Tony Sale and a group of British vintage computer enthusiasts is rebuilding Colossus, the gigantic proto-computer that Alan Turing and the Bletchley Park scientists built to crack German codes during WWII. The original Colossus machines were all broken up (into pieces "no bigger than a man's hand"!) after the war for security reasons, but Sale has tracked down the surviving Colossus engineers and is making great strides in completing the machine.
The finished Colossus is to be pitted against a contemporary general-purpose PC in a code-breaking race. The raw fodder for the race is a set of messages encrypted using Nazi ciphers and transmitted by amateur radio enthusiasts in Germany.
It's all in support of a new National Museum of Computing, based at Bletchley. What a cool idea — I'm now officially planning a day-trip to Bletchley to see the museum.
He had no working machines to look at because, on Churchill's orders, the Colossus machines were dismantled once the war was over. Many parts, mostly the 1500 valves, went back to telephone exchanges and the rest were broken into pieces "no bigger than a man's hand".
Mr Sale has tracked down the few living engineers who worked on the project and plumbed their expertise to guide the rebuilding effort…
The German participants in the code-cracking challenge will transmit three enciphered messages – one hard, one very hard and one ultra hard.
The BBC's Rory Cellan-Jones said there was a "busy and business-like" atmosphere at Bletchley as the code cracking attempts got underway.
"We've seen webcam video of the Germans preparing to send the first signals," he said.