Category Archives: Poetry

X-Rays Defeat LetterLocking: Secrets Exposed of Ancient Folded Papers

A new paper in Nature says they have an algorithm that can read tightly folded letters without opening them physically.

The challenge tackled here is to reconstruct the intricate folds, tucks, and slits of unopened letters secured shut with “letterlocking,” a practice—systematized in this paper—which underpinned global communications security for centuries before modern envelopes.

It makes the bold case that these tight folds from letters 300 years ago should be considered an historic link to modern cryptography.

Source: Nature, letterlocking examples from the Brienne Collection.
From: Unlocking history through automated virtual unfolding of sealed documents imaged by X-ray microtomography

Letterlocking was an everyday activity for centuries, across cultures, borders, and social classes, and plays an integral role in the history of secrecy systems as the missing link between physical communications security techniques from the ancient world and modern digital cryptography.

I have to say I disagree with this “missing link” comment. Cryptography doesn’t seem to come into it, as there is no decipher key to unlock them unless you stretch a definition to include unfolding.

A more obvious link from these letterlock examples to modern methods would be… the modern letterlock.

Letterlocking: Aerogramme, United States Postal Service (1995) from letterlocking on Vimeo.

I suppose it’s important to say envelopes were an 1800s innovation in secrecy by providing an, ahem, envelope. Aerogrammes are ostensibly less safe than putting one in an envelope, even though an attacks on either one are basically the same — unlock, unfold, read.

That is why I say a “locking” fold of paper without an envelope doesn’t make a direct link to modern encryption. I mean encryption also existed in letters for many centuries (as I’ve written here before), separate from how the letters were folded.

For example, here is a German message intercepted in 1918 by British operator in Basra after liberating Iraq.

The bottom note says “2 letters missed thro machine gun jam”, which I suppose would be comparable to the “wormholes” in lockletter unfolding. But unlike lockletters, which can be read once unfolded, this text still lacks a key.

For another example here’s an old slide I made to show how the key in a 16th century “cardan grille system” (early steganography) was used during the American Revolution:

Tom Cruise is a Fake. For Real This Time.

Why are some fakes seen as ok and others are “scary”? Hint: agency and power in voice.

How a movie character is written or portrayed influences a viewer’s impression, which can in turn influence people’s stereotypes on gender norms.

More to the point:

White men tend to only listen to other white men. They will occasionally listen to a white woman.

Something I’ve always known about Tom Cruise is that he is a very popular fake. Literally. He is a paid actor, who makes a living from being paid to be a fake so it should be fair to say that’s what he is.

He is so highly paid because his fakes apparently are so good people find them believable. People even think he’s tall and well dressed (neither are true — sophisticated teams give him that appearance).

Now comes an article with a stark warning that evidence has been found of Tom Cruise, the fake, being faked.

Deepfake videos of Tom Cruise show the technology’s threat to society is very real: We’re entering scary times.

Scary? Entering scary times? Have you seen this from 1986, the true hey-day of cyber hacking?


Videos of Tom Cruise have showed since at least the 1980s technology’s threat to society by allowing Tom Cruise to be a fake.

Everyone needs to ask themselves whether Tom Cruise is a threat to society since he is an actor, makes a living being a fake? Think about it. How often have you really seen a real Tom Cruise? Ever?

Incidentally, here was my take several years ago on that movie poster of Tom Cruise showing that anyone these days can make a fake of anything using technology. Admittedly it DID NOT age well.

Original artwork by me.

And if you are wondering how you can reliably detect that my image is a fake, unlike the original image of Tom Cruise (also a fake), then just look very, very closely at the eyes.

In a real photo or video, the reflections on the eyes would generally appear to be the same shape and color. However, most images generated by artificial intelligence — including generative adversary network (GAN) images — fail to accurately or consistently do this, possibly due to many photos combined to generate the fake image.

I mean how to tell aside from the fact that RMS is the known founder of Free Software Foundation (FSF) and GNU is Not Unix (GNU) and obviously would never fit into a flight suit.

We dispense shame and hate on all the “paparazzi” who violate his privacy and dare to expose a real Tom Cruise (e.g. how short and badly dressed he is), yet laud all his fakery that he thrives from.

The alarmist article doesn’t bother to address such a very important and simple problem with its analysis.

It all begs the question of why should we be comfortable and trust a fake like Tom Cruise up until now, but then worry about someone else making a fake of his fakes?

In other words, why should we trust Tom Cruise being the only responsible fake, more than someone who is faking Tom Cruise being a fake?

If we could achieve trust of one fake (a Scientologist of all things, who peddles in fake beliefs), why not achieve trust in the fake of that fake? Or maybe another way of asking it is who really is scared by a world where a Tom Cruise fakes being tall, or fakes being a Navy pilot?

Some may claim to be “scared” by the idea of agency and voice being held by those not in power. That is what this really is about.

Someone who doesn’t appear physically to be Tom Cruise (a non-white, non-male) now may be able to attain the same power of influence that used to be reserved only for Tom Cruise (thanks to technology, just like the technology Tom Cruise used to appear taller than he is).

Imagine a black woman putting her words into the mouth of Tom Cruise and nobody detecting that it really is a black woman’s ideas. SO SCARY!

It’s about power. Why is power scary?

In reality, this kind of fear mongering with technology goes back to the turn of the century when machines put human faces on and people started experimenting with the idea of robots and inauthentic presence enabled by machines.

And even more importantly it takes us back to the first publication by Wollstonecraft (1790 Vindication of the Rights of Men) being extremely popular while she remained anonymous, yet her second publication under her real name was shunned because… the author admitted to being a woman. If only she could have published her brilliant works as a Tom Cruise video, right?

Also, to be fair, Tom Cruise is someone who battled with perception his whole life and made a career out of presenting a different vision than others were assigning to him.

He overcame obstacles and transformed his own physical appearance from something that he was ashamed of into an unbelievable physical representation, thus mastering the art of a fake.

People celebrate his achievement of fake Tom Cruise, so perhaps we should do the same celebrations for achievement of fake fake Tom Cruise.

I’ve written about all this security theater before, with regard to people faking the Queen of England. I write about it because I continue to find it amusing how it is a security topic that is literally about theater, yet nobody seems to admit the huge irony.

Additional food for thought: Americans have been spreading loads of fake traitor General Lee art after the Civil War (back to my point about industrialization-era fakes), not to mention American image manipulation going back to President Lincoln’s time (his portrait was a politicized fake — his head mounted on the body of someone opposed to freedom).

Putting up a statue of Lee is about the same thing as if Americans went about erecting monuments to Osama bin Laden after 9/11. Show me the outrage about statues of Lee before we think someone faking the fake Tom Cruise is a top concern. In fact, for all the deepfake art being generated using old photographs, it’s about time someone animated Lee’s statues with his own authentic words asking his followers to never put up statues of him.

Talk about scary fakes.

If anyone thinks it is “scary” now that Americans believe something is real that instead has been entirely faked… have I got some very real news about frightening times we’ve been in for over 100 years!

1860 Deepfake Machine

Update March 5: Vice has investigated the source of fakes of the fake Tom Cruise, and found it’s a sophisticated operation using professional actors!

The Tom Cruise TikTok videos required not only the expertise of Ume and his team but also the cooperation of Miles Fisher, a well-known Tom Cruise impersonator who was behind a viral video in 2019 that purported to show Cruise announcing his candidacy for the 2020 election. […] Ume has even detailed some of the highly complex and involved technical processes he had to go through to produce previous deepfakes. So, while the Tom Cruise TikTok videos that went viral last week may look like they were created in minutes, the reality is that they took a lot of time, technical expertise, and the skilled performance of a real actor.

If this is good news for anyone, that it takes a huge professional team including an actor to fake another actor, then the fears are being validated as about power and barrier of entry being lowered by technology.

And I would argue that the economics of a lower barrier to entry means regulation, let alone social norms of use, should kick in the same way as ever because artistic fakes are nothing new. Even the media hasn’t changed here so there’s literally nothing new except the idea that more people can do what already has been done for centuries if not longer.

Lattice of pseudonyms. Source: A terminology for talking about privacy by data minimization, 2010

The Give and Take of Cake

I’m curious about a theory posted in a rhyming-slang encoding guide meant to demystify some fun yet secretive communication:

…no cake can be eaten that has not been given (by a shopkeeper) and taken…

“Give and Take”, which rhymes with cake, is thus said to mean cake.

However, cake can be eaten alone. Cake also can be baked and not given away, only eaten. Does nobody in the rhyming slang context bake a cake and eat it themselves?

And that brings to mind something more like a “cake and eat it too” explanation:

…to have or do two good things at the same time that are impossible to have or do at the same time…

It looks like there are interesting cultural clues in a key to decoding signals, although the current reference may actually be incorrect or misleading.

Why is Wikepedia So Racist?

I recently had to explain that someone edited the Wikipedia entry on Woodrow Wilson to falsely claim that the very man who called for a return of the KKK, restarted the KKK as President, and led its rise to humanitarian disasters across America… was somehow “personally opposed to the KKK”.

Click image to enlarge:

Source: Wikipedia

That’s crazy talk.

It would be like saying General Grant was personally opposed to destroying the KKK. Wrong. Grant destroyed it. Wilson restarted it. Those are facts.

A totally false sentence about Woodrow Wilson entered into a Wikipedia post makes literally no sense, is obviously counter-factual, yet there it is… without any citation or reference at all.

It’s like someone from the KKK dropped in and thought it would be really funny for people to read “water in the ocean isn’t wet [citation needed]”.

The cost to disrupt and confuse with these attacks on weakly-anti-racist (also known as racist) systems is very low, the cost to defend (without proper anti-racist measures for prevention of racism) is high.

I presented something about this problem way back in 2016 at KiwiconX

I’m finding this class of attack all over Wikipedia. Here’s another example from the very racist history of voucher schools, fraudulently trying to minimize their impact and use by white insecurity hate groups in America.

Click image to enlarge and see the crazy counter-factual statement that “all modern voucher programs prohibit racial discrimination” with [citation needed] right next to it:

That is just so factually wrong it’s amazing. Anyone apparently can get garbage to stick immediately on Wikipedia with a very tedious and long process to get it removed or corrected.

Actual analysis of failure to prohibit discrimination in modern voucher programs would be more like the following:

  • 2016: “Dollars to Discriminate: The (Un)intended Consequences of School Vouchers… legislators appear to have neglected to construct policies that safeguard student access and ensure that public funds do not support discriminatory practices…”
  • 2017: The Racist Origins of Private School Vouchers
  • 2017: “Studies on charter schools in Indianapolis, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Texas, among other places, show that charter schools can lead to greater racial stratification.”
  • 2017: “…as private school voucher programs grow to scale – statewide and even nationally in other countries – they can actually increase segregation…”
  • 2020: “Century Foundation also proved that voucher programs across the country benefit the most advantaged students … continue the long-residual effects of racism.”
  • 2020: School Vouchers – An Enduring Racist Practice

Wikipedia clearly has widespread integrity issues, weak editing/deployment pipeline process and quality is very low.

Voucher systems not only perpetuate a history of racism, they were intentionally racist and continue to be a tool of racists. When desegregation was ordered, some racists thought the clever trick to continue racism would be to shut all the public schools down and hand out vouchers instead.

In 1958, courts mandated that white-only schools in nine Virginia areas — including the town of Charlottesville — admit black students. Rather than comply and allow the black students, the public schools in Charlottesville and elsewhere in Virginia closed. Some of these public schools in Virginia remained closed for five years, and when they reopened, they were nearly all black students. The white students had relocated to private schools with “segregation grants” to pay tuition.

It’s that simple. Anyone bringing up vouchers who doesn’t start from the position of explaining how racism will be prevented in a well-documented system of racism… is just being racist and perpetuating racism.

And it’s very much the same line of reasoning behind tipping culture — racism used for perpetuation of slavery.

We Wear the Mask

by Paul Laurence Dunbar

…born in Dayton, Ohio, on June 27, 1872. His parents, Joshua Dunbar and Matilda Murphy Dunbar, were married six months earlier, on December 24, 1871. Both slaves prior to the Civil War, Joshua Dunbar escaped and served in both the 55th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment and the 5th Massachusetts Colored Cavalry Regiment before coming to Dayton…. Many of their experiences of slave and plantation life influenced Dunbar’s later writings.

A poem about authenticity and power in America:

We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!

White History Month

Brilliant history/comedy by The Amber Ruffin Show explaining why Americans desperately need a White History Month:

I do feel the need to point out her citation of Lincoln, while true, evades the important context of his speech.

First, after being repeatedly fraudulently bashed by his political opponents as someone who would dare to marry blacks to whites (narratives about protecting white women from black men is a long-time propaganda method), Lincoln said he was racist enough to not do the things he was being accused. It wasn’t his best moment to be sure and there’s no excusing it, but you have to understand he was saying in his experience he didn’t see whites and blacks as equals. He still was an abolitionist, just a racist one.

Second, this attitude changed dramatically after he became President. Like President Grant, who often reflected on where he had made mistakes and who worked to overcome and amend them, Lincoln came to regard blacks as equals. So the context is really a terrible defense he used in the heat of contest to prove he was worthy of votes even by racist Americans, which reverses completely into a story of him emancipating slaves and (through new experiences) finally describing blacks as equal to whites.

Big Tech Insider’s Guide: Silicon Valley Bus History

This also could be titled “quick intro to Silicon Valley ethics”:

  • 1617 rent-able carriages (shared ride) by order of monarch
  • 1662 fixed routes for shared ride by order of monarch
  • 1823 Stanislas Baudry’s Omnés Omnibus (for everyone)
  • 1853 Impériale omnibus (upper deck cheaper)
  • 2008 Google bus (no poor people allowed)
  • 2017 Lyft shuttle (no poor people allowed, for profit)

The last step was perfectly captured by many critics who can write better than me:

And the latest piece of truly visionary invention has come courtesy of transport company and Uber rival Lyft. The company has created what they’re calling the ‘Lyft Shuttle’, which allows users to “ride for a low, fixed fare along convenient routes with no surprise stops”. All you have to do, the company says, is “walk to the stop. Hop in. Hop out. Walk to destination”.

It’s a bus. They’ve invented the bus.

It’s not the first time a disruptive ride-sharing app has accidentally invented the bus, either. Uber has also been guilty of the same thing.

Despite the fact that THIS IS VERY OBVIOUSLY JUST A FUCKING BUS AND EVERYBODY KNOWS HOW BUSES WORK, some Twitter users have found the whole concept kind of difficult to get their heads around.

But hey, maybe we’re being too harsh on Lyft. Yes, they may have just invented the bus, the first example of which was created in 1823, but their version has loads of disruptive new elements. Case in point:

Lyft Shuttle: buses without the poor people. What an innovation.

I made some jokes about this in my KiwiconX presentation, all from personal experience hacking the Silicon Valley bus systems, and I wrote up the curious history of the apartheid “lift system“, but nothing as funny as the above.

James Bond Movies Are “Fascist Pig” Glorification

I don’t think anyone marketing James Bond movies has properly described them for what they really are.

Look at this awful release poster for example, from “Diamonds are Forever”

Then tell me this narrative has been anything more than misogynist garbage.

Do my words sound too harsh?

Ok, look at how the creator of James Bond describes his own man in an Irish Times article:

“He’s got his vices and very few perceptible virtues except patriotism and courage, which are probably not virtues anyway.” Read that again. He has vices. He doesn’t have any real virtues. If you think James Bond is a fascist pig then Fleming seems largely on your side.

No virtues. Fleming would agree with you if you called Bond a fascist pig.

Just to reiterate here, it should never have been news to anyone that James Bond is an awful persona. His stories are meant as stark warnings about an asset-fueled self-centered toxic world we should never want.

Alas, we see recently that an actor has been making waves by saying little more than what always has been true.

In a new interview with The Red Bulletin, the actor dryly shuts down Bond’s purported chivalry. What can audiences learn from 007 and apply to their day-to-day lives? Nothing, according to Craig. “Let’s not forget that he’s actually a misogynist,” Craig said.

Chivalry what? He’s a villain.

Thank you Craig. But to be frank Craig should be ensuring he doesn’t take that role unless it’s portrayed the way he wants it to be seen. Integrity, no?

So who calls a villain chivalrous?

It’s like saying General Lee was a successful leader in the Civil War (don’t laugh too hard yet, as the US Army just published a podcast… which I won’t link here because it’s really that awful).

Anyway, “Diamonds are Forever” is a movie about assets and the underworld use of them.

It’s basically foreshadowing of the “crypto-bros” who today are messaging all over the place that they’ve figured out how to get to some “better” future world… without realizing they’re painting a 1960s-era James Bond poster and taking themselves far too seriously.

When people come at me with bubbling “bitcoin” this and “blockchain” that to describe their future fantasy I have to wonder if they will ever accept 007 is lame misogynist fiction garbage and diamonds are not precious.

Nobody with any sense of reality or humanity really wants such visions of future.

Perhaps if people watched more of “OSS 117: Le Caire, nid d’espions” instead we could laugh about all this instead of cry (foul)?

Finding and Filtering Nazi Assaults on Language

A very popular post here has been my examination of white nationalism messaging through T-Shirt designs, followed by the use of Q in modern communications.

Nothing I’ve written so far, however, can hold a candle to this new article (How subtle changes in language helped erode U.S. democracy — and mirrored the Nazi era) that explains how Trump repeatedly used language with the intention it would encourage others to commit a terrorist act:

Klemperer used his training in language and literature to listen to those around him. Initially he focused on the core falsehood of the Nazi regime, that victory in World War I had been stolen from Germany by leftist (read: democratic) politicians. He also observed the proliferation of right-wing groups such as the Storm Troopers (SA), each with its own symbol and slogan, flooding the language with new acronyms.

Gradually, he realized that the Nazi assault on language went much deeper. He noticed that the Nazis had cunningly borrowed from Christianity, above all the term “belief.” Detaching the word from its religious meaning, they demanded “blind belief” in their conspiracy theories and the lie of the stolen victory. Taking things on faith suddenly was seen as a virtue.

He also saw that the Nazis disguised their most violent acts by using misleading words, such as “concentration camp,” a word borrowed from South Africa, instead of calling them what they were — “death camps.”

But Klemperer’s well-trained ear also detected subtler changes, including a sudden rise in superlatives such as “gigantic,” “great” and “huge.” He even thought the Nazis overused exclamation marks to signal that they held questions in contempt. Klemperer called it “the language of the Third Reich.”

One could argue that Trump was carrying on a long tradition in the GOP (Nixon, Goldwater, Reagan) of using encoded violent racist speeches and “white cap” (KKK) tactics to fly by undetected, given examples above like saying “concentration camp” instead of saying “death camp”.

After all, Trump was allowed to campaign as an obvious Nazi by using its “America First” brand, while people still freely reference things like “Shining City on a Hill” (cunningly misappropriated from Christianity) when they want to openly promote white nationalism.

However Trump was very ignorantly facilitated by big tech to abuse social media in ways even 15 year old boys are banned from doing in places like the UK:

…the teenagers were part of a Telegram chat group that was found to contain images of Adolf Hitler and the white extremist involved in the 2019 Christchurch massacre. Telegram is a messaging app with the option of end-to-end encryption. One of the boys, a 16-year-old from Kent, is accused of providing an electronic link that allowed others to access a terrorist publication – the “white resistance manual”. He did so with the intention it would encourage others to commit a terrorist act, it’s alleged.

It all begs the question of bad code and quality control in big data technology as a measure of scientific thought, as I’ve presented here for over a decade now.

Another new study suggests a sinister sense of white supremacy lurks behind “tech elitism” in America.

Many don’t recognize what they’re facilitating because they encode their beliefs with words like “meritocracy” (libertarian/anarchist) to express why they believe white men must rule and operate above any law. This is information warfare by white men, taking as much money as quickly possible from government and stuffing it in their own pockets.

In terms of kinetic war it was perhaps best expressed recently in Iraq as…

[Don’t] let that moron talk about how courageous I was. I’m not here for this mission. Screw these people. I’m here for me. For the money. […] I have no ethical obligation to the people… I’m on my own. I’m a number on a government contract. A nearly empty single-serve coffee cup ready to be discarded and sent to a landfill.

I hear this also will be the new recruitment pitch for Peter Thiel’s latest venture Anduril (“fire from the west” or an “unbreakable” sword in fiction terms, as in Aragorn always yelled “ANDURIL” before battle).

It launched itself a year ago as modern “border wall technology” and is allegedly soaking up a lot of taxpayer money led by a CEO who made his name “shitposting” democracy and getting a pardon for a man who committed “the biggest trade secret crime [his sentencing judges] have ever seen”.

Now we just need cartoonists like this to specify which side of the wall that Thiel is on after it is built by his sprawling private firms…

When rich depths of research exist in linguistics, with scientists dedicating themselves to finding and filtering Nazi assault on language, you really have to wonder. Why do modern technology “experts” say they can’t easily see poison in carefully curated bottles they package and ship? Are they in fact just peddling anti-science (snake oil) products for ill-gotten profit?

Allowing Nazi assault on language surely should carry some culpability, like allowing a company to run without firewalls (e.g. CardSystems was shutdown for gross security incompetence, in a way that Facebook perhaps should be examined since at least 2015).

One could imagine that a partnership with SPLC and FCC (presuming a Nazi-sympathizer like Ajit Pai has diminished influence) would go a long way for any American technology company that really wanted to stop Nazis and KKK from having such an unfettered impact on the country. Again, I have to reiterate that pro-Nazism emanating from within the agencies created in America to stop Nazism is peak irony and does make this whole process a lot more complicated.

Line in Taiwan gives a good example of how technologists outside of America are using public-private collaborations to address disinformation attacks (and for gains measured beyond just private profit)

This collaborative bot model, although in its early stages, has substantial benefits. First, Line does not have to interfere directly with conversations and potentially infringe on free speech rights. While this approach may limit its reach, it also prevents the company from becoming an “arbiter of truth,” something social media platforms have shied away from. Second, it doesn’t make users leave the app to verify information—something that’s beneficial both to users’ real-time ability to discern disinformation and for Line’s bottom line, a rare win-win. Third, because the bot can aggregate submissions and verifications from millions of users and multiple platforms, the fact-checking service gets stronger each time it’s used. In this vein, Line can also collect valuable data previously unavailable to it, such as popular topics exploited by disinformation campaigns and language similarities across posts.

And on that note, Twitter today has announced “Birdwatch” as a “community-based approach to misinformation”.

Birdwatch allows people to identify information in Tweets they believe is misleading and write notes that provide informative context. We believe this approach has the potential to respond quickly when misleading information spreads, adding context that people trust and find valuable. Eventually we aim to make notes visible directly on Tweets for the global Twitter audience, when there is consensus from a broad and diverse set of contributors.

A consensus from a broad and diverse set of contributors is often called an election. Making notes visible is often called accountability.

Imagine that, Twitter has invented accountable elections in 2021! Come on everyone let’s try out this new concept of having an election.

I mean I might tell them let’s look at lessons from how the FCC was created by Roosevelt 1934 to fight Nazi communications in modern communications, or how the DOJ was created by Grant 1870 to fight KKK communications.

Clearly both need a fresh look in terms of current technology as well as how well they’ve resisted infiltration by insider threats. Call them early-bird-watch if you will.

Anyway none of this should be news to anyone if they have seen anything like this 2016 program on the political science of authoritarianism: