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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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