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  • Colossus cracks codes once more

    For the first time in more than 60 years a Colossus computer will be cracking codes at Bletchley Park. The machine is being put through its paces to mark the end of a project to rebuild the pioneering computer.
    It will be used to crack messages enciphered using the same system employed by the German high command during World War II.
    The Colossus will be pitted against modern PC technology which will also try to read the scrambled messages.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/7094881.stm


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    Last edited by John Stevenson; 11-15-2007, 05:35 AM.
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    Sir John , Earl of Bligeport & Sudspumpwater. MBE [ Motor Bike Engineer ] Nottingham England.




  • #2
    Will it work on my wifes Check book?

    I find most of these projects quite humbling. Coming up with the concept is one thing, being able to carry it out with hundreds of thousands of parts is quite another. I've been so impressed by this technology that I'm going to renew my efforts to raise my 700 pound ATV into the air so I can wire some safety lights on it for snowplowing the end of the drive

    Can you imagine what the folks who originally built this thing could have done had they the benefit of modern computers and tooling.
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    • #3
      What I find remarkable is that they were able to keep it a secret for so long during the war. I understand that they were forced to allow some towns and cities to be bombed in order to not tip their hand.

      As a side note, the Colossus isn't a true computer. It isn't capable of performing a "turing complete" instruction set. It is best described as a purpose built dechiphering machine with limited programmability. With around 2000 electronic switches it has about the same logical complexity as the average wrist watch today.
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      • #4
        Originally posted by Evan
        What I find remarkable is that they were able to keep it a secret for so long during the war. I understand that they were forced to allow some towns and cities to be bombed in order to not tip their hand.
        I think that this was much earlier in the war during the decyphering of the Enigma machines. According to Winston Churchill there was no secret greater than the fact the Allies could read Enigma. Later when this machine was in use I think the Allies were more in transmit bombers than receive.

        I regret I haven't researched recently this but from what I have read a while ago, I am happy to be set straight.

        Al
        Last edited by DickDastardly40; 11-15-2007, 09:30 AM.

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        • #5
          Colussus

          Come on. Let's get real.
          If anyone thinks that Colossus numbers 1 to 10 in Colossus Mark One was not replaced by Colossus Mark Two or such, they must live in a CloudcuckooLand.
          The War did not end the need for code breaking, it only began.

          As for tipping the game, there was bugger all which would stop a Luftwaffe raid at night which was using co-ordinates. Ally Pally or Alexandra Palace was bombed. The Nazis knew all about us knowing about us, us knowing about-----! Google Swains Lane in Highgate, London. But there was something else in Highgate. Almost 60 years since I was there, The RAF and the powers that be, deny what was there. The Yanks don't.

          I was injured in the RAF- like most people, but three of my comrades were killed. It took 50 years to get an admission. It is only in the past 6 months or so that the RAF has released the existence of something. They haven't said WHAT went on.

          No, I wasn't playing with Colossus but I knew who was playing with 'something' I had two of the Geeks in my section.

          Let's get real and stop playing with Biggles leather helmets and Mark 8 goggles with rose coloured lenses!

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          • #6
            It isn't a real computer because "It isn't capable of performing a "turing complete" instruction set."

            I think it was a real computer because it was capable of complex iterative processing of data held on a storage media based on programmable instructions (even though these were set up on hardware they are still programming) and producing output data.

            So there
            Nick

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Evan
              What I find remarkable is that they were able to keep it a secret for so long during the war. I understand that they were forced to allow some towns and cities to be bombed in order to not tip their hand.

              As a side note, the Colossus isn't a true computer. It isn't capable of performing a "turing complete" instruction set. It is best described as a purpose built dechiphering machine with limited programmability. With around 2000 electronic switches it has about the same logical complexity as the average wrist watch today.
              The first real computer was the Baby.

              http://www.computer50.org/

              BTW Giles Parkes of gear cutting fame who contributes to MEW one one of the guys who worked on Colossus in WWII.

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              Sir John , Earl of Bligeport & Sudspumpwater. MBE [ Motor Bike Engineer ] Nottingham England.



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              • #8
                The article says the paper tape was read at 5000 characters a second. That seems awfully fast for a paper tape reader. The paper tape readers I used at DEC in the late 1960s could read, I think, 240 chars/sec. I'd like to get verification of that 5000 chars/sec number.
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                • #9
                  Originally posted by SGW
                  The article says the paper tape was read at 5000 characters a second. That seems awfully fast for a paper tape reader. The paper tape readers I used at DEC in the late 1960s could read, I think, 240 chars/sec. I'd like to get verification of that 5000 chars/sec number.

                  maybe the ones from the 60s were not afraid of getting a German bomb in the carapace!

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by John Stevenson
                    The first real computer was the Baby.
                    That's a favorite bar argument of computer engineers: what was the first computer, the first electronic computer, the first programmable electronic computer,...

                    The details of Colossus have only recently been released, but here's a great summary of the various features of Zeus (German), the Atanasoff-Berry, Colossus, and Eniac from Wikipedia:



                    From the descriptions I've read, Colossus was most definitely a programmable electronic computer. It also had the first ever implementation of shift registers and systolic arrays (a form of SIMD).

                    BTW Giles Parkes of gear cutting fame who contributes to MEW one one of the guys who worked on Colossus in WWII.
                    Wow, that's very cool! Did you ever meet Tommy Flowers (who designed Colossus)? He was completely overshadowed by Alan Turing, and never got much credit for the brilliant technical achievements at Bletchley Park.
                    "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did."

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                    • #11
                      After the war, all trace of what occurred at the park was burned or destroyed. Such was the culture of secrecy at Bletchley Park that no word of what happened began to emerge until the mid 1970’s. To this day, many people who worked there are still reluctant to talk about it.
                      During the war, many ingenious aids and machines were developed at Bletchley Park to aid the breaking of codes, one of these was Colossus — the World’s first electronic computer.


                      (For many years the honour of being the World’s first electronic computer was given to the American ENIAC. In recent years however, both the UK and US governments have declassified and released papers giving more information about Colossus. In the light of this historians have been forced to reconsider and most now agree that Colossus was in fact the World’s first electronic computer.)



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                      Sir John , Earl of Bligeport & Sudspumpwater. MBE [ Motor Bike Engineer ] Nottingham England.



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                      • #12
                        Ah, so now it's about whether it was a "Modern" computer, that's moving the goalposts a bit, theoretically the Antikythera Mechanism was a computer, a mechanical one, you have to state your terms of reference before making sweeping statements!
                        Regards,
                        Nick

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by NickH
                          Ah, so now it's about whether it was a "Modern" computer, that's moving the goalposts a bit
                          Agree Nick -- that was my point about the first computer, the first electronic computer, the first programmable electronic computer,...

                          The first electronic computer was the Atanasoff–Berry Computer from Iowa State University. It solved linear equations, and was abandoned by the research team because of the War.

                          Since Colussus was not Turing Complete (i.e., it wasn't a fully general-purpose computer like Eniac), it doesn't hold the claim of the first "modern" computer. If you look at that Wikipedia chart I posted above, none of those machines is a binary, electronic, programmable, general purpose (Turning Complete) machine.

                          The Manchester I (circa 1948, well after the war), that John was calling "Baby," is really considered the first "modern" computer, but even that can be argued.

                          theoretically the Antikythera Mechanism was a computer, a mechanical one,
                          No one's entirely sure what the Antikythera is, but according to the Nature article that the international research team published last year, the leading theory is that it was an orrery (an astronomical clock). If you want to call that a mechanical computer, then sure
                          Last edited by lazlo; 11-15-2007, 11:33 AM.
                          "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did."

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                          • #14
                            We could go on arguing about this for ever more but I posted the original link as I thought it was cool that they had restored this and allowed it to be seen by the general public as Bletchly Park is now open to visitors.

                            Lazlo,
                            Never met Tommy Flowers, in fact I had never heard of him until I read Station X a few years ago.

                            It's by coincidence that I'm re-reading it at the moment.

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                            Sir John , Earl of Bligeport & Sudspumpwater. MBE [ Motor Bike Engineer ] Nottingham England.



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                            • #15
                              John,
                              I agree that it was really cool and a hell of an achievement, I was just responding to the nit-picking, "terms of reference-free" comments following the original post,
                              Regards,
                              Nick

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