Visiting with Enigma

Last week I got to see, touch, and hear about an Enigma machine. It was a really amazing experience. I meant to write about it then, but a variety of things (including having to decompile a variety of .class files because IntelliJ, which up until now was a picture-perfect IDE, emptied the corresponding .java files) came up. A very good post on the same experience can be found in Dan Swan’s blog, so I won’t duplicate that work here.

Suffice it to say it stuck in my head, especially since I had recently read Cryptonomicon (Neal Stephenson). Simon Singh was recommended as author for a very good non-fiction codebreaking history book. Another recommended book in this area is Jack Copeland’s Colossus, on the Colossus machine, which was not used for breaking Enigma, but rather for breaking a completely different cipher from the Lorenz SZ 40/42 cipher machine.

p.s. Yes, I had a backup of my java files, but no, they were a couple of days old and therefore it was quicker to decompile using jad.

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Bomb Scare at Newcastle University

The entire university was evacuated this morning around 10:20am. What was originally thought to be another fire drill was announced (after around 20 minutes) to actually be a bomb scare. Everyone in the University was moved from the fire-safe positions to (I am guessing) bomb-safe positions at Exhibition Park nearby. Supposedly an anonymous phone call had been made to the University this morning, warning that a bomb would go off around 11:00am. Most of what I’m saying are rumours that went around the people waiting at the park, so it is unclear what was really going on.

It was a surreal situation: first, the migration en masse of a very large number of academics down the street and across a junction to the park. Everyone actually used the crosswalk! I would say that was a very British thing to do, except that there were many people who weren’t British among the group. There was certainly no panic. Then, when we got to the park, the only entertainment (initially at least) were all the young men who were practicing their cycling skills in the skatepark. Later, of course, there were the police, TV crew and firemen to watch, as well as our fellow academics. People watching at its finest! Believe me, seeing a group of about 20 cleaning ladies dressed in neat blue-and-white checked dresses sitting inside the skatepark, themselves watching the bike tricks, was definitely a memorable moment in time.

Once our half of the university was re-opened, walking back en masse was another interesting experience. There were so many of us that it seemed like we were a particularly oddly-dressed section of the Great North Run. We even went over the police tape that had earlier been barring the road, which made it seem like we were all crossing a finish line. I should have taken a picture with my phone, but I still forget such new-fangled technology is sitting in my pocket.

By 12:15, half of the university was back in their offices: the other buildings, including the medical school, still hadn’t been cleared. Conflicting rumours were passed around while we were at Exhibition Park: some said the caller identified the Medical School as the location of the bomb. Others, the new Devonshire building, while still others said no specific building was named, which was why the entire University needed to be cleared. I don’t know whether just a prank or something more.

In any case, as long as it remained a threat and nothing concrete, I could think of worse ways to spend more than two hours than in a park chatting with friends.

Update: There is now a news item on the Newcastle University website (Newcastle staff only). Basically, the link says that they received a warning for a bomb threat that they considered serious. I’ll post a link to a public site if one becomes available. By 15:00 all University buildings had been reoccupied.