28 July 2007

An Enigma Wrapped In a Mystery

My last post talked about an Enigma machine up for auction. But unless you are already a WWII geek (like me), you might not get what is so important about this thing that looks like a weird German typewriter.

Right, who else but WWII geeks are reading this anyway?

Well, I'm going to talk about it anyway.

Enigma was in many ways the last of its kind, the last encryption system from a time when a 'computer' was a woman (or rather a lot of women) in a room with a slide-rule. Enigma was the last great analog cryptography system.

There were many versions of the enigma machine made for business, government, and different branches of the German military in WWII. The British managed to crack every one through the efforts of such brainy types as Alan Turing at Bletchley Park. In the process, they invented the modern digital computer.

From those days on, cryptology became less of a game of cloak-and-dagger, less about the great brains attacking a problem as a matter of pentaflops.

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27 July 2007

Enigma Machine For Sale

Here's a piece of WWII history for the cryptography fans out there. A museum-quality original Enigma code machine is up for auction on eBay. I'm afraid my German is way too rusty (or rather never that good to begin with) to translate the details of the auction. Luckily for us monoglots, Boing Boing has an article on it as well.

While I'm sure that it will be easier to bring home this machine than it was for the Polish agents who first smuggled examples out of the Nazi Reich, you can still expect this auction to run to well over $10,000 US. Alas, outside of my price range.

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10 July 2007

Propaganda Posters

My wonderful wife purchased a book collection of WWI and WWII posters for me on a whim. Some of these images are so well known that they've become part of our daily vocabulary, whether it's Uncle Sam picking you out of crowd or Rosie the Riveter showing that feminism wasn't invented in the 60's.

Other posters have been forgotten, or at least their messages seem to fall on deaf ears. I'd love to see some of these on the walls of your local strip mall or Home Depot. After all, have you really tried to save gas by car-pooling?


03 July 2007

Shrugging-Off the Atomic Bomb

Sixty-two years later and the atomic bombing of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki claim another victim, the political career of Japan's defense minister Fumio Kyuma. Kyuma resigned due to the uproar over his comment that the bombings were “shou ga nai” (described by linguists as a “verbal shrug” implying “it’s not good, but what can you do?”).

Well sure, it's not good. The whole war was not good (contrary to what Studs Terkel might tell you). And sixty years later, what can you do? Continue to pick up the pieces and try to see that it doesn't happen again...doesn't need to happen again.

The issue here is that survivor groups feel that Kyuma's comments justified U.S. actions. Whether the bombings were justified is a post for another time perhaps. Personally, I'm happy that such a debate continues and that the bombings remain so pivotal and feared in world culture. The more mythic that status we give to nukes, the less likely we all will be to use them.

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