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Alan Turing's 100th Birthday - Mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst, scientist
Alan Mathison Turing (; 23 June 1912 – 7 June 1954) was an English mathematician, computer scientist, logician, cryptanalyst, philosopher, and theoretical biologist. Turing was highly influential in the development of theoretical computer science, providing a formalisation of the concepts of algorithm and computation with the Turing machine, which can be considered a model of a general-purpose computer. Turing is widely considered to be the father of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence. Despite these accomplishments, he was not fully recognised in his home country during his lifetime, due to his homosexuality, and because much of his work was covered by the Official Secrets Act.
During the Second World War, Turing worked for the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) at Bletchley Park, Britain's codebreaking centre that produced Ultra intelligence. For a time he led Hut 8, the section that was responsible for German naval cryptanalysis. Here, he devised a number of techniques for speeding the breaking of German ciphers, including improvements to the pre-war Polish bombe method, an electromechanical machine that could find settings for the Enigma machine.
Turing played a crucial role in cracking intercepted coded messages that enabled the Allies to defeat the Nazis in many crucial engagements, including the Battle of the Atlantic, and in so doing helped win the war. Due to the problems of counterfactual history, it is hard to estimate the precise effect Ultra intelligence had on the war, but at the upper end it has been estimated that this work shortened the war in Europe by more than two years and saved over 14 million lives.
After the war Turing worked at the National Physical Laboratory, where he designed the Automatic Computing Engine. The Automatic Computing Engine was one of the first designs for a stored-program computer. In 1948 Turing joined Max Newman's Computing Machine Laboratory, at the Victoria University of Manchester, where he helped develop the Manchester computers and became interested in mathematical biology. He wrote a paper on the chemical basis of morphogenesis and predicted oscillating chemical reactions such as the Belousov–Zhabotinsky reaction, first observed in the 1960s.
Turing was prosecuted in 1952 for homosexual acts; the Labouchere Amendment of 1885 had mandated that "gross indecency" was a criminal offence in the UK. He accepted chemical castration treatment, with DES, as an alternative to prison. Turing died in 1954, 16 days before his 42nd birthday, from cyanide poisoning. An inquest determined his death as a suicide, but it has been noted that the known evidence is also consistent with accidental poisoning.
In 2009, following an Internet campaign, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown made an official public apology on behalf of the British government for "the appalling way he was treated". Queen Elizabeth II granted Turing a posthumous pardon in 2013. The Alan Turing law is now an informal term for a 2017 law in the United Kingdom that retroactively pardoned men cautioned or convicted under historical legislation that outlawed homosexual acts.
- "Alan Turing's 100th Birthday - Mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst, scientist" | 2012-06-22 | 146 Upvotes 19 Comments
- "Happy Birthday, Alan Turing" | 2011-06-23 | 78 Upvotes 6 Comments
Charles Babbage (; 26 December 1791 – 18 October 1871) was an English polymath. A mathematician, philosopher, inventor and mechanical engineer, Babbage originated the concept of a digital programmable computer.
Considered by some to be a father of the computer, Babbage is credited with inventing the first mechanical computer that eventually led to more complex electronic designs, though all the essential ideas of modern computers are to be found in Babbage's Analytical Engine. His varied work in other fields has led him to be described as "pre-eminent" among the many polymaths of his century.
Parts of Babbage's incomplete mechanisms are on display in the Science Museum in London. In 1991, a functioning difference engine was constructed from Babbage's original plans. Built to tolerances achievable in the 19th century, the success of the finished engine indicated that Babbage's machine would have worked.
- "Charles Babbage" | 2015-08-17 | 17 Upvotes 5 Comments
The Great Stink
The Great Stink was an event in central London in July and August 1858 during which the hot weather exacerbated the smell of untreated human waste and industrial effluent that was present on the banks of the River Thames. The problem had been mounting for some years, with an ageing and inadequate sewer system that emptied directly into the Thames. The miasma from the effluent was thought to transmit contagious diseases, and three outbreaks of cholera before the Great Stink were blamed on the ongoing problems with the river.
The smell, and fears of its possible effects, prompted action from the local and national administrators who had been considering possible solutions for the problem. The authorities accepted a proposal from the civil engineer Joseph Bazalgette to move the effluent eastwards along a series of interconnecting sewers that sloped towards outfalls beyond the metropolitan area. Work on high-, mid- and low-level systems for the new Northern and Southern Outfall Sewers started at the beginning of 1859 and lasted until 1875. To aid the drainage, pumping stations were placed to lift the sewage from lower levels into higher pipes. Two of the more ornate stations, Abbey Mills in Stratford and Crossness on the Erith Marshes, are listed for protection by English Heritage. Bazalgette's plan introduced the three embankments to London in which the sewers ran—the Victoria, Chelsea and Albert Embankments.
Bazalgette's work ensured that sewage was no longer dumped onto the shores of the Thames and brought an end to the cholera outbreaks; his actions are thought to have saved more lives than the efforts of any other Victorian official. His sewer system operates into the 21st century, servicing a city that has grown to a population of over eight million. The historian Peter Ackroyd argues that Bazalgette should be considered a hero of London.
- "The Great Stink" | 2019-07-22 | 97 Upvotes 27 Comments
Isambard Kingdom Brunel
Isambard Kingdom Brunel (; 9 April 1806 – 15 September 1859) was a British civil engineer who is considered "one of the most ingenious and prolific figures in engineering history", "one of the 19th-century engineering giants", and "one of the greatest figures of the Industrial Revolution, [who] changed the face of the English landscape with his groundbreaking designs and ingenious constructions". Brunel built dockyards, the Great Western Railway (GWR), a series of steamships including the first propeller-driven transatlantic steamship, and numerous important bridges and tunnels. His designs revolutionised public transport and modern engineering.
Though Brunel's projects were not always successful, they often contained innovative solutions to long-standing engineering problems. During his career, Brunel achieved many engineering firsts, including assisting in the building of the first tunnel under a navigable river and the development of SS Great Britain, the first propeller-driven, ocean-going, iron ship, which, when launched in 1843, was the largest ship ever built.
On the GWR, Brunel set standards for a well-built railway, using careful surveys to minimise gradients and curves. This necessitated expensive construction techniques, new bridges, new viaducts, and the two-mile (3.2 km) long Box Tunnel. One controversial feature was the wide gauge, a "broad gauge" of 7 ft 1⁄4 in (2,140 mm), instead of what was later to be known as "standard gauge" of 4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm). He astonished Britain by proposing to extend the GWR westward to North America by building steam-powered, iron-hulled ships. He designed and built three ships that revolutionised naval engineering: the SS Great Western (1838), the SS Great Britain (1843), and the SS Great Eastern (1859).
In 2002, Brunel was placed second in a BBC public poll to determine the "100 Greatest Britons". In 2006, the bicentenary of his birth, a major programme of events celebrated his life and work under the name Brunel 200.
- "Isambard Kingdom Brunel" | 2015-11-16 | 52 Upvotes 17 Comments
- "Isambard Kingdom Brunel" | 2014-05-13 | 103 Upvotes 25 Comments
The Oxus treasure (Persian: گنجینه آمودریا) is a collection of about 180 surviving pieces of metalwork in gold and silver, the majority rather small, plus perhaps about 200 coins, from the Achaemenid Persian period which were found by the Oxus river about 1877-1880. The exact place and date of the find remain unclear, and it is likely that many other pieces from the hoard were melted down for bullion; early reports suggest there were originally some 1500 coins, and mention types of metalwork that are not among the surviving pieces. The metalwork is believed to date from the sixth to fourth centuries BC, but the coins show a greater range, with some of those believed to belong to the treasure coming from around 200 BC. The most likely origin for the treasure is that it belonged to a temple, where votive offerings were deposited over a long period. How it came to be deposited is unknown.
As a group, the treasure is the most important survival of what was once an enormous production of Achaemenid work in precious metal. It displays a very wide range of quality of execution, with the many gold votive plaques mostly crudely executed, some perhaps by the donors themselves, while other objects are of superb quality, presumably that expected by the court.
The British Museum now has nearly all the surviving metalwork, with one of the pair of griffin-headed bracelets on loan from the Victoria and Albert Museum, and displays them in Room 52. The group arrived at the museum by different routes, with many items bequeathed to the nation by Augustus Wollaston Franks. The coins are more widely dispersed, and more difficult to firmly connect with the treasure. A group believed to come from it is in the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, and other collections have examples.
The Anamorphic Skull in Holbein's “The Ambassadors”
The Ambassadors (1533) is a painting by Hans Holbein the Younger. Also known as Jean de Dinteville and Georges de Selve, it was created in the Tudor period, in the same year Elizabeth I was born. As well as being a double portrait, the painting contains a still life of several meticulously rendered objects, the meaning of which is the cause of much debate. It also incorporates a much-cited example of anamorphosis in painting. It is part of the collection at the National Gallery in London.
- "The Anamorphic Skull in Holbein's “The Ambassadors”" | 2015-12-27 | 23 Upvotes 5 Comments
The Crystal Palace
The Crystal Palace was a cast-iron and plate-glass structure originally built in Hyde Park, London, to house the Great Exhibition of 1851. The exhibition took place from 1 May until 15 October 1851, and more than 14,000 exhibitors from around the world gathered in its 990,000 square feet (92,000 m2) exhibition space to display examples of technology developed in the Industrial Revolution. Designed by Joseph Paxton, the Great Exhibition building was 1,851 feet (564 m) long, with an interior height of 128 feet (39 m). It was three times the size of St Paul's Cathedral.
The introduction of the sheet glass method into Britain by Chance Brothers in 1832 made possible the production of large sheets of cheap but strong glass, and its use in the Crystal Palace created a structure with the greatest area of glass ever seen in a building. It astonished visitors with its clear walls and ceilings that did not require interior lights.
It has been suggested that the name of the building resulted from a piece penned by the playwright Douglas Jerrold, who in July 1850 wrote in the satirical magazine Punch about the forthcoming Great Exhibition, referring to a "palace of very crystal".
After the exhibition, the Palace was relocated to an area of South London known as Penge Common. It was rebuilt at the top of Penge Peak next to Sydenham Hill, an affluent suburb of large villas. It stood there from June 1854 until its destruction by fire in November 1936. The nearby residential area was renamed Crystal Palace after the landmark. This included the Crystal Palace Park that surrounds the site, home of the Crystal Palace National Sports Centre, which had previously been a football stadium that hosted the FA Cup Final between 1895 and 1914. Crystal Palace F.C. were founded at the site in 1905 and played at the Cup Final venue in their early years. The park still contains Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins's Crystal Palace Dinosaurs which date back to 1854.
- "The Crystal Palace" | 2019-12-07 | 48 Upvotes 31 Comments
Oil futures drunk-trading incident
The oil futures drunk-trading incident was an incident in which Stephen Perkins, an employee of London-based PVM Oil Futures, traded 7 million barrels (1.1 million cubic metres) of oil, worth approximately US$520 million (£340 million) in a two-and-half-hour period in the early morning of 30 June 2009 while drunk. These unauthorised trades caused the price of Brent Crude oil to rise by over $1.50 a barrel (equivalent to $1.79 in 2019) within a short period of time, a trend generally associated with major geopolitical events, before dropping rapidly. As a result of the trading, PVM Oil Futures suffered losses of almost $10 million and Perkins was dismissed, later being banned from trading by the Financial Services Authority (FSA).
- "Oil futures drunk-trading incident" | 2020-04-22 | 120 Upvotes 50 Comments
River Thames Frost Fairs
The River Thames frost fairs were held on the tideway of the River Thames in London, England in some winters, starting at least as early as the late 7th century all the way until the early 19th century. Most were held between the early 17th and early 19th centuries during the period known as the Little Ice Age, when the river froze over most frequently. During that time the British winter was more severe than it is now, and the river was wider and slower, further impeded by the medieval Old London Bridge.
Even at its peak, in the mid-17th century, the Thames in London froze less often than modern legend sometimes suggests, never exceeding about one year in ten except for four winters between 1649 and 1666. From 1400 until the removal of the medieval London Bridge in 1835, there were 24 winters in which the Thames was recorded to have frozen over at London; if "more or less frozen over" years (in parentheses) are included, the number is 26: 1408, 1435, 1506, 1514, 1537, 1565, 1595, 1608, 1621, 1635, 1649, 1655, 1663, 1666, 1677, 1684, 1695, 1709, 1716, 1740, (1768), 1776, (1785), 1788, 1795, and 1814. Of the 24, the numbers in each century were: 15th two, 16th five, 17th ten, 18th six, 19th one. The Thames freezes over more often upstream, beyond the reach of the tide, especially above the weirs, of which Teddington Lock is the lowest. The last great freeze of the higher Thames was in 1962–63.
Frost fairs were a rare event even in the coldest parts of the Little Ice Age. Some of the recorded frost fairs were in 695, 1608, 1683-4, 1716, 1739–40, 1789, and 1814. Recreational cold weather winter events were far more common elsewhere in Europe, for example in the Netherlands. These events in other countries as well as the winter festivals and carnivals around the world in present times can also be considered frost fairs. However, very few of them have actually used that title.
During the Great Frost of 1683–84, the severest frost recorded in England, the Thames was completely frozen for two months, with the ice reaching a thickness of 11 inches (28 cm) in London. Solid ice was reported extending for miles off the coasts of the southern North Sea (England, France and the Low Countries), causing severe problems for shipping and preventing the use of many harbours.
- "River Thames Frost Fairs" | 2020-05-18 | 57 Upvotes 10 Comments
Fumifugium, or, The inconveniencie of the aer and smoak of London
Fumifugium, or, The inconveniencie of the aer and smoak of London dissipated together with some remedies humbly proposed by J.E. esq. to His Sacred Majestie, and to the Parliament now assembled is a pamphlet published in London, 1661 (see 1661 in literature), by John Evelyn. It is one of the earliest known works on air pollution and is broken down into three parts which explain the problem, a proposed solution, and a way of improvement upon the air in London. The letter was specifically addressed to King Charles II of England and discussed problems with the capital's air pollution dating back to medieval times. Evelyn refers to Greek philosophers, who once believed that air was the principle of the earth and primary substance of the soul up until the time that air pollution began to cause ill health.
Evelyn was appointed to the newly formed Royal Society, and both Society and pamphlet are celebrated in the 1663 "Ballad of Gresham College". Stanza 23 (given here in modern English) describes how Evelyn
[...] shows that 'tis the sea-coal smoke
That always London does environ,
Which does our lungs and spirits choke,
Our hanging spoil, and rust our iron.
Let none at Fumifuge be scoffing
Who heard at Church our Sunday's coughing.
The sea-coal to which Evelyn referred was appropriately named because it came by sea from Newcastle. When burned, it gave off a terrible smell because of high amounts of sulfur in its composition. When burned the sea coal released sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide, nitric oxide, soot, and particulates of organic matter into the atmosphere. The pamphlet suggests that burning wood, particularly aromatic woods, will be less harmful to the lungs and recommends relocating some of London's more polluting industries outside the capital, in particular lime-burning and brewing.
- "Fumifugium, or, The inconveniencie of the aer and smoak of London" | 2020-09-15 | 46 Upvotes 2 Comments