“Imitation Game” and Enigma

(Rotor:  II, IV, III; Rotor Start:  NRN; Rings:  AAA, and Plugboard: HC IL WO BX AV UF GZ JS NP KR)


Confused yet?  Heh heh heh, I’ll explain in a minute.  In the meantime, HI!  Guess what I’m doing tomorrow?  Getting my picture taken!  Seems that a friend of mine needed a model for a project for her photography class, and, silly creature that I am, I volunteered.  What’s interesting is the project itself:  do a photo study that imitates the Victorian look entirely, in setting, costume, pose and photographic techniques.  Pretty cool, huh?  I get to get all Victorian and have my portrait done!  The artist picked out the costumes, which is just as well, since I’ve never really done the cosplay thing before this year.  I’m not accepting any pay for being her model; my price was that she had to give me copies of the photos, and permission to post one or two of them on my blog.  Which she was delighted to do, because Jan rocks! So yeah, be watching for those pictures to make their appearance.

Okay, so on to business….

The Imitation Game (2014) with Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightly. I don’t really get all the fuss and frenzy over the man, but I do have to admit, he’s a handsome man, and interesting to watch.


So I saw this movie, The Imitation Game, the other day.  It had Benedict Cumberbatch playing computer pioneer Alan Turing, and focused on the cryptography work he did at Bletchley Park during World War II.  It was a pretty good movie, focusing a lot on the character of Alan Turing (depicting him as extremely eccentric, which may or may not be accurate), his homosexuality — about which he was surprisingly open for the 1940’s — and his relationship with fellow cryptologist/mathematician Joan Clarke (played by Keira Knightly in the film).  The movie is based on the nonfiction book, “Alan Turing:  The Enigma.”

The movie was fine for what it was, I give it two thumbs up, and recommend the movie to all computer geeks and WWII history buffs (like me).  But the movie is not what I really want to talk about.  The part that interested me was the actual cryptology work they were doing at Bletchley Park.  During WWII, the Germans used a coding machine called “Enigma,” to encrypt their military communications.  Enigma looked like the picture to the left:  a complicated typewriter.  But the insides held a truly ingenious system of rotors and circuits (as you can see) to create an almost unbreakable code.  Interestingly enough, it was based on a civilian model, easy to purchase in Germany before the war, that industries used to protect their own internal communications from industrial espionage and the like.  The military simply  added a single layer more of encryption (the pegboard at the front), and adopted it.

And for a long time, it kicked the Allied cryptographers’ butts.  It simply could not be broken.  Okay, I take that back.  According to my research, a given day’s code (they changed every day, on a thirty day cycle) could be beaten by a man with a notepad, a pencil and a lot of patience.  But it could conceivably take days and days to solve a single day’s code, and that simply wasn’t fast enough.  But then along comes Alan Turing, with his ideas, and his Turing Machine, which is the father of our own modern day computers.

And this is where I let the experts take over.  My elder son is an unashamed computer geek, currently working for a computer computer company whose name you’d recognize instantly.  When Elder Son was in college, he turned me on to this YouTube channel called “Numberphile.”  In it, mathematicians talk about numbers and complex maths in a way that even math-challenged idiots like me can understand.  And one time (okay, four times)  they talked about Enigma and the work of Alan Turing.  The videos together are long, over an hour cumulatively.  But I strongly recommend you give them a listen; they take something painfully complex and break it down to the point where even I can understand it (and I’m challenged by balancing my checkbook!)  Go on, I’ll wait.

Here’s step one:

Here’s step two:

Here’s step three:

And here’s Step Four

Did you make it through all four videos?  Fascinating stuff, huh?  This whole business caught my attention from a gadget-happy Punk perspective.  The layout of this device is so elegant, almost simplistic.  Yet it can give complexities in numbers that I can’t begin to wrap my head around.  I can totally see this popping up in a Steampunk or Dieselpunk setting; it just fits.

Now, guess what a little Google-Fu turned up:  two, count ’em two, Enigma Simulators.   Both of them are online, which makes them fun and easy to play with.  The code at the top of this blog was fun through the first emulator.  It says, “Welcome to Clarksonpunk, the home of all things Steampunk, Dieselpunk and New and Classic Pulp!

There’s even an app for your Android! 

Be very careful:  time suck danger!  I meant only to code that one sentence, and ended up wasting an hour just playing around with the settings.

And for those of you who enjoy building gadgets for your Steam and Diesel fun, here’s another cool page.  It gives you a print out and instructions on how to build your own Enigma machine from paper.  Not real sure how that works, but it looks intriguing.

Okay, I think that’s it for me.  You know the drill:  share, tweet, comment, write.  If you have any recommendations for Fun Friday, contact me through the email address on my About page.  I’ll see you all on Friday, and between now and then, be good.  And if you can’t be good, don’t get caught


Categories: books, Dieselpunk, History, Video | Leave a comment

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