Cryptography

The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Tag: Voder

The Transitions Were 100% Invisible

What I found most interesting about the Vox Ex Machina podcast produced by 99% Invisible was the development of vocoding from military application to music production. The podcast was well produced in my opinion, I really liked how the podcaster was able to tell the history voder machine and intertwined excerpts of noise from an actual machine itself to help with the description. By using the actual audio of a voder machine and coded military radio broadcasts made the podcast very easy to understand the device techniques used to produce or understand the message. What I gathered from this episode has a lot to do with the importance of using outside sources and applying them to the podcast to make the episode sound professional. Also, the transitions between sources and the podcaster's voice was seamless. It felt like the outside sources contributed to the story telling aspects of the podcast and they are essential to create a compelling story.

This podcast discourages me from talking about the pieces of written code or historically undecipherable messages because I feel like it would be difficult to describe the intricacies of the Voynich Manuscript without showing pictures or going over certain aspects of the piece which make it so head scratching. But then again, I could find audio files of respected people or sources speaking about the difficulty in cracking certain famous codes. As far as formatting goes, I definitely want to ingrain audio of people discussing code, the code itself, or have a reenactment of a historical moment that seems relevant to the story.

An invention to win the war

When you think about the World War, there must be a scene or a voice in your mind that broadcasts the radio talks. The classic voice with electronic noises in the movies probably has made an impression. I didn’t know about the source of the noise before. I used to thought that the voices were not clear because of the lack of technology to communicate efficiently; but after the podcast, I learned that those noises were created for data encryption.

The podcast explained clearly how the machine works. The machine can break down a human voice into basic components; then transmit those basic components so that the receiver can recreate the voice on the other side. This invention was marvelous enough to create a new generation. For the first time, sounds can be digitized and transmitted over a long distance. What’s more, it also mixed noises with those components to make the encryption unbreakable. These two innovative ideas were combined together, led to the success of the war.

The producer used different soundtracks so that we can hear different people telling the whole story. This new approach creates a sense of warm and inspiring. We all have the terrible experience of losing focus after hearing a stable and unchanging sound for a long time. This podcast can easily catch the audience’s attention. It feels like having a conversation in front of a bonfire with several knowledgeable scholars. Besides, the producers also presented the original radio sound back to the time of war. When those clips were related to the sound people often hear in the movies, the audience can better understand the ways Voder are used. The lecture will not be complex and boring principle telling in this way, but be a vivid presentation.

After hearing this episode, I’m probably going to consider more about the audience for the podcast episode. Audiences’ interest is always the first thing to think about while making an episode.

Sounds in Cryptography and Podcasts

What I found most interesting about the "Vox Ex Machina" podcast was Homer Dudley’s choice to use a pair of vinyl phonograph records as the key both the encryption and decryption process. Prior to listening to this podcast, I had not considered noise could be used as an encryption method. What surprised me even more was the security of Dudley’s encryption method.The single use keys were extremely secure because the enemy cannot replicate a record with the same random noises. Furthermore, even if the enemy was able to lay their hands on the keys, it would be useless without the SIGSALY machine and without knowledge of the agreed time to conference. To add an additional layer of security, the SIGSALY could only function in a narrow temperature range so it needed to be maintained specifically by an entire division of engineers. Enemies who got their hands on the machines might lack the knowledge about how to maintain and use the machine, thus rendering it unusable.

The podcast producer added audio tracks to the podcast which helped to better tell the story. For example, in the beginning of the podcast, the narrator is talking about the debut of the Voder at the New York World’s Fair, so he plays a recording of the Voder in action. A second example of this is when the narrator explains that as the SIGSALY machine processes voices, the voices are slightly mutated but the message is still intelligible. He then inserts a recording of what a SIGSALY communication might sound like to illustrate his statement. The variation in sounds also keeps the listener interested because he or she is not listening to the same voice speak for 20 minutes.

The narrator states an entire division of engineers was necessary to maintain the machine because it was so technically demanding. To make the technical aspects of the material accessible, the producer omits the technical details of the machine’s processes that were nonessential to the listener’s understanding of the SIGSALY. This way the foundational ideas are not lost but the processes that might confuse the general audience are not included.

This podcast inspired me to consider researching some non-conventional applications cryptography for my podcast. I will also aim to include different voices or sounds as this podcast has done to keep my audience captivated.

Voder in the past and future

From the audio, I feel that the Vox Ex Machina is a very powerful machine. The using of it will be used or already used in many ways in our daily life. The technology that mimics the human's voice was awesome and at that age sounds like ridiculous. Although the machine was made for war at the beginning, in the peaceful ages it will also be very useful.

This machine can be made such as the GPS or something else, also the most interesting part is that when the producer makes it, it can be controlled by the pitch. This will let the machine more useful, it can be used in the arts. We can think about that the outlook is like a piano, but sounds like a human is singing. Also, it can help the people to distinguished the male and female voices.

Also, the voder's keyboard looks like very easy to control, because it shaped as the hands. And the inside machine helps the people to decipher the digital instruction to the human's voice. In the WWll, it also played an important role. By the encryption of the voices of the leaders, the work of intelligence theft will become even harder, and even these encrypted voices will not be deciphered at all.

In the future, the voder machine can be smaller even invisible, at that time depends on the bionic technique, it will be very helpful for the society.

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.

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.

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