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YouTube / Computing Heritage

Google Celebrates UK's WWII Codebreakers

YouTube / Computing Heritage
YouTube / Computing Heritage

Bletchley Park was the secret headquarters of British codebreakers during World War II. Previously a mild-mannered manor house, the building became a hub for secret computing activities that broke various codes and ciphers (most notably the German Enigma ciphers), helping the Allies win the war in Europe. It was where Alan Turing (father of the Turing Test) did some of his most brilliant work. Bletchley Park is a powerful symbol for geeks -- on that spot, in that old manor house, the power of early computers, designed by brilliant engineers, operated by tireless technicians saved Allied lives as war raged across the world. And it still stands.

Now, Google has launched an online museum exhibit dedicated to the history of Bletchley Park. Google previously donated a bunch of money to preserve the building and transform it into a national heritage site. (After the war, the computing apparatus was dismantled or demolished, so it has taken some effort to restore portions of it.) Google's online exhibit gives a history of the site and some of the people who worked there.

Here's a remembrance by Jean Valentine, who operated the Bombe, a decryption device originally designed by Turing and initially operated by men -- but then operated almost exclusively by women like Valentine. This includes scenes of Bletchley Park and sets the stage for what it was like working there.

And here's a video about Colossus, the world's first electronic, digital, fully programmable computer. It was used for codebreaking, of course. Did you know that parts of Colossus were thrown down coal mine shafts after the war?

For more, check out the online exhibit, or view Google's Cultural Institute with more such excellent stuff. If you're interested in deep details about the Bombe, check out this shaky video (and its second part) in which Hugh Davis explains the Bombe.

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Big Questions
Why Are the Keys On a QWERTY Keyboard Laid Out As They Are?
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Why are the keys on a QWERTY keyboard laid out as they are?

C Stuart Hardwick:

What is commonly called QWERTY (more properly, the Sholes layout) was designed by Christopher Lathan Sholes, then modified through a series of business relationships. Sholes's original keyboard was alphabetical and modeled after a printing telegraph machine. The alphabetical layout was easy to learn, but not easy to type on.

For one thing, all practical typing machines of the day relied on mechanical levers, and adjacent letters could jam if struck with rapidity. There has long been a myth that Sholes designed the QWERTY layout to slow typists down in order to prevent this. Nothing could be further from the truth, but Sholes’s first customers were telegraphers. Over several years, he adapted the piano-like alphabetical keyboard into
a four-row keyboard designed to aid telegraphers in their transcription duties.

This new layout mostly spread out commonly struck keys, but also placed easily confused telegraph semaphores together. This layout was sufficient to permit telegraph transcription to keep up with transmissions and created a growing market.

During this time, Sholes teamed up with several other inventors to form a typewriter company with assignment of all related patents. An association with Remington led to increased sales, at which time another company acquired the shift platen patent that permits a typewriter to type in mixed case, and they seem to have made a few essentially random changes in order to avoid the original typewriter company patents.

So that’s it then, right? QWERTY is crap?

Well, no. QWERTY was based mostly on the needs of telegraphers in transcribing Morse code, and Morse had been scientifically designed to make transmission of English language messages as efficient as possible. The result is that the QWERTY arrangement is pretty good—efficiency-wise.

In the 1930s, John Dvorak used modern time-motion study techniques to design his own keyboard, and around it had grown up a whole cult following and mythology. But the fact is, it’s much ado about nothing. Careful scientific studies in the 1950s, '70s, and '80s have shown that choice between the Sholes and Dvorak layout makes no material difference in typing speed. Practice and effort are what yields rapid typing, and studies of professional typists have shown that however well we may perform on timed trials, few typists ever exceed 35 words per minute in their daily work.

So relax. Take an online typing course, practice a little, and relax.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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Afternoon Map
Monthly Internet Costs in Every Country

Thanks to the internet, people around the world can conduct global research, trade tips, and find faraway friends without ever leaving their couch. Not everyone pays the same price for these digital privileges, though, according to new data visualizations spotted by Thrillist.

To compare internet user prices in each country, cost information site HowMuch.net created a series of maps. The data comes courtesy of English market research consultancy BDRC and Cable.co.uk, which teamed up to analyze 3351 broadband packages in 196 nations between August 18, 2017 and October 12, 2017.

In the U.S., for example, the average cost for internet service is $66 per month. That’s substantially more than what browsers pay in neighboring Mexico ($27) and Canada ($55). Still, we don’t have it bad compared to either Namibia or Burkina Faso, where users shell out a staggering $464 and $924, respectively, for monthly broadband access. In fact, internet in the U.S. is far cheaper than what residents in 113 countries pay, including those in Saudi Arabia ($84), Indonesia ($72), and Greenland ($84).

On average, internet costs in Asia and Russia tend to be among the lowest, while access is prohibitively expensive in sub-Saharan Africa and in certain parts of Oceania. As for the world’s cheapest internet, you’ll find it in Ukraine and Iran.

Check out the maps below for more broadband insights, or view HowMuch.net’s full findings here.

Map of Internet costs in each country created by information site HowMuch.net.
HowMuch.net

Map of Internet costs in each country created by information site HowMuch.net.
HowMuch.net

Map of Internet costs in each country created by information site HowMuch.net.
HowMuch.net

Map of Internet costs in each country created by information site HowMuch.net.
HowMuch.net

Map of Internet costs in each country created by information site HowMuch.net.
HowMuch.net

[h/t Thrillist]

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