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Monday, 25 November 2013

274: Bletchley Park and Alan Turing

I'm back in Moscow, nose to the grindstone.
Last week, in UK, I visited Bletchley Park with some of my family. A very interesting place, I've been there several times, it is where our brightest mathematicians worked, in great secrecy, during the Second World War breaking the codes produced by the German enigma machine. It is said that the war would have gone on a lot longer without their efforts. 
I heard one of the guides there saying that any military action taken as a result of a successful decoding had to be corroborated by other means in order to ensure that the Germans remained unaware that their codes were being deciphered. For example, if there was a message about naval movements in such and such a location on such and such a date then aerial reconnaissance would take place to suggest to the Germans that a chance finding by the Royal Air Force was the reason for their fleet being found and attacked.
Probably the brightest mathematician of all was a guy called Alan Turing. Unfortunately for him, he was a gay as well as a guy and homosexuality at that time was illegal. After the war he was put on trial for "gross indecency" and offered a punishment of either prison or chemical castration. He accepted treatment of female hormones but less than two years later, in 1954, he died as a result of cyanide poisoning. An inquest determined that his death was suicide but others suggested it was an accident. (Oh-oh, whoops, I've just swallowed the wrong tablet!)

For my video clip today I've included a very moving "flashmob" performance of Beethoven's 9th, better known as "ode to joy". 

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