The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

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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.

You don't realize how often secret messages are still being transmitted

In the "Number Stations" podcast, I enjoyed learning about the fact that actual secret messages that nobody knows the reason or meaning of is actually being constantly transmitted on certain radio frequencies and generally accessible to pretty much anyone who has a radio and a knack for tuning to every possible station. Their message itself is kept secret but the transmission of the encrypted one is totally open to the public. What's more interesting is that this isn't only used by one country--many countries such as Germany, Spain, Russia, and China are exploiting this means of communication. I'm guessing that as long as the coders are confident in the strength of their system, it doesn't matter who hears it. But what does matter to them is an easy way of getting messages out and heard by the receiving end (radio is pretty common).

What bolstered this podcast's grip on the audience came from the insertion of actual radio dialogues that show us what these "number stations" usually sound like in addition to quotes from relevant sources or experts, such as Bruce Schneier.

Though I was very captivated after about 10 minutes into the podcast, it initially felt a little awkward and unorganized, just because without reading anything else on the website, this podcast sort of starts out of nowhere and is confusing. We're not entirely sure what their main point is until 3 minutes in. Thus, in this case, reading the text article beforehand is essential, which many people may not immediately realize (they might go straight to the podcast, sit back, and enjoy). Unlike papers that are organized with an introduction, body, and conclusion, the podcast seemed like it started with a point and decided to go wherever with it on a whim, like speaking on a stream of consciousness.

This gives me the idea to make sure that right from the start of my own podcast, I will introduce the main points covered so the audience has a very clear idea of what they're about to listen to.

I did like how this podcast has supplemental information when you scroll down the page. More visual components such as graphs that show data or directly depict the situation in the order that they are discussed would be extremely helpful to people who are listening to the podcast simultaneously.

A Child helping hand in War

I found the podcast on Rose Greenhow to be the most interesting. Not because it had very elaborate and scientific ways to encrypt messages but for the exact opposite. I was amazed by the simplistic ways she found to encrypt messages while living in the Union capital of DC. Sending messages by sewing different colors into quilts and using her daughter to relay messages from their tall tree all right under the noses of the North. The hidden messages in braids of girls and the insoles of  couriers were so simple yet hid messages for many years.

One way the podcaster made the podcast rather interesting was that he centered the story around little Rose instead of a history lesson on the older Rose. Also the music in the background keeps the story from being very monotonous and he also included sounds such as gunshots and other sound effects.

All of the documents used to make this podcast were cited below the actual podcast and he described how each one helped and which ones were the most helpful. Also the music is given a title and musicians name. After listening to this I would start my podcast with brief background focusing on most recent and most interesting items. I would then move into the actual cryptography behind my topic and how that has been or affected cryptography today. I would also try to find music that would play off of my topic and enhance the experience.

Podcast Episode Numbers Stations

I listened to this podcast episode and the most interesting part about it was the mysterious nature of those random numbers. Though there are many guesses about what are the numbers for and who receives the numbers, we do not know the truths. More interestingly, numbers stations’ podcasts are accessible for everyone who owns a shortwave radio, making people more curious about them. This podcast episode kept catching my attention with many examples of numbers stations’ broadcasts. They well illustrate the concept of numbers stations, and because people usually get bored with repetitive things, the podcast utilizes various stations' broadcasts in different languages as examples, thus captivating listeners all the time. Additionally, the podcast invited a savant in the studies of numbers stations, David Goren, to give his perspectives on them. The speech from such a professional clarifies the technical aspects of the material and makes them more understandable. I also found the script and pictures below the podcast very helpful. While the script provides the brief content and some links to more information, the pictures give listeners a glimpse at what numbers stations look like so that they can visualize what they hear. Having listened to this episode, I will try to include a variety of detailed examples for my topic; also, I want to complement my podcast with script and pictures for listeners to follow along.

Number Stations Podcast

Episode 97 of 99% Invisible, Number Stations, is a podcast that discusses the mysterious shortwave radio transmissions that simply list random numbers. The topic of the podcast is really interesting. Imagine just tuning a radio and you suddenly hear random numbers being said. What would go through your head? To me, it feels like something out of the Twilight Zone. The podcast goes on to describe what the transmissions were and how almost everybody was sending them out. So little. I find it amazing to think that they were so easily accessible but virtually impossible to be of use to anyone except the intended recipient. Maybe to bigger organizations like the CIA, who themselves were setting up a few of these stations, there was something to be done with these. However, to your average day person, the transmissions were meaningless and just eerily there. The producer paired the podcast with some pictures and a written summary of what the podcast contained. This helped in understanding the podcast as you were able to follow along and know what was about to be discussed. He also made references when speaking that a listener could go the extra step and look up. The podcast does an excellent job of catching a listeners attention, as well as providing sources that allow a listener to go the extra step and research the topic themselves. I would like to format my podcast in a similar way to this informative and intriguing podcast on number stations.

Review of Vox Ex Machina

The episode of this Podcast was very interesting and managed to keep my attention for the duration of it. It utilized multiple voices along with different people to help explain different ideas in order to prevent one voice from becoming too monotoned. In addition, the podcast used upbeat music at times to illustrate examples which also helped bring the listeners back to focus. My favorite part was how they kept the listeners captivated which involved explaining their examples thoroughly to ensure that all listeners of any caliber could process the information being told. This was used by allowing the listeners to listen to the sounds the vocoder made as well as listen to the sounds that occurred when sending messages during private conferences. I also enjoyed that the  podcast had a similar script below it to allow listeners to follow along with the speakers to prevent them from getting lost. Within this script, there were pictures so the listeners could visualize what the speakers were talking about and better understand the vocoder and its capabilities. Furthermore, I liked that the script provided was not exact to the speakers dialogue because as it allowed me to keep track of their stories and explanations, but I did not feel like I was reading either or that it was too repetitive. Based off of this, I want to incorporate multiple voices into my podcast as well as an outlined script below possibly with pictures to help the listeners follow along and better understand the topic of the podcast episode.

Bookmark #4

For this bookmarking assignment, you should finish the two tasks I gave you in class on Monday, October 16th, both focused on the history of cryptography timeline this class has been building since 2010.

  1. Select an existing entry in the timeline and improve it. Verify the description, as best you can. Make sure it has an image or other form of media associated with it, with appropriate credit. Include a credible source with a citation and/or link. Be sure to add your initials as a contributor.
  2. Add a new entry. For ideas, see our Diigo group, or the essays prior students wrote for Wonders & Marvels, or your textbook. Be sure to use a credible source and an image or other form of media, with citations and/or links. And include your initials as a contributor.

You'll do all of your editing in the Google spreadsheet I shared with you. Your improved / new entries are due by 9 a.m. on Friday, October 20th.

Blog Assignment #8

In preparation for your upcoming podcast assignment, I want you to listen to a few podcast episodes that deal with cryptography. Here's the list:

For your blog post, select one of the three podcast episodes above and respond to one or more of the following questions:

  • What did you find most interesting about the episode?
  • What did the podcast producer do to make the material interesting?
  • What did the producer do to make technical aspects of the material accessible?
  • Based on this episode, what ideas do you have for the podcast episode you will produce? (Consider both topic and format.)

Your blog post should be between 200 and 400 words and is due by 9 a.m. on Wednesday, October 18th.

World War II Cryptography

In case they're helpful, here are my sketchnotes from our guest speaker, history professor Michael Bess, earlier in the week.

Why did the Allies succeed in cracking the Enigma?

While most people only credit Alan Turing for cracking of the Enigma, it is important to recognize the critical role that Marian Rejewski in paving the way for the Allies’ success.

In the early days of the war, Rejewski along with the Polish Cipher Bureau were able to identify that each letter in the ciphertext was linked to a chain of letters, thus allowing them to deduce that a relationship lied between the letters. This discovery removed the mystery surrounding the aptly named Enigma as they could now discern a pattern. If a pattern is present, then it can be concluded that there was a process taken to produce that which also means that, armed with logic and a lot of hard work, the steps in that process can be deduced. Had Rejewski not made this discovery, it can be argued that Turing would never have been able to crack the Enigma as it gave him a direction to pursue and a starting position of where to do that from.

In addition to this, Rejewski’s creation of the first bomba allowed Turing to understand the importance of mechanizing the cryptanalysis of the Enigma. By using a computer to solve the Enigma, it allowed the Allies to be more efficient. And so, when Turing was finally able to crack the Enigma, due to the time saved, the information deciphered was still useful and so they were able to anticipate and prepare for Germany’s attacks.

Although Singh argues that German overconfidence is the primary reason that the Allies were able to crack the Enigma, the principal reason for the Allies success was because of Rejewski. His creativity and innovative thinking was the breakthrough that allowed the Allies to ultimately break the Enigma.

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