Using distributed computing to break encrypted Enigma messages from 1942

This is pretty interesting stuff: the M4 Message Breaking Project tries to break Enigma M4 messages intercepted in the North Atlantic during World War II. From the project website:

The M4 Project is an effort to break 3 original Enigma messages with the help of distributed computing. The signals were intercepted in the North Atlantic in 1942 and are believed to be unbroken. Ralph Erskine has presented the intercepts in a letter to the journal Cryptologia. The signals were presumably enciphered with the four rotor Enigma M4 - hence the name of the project.

They provide Free Software clients (GPL'd, written in Python and C) for Unix-like operating systems and various Windows variants. Project updates are available from the project blog.
The first message has already been successfully broken. The translated plain-text reads:

1930 Radio signal 1851/19/252:
" F T 1132/19 contents:
Forced to submerge during attack.
Depth charges. Last enemy position 0830h
AJ 9863, [course] 220 degrees, [speed] 8 knots. [I am] following [the enemy].
[barometer] falls 14 mb, [wind] nor-nor-east, [force] 4, visibility 10 [nautical miles].
Looks "


FOSDEM 2006 was a remarkable edition : first of all, I find it getting every year more and more professionally done, so hats off to the organisers. But most importantly, it featured a new player on the ground, namely OpenSolaris. It wan't so prominently present as other FOSS operating systems, but it featured two lectures by Sun-employee Jon Haslam, off course covering DTrace. Very good demo's about DTrace, though the overlap between the sessions was a bit too large maybe. Oh yeah, Jon, I really like the Ferrari laptop, it makes me very envious.

My laptop is getting terribly slow : the last dist-upgrade took me three hours, which is getting insane. I installed it with a stock 'fat' Debian kernel, which makes it crawl twice as slow. Back to good old 2.4, which is the only thing making it perform decently. I took it along, because I wanted to fiddle with DTrace during the talk, but I remarked the VMWare image wouldn't start cause of the borken Nevada27 build. Bah.

Other interesting talk was the Xen lecture by Ian Pratt. Server virtualisation is big nowadays, and Xen recently surpassed User Mode Linux as hypervisor in Linux. A bit too theoretically, cause I really wanted to see the thing set up and working. Good thing to know is that they are working on non-modified kernel support.

It was the first FOSDEM edition too where I didn't spent any time in the developer rooms. Pity, but the time eluded me.

Serge is right : it even hit me last year, but the number of people running Mac OSX is really vast. Seems that Jamie wasn't the only geek migrating to OSX, or it must be people showing off their Intel edition.

Jon Haslam Fri, 03/03/2006 - 10:17

Glad you liked my demo. I hear what you say about some duplication in the talk/demo. I did try to reduce the duplication as much as possible but (owing to time for prep really) some duplicates were left in.

FOSDEM was excellent. Hopefully we'll see more of OpenSolaris next year.


Jo Sun, 04/30/2006 - 15:13

Mocht je Fosdem 2006 gemist hebben, kan je hier een catch-up doen, met vele uren kijkplezier:

Zlotnian calculator

Congratulations ! By purchasing the Zlotnian Calculator, the official Digital Calculator of the Zlotnian Space Program, you have restored our faith in humanity. It has been designed to give you the 'best possible grip' on mathematics.

Pete Mon, 11/08/2010 - 02:17

Is there anywhere to purchase a Zlotnian Calculator? I have looked all over and can't find one anywhere?

Chunky bacon

As seen on Planet Grep : Chunky Bacon is the most daft introduction to Ruby I've ever seen.

London silly tube maps

Ever took the London tube at Castrate Angel station ? Or Queerer Elastics ? That are some of the names on the London Tube Anagram map, one of the many silly London tube maps on But not all maps are humurous by nature : some maps indicate useful stuff for every London commuter : distance and timings between stations, or maps showing dotted walk lines between stations where less than 500 metres, and thus quicker to walk than to take the train between stations.