Day 15: Bletchley Park

Today we got up early and headed to Bletchley Park, the site of the Allied intelligence codebreaking efforts during World War 2. It’s kind of like a computer science pilgrimage and we nerded-out.

Zeke enjoyed the bus ride there.

Once we got there, we got our season pass tickets, which means we can come back all we want for the next year! We laughed because none of us will be able to do that.

The inside of the museum was fun and reminded us about how secret their efforts were and just how crucial their work was.

We walked the beautiful grounds, which felt very familiar since we had just watched the movie, The Imitation Game, last week.

Across the pond, the mansion came into view. It was the nexus of all codebreaking activities at Bletchley Park.

We took a group photo. This will probably be used in marketing materials for years.

Inside the mansion, we got to see it mocked up like it would have been during the war. Below is a description of the UK/US special relationship that was posted in Commander Alastair Denniston’s office.

Below is Commander Denniston’s office (left) and the library where codebreakers worked (right).


In the ballroom, I saw this quote and thought that it summed up programming in general:

There were some hats to play with, so Erin and Micah tried on a few.

We took our guided tour, and when that was done we popped into Hut 8 to see Alan Turing’s office.


Below is a picture of Hut 1 where Alan Turing’s computer was located. The wall is an original blast wall built to protect the prefabricated buildings from bombings (if they were to be bombed, which they were not).

After seeing these things, it was time to leave. Inside of Hut 8, I came across an interesting little pamphlet. We all thought it was funny. We realize that pigeons were vital information carriers during the war, but the picture on the front was pretty humorous.

Zeke got a toy in the gift shop: a voice synthesizer. He played with it all day, mostly singing “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” his favorite song. It was more funny than it was annoying.

Alas, it was time to return to Oxford. Three hours on-site simply wasn’t enough. We took the bus to a nearby town to eat a late lunch and then finally back to Oxford, returning around 4:15, and we were done for the day.Visiting Bletchley Park was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.

It had been a long day and Micah fell asleep on the way back.

Zeke, of course, was still wide awake.

When we got back home, the kids went into the back garden and jumped on Matilda’s trampoline. (Matilda is the daughter of Jacqueline, the on-site director).

It was a really good day.


Day 8: Museums in Oxford

Since we had originally planned to go to London today, but could not due to the recent terrorist attacks, we instead used today to visit some of the museums in Oxford: Pitt-Rivers Museum, Museum of Natural History, and the Museum of the History of Science. It was a lot to do in one day, but it was good.

We started out at Pitt-Rivers, which is museum of cultural and historical anthropology (pictured above).

Exhibits are not organized by provenance (place of origin) or originating culture, but rather by type of thing. So all the fire-making tools were in one place, all of the personal religious miniature statues were together, all of the spears were together, all of the religious masks were together, all of the amulets were together, etc. For example, here’s a picture of all the writing equipment from various cultures and time periods. The Roman ones are in the top right on that greenish/grayish background.

James led a group of students around the museum, looking at important artifacts from the Biblical time period. Meanwhile, Erin, Shelley, and the kids walked around briefly and then headed over to the cafe for a snack.

After Pitt-Rivers, we headed next door (connected buildings) to the Museum of Natural History. It looked very impressive.

And Zeke got to finally see some dinosaur bones! Below Zeke is showing off his scary T-Rex claws. When he started roaring, Micah decided to start roaring too and had to also be a scary T-Rex.

And here’s one with Aunt Shelley. 🙂

Zeke also liked seeing some other bones.

He was so good at the museum that Aunt Shelley bought him a T-Rex dino stuffed animal. He loves it.

After the museum, we headed over to a nearby middle-eastern semi-permanent food truck and had felafel and hummus for lunch with our faculty co-sponsors, John and Laura Homer.

We ate at Martyr’s Memorial just north of the center of town…in the shade, of course. John is wearing black and Laura is wearing purple in the shot below.

After lunch, we headed over to the Museum of the History of Science.

The students were supposed to find some things in there relevant to the History of Computing class they are all taking. One of those relevant things is a piece of Charles Babbage’s difference engine, a specific-purpose mathematical calculating machine. He began working on it in 1820 and never completed because his funding was cut after 20 years. Needless to say, he was well-ahead of his time. Below is a picture of James in front of that piece of the difference engine.

After that, everyone was tired and walked back to the flat. The kids didn’t take naps because they had taken some small portion of a nap earlier while we were waiting on something, and so refused to sleep. Awesome. James worked on a recent conference paper that got accepted. After that, it was time for dinner, so we went to a nearby food truck for some kebab wraps.

Below you can see Aunt Shelley and Zeke being silly while we ate dinner outside of a local college. Regarding the bandaid on his nose: Zeke did a face-plant earlier in the day and the inside of his nose bled a little, so we put a bandaid on the outside to make him feel better (it’s all about psychology with kids…seriously).

Micah decided to be silly too.

On the way home, Micah wanted to walk. Sometimes when she runs, she throws her arms behind her. We finally got it on camera.

After a long day out, it was time for bed for the kids.

The students all got together in the common room upstairs to watch The Imitation Game, the movie that dramatizes the work of Alan Turing and the Allied codebreakers during World War 2. It was a great movie!

Tomorrow, we leave for Newcastle on our first long travel weekend!