Cracking codes from 1547

Cracking codes from 1547

In 1547, Charles V penned a letter to his ambassador, Jean de Saint-Mauris, part of which was written in the ruler’s secret code. Nearly five centuries later, researchers have finally cracked that code.

Cecile Pierrot, a cryptographer with the Loria laboratory in France, first heard of the letter’s existence at a dinner in 2019 and finally managed to track it down two years later.

The task proved rather daunting since the approximately 120 encrypted symbols didn’t employ a simple symbol-to-letter representation. Most represented letters or combinations of letters but others represented entire words. For example: a needle was used to represent the English King Henry VIII. Vowels that came after consonants were replaced by diacritical marks, except for the letter ‘e’ (the most commonly used letter), which the code makers cleverly avoided using as much as possible.

The big break occurred thanks to historian Camille Desenclos, who directed Pierrot to several other coded letters written by, and sent to, the emperor. One of which turned out to have been informally translated and became the key for cracking the code.

You must invite him in

You must invite him in

28 As they approached the village to which they were going, he gave the impression that he was going on farther. 29 But they urged him, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. 31 With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight. 32 Then they said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning [within us] while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?”

Luke 24:13-36

The Road to Emmaus is a personal favorite and one of the most powerful stories after the resurrection of Christ. It contains just about all the major themes (theology) and experiences of Christian life – a life believers understand well today. It is a pattern for the mass, for conversion, His presence in the Eucharist, and many other wonderful teachings about how God works to reflect and meditate on.

This year though, I was caught by verses 28 and 29. Even after talking and walking with Christ along the way (but not recognizing him), having him explain the scriptures to them, he still acts as if he’ll keep moving on. It wasn’t until the 2 men INVITED him to stay that he came, ate a meal with them, and then revealed in the Eucharist that He had been with them all along.

It’s a reminder that we need to make explicit invitation for Christ after we have had an encounter with Him. Sometimes that encounter comes clearly through reading scripture or receiving Him in the Eucharist during mass. Sometimes its encountering Christ acting through others, through healing and answered prayers, a visit or kind word when especially needed, sometimes it’s the odd coincidences that make us think we had an encounter with God. But in all cases, Christ will never invite Himself in. We must take the initiative and explicitly do so – or He might continue on His way. This doesn’t just happen once, we must make this invitation again and again as we meet Him in all these different and unexpected ways like the 2 disciples walking to Emmaus.

It’s a good practice, at least once a day, to explicitly invite Jesus into your life and whatever is going on. Maybe as simply as saying, “Lord Jesus, you are my Lord, my savior, and My God. I invite you to stay here awhile with me and be with me through <whatever this is I’m doing> today. Stay and rest in my heart and there break bread with me so we may live like this through eternity.”

Argonne labs and the Hunt for Red October

Argonne labs and the Hunt for Red October

One of my favorite movies was The Hunt for Red October. In it, Sean Connery plays a Soviet sub commander in control of a nearly silent intercontinental ballistic submarine. Its silence comes from a hypothetical magnetohydrodynamic drive that had no propellers. But this was all fiction, wasn’t it?

When I was in high school, our science team took a trip to Fermi lab and Argonne National Laboratories up near Chicago. I was captivated. I still remember the discussion on subatomic particles by the Fermi lab speaker and seeing some of the devices such as the Tevatron. I still remember him talking about plans for an even larger collider being planned in Europe (hint, they built it).

At Argonne labs, we took another tour. At one point, we went into one of the large warehouse labs and there was a giant circular machine. The guide told us it was, in fact, an experimental magnetohydrodynamic drive. He shared some interesting anecdotes about the device. It turns out, the principles were sound. By creating a gigantic magnetic field one could indeed introduce thrust from salt-water passed through the center of it. If you want to make one, it is not complex and there are even YouTube videos demonstrating small devices.

The biggest problem? It wasn’t very fast, and you needed a GIANT magnetic field. It also didn’t work in fresh water and had a variety of other limitations and caveats.

The Japanese experimented with the technology as well and there were numerous prototypes developed. They also ran into the same problems but it did advance the field a bit by using smaller and more powerful superconducting magnetic systems to introduce the field. It works fairly well on a small scale, but pushing something as large as a transport ship or ballistic missile submarine was untenable. Not much has happened since those days as the physics of the system simply don’t work out – though China recently announced their experiments.

Still, it was absolutely fascinating to see something that was on movies and hinted at as secret technology in person. I think it was a big part of what got me interested in science and led me to computer science years later.

There has also a lot of suggestions that The Hunt for Red October book, publish from a nobody salesman via the Navy Institute Press, contained then-classified secrets, and happened at the same time of several strange submarine incidents was actually a ploy to signal certain messages to the Soviet Union. Since Tom Clancy recently died, we may never know for sure. But it wouldn’t be the first time this has happened.


Everest Helicoptering

Everest Helicoptering

One of the things many young adventurers love to do is travel to Nepal and hike some of the amazing trails through Himalayan mountains. The popularity of these multi-day to multi-week hikes has lead to a more crowded and less authentic experiences of previous travelers, but you just can’t beat something like a week or two on the Annapurna Circuit.

You can also hike to Mt Everest base camp as well as often take a short trip up the nearby facing peak Kala Patthar to see both Everest and Lhotse (if the weather cooperates).

A third option is to go by helicopter. Sam Chui shows us that for about $1200, you can take an amazing few hour helicopter trip through these destintions:

1. Kathmandu (4,390 ft / 1,338m) 2. Lukla (9,380 ft / 2,860m) 3. Namche Bazar (11,290 ft / 3,440m) 4. Syangboche (12,402 ft / 3,780m) 5. Khumbu Icefall (17,999 ft / 5,486m) 6. Mt Everest (29,031 ft / 8,849m) 7. Kala Patthar (18,519 ft / 5,644m) 8. Cho La Pass (17,782 ft / 5,420 m) 9. Gokyo Ri (17,575 ft / 5,357m) 11. Hotel Everest View (12,729ft / 3,880m) 13. Lukla (9,380 ft / 2,860m) 14. Kathmandu (4,390 ft / 1,338m)

He recommends going in April or October when the weather is at its clearest and not so cold. He flies via Manang Air – who have a variety of packages.

Iceland Itinerary

Iceland Itinerary

Allan Su has traveled Iceland several times and gives a really great itinerary of how to spend 2 weeks (travel during June-Sept) visiting the amazing outdoor locations of Iceland. He hits both the famous/well traveled locations as well as lesser known but amazing attractions. He also gives a great set of advice on a number of handy resources from rentals to checking weather/travel conditions.


Too much light

Too much light

I saw the show Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind in the early 2000’s in Chicago. In their show, you see 30 original plays in 60 minutes. Things start out unusual right off the bat. Audience members line up for admission and roll a die for their admission price. Once you get briefed on the ground rules, you shout out the numbers of the two-minute plays they want to see performed next. Each play is written and acted by the ensemble and what you see constantly evolves as they cast creates new plays all the time. If you’d like to read some of them, a set of them is available on Playscripts to read/license.

It was the longest running show in Chicago theater history and is now also in New York and San Francisco. While a great premise, lots of energy, and the show I attended a lot of fun – you should expect to get plays around very particular and homogenous political/social viewpoints by a cast of mostly very young actors.

Infinite Wrench

Behind the scenes, however, there were problems almost immediately (definitely worth a read). The show idea was founded by Greg Allen and rocketed to local popularity. As it grew, he moved to a new venue and formed an ensemble to perform it every day. Sadly, it turned into a classic example of a idealistic collectivist vision that quickly degraded into relatively predictable battles of egos, control, and ugliness.

“He started this company with this very egalitarian concept,” said former ensemble member Andy Bayiates. “We won’t have any leaders and we’ll have a collective and we’ll do everything together. But his actions never matched up with that vision.”

The conflicts started almost immediately. There were conflicts on expanding the franchise that might put ensemble pay structures at risk, views that Allen was cashing in on the licensing and work of the individual ensemble members, he often ‘forgot’ the lines to 2 minute plays he didn’t like, wished to retain final right of refusal on direction and which individual plays were made, personal clashes, and other issues. The ensemble documented the problems with Allen and in Dec. 2011 came the final disagreement over a play featured in a “best of” anniversary show that lead to Allen’s suspension from the company.

In 2016, Greg Allen revoked the Chicago branch’s rights to the play after “considerable artistic differences and irreconcilable personal conflicts”. The Chicago branch now performs an almost identical show called the Infinite Wrench.

Collectivism is hard

This is sad but shouldn’t be a surprise. The rise and fall of the Soviet Union took only 68 years but killed millions of it’s own citizens in political gulags and ethnic cleansings. China’s politically brutal regime also killed millions, lasted barely longer, and has largely abandoning communism for heavily controlled capitalism. The Communist revolution of Laos gave us the killing fields of Pol Pot. North Korea stands out with growing humanitarian crises, lack of development, nuclear blustering, and rule by a murderous iron-fisted dictatorship. Steve Jobs who lived at and was inspired by All One Farm (a farm commune that was owned by Robert Friedland) but by many accounts of those that worked for him was also a dictator. Sadly, egalitarian societies in the 20th century have almost universally turned into the most brutal regimes in all of human history.

There is only one form of living collectivism that has withstood time. In fact, it has lasted longer than any country or collective group on earth – monasteries. But even in those, there is clear hierarchy and rules. Something to consider the next time you want to make a collectivist group.