The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Category: Student Posts (Page 1 of 37)

From Voxcoder to SIGSALY

The Voxcoder was one of the most interesting things I have ever heard of. The origin of the machine, being just a voice changer/imitator, really made me wonder what the creator had in mind when he made the machine. Being able to replicate a human or animal voice opens up so many pathways such as deception, manipulation, and somewhat discretion. I was extremely surprised when the machine was able to replicate the cow noise almost perfectly. It is also kind of scary considering that a machine can produce convincing human and animal noises. All I could imagine was hearing a a series of growls while walking through the house. After the Voxcoder was evolved into the Sigsaly the organization and complexity of the system used for conferences was baffling. There were so many steps to a single conference that it was sometimes hard to keep up with what part of the process the podcast was explaining. I think its cool but also limited that the conferences functioned by mixing and masking human voices with random noise. Its an incredible feat but if the Germans were able to figure out what was happening and develop a method of decoding it, the Allies would be screwed. It would be a more incredible feat if the Allies were able to completely scramble and distort the messages without having to mask it behind random noise.

Creating an Intriguing Podcast

The most interesting thing I discovered about the episode was how much of an impact the work of Bell Labs has on our lives today. In listening to the description of the amazing machine from the World's Fair in 1939, I immediately assumed that all of its technology was incredibly outdated. However, I was amazed to learn that the technology is very important to the use in our phones today. Furthermore, I was also amazed with how quickly Bell Labs created such a security machine under such a time crunch. With the safety of the entire world possibly at sake, they were able to create the SIGSALY machine which allowed safe communication across the ocean.

I was very impressed with the noises used in the background of the podcast that related to the topic at hand. For instance there were man clips of conversations between FDR and Churchill, and also instances where the Voder was demonstrated. This helped to not only give the listener a better idea of what happened, but also to make it a much more enjoying podcast rather than just hearing one person talk for the entire time. Even the background music provided a nice contrast to the voice of the speaker.

The producer made the technical aspects very understandable by not assuming that the listener knew about the topic at hand, and therefore thoroughly explaining each step of what happened. By doing this the audience was able to understand complex and confusing things, such as the Voder, without ever seeing an image of what is like. I was very impressed with the podcast because I looked up what a Voder looked like after the podcast and it was very similar to what I had pictured. This means that the producer did a good job in making the concepts very accessible.

After listening to this, I would like to do my podcast on something similar, an obscure machine or company that was incredibly important in coding/decoding messages. I think I would like to do my podcast on something that is more important to present times, but then again it can be overstated how important the products from Bell Labs are to our lives today, for instance by making our cell phone transmissions work.


The Full Circle of a Voder

I do not listen to podcast at all. They are just not something that I bother to make time for. However, if I had to trust one media outlet with persuading to me to do otherwise, it would be Vox. They always know how to make a story interesting, and if it is already interesting, then they make it even more interesting. This podcast of theirs — Vox Ex Machina, 99% Invisible Episode 208 — is no exception.

With an interesting topic already in their hands, Vox tells us the history of the voder, a machine that can produce synthetic voices. What I found interesting in this story is what they describe as its “full circle.” It first started out as a silly machine used for laughs; then it “enlisted” to aid the Allied efforts in World War II by encrypting voices over radio communication; and then it returned back to civilian life, helping make some of our generation’s most iconic noises and sounds. There may other pieces of technology in our culture that have a similar story, but we might not learn about them, so it is at least cool know about the voder’s story.

Now the producer did many things to turn what was already an interesting story into an even more interesting story, but what really caught my attention was the soundtrack he used and how he used it. Every different track he used throughout the podcasts engaged me in the story, but that is not all. He also made sure to apply each different track to a spot in the story where it was appropriate. Thus, he produced a story that knew how to take itself seriously and humorously at the right moments.

On a related note, I also like how the producer incorporated videos and pictures throughout the podcast. They add another layer to the podcast that makes it even more enriching for the audience.

All of this has left me with some good ideas for the podcast episode that I will produce. While maintaining good journalism, I will always make sure that the audience is engaged. This means incorporating good color schemes, music tracks that complement the tone of the story, and pictures to add that extra layer of media.

Cryptography Based in Recreation

99% Invisible's "Vox Ex Machina" tells of the history of vocal synthesis. This episode of the podcast was very informative, following vocal synthesis from it's inception to its modern-day applications. As I learned during the episode, vocal synthesis played a key role in secure communications for the Allies during World War 2. I found this interesting because I would never have thought to use such a method to encrypt communications. When I think of vocoders, I think of Black Moth Super Rainbow, one of my favorite bands, not cryptography.

The podcast producer made the material presented interesting by including interviews with people who worked on SIGSALY and providing a simulated conversation between Wilson and Churchill. This gave me a better idea of what SIGSALY actually did.

The producer made technical aspects of the material accessible by providing concrete examples of everything mentioned in the podcast.

Based on this episode, I think I want to talk about something that is not originally based on cryptography but instead was later applied to the cryptographic field. In terms of format, I would like to include examples of what I am discussing, making the material easier to digest for the listener. I would also like to have multiple speakers covering different portions of the show, as that makes things easier to understand.


From War Machine to "Wow! Double Rainbow"

99% Invisible's podcast Vox Ex Machina is an excellent telling of the story of speech encryption. I found myself listening to a  intriguing story that sounding nothing like a excerpt from a textbook, and one can tell that the producers definitely enjoyed what they were talking about. This in turn made me take notice of the topic of discussion: the Vocoder.

The producer also points heavily to the most interesting detail of the Vocoder: it's many useful implications. It's predocessor, the Voder, was used to synthesize speech on a consumer level. The Vocoder was then constructed to better encrypt speech for communications during WWII. After the war and its declassification, the Vocoder was starting to be used in music. Now, it is used in technologies like cell phones, music players, and video compression.

To make the podcast interesting, its producers kept telling the story from an interesting perspective. From talking about the Voder in the World's Fair in 1939 to the Vocoder's heavy involvement in the Manhattan Project and the Atomic Bombs, the producers keep the story compelling by giving listeners intriguing information. They even go as far to have people that actually used these devices to tell of their times actually working with these machines.

Based on Vox Ex Machina, I think I will try to make my podcast about something that really intrigues me. I believe this makes me enjoy actually doing the podcast, and if I enjoy it, that will push me to make my podcast more enjoyable for my listeners.

Old Information in a New Way

The podcast “Cipher, or Greenhow Girls” from The Memory Palace was particularly intriguing and cleverly done. The producer of this podcast incorporated music, details, and descriptions which draw the listener in. Instead of feeling as though you are listening to a textbook, the producer weaves a narrative that is both relatable and interesting. Short segments of music underscore the key points of the story and break up the monotony of his voice. Additionally, the producer’s detailed description of images and places helps the listener to picture the locations he is describing, even though they cannot actually see these places.

There are a few times in the podcast when the producer does not strictly adhere to historical fact. In his analysis of “Little Rose,” he raises questions and speculates as to what she may have thought or felt later in her life. Since there is so little factual data on Little Rose, this is a good method to get the listener to think about the story that isn’t there; the one that no one knows.

The topic, in of itself, is fascinating. I had heard of Rose Greenhow before, but I had never realized the extent to which her daughter, Little Rose, was affected by her espionage. The producer of this podcast not only presented new information, but he presented it from an angle which I had not heard before. That is the key to a good podcast. It does not necessarily have to be brand new information so long as it is presented in a novel way. In my podcast, I hope I will be able to replicate the detail, descriptions, and novel point of view for whatever topic I choose.

Tell me a story

The Memory Palace’s blog Greenway Girls in centered around the life of Rose Greenway and her mother also Rose Greenway. Interestingly, the main character in the story was the daughter, who actually didn’t have much to do with ciphers bar her 8-month stint in prison with her mother. The way the story was told leaves the listener always waiting for the shift in dynamic of the story, the pivotal moment where she contributes to cryptography in a meaningful way. However, this never comes. The author’s deliberate choice in doing this allows the listener to stay absorbed in the story, wanting more. This story, unlike almost every story ever written, this story doesn’t contain a satisfying ending in which there is a resolution. The author, however, just questions possible outcomes, allowing the listeners to speculate and create their own endings. In addition to the lack of information provided by the author, the author doesn’t provide many visual aids or embedded pieces of information within the page of the podcast. This may have been done to add to the feeling of mystery and lack of information, leaving the listener even more puzzled than before.

In terms of the author’s style of narration it very much reminded me of both Winston Churchill and Barack Obama’s speaking styles. His slow narration, with seemingly deliberate word choice, has a somewhat trancelike effect on the listener. When this is coupled with frequent, short pauses, it builds suspense in the audience, leaving them grasping for more. He also uses very descriptive yet simple language allowing the listener to envisage the story as it unfolds which is a critical component for storytelling in any form.

Using the author’s style as a guide, I may experiment with speaking slowly, emphasizing specific words including the use of pauses to aid the delivery of my podcast. I will definitely tell a story in my podcast as it is the primary way we communicate as humans, and people are far more likely to recall events in the form of a story than in any other way. With regards to topic, the mystery of unsolved or unknown portions of history of cryptography seems to be very enticing and so I may focus my podcast around that.

Number Stations

The 97th episode of 99% invisible was particularly interesting because of the way the way it was produced. Instead of making it a 20-minute voice over of just the narrator speaking, he added sound effects and background audio that were very relevant to the theme and the ambience of the podcast. Moreover, the actual content was presented in a very intriguing way. It was meant for an audience that had little to no knowledge of the topic and everything was presented in a rather ‘accessible’ way without the use of technical lingo. The podcast gave me quite some inspiration for my own project. I plan to make my podcast about one of the popular cryptocurrencies, as this is not only a very highly interesting topic related to cryptography but also one that is very frequently discussed due to the booming bit-coin culture. From this podcast and other one that I have listened to, it seems like the production and content are almost equally important in how much the podcast can keep the captivate the person listening, which is why I will make sure I incorporate some of the techniques that the podcast used, e.g. the actual radio transmissions playing in the background during the podcast.

From the perspective of the losing side

I listened to Cipher, or Greenhow girls The Memory Palace episode 111 and I thought it was so interesting how they started first from older Rose's perspective and then transitioned to trying to empathize with little Rose after her mother passed. The chronological way the podcast was delivered made it very easy to follow and the music in the background helped set the mood of the story. Similarly, the narrator's intonation and speech patterns created a sense of intrigue and suspense which fell perfectly in line with the content of the podcast. I really liked this podcast because in school we had to read a fictional book from the perspective of Rose's servant, a Union sympathizer, so I liked hearing how Rose and her daughter experienced the same event but with a completely different view. The podcast gave Rose a complete persona, rather than just labeling her as a spy or confederate, which makes her a more interesting character to study because she has all these personalities such as mother, spy, southern belle, cryptographer, etc. Something interesting to note was that even though during the time of the Civil war when women were not offered equal opportunities to men, Rose was still able to concoct such a complicated spy circle and successfully aid her side in the war effort, her code being something I'm sure many men to break. The main things I will take away from this podcast to help me with my own is that music is extremely helpful when it comes to creating a mood for the piece, and that telling your ideas in the form of a story makes it more interesting than just listing facts in a textbook fashion.

Bright Defiance: Greenhow Girls

The story of the Greenhow girls, as portrayed in this podcast, is incredibly interesting and intriguing. The investigation of the story of little Rose and her blatant defiance to an authority draws the listener in within the first few minutes. It was very fascinating to hear about the use of even the simplest cryptography in the civil war and how Rose was viewed as an integral part in the war and because of her cryptographic efforts was seen as a person of interest to the North. I think it is incredibly compelling how as Little Rose grew older, the defiance that she presented to the guard slowly dissipated. Instead of having a continued strong alliance to the Confederacy and despising all things Yankee, she instead grows up to marry one herself. She even begins to question if the events surrounding her mother were even true but lives as the "living after picture" of the events. Little Rose matured in a time where the meaning of the war changed time and time again. I think that how the podcast was portrayed had a lot of impact on keeping the me intrigued. The music and his choice of words made the podcast incredibly smooth and thought-provoking. The most captivating part of this podcast was the conclusion, "we don't have enough messages to break the code." For my podcast, I really want to focus on the importance of word choice and the influence that background music can have on the overall tone.

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