Hum Along to Turing, Part III (+ Free Bonus Album)

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Holy cats! The melodic interpretations of the Turing legacy just keep on coming.

(To catch up on previous installments, see: Hum Along to Turing and Hum Along to Turing, Part Deux)

I’ve actually got another music-related post backlogged at the moment, but since this one is time-sensitive I thought I’d better post it now. (Plus, this is a good time to mention a relevant musical freebie, which I’ll get to in a moment.)

1. Album for Bletchley Park

First, we have a brand new album of electronic music called Music by Programmers, released to raise funds for the Bletchley Park Trust and the National Museum of Computing.

Bletchley Park, of course, was where Turing and his fellow codebreakers worked during World War II (see the About Alan Turing tab if you’re new to the subject).

Bletchley Park

Bletchley Park

According to TechWeek Europe:

The National Museum of Computing and Bletchley Park Trust have announced a novel fund-raising effort to attract young people to begin studying computer programming… The aim is to raise £5,000 to be spent on parent-child maths workshops at Bletchley Park and to allow [the museum] to start a regular computer club for young people. The download will be available from 29 April from CD Baby, iTunes, Amazon MP3 And Google Play with all of the profits going towards the projects.

The album was curated by Jason Gorman, who created Apes With Hobbies, Love Songs from a Gilded Age.  If you want to get an idea of Gorman’s musical sensibilities, you can download Apes for free here.

Gorman is clearly  predisposed to making music that honours great minds, given that Apes open with a track called Feynman Dreams of California Nights.

Music by Programmers and Jason Gorman

Music by Programmers and Jason Gorman

The eight tracks on the album are all original, and pay tribute to an earlier generation of electronic musicians, like Kraftwerk (still going strong), Jean-Michel Jarre (who recently released a new album), and Tangerine Dream (who have a new album out this month with awesome Queen-guitarist-cum-astrophysicst Brian May).  Gorman also recorded two of the eight tracks on the album himself.

I think this is an awesome way to raise money for a great cause. You can hear samples on the iTunes web page for the album. Buy it, rate it, and pass the word.

2. The Free Bonus Album

At the outset I mentioned a free bonus album related to Turing, so here’s the scoop.

Regular readers of this page will know that, while I post here for the love of it, professionally I’m a writer and editor.  I’m the non-fiction editor at International Speculative Fiction, which has published numerous award-winning authors, and I have several published works of my own.

My novel Luck and Death at the Edge of the World (,, Kobo) features a sentient artificial intelligence instantiated in a synthetic human body. By its own choice it is called Alan and the body it uses is the image of Alan Turing. At the outset these choices seem trivial, but they turn out to go deeper than it first appears.

Luck + Death

Luck + Death

As with all my books, I try to give readers of Luck + Death a lot of free stuff to go along with the story. There are bonus sections right inside the book that provide background material (including a section on Turing), and the home page ( has more bonus material and a library of free PDFs.

Well, now the novel also has a free soundtrack that you can stream or download, Luck + Death: the Soundtrack for the Movie in Your Head.

Here’s the official announcement for anyone who wants to try it out:

After much work and planning, the free soundtrack album for Luck + Death is now available. Fourteen tracks by artists in eight countries (Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Hungary, Sweden, Turkey, and the U.S.A.).

This is a varied array of musicians and composers, from independent musicians like guitarist Jason Brock and saxophonist Stefan Thaens, to film composer Nathan Fleet, to veteran performer John Pazdan, to classical composer (and music professor) Russell Wilson.

This Version

Styles range from dreamy electronic to jumped up funk to electronic classical, all of it spiced up with spoken word performance and bookended by field recordings from the streets of Shanghai.

Here’s a sample, track number eight:

08 Distrito Federal (Stefan Thaens, Belgium) 4:18


All tracks are available for streaming or for download as MP3s and the album comes with the choice of two different versions of the cover art, This Version (above) and That Version (below).

That Version

And this is a project that appreciates music as more than just a spectator sport. One track is a mix by the author called El Paraíso Perdido (Paradise Lost), which has been posted on with an invitation to anyone and everyone to remix it, deconstruct it, or reinvent it.

I’ve already received one version from a ccMixter member and I know another is on the way. All mixes are posted on the soundtrack home page.

Here’s one more track to whet your appetite:


12 Dogware (Zapac, Hungary) 3:40


Curiosity piqued?

Get it here: Luck + Death: the Soundtrack for the Movie in Your Head.

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Hum Along to Turing, Part Deux

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Days to the Bicentennial: 36,269

In a recent post entitled Hum Along to Turing I reported that London-based band Fiction was releasing their debut album The Big Other, including a song called The Apple that was about, and dedicated to, our boy Alan Turing.

Somehow my search for a video at the time of that post failed to come up with one that was posted on YouTube waaaaay back in 2010, possibly because it’s not an official video but a live version of the song captured at the Offset Festival in 2010.

(Although, honestly, if you type in search terms like “Fiction” and “Apple” you’d think that a song by Fiction called Apple would come up, irrespective of whether it was a fan video or an official release.)

So, until an official version comes out, enjoy the performance below.

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Hum Along to Turing

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Days to the Bicentennial: 36,278

Out magazine reports that London-based band Fiction has a single called The Apple on their debut CD The Big Other that is about–and dedicated to–Alan Turing.

Band member Mike Barrett wrote the song and shared its genesis with Out:

Barrett shared that he first learned about Turing from reading his work on algorithms and his contribution at Bletchley Park—which during the WWII was the site of the UK’s main decryption establishment, the Government Code and Cypher School. “[I] subsequently read about his trial, and the circumstances of his death came as a bit of a surprise… Here’s a genius—a man that arguably invented the computer, who made a priceless contribution to defeating the Nazis—put on trial for his sexuality. Of course, countless others were tried in the UK, and continue to be around the world, but Turing’s story illustrated to me so graphically the sheer absurdity of prejudice, and ‘The Apple’ is a small attempt at understanding his personal torment at that time.”

The Out article seems to be set up to stream the song through Soundcloud, but the streaming isn’t fuctional as of this writing and I can’t find the song through a search of Soundcloud or on Fiction’s YouTube page. So while I look forward to hearing it, I can’t say anything about the sound of the song just yet.



The band sounds good overall, though, with a retro-futurismo vibe that calls to mind Roxy Music and certain strains of 1980s new wave, so I’m hopeful. And the Out article does provide the lyrics, reproduced below.

The Apple – For Alan Turing

They said Alan
they said listen, Alan
they said listen, Alan
you’ve got a simple decision
a simple choice
but it’s one or the other

so I had a choice
I had a choice
I had a choice

but they’ve been making my mind up
they’ve been making my body
into something it’s not

the algorithm was nothing special
I just took a bite
the code was really nothing much
and I just took a bite

they said it’s not right
they said it’s not right
they said it’s not right
and we can’t let you do that
we can’t let you get away with that

so I took a bite
I took a bite
I took a bite

because they’ve been making my mind up
they’ve been making my body
into something it’s not

the algorithm was nothing special
I just took a bite

You can find Fiction’s YouTube channel here.

The Big Other will be released on March 4, and Fiction will be on tour in the UK throughout March.

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Super-Nerd Benedict Cumberbatch, Who Already Has a Geek Hat-Trick, May Star in Alan Turing Biopic

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Days since the Centenary: 224

Days to the Bicentennial: 36,300

I was talking with my business partner Saul–who is the other half of–the other day and we were speculating about which existing Star Trek villain might get reprised in the new movie, Star Trek Into Darkness.

Saul ventured that it was probably the great Khan Noonien Singh, played with awesome dignity and dangerousness by Ricardo Montalbán in the original series episode “Space Seed” and in the second ST movie (he is also a character in several ST novels and doubtless in some of the famous slash fiction that notoriously emerged from the series).

Benedict Cumberbatch: Man or Script File?

Benedict Cumberbatch: Khan or Khan’t?

I said I hoped he was right, because they’re almost certain to bring back Khan at some point, and if anyone can do the character justice it will be Benedict Cumberbatch, who is known to play the villain in the next movie (though the identity of the villain is, as I write this, still under wraps).

Then, yesterday, came the news that Cumberbatch appears poised to play Turing in the biopic that caused such a fuss last year when the screenplay sold for a large (though undisclosed) sum on the strength of Leonardo DiCaprio wanting to star. Some time ago DiCaprio dropped out, now it seems Cumberbatch is likely to take over.

Which is good news for Turing fans, because Cumberbatch is an awesome actor (although the A.V. Club alleges that he’s not an actor, in fact not even a human being, but rather a “complex script file that allows users to produce the most British person possible”). And Cumberbatch’s star power can only help in terms of actually getting the film made.

I want to pause, though, to consider just what a geeky conquest this is for the actor. In the headline I referred to this as a hat trick, because:

  • Cumberbatch already plays Julian Assange in an upcoming biopic (see image below),
  • he’s in the Hobbit trilogy (he plays a role and also voices Smaug the dragon), and
  • he’s in the aforementioned Star Trek movie.

Now it appears he’ll play Turing, too. Maybe I should have said he’s scored a–well, whatever the hell the word is that’s like hat trick but means scoring four goals in one game instead of three (I am nerding out at the moment, so don’t ask me to recall sports things).

Benedict Cumberbatch as Julian Assange in a still from The Fifth Estate

Benedict Cumberbatch as Julian Assange in a still from The Fifth Estate

And, lest we forget, Cumberbatch already plays Sherlock Holmes, who is nothing if not the uber-nerd (though a coke-snorting nerd who’s good with his fists).

All of which is not even to mention that he’s signed on to star in the upcoming sort-of-Monty-Python movie, which involves four surviving Pythons. Nerd-gasm anyone?

This can only mean one thing: I look forward to his inevitable role as the newest character on The Big Bang Theory.

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The End of the Alan Turing Year–And the Beginning of the Bicentennial

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Days to the Bicentennial: 36,333

What an awesome year for Turing fans–which in the computer age is pretty much everyone, whether they know it or not.

Still, at long last the Alan Turing Year is drawing to a close. As of midnight tonight, it will officially all be over. But the Turing-verse has never been constrained by official notions.

I’ve written a number of times about the people I call Turing Elves–people who create works or undertake endeavors that honour, explore, memorialize, or otherwise focus upon Alan Turing and his work without any official sanction, without asking anyone’s permission.

I think Turing Elvery is an especially appropriate way to recall Turing. After all, this was a scientist who–despite having worked at the highest levels of officialdom during the war–began his enquiries on his own, and continued them after the world of officials had condemned and rejected him. And quite apart from his work as a scientist, this was a man who ignored social disapproval with regard to sexual preference, persisting in doing so even after he was convicted criminally for having had gay sex. Doing things for their own sake, and doing them whether or not others approved, was a key theme in his life. It might be too  recursive to call Turing the first Turing Elf, but he certainly set the ball rolling.

And long before the Alan Turing Year was a sparkle in anyone’s eye, Andrew Hodges  began work on his biography of Turing, Alan Turing: The Enigma. It has recently been issued in an excellent new centennial edition and is now not only a  classic work within the Turing-verse but also in the world of scientific biography generally. Throughout the Alan Turing Year, Hodges has been a key member of the Turing Centenary Advisory Committee–in other words, an official of sorts–but back then he was a Turing Elf. Maybe he was the first.

Not long after Hodges finished his biography, science fiction author Greg Bear wrote “Tangents,” a short story featuring a protagonist clearly based on Turing that was  first published in Omni magazine in January 1986. It went on to win the Hugo and Nebula awards and to be anthologized several times and it set the precedent for a whole lineage of fictional incarnations of Alan Turing. Bear, too, was a Turing Elf and remains enthusiastic about Turing Elvery in general.

The trend has continued, not only in written works, but in sculpture, street art and graffiti, painting, music, drama (on stage, film, and television), and in many other forms. (I’m still waiting for the Turing opera–apparently there’s one on the way.)

And the Turing Elvery will continue, I suspect even more energetically than before the centenary took place.

As part of it, this page will continue. In theory it’s now counting down the days to the bicentennial–just as it counted down the days until the centenary began. Who knows if web pages, as such, will even exist in 2112, but the countdown signals the intention to keep this page going and the spirit of the Turing celebrations alive even after 2012 has ended.

And I will be continuing with other forms of Elvery. I am at work on Conjuring Turing: The Fictional Afterlife of Alan Turing, a book for the general reader about the sub-genre of fiction that started with Greg Bear’s story “Tangents” and now includes a wide variety of authors working in several different literary traditions.

The book will include, where possible, interviews with the authors of the works under discussion. So far I’ve found the authors I’ve contacted to be very enthusiastic, even Greg Bear, whose story first appeared almost 30 years ago.

Here’s an update:

  • I’ve already interviewed Rudy Rucker about his novel, published earlier this year, Turing & Burroughs: A Beatnik SF Novel. Turing & Burroughs is a potent surrealistic roller coaster ride that not only celebrates Turing, but also features Rucker’s note-perfect literary impersonation of Beat author William Burroughs. You can read the interview here.
  • I’m in the process of interviewing Christos Papadimitriou, the author of Turing (A Novel About Computation).
  • Recently Greg Bear himself has agreed to be part of the project, and that interview is underway. You can find the story “Tangents” in his short story collection of the same name.
  • Paul Morris, the author of the children’s book Time Traveller Danny and the Codebreaker (part of the Time Traveller Kids series) has also signed on. He very kindly sent me a copy of his book, which I thoroughly enjoyed and which I recommend for any kid who enjoys a great time travel yarn (as well as for any adult who likes a good story, especially anyone with a passing interest in our boy Alan).

So, for anyone who’s sad to see the Alan Turing Year go, take heart! The official year was great, but it was the icing on the cake–the official expression of an enterprise that started a long time ago and won’t be stopping any time soon.

And stay tuned to this page–it’s not going anywhere.

Posted in Alan Turing Year 2012, Conjuring Turing: The Fictional Afterlife of Alan Turing, Turing-elves | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Illuminating Alan Turing With The Caustic Effect

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Days since the Centenary: 144
Days to the Bicentennial: 36,380

The Turing Elves are at it again.

(Really? It’s almost the end of the Alan Turing Year and you haven’t encountered the term “Turing Elf” before? See the tab at the top or just click here.)

What have this band of Merry Mathematiphile Pranksters done today? Well, some folks over at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne have been experimenting with the caustic effect, which Science Codex explains thusly:

This “caustic” effect is well known and easy to observe; a bit of sunlight shining on a pool of water produces patterns that dance on the surrounding tiles or walls. These undulating lines, apparently random, are generated by light that hits the moving surface of a pool or puddle. This effect, which is very mobile and dynamic in liquid, produces static patterns with solid transparent materials such as glass or transparent acrylic (better known as Plexiglass).

Their idea was to create a program that would allow them to shape a piece of glass or plexiglass or other material into a structure that would bend and focus light so that it would produce an image.

There’s nothing embedded in the material, and no image is imprinted upon it. Instead it is molded into a shape that will produce the desired effect when held in the correct relation to a light source and a target surface. That sounds all complex, and in fact it’s difficult to do, but once you see it, it’s easy to understand the theory.

Here’s an image of the caustic effect at work–and this is where the Elves make their appearance. Note whose portrait the folks at the Ecole chose to create.

The caustic effect, put to Turing Elf use.

The caustic effect, put to Turing Elf use.

If you want a more lucid explanation than I’ve given (and in a cool accent to boot), check out the video below.

I told you. Those fricken’ elves just never sleep.

[To find out more, see report from the Ecole here.]

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A Turing-less World

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Days since the Centenary: 136
Days to the Bicentennial: 36,388

In theory the Alan Turing Year is winding down–it has less than two months to go–but in fact it doesn’t seem to be slowing much.

Here’s one of the latest testaments to Turing’s place in history: a detailed speculation on whether the Second World War might have turned out very differently if he hadn’t existed.

Now, counterfactual speculation is always tricky, so whatever conclusion one reaches in an exercise like this will always be open to attack. Whatever your conclusion, someone can find traction to make an argument against it. There are simply too many variables.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about going through this exercise with Turing, then, is simply that you have to ask the question very seriously. Because it’s entirely realistic to say that without him the war might have ended very differently indeed, and there are not many people about whom you can say that.

In this case the person doing the speculating is Jack Copeland, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand, and Director of the Turing Archive for the History of Computing.

Professor Jack Copeland

Professor Jack Copeland

We’ve seen Professor Copeland on this page before, most notably in Alan Turing & The Suicide Question. Copeland is conducting this historical exercise on the web page Big Questions Online.

Big Questions Online interrogates the possibility of history without Alan Turing.

Big Questions Online interrogates the possibility of history without Alan Turing.

For a Turing scholar, Copeland is admirably restrained in his assessment of the possible effect of not having had Turing’s contribution to the Allied war effort.

That restraint on Copeland’s part, that conservatism, gives his estimate of the difference between the world with Turing and the world without him even greater impact than a more free-wheeling scenario might have had.

History records that the allied armies took roughly a year to fight their way from the beaches to Berlin. In a counterfactual scenario, in which Hitler had had more time to consolidate his preparations, this struggle might have taken much longer—twice as long maybe. That translates into a very large number of lives. At a conservative estimate, each year of fighting in Europe brought on average about seven million deaths… these colossal numbers of lives—7 million had the war continued for another year, 21 million if, owing to the Atlantic U-boats and a strengthened Fortress Europe, the war had toiled on for as long as another three years—do most certainly convey a sense of the magnitude of Turing’s contribution.

The number of lives at stake is so large that even if you cut them arbitrarily in half, or quarter them, they’re still vast.

The number of people who would have suffered and died rather than having lived out their lives is immense. The number of their descendents who would not have been born, millions of them alive today, is even greater. Maybe it even includes you.

Even putting aside Turing’s other achievements–his continuing legacy in computer science and artificial intelligence, not to mention his later work in biology–that’s one hell of a legacy.

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