The Turing Taste

It seems that I have never mentioned on this blog the fascinating datum (obviously begging for time travel, alt-history, and nerd historical thriller tales) that Alan Turing visited NCR’s codebreaking computer project during WWII.

It seems that he spent most of his trip in a right snit. He didn’t like traveling to America. He didn’t like the food. He didn’t like the trains, planes, or automobiles. He didn’t like the accommodations in Dayton. (Granted, he had to sleep on the living room floor in Joe Desch’s already crammed-full house, and that wasn’t a nice atmosphere thanks to Desch’s sinister live-in pointyheaded boss/slavedriver/nosy guy.)

Apparently his super-snit really got into its stride against Desch’s brute-force mechanical technique of building a computer, which was built and programmed on totally different lines from what they were doing in England, and also had a unique stop and start process — but which also worked just fine.

I find this freaking hilarious. But it’s also a bit sad, because with all the secrecy, they couldn’t take him to anyplace he would have liked (such as the Engineer’s Club).

Ah, Internet! Here’s Alan Turing’s secret official report from 1942. Not quite as DRAMA as I heard the story, but I think there were several sources drawn from, and everybody likes a big story. Note the science guy’s distrust of the NCR manufacturing engineers knowing what their stuff can do… but there’s also some thoughtful consideration of design differences.

However, though the report sounds decently impressed (and he’s kinder towards NCR than to the folks in DC), it’s fair to say that NCR people took away the impression that he hated everything. (Maybe the people who couldn’t talk about it had different impressions, of course.) Possibly he had time to get out of his snit by the time he wrote his report, or maybe the Americans misread him since they didn’t know him. Who knows?

Here’s his reports on his visit to Washington DC cryptanalysis stuff and to Bell Labs, during the same trip. As you can see, things started with a bit of disarray, so he had some reasons for snit….

Anyway, I was just walking over the remains of Building 26 today (yeah, it stinks), so I was thinking about this.

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