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Old 02-07-2018, 01:12 PM   #1
sundialsvcs
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We Stand Upon the Shoulders of Giants: Konrad Zuse's "Plankalkül"


While we all revel in (and take for granted) the abilities of "the amazing machines in our shirt pockets," perhaps it is worth re-remembering the astonishing achievements that isolated visionaries once attained ... in 1943-1945, in the middle of a World War that his country was in the process of losing.

Konrad Zuse not only invented the world's first digital computer one of the earliest practical digital computers, but he also invented the world's first programming language a seminal approach to programming that was perhaps only approximated by APL. (Bonus question: "have you even heard of 'APL?'" Didn't think so ...)

(Full disclosure: I am purposely yielding to Charles Babbage, and to Countess Ada Lovelace.)

Anyhow, I herewith give you this link. It will not be trivial reading. (But you knew that already, didn't you?) Enjoy.

Last edited by sundialsvcs; 02-07-2018 at 01:15 PM.
 
Old 02-07-2018, 07:15 PM   #2
jlinkels
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It might be worth mentioning that working replicas of the Z1 and Z3 are exhibited in the Technikmuseum in Berlin, Germany. The original Z1 and Z3 were destroyed in WWII. This page is in German, but Google can translate it to something which resembles English:
http://sdtb.de/technikmuseum/veranstaltungen/2066/

jlinkels

PS: A fair warning. If you are a technical oriented person, be prepared to spend at least 3 days when you visit the museum.

Last edited by jlinkels; 02-07-2018 at 07:16 PM.
 
Old 02-08-2018, 09:05 AM   #3
sundialsvcs
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And this leads back to a few questions that I've always harbored at the back of my mind . . .

What computers were really used at Bletchley Park?
If Konrad Zuse was building computers in his apartment before and during the War, the concept of a digital computer, perhaps built using relays and executing programmed instruction sequences, cannot have been unknown to the academic researchers at Bletchley. I know that the official story involves only massive electromechanical "bombes," but they seem cumbersome and slow – and I really don't see how Bletchley was able to produce the quantity of decrypts that they did, every day, using only such technology. I think that they had "real computers," over and above machines like Colossus, and that this knowledge might have remained classified to this day.

But if Konrad Zuse had the same ideas at the same time, it can't have been too secret. And it can't have been too technically difficult, either. Zuse's work showed that such machinery was well within the mechanical capabilities of an ordinary smart-guy. With the unlimited resources available at Bletchley, it seems impossible that they didn't also think of it, and pursue it, and succeed. We know that Alan Turing was also experimenting with chess-playing algorithms. Did he really not have a machine to try it on?

How could a computer such as this be used to perform cryptanalysis against a machine such as Enigma, or Allied codes?
We know, for instance, that ENIAC wasn't being used to calculate artillery firing tables ... it was a codebreaking machine. But, what techniques could the Allies and the Germans have been using which would have benefited from such programmable and semi-programmable machines?

The only techniques that were ever divulged at Bletchley were basically electro-mechanical ones. But it always seemed to me that there was a latent need for computation power that they must have possessed, but which do not figure in any of the official histories. I wonder how much of the Bletchley story – even to this day – was and still is a cover story?

Last edited by sundialsvcs; 02-08-2018 at 09:14 AM.
 
Old 02-08-2018, 03:12 PM   #4
jlinkels
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sundialsvcs View Post
The only techniques that were ever divulged at Bletchley were basically electro-mechanical ones. But it always seemed to me that there was a latent need for computation power that they must have possessed, but which do not figure in any of the official histories. I wonder how much of the Bletchley story – even to this day – was and still is a cover story?
AFAIK everything has been declassified. The breaking of the Enigma code has been described in fairly detail in Simon Singh's The Code Book. Not romanticized like in the movie. Don't forget that Enigma could only be broken because of a flaw in the message protocol. And they had the encoding algorithm available.

jlinkels
 
Old 02-08-2018, 07:07 PM   #5
sundialsvcs
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Well, "yes, I know." But, on the other hand, Winston Churchill was fairly determined to destroy everything about Bletchley Park after the war, so that there would be nothing to expose.

(He intended to destroy every machine, and mind you I sort-of understand where he was coming from. I cannot say that his decision was wrong, although history is grateful that it was not fully implemented. Britain had just been put through two back-to-back World Wars, and Churchill knew how Britain had just won the latest installment.)

I guess that I've never really accepted the "official" premise that Bletchley did all that it did only using rudimentary electro-mechanical machines such as the Bombe, or that the Colossus machine was truly the only venture that anyone in that ultimately-funded organization ever made into electronic circuitry other than spinning wheels tended by unlimited (female) labor. Considerably more-advanced techniques were (well-)known, and those techniques would have rendered "roomfuls of lugubrious 'spinning bombes'" fairly immediately obsolete. This simply cannot have escaped their attention.

The Japanese used telephone relays to build their Purple machine. Konrad Zuse basically used the same devices to build one of his computers. And he certainly wasn't the only one.

Although I have read these official versions (as of course we all have), I have always been left with the lingering suspicion that there are still things that were never revealed – or, indeed, that might have been destroyed ... (alas) forever.

Last edited by sundialsvcs; 02-08-2018 at 07:16 PM.
 
  


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