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PICList Thread
'Mark1 programming challenge'
1998\02\09@105917 by Ed VanderPloeg

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In celebration of it's 50th anniversary, there's a contest to come up with the
best software for a replica of the Ferranti Mark 1.

Check out:

http://www.cs.man.ac.uk/prog98/

I figure of all the programmers in the world, PIC programmers should be most
adept at coming up with something ultra cool for the Mark 1.  Shoot, when you
look at the programming guide for the old thing, you'd think you were looking
at a manual for an earlier PIC.  The similarities are scary.

-Ed V.

1998\02\09@121706 by Keith Howell

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Ed VanderPloeg wrote:
>  there's a contest to come up with the best software
>  for a replica of the Ferranti Mark 1.
>
> Check out: http://www.cs.man.ac.uk/prog98/

I tried, but this address seems a dud.

I've got cooler things to program than ancient hardware
that can beaten by todays technology.

Might I suggest a competition to program ancient hardware
that actually beats today's technology?

The British built a computer to crack the messages encrypted
by the German Enigma machine. I heard that this can be done
by a Pentium PC of today, but nowhere near as fast as the
electro-mechanical original machine.

This demonstrates that custom hardware can beat generic
problem solvers. The I thought, what about building an
equivalent to the original in electronic logic?
If it were implemented in programmable logic chips,
would this be potentially faster?

BTW, is there any truth in the rumour that while the
government were sending spies to find out about
the Enigma machine, they could have done so far more
safely by asking the London patent office?
machine

1998\02\09@134529 by myke predko

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I'm just thinking, maybe an appropriate entry for this

Keith Howell wrote:

>The British built a computer to crack the messages encrypted
>by the German Enigma machine. I heard that this can be done
>by a Pentium PC of today, but nowhere near as fast as the
>electro-mechanical original machine.

I don't know where you heard this about the decoding computers produced in
the early forties being very fast, but I think that's some kind of (luddite)
urban legend.

Actually, it was the Americans who built the best "engines" during the war
and the ones sent to help the British were based on the "Magic" decrypters
used to defeat the Japanese Diplomatic/Military codes.

The American engines were based on automatic telephone switching circuits.
The circuits were originally designed to count pulses and select circuits
based on the number of pulses.  The American devices had the additional
advantage of being very reliable and using standard equipment (for fast
replication, easy repair and lower costs).

>This demonstrates that custom hardware can beat generic
>problem solvers. The I thought, what about building an
>equivalent to the original in electronic logic?
>If it were implemented in programmable logic chips,
>would this be potentially faster?

I agree with that comment, but not in this case.

The engines used by the British, ran at about 10 checks (of a set of wheel
combinations) per second (the American's machines ran about about 50 cycles
per second).  To check each "wheel" combination (the Enigna machines used 3
wheels (out of about six), each wired differently and placed in different
locations in the machine (ie disks 1-2-3 would provide a different code from
disks 2-1-3).

The total number of combinations/permutations was about 300 Billion.  This
means, that to figure out a code, it would take one (britsh) machine about
six months to a year to crack a code.  The machines were paralleled (of
course), but the issue for the British was their machines were basically
hand built and there was a lot of resistance to using the American built
machines which were mass produced using commercial components.

Each wheel is wired uniquely, but each letter switch (ie "A" is output as
"M") also has the opposite wired true ("M" is output as "A"), so after
coding a message, to decode it, all you had to do was pass the data through
the wheels in reverse.  After a character was coded/decoded, the wheels were
incremented (like an odometer on a car) to a new position to further
scramble the codes.

I've written programs (years ago when I first start reading about this) with
an 8088 PC (running GW-BASIC) that could decode a three wheel Enigma code in
about an hour (assuming it understood significant parts of the message).  I
presume a 200+ MHz Pentium Machine could do it in less than a minute
(although I haven't tried it, now I am intrigued about going back to them
(Now, if I can find the diskette they're saved on)).

The decrypting of the code was carried out by knowing part of the message.
The Germans changed the codes (wheels and starting positions) from once a
month to once a quarter.  Knowing part of the message was either by
monitoring specific stations with specific call signs (which were three
letters) or capturing unencrypted weather reports (which were the only way
they could do it for the U-Boat fleets).  This series of letters was put
into the engine before it was run, stopping each time these letters were
found.

When the letters were found, a human would go and look at what the machine
kicked out and see if a man-readable message was produced.  So, with this,
obviously a lot of time was required looking at potential messages to see if
they were valid.  The goal was to have at least fifty machines working on
the codes at the same time, so they could be cracked in something
approaching real time (ie within weeks of when they were changed) - at the
start of the war, typically the best they could do was about ten machines at
a time.

>BTW, is there any truth in the rumour that while the
>government were sending spies to find out about
>the Enigma machine, they could have done so far more
>safely by asking the London patent office?
>machine

No.  While the mechanics were well known (and used as the basis for the
decryption engines), it was the wheels that had to be procured and the
German Navel machines which used four wheels and were a complete mystery
until later in the war when a sub was captured and boarded before the radio
officer had a chance to destroy his enigma machine (the Navy also used
different wheels that the British didn't have access to).

The original Enigma machine was brought to the British by workers from the
plant in Poland where they were being manufactured.  Even though the British
knew what the machines looked like, they didn't begin to try and figure out
the codes until they received a sample machine and wheels.

Actually, it was the Americans that figured out the Japanese codes and
hardware from scratch.  Apparently, none of the cyptographers saw a working
one except for a crushed parts of one that was found buried in the ground of
the old Japanese embassey in Washington after the war.


It's a really fascinating part of the history of the Second World War and
there are a ton of books written about it (including detailing how the
hardware works).  Robert Harris' novel "Enigma" is not a bad introduction as
to how the codes were figured out.

If you want to look into it, look for "The Ultra Secret" at Amazon.com for a
list of books (although many of the really good books are out of print) -
"Enigma" just brings in too many incorrect references.  "Ultra Secret" was
the code name for the program to decode the "Enigma" box.

myke

Opus:  There's a 465 pound woman pruning her azelias while wearing a pink
stretch bodysuit.

911 Operator:  So what's the emergency?

Opus:  From a taste perspective, it's a crisis of biblical proportions!

1998\02\10@110919 by Keith Howell

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Thank you Myke and Russell for your enlightening texts.
I think I read the same article as Russell.

I was surprised to hear from Myke that the USA had done everything
the UK had, only faster, better, cheaper etc. I applaud the ingenuity
of using common telephony hardware. I think all nations try to
distort their superiority, especially in wartime, with varying
degrees of plausibility. I can't imagine good arguments for
engineering talent being blessed upon one nation more than another.

I accept that the UK government might have underplayed efforts
from abroad. I can only hope that they were a bit more co-ordinated
with the intelligence gained.

Returning to electronics, could the hardware be replaced by say
banks of programmable logic chips or PICs? And where would one
find out the details of the original machines? The author I referred
to wrote that he did not wish to breech the official secrets act and
thus spend his remaining days in prison.

I doubt the Mark 1 will emulate a PIC, let alone a Pentium-beating
decrypter, but perhaps a PIC could emulate a Mark 1?

1998\02\10@190643 by Sean Breheny

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At 03:25 PM 2/10/98 +0000, you wrote:

<snip>

>Returning to electronics, could the hardware be replaced by say
>banks of programmable logic chips or PICs? And where would one
>find out the details of the original machines? The author I referred
>to wrote that he did not wish to breech the official secrets act and
>thus spend his remaining days in prison.

Surely these old codes can't still be protected by laws, can they ?
I thought that some of the books mentioned in this thread DID give details.

Sean


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