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Cybersecurity at the front

The Cybersecurity Bible by Hugo Hoffman encourages anyone who would be a cybersecurity specialist to “think like the enemy” (604). The guide counsels vigorous defence against potential attackers: purveyors of phishing attacks, de-authentication attacks, man-in-the-middle attacks, etc. Cybersecurity inevitably associates with defence, conflict, contest and war. Surface vulnerabilities Concepts of cybersecurity instil a sense of…More

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Ethics and feature detection

Automated feature detection within images (described in my previous post) deploys “machine learning” techniques. A machine learning algorithm scans thousands of “training” images that are pre-labelled with relevant feature descriptors. The algorithm adjusts the parameters in its network data structure to reproduce those same labels when presented with the same images. It thereby “learns” to…More

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Feature detection: Cows, cars and red motorcycles

Automated feature detection in images is big business. Amazon offers a service for businesses to identify features in large collections of images. According to their website at aws.amazon.com/rekognition the service provides automatic labelling of elements in a picture (e.g. this is a person on a bike, here is a mountain peak, etc). You can identify…More

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Algorithms and ethics

I’ve noticed amongst some digital scholars and critics a renewed interest in algorithms, e.g. people worry that Facebook’s “algorithm” skews what we read online towards the controversial and hence colours people’s politics. The concern is mainly over algorithms that “learn” from large amounts of data about us — in other words machine learning algorithms. A…More

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Cities as media

I’ve been searching for a way to transition from alien communications (as an exercise in cryptography) back to earth-bound cities. (See previous post.) Shannon Mattern’s interesting book Code and Clay, Data and Dirt: Five Thousand Years of Urban Media helps. It includes an aerial image of a geoglyph figure in the Nazca Desert (Peru) of…More

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Alien moods

The quest for communication with extraterrestrial intelligences teaches us more about human culture than we are likely to learn from putative aliens. Inquiry into alien communication leads inevitably to speculations about such communications as presented in plays, films, sound works and video games. Alien movies The composer John Williams has scored several films about aliens.…More

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Music and aliens

Music, or at least pitch, rhythm and note combinations, feature prominently in attempts to communicate with extraterrestrial aliens. Acoustic phenomena have a ready home in putative alien encounter. I think of the tuneful greeting to the alien spacecraft in Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) or Kubrick’s use of György Ligeti’s Requiem for…More

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Polarity minus

The composer and musicologist Ernst Levy (1895-1981) touched on architecture in an essay on the proportions of the southern tower of Chartres Cathedral. Unoriginally, he appealed to the proportions of the Golden Mean as the cathedral’s guiding principle. His theories hold greater significance in music however. In his book Theory of Harmony, first published in…More

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Negative substitution

Cryptographers substitute one symbol for another following a system, so that the recipient who knows the system (and/or a decryption algorithm) can reverse the substitution process to recover the original symbol sequence, i.e. the plain text message. Substitution is a common operation in mathematics, symbolic logic and computer programming. At various times it’s also informed…More

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The sky alphabet

A quick google image search on “things that look the same” reveals not just how similar to each other rocks, fruit, trees, animals, food, buildings and people can appear, but how sharply tuned is our propensity to find similarity wherever we can. The philosophy of the French scholar Jacques Gaffarel (1601-1681) exemplified a pre-modern understanding…More

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The secret machine

There are at least three touch points connecting the Baroque mathematician and philosopher Gottfried Leibniz (1646-1716) with secretiveness. 1. A cryptographic machine Leibniz invented and built a mechanical calculator. But less well known is his unbuilt model of a machine for encrypting and decrypting messages, using the poylaphabetical encryption method. In his account of Leibniz’s…More

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Cryptography and the Baroque

I’m on the hunt for references to cryptography by recent philosophers. In his book The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque, the philosopher Gilles Deleuze states. A “cryptography” is needed which would both enumerate nature and decipher the soul, see into the coils of matter and read in the folds of the soul (228). Deleuze elaborates…More

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Useless encryption

I described ascii stereograms in my previous post. Playing about with secret messages hidden in text images seems scarcely relevant in the high stakes game of serious data security. What’s the use of investigating cryptographic methods that have no apparent practical use? Experts classify cryptographic techniques on the basis of how secure or insecure these…More

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ASCII stereograms 101

In the 1990s, text email (without pictures) was the main channel for person-to-person communication. Mimicking early text printer graphics, arrays of evenly spaced characters could serve as simple pixels inside an email. Imaginative emailers followed this method to adorn their messages with emojis and ASCII pictures. Amongst such text-based imagery you can find ASCII stereograms,…More

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What ever happened to autostereograms?

I recall the craze in the 1990s for Magic Eye posters and books. People would gaze and squint at these multicoloured, seemingly random, patterns to discern 3d images of dolphins, elephants, temples, and spaceships. The method of display was a variation on what I experienced as a child, as I gazed at my bedroom wallpaper…More

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Secrets of the overhead projector

All transmission of data across digital networks now involves encryption. It’s interesting to read articles from the 1990s in which cryptography was applied usually to messages only requiring high levels of security. A seminal 1995 article by Moni Naor and Adi Shamir began “In this paper we consider the problem of encrypting written material (printed…More

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Truth, lies and architecture

Do buildings lie? The UK Trade Descriptions Act prohibits sellers from circulating false or misleading descriptions of their goods and services. Legislation across most countries echoes the spirit of the UK Act. Informal reference to the challenge of false trade descriptions circulates amongst professional and consumer stakeholders within retail, education, health, and the built environment.…More

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Key exchange: It’s a wrap!

In an earlier post (Elliptic trapdoors) I did my best to explain addition and multiplication along an elliptic curve. The diagram showed a point P doubled to produce 2P, then added to itself to produce 3P, and added again to produce 4P. The dotted lines indicated the mirror reflection operation to arrive at the final…More

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Elliptic fields

One property of algebraic equations is that you can perform the same simple arithmetical operation on both sides of the equation and the equivalence still holds for the same x and y values, e.g. y = 2x has the same values if both sides are multiplied by the same number e.g. 6y = 12x. The…More

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Sharing a secret number

Here’s a naive method for two people to agree a secret number. The number to be shared is simply an integer, which is a key for some other encrypted communication channel. It could even be a PIN to a bank account, an access code for a door or the combination code to a shared locker…More

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Elliptic trapdoors

Elliptic curves are amongst a family of curves that make up the alluring surfaces of much contemporary organically-inspired architecture. They are also the basis of encryption methods that secure digital communications. A trapdoor is a one-way portal. You can go through it easily in one direction, but it’s difficult to come out again in the…More

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RSA public key encryption

I’m continuing this dive into public-private key encryption. As outlined in a helpful blog post by Nick Sullivan, the kind of encryption I described in the last two posts relies on a simple property of numbers. It’s easy to multiply two numbers, even if very large, but more difficult to factor a number, i.e. find…More

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Asymmetric key encryption

An encryption key is a string of characters that you feed into an encryption algorithm to either encrypt or decrypt a message. An asymmetric key system has two keys. There’s a public key to encrypt a message. It’s public because anyone can see it and use that key. But once the message is encrypted using…More

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Primes

Some secure encryption methods make use of prime numbers. I’ll examine the method in the next post, but here’s some properties of primes relevant to encryption, presented via simple grid geometry. Hopefully that connects this esoteric field with spatial shapes such as rectangular rooms on a gridded plan. Composites A composite number is a positive…More

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Failure for sale

Things that don’t function properly are valuable commodities if their failure offers advantage for someone. In fact, it’s information about that failure that’s the commodity. Consider an urban example. You see that your neighbours have left one of their windows unlatched as they are about to move out for the weekend. So, you’ve detected a…More

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Shibboleth

A Shibboleth is a kind of pronunciation test. You can tell where someone is from, or not from, by asking them to say a particular word. It can also indicate where someone has been. I can tell with a degree of certainty if someone has been to Australia by the way they say “Melbourne.” If…More

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Wittgenstein’s secret place

The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) wrote diary entries in code. I’ve been reading Dinda Gorleé’s book Wittgenstein’s Secret Diaries: Semiotic Writing in Cryptography. There are several touch points with architecture and place. Wittgenstein had trained as a mechanical engineer, and undertook a serious foray into architecture when he designed his sister’s house, which followed the…More

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Cryptography for space aliens

“Anticryptography” is a loose term to designate a type of cryptographic message that is legible to someone who has no knowledge of the plain text language from which the message derives. Nor do they have access to the method of encryption, or anything like an encryption or decryption key. Nor is the message meant to…More

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Quantum entanglement for designers

The idea of the quantum Internet (QI) adds a new dimension to city infrastructures. Quantum physics is even more difficult to grasp than the blockchain. But I’ll give it a shot, starting with lasers. Lasers A laser beam is a concentrated beam of coherent light within a narrow colour band (i.e., frequency range). You can…More

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Quantum Internet

Quantum computers can potentially remove the need to iterate through the huge numbers of combinations required to crack a code, reconstruct an original source document from a hash string or derive the key used to encrypt a file.More

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How architecture keeps its secrets

Here’s a basic application of the containment principle. If you put something into a cardboard box and close the lid then it’s concealed from view. Buildings also conceal things. I discussed the house-museum of the architect John Soane in a previous post. Soane was a practitioner within a secret society (Freemasonry), which in turn traded in…More

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Seven secrets

Architecture has even more in common with the theory and practice of secret-keeping than do secret societies. I would add the offer of crypts, basements, darkened rooms and cupboards to the reasons secret societies gravitate towards architecture: its histories and theories, functions, types and symbols. I’ve started reading (listening to) Dan Brown’s novel The Lost…More

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Secret architecture

The prominent Regency architect John Soane (1753-1837) was a member of a secret society. In an account provided by architectural historian David Watkin, Soane “took Freemasonry very seriously” (402). Though he wasn’t initiated as a member until the age of 60 his work adopted the mood of Freemasonry. “He reflected its deistic philosophy in his…More

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Secret society

There exists a secret society, custodian of the theory and practice of secrets. Its adherents embrace the systematic invention, application and promotion of codes and ciphers. As it includes architects and mathematicians amongst its adherents, this society preserves and embeds arts of semiotics, geometry, combinatorics, indices, logics, riddles, paradoxes, and mechanisms to examine the arts…More

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Secrets of the lodge

A lodge is a shelter, probably with only simple functional articulation of parts (i.e. rooms), as in the case of a shed, pavilion, cabin, booth or bothy (in Scotland). Related to lodge, we have loggia, an annexe to a building that is open on some of its sides, like a porch or verandah. The lodge…More

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Camouflaged incitement

Everyone fights, or are prepared to say they do. As I noted in my last post, Fighting words, a major charge against Trump was that he exhorted his followers to “fight like hell.” His defence lawyers countered with a lengthy sound montage instancing peace-loving politicians (I think all Democrats) invoking the word “fight” in their…More

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Fighting words

“Surveying the tense crowd before him, President Trump whipped it into a frenzy, exhorting followers to ‘fight like hell [or] you’re not going to have a country anymore.’ Then he aimed them straight at the Capitol, declaring: ‘You’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength, and you have to be…More

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Crypto-conspiracy

CryptoArt is a term applied to artworks that are bought, sold and authenticated on a blockchain. In this sense, CryptoArt is no more a genre, sub-genre, style or movement in art than auction art, gallery art or collectible art. “Art” is not a protected or regulated noun and invites appendage to many other nouns. A…More

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CryptoArt 101

Now that the worth of my Bitcoin wallet has risen to double figures (in £s) I’m ready to invest in some digital art. Digital artworks are static or moving digital pictures, such as animated GIFs, though the category could include any digital asset: video, sound file, music score, computer code, 3D computer model, etc. In…More

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Decryptopolis

Newly elected US Members of Congress and their staff were disoriented and nervous as they hid in the basement of the Capitol. Included in their concern was the fear of contracting COVID-19 while close to one another, and in the company of people who wouldn’t wear masks (Washington Post). Elsewhere I’ve identified cases where the…More

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Deplatformed

Facebook and Twitter have “deplatformed” Trump. In any grievance it’s shrewd practice to focus on just one offence rather than confuse the case with a barrage consisting of all the complaints you could advance.  Following that restrained practice, Twitter Inc. drew attention to Trump’s 2 most recent tweets. In their Twitter blog the company declared:…More

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Filter variables

When did you decide to grow a beard? Not every event over which a person assumes agency has a singular moment or an origin. Nor does it, of necessity, involve a decision. A slightly less gendered scenario is that of strolling through the neighbourhood — perhaps as exercise during pandemic restrictions. Sometimes we just wander…More

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What’s the use of variables?

Trumpian-style relativism and denialism assumes the right to make up some numbers and refuse others: votes, profits, employment rates, infections and crowd sizes. That’s to mistake variable for uncertain, unreliable and arbitrary as if “up for grabs.” Variables 101 In maths and logic a variable is a symbol standing for something unspecified, though you might…More

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Unclear thinking

It came upon a midnight clear. Clarity and its converse unclarity are in the air this season: as people seek clarity on what they can and cannot do during this phase of the pandemic. Clarity is about optics. Something is clear if the perception of it is unobstructed by darkness, fog, blur, glare, distortion or…More

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Secret norms

“Normal” is an architectural term, according to the OED derived from the Latin noun norma which was a square of wood used by carpenters and masons for creating right angles. As known to any student of geometry, a line (or wall) is normal to another if it meets it at right angles. The term has…More

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Place is the code

In cryptographic communication, a sender has a message in mind then converts that into a coded signal. The sender dispatches the signal through a communication channel and it is picked up by a recipient who decodes the message. The coding and decoding algorithms at either end of the channel select from an array of alternative…More

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Permeable portals

The satirical fantasy The Good Place is ostensibly about the afterlife, and features different mechanisms for moving between the Good Place, the Bad Place, the Medium Place and Earth via magical doors, a hot air balloon, a train, a snap of the fingers, pneumatic chutes and giant round doors that clamp shut like the iris…More

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Parallel worlds

He’s making few public appearances but “the pixels of his Twitter feed continued to live in a world of alternative reality,” echoed the Washington Post this week about Trump. Meanwhile, His Dark Materials that also taps into a multiverse of realities is back on the BBC. A helpful entry in Wikipedia under multiverse lists several…More

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Hidden dimensions

Cryptography hides messages from the senses, observation and interpretation. It belongs within an array of practices that fit comfortably within the field of semiotics. I’m content to think that cryptographic practices extend C.S. Peirce’s semiological pragmatism. After all, messages hidden in code are signs. On the subject of messaging, I’m also interested in hiddenness as…More

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What comes next?

It’s a banal truism: events follow one another in sequence, inexorably. You brush teeth, you wash face, you pour cereal, you eat cereal, you rinse bowl, you attend online meeting, you get dressed … Such sequences often follow patterns. In some cases, a researcher might want to detect those patterns: to predict what comes next,…More