National Cipher Challenge

For the last few years I’ve been lucky to have been involved on the fringe of the National Cipher Challenge. This is a marvellous competition designed by the Head of Pure Mathematics at the University of Southampton to get (mostly) secondary school children interested in cryptography, and through that, in mathematics.

IBM is one of the sponsors of this competition, providing winners prizes, and I’ve been lucky enough to be IBM’s representative at the prize-giving event, which is traditionally held at the National Computing Museum in Bletchley Park, near Milton Keynes. This leaves me in the wonderful position of being able to chat to all the winners (who tend to be really bright and interesting), listen to some great guest lectures, and generally have a great day out of the office supporting a very worthy cause.

Sadly I couldn’t make it to last years event, as the prize-giving was exactly a week after my main cancer operation, but I was delighted to be invited to attend again this year, and was determined to make it. However, I was a little worried whether I’d be able to actually drive that far, cope with the actual event itself, and then drive home again, so just to be safe a colleague arranged to be the main attendee from IBM just in case I had to bail out at the last moment.

On the day however, everything went really well. The drive up was fine, and I coped well with the event itself. I spent a couple of hours after that visiting my brother, who lives locally, which gave me a good opportunity to get a little rest before driving home again. And perhaps as a consequence of that, it was only towards the end of the drive home that I really started to feel that I was starting to reach the limits of my endurance.

So saying, I have been very tired today, and have been suffering some discomfort and pain; that probably indicates that I really was pushing myself a little too hard for this stage of my recovery. However, at the moment I have very little feel for what my limits really are, and I need to explore them now so I can set sensible bounds on myself when I restart work proper in a weeks time.

And anyway, it was a wonderful day out meeting up with old friends, and well worth the extra effort to be there. I enjoyed it enormously, and I’m already making a provisional booking in my diary for next year!

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