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5:33pm on Monday, 22nd March, 2010:

One Away from Turing


Only last week I was thinking about Tony Brooker, the founding professor of the Computer Science department at Essex University. When I was a student he had long (as in elbow-length) grey hair and I was wondering how old he would have been when he taught me. I figured he was probably in his 50s; in other words, my own students probably see me much as I saw him. That would put him in his 80s now, but I was pretty sure he was still alive because the department would have made a big thing of it if he'd died.

Today is the day that students show off their final-year projects. We usually get some people from local industries to come along and have a look; some of our students even get jobs out of it. I was very pleasantly surprised, albeit spookily so because I'd only been thinking about him last week, to hear that Professor Brooker would be coming this time. He duly showed up, remembered me from 30 years ago, and despite being 84 was almost exactly the same as he was when I was an undergraduate. He looked the same, sounded the same, and still bounded up and down stairs two at a time. Apart from a cough caused by an inflamation of the trachea he was as fit as a fiddle. I doubt I'll even reach 84, let alone be bounding up steps two at a time.

Anyway, we got chatting and I told him I'd mentioned him to my students on account of how he knew Alan Turning. He said that he was one of a dwindling number of people who did know Turing, and might be constributing to an exhibition about the man that's supposed to be on in 2012 (which is the centenary of Turing's birth). He described Turing a an incredibly strong and fit man who rowed for his college at Cambridge and had an oar on his wall. He was also apparently an Olympic-level marathon runner: there's a story of how he was among a bunch of people at the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington who wanted to get to the Post Office Research Station in Dollis Hill, and, public transport not being all that great just after the war, Turing said he'd run there and arrive before them. Whether he actually did race them, Prof. Brooker didn't know, though.

I wasn't aware that Turing was an athlete, although I do recall having seen this picture before (this is the one you usually see) so it does make sense. You learn something every day.

When he arrived at the university this afternoon, Professor Brooker shook my hand. So, this makes me one away from Turing. That ought to impress any computer scientists among you!

To be honest, though, I'm actually prouder to be none away from Tony Brooker.

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Copyright © 2010 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).