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Second World War Code-cracking Computing Hero Colossus Turns 70 110

Posted by samzenpus
from the piece-of-history dept.
DW100 writes "The Colossus computer that helped the Allies crack messages sent by the Nazis during the Second World War has celebrated its 70th birthday. The machine was a pioneering feat of engineering, able to read 5,000 characters a second to help the team at Bletchley Park crack the German's Lorenz code in rapid time. This helped the Allies gather vital information on the Nazi's plans, and is credited with helping end the war effort early, saving millions of lives."
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Second World War Code-cracking Computing Hero Colossus Turns 70

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  • MOVIN’ ON UP. (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    More like movin' on out to Reddit and Ars if they follow through with the threat to force us onto Beta.

    Fuck Beta.

    • Re: (Score:1, Flamebait)

      by TitusC3v5 (608284)
      The new beta format doesn't make me want to leave Slashdot. Idiots who insist on filling every bloody comment for every bloody story with variations of 'Fuck Beta' make me want to leave Slashdot.
      • Y'know, the funny thing, the thing I distinctly remember about my first encounter with slashdot all those years ago, was the mass off-topic complaints about the then-new version of slashdot.
        Moral of the story: Dice, if you want folks to like /.-beta, just make a slashdot-beta 2. :P

        Back on topic . . . first post!
      • by denzacar (181829)

        That's like saying "I don't mind the crime in my neighborhood. If only just everyone else could complain less about it all would be fine."

        Ergo, Fuck Beta.

      • You are speaking my language bro
  • In other news... (Score:5, Informative)

    by kry73n (2742191) on Thursday February 06, 2014 @04:12AM (#46171315)

    the slashdot beta sucks

  • It's a replica. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Animats (122034) on Thursday February 06, 2014 @04:20AM (#46171345) Homepage

    The machine at Bletchley Park is a working replica, not the original.

    • Re:It's a replica. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by RDW (41497) on Thursday February 06, 2014 @06:20AM (#46171871)

      The machine at Bletchley Park is a working replica, not the original.

      Yes, but it's a lovingly crafted completely functional working system that preserves both the spirit and the full capabilities of the original, and the project team has worked very hard to avoid unnecessary deviations from its (highly successful) 20th Century specification. Pretty much the opposite, then, of Slashdot Beta.

      • by Threni (635302)

        > Yes, but it's a lovingly crafted completely functional working system that preserves
        > both the spirit...

        LOL!

        "It's based on a true story. It didn't actually happen like this, and the car chases and explosions were added to keep people's interest up during the character development, but essentially it's more or less exactly what happened to Van Gogh".

        I agree with you, however, about Slashdot Beta. It's still as sucky as it looked however many months ago they first revealed it. It feels like somethi

    • See it while you can. If the 'managers' of the Bletchly Park Trust get their way, Colossus and the National Meuseum of Computing will soon be made homeless. Sounds a lot like the /. situation doesn't it?
      • by Virtucon (127420)

        I watched a BBC News story on this, it's sad that this new Trust is fouling things up with the Computer Museum. I don't see how you can have Bletchly Park without mentioning Colossus and early computing.

  • by GiantRobotMonster (1159813) on Thursday February 06, 2014 @04:23AM (#46171361)

    The Nazis would've won if the Allies used Colossus Beta.

    Beta Sucks Hilter's Balls.

  • by acid_andy (534219) on Thursday February 06, 2014 @04:28AM (#46171389)
    Dice have done far worse than kill Slashdot, they've hurt Slashdot and they intent to go on hurting Slashdot. They'll leave it marooned for all eternity in the centre of a dead fanbase ... Buried in whitespace ... Buried in whitespace ... Buried in whitespace.
    • by GTRacer (234395)
      Sorry about your downmods, but *I* found your Khan-inspired pronouncement of Slashdot's fate awesome! Thanks!
  • Only, it wasn't a computer in the modern parlance of being general purpose, programmable, and Turling-complete. It was more like an advanced calculator, that only worked for a single job.

    Also, Beta sucks.

  • That's just freaky, I just finished re-reading "Cryptonomicon" by Neal Stephenson last night and this story pops up.

    • All your coincidence does is give us a reliable means of estimating how many people out there are reading Cryptonomicon at any given moment in time. It’s not freaky at all. It’s just the consequence of the vast number of humans currently alive.

  • Just look at what the Brit's old-school equivalents led to in how they treated him after he played a critical role in helping the Allies win WW2.

    Sorry if this seems off-topic, but this is Alan Turing I'm talking about here, and the two most salient pieces of his life were his maths and his ability to both dream beyond his peers, and his ability to make it absolutely practical where needed, and his sexual orientation. This ability with maths is rare to see, and how the British establishment saw fit to overl

    • the two most salient pieces of his life were his maths and his ability to both dream beyond his peers, and his ability to make it absolutely practical where needed, and his sexual orientation.

      ...with arithmetic skills like yours, it's probably a good thing you have a mathematician as a hero.

  • by Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) on Thursday February 06, 2014 @04:51AM (#46171459)

    Colossus, Alan Turing and the geniuses who helped design it, have been key to the development of subsequent fantastic advances in computer technology and marvels that have forever changed the face of the world, such as AOL CDs, Angry Birds and Facebook.

    • Bomba kryptologiczna (Score:5, Informative)

      by Savage-Rabbit (308260) on Thursday February 06, 2014 @05:14AM (#46171567)

      Colossus, Alan Turing and the geniuses who helped design it, have been key to the development of subsequent fantastic advances in computer technology and marvels that have forever changed the face of the world, such as AOL CDs, Angry Birds and Facebook.

      Alan Turing was a indeed a colossus but he didn't crack the enigma code. He didn't even lay a lot of of the ground work for designing this machine, it was a team of mathematicians working for Polish military intelligence after Polish and French spooks had gained access various data concerning Enigma that included inspecting a working copy of an enigma machine. Their names were Marian Rejewski, Jerzy Róycki and Henryk Zygalski and they reverse engineered the Enigma based on this material using mathematics and created what they called the 'bomba kryptologiczna'. The famous Colossus was a 'substantial develpment' from this device. What Alan Turing and Co. did was crack the improved enigma machines (still a daunting task) who had been upgraded in 1938-39, but he and and his team stood on the shoulders of those three polish mathematicians. The British are very keen to take sole credit for cracking Enigma but they got a whole helluva lot of help from Poland and France and as a German I'd like it to be crystal clear to the world who exactly it was that kicked our cryptographic ass :-)

      • "The British are very keen to take sole credit for cracking Enigma"

        Well, we're not, actually. Any more than we're keen to take the sole credit for winning the Second World War.
        It was a team effort.

      • by Vanders (110092) on Thursday February 06, 2014 @06:31AM (#46171921) Homepage
        The Colossus wasn't used to crack Enigma: Bletchley has simple electro-mechanical machines (Bombes) for that. Colossus was used to crack Lorenze, which was an entirely different cipher. The basis for the software that ran on the Colossus was basically Alan Turings work on cryptanalysis, and of course it was also Turing complete. The actual design however was almost entirely the work of Tommy Flowers; a post office telephone engineer.
        • Correct. (Score:5, Informative)

          by qubex (206736) on Thursday February 06, 2014 @08:09AM (#46172393) Homepage

          The Colossus was useless at decrypting Enigma traffic: that was handled by the electronic bombes.

          Colossus was constructed to break Lorenz/Tunny traffic: a much more advanced system designed for encrypting teleprinter five-bit Baudot-code teleprinter transmissions. Dilettantes will harp on Tunny’s greater number of rotors, but it was a far more radical departure than might at first appear. As many subsequent stream-ciphers, Tunny XORed cleartext to a cryptostream. Amongst other things, that meant that there was no restriction against a character in the ciphertext being the same as the corresponding character in the cleartext, a flaw which allowed skilled cryptographers to infer what might, conceivably, be contained within a given stretch of text.

          Two sets of ‘wheels’ were summed independently to a five-bit cleartext word. One set was advanced on every word and one advanced only if another wheel’s value was !FALSE (this wheel itself advanced on every word). This meant, amongst other things, that sometimes part of the keystream did not increment, and this in turn had a discernible effect upon the statistical distribution of the difference between successive ciphertext words.

          Reconstructing the keystream from these distributions is how Tunny was broken, and that is the task that Colossus was designed to automate. (Mumbling about Colossus’ Turing-Completeness is fundamentally ill-posed, as no machine has the infinite memory capacity envisioned by Turing. I will however emphasise that Colossus lacked a stored program facility, a concept that was only developed much later.)

          • I meant electromechanical bombes.

          • by NikeHerc (694644)
            I will however emphasise that Colossus lacked a stored program facility, a concept that was only developed much later.

            Wikipedia says Konrad Zuse's "... greatest achievement was the world's first functional program-controlled Turing-complete computer, the Z3, which became operational in May 1941." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Konrad_Zuse [wikipedia.org]).

            Zuse's Z3 and his earlier Z1 stored program machines predate the 1944 Colossus.
      • by lophophore (4087)

        Actually, Turing designed an improved "bombe" -- the "Turing Bombe" -- and there are reproductions of those at Bletchley Park, as well as the Colossus.

        Note that Colossus was not built to crack Enigma. It was built to crack teleprinter code. The "Lorenz Cipher" -- see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C... [wikipedia.org]

  • Nazis' not Nazi's

    FFS

  • The one additional value that slashdot can provide is the quality of the discussions. If they do away with it I will leave.
  • Fuck The Beta

  • by Bearhouse (1034238) on Thursday February 06, 2014 @05:52AM (#46171741)

    This may look a little contrived, but the new management team at Bletchley Park also seem to wish to "improve" things by making them worse.
    For example, they recently sacked a long-time volunteer guide because he insisted on showing guests the nearby National Museum of Computing, (which is where the Colossus is replica is actually housed).

    http://www.independent.co.uk/n... [independent.co.uk]

    Oh, and double fuck beta....been here for decades, and whilst I'm all for progress the classic site never struck me as broken, (apart from special character support - is that fixed in "beta"? )
    The last I heard progress meant IMPROVEMENT. Listening DICE?

    • by nojayuk (567177)

      It seems the volunteer in question was taking people visiting Bletchley Park into the National Museum of Computing next door and acting as a tour guide there rather than working as a guide solely in Bletchley Park. He wasn't employed as a guide by the NMoC and I'm not even sure he or the tour groups he was escorting were paying entry fees to get into the museum; the two separate operations share the site and the buildings and there is no clear physical distinction between the two although the Bletchley Park

  • Nice to see Tommy Flowers get some credit at last but surprised there's no mention of Turing.

    Haven't seen the Beta so can't comment.

  • Did Mr. Forbin ever fall in love with Colossus?
  • At least I substantiated my opinion with a summary of key points an opponent would need to successfully address if he were (to my satisfaction, anyway) argue the opposite case. The original poster’s statement was an unsubstantiated bolt from the blue stated with almost religious fervour and conviction.

    As for national pride: I’m a hybrid european, half british and half italian. I am certainly not in the habit of promoting the USA and it’s foreign policy. But merit must be given when merit i

Contemptuous lights flashed flashed across the computer's console. -- Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

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