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Kickstarting an Arduino-based Enigma machine

ST Geotronics have exanded their Instructables project for building your own Arduino-based Enigma and turned it into a Kickstarter. $40 gets you some boards you can kit-bash with; $125 gets you the full kit; $300 gets you the whole thing, beautifully made and fully assembled.

The Open Enigma Project (Thanks, Tina!)

Massive collection of Soviet wartime posters


The University of Nottingham's Windows on War is one of the world's premier collections of WWII Soviet posters related to their war with the Nazis on the eastern front. The scholarly notes that accompany the exhibit are a treat, though they are presented in a way that makes it nearly impossible to read them. But the entire collection has been scanned and posted, and is available for viewing at very high resolutions.

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Bletchley Park's new management chucks out long-term volunteers

Here's more bad news from historic computing site Bletchley Park, where a new, slick museum is being put together with enormous corporate and state funding. Last month, it was the fact that McAfee had apparently banned any mention of Edward Snowden in a cybersecurity exhibit.

Now there's this heartrending BBC report on how volunteers who've given decades of service to Bletchley have been summarily dismissed because they don't fit in with the new plan. The museum of Churchill memoribilia that shared the Bletchley site has been evicted.

For people like me who've donated over the years, fundraised for it, and joined the Friends of Bletchley, this is really distressing news. I've always dreamt of Bletchley getting enough funding to do the site and its collection justice, but if it comes at the expense of decency and integrity, they may as well have left it as Churchill did -- abandoned and forgotten.

BBC News Bletchley Park s bitter dispute over its future (via /.)

Queen Elizabeth pardons Turing (but not the 50,000 other gay men the law unjustly criminalised)


Alan Turing has received a pardon under the "Royal Prerogative of Mercy by the Queen," 61 years after he was "chemically castrated" by court order as punishment for homosexuality. Less than two years of forced hormone treatments drove him to suicide at the age of 41. The pardon came at the request of the government's justice secretary. It's a wonderful vindication of Turing.

But I agree with Turing's biographer Dr Andrew Hodges, who says that the idea of a pardon for Turing establishes the principal that "a sufficiently valuable individual should be above the law which applies to everyone else." In my view, the Queen should have pardoned every man and woman persecuted under the cruel and unjust law that ruined so many lives.

But I'll take Turing. For now. And if Stephen Fry gets his wish and we get Turing on a bank note, I'll frame one and hang it in my office.

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Bletchley Park's archives being digitised


The archives of Bletchley Park are being digitised for online use, bringing to life the records of the legendary codebreaking effort whereby Alan Turing and colleagues invented modern computing, modern crypto, and took years off the war, saving millions of lives. HP underwrote the effort, which aims "to put everything into the public domain."

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Podcast: Ian Tregillis explains the Milkweed novels

Rick Kleffel interviewed Ian Tregillis, author of the amazing alternate history Milkweed books, about Nazi X-Men fighting a secret war against British warlocks. Tregillis describes the process by which he came up with the premise, and especially -- and most interestingly -- how he came up with his brilliant treatment for Gretl, a precognitive villain who is pretty much evil personified (MP3).

George Takei: remember Japanese internment during WWII

Star Trek actor George Takei writes about being interned in Arkansas and California internment camps along with his Japanese-American family during WWII, a particularly important rememberance in the face of the out-of-control US spying revealed in the Edward Snowden leaks:

As I write this, once again the national dialogue turns to defining our enemies, the impulse to smear whole communities or people with the actions of others still too familiar and raw. Places like the museum and Rohwer camp exist to remind us of the dangers and fallibility of our democracy, which is only as strong as the adherence to our constitutional principles renders it. People like myself and those veterans lived through that failure, and we understand how quickly cherished liberties and freedom may slip away or disappear utterly.

Why We Must Remember Rohwer (via Reddit)

Know your chemical weapons


These know-your-chemical-weapon posters were produced by the Medical Training Replacement Center at Camp Barkeley near Abilene, Texas as training materials for soldiers being sent to fight in WWII. They're a weird mix of cheerfulness and atrocity:

Of the four chemicals mentioned here—phosgene, lewisite, mustard gas, and chlorpicrin—three were used in World War I. (Lewisite was produced beginning in 1918, but the war ended before it could be used.) Phosgene, which irritates the lungs and mucus membranes and causes a person to choke to death, caused the largest number of deaths among people killed by chemical weapons in the First World War. (Elsewhere on Slate: A firsthand account of what it felt like to be hit by mustard gas.)

The smells that these posters warn soldiers-in-training to be wary of are the everyday scents of home: flypaper, musty hay, green corn, geraniums, garlic. The choice of analogies seems particularly appropriate for soldiers raised on farms­—a population that would become increasingly small in every war to follow.

Four WWII Posters That Taught Soldiers to Identify Chemical Weapons by Smell (via Kadrey)

(Images: National Museum of Health and Medicine)

Osaka's fascist mayor defends WWII policy of sexual enslavement: "a comfort women system is necessary. Anyone can understand that."

Toru Hashimoto is mayor of Osaka and co-founder of the Japanese Restoration Party. He's previously called for Japan to be run as a dictatorship; now he's made public comments defending the WWII Japanese military policy of enslaving women and giving them to soldiers to rape. He says that it was a necessary expedient to support hard-working soldiers.

He said last year that Japan needed "a dictatorship".

In his latest controversial comments, quoted by Japanese media, he said: "In the circumstances in which bullets are flying like rain and wind, the soldiers are running around at the risk of losing their lives,"

"If you want them to have a rest in such a situation, a comfort women system is necessary. Anyone can understand that."

He also claimed that Japan was not the only country to use the system, though it was responsible for its actions.

Japan WWII 'comfort women' were 'necessary' - Hashimoto (Thanks, Jack!)

(Image: Wikimedia Commons/aska27)

Necessary Evil - a triumphant end to the Milkweed Triptych where Nazi X-Men fight English warlocks


With Necessary Evil, published today, Ian Tregillis triumphantly concludes his astonishing, brilliant, pulse-pounding debut trilogy, The Milkweed Triptych. Milkweed began in 2010 with Bitter Seeds, an alternate history WWII novel about a Nazi doctor who creates a race of twisted X-Men through a program of brutal experimentation; and of the British counter-strategy: calling up the British warlocks and paying the blood-price to the lurking elder gods who would change the very laws of physics in exchange for the blood of innocents. These elder gods, the Eidolons, hate humanity and wish to annihilate us, but we are so puny that they can only perceive us when we bleed for them. With each conjuration of the Eidolons on Britain's behalf, the warlocks bring closer the day when the Eidolons will break through and wipe humanity's stain off the universe.

Book two, The Coldest War, came out last summer -- a too-long hiatus! -- and jumped forward to the 1960s, where the struggle continued in a Europe divided among the Soviets -- who seized the Nazi technology at the end of the war and used it to breed their own supermen -- and the British, whose warlock reserves have become an everyday instrument of foreign policy. Coldest War was half James Bond, half Cthulhu, and was every bit as painstakingly researched, beautifully described, blisterlingly plotted and utterly engrossing as the first.

Now, with book three, Necessary Evil, Tregillis draws the series to a close with a time travel story that goes back to the beginning of the tale, a desperate mission to stop the use of magick and the use of the Nazi "Will to Power" from ever gaining hold, to keep the elder gods at bay. And in Evil, Tregillis is even more on form. This is a book that veers precipitously from unexpected and chilling ruminations on the inherent evil of precognition; to the questions of loyalty and betrayal so thorny that they need a time-travel loop to really be explored; to spy-thriller action sequences that will keep you up under the covers with a flashlight, turning pages and unable to sleep.

This is a remarkable set of books, and with all three in hand, would make a fabulous spring read.

Necessary Evil

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Gas masks for babies, 1940


From the Imperial War Museum in London, a couple of incredible photos of nurses testing out infant gas-masks: "Three nurses carry babies cocooned in baby gas respirators down the corridor of a London hospital during a gas drill. Note the carrying handle on the respirator used to carry the baby by the nurse in the foreground."

GAS DRILL AT A LONDON HOSPITAL: GAS MASKS FOR BABIES ARE TESTED, ENGLAND, 1940 (via Kadrey)

NYT, 1924: Hitler's tamed by prison, "no longer to be feared"


From the Dec 20, 1924 issue of the New York Times: Adolph Hitler's rehabilitation is now complete, and he is "no longer to be feared."

Hitler Tamed By Prison

New Hiroshima bombing photo shows split mushroom cloud

A photograph that shows the Hiroshima atomic bomb cloud split into two sections, one over the other, has been released by the curator of a peace museum in Japan. It was discovered on Monday among a collection of some 1,000 archival items related to the bombing, all of which are now in the possession of Honkawa Elementary School in Hiroshima city.

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HOWTO make a bulletproof snow-fort

Pykrete is a WWII-era experimental material made by mixing wood pulp with ice. It's easy to make, easy to work with, and it's bulletproof:

If so, we’d like to humbly suggest that you consider pykrete for all your snow fort construction needs. Pykrete is a composite material made of a mixture of wood pulp and ice. Named for its inventor Geoffrey Pyke, pykrete was an experimental material developed during the mad science heyday of World War II.

At a time when steel was starting to run into short supply, Pyke looked at ice, a material that can be formed for a fraction of the energy cost of steel, as a potential building tool. Early experiments ran into problems — ice is prone to being brittle — but they came across research that showed that if you mixed in cellulose with pure water, that the resulting stuff, when frozen, turned out to be quite durable.

How durable? Let’s put it this way: Would you like a snow fort that is bullet-proof?

How to Make an Indestructible Snow Fort — With Pykrete [Tim Maly/Wired]

Obituary for a French superspy

The Telegraph's obit for Count Robert de La Rochefoucauld recounts the florid and exciting life of the aristocrat turned French resistance fighter turned UK special forces killer turned escape artist turned colonial enforcer in Indochina. In particular, La Rochefoucauld was a skilled escapologist, and ballsy as all hell about it:

Dropped into the Morvan with two British agents, including one radio operator, La Rochefoucauld teamed up with a Maquis group near Avallon led by a man who called himself The Pope. After destroying the electrical substation at Avallon, and blowing up railway tracks, La Rochefoucauld was awaiting exfiltration by the RAF when he was denounced and arrested. After a series of interrogations, he was condemned to death.

En route to his execution in Auxerre, La Rochefoucauld made a break, leaping from the back of the truck carrying him to his doom, and dodging the bullets fired by his two guards. Sprinting through the empty streets, he found himself in front of the Gestapo’s headquarters, where a chauffeur was pacing near a limousine bearing the swastika flag. Spotting the key in the ignition, La Rochefoucauld jumped in and roared off, following the Route Nationale past the prison he had left an hour earlier.

Count Robert de La Rochefoucauld (via Kottke)

(Image: downsized, cropped thumbnail of a larger image on The Telegraph)