Friday the 27th
Saturday the 28th
Update: the tours groups will muster in front of the marquee. That is all.
Please be on time!
Update: the tours groups will muster in front of the marquee. That is all.
Please be on time!
The greatest thing about proper hack days is that you get to work as long, or as little, as you like. I find the small hours of the morning my most productive time – hanging around Bletchley Park overnight at Over The Air is going to be one of the coolest work spaces I’ve ever used.
The problem is at some point I suspect we’d all like to get our heads down for a couple of hours – so to aid in that I’ve had a little dig around to find some hotels, and even better, we’ve arranged with Bletchley Park to allow you to pitch tents on the front lawn. (Yep that nice green bit right in front of the house). You’ll also be able to grab a bean bag and find a quiet corner inside the mansion or the marquee – so don’t forget your sleeping bag.
If camping is not your thing then there are a few hotels nearby that may be worth considering – we’re in no way recommending any of these places – they’re just near.
Back in 2007 a gang of us got together from the BBC and Yahoo! and brought Hack Days from the States to the UK. The event was called Hack07 and there was a great deal of talk about how we’d create a space that was comfy, informal and easily reconfigurable. The answer, rather obviously, was beanbags. So off I set… I toured the worlds manufacturing facilities at great expense to the public purse (this was the BBC after all) and eventually settled on a company called greatbeanbags.com (it took literally seconds of googling). They’re based up Nottingham way and are responsible for the now iconic Hack Day Bean Bag – the wedgie.
These bags have become a tradition at Hack Days that I’ve helped organise – especially the big ones. At every event we order about 100 of the things, print a logo on the front, chose the loudest colours and then… we give them away at the end of the event. The great thing about the bags is that apart from being all the useful things I’ve already alluded to – they’re also cheaper than hiring a pile of boring furniture that would make our Hack Days look and feel like a corporate conference.
So here’s the thing – this year we’ve not yet quite got to our sponsorship goal so are still short enough money to buy bean bags – we’ve never not had bean bags and it’s a terrific opportunity for an amazing company to come in, pop their logo on a 100 bags and be the hero of the event. They’re properly cool, people get to keep them, they’re useful and even more importantly – it’s a damn site funkier than a stand!
So what do you say? Know someone who can help us? Point them in our direction and drop me an email…
All visitors to Bletchley Park are offered ‘wands’. These are digital audio guides that visitors carry around the park with them. The only controls are a numeric keypad and standard playback buttons. As the visitor proceeds around the park, signs at various points of interest indicate a number to enter on the keypad. This starts playback of a pre-recorded talk relevant to where the visitor is standard. For example, entering 001 will give you an overview of the Mansion.
Although maybe not as entertaining as a guided tour, wands do allow visitors to set their own pace around the park and also allow them to do so in private rather than as part of a larger group. This can be additionally useful for those with hearing difficulties or mobility problems.
Bletchley Park owns some 600 wands. They rely on rechargeable batteries that provide the power for all operations that are rated for about 1000 cycles and most have reached the end of their useful life. These are not standard packs and the company that makes the wands has gone out of business. A few months ago we were down to less than 100 operational wands. Bletchley Park can receive 500-700 visitors on a normal ‘non-event’ day.
So, over the past few months volunteers who know the hot end of a soldering iron from the other have been busy in their sheds re-fitting the wands with standard battery packs. This has been very successful but many wands are failing because of more complex faults and over time, the amount of wands available will be reduced. The cost of replacing the entire ‘fleet’ makes it a non-starter.
How You Can Help
One way of reducing pressure on the usage of wands is to offer an alternative that makes use of the visitor’s smartphone. As a wand is effectively just a collection of audio samples and a keypad, everything needed to recreate that experience is available on just about any phone on the market today.
So, could we come up with an effective wand ‘alternative’ using, say, iOS and/or Android? We could then offer the resulting app as a free download that the visitor could acquire before arriving at the park or upon arrival.
But why stop with an audio tour? My perfect ‘Bletchley Park’ app would include (but certainly not be limited to) the following:
Tour Guide at Bletchley Park
(courtesy of the Good for Nothing Bletchley Park Challenge)
Tony Sale’s in-depth technical info on Enigma, Tunny and Collosus: http://www.codesandciphers.
Lots of rich content on Audioboo http://audioboo.fm/search?q=bpark
Pics and content from 2010 reunion http://bparkreunion.posterous.com/
Bletchley Park homepage: http://www.bletchleypark.org.uk/
History photos http://www.bletchleypark.org.uk/content/hist/history.rhtm
Save Bletchley Park petition: http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/BletchleyPark/
The National Museum of Computing http://www.tnmoc.org/
Sue Black’s homepage: http://www.sueblack.co.uk
Save Bletchley Park: http://www.savebletchleypark.com
Our Secret War http://www.our-secret-war.org
Alan Turing Year 2012: http://cs.swan.ac.uk/turing2012/
Photos from 2010 Reunion http://www.flickr.com/photos/jamin2/sets/72157624809285545
Content from 2010 Reunion http://www.amplified09.com/bpark2010/
Video – Women of Station X http://www.bletchleypark.org.uk/content/video-example.rhtm
Can Twitter save Bletchley Park? http://www.archimuse.com/mw2010/papers/black/black.html
Sue Black’s posterous http://drblack.posterous.com/
Reunion info http://bletchleyparkreunion.info/
Flickr group for Bletchley Park http://www.flickr.com/groups/bletchleypark/
Flickr group for National Museum of Computing http://www.flickr.com/groups/tnmoc/
We are very excited to announce that Dr. Sue Black will be delivering the opening keynote talk for this year’s Over the Air! A senior research associate at University College London, Dr. Black has been tireless in her support of Bletchley Park and of women in technology. She was also named one of London’s “Top 20 Technology Tweeters” by LondonLovesBusiness.com. She’ll be talking a bit about the history of our venue and the pioneering work in the field of computer science that took place there.
Sue Black is Senior Research Associate in the Software Systems Engineering group in the the Department of Computer Science at University College London and a Senior Consultant with Cornerstone Global Associates. You can find Sue on Wikipedia, Linkedin, Facebook and Twitter.
In 2009 Sue has been named Tech Hero by ITPRO magazine: “We look to Sir Tim, Sue Black and other tech leaders for inspiration”. She has also been presented with the BCS John Ivinson award and nominated for the Computer Weekly IT Blog Awards 2009: IT Twitter User of the Year!!!
A keen researcher, Sue completed a PhD in software measurement in 2001 in which she reformulated an algorithm used to compute the ripple effect measure for C source code. Her research interests aresoftware engineering, software measurement and software evolution and she is interested in anything that can help to improve the quality of software. Her most recent collaborative research paper is “Formal vs Agile: survival of the fittest” and single author paper “Deriving an approximation algorithm for automatic computation of ripple effect measures” .
Since 1998 Sue has been campaigning for equality, and more support, for women in tech. She founded the online networks LondonBCSWomen in 1999 and BCSWomen in 2001, BCSWomen now has over 1200 members.
Sue blogs about her campaign to save Bletchley Park and the interesting times that she has had while raising awareness of its financial situation. Since July 2008, Sue has been raising awareness of the plight ofBletchley Park the site where codebreakers such as Alan Turing worked during World War Two. The work carried out there shortened that war by possibly two years saving millions of lives. Bletchley Park is also the birthplace of the first programmable, digital computer Colossus invented by Tommy Flowers .
As a free bonus for all Over the Air attendees, prescription we have organized site tours of our historic Venue, diagnosis Bletchley Park on both Friday September 30th and Saturday October 1st. The tours will take about one and a half hours and will cover all the main points of interest around the site and tell the story of how the Enigma and Lorenz codes were broken during World Word Two.
There will be three tours on Friday, running at 14:15, 15:00 and 15:30, and two tours on Saturday, running at 10:00 and 10:30 (perfect for family members who might be coming up on the Saturday to see what all the fuss is about). If you want to go on one of these tours, please gather outside the main entrance of the mansion five minutes before the tour start time.
Kids have always been welcome at Over the Air. One of our young attendees famously helped to demonstrate an accelerometer-based “sword fighting” game on stage during the competition presentations at our first event, and returned in 2009 to participate in a “teenage dragon’s den” panel.
Kids are especially welcome at our Competition Presentations on Saturday October 1st starting at 14:50 in the Marquee Tent. Kids are free to register. Just bring them along to the registration desk when they get here and we will give them an all-access badge for the event. Besides the Over the Air sessions and competition, we are also running free tours of Bletchley Park, and you are also free to visit the National Museum of Computing at Bletchley.
The weather forecast for Friday and Saturday is looking beautiful, making Over the Air 2011 an excellent opportunity to bring the whole family out to Bletchley Park. (Many have told us already that they will be bringing their kids – including the organisers!)
Although we have the Mansion booked out for the event, the Park is situated on 29 acres of lovely green trees & lawns (now just starting to turn), and there are plenty of other things to do and see – for children of all ages as well as adults.
Officially opened in June 2004 by HRH The Duke of Kent this exhibition centre, housed within one of the original wartime buildings, tells the ‘Complete Bletchley Park Story’. The museum depicts the incredibly complex processes of interception, decryption, translation, interpretation and analysis that were needed to produce the vital intelligence that proved so important in ending the war. Block B houses Stephen Kettle’s famous Turing statue, and there is also the orientation room were you can view a short film that offers an overview of the site. It is also home to admissions and the Bletchley Park gift shop.
Check out the Young Codebreakers Zone for some great resources to inspire kids before hand.
A large varied collection of playthings and domestic artefacts related to everyday life in the 1930’s to the immediate post-war period. There are toy soldiers, model trains, model vehicles, Britain’s lead farm and garden, and make-do-and-mend toys, dolls and teddies. Those who are studying or are interested in the National Curriculum ‘Britain since the 1930’s’ will find this collection of much interest.
Always popular with all our visitors this display features a working model railway, complete with tunnels, miniature trees and junctions.
The Society’s club room is open to the public from 12.00 – 16.00 (12.00 – 17.00 in Summer) on most Saturdays and Sundays throughout the year. There are usually two or three layouts in operation, including a ‘Thomas’ layout which is always popular with children. There are also modelling exhibits and displays about the real railways’ contribution to the Second World War.
There are two 1930’s Austins on show from the film The Eagle Has Landed featuring John Standing, a direct descendant of the Leon family. The Talbot and the 1938 Ambulance (now owned by the Trust) were both used in the film Enigma. A 1940’s garage forecourt shows the cost of fuel, etc, and tools used during this period. Some post-war cars are displayed to compare design styles and are of much interest to visitors. The garages were built to house the numerous vehicles that came to Bletchley Park every day during WW2, including the vast number of dispatch riders who brought the originals of the coded mesages intercepted at the Y Stations across the country.
Published on 28/05/2009 on the BBC History Features.
The story of codebreaking at Bletchley Park during the Second World War and its massive contribution to the British war effort is probably one of the most important stories of the 20th century.
Mathematicians and analysts broke encrypted codes sent by the German Luftwaffe, army and navy and in doing so, both directed our war strategy and saved lives.
The Enigma code machine had been adopted by the whole German military machine as their method for encoding signals. They [the Germans] believed their code was completely unbreakable and that therefore their radio traffic was absolutely secure.
But at Bletchley, they worked it out, and cracked the codes on a daily basis.
Many people worked on the machines that did this. The settings on the Enigma machine were changed everyday so the new settings had to be found and they had to be found quickly, if you wanted to have any chance of using the information.
Each person was an important cog in the wheel, but none of them knew what the other cogs in other huts were doing, until the mid 1970s when the secret began to emerge. Now, the important role it played during the war has gained Bletchley Park worldwide fame.
You can visit Bletchley Park daily (except Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day) to find out more, and they also hold regular events for all the family.
On May Bank Holiday Monday they held a Forties Family Festival with World War II re-enactors, a 1940s Lindyhopper dance troupe, and other 1940’s attractions, including a flypast by a Lancaster and the Red Arrows.
There was also a range of talks about codebreaking, including one from a former Bletchley Park Wren.
Jean Valentine worked on the Bombe codebreaking machine during the Second World War and now works as a guide at the centre. Her fascinating stories about life at Bletchley make the era come alive, and she told me more about exactly what went on.
Jean: People ask me this all the time and I don’t really know the answer. They ask did you volunteer, but how can you volunteer for something that nobody has ever heard of?! I think probably I was selected because you fill in forms when you plan to join anything, and I think the form that I filled in said something about hobbies, and I think that I said cryptic crossword puzzles. And that was enough, because they were looking for linguists and mathematicians and people who could think laterally.
Jean: I looked after a machine called the Bombe, which was absolutely essential. It was needed to find the settings on the rotors of the German encryption machine Enigma and without the settings on the rotors, you would never break into it because the Enigma was so complicated, it could encrypt up to 158 million, million, million possibilities.
What we did is put a menu into it, which was a crib, and the [Bombe] machine looked for the settings. When it had found them, we wrote down the answers that were on the indicator drums and we rang them through to an extension number which I now know was Hut 6. They used these letters to see if they would manage to break into the German encryptions – but I didn’t know that then! I knew somebody did it somewhere but I didn’t know where!
These machines did the equivalent work of 36 Enigmas and 200 of them were working 24 hours a day, both here and at our various outstations. Bletchley Park wasn’t a place on its own, you can’t have a place like this without back up, so we had two [outstations] in Middlesex, at Stanmore and Eastcote, and three in Buckinghamshire, at Adstock, Gayhurst and Wavendon.
Jean: Well, I knew what I was doing but I didn’t know what anybody else was doing. I worked in Hut 11 here and I now know that we were working in close conjunction with a hut across the pathway from us called Hut 3 and another called Hut 6. We were all working hand in hand but we didn’t know that.
Jean: We worked in watches and in this particular hut there were approximately 11 people working at any one time. That was 33 throughout the day because one watch was always on duty or asleep or something like that.
We were ferried back and forth from where we lived. I lived in Steeple Claydon, a little village in Buckinghamshire. It was very strange because we lived in this requisitioned house, and people must have wondered where we were going and, when we came back, where we had been, but the secret never got out.
Jean: We were told that if anybody said what are YOU doing, we had to say we were confidential writers. Now, a writer in the navy was a clerk, so we were confidential clerks if you like. And anybody who probed further having been told that was extremely bad mannered, people didn’t do it. So that’s what we said, but amongst ourselves, the minute we left the hut we were working in, we did not talk about what we had been doing at all. We were being driven by an MT driver and you don’t talk in front of people when you sign the Official Secrets Act. You’re told not to talk, you don’t do it.
Jean: No, there was no threat made, we were put on our honour not to speak so we didn’t. And I never did, and none of my friends did, until it all started to come out of the woodwork in the mid 1970s. Then we were free to talk a little bit about it and of course now it’s just an open secret.
Jean: Well it would certainly give people interesting information. They had a machine, that was actually our encrypting machine modified to mimic a German Enigma, and they’d set these letters up on the machine, type in the encrypted message and if it made sense when it came out, then we got the right answer. They then sent that into the red hut which was just over the pathway. They had translators there turning the German into English and also analysts who decided who should have this information and when they should have it.
Jean: Well, I always knew how important it was! But when I came to work here to train as a guide, I discovered that the telephone extension number that we had was actually for Hut 6 across the pathway. But it could have been anywhere. But it was across the path and we walked past it four times a day.
Jean: No not really, no. You just assumed that you were doing some good or you wouldn’t be there. We were paid this fantastic amount of money to do it you know! When we started we got 75p a week (15 shillings) and when we were good at the job we got a pound a week and then when I got promotion I got 25 shillings a week, it was riches beyond the dreams of avarice!
Jean: Only since it became public. For years, since the end of the war until the mid 1970s, I don’t suppose I even thought about it very much. I met up with one or two companions from those days but gradually people moved away or something and I lived abroad for years so I wasn’t coming in contact with the people I had worked with. But then when I started coming to the reunions, they said ,why don’t you come and train to be a guide?’ I said ‘no, I can’t drive nearly 40 miles, do a day’s work and drive 40 miles home’. Well, that was ten years ago and I’m still doing it!
Jean: I suppose so, I mean, you meet a lot of interesting people doing this job. There’s sort of a club like atmosphere I suppose and I enjoy what I’m doing – but I don’t enjoy the drive!
Jean: Well, nothing really. So many years had gone by and I’d done so many other things, it was just part of my life, nice to look back on, and nice to be able to come here and see people who had a similar experience to me. I was just one of a gang doing their best. When you think I could have been in a munitions factory or in a field digging up potatoes – no thank you! I was better off here!
Jean: I want Bletchley Park to survive and looking out here today [on the Forties Family Fun Day] we are having an absolute bonanza. We’re absolutely swamped with people, there are thousands of them here today and that’s money in the bank and that is all important. We have been helped with the repair costs but it’s the actual running of the place [that we need money for]. The stewards and the guides that you see are all volunteers but the people who do things like the catering, the gardening and the maintenance have to be paid. And we need money to do that.
Jean: No – not at all! And I wasn’t actually here very long. I had been here a short time when a notice went up saying that the following were required to go overseas [me included]. This was to Ceylon which is now Sri Lanka and I really didn’t want to do that very much because there were U-Boats and things out there. But it did say at the bottom that those who were underage had to get their father’s permission and I knew that my father wouldn’t let me go because I was precious – I was an only child and a teenager! So I went home and told him and he said, ‘you joined up to do your bit, so wherever they need you to go, you go – permission granted!’. And he didn’t even know where it was because I couldn’t tell him. I was gobsmacked. I didn’t know the word then but it’s a useful word now!
Jean: Look, at that time we were fighting for our lives. My father had been a soldier in the First World War and he was used to discipline and his theory was that if command told you to do something then you did it, you didn’t argue, and you didn’t get out of it, you did it – so I did it.
I spent 15 months in Ceylon breaking Japanese cypher. I didn’t have a machine to do that, we were breaking the Japanese meteorological code which was all in figures, and it was really a case of getting down and working it out.
Jean: I think it trains your mind in certain directions but I don’t know if it helped me or not. It’s just a different way of looking at things really.
A formerly secret government document has been presented to the only surviving wartime codebreaker who wrote it.
The declassified document was handed by intelligence agency GCHQ to codebreaker Mavis Batey at Bletchley Park Mansion, Buckinghamshire earlier.
Mrs Batey, 90, had been told the report, which she last saw 66 years ago, would never be declassified.
She wrote it with her late husband Keith, Margaret Rock and Peter Twinn.
Entitled the History of Abwehr Codebreaking, the document was dubbed “Batey, Batey, Rock and Twinn” after its four authors.
It related to the German secret service, the equivalent of MI6.
Bletchley Park was a government codebreaking centre during World War II and played an important role in the Allied victory.
‘Have a go’
Continue reading the main story
Mavis was one of the elite at Bletchley Park”
Director, Bletchley Park Trust
At the end of the war each Bletchley Park section wrote its history.
Reports covering German naval, army and air force codebreaking have already been released but the secret service report remained classified.
Mrs Batey was one of only about three skilled female cryptanalysts at Bletchley Park, together with Margaret Rock and Joan Clarke.
Then Mavis Lever, she was 18 when she arrived at Bletchley in May 1940.
She worked under renowned codebreaker Alfred “Dilly” Knox, who greeted her with the words: “Hello, we’re breaking machines. Have you got a pencil? Here, have a go.”
Simon Greenish, director of the Bletchley Park Trust, said Mrs Batey was a national heroine.
“Mavis was one of the elite at Bletchley Park. She’s one of the brightest ladies I have ever come across,” he said.
“She was the person who broke the Italian codes that led to the Battle of Cape Matapan, where the Italian navy met the British navy and suffered huge losses.”
He said her work was so advanced it was still relevant today, which was why the document had only just been declassified.
Mr Greenish said the presentation was especially poignant as the document allowed Mrs Batey to find out about what her husband, who died last year, had been working on during the war.
As a married couple, they were put on different sections at Bletchley Park and forbidden from talking about their work.
Many of you may have heard the sad news of the death of Tony Sale, one of the founders of the Bletchley Park Trust and a key campaigner for its rescue and restoration. Mr. Sale had a long career as a talented engineer with an avid interest in computing, and he dedicated himself tirelessly to the rebuilding of Colussus, the world’s first operational computer.
As the BBC Reports:
Tony Sale built a working robot out of scrap from a crashed bomber
Tony Sale, the brilliant engineer who led the rebuild of Colossus, the first modern computer, has died aged 80. The mammoth project to recreate the code-cracking Colossus capped a career built around electronics and computers. Most recently, Mr Sale drove the campaign to save Bletchley Park, where Colossus aided Allied code-cracking efforts during World War II. At Bletchley he also founded the National Museum of Computing to help preserve the UK’s ageing computers.
Born in 1931, Mr Sale displayed his talent for engineering at an early age by building a robot, called George I, out of Meccano. One of the later versions of George was built from the remains of a Wellington bomber. Instead of going to university, Mr Sale joined the RAF, which nurtured his engineering talent, and by the age of 20 he was lecturing pilots and aircrew about advances in radar.
Tony Sale describes how the Colossus worked
His career also included a six-year stint as a scientific officer at MI5. He rose to become principal scientific officer of the intelligence agency and aided the work of spycatcher Peter Wright. On leaving MI5 he established, ran and sold a variety of software and engineering firms.
During the late 1980s Mr Sale’s job at the Science Museum nurtured an interest in old computers. This led to the creation of the Computer Conservation Society which leads efforts to restore many key machines. His interest led to the 14-year project that saw the re-creation of the pioneering Colossus computer. During wartime, Colossus gave the Allies an insight into the communications of the German high command.
The rebuilding work was difficult because the original Colossus machines were broken up at the end of WWII and all plans for it were destroyed. The rebuilt Colossus became the centrepiece of The National Museum of Computing (TNMOC) that Mr Sale established at Bletchley Park.
“Tony Sale’s passing is a tremendous loss to us all on a personal and professional basis,” said Andy Clark, chairman of the TNMOC trustees. “Tony’s contributions to The National Museum of Computing have been immense and I am quite sure that without his remarkable talents, enthusiasm, and drive, the museum would not have come into existence,” said Mr Clark.
And as the Inquirer reports:
The rebuilding of Colossus was a monumental challenge involving much research and a solid understanding of very advanced mathematics as well as the engineering skills to assemble such a machine. The machine had played a vital part in the war effort from 1944 onwards.
Sale worked tirelessly to ensure that Bletchley Park was preserved for the nation and, along with his wife Margaret, was part of a small team that started the campaign for Bletchley Park and ultimately saved it for the nation. He dedicated his long retirement almost entirely to his work at the Trust and subsequently the National Museum of Computing based at Bletchley Park.
Bletchley Park houses the National Museum of Computing. During World War II, it was the site of the UK’s main decryption establishment, the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS), where the ciphers and codes of several Axis countries were decrypted.
Simon Greenish, director of the Bletchley Park Trust, paid tribute to Sale’s work, saying that “Tony’s contribution to the early days of the development of the Trust when the site was under very real threat of development was fundamental and without him, the Bletchley Park site and its hugely important history would perhaps not have survived. His work on re-building Colossus was an enormous challenge and took many years to complete.”
Sale’s achievements have been recognised in recent years with Honorary Doctorates from three Universities. He also met the Queen on a recent visit when she unveiled a memorial at Bletchley Park to honour its wartime veterans.
Sale is survived by his wife Margaret, their three children, seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
Do watch the video posted on BBC Technology to fully appreciate his accomplishments. We hope that when you come to Bletchley Park for Over the Air, you will spend some time in the National Museum of Computing admiring Colussus and his efforts. Be sure to check out his robot George while you’re at it!
If you’re looking for a bit of inspiration for the Hack-a-thon, get yourself in the Code-breaking mood by reading Tony’s notes about his contributions to the ‘Enigma’ movie (pop quizz – what’s the connection between Mick Jagger and Bletchley?)