Fourier analysis and clarity of mind

September 14, 2010

colin.holland-September 14, 2010

I am an habitual reader of the obituaries in the The Times (of London), for some reason the older I get the more interested I become. The Register section usually has multiple entries over two or three pages and anything over a one-third page entry is significant. I have however taken to reading the last few paragraphs of each entry before deciding to read the whole piece.

Last Friday the penultimate paragraph in a page-long obituary caught my eye. It simply stated, "Batey had been unwell recently but retained his faculties till the end. Given the standard compos mentis test by his doctor shortly before his death, he answered every question correctly and went on to impress the doctor with an explanation of the merits of Fourier analysis."

I remember studying Fourier analysis many years ago but would not claim to have been able to explain it then, let alone now. The 91-year-old Keith Batey put me to shame but then examination of the full text of the tribute indicated what a remarkable life he had lead.

Batey was one of the key code breakers based at Bletchley Park during the Second World War. He was part of the Hut 6 gang that early on decrypted messages that identified radio beams guiding German bombers.

But The Times report states that he had a degree of guilt about his "cushy" post and trained to be a pilot although not allowed to join the RAF due the danger that he might be captured over enemy territory. He was allowed to join the Fleet Air Arm where any mishap would see him deposited in the sea to drown or be picked up by Allied forces.

Sanity must have prevailed as he soon returned to Bletchley and went on to play a major part in breaking more codes. After the war he worked for the British government and from 1955 to 1967 was Secretary at the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farborough. He later held several posts as Oxford University.

While at Bletchley he met and married his wife Mavis, who survives him and was involved with researching Enigma ciphers as they appeared.

In recent years Bletchley Park and the work carried out there has become much more public and it continues to be restored and expanded. Our columnist Jack Ganssle visited it in 2008 and produced an illustrated report My Visit to Bletchley Park

This week came news that The National Museum of Computing (TNMOC) which was opened at Bletchley Park in 2008 has received a donation of £100,000 to help secure its future.

TNMOC now ranks amongst the top three dedicated computer museums in the world. Visitors can see and sometimes even use rare or unique working exhibits spanning seven decades of computing development.

The funding from Bletchley Park Capital Partners and associates will be used to help pay the Museum’s running costs and to help secure its long-term future and independence. BPCP will also provide resources to redecorate the Museum building, the historic Block H which, as home to the war-time Colossus machines, was the world’s first purpose-built computer centre.

The growing range of displays at TNMOC include a rebuild of Colossus Mk II, acknowledged as the world’s first modern computer, the ongoing restoration of the WITCH-Harwell computer of the 1950s, mainframes of the 1960s, the NPL Gallery on the Technology of the Internet, plus hands-on micros from the 1970s and 1980s and a retro-programming classroom.

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