And being seen......
Like pretty much any city in Wisconsin Eau Claire had an active brewing industry in the 19th century. There were four good sized breweries and a number of smaller players. Surprisingly, given the substantial nature of brewery buildings, there are virtually no physical remains in 2021. In fact, until recently I'd have said none. But then some stucco started peeling off a non descript building at the corner of Elm and Hobart....
Week two. Time to get trickier....
Enigma Lesson Two
VLRDR VPJBI IYXAU
Well now, that was not a very nice thing for Julius Caesar to say about the Barbarians! Although it was of course quite true. Perhaps that is why he wrote it in a special letter code. This "Julian Cipher" was one of the earliest such codes and would serve to make written messages unreadably to casual observers.
Well now, that was not a very nice thing for Julius Caesar to say about the Barbarians! Although it was of course quite true. Perhaps that is why he wrote it in a special letter code. This "Julian Cipher" was one of the earliest such codes and would serve to make written messages unreadably to casual observers.You of course are considerably smarter than a batch of 1st century BC Barbarians, so it won’t take you long to figure this out.
Paper, pen, blackboard…..of course after a while
people got even smarter and started to create machines to help encode and
decode. Some of these are simple and
fairly well known. Once upon a time
special “Secret Agent Encoder Rings” came in boxes of cereal. We will work with some home made versions of
this device to send and receive messages to each other.
Like everything else in the modern era these code
machines kept getting trickier and more effective. Until the code breaking machines caught up.
Ever wonder why this course is called Enigma? Go.
The first cipher they worked on was the famous "Julian" or "Caesar" cipher. It is a simple 3 space rotation cipher where V becomes Y, L becomes O. The initial message read "YOU GUYS SMELL BAD".
This led to a brief etymologic side trip into why Caesar Salad is called that and to how what was basically a nickname evolved into a title that has been in continuous use until fairly recently. (Czar, Kaiser, etc).
All rotational ciphers can be solved pretty simply. I taught them the Brute Force method and they were able to easily take on another cipher called Rot-13. This cipher is still in fairly common use. The geocaching website uses it to encrypt hints.
A bit harder challenge next, a random cipher. I told them I'd make it a bit easier by giving them lots to work with and breaking it down into words instead of standard five letter sets.
The answer was: BILBOBAGGINSLASTRIDDLE. Shockingly none of them had read the Hobbit. My work to repair the shortcomings of modern education is far from done. But I allow limited use of the internet and soon they were asking me: "What do you have in your pocket?"
The combination, obviously. Or is it? I was mildly disappointed that none asked in a Gollum voice, but you can't have everything.
For those coming in late, the code unlocks a treasure chest with some better grade snacks. The kids were able to get all this done in one hour, which I think is pretty good especially considering that this is an after school class and their brains have been numbed since about 8am.
A smart and fun group. Next week I'll challenge them a bit more......
When I puzzle over words I mostly limit myself to languages with which I have some familiarity. English of course. German. Latin and by extension, Italian. Sometimes Spanish is on the periphery. But French is just beyond my range. Sure it is an offshoot in some ways of Latin, but its quirky.
Many years ago I ran across the word "Trou" in association with a discussion of underground fortifications. As it was a pet name for the Maginot Line I guessed that it meant, approximately, "trench". Close, but no cigar.
Trou translates best to "hole".
OK then, clearly trousers comes from this word. You put them on one leg at at time, putting said leg effectively into a hole. Wrong again.
Trousers is actually an old Irish word. It goes back to "Tribhas", a word of uncertain origins. It went through a few changes in the 1500's resulting in its first known written appearance.
"A jellous wife was like an Irish trouze, alwayes close to a mans tayle" .
Not exactly politically correct by current standards. The addition of an r near the end was in line with similar sorts of words such as "drawers".
Well don't I feel a bit dim in this matter. Although not in comparison to an Academy Award winning character who was even more confused about trousers back in 1993. Thanks Wallace, for many happy viewings with my then young children.
In retirement it is easy to get lulled by the quiet stretch, the times when nothing of major import is happening. Oh, they are still good times, it's fine to simply enjoy the small things in life. But then seasons change and things start happening.
Up north getting some things ready for fall hunting. The trail cams are starting to show interesting data:
In addition to the Enigma class I reported on last time I gave a program for the local Learning in Retirement folks. Tree Shaped Tombstones. Well attended, and with a brief cemetery walk afterwards. It was good to be back in the real world, Zoom presentations were never satisfying.
The FIRST robotics team and associated side programs has grown to the point that it is a lot of work keeping it pointed in the right direction. New home, team increased in size by a third, lots of new members to train in. And to top it off we were asked to be available for an Open House the school was running in association with Homecoming. As this was only a couple of weeks into the school year we were not able to promise anything more than a "working session" with a bit of driving demo.
We can do that.
If. Covid has become an issue again. Stay tuned.
Next week might be a lot less busy.
So begins the experiment with middle school students as cryptographer puzzle solvers.....
We started with some basic, common sense ground rules. When we go about the building searching for physical clues we will travel together. Nothing will be hidden in teacher's desks, bathrooms, basically any personal space in the building. As the middle school has just been remodeled there are a great many places to hide things.
We also talked about the reason for the class. Not to make them into sneaky persons out to fool others, but to help them figure out the peculiar codes and puzzles of the world.
The week one problem:
Enigma Lesson One: Interstellar
You wouldn’t know this, it is a secret after all, but Area 51 has nothing to do with flying saucers. On this site in 1947 something very unusual was found in a desert cave. Two things actually. One appears to be a portal, a window to an alien world. Nothing comes through it and the only things that can be seen are patterns that continually repeat. First a series of 18 red dots.
Next comes six blue dots.
Finally there is a very long string of 1’s and 0’s
111011101101110111010010101001010010010011101101110010010010001001010010 010010001001010010 010010001101010010
The other thing found in the cave is a container. It is made of an unknown material and remarkably has a lock with English letters on it.
Nobody has ever been able to decode the message or open the box. Perhaps today will be the day.
But first let’s think. Given the available information what do the aliens appear to know about us? When was this mystery placed? And for practice, let’s try our hand at composing a simple message to send back to them if we could. We’ll attempt a simple picture. What information will you make your top priority?
Assume our ability to transmit over unknown distances is limited, so no YouTube videos!
It went pretty well. I started by asking them for alternate ways to either open the box or figure out what was in it. Of course an assortment of, er, direct methods were proposed and ruled out. One clever girl said that she suspected the combination was written on the chest in Invisible Ink. But, she said "we'd need an ultraviolet light to see it".
"Would you like one?"
"You mean you HAVE one???"
Of course I did, and let them study the treasure box to no effect for a while.
The pictures they designed to transmit back included an American Flag, stick figures, the Earth, and curiously, a bird. None had particular artistic excellence.
I did have to prompt them a bit to figure out the challenge. When they got distracted by things I asked them if they actually thought I was the kind of person who would intentionally throw in false leads. They said I was. I agreed. Eventually they worked it out. Here is the message decoded.
The treasure chest contained salty snacks and this follow up message. Sort of "Galaxy Quest".
They were ready for more so a small secondary challenge regarding a spy named Anna and some random scrabble tiles was put forward and solved in short order. Anna will be making future appearances........
There was even time, while they were snacking, for a brief discussion of the history of digital communication. I say it goes all the way back to the Cave Peeps, who had Arms Up in the Air means Danger and Arms Not Up means no danger. With more bits of information, say using more than two arms, you can communicate more things. 8 arms, or bits, can be used to communicate almost anything. That would be a byte. I threw in a bit on Logic Gates as well. Why not.
A lot to take on in one hour. They asked for more. They asked specifically for algebra based problems. I don't know about that.
Sobering times on many levels. 9/11 anniversary, resurgent Covid, a darkening of days as fall sets in. Some people have lost their optimism, others maintain it with greater difficulty. I'm in the latter category.
For me the lasting image of the Covid Times will be the side yard cocktail circle. As the world faltered, shut down and then fitfully reopened it was a constant. A circle of lawn chairs set six feet apart, being moved here and there as the seasons changed and the angle of sun at 5pm Friday changed. In all weather conditions short of the genuinely vile you'd find us gathered there, generally excepting November through February.
The usual membership is older, mid 50's and up. But otherwise quite varied. Male and female, married and otherwise, people from the East and West and assorted points in between. We talk about our kids, who are spread out even further. Africa, Sweden, the wilds of L.A.
Politics comes up as it will. I'm no fan of the current administration. Most of the rest of the Cocktail Circlers were, to put it very mildly, no fans of the previous one. And oddly this seems to color the optimism/pessimism scale. Perhaps if your base faith is in Progress you can never be entirely happy, because to strive ever forward means you are never allowed to stand still. Naturally having fallible humans in charge of the Arc of History can only be a source of frustration.
As the lone admitted Conservative I have a different perspective. The world generally has a lot of problems but these are outstanding times to be alive. And while I am not prepared to vouch for other places - still thinkin' bout that kid in L.A. - the community we live in is doing alright. I expressed this opinion at the tail end of our most recent session. One of the folks with a different world view expressed doubt, but also sincere hope that I was right.
I should have explained in greater detail, but it was time to go in for dinner.
As I see it we have a great deal more that unites us than divides us. If there were a problem on the other side of the street each and every one of us would be willing to go over and help. A kid sitting on the curb looking distressed. And old person who appeared lost. A minor fender bender. No matter, everyone would pitch in and help.
We don't live in an exclusive, gated community. A few hundred yards away there are people with a great deal less economic security. They'd help too.
It helps to have known the neighbors for a long time, although newcomers and the occasional peripheral walk on are equally welcomed. But mostly I think it helps to be in person. On the internet it is easy to believe that villainy is the default mode and snark the appropriate riposte. In person, not so much. When nonsense is spoken it is gently called out. And when things are unspoken, mostly problems with our extended families, they are supported by a group of friends who have in most cases been there too.
So in days that are getting shorter - and is that not true for us all in the end? - I highly encourage you to rake the leaves, set up the circle of chairs and raise a glass together. There is a lot of good in my community, and I'm confident there is much in yours as well.