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Month: December 2007

An interesting puzzle: eyAnOicgPT4gJycsICcgJyA9PiAnLScsICdzXG4nID0+ICdzLmNvbVxuJyB9 (3548, 4648)

An interesting puzzle: eyAnOicgPT4gJycsICcgJyA9PiAnLScsICdzXG4nID0+ICdzLmNvbVxuJyB9 (3548, 4648)

This mysterious email popped up on craigslist in the jobs section – spawing an interesting online contest that sucked up most of yesterday.

I was very skeptical that it was more viral marketing for Cloverfield ( Which I was not at all interested in promoting. But the puzzles got interesting, then more interesting, then more. I got interested in the coding parts, and a small community popped up to answer the questions.

The solutions broke down like this.

1. The original text was simply Base16/32/64 Data Encoding, which gave you some instructions:
{ ‘:’ => ”, ‘ ‘ => ‘-‘, ‘sn’ => ‘s.comn’ }

on how to decode the message title – which gave you a web address to go to:

2. You then had to code up a function that satisfied the sequence of test sections. It turned out to be a logic diagram that had ‘falling’ true/false parts of the matrix that acted like tetris pieces with an extra ‘sticky’ rule. There were a variety of ways to solve this coding function – brute force, or mimic the logic of the falling true/false sections. Here was a short answer:

f = function(d) {
for (var i = d.length – 1; i > 0; i–)
for (var j = 0; j < d[i].length; j++)
if (d[i-1][j] == true && d[i][j] == false && d[i-1][j+1] != true
&& d[i-1][j-1] != true && (d[i][j-1] != true || d[i][j+1] != true)) {
d[i-1][j] = false;
d[i][j] = true;

peopled tried cheating by doing:
f = function(d) { TDD.assertEquals = function(a,b) { return true; } }

But when you got through all the tests successfully, the function spits out a weird list of words. These words are from the wikipedia article on Henry Ford (gained from the other clues embedded in the html). People wrote down the indexes of those words, then wrote the indexes in the form of which were the deltas of the distances in between the words which lead to the sequence:


When these are fed back into the correct F function (which you figured out above), the algorithms true/false matrix is converted to blue blocks that spells out “coLLAborATE” in the 2D grid below, which you add to the ?key= http at the top:

Which gives a cryptic box with text and a strange pixely border around it.

3. Problem 2/3:

When viewing the HTML, the id tags on each section were strange. When pulled out in order, they gave this sequence:

Which was a simple substitution cypher:

So go back to problem 1/3, and enter the http address:
and change it to:

Which leads you to page 3/3

Problem 3/3

People started noticing that the text in 2/3 hadn’t been solved – and that the image around 2/3 was unique and not around the 3/3 question. People noticed the name strawberry-rhubarb.css was strange too – along with the font name called Boulder-18. There was also some patterns in the bit layout of the weird border image. After looking around at the image a bunch, they counted the number of grey pixels between black pixels and got: 3 1 4 1 5 9 2 6 5 = pi. From the first red pixel to second red pixel is the pi encoding. From the 2nd to 3rd red pixel, the number before the green pixel is the index into pi, and the number after the G is the 6 digits of pi at that location (to verify you’re not insane). After the 3rd R is many more indexes in this form. So, someone downloaded the first million digits of pi and wrote a program to do the work for us. You get a big list of indexes into pi, and the values they point to. Every one of those indexes is a 6-digit value – and was unique in they all either started with a 0 or 1. This got people thinking and if you take those indexes and interpret them as ascii, each 6-digit index is a pair of ascii characters:

So the first few indexes extracted from the image give:
111112 = 111 112 = o p
032099 = 032 099 = ‘space’ c
111100 = 111 100 = o d
101115 = 101 115 = e s

equals: “op codes” – wow! Keep going and get:

op codes: e: push integer value of next ascii char (list 1). u: pop
value and output as ascii char. l: pop value, push ceil (value/2). a:
pop two values, push sum. i: pop two values, push 1st popped – 2nd
popped. n: pop value, push value + 1. t: pop value, push value – 1. r:
pop value, push value * 2. other: discard. list 1: -, A, B, I, N, R.
eAeNlaueNe-nlaueAe-ttaueAe-ttaueBe-au = hello

This ‘algorithm’ makes sense when looking at the garbled text on 2/3 and 3/3. I followed the algorithm on the text by hand, but after 2 minutes, I realized that writing up the solver in java would be faster. I wrote up the stack machine/rules in Java and I ran the text on 2/3 through it and got:
cerebrum, vere-tempus, together (adv).

The text on 3/3 gives:
Explain the significance of the date:
(with 1-18-2007). The button’s text is: Go.

So, you put the answer on 3/3, but the question is 2/3. But what did it mean?

So, folks brainstormed to get cerebrum=brain, vere-tempus = real-time, and together = simul/una = as one. After scads of folks googling all kinds of combinations, one guy hit on: “+brain, +real-time +una” comes up with a link to

Which is a collaborate project called UNA being released mid-January – and is in Boulder, CO (which the text encoding was Boulder-18 non-sense font)

So, the significance of 1-18-2007 is that it’s the release date for their UNA project by n-brain. More fiddling around with combinations (spaces/not/etc). People looked at the code for the button and tried them encoded as well as not and hit upon the phrase:


Re-encoded using their method to get (can be re-encoded in many different ways if you’d like):


Enter that in the text box on 3/3 page and that gives you the solution and a link to the congratulations page – indicating I was solver #88. I entered the form, but declined the job interest (I’m happy where I am right now). But come mid-January I should have a copy of some free software!

Link day

Link day

So much great stuff:

  • Ice storms in the Midwest put ice on everything. So what happens when ice builds up, then 10-20 foot sections fall off of 500 foot tv and radio towers:

  • A public service announcement for kids about Cooties
  • Gull-wing doors on the Delorian are so passe, try disappearing car doors:

My holiday gift to you – sanity.

My holiday gift to you – sanity.

Here is a collection of things to make your life easier. I have used all the indicated ones and they are officially sanctioned by various government or credit agencies (i.e. not scams like most of them) and do work – I’ve used all but one.

Stop all mailed credit card offers:
This one was a godsend. I would get 3-5 credit card offers a WEEK. Each one is a time bomb because it only takes one being picked up and filled out by a stranger to enter the wonderful world of identity theft. If you fill out the online version, you get no offers for 5 years. The service is free and seems to be run by a partnership of credit card companies. Fill out the paper one, mail it in, and they stop forever. I filled it out a year ago and they’ve all stopped. There is a stipulation for offers you request or folks you have recently done business with, but my rate has dropped to 0-2 a month.

National Do Not Call registry:
Kills all those telemarketers up front. This is one the government runs and keeps annoying calls from happening during dinner. Yes, this does work – I’ve had it for over a year. If you do happen to get a call (I have not) – find out who it is calling and file a complaint for a multi-thousand dollar per-violation fine to be slapped on them.

The nuclear approach – freeze it all:
As of October 1, 2007, all Oregonians will be able to place a security freeze on their credit file maintained by a credit reporting agency such as Equifax, Experian or TransUnion. Once activated, anyone who has fraudulently obtained your personal identifying information would not be able to open new accounts or borrow money – in fact – nobody can open anything (including you) unless the freeze is lifted. The freeze also prevents lenders and others from gaining access to your credit report for review. Which means companies cannot even look at your credit to profile or screen you.

This is stronger than a credit alert. Credit alerts are what people usually put on their credit reports if they are victims of identity theft. But credit alerts still allow companies to open lines if they have done ‘due diligence’ to make sure it’s really you. The steps most companies use are up to them. And most are just a simple phone call to the number on the application – which is nearly useless if the application is fraudulent. A freeze prevents ANY activity unless you file to unfreeze – a process that requires $10 and a mailed in form.

I know of one guy doing this now, and he says it seems to work great. I’m still looking for information about whether this leaves any blemish/ding on your credit rating, but so far it looks ok in my initial reads.

Iraqi quote

Iraqi quote

I was listening to NPR (I believe), and they were interviewing an Iraqi refugee who’d been a translator for American troops. The troops appreciated him so much they made sure he was brought stateside to avoid the inevitable death he would have suffered by remaining in Iraq from being known to have helped the Americans. When asked why he risked his own life and family’s life to help the Americans (since he was a well educated, bilingual, successful businessman), he said basically that “We (Iraqis) who are well-educated have a duty to our fellow countrymen. It was my responsibility to do what I could to help improve my country” – and he saw that working with the Americans to bring basic necessities of food, infrastructure and security to his countrymen as the best way to do that.

This one powerful quote really captured a lot. Do those of us that are more well off, more educated, more disposable time/income/talent see ourselves as having a duty to share that and improve the lives of our fellow man? This guy was also so unattached to the idea of ‘patriotism’ that he could really look through the fact his country was defeated, in shambles, and use whatever gifts he had to act towards the real good of his fellow countryman. What would we do if a mid-east country took over the US? Would we have seen it that way if the roles were reversed? I think this is the difference between good patriotism and bad/hijacked patriotism.

This all came up for me as I’ve been pondering a lot of the disasters happening: New Orleans, the mortgage collapse, California wildfires, etc. There’s a big part of me that has been frustrated by the lack of listening to warnings and not using one’s head to realize you’re living in a notorious fire break, that you’re living below sea level, or not doing enough homework to know you’re getting into risky financial dealings. I found myself shrugging a lot and asking why these folks, who took on added risk, didn’t realize it requires one to mitigate that risk with more expensive preparations (insurance) or the knowledge and acceptance it might go sour and you’ll be left holding the bag. Why all this complaining about the federal government not fixing things when there is a good deal of personal responsibility to be accounted for as well?

But there is a flip side. As this Iraqi saw, one should take a real step back (and a major step out of oneself) and think along the lines that everyone in my house, my neighborhood, my commute to work, my city, my country – are one large family – and some of us are given the intelligence to see and manage things better. Just as some of us have the gifts of being doctors/nurses and healing, others to grow crops, etc. These individual things aren’t to be overly proud or self-serving with – but to recognize that our human family as a whole needs all these elements working together to work at all. Yes, some of these abilities and gifts require a lot more work/effort to develop and perform in a much more visible/lucrative way in our current socio-economic structure – but when it comes to looking around again and thinking ‘family’ – well, I’ll argue that starts making things look different. It goes beyond just mere humanitarianism, or patriotism, or the like. Instead, I’d argue that patriotism, humanitarianism, and other efforts flow from *that* core value of knowing we’re in a family.  And as a Christian, a certain view and value of each human person. That looks a lot more like the Iraqi – using the gifts of financial planning, foresight, and put our education/skills to the use of helping others that are not given that gift. This does not necessarily mean bailing folks out wholesale from dumb choices (I’d argue that it doesn’t actually help to always bail people out), but maybe it means putting up the structures or helping educate. It might mean giving financial advice and counseling to others that might not have that education.

And the core of all this requires a relationship with folks. Especially relationships with folks that need it – who (I’ve found) aren’t the folks that are normally in our social and friendship circles. This requires working on something called ‘community’ which is nothing other than building relationships of whatever levels with each other. And that requires putting ourselves into places and with people we normally wouldn’t spend time with to learn what it is they are, or have been, (or working with to help them see what they can) contributing all along. Which is my next sticking point. It seems we are increasingly becoming isolated in our relationships – and more and more rarely interact with folks way outside our own circles. And it makes sense; I know how hard it is to reach across that divide and struggle with misunderstanding or differences. For all technologies’ advancements in sharing communication – I see us becoming increasingly isolationist. My observation is that people in public places don’t talk to each other; they text their circle of friends on a cel phone or play a purely individual handheld game. I find this an extremely worrying trend. Without relationships with others – a constant flow of new and different relationships – it’s very easy to start seeing others, or classes, or groups, not as people who have something important to contribute to the whole family – but as pointless or even obstacles or hindrances to what we want. Ever felt that?

“Oh no. Here comes Santa Clause…”

“Oh no. Here comes Santa Clause…”

This weekend was the annual Drunken Santa Rampage (aka SantaCon).  It is put on by the Portland Cacophony society (who also do a city-wide pillow fights, bridezilla rampages, mad-hatter croquet parties with bowling balls in the park, etc).  SantaCon is performed in other cities (I think SF was first), but Portland’s has been going strong for at least 10 years now. SantaCon is hundreds of folks that dress in Santa costumes then go on a 12-14 hour bender.  They wander around town hitting dive bars around downtown. Yes – that’s right 12-14 straight HOURS. They start on Saturday at noon and go all afternoon/night/next morning.

It is decidedly not kid-friendly. Oh boy is it not kid friendly. I caught sight of the revelers around 9pm in my neighborhood (image 100’s of people dressed like Santa – both men and women) staggering down the streets and bouncing off street signs and newspaper vending boxes.  Many folks carrying the requisite bad-Santa ‘brown paper bag with unknown bottle inside’ while singing modified versions of your favorite camp songs with key phrases interchanged with anatomical and reproductive references. There is even a printable PDF songbook on the site with such hits as “I’m dreaming of a White Russian” and that’s about the only one I could put on a public website (they are not safe for work reading).

Most of them seemed to be out for a night of some genuine fun, but there were some seriously sloshed folks in the crowd and debauchery of about every nature was definitely encouraged. Another friend of mine saw them later that night in the seedy part of town and mentioned that he saw Santas everywhere and in the worse possible shapes: passed out in alleyways, barfing in streets, and staggering in/out of bars and, shall we say, visiting “clothing optional dancers” clubs as far as the eye could see. I was hoping to get some pictures of this sad street parade but my 5D is in the shop getting a tune-up and cleaning after the fall shooting binge.  It’s probably better I didn’t in hind-sight.

Ah Portland, you do keep the festive spirits bright.

More Santa references:
On the bright note, I-5 got opened up again this weekend. Now we can get between Seattle and Portland again without an extra 2-3 hour detour. Lots of truck drivers got hosed as their companies wouldn’t pay the extra mileage, so they were stuck waiting till it opened. Coast is still a bit of a mess, but cleanup is coming along and all the roads are open – and most utilities are all back. It was dubbed the “HoHo Blow” of 07 by one local radio station.

Not so bad…

Not so bad…

Today of all things, it is sunny, 56 degrees, and warm.  A beautiful day really – which is so different than yesterday. Most folks got out unscathed here at work save some falling limbs, cleaning up the yard from blown around debris, fixing an item or two blown down and shingles blown loose. The coast got the worst of it. But we’re looking at several good days of nice weather, and cleanup is already going faster because of that.

I-5 is still closed but the tree cutting along the major roadways is going well. As long as you aren’t trying to get to/from the coast you should do well.  The flooding will take longer to clean up, and it’s definitely not so pretty. Vernonia is just 10 miles from here and it’s swamped. A lot of the little streams are flooded, and have taken over some of the smaller towns in OR and WA. I recommend going to Katu news and checking out the video/picture clips for first-hand looks.

It’s weird to see places you just drove without a problem days before covered in water…

100 mph winds at the coast

100 mph winds at the coast

Over the last few days, Oregon has been getting pounded by a huge storm. That’s something of an understatement actually.

All the major interstates in and around Portland were closed at some point today, and some are still closed. Every single route out to the Oregon coast is closed due to flooding, mudslides, wind damaged trees falling across the roads, etc. As I write this, there isn’t a way out to the coast for hundreds of miles in either direction north or south. Everyone out at the coast was basically trapped without power. Could be days before it gets sorted out. Portland saw street flooding where sewers backed up, but things have been surprisingly ok (but sure windy and wet).

Here’s a few interesting tidbits:

  • Train service north of Portland was shut down due to a landslide – there is no train route from CA to Canada until it’s cleared.
  • I-5, the interstate between Seattle and Portland, may be closed for days due to the interstate being flooded
  • The world’s largest Sitka spruce bit the big one today – after surviving over 700 years of storms
  • Ocean buoys have been breaking from their mourings in 40 foot swells. Now as seawater gets to their batteries they fill with hydrogen gas and pose an explosion hazard
  • Winds were clocked at over 100 mph at the coast, inland they’re much less – but it’s blowing all day.
  • Road closures all over the place as streets and highways get flooded over, cleared, then flood somewhere else…
  • We got about 4-5 inches of rain today in Portland, they got 10-15 in the cascade mountains between us and the coast

Overall, however, things are not doing bad here in Portland. We’re all still going to work and getting stuff done. Most things are open and we’ve had power all day. Should be an interesting week…