Sunday, May 31, 2015

WW2 | Bletchley Park's U.S. (AT&T) Component

Photo of Tom Cillins w Bletchley Park Cap on
The late Sgt. Tom Collins, aka "Sam Scram", who was 
the only person to accompany the Dragon 1 computer 
to Bletchley Park in 1944-45. Photo by JT Marlin, 2010.
At the BookExpo America in New York City this week I picked up a book by William Bynum called A Little History of Science (Yale University Press, 2012).  It has nearly two pages on the use of computers in World War II, notably at Bletchley Park in England.

I have been comparing these pages with what I remember of The Imitation Game and two YouTube videos I just watched on how the German Enigma and Lorenz computers worked and how their codes were broken.

The Enigma worked on a 25-letter alphabet, whereas the Lorenz cryptography machine worked with the 32-character Baudot code. Hitler deliberately used the different Lorenz encryption for his top command.

The Bletchley group first cracked the Enigma code on July 9, 1941. But the sheer volume of messages required them to be constantly seeking more mechanicals ways of processing the coded messages that they received.

The report presented in A Little History of Science is consistent with the YouTube stories in giving virtually all the credit to the Bombe and Colossus machines - the Mark I and finally the Mark II, of which there were ten at Bletchley by 1944.

These machines worked through the Tunny machine (see p. 609 of the book to which a link is shown) to decrypt German messages.

The second YouTube video cited above ("How their codes were broken") references Bell Labs, which until the 1940s was in New York City; it later moved to New Jersey. Bell Labs was at the ] time a division of the American Telephone & Telegraph Company (AT&T), half-owned through its Western Electric manufacturing subsidiary. Researchers working at Bell Labs are credited with the development of radio astronomy, the transistor, the laser, information theory, the UNIX operating system, and several popular programming languages - C, S and C++. Eight Nobel Prizes have been awarded for work at Bell Labs.

The late Tom Collins (nicknamed "Sam Scram" at Bletchey after a popular radio character) of Springs, N.Y., worked for Western Electric, and personally accompanied the Dragon 1 cryptography machine to Bletchley during World War II.  I am wondering where the Dragon 1 and Dragon 2 (both of which he worked on) fit into Bletchley's history. Was the Dragon 1 generated by Bell Labs and then transferred to Chicago for operation? Just wondering.

Here are the top six links I got typing Tom's name and "Bletchley" into a Google search:

  • 1. Sgt. Tom Collins at Bletchley - Warriors-Families Jun 9, 2013 
  • 2. T Collins Bletchley Park - BOISSEVAIN NEWS USA Sgt. Collins brought the Dragon 1 
    Cryptography Machine to Bletchley Park The Newmanry was a section at Bletchley Park... Middlesbrough; Tom Collins; Barbara Cooper, Ealing;...
  • 4. Breaking Teleprinter Ciphers at Bletchley Park: An edition ...
    Colin Burke, Pam Camp, Ray Chase, Tom Collins, David DeGeorge, Gina Douglas and John Parmenter, Ralph Erskine, Frederika and Stephen Freer, David ...
  • 5. 'Taps' In A Small Town - Forbes 
    Forbes. Jun 1, 2006 - Tom Collins, 84, marches in his old soldier suit. ... but during the war, he was one of the few Yanks at Bletchley Park, where the British code ...
  • 6. Codebreakers: The Inside Story of Bletchley Park
    F. H. Hinsley, ‎Alan Stripp - 2001 - ‎History. 'Sam Scram', see Collins...
  • Friday, May 29, 2015

    WW2 | Spies–Choices

    This book about World War II offers the reader choices - a
    clever way to involve readers in history.
    The last three days I have been at BookExpo America - the largest annual book convention in the USA - and I picked up a book called World War II Spies by Michael Burgan, published by You Choose Books, part of Capstone Press.

    The You Choose books are an ingenious way of teaching history. The choices help the reader understand that history is not something that had to happen the way it did. History happened because people made choices that affected the outcomes.

    The Spies book had special meaning for me because my father worked for the American spy service, the Office of Strategic Services (O.S.S.) during World War II - first in Dublin and then in London.

    The book starts with a well-written summary of how Hitler came to power and began by sending troops into countries where many Germans lived. Italy invaded North Africa and Japan invaded China. They formed what was called the Axis.

    Then in 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and F.D.R. and the Congress declared war on the Axis. You, the reader, are recruited for spying work, and you are asked to make choices. It's the same approach to teaching history that is used within the Verzetsmuseum, the Resistance Museum in Amsterdam ("Your country has been occupied. Do you (1) collaborate and get favors from the occupiers, or (2) just behave as if nothing has happened, or do you (3) join the Resistance at great peril?")

    The first three options are:
    • You are in Denmark and you want to help fight the Nazis.
    • You are a German and you want to join the Abwehr, the German spying service.
    • You are an American and want to join the O.S.S.
    Spoiler to follow: 

    The outcomes of the different paths are sometimes successes where you the reader survive.

    But sometimes they end in the death of the reader. Shot by the Nazis or dead when a parachute doesn't open. But you know as you die you did something to fight evil.

    The endings depend on the choices, as in real life.

    At each ending, the reader is sent to the concluding section which tells how the war concluded. The idea that one could have affected the outcome of the war is not in this book. That would be Science Fiction, where alternative futures are offered by someone coming back from the future. That is the theme of, for example, Time Bomber by Robert Wack.

    This book is well written and designed, and is extremely instructive. I recommend it.

    I have also read another book in this series, World War II Pilots.

    Thursday, May 21, 2015

    VETS | Financial Coaching

    U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez (center), attends the launch of the Financial Coaching Initiative at the Arlington Employment Center. Rich Cordray (center left), director, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and Holly Petraeus (far right), CFPB's Office of Service member Affairs were on hand for the program and tour. Click for a larger photo.
    U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez and Consumer
    Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray
    promote a two-year pilot program in coaching veterans.
    Arlington Employment Center, Va., May 20, 2015.
    Better financial education of consumers is one way to prevent scams and help elderly people achieve financial security by holding on to the money they earn.

    It should be a national priority as 10,000 more baby boomers turn 65 years old every day.

    Veterans in transition are often targets of scammers. Even the wrong choice of credit card could be very costly.

    In military service they may not have kept up their financial management skills, and the stress of transition to civilian life may open them up to scams.

    The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and U.S. Department of Labor have initiated a two-year pilot program to help veterans and economically vulnerable consumers to manage their money.

    About 60 certified financial coaches will be put in the field at locally based centers,  including 35 American Job Centers.

    "These professionals will provide one-on-one free coaching to help them craft a personalized plan for financial success," said Perez. More