ICT and Computing: Trip to Bletchley Park

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On Valentine's Day 2013 the Computing Department visited Bletchley Park, the home of the World War II code breaking effort, to travel around and learn from the National Museum of Computing.

WP_20130214_011One of the very first things we saw was the Tunny machine, which is an exact replica of the Lorenz SZ86 cipher machine used by German High Command for strategic messages during World War II.

The Tunny Machine emulates the Lorenz's mechanical rotors through analogue electronics, however the initial settings of the rotors must be known.

To find these initial settings, the Colossus was constructed by Tommy Flowers, to run a statistical analysis program capable of cracking the cipher created by Alan Turing and his team.

The Colossus is now widely considered to have been the first semi-programmable computer in the world, preceeding other attempts by years - sadly, they were considered top secret and were destroyed after the war.

The next thing we saw was the Harwell Dekatron Computer or the WITCH (Wolverhampton Instrument for Teaching Computing from Harwell.

WP_20130214_021This computer is currently the oldest working computer in the world, this was also the first computer used in nuclear engineering.

It was built to do sums for the physicists working on nuclear power, due to the British government covering up the existence of Colossus the designers of the WITCH were starting from the same of place as Tommy Flowers.

Storing files and data has seen a huge change in the last 50 years; while today we think nothing of talking thousands of songs around with us on mp3 players and Phones, only 40 or so years ago even 1 song wouldn't fit on a disk the size of a dinner plate.

Towards the end of the day we were taken to a replica BBC Micro classroom and shown what it was like to be taught about computing in the golden age of reprogrammable PCs.

This involved us copying a computer program from a worksheet into the computer's BASIC interpreter, showing us a vast contrast in how we work on computers today, and just how far computer's have come in the last 30 years.

Wendy Parry

Teacher of Computing