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Colossus and Dr Tommy Flowers

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868360.  Sat Dec 03, 2011 6:53 pm Reply with quote

Alan Turing was undoubtedly a brilliant mathematician, and IMHO can reasonably be regarded as the father of computing theory.

It seems like a common failing of to only consider the intellectual achievement of the mathematical theory, but is too easy to forget that actually converting that theory into a working electronic computer, that not only worked, but was reliable enough to be used, was an immense and challenging project too. Dr Tommy Flowers, the engineering genius who led the team that designed and built, Colossus, the worlds first 'proper' computer, should also be remembered for his intellect, talent, tenacity and skill. IMHO, his name should be in the same paragraph as any mention of Colossus and Turing. The fact that it took two enormous talents to combine theory and engineering creativity together, makes Colossus even more remarkable.

Some of the effort to rebuild Colossus is described at:

It is a testament to the 'talent' of British politicians and government bureaucrats that the plans for the worlds first computer were being destroyed in the 1960's. It appears some documentation was only saved by a USA Freedom of Information application.

868397.  Sun Dec 04, 2011 4:48 am Reply with quote

Colossus wasn't the first 'proper' computer anyway, unless you use a very limited definition of that term.

The Zuse Z3 was the first fully programmable computer, completed three years before Colossus Mark 1 and, unlike Colossus, it was Turing Complete. The difference is that Colossus was the first fully electronic, programmable computer, the Z3 was still partly mechanical. But using that fact to say that Colossus was a 'proper' computer and the Z3 wasn't, is rather disingenuous.

868410.  Sun Dec 04, 2011 6:17 am Reply with quote

Is it reasonable to refer to someone who holds only an honorary doctorate (Newcastle, 1977) as Dr?

868516.  Sun Dec 04, 2011 3:51 pm Reply with quote

Welcome gbulmeruk :-)

868667.  Mon Dec 05, 2011 9:53 am Reply with quote

Yes, I got both of these quibbles on e-mail. Mentioned here:

The thing about Turing's team inventing Colossus came from the fact that in Stephen's notes, a paragraph about Turing and Bombe was alongside a paragraph about Colossus.

That, and the idea that Colossus was the first computer should've been picked up in the edit though. Oops.

905467.  Mon Apr 30, 2012 7:24 am Reply with quote

exnihilo wrote:
Is it reasonable to refer to someone who holds only an honorary doctorate (Newcastle, 1977) as Dr?

Dr Samuel Johnson did not complete his BA at Oxford. Both his doctorates, from Dublin and Oxford, were honorary yet he is universally known as Dr Johnson. Most medical Doctors do not hold MDs and so the term Doctor is honorary.

905477.  Mon Apr 30, 2012 7:46 am Reply with quote

exnihilo wrote:
Is it reasonable to refer to someone who holds only an honorary doctorate (Newcastle, 1977) as Dr?

For academic snobs? Probably not.

For members of the real world who are more concerned about real achievements and real benefits to society than some scoreboard of valueless dissipation of society's R&D resources - certainly.


905478.  Mon Apr 30, 2012 7:48 am Reply with quote

Oh, dry up, you tedious gasbag.

905494.  Mon Apr 30, 2012 8:18 am Reply with quote

Sore nerve, obviously...


905495.  Mon Apr 30, 2012 8:25 am Reply with quote

If by that you mean that you were somehow right, then no. If you mean that it jangles every weary, weary time some fatuous moron bangs the drum of his prejudice about the "real world" as distinct from universities, then very much yes.

905520.  Mon Apr 30, 2012 11:32 am Reply with quote

exnihilo wrote:
Is it reasonable to refer to someone who holds only an honorary doctorate (Newcastle, 1977) as Dr?

I must have missed this thread first time around, because I'm sure I'd have had something to say.

I'll certainly agree that within academia it's considered rather infra to use the title "Dr" when one possesses only an honorary doctorate.

How it's considered in the wider world is thornier. Let us leave aside medical practitioners who use the title "Dr" when in fact the qualification they possess is MB ChB; it is has been the convention for centuries that such people are styled "Dr".

Otherwise, most who possess an honorary doctorate do not use the title "Dr". For sure, Samuel Johnson was one who did, and Ian Paisley was another. (His entitlement to the style "Reverend" is, at best, also honorary; he has never actually been legitimately ordained.) But there are rather more who do not; for instance, Kylie Minogue does not ask to be addressed as Dr Minogue, even though she is the holder of an honorary doctorate from Anglia Ruskin University.

When it comes down to it, there are no rules. If the holder of an honorary doctorate wishes to be addressed as "Dr", then I suppose he can be. I have several sources which note that "It is not customary for recipients of an honorary doctorate to use the title 'Dr'" - but it's not against the law to depart from custom. It might leave you open to the charge of being a pretentious twat, but I dare say that Ian Paisley has been called worse.


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