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Dark patterns

Most design practitioners think they are on the side of the good. Design training typically elevates positive values. Architecture for example harbours a strong sense that it is supporting the public good. It is never comfortable if aligned with enabling corporate greed. HCI (human computer interaction) and UXD (user experience design) are disciplines similarly founded…More

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Hash blogs

Hash is a prominent term in computing and cryptography, according to the OED, “so called because it consists of small pieces of code arranged in an apparently jumbled and fragmented way.” See posts tagged hash. To hash is to chop up, to hack, a term applied readily to food (recooked and chopped meat), narcotic dried…More

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Hiding messages in DNA

DNA origami is predicated on various tropes of hiddenness: nano-scale locked “boxes” made of folded DNA strands to conceal active molecular agents (enzymes, drugs, active DNA material) from their immediate environments where they may be harmed or cause harm. Nano-objects are in any case hidden from direct view, detected via sensing apparatus such as electron…More

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Nano-origami

Using techniques I alluded to (briefly) in my previous post, genetic engineers fabricate, isolate and deploy a class of short DNA strands (20 or so DNA base-pairs) known as staples (oligonucleotides). There are techniques for inserting these staples into long DNA strands at specific locations to cause the strand structures to fold. So the double…More

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DNA cryptography

Developments in biotech impact on the spatial implications of cryptography. DNA involves sequences of just 4 molecules connected in pairs in a double helix configuration. These nucleotide molecules are adenine (A), cytosine (C), guanine (G), and thymine (T). The DNA in a human cell is made up of about 3.2×109 of these pairs, normally tangled…More

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How to make up words

ETAOINS are the 7 most commonly used letters in the English language. See post: Counting letters. Perhaps we could communicate with just those seven letters. https://unscramblex.com is a website that provides all anagrams of up to 15 characters. There are 178 anagrams of ETAOINS. If you want include words where letters occur together (EE, TT,…More

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Codes and legals

Code is a useful term, not least as it has several meanings: rules, laws, computer programs, hidden messages. You can code and decode messages. The terminology around cryptographic ciphers is more restricted. It invokes meanings related to hidden writing. According to Simon Singh in The Code Book, “A cipher is the name given to any…More

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Urban cryptography

I’ve been investigating city life through the lens of cryptography. Here are some of the claims I think I can make on behalf of an “urban cryptography.” The most obvious contribution is that cryptography (digital encryption) addresses and resolves challenges of securing data and information flows in the city. But there’s more. Cities rely on…More

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How the Meta(verse) stokes division

The release of the trove of papers (“The Facebook Papers”) by whistle-blower and former Facebook employee Frances Haugen in 2021 suggests that Facebook manipulates and displays its content to polarise opinion and keep people engaged, if not “addicted,” in their social media news feeds. Social media platform developers configure their systems to encourage controversy. At…More

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Life in the metaverse

Technology companies such as Facebook have committed to developing the “metaverse.” According to a Facebook report the metaverse is “a set of virtual spaces where you can create and explore with other people who aren’t in the same physical space as you.” Facebook’s parent company is now called Meta. Skeptics say this is an excuse…More

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Greening the blockchain

While the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference COP26 takes place in Glasgow this week, attention turns to the energy waste of cryptocurrency transactions. A substantial part of the cost resides with the “proof of work” (PoW) process by which validating nodes on a blockchain compete to solve a numerical puzzle the solution to which…More

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Urban affordances

The term affordance was invented by the psychologist James J. Gibson (1904-1997): “The affordances of the environment are what it offers the animal, what it provides or furnishes, either for good or ill” (1979, p.27). He introduced the concept by referring to the relationship between the non-human animal (water bugs and bears) and its environment,…More

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“Smart city” claims

A “smart” public transportation network is one where schedules and real-time data are delivered on demand to smartphone users. Such an effective and “smart” system enables a traveller to transition from bus to train to tram without having to wait due to missed connections. The system adapts its information flows to the traveller’s changing needs…More

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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