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

“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

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

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

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