The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

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First Questions

In class the other day, I asked you to brainstorm questions that you might need answered as you prepare your final argumentative essays. Below is a curated list of those questions. I'll ask you in this week's bookmark assignment (see next post) to find a source that helps answer one or more of these questions.

  • How effective has mass surveillance been in preventing terror attacks since 9/11?
  • What actual harm has come to US citizens as a result of mass surveillance?
  • How specifically has the pursuit of privacy impeded security efforts?
  • What are the mechanisms behind surveillance? How precisely are people surveilled in the US?
  • What is the balance of threats to national security that come from inside the US versus outside?
  • What specific legal frameworks are relevant to a discussion of mass surveillance?
    • What safeguards are in place to protect people from unwarranted surveillance?
    • What about other regulations or policies that govern privacy? Like regulations that might govern Facebook?
  • What reasons for surveillance does a government have other than terrorism prevention?
  • What have experts predicted for the future of surveillance?
  • What alternatives to mass surveillance have been proposed, and by whom?
  • What does polling say about public perception of surveillance and privacy?
  • What does this debate look like other countries? Say, China or the EU?
  • What do experts say about the risks of government “back doors” in software?

Paper #2 - Security vs. Privacy

Here's the info on your final paper assignment, due Wednesday, December 12th.

Updates and Reminders

It's a busy week, so here are some reminders and updates.

  • I have added a ninth problem to Problem Set 5. Be sure to download or print the latest version.
  • I've posted your blogging assignment for Friday, asking you to respond to one of the reading questions for Singh Chapter 7.
  • My drop-in hours this week are Tuesday 3-4, Wednesday 2-3, and Friday 2-3. Appointments are always welcome, too.
  • Your podcast episodes are due by the start of class tomorrow. Please post your MP3 files and producer's statements to Brightspace, in the assignment area. To submit your show notes, draft (but do not publish) a blog post with an episode description and information about your sources, including your references in APA format and your audio sources. Here's an example. Use the "Save Draft" button to save your show notes.
  • And once you've submitted your podcast, you're encouraged to start studying for the math exam scheduled for Friday, November 8th. I've posted a study guide with lots of practice problems (and solutions) for you to use.

Math Exam Study Guide

The math exam, scheduled for Friday, November 8th, will cover the mathematical concepts and techniques we’ve explored this semester.  The exam will not involve any codebreaking, although some questions on the exam may draw on cryptography for context.  You are encouraged to bring a calculator (scientific or graphing) to the test, but you will not be allowed to use a laptop during the test.

For a topic list and suggested practice problems (with solutions!), see the study guide.

Online Participation Check-in

Your online participation in this course contributes 10% of your final course grade. At the end of the semester, I'll ask you to review your online participation in this course, compare your participation to that of your peers, and assess your contributions to the learning community. I'll ask you to give yourself an online participation score between 0 and 10 points, and email it to me with a justification (a paragraph or two). If I think your score is reasonable, given your justification, I'll use that as your online participation grade.

Your assignment for Monday, October 14th, is to email me your self-assessment of your online participation in this course as it stands now. This is your chance to reflect on how you've been contributing to our little learning community.

To assess your online participation, focus on blog posts and bookmarks on Diigo, as well as other forms of online participation, if any. In each of these areas, I usually ask you for specific contributions -- posts that responded to particular questions, or bookmarks about specific topics, or tags and comments that fit certain parameters. As you look over your contributions to the course, keep these requests in mind. Also consider how your online participation contributed to the learning of your peers in the course.

Podcast Assignment

Here are the details on your podcast assignment, along with a draft rubric I'll use for assessing your podcast episodes.

At some point soon, I'll show how to use Audacity to edit audio and to walk you through some of the podcasting resources my Center for Teaching colleague, Rhett McDaniel, has collected.

Paper #1 - Little Brother

See below for your first paper assignment, along with the provision rubric I'll use to evaluate your papers. Please note the various deadlines listed in the assignment. We'll talk about the assignment in class, but feel free to reach out to me if you have questions about it.

Welcome to class!

I'm excited to teach "Cryptography: The History and Mathematics of Codes and Ciphers" again this fall. It's my favorite course to teach, and I hope you find it interesting, too.

Here's a copy of the Fall 2019 syllabus. Please read this before class on Friday, August 23rd, when we'll talk about various aspects of the course and I'll take your questions on the syllabus.

On the Contact page, you'll find directions to my office, which you'll need for the "get to know you meetings" next week. Be sure to give yourself a few extra minutes to find my office the first time, and feel free to call the Center for Teaching (where I work) if you get lost: 615-322-7290.

I'll also remind you that you should read the first chapter in our textbook, The Code Book by Simon Singh, before class on Monday.

Office Hours

Here's my office hour schedule for this week and next:

  • Wednesday, 12/5, 1:30 to 2:30pm
  • Friday, 12/7, 11am to noon
  • Monday, 12/10, 2pm to 3pm
  • Tuesday, 12/11, 1pm to 2pm
  • Wednesday, 12/12, noon to 1pm

Paper #2 - Security vs. Privacy

Here's the info on your final paper assignment, due Wednesday, December 12th.

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