British Expat Newsletter: June 2012

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In this issue

This month

What with the global recession, it’s a tough time to be in Europe just now, and Spain is suffering more than most places. Currency expert Peter Lavelle has been living in Madrid since January – we interviewed him to find out what life is like there. “Challenging”, seems to be the answer!

When expat life’s hard, it may be tempting to indulge in a bit of nostalgia. Luckily, the publishers of BRITAIN magazine, the official magazine of Visit Britain, are on hand with an offer of a free digital sample copy of their July/August issue. It’s even got an Olympics supplement for the sport fans among you, in celebration of the biggest sporting event in the UK for over 60 years!

The BBC News website carried an article about multi-standard mains electric sockets at the beginning of the month. Dave thought it was daft and had a bit of a rant about it, which you can read on the Editors’ Blog.

Who would have thought that a paintbrush on a rusty oil drum could be a thing of beauty? Anne Macdonald in the Shetlands manages to make it so with her still-life photo “Job Done!” – our latest Pic of the Week.

And our latest Quick Quiz is about famous authors – we give you their real names, you supply the pen names they were famous as.

Editorial: Alan Turing

We could have written about the Diamond Jubilee celebrations earlier this month. But they’ve been done to death, so we won’t bother. Instead we’re going to look at the month’s other significant anniversary, celebrating the birth 100 years ago of a man without whom you wouldn’t be reading this newsletter.

Alan Mathison Turing was born on 23 June 1912 in London’s Maida Vale. He grew up in a privileged background – his father came from an aristocratic family of Scottish descent and worked for the prestigious Indian Civil Service, while his Anglo-Irish mother was the daughter of the chief engineer of the Madras Railways. He soon showed signs of exceptional mathematical genius, to the extent that when aged 16 he was able to understand from Einstein’s work, without it being made explicit in the text, that Einstein had doubts about Newton’s Laws of Motion.

Not surprisingly, he graduated from King’s College, Cambridge with first-class honours in 1934 and was elected a Fellow of the college the following year. He then published a number of works on computability, introducing several new concepts such as the algorithm, ordinal logic and relative computing – and explaining his thinking in (relatively) simple, intuitive and accessible terms.

Why are these important? Well, they form much of the foundations of modern computer science. Indeed, Turing’s theoretical Universal Machine, conceived and described in his 1936 paper “On computable numbers, with an application to the Entscheidungsproblem“, has been claimed to be the first description of a stored-program computer, with a detailed design following in his subsequent 1946 Automatic Computing Engine paper, written while working at the National Physical Laboratory.

The importance of Turing’s work would no doubt have emerged sooner or later anyway. But it found immediate and history-changing application in the Second World War.

Turing had been studying cryptology before the war and had been working part-time with the Government Code and Cypher School (the forerunner of GCHQ) since September 1938. From the outbreak of war he moved to Bletchley Park, where he headed efforts to decrypt by mathematical means messages sent by the Germans using the Enigma machine. His innovations saved crucial time in breaking codes and in some cases were so valuable that the papers explaining their theoretical basis weren’t released to the National Archives until 70 years later.

(If you’re a philatelist, Bletchley Park Post Office regularly issue first-day covers that give a special GCCS twist to new issues of Royal Mail stamps – you can read about one of them on BE in The Magic Enigma.)

But Turing was treated shabbily by the country that he had done so much to save from disaster. In 1952, after acknowledging a sexual relationship with a 19-year-old man, he was convicted of gross indecency and given the choice of prison or hormone treatment (chemical castration). He opted for the latter. In addition, he lost his security clearance and was thus barred from working with GCHQ.

He died in 1954 of cyanide poisoning. It’s unclear whether his death was suicide or an accident; the inquest verdict was that he’d deliberately taken cyanide, but the evidence was inconclusive.

2012 has been declared Alan Turing Year, and there’s been plenty of events around the world to celebrate the life and work of this remarkable man. (You can find out about some of them on our Malta forum. Yes, really!)

Have you been following the celebrations, and is there anything happening near you to commemorate Alan Turing? Why not let us know on our discussion forum?

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Write for British Expat

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Besides articles, we also publish quick trivia quizzes – five questions about any subject. So, if you’d like to write for us but don’t feel like producing a literary masterpiece, then why not try writing a quickie quiz about your city, country, or even your hobby? Please use our contact form to get in touch.

British Expat Amazon Shopping

Amazon don’t just do books, you know. We’ve teamed up with them to bring you the ultimate in online shopping – from a micro SD card to a garden shed! A great way to do your shopping online, especially if the shops aren’t up to much in your part of the world.
BE Amazon Shop: UK & EU | BE Amazon Shop: non-EU

And now for something completely different…

Yes, we all know birds can sing. But did you know that their musical talents went beyond that? Here’s the proof!
Gizmodo: This clip is proof that birds are secretly composers

So there’s a round-up of all that’s been going on. Come on over and see for yourself! Don’t forget…
Visit the BE website and join in with our lively community!

Till next time…

Happy surfing!

Kay & Dave
Editor & Deputy Editor
British Expat – the definitive home for British expats

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