The British Computer Society and the Institution of Engineering and Technology are urged to get behind the saving of Bletchley Park the home of 'The Computer'.
The title may shock a bit but it was designed to grab your attention. Also to shame the British Computer Society (BCS) into some action which it really should have already taken. Many years ago, in the depths of a dark time for Europe, many engineering innovations happened. Some were evolutionary and some revolutionary. One that was revolutionary beyond anyone's wildest dreams happened at Bletchley Park near Milton Keynes in the U.K.
Now I don't mean the oft-touted Enigma code-breaking stuff. That was evolutionary not revolutionary and apart from the British, the Poles, Dutch, Czechs, French and Germans all had a hand in that. In fact much of modern cryptography came out of central Europe.
What I am referring to is the birth of the electronic stored program computer. Bletchley Park's real legacy is that it is the home of 'The Computer'. It changed, or rather revolutionised, the world.
Bletchley Park is in need of some assistance to survive. I know you have all heard this before but this time it is very different. The actual infrastructure of the buildings is failing. If the famous huts are not renovated now, it has been estimated, they will not exist in three years. After that there will be little left to save. They need £9 million to save the birth-place of computers. In the current scheme of bailouts it is an insignificant drop in the ocean.
Several groups are trying desperately to raise money " it is worth visiting Sue Blacks site. There is also the petition to the Prime Minister which is for U.K. nationals only. Unfortunately with the political eyes on the 2012 London Olympics, funding from all the sources you would think should be supporting this cause are looking the other way.
Even the 'heritage' funding groups don't seem able to help. Sadly it is seen almost as 'just another war-museum' rather than the place that changed the world.
So why am I ashamed to be a BCS member?
The Bletchley computer changed so many things in the world and gave the British Computer Society its reason to exist. Having contacts at director level in both the BCS and the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), I contacted them to ask what, besides nice words and photo opportunities, they are doing to help.
The IET director side-stepped and passed it to a colleague who did not respond. The BCS did give me a reply. In brief it said that with the current economic crisis the BCS had no spare funds. The BCS is guilty of killing its parent by neglect.
I am proposing is that every member of the BCS and the IET instead of renewing their membership this year, they donate the equivalent to Bletchley Park. With 60,000 BCS and 140,000 IET members multiplied by about £80 could raise £16 Million. That sum of money would save Bletchley Park, enable renovation and make it self-sustaining.
I recommend that all BCS and IET members write to the directors to inform them that unless the BCS and IET donate some serious support to Bletchley Park, instead of renewing your membership you will donate your fee. I think the loss of a years subscription from most of the BCS and IET membership will concentrate their minds.
If only half the membership do this it will make such a difference that the immediate problems will be solved. Bletchley is a sight of global significance to the world at large never mind the computing world. Yet it is kept, barely, alive by volunteers and charity fund raising.
Having made myself persona non gratis with the BCS and the IET I shall turn back to my comments in last month's column, which made me a target for the open source community " thanks for the emails.
The point was made that if you search on Linus, GPL and DRM you will find that there is much dissention within the Free and open source software (FOSS) camp. It seems there is trouble in paradise the like has not been seen since Henry VIII wanted to change the way the Pope ran things. I make a deliberate religious analogy as much of it comes down to the vision and ethos (or religion) of open source. It seems there is now a mix of GPL2, GPL3, LGPL and GPLL. Confused? Well many seem to be and some who were not, realised on closer inspection, that they did not see the full implications or what is happening in practice.
It appears that Linus does not like GPL3 and the way it handles DRM etc and wants to keep the Linux Kernel GPL2. Due to the way Linux packages work, with the drivers, utilities and modules, they are becoming GPL3 by default. This confusion between GPL2 and GPL3 in the same packages is causing some companies to think again about FOSS. Even some of the FOSS people who contacted me admitted that it is not as easy as it was to sort out the licensing.
The other thing I have noticed of late is that the costs for supported GCC compilers are getting to be the same as for commercial compilers, not that GCC is as efficient. GCC is, I am told by several people who understand the internals of compilers, something like 15 years behind the commercial compilers. So something is going to have to change, as faith in the open source way of life is not going to be enough in 2009. People are going to be careful about adding up the real costs.
This is why a qualified electrician spends £400 on a cordless drill whereas mine cost £25 at the DIY store. As he said "decent tools, though expensive up front, save a fortune over the following years." This came home literally when having the right tools meant fitting a new wall socket took a fraction of the time it would have taken me to do.
Chris Hills (right) is founder of Phaedrus Systems Ltd. These are his personal views and not those of his company. A full version of this column, with links etc, resides under the documents tab on www.phaedsys.com.
This story appeared in the May 2009 print edition of Embedded Systems Europe
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