Why Did The Policeman Cross the Road?

By Stevyn Colgan

Not so much police intelligence as intelligent policing

Monday, 13 October 2014


Hello Shedfolk!

Sorry for the absence but I've been rather busy working on my contribution to Dr Sue Black's brilliant new book Saving Bletchley Park. It's here on Unbound - I believe it is still the fastest crowdfunded book ever - and it will be out next year.

Sue's written an amazing story of how the campaign began, grew and eventually resulted in Bletchley Park's rescue. I've been writing some material to provide the historical context; to explain why it was so important to save the place.

It's meant a few trips to the site and, last week, Sue and I went to have a play with Colossus, arguably the world's first programmable computer. It's five tons of glorious clunky mechanical valve-flashing beauty. I took lots of photos, some of which mght well make it into the book.


Anyhoo ... during the course of this research I discovered lots of wonderful problem-solving stories that may make it into MY book! One such concerns the early days of the campaign when the Bletchley Park estate looked as if it was going to be sold off to be turned over to housing (indeed, 50% of the site did get sold and now has housing on it). So desperate were the campaigners to save the site that they started looking for anything that would delay the developers ... and then someone realised that several trees were of special scientific interest. An application was put forward to preserve them and bam! No more building allowed on the site. Brilliant!

Anyway, it's going to be a wonderful book so if you haven't pledged already, I'd advise you to do so.

And, now the pressure is off a little, I'm back on Why did the policeman cross the road? full-time again. So expect these shedposts to go back to being pretty regular.


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Craig Lewis
 Craig Lewis says:

Amazing place, with the added advantage that the room is always warm from all those valves :)

I was chatting to one of the engineers about the blown valve issue because I was intrigued by the way Colossus worked with multiple computational streams and wondered if any data would be recoverable if a valve in just one of those streams broke. The answer was basically no, but they did say they could get it working quickly by walking down the banks and changing the valve that didn't burn their hand when they touched it :)

I also chatted to them about a particular aspect of managing the network of Lorentz machines and was rewarded with an amazing story of internal politics that I probably shouldn't repeat in public but I'll tell you if I ever get the chance ;)

posted 13th October 2014

Stevyn Colgan
 Stevyn Colgan says:

The 'internal politics' story sounds intriguing! If you get five minutes, drop me a line at stevyn@QI.com - I'd be interested to hear all about it! And yes, an amazing beast. Talking to some veterans, there are tales of the Colossus rooms being used to dry wet clothing, though how true that is ...

posted 14th October 2014

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