150 posts and counting

By Gordon Rugg

This article is an overview of our blog articles so far, and of what is coming next.

overview and hundredth articlev2Image copyleft Hyde & Rugg, 2014

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One hundred Hyde & Rugg articles, and the Verifier framework

By Gordon Rugg

This is the 100th post on the Hyde & Rugg blog. We’re taking this opportunity to look back at what we’ve covered and look forward to what comes next.

The image below shows some of the main themes and outputs so far, in the “knowledge cycle” format that underlies our Verifier framework for tackling human error. If you’ve come to this blog after reading Blind Spot, you might be pleased to discover that we’ve been covering the contents of Verifier here in more depth than was possible in the book, and that we’re well on the way to a full description.

In the image below you can see some of the main themes and topics we’ve covered so far in the “knowledge cycle” format that underlies our Verifier framework for tackling human error. If you’ve come to this blog after reading Blind Spot, it’s worth knowing that we’ve covered some of the the contents of Verifier in more depth here than was possible in the book, and that we’re well on the way to a full description.

The knowledge cycle, and topics that we’ve blogged about

overview and hundredth articlev2Copyleft Hyde & Rugg 2014

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Update and future attractions

By Gordon Rugg

The current state of play is as follows:

  • Verifier: We’ve posted articles covering about a quarter of one of the four “virtual toolboxes” in Verifier. Something tells me this will be a long haul…
  • The D’Agapeyeff Cipher: We’re taking a short break from posting on this topic, while Gavin tries out his newly-acquired decoding software; we’ll post the results.
  • Hoaxing the Voynich Manuscript: I’m over halfway through the series and aiming to finish it this month.

Future attractions:

  • A set of articles about design, requirements and evaluation
  • A set of articles about the mathematics of desire – what people want, how to find out what they want and what they need, and how to design for desire
  • Articles on the deep structure of society and culture, including media and ideology

There will also be an update on the raccoon flap saga, for anyone wondering how that’s turned out. Also, I’ve solved the mystery of Vitruvius Mattress, the little-known Brookside character; that should be good for a short article some time. What I haven’t solved is the new mystery of why the WordPress tagging software helpfully suggested Brookside characters as a tag for this post, even before I’d mentioned Vitruvius…

A very British mystery, part 5: Gavin Finds a Typo

By Gordon Rugg and Gavin Taylor

The story so far: This is a series of articles about the D’Agapeyeff Cipher, a short ciphertext that’s never been cracked. It first appeared in Alexander D’Agapeyeff’s 1939 book Codes and Ciphers. It’s a good testbed for codebreakers who have to deal with short texts. In the previous episodes, we’ve listed the codes described in the book, plus the worked examples that D’Agapeyeff used. In today’s gripping episode, we focus on a typo that Gavin found in Codes and Ciphers. It’s more exciting than it sounds, though admittedly that isn’t the most difficult challenge in the world…

Opening question: Does anyone apart from sad pedants really care about typos, and if they do, is that just a sign that they really ought to get a life?

In fact, a lot of people care a great deal about typos, in a lot of different fields, and for a lot of very good reasons, most of them involving money and the law. They’re also a serious issue if you’re applying for a job. A high proportion of organisations will reject a job application because of a single typo in the covering letter.

So why do people care so much about typos, and what does Gavin’s discovery mean for anyone interested in the D’Agapeyeff Cipher?

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A very British mystery, part 4: Quiet bodies

By Gordon Rugg and Gavin Taylor

The story so far: We’re working on the D’Agapeyeff Cipher, a short ciphertext that’s never been cracked. It’s a good testbed for codebreaking methods. In this series of articles, we’re collecting together resources about the Cipher for other researchers. In the previous episode, we looked at the methods that D’Agapeyeff described in the first edition of his book Codes and Ciphers, where the D’Agapyeff Cipher appeared. In this episode, we look at the solutions to the worked examples in the same book, to see what insights they might give.

When you’re trying to crack a code, you look for any clues that might possibly give you some insight into the content of the ciphertext. If you know what the text is about, then you can work backwards from that, and improve your chances of finding a solution. That’s why, for a while in World War II, one of the safest postings for a soldier on either side was in an Afrika Korps forward observation post in the Western Desert (hence the title for this episode).

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A Very British Mystery, part 3: The D’Agapeyeff Cipher’s Table of Contents

By Gordon Rugg & Gavin Taylor

That’s not exactly the most inspiring title ever written, but sometimes humble examples illustrate much more profound principles, as in the way that the eminent physicist Faraday used an ordinary candle to demonstrate some of the key concepts in chemistry.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Chemical_History_of_a_Candle

This particular case isn’t quite so illustrious, but it’s still a lot more interesting than it might appear, and a good illustration of some important principles about how best to do research, whichever field you’re working in. It’s also a good example of mistakes to avoid…

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A very British mystery, part 2: The D’Agapeyeff Cipher, and the first edition

By Gordon Rugg and Gavin Taylor

So why should anyone care about a short cipher that was published in a 1939 textbook? There’s a good reason, and it’s very different from the reasons for caring about the Voynich Manuscript.

With the Voynich Manuscript, there was a tantalising possibility that it might just be the key to a new approach to code making. With the D’Agapeyeff Cipher, the issue is about code breaking.

If you’re a codebreaker, then one of the things you hope for is large quantities of coded material, which give you a better chance of finding those few key points where the code is weak, so you have a chance to break in. Unfortunately for codebreakers, that doesn’t always happen. Often, you’re having to deal with a small quantity of text, but that text is important – maybe a warning of an imminent attack – so codebreakers are very keen to have better ways of getting into short coded texts.

The D’Agapeyeff Cipher is a classic test case for new ways of tackling this problem. It’s short; it was almost certainly written using one of the codes described in the book where it appears; it’s still uncracked, over seventy years later. Gordon had already had one attempt at cracking it, with his student Stephen Antrobus, using a method suggested by our colleague Dr Robert Matthews. It was a high-tech software approach that hadn’t been widely used for this type of problem before. It was well worth a try, and Stephen did an excellent job of building the software, but it didn’t crack the code. We’ll return to that story in a later episode.

So, this time round, we tried a different approach. We still started in the same place, though. Gavin bought a second-hand copy of the first edition of D’Agapeyeff’s book Codes and Ciphers.

Book collectors like first editions because the first edition of a major book can be worth a lot of money, as well as being a rare object that gives its owner more status among other book collectors.

The first edition of Codes and Ciphers isn’t like that. It’s a respectable, very ordinary hardback book from the 1930s. The reason Gavin bought a first edition was that the first edition contains the D’Agapeyeff Cipher. It’s the only edition that does.

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