Wednesday, October 17, 2012

"Decoding Alan Turing", short film, is viewable on Amazon; we need DVD's of two TV feature biographies from UK; "Enigma"

Amazon video offers a 16 minute short film, “Decoding Alan Turing” (2007), directed by Christopher Racster, as a short biography of Alan Turing, inventor of the prototype of the general purpose computer. Turing was known for his work at Bletchley Park in Britain, breaking German codes while he worked in “Hut 8,” which is shown in the film. Turing, then in his mid 20s, was made manager of the group, but he was not good at delegation.

An interesting aspect of Turing's cognitive process concerns the way he waded through enormous numbers of combinations of codes by elimination. It's interesting to see 1940s computers as assemblies of switches. 

The later part of the film covers his homosexuality, but at a high level.  Turing was arrested in 1952 (the film doesn’t say how he was “caught”, but apparently he was quite “open”) and treated with chemical castration in lieu of prison, but that led to his suicide by cyanide poisoning in 1954.

The film shows some scenes of the gay community in modern day Manchester England.

The film can be watched free by Amazon Prime members, or rented or purchased at low cost online. The direct link is here

I learned by a tweet from the Washington Blade that one performance of “Codebreaker”  (aka “Britain’s Greatest Codebreaker”) will be presented at the AMC Georgetown in Washington DC tonight, which I cannot make.  This British TV  (Channel 4) film is directed by Clare Beavan and Nic Stacey. I am networking to locate a DVD. BBC has a similarly named video called "Code Breakers: Bletchley Park's Greatest Heroes".  I don't know if it's the same film, but I will check into it.  The link is here. Note the UK's link for the Bletchley facility here

There is also a 1996 BBC film “Breaking the Code”  by Herbert Wise. Neither of the two above films is appears to be available from Netflix yet. There is a free version on YouTube here which I haven't seen yet (check later).

In 2001, I saw “Enigma” (directed by Michael Apted, based on the novel by Robert Harris, from Miramax and Manhattan Pictures).  A brilliant young man Tom Jericho (Dougray Scott) has to “rebreak” a German U-boat code in 1943, in a story involving his (heterosexual, in this fictitious story) lover’s possible deception.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Hut 4 at Bletchley Park:


I watched the BBC film "Code Breakers" with link above (59 min), directed by Julie Carrie, so it doesn't seem to be the same film. It starts with the accomplishment of Turing in breaking Enigma and goes on to present the work of William Tutte and Tommy Flowers in breaking the German Lorentz machine.  The mathematics of code breaking rather resembles group theory and vector spaces (maybe rings, too).  Flowers designed the electrical components of the most advanced computer at the time, and on D-Day his staff had to work in a wet environment to keep it from shorting out.  Computer work was very much more physically demanding then, but the military really did use "mathematicians" (which was my MOS in the Army 1968-1970).

Errata (apologies): The word "Turning" in the URL name should be "Turing", corrected manually.  Automated typing is too easy, and word processor spell-checks don't catch this. 

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