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Entries in Colossus (2)

Wednesday
May072014

Sponsor A Valve (Vacuum Tube) on the Colossus Rebuild

During WWII the British had a secret code-breaking facility housed in the stately home of Bletchley Park. Thanks to the creation of the Colossus valve (vacuum tube) computer, arguably the world’s first electronic supercomputer, British code-breakers were able to decipher intercepted messages produced by German Enigma machines and arguably it changed the outcome of the Second World War.

As I wrote here earlier this year, whilst Bletchley Park receives lottery funding designed to make the theme park appeal to today’s iPod generation, The National Museum Of Computing on the same site risks being fenced off and isolated altogether unless the two parties can be reconciled – something that the Arts Council is said to be working on. (The Museum is tight-lipped, at the time of writing.)

Sponsor A Valve (click to see)Meantime the magnificent Colossus computer is being rebuilt – but the Museum needs all the funding it can get. Previous sponsors have includes HP, IBM, Google UK and PGP (Pretty Good Privacy). It’s possible to “Sponsor A Valve” and donate to TNMOC by buying pixels on a million-pixel image at www.colossusonline.org.

Pixels cost £0.10/ ten pence each, minimum ten pounds and you can upload an image and URL too. Payment is accepted by Paypal. There’s plenty of space available if you’d care to support the ongoing work of the museum and its battle to restore Colossus.

Wednesday
Jan292014

Bletchley Park's Turf War

Bletchley Park – the once top-secret British home of world-beating WWII German codebreaking that saved countless lives and helped end the war – looks like it’s about to be turned into an iPod-Touch powered tourist theme park sponsored by Heritage Lottery funds.

It’s great to see that the work of Bletchley Park is being made more attractive and accessible to today’s more sophisticated visitors so that our proud history can be kept alive.

Meantime the on-camp home of Colossus, arguably the world’s first electronic supercomputer, rebuilt and housed at The National Museum of Computing (TNMOC ) in one of Bletchley Park’s blocks (H) next door, claims it’s being starved of through-visitors due to a turf war between them and Bletchley Park’s theme park owners.

A gate being built between the main Bletchley Park and Block H © TNMOCShamefully, The National Museum of Computing receives no UK government support for tending to Colossus, a rebuilt version of the WWII vacuum tube computer that enabled us to crack the Nazi codes.

Thanks to TNMOC, it’s possible to track the evolution of electronic computing from that top-secret era of WWII through to the mainframes of the 1950s, then onwards to the dawn of personal computing in the 1980s and beyond. TNMOC is desperate for funding and previous sponsors have includes the likes of IBM, HP and Google. Unbelievably, the Museum also has to pay Bletchley Park for rent and overheads.

On the Bletchley Park website itself, there are some very worthwhile educational resources http://www.bletchleypark.org.uk/edu/resources.rhtm  but there is only a churlish one-liner hyperlink to TNMOC under ‘Other Exhibitions’ at http://www.bletchleypark.org.uk/content/visit/whattosee/other.rhtm  which calls it “an independent museum tracing the development of the computer.  This museum is housed at Bletchley Park and charges its own admission fees.”  That’s it. Even the RSGB-run National Radio Centre there gets a more generous write-up. Otherwise I could find next to no mention of Colossus or Block H on the main Bletchley Park website itself.

I also squirmed when I saw on TV how an old-timer Bletchley Park volunteer was treated by the corporate suit responsible for firing him (thank you and goodbye, in effect) because he didn’t fit in to their plans for their forthcoming iTouch theme park. It was a PR disaster.

It takes a long time to get anything done here in England. While the Chinese can build an entire new high-speed rail network in a low number of years (it would take us decades), it’s only recently that the UK managed to build a visitor centre for the ancient collection of rocks that is Stonehenge, and that didn’t exactly go to plan when the £27 million centre opened.

Colossus being rebuilt at The National Museum Of Computing © TNMOCIn the West we pretty owe much our freedom to the likes of both Bletchley Park and the world-class codebreakers who used British computing expertise to crack the ‘unbreakable’ codes of the German Enigma machine. Much valuable work is done by unsung heroes and it’s a scandal that TNMOC should have to rely on handouts and industry-funding to keep their charity alive.

I find it particularly deplorable that TNMOC, which has much better things to do with its meagre resources, should find itself embroiled with what seems to be another war, this time seemingly a war of attrition with Bletchley Park itself.

Bletchley Park, funded by Heritage Lottery cash (ours) should be doing everything possible to support the fantastic work of TNMOC instead of carving up its crumbling but precious WWII encampment into a tourist theme park with some fenced-off attractions.

Links

TNMOC Statement

The National Museum of Computing

Bletchley Park