Check out problem 5 on the final exam I am giving today in my Cryptology topics class.
This is cool:
Stanford University’s Folding@Home project, which puts personal computers to work studying the complicated process of protein folding, could soon get a big boost from an unlikely direction. Starting this month, owners of Sony’s PlayStation 3 video-game console will be able to take part in the research project when they’re not busy playing games.
Researchers have recruited about 200,000 desktop machines to participate in the project, which has implications for medical science. But the officials are bullish about PlayStations, according to Scientific American, because the gaming devices actually perform some simulations faster than most computers.
[via Wired Campus Blog]
Fall Break is upon us, as is fall itself with rainy, cool weather today. It’s a break, but a full one:
The Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search (GIMPS) home page is reporting that the 44th Mersenne prime has "probably" been found — i.e., the number has been registered with the GIMPS server and is undergoing checking — as of September 4. Verification should be done in a week. The 43rd one (found in December 2005) was over 9 million digits long; no indication of how big this one is, if it’s indeed a prime.
This week’s look into my del.icio.us bookmarks brings us to…
I think I remember seeing this when I was a kid. It’s a fascinating visualization of the differences between different powers of ten. The video starts with a viewpoint one meter above a family at a picnic, then zooms out to 10 meters, then to 100, then to 1000, then… all the way to 1025 meters, and then back to 1 meter and down to 10-15. See for yourself here at YouTube. (Hmm… I tried to embed the video directly but it screwed up the site. Is there something special I have to do to make it appear?)
I only wish they did one like this using powers of 2, for use in my cryptology teaching materials. I have the hardest time convincing students that a 32-bit key is not just twice as secure as a 16-bit key, but 216 times more secure.
I’ve been bidding in some eBay auctions over the last couple of days, the first time I’d done so in several months. I thought I’d do a little searching, just for fun, for antique cryptographic devices like one of these. I came across an auction for a 1945 NEMA Model 45 Enigma machine with a price of, er, $8939.99. Too rich for my blood, but could be fun to look at anyway. But when I tried to view the item, I got this (click to enlarge):
There’s another auction for a similar Enigma-like machine that gives me the same “somebody thinks you shouldn’t be viewing this” message.
So let me get this straight: I can’t view an auction of a 60-year old Swiss cipher machine, in the USA, because of legal restrictions? Are they the same legal restrictions that classified the posting of PGP to a web server as a violation of an arms control treaty? If so, maybe I should become an arms trafficker.
Or perhaps this is another provision of DOPA? Because, you know, those predators out there would certainly want to keep themselves secret, so we can’t allow anybody to keep anything secret.
enigmaco.de (read it as two words: enigma | co.de) is a very cool flash-based simulator for a three-rotor Enigma machine like the ones used by the German armed forces in WWII. I’ve used electronic Enigma simulators before for teaching purposes, both online and in prepackaged software, but this one by far has the best functionality and look-and-feel. The look somehow reminds me of something off the cover of a Neal Stephenson novel, which maybe was the intention.
You can set the rotors and the plugboard settings and then type a message in to get the ciphertext. As you type, it displays how the signal is routed through the rotors and plugboard to give the ciphertext letter. It works very smoothly (unlike some Flash implementations) and has some nifty features, like the ability to actually use the Enigma to send encrypted emails. Here’s a screenshot:
There’s something satisfyingly ironic about having an advanced computer simulation of a cipher machine which drove the efforts to develop the first digital programmable computer in the first place. Have fun.