The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Month: October 2012 Page 1 of 3

Social Bookmarking Assignment #4

For your fourth social bookmarking assignment, find and bookmark a credible resource on military cryptography.  This can’t be a resource you used for your expository paper assignment–you’ll need to work a little harder than that. But it can be a resource on one of the topics mentioned in this week’s chapter of The Code Book.  Tag your bookmark with “Military,” along with at least one other meaningful tag.

Your bookmark is due by 8:00 a.m. on Thursday, November 1st. If you have any questions about using Diigo or determining if a source is credible, don’t hesitate to ask.

Image: “Interesting Pin,” by me, Flickr (CC)

Singh Chapter 4 – Reading Questions

We’ll discuss the fourth chapter of The Code Book in class tomorrow. In case you’d like a little guidance for your reading or would like to prepare for discussion tomorrow, here are a few questions about the chapter you might consider. I’m not expecting you to answer these questions (on the blog or in writing), I’m just providing them as a resource.

  1. Given what you’ve now read about Bletchley Park’s role in World War Two, would you say that “Bletchley Park’s achievements were the decisive factor in the Allied victory”?
  2. Why might the Germans increase the number of scramblers and plugboard cables in their Enigma machines to make them more secure, yet also insist that the Enigma cipher could not possibly be broken by the Allies?
  3. We’ve seen that the Vigenère cipher was once though unbreakable but later broken.  Given that history, why might the Americans and French conclude that the Enigma cipher was unbreakable prior to the start of the Second World War?
  4. Singh writes on page 149 that “the creative codebreaker must ‘perforce commune daily with dark spirits to accomplish his feats of mental ju-jitsu.’”  In light of your own experiences breaking ciphers, which is more important to successful codebreaking-logic or creativity?  Or is an equal balance of both required?

Singh Chapter 3 – Reading Questions

We’ll discuss the third chapter of The Code Book in class tomorrow. In case you’d like a little guidance for your reading or would like to prepare for discussion tomorrow, here are a few questions about the chapter you might consider. I’m not expecting you to answer these questions (on the blog or in writing), I’m just providing them as a resource.

  1. When the Zimmerman telegram was deciphered by the cryptanalysts of Britain’s Room 40, Admiral William Hall decided not to tell American President Woodrow Wilson about its contents because doing so might let the Germans know that Britain was capable of breaking their codes.  Given the danger posed to America by the unrestricted U-boat warfare indicated in the telegram, was this ethical of Admiral Hall?
  2. Germany learned that Britain had broken their codes from histories of the First World War written by Winston Churchill and the British Royal Navy.  Given that this knowledge prompted Germany to invest in the Enigma machine technology prior to the Second World War, should these histories have been published?  What might have motivated Britain to make their code-breaking success known in this fashion?
  3. Given the various incidents recounted in this chapter, what are some conditions that seem favorable to the advancement of military cryptography?

Paper #2 – Expository Paper

Here’s the assignment (PDF version) for your second paper / blog post. And here’s the rubric (PDF version).

Image: “Pen and Paper,” Lucas, Flickr (CC)

Problem Set 4

Here’s your next problem set, in both Word and PDF formats. And here the two Excel files you’ll need to tackle the ciphertext this week: Vigenere Cryptanalysis (4 Letter) and Vigenere Cryptanalysis (5 Letter). If you need a version of these files for a different keyword length, you’ll need to create it yourself using these as a model. And if you need help doing that, just let me know.

Social Bookmarking Assignment #3

Your third bookmarking assignment will help prepare you for Tuesday’s in-class discussion of writing for blogs. Below you’ll find a list of some interesting blogs about math, science, and the history of math and science. Look through several of the blogs listed and select one post from one blog that you feel is particularly well written. Bookmark that post in Diigo, using the tag “BlogPosts” along with at least one other meaningful tag. Also, leave a comment on your bookmark in which you explain why you thought the post was well written.

Your bookmark and comment are due by 8 a.m. on Tuesday, October 16th.

Image: “Interesting Pin,” by me, Flickr (CC)

Blog Assignment #5

For this blog assignment, your job is to read your peers’ posts about Little Brother and respond to one of them with a comment of at least 100 words.  You can agree or disagree with the post or just build on one of the ideas shared in the post. Just be sure to add something to the conversation in your comment.

Your comment is due by 8 a.m. on Tuesday, October 16th.

Image: “Ghost Writer,” by me, Flickr (CC)

Security vs. Privacy in Little Brother

As promised, here’s a photo of the debate map you constructed during class today. Click on the image to see a larger version; it should be large enough to read the contents of the Post-it notes. Recall that arguments in favor of security were written on the yellow-green notes, and arguments in favor of privacy on the red notes.

Also, here are a few links relevant to today’s conversation:

Defining Moments

There are moments that last forever; moments that completely change your life and define who you become. In the second chapter of Cory Doctorow’s book, Little Brother, Doctorow cleverly depicts an everlasting and defining moment in Marcus Yallow’s life. Just as Marcus and his friends are about to uncover the next clue to a game they are dedicated to, their lives are changed forever. Doctorow produces this effect by changing the laidback and unconcerned style of his sentences to an abrupt, immediate and urgent one. He uses the words “sickening lurch” to describe that nauseating feeling you get right before a catastrophe transpires. The sentences that follow return to the eerily slow-paced and calm style, stretching out the mere seconds in which all the events occurred, into a long description of everything that ensued in them. Doctorow uses words such as “roaring,” “punishing,” and “sirens” to paint both a visual and aural scene as well as create the intensity of the explosion.
This moment eventually comes to dominate the course of Marcus Yallow’s life, defining his goal of defying the Department of Homeland Security and his struggle to attain his right to privacy.

The Costs of Privacy

Cary Doctorow’s Little Brother tells the story of Marcus Yallow, a high school student who rebels against the Department ofHomeland Security for violating his rights to privacy.  Marcus goes to the extent of creating a new secure Internet, hacking transportation systems, and much more to protect himself and others from the DHS.  I found Chapter 3 and 4 to be most interesting because Doctorow directly questions whether our rights to privacy are more or less important that protecting our country.  The unreal treatment Marcus faces while being interrogated changed my opinion over the topic entirely.  When Marcus was interrogated by the lady, why did Marcus feel so strongly over maintaining his privacy?  At first, I felt Marcus’ innocence was more important, and since he had nothing to hide he should hand over his phone.  I tried to put myself in his position and then realized I would feel uncomfortable if I was forced to hand over my text messages and emails to a random stranger.  Marcus maybe felt that because he was innocent he should continue to refuse to give his phone up.

Our right to privacy is a central theme in Little Brother, and is constantly questioned throughout the novel.  It is this right that has pushed cryptography to even larger extents, including securer methods of sending information on the Internet or keeping your information private entirely.  Surely, Google and Facebook use information for advertisements and other services, however, this is information that I’ve openly displayed to the public.  I have willingly put this information on the Web, knowing that it will not be private anymore.  Should any stranger attempt to access other private information, then my right to privacy has been violated.  In Marcus’ case, he faced the latter situation, and retained his privacy.  Ultimately, Marcus took a stand to end violations of this right, due to one instance of injustice.  As terrorism continues to rise, the government has increased its control over private information through phone taps and keyword tracking.  Should government control continue to increase, the people will have to decide if the costs of retaining privacy are too great.

Image: “Keep Out from Francisco Huguenin Uhlfelder,” by Francisco, Flickr (CC)

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