The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Month: July 2010

Introduction: The Course Blog

I’ll be using this course blog to share important (and not so important) course information and resources.  Here’s a quick introduction:

What’s a Blog?

A blog is an easy-to-edit website where the latest items to be shared on the website appear at the top of the site.  That way, you’ll always find the latest course information for this course at the top of the page when you visit. For a quick introduction to blogs, check out this three-minute video by CommonCraft.

What’s on This Blog?

Most of the content here on the blog takes the form of posts, like this one.  You’ll see the most recent ten posts on the blog home page in reverse chronological order (so that the newest post is at the top of the page). If you click on the title of a post, you’ll be taken to a page with just that post on it, where you can leave comments at the bottom. Feel free to leave comments on any post you see here.

The blog also has more-or-less static pages. These feature content that isn’t particularly time sensitive. Look just below the image above–you’ll see links to the blog’s home page, about page, and contact info page. I’ll probably add a couple of others as the semester progresses.

Over in the sidebar to the right, you’ll find a few others useful items. At the top, you’ll find quick links to the most recent blog posts and comments. You’ll also see an Archives section that let’s you view posts published in particular months. Below that, you’ll find the all-important Categories section. I’ll categorize all my posts, so use this section to find posts of a certain type very quickly.

Below the Categories section, you’ll find the five most recent websites tagged with “fywscrypto” on Delicious. More on that in a future post. After that, you’ll find a link to the course Facebook page and then a few random links, including links to this blog’s RSS feed. For more on the Facebook page and RSS feed, keep reading.

Following This Blog

Since you’ll want to know the latest news and course information in a timely manner, it’s important that you check this blog frequently. You have a few options for doing so:

  1. Add this blog to your bookmarks or favorites on your Web browser (Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari, and so on). Then check back frequently to see if there are new posts. This option requires you to remember to check the site regularly, however, so you might try one of the following options instead.
  2. Subscribe to the blog’s RSS feed in your favorite RSS feed reader. What do I mean by that? Please go watch this three-minute video (another one from CommonCraft) for a much better explanation than I could provide. If you’re not already using a feed reader, then you might try Google Reader, which is the one I use. The CommonCraft video will show you how to subscribe to this blog’s feed from Google Reader.
  3. Another option is to “Like” the course Facebook page. I’ve set up a page in Facebook for the course so that all posts from this blog appear on that page with 24 hours of posting. If you’re on Facebook and you “Like” this page, then these blog posts will appear in your News Feed when you login to Facebook. Be warned: If you have a lot of friends on Facebook, any posts from the course Facebook page might get lost in your News Feed. You may be better off going with Option 1 or 2 above.

If you have any questions about using the course blog, please let me know. Thanks!


Welcome to the Web site for Math 115F: Cryptography: The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking at Vanderbilt University.  I’m the instructor of the course, Derek Bruff. Bookmark this blog or subscribe to its RSS feed to stay up-to-date on course happenings and resources.

Basic Information

Days and Times: Tuesdays and Thursdays, 9:35-10:50
Location: Crawford House 208

Course Description

Julius Caesar used ciphers to keep his enemies from reading messages he sent to his generals. Sherlock Holmes deciphered a code to solve “The Mystery of the Dancing Men.” The defeat of the German Enigma Machine in World War Two by Polish and British cryptanalysts required espionage by Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond, and played an important role in the Battle of the Atlantic and D-Day. It also led to the construction of the first digital computers, which ushered in an information age where cryptography makes information security possible and plays a role in electronic commerce and social justice. This course is designed to provide an understanding and appreciation of the ways in which codes and code breaking have impacted history, technology, and culture. Students will learn concepts and techniques from abstract mathematics used in classical and modern cryptography. Students will also gain proficiency in creating and breaking fun and simple codes and ciphers.


Image: “Welcome” by Flickr user sierraromeo, Creative Commons licensed

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