a major part in it but if you read more about it? You'll see many claims that the Poles opened that code first. Who's really to say this many years later. Certainly both had much to do with "Ultra".

Secrets of the Enigma code were cracked by the Polish not the Brits ...

Virginia Rooster Jun 22, 2017

Oh Rooster, that is interesting...I did not know about the Poles...the Daily Mail seems to be one of the links my RAM-challenged old Apple cannot cope with, so did not get the details...but will be keeping an eye open now!

After Dozy mentioned Turing a few years back I read a couple biographies, such a fascinating life...

TheOtherTink Jun 22, 2017

There was one particular weakness in the Enigma design that greatly facilitated its breaking.

"A major weakness of the system, however, was that no letter could be enciphered to itself. This meant that some possible solutions could quickly be eliminated because of the same letter appearing in the same place in both the ciphertext and the putative piece of plaintext."

There were also careless procedures of often sending exactly the same routine messages, such as "nothing to report", whose content could be guessed by the codebreakers, and used to test against the coded message. Had the transmissions included meaningless dummy words to hide the true length of the message, the breaking would have been much more difficult.

Virginia TheOtherTink Jun 23, 2017

O'Tink it is an interesting link...explains the relationship between the Polish cryptanalysis and Bletchley Park...also it has a photo of that remarkable British bombe! One YouTube film I saw recently showed this restored bombe actually running, quite chugging along, it was...


TheOtherTink TheOtherTink Jun 23, 2017

@ Virginia,

In this clip, Jean Valentine, one of the original bombe operators, explains.

Virginia TheOtherTink Jun 23, 2017

Yes, O'Tink! I read the fascinating Turing biographies in 2012 or -13, I think, and then recently thinking about him, I believe this video is one I looked at...

You can truly understand why the Germans would get careless, I am still smh as to the innovation in first creating, and then breaking open, that coding system.

TheOtherTink TheOtherTink Jun 23, 2017

@ Virginia,

Looking at the Valentine Wikipedia link, it says she started out as a WREN being paid only 15 shillings ($3.75 then, maybe $75 in today's dollars) a week. :O

Well, maybe it wasn't quite so bad as it seems, since her food, housing and uniforms would have been provided.

Here is an interesting story of a WREN:

Virginia TheOtherTink Jun 23, 2017

Yes the WREN link is indeed interesting, O' brings back memories, even some tears, of stories from my parents, who were newly married with their first child (me). And how every moment of your life was focused around the war effort...and you just did whatever needed, you did not even think about compensation.

I noticed Jean Valentine also mentioned the low wages...again just doing whatever needed...

* * *

One story I recall is that my mother needed some special kind of food for me, something that was hard to get during wartime. So the local grocer just put all the jars of this aside, whenever it came in, so my parents would have it for their frail baby...whatever needed to keep everyone and everything operating...

TheOtherTink TheOtherTink Jun 23, 2017

Virginia, that reminds me of a story about by grandmother in post-WW1 Germany in the early 20s. Meat and milk were still severely rationed. My grandmother, who was a little girl at the time, was able to get more than the alotted milk ration, but only because she got a doctor's prescription stating that it was required to prevent rickets.

Here is an image of WW1 ration coupons for whole milk. They allowed half a liter (I assume per person) per day, which doesn't seem too bad for drinking purposes, but it has to be remembered that the milk also had to be used for cooking and baking.


Meanwhile, there was propaganda exhorting, "Farmers do your duty!  The cities are going hungry."


Virginia TheOtherTink Jun 23, 2017

Hmmm...also, O'Tink, milk is very nourishing, perhaps especially so for Northern-Europeans acclimated to it for millennia; when food generally is scarce, I am guessing that milk could be valuable in maintaining adequate nutrition in hungry, low-calorie 1/2 daily liter WOULD indeed be small.

It seems quite poignant here, the script on the ration down to survival basics, but still an elaborate black-letter gothic script...

* * *

You have quite a treasure in your family, the stories/recollections from all those times, post-WWI through to the emigration to North America...

TheOtherTink TheOtherTink Jun 26, 2017

Actually, that Gothic type font (Fraktur) was the most common in German printing until after WW1.

And there was even a written script (called Suetterlin) that was different from the Roman script that we know.

It's funny, reading old German postcards. The text of the message was written in Suetterlin script, but the name and address were written in Roman script, so that foreigners could read it.

Virginia TheOtherTink Jun 28, 2017

O'Tink, I had a delightful time poking through the link, and the links it led to...the Suetterlin, and its history...and yes, I actually did know the Fraktur was the prevailing font in early 20th century Germany...from turning up old documents as an adolescent...(although I did not know the name of the font). 

The font, and other expressions of grace and beauty in everyday life of our forebears, I find quite poignant...

Marianne Jun 23, 2017

An interesting information, as we heard only very few things about him, and that he was known for deciphering the German Enigma machine, etc. - well the general news:

Virginia Marianne Jun 23, 2017

Marianne, from your interesting links I learned the term "counterfactual history"...and will prolly post a Q soon on that!

Also, one of your links explains more about Rooster's point of the Polish contribution...which I did not even know about until he mentioned it..."This Polish intelligence-and-technology transfer would give the Allies an unprecedented advantage (Ultra) in their ultimately victorious prosecution of World War II."

Marianne Marianne Jun 24, 2017

Lol (discretely said) - and I found a good read with ready, excellent answers - so, I could just make an awkward little add.

:) - it is not a funny theme, but I could smile with amazement, at least.

Virginia Marianne Jun 24, 2017

I will smile, too...we learn more things always...:)

Marianne Marianne Jun 25, 2017


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