Sunday, 23 November 2014

Alan Turing: The Imagination Game

“Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of that do the things no one can imagine.” Recurrent quote in The Imitation Game.
Father and victim
In Sackville Park, Manchester sits a statue with a plaque at its feet, one line, less prominent but quite important, "Victim of prejudice." That was a bygone age where the other sexuality was criminalised and with it came the law, heavy and merciless in its application.
Yet, to this man we owe more than we can ever fully appreciate him for. It was his genius that gave birth to the computer.
I type away literally oblivious of the real history of computing that Hollywood has attempted to serve us in film, one that opened in cinema theatres just over a week ago.
Of the film
Interest and engagement have gotten me have viewing The Imitation Game twice already, it is the story of Alan Turing and his work in breaking the encryption of the German Nazi Enigma machine.
One cannot say that the depiction in film is entirely true to the facts especially in the part where Alan Turing might well have been slandered in the film by being accused of being a spy.
The film itself is worth watching, it is interesting, engaging and somewhat plays around the youth, the genius, the sexuality, the persecution and the prosecution of the man, the man who died on the 7th of June 1954.
There is much acknowledgement of his seminal work, honours that have come posthumously and the royal pardon granted from 2013. [Computing Machinery and Intelligence – Turing, A. M. (1950)]
My crazy
This is not a film review, I somehow cannot help myself when I watch films, and I have to find something of the essence of life in the drama and the action.
I liked the line, "Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of that do the things no one can imagine," which passed from Christopher Morcom to Alan Turing to Joan Clarke and back to Alan Turing in the film.
However, the other bits that got me thinking in my usual penchant for over-analysing plots and plays are some of these things.
How crossword puzzles were used as a means to interview personnel for code-breaking, the conventional wisdom was to use linguists to decipher German code, Alan Turing however saw these as puzzles.
And so …
Somehow, what Alan Turing did was to eliminate chance from solving logical problems, at least that is one perspective to things.
Once the Enigma code was broken, the greater task was keeping it a secret and consequently, when it comes to tough decisions, who makes them and what goes into it? That was what Ultra was about and apparently that is why the allies won WWII.
That is why the Imitation Game was more like the Imagination Game for me, what he imagined became the reality of the world of computational power at the fingertips of mankind today. Alan Turing was an exceptionally gifted man, his homosexuality should never have taken such a genius away from us.
Other readings


Essential Snobbery 101: Emails should not replace proper communication

Breeding annoyance
The times I have been quite noticeably shocked by behaviour and attitude is without count. That I have quite promptly upbraided people is something people who know me appreciate.
The other day, it was an email with the appeal that I be "calm, logical and professional". Some messages are not worth responding to, because there is no arrangement of words that would serve the intent as well as the put down she deserved.
I decided, she had not with all our dealings began to understand the kind of person that I am. Nothing annoys me more than the lack of courtesy, where people resort to emails in place of the essential conversation and think things are fine that way.
Proper conduct
Sadly, in my view, if you will saddle me with a responsibility, then you should chat to me. That I have acquiesced does not mean I have accepted that responsibility apart from trying to create a situation of, 'can we just get along?'
It is the same thing that informs how I travel and how I like things to be, 'just so'. There is a cost to this, but the truth is whilst some might consider me demanding or complaining. I prefer the absence of conflict borne of the fact that people know what they are supposed to do, that I do not have to ask them to do what should have been properly done.
Human-to-human conversation is still the most effective, courteous and respectful kind of communication, it shows engagement too.
Project management off the books
This is where one must say the project is losing focus, no expectations are set, no inspiration is given and hence, there is no commitment and targets are not met.
There is the science of project management and there is an art of project management; many have mastered the former and lack any skill in the latter. In essence, they have to bludgeon rather than encourage and escalate rather than encourage.
That they appear to be out of their depth is no surprise and that we are to pick up Humpty Dumpty's pieces afterwards, is no surprise.
If I have to insinuate myself into this situation, the quest to get things going might inadvertently expose the incompetence of others. That is why I am restraining myself, but it would not be long before knowledge and understanding meet in the realisation of somewhat all too obvious facts.
I am biding my time.


Thought Picnic: The travails of story

Stories struggling
It is strange that the constant urge to write is sometimes overcome but nondescript distractions that end with a day not clearly defined by any worthy activity of note.
In the process you upbraid yourself having silently resolved at some date in the past to apply yourself diligently and with discipline to that activity.
Over time, a number of stories un-birthed settle into a period of painful introspective gestation having no term from which to have a determinate trimester.
Opportunity in distress
Yet, sometimes event and opportunity coincide to give the story a life never expected, but surer than when it was first conceived.
I have one such story I have wanted to write for three weeks, a number of events of international significance and particular to two personalities came to light and I prevaricated until a few days ago. When a social event I had planned was shifted to another day, giving me the chance to tie a number of tales together, but I gave up that chance.
The interesting thing is I already have a good idea of what I need to do, but I cannot write until something in the celestial orbits of my mind aligns. Then the inspiration flows to produce something better than I ever intended.
That is the power of story.


Sunday, 16 November 2014

Thought Picnic: The plant

Labours of reluctance
I am not as green-fingered as my father who in his professional prime left lucrative accountancy on an unfortunately doomed enterprise in farming, the first harvest was raided first by monkeys and what was left fell to mould.
Besides, as authoritarian patriarch long before his father died, he had a penchant of starting us off on some laborious earthy project and conveniently disappearing off for some more important activity. We noticed that sleight of hand long before and it probably informed how we sometimes distanced ourselves so as not to be enthused into another wild scheme.
The plant
I was given an orchid when I bought my home in Amsterdam, it needed careful tending and it only flowered annually, it was the plant.
The plant in some ways was something I desired, I was ready to invest in it for the pleasure of the bloom and so the tending began. The right flower pot, a place to put it to catch the sunlight, the watering done not to drown the plant, the soil sometime fertilised to nourish the plant and I waited.
Religiously, the tending became routine, as expectation grew, but the flowering and the pleasure came once, then the waiting for a second as the routine continued after which one hoped the season may shorten for a more frequently flowering.
I’m done
For all the hope, it began to look hopeless, there was no bud and no flower, the plant took the sun and the water, it was trimmed and pruned to the point that if it were possible one would pull out a flower like a magician pulls a rabbit out of a hat. All to no avail.
By the third year, I was tired of the orchid much as I have grown tired of the plant, this love interest that one is apparently trying to woo with all charm, concern and compassion is taking sunlight and water, and giving nothing back in the colour of nature. I am quite done with this, time for another plant, though maybe that is why I am not green-fingered, I'll place an order for Gardening for Dummies.


Thought Picnic: The global village is like jetting off to the next hut

The distances in the village
The morbid reality discussed in the former blog, is not just restricted to the many Nigerians or the Africans that have gone to far-flung destinations; it affects the many who have moved away from home to make their lives in other town or cities, countries or continents.
Thankfully, we have not yet colonised space, that would have factored in the equation and there is no telling what the postcodes for the moon or other planets will be.
We are constantly reminded that we live in global village, because of the ease of travel first and now the ease of communication. This also means that the village huts are not as close together anymore; the village chief is probably the UN Secretary General, but he does not wield as much power as the old village chief, whose wisdom and counsel made for peace in the community.
Comfort zones lost
Easy things of simple living and dying have been jettisoned by globalisation. If the means exists, we can circumnavigate the world in just over a day and have learnt nothing but the thrill.
Yet, we must learn new habits, make adjustments and accommodations for difference and diversity, understand strange cultures, and appreciate nuance and subtlety as we try to carry these from the vernacular and the village to the lowest common denominator of global communication - English.
Each language has a richness, even English. We are usually advised to write for the broader audience, simple short sentences which are fine, but we end up losing versatility and depth if we live on milk alone when we should have moved on to meat. There is the milk is for babies element to expression and there is meat for deeper engagement.
Between us and apart from them
Context, tone, intent, delivery and meaning can be rudimentary or complex, the English when being English have mastered the understatement, a Shibboleth that only the schooled or reared would understand as those who speak it as another language will be completely oblivious.
Ridiculous as English jokes might sound to very many, we laugh if and when we get it, the division made more stark because English in the United Kingdom is many cases quite different from that spoken, written and understood in word usage, context, tone and meaning from that spoken in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand where it is natively spoken before you consider other countries where it is the official language.
I wondered how to end this blog and then decided, it best ends this way to be continued along another line of thought.