PM apologies for Turing

A while ago a petition was started on the 10 Downing Street site asking for the British government to do something posthumously about the great Alan Turing. Turing wasn’t just a genius – an astonishing mathematician, one of the fathers of computing (this in the 1940s, mark you), early thinker in Artificial Intelligence and a legendary codebreaker whose work in the incredibly secret world of BletchleyPark’s Station X was an enormous part of the Allied effort in the Second World War. In fact it is no exaggeration to state without the work of Turing and his fellows there is a very real chance the good guys might not have won, or at the very least the war would have run far longer, claiming many more lives (and imagine if Nazi Germany had lasted another 2 or 3 years, imagine if they had time to fully develop their new fast jet fighters to attack Allied bombers, expand their V2 rockets which there was no defence against, continue atomic experiments… It doesn’t bear thinking about).

There is a part in Neal Stephenson’s fascinating Cryptomonicon, a novel which, like his later (although set in earlier period) Baroque Cycle mixes real historical figures with fictional to create a tale richly detailed with extensively researched history, where those working with Turing in the race to decode the German Enigma codes ponders what they do. At first he thought their team was fighting the shadow war while the real war raged in the skies and seas and land. Then he starts to realise what they are doing, shadowy and theoretical as much of it is, is the real war: fates of convoys, great warships, divisions of troops, even the fates of nations depend on what they are doing behind the scenes.

For his enormous contribution to saving his nation and invaluable intelligence in defeating the most odious, vile threat the free world has faced Turing was persecuted by his country. Alan Turing was homosexual, at a time when it was not just treated as unacceptable by society but actually a criminal offence. His security clearance was revoked, he was hounded, subjected to a ridiculous snake-oil ‘cure’ which was effectively a form of chemical castration. Alan took his own life not long afterwards, eating an apple he had laced with cyanide. An intellectual genius who had armoured the free world against violent Nazi oppression was oppressed by a bigoted society until he took his own life. Thankfully today we have moved on a bit in the way that gay, lesbian, bi or transgender folks are viewed and treated but there are still so many ignorant bastards who still rant their ignorant bigotry as if LGBT people were of a different species and this is the cost of that kind of uncomprehending, ignorant hatred, one of our best and brightest lost and although he used his brain rather than a bayonet or a Spitfire, someone I would consider a war hero who fought the good fight as hard as anyone.

It is good in this month that marks the 70th anniversary of the start of World War Two that Gordon Brown has formally apologised for the way Turing was treated, although a full pardon and offering proper government support for the museum at Bletchley Park would be better – the place where many men and women laboured in secret, without honours or publicity, to help win the war deserves to be better known. Its not as eye-catching as a Spitfire or the Normandy Landings, but the backroom boffins of Station X paved the road to victory as surely as the soldiers, airmen and sailors, as well as pioneering a whole new field of codebreaking, intelligence and birthing the modern computer, all kept secret for decades, so sensitive was this information (much of it was used during the subsequent Cold War for British Intelligence, it was that good) and both Turing and his colleagues should all be far more honoured than they have been. We have many public monuments to those who sacrificed all in defending us, and its right we should, but we should also honour the remarkable intellects who did no less a work in defending everything we believe in.

Rock and Roll

There’s been a ton of stuff online about nasty copy protection mechanisms by various manufacturers, from Tivo-type stuff controlling what you can record to the farce that was Sony’s secret use of software on many of their CDs which then installed to purchaser’s computers wihtout their knowledge (and a grudgingly issued un-install they offered which left those computers more vulnerable to internet attack than a new Windows OS). The latest to act like complete numpties are Coldplay, doing their best to show how truly rock and roll their attitude is (and even better, according to Boing Boing’s article, you can’t read these warning terms until you buy the damned CD!). Coldplay? Don’t play it, I say.

Spam-o-matic

Bloody spam, bane of many a web-users life.

“Hi there customer of Barcloyds Bank, our tech department have the problem computerlogical with your database and we are needing your account and password details please. As a thank you we are also giving to you our friend a chance to win money from the Nigerian State Lottery for only the small arrangement fee of £1000 to facilitate the transfer you have already be winning £2506789302048575638. This will also help you to enlarge your penis, win more money, see farm girls being shagged by chicken with strap-on dildos, get you an interest free government loan that they don’t want you to know about and did we forget that your bank be broken – like our English – and we need your details again?”

Just to make things better, some scuzball AOL tech copied customer details, used them to spam folks then sold them on to other spammers… Nice. Then again if you are stupid enough to us Arseholes Online you pretty much deserve everything you get…

Altogether now: “Spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, spam WONDERFUL SPAM, WONDERFUL SPAM”

new toy

On a good news front however, I picked up my shiny new toy today – a Toshiba laptop. It will take me ages to transfer over files accumulated on my ancient pentium desktop, but at least I have my existing email etc set up on the shiny little new machine. Very sexy and I’m very pleased with it – except Windows Xp seems deigned to stop people like me who know how to fiddle with things fiddling with things… I’m sure I’ll figure it all out eventually – unless is succumb to playing a nice new state-of-the art game, the type I couldn’t play on my old machine. Yes, I’m just waiting for Alex to supply me with new games distractions so I get bugger all work done on the new machine.

One drawback to the new computer – it is a nice thin plasma screen. This means no hot monitor for my cats to sleep on, they are most distressed. Still, I will take this opportunity to start training them up on anti-terrorism measures. The big puss, Pandora, is the tactical cat, designed to clobber the enemy by… well sitting on their laps and purring. Cassandra (Cassie) is the smaller cat and to be used for swift, surgical strikes. Ha, no Al-Queda plague infested rats being unleashed near me! Back to the new toy oh how my poor bank balance screams for mercy. But the old machine was not only from the Triassic era it was now making sounds like the last Huey out of Saigon in 1975, so it aint long for this world. That’s my justification and I am sticking to it!