During World War II, the best mathematical minds in Britain gathered at a place called Bletchley Park to decipher the secret codes used by the Axis. To aid the process, they developed the Colossus Mk 1 and Mk 2, some of the first machines recognizable as programmable computers. And now UK computer scientists are up in arms over the current state of Bletchley Park - some of the buildings are literally falling apart. Never underestimate the might of angry computer geeks, though. They've got a plan to fix it.
If you're a history buff or have read Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon (as I'm in the midst of doing), you might be familiar with Bletchley Park. It was in this converted country estate that German Enigma codes were deciphered (the Polish had broken the code a few years prior), among many others, and where the first Colossus computers were built. Using over 2,000 vacuum tubes each, these computers read punched data tapes and could determine the starting positions of the wheels used in German code machines, greatly speeding the codebreaking effort. Early computer theorist Alan Turing worked at Bletchley, though he was not directly involved in Colossus design.
Although the estate is a museum, it's severely underfunded. Dr. Sue Black, head of computer science at the University of Westminster, is leading more than 100 computer scientists in efforts to get more funding — via legalized gambling. Dr. Black told the BBC that the current condition of Bletchley is "a national disgrace." They plan to take advantage of new funding rules that would allow the Bletchley Park Trust to gain access to national lottery funds. Meanwhile, the estate continues to deteriorate. Image by: Bletchley Park Trust via Stony Brook University.
'Neglect' of Bletchley condemned. [BBC News]