Nice video about Colossus and Tommy Flowers

By Noah | March 12, 2012

Google has posted a nice little video about Bletchley Park and the Colossus machine, including nice remembrances of hardware designer Tommy Flowers.  There’s also a  posting about Tommy Flowers in the Google blog.

I had the opportunity to see the reconstruction of Colossus in operation, breaking actual codes, when I visited the British National Museum of Computing last year. “Lynetter” has posted to Youtube a video introduction to the reconstructed machine and also video of the late Tony Sale showing the reconstruction in operation. Unfortunately, when I visited, Tony had just recently died.

One twist on all this struck me as interesting: when Colossus was (partially) declassified in the mid 1970’s, books like The Ultra Secret claimed that it was used to break the German enigma code. Recently, more information has been declassified, and it’s now clear that’s wrong. The British did break the enigma at Bletchley park using a machine known as the Bombe. The Bombe (not bomb!) was not an electronic digital computer and it did not use valves (what we Americans call vacuum tubes). The Bombe was built of technology similar to old phone company rotary stepping switches and relays. Patch panels encoded information relating to the keys to be broken, and the switches would rotate through all possible positions until patterns suggesting a possible key match were detected. The switches would then stop in position, and from the final positions keys could be determined.

The enigma was used to encipher field and naval communications. In fact, we now know that Colossus, which was an electronic computer using large numbers of “valves” (along with relays, high speed paper tape, etc.) was built specifically to crack the much more difficult Lorenz cipher, which was used by the German high command. The British were thus able to decrypt traffic going to and from Adolf Hitler himself.

Topics: History of computing | No Comments »

Does the New York Times paywall misuse HTTP?

By Noah | December 1, 2011

Many people have commented on the pros and cons of the New York Times paywall. Most of these comments debate the effectiveness of the paywall in meeting the Times’ financial goals, discuss ways in which users will circumvent the paywall, etc. Here I’d like to explore a different issue: it seems to me that the paywall, as currently implemented, violates the specifications for the Web’s HTTP protocol. Interestingly, my concern is not with the part of the system that charges readers, it’s with the part the tries to count the 20 free pages allowed per month.

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Topics: Web, Internet, Computing | 1 Comment »

Book: The first war of physics: the secret history of the atom bomb, 1939-1949

By Noah | September 4, 2011

I’m hoping to do more book reviews here, as I’ve been doing quite a bit of reading this year. So, here’s one to get started…

The first war of physics : the secret history of the atom bomb, 1939-1949 [ISBN: 1605981974] by Jim Baggott is an excellent history of the physics, politics, wartime events and espionage that all contributed to the remarkable history of the bomb. This is a moderately long book, but very readable, even gripping (well, I like this stuff). Very highly recommended for anyone with an interest in 20th century history, military history, or the history of technology. The physics is explained in readable terms, in the few places where it’s important to the story, but no technical background at all is required to appreciate this important book. Again, very highly recommended.

Topics: Books, Science | No Comments »

Detecting ISPs that violate network neutrality

By Noah | August 21, 2011

Dan Kaminsky has a really interesting talk at Chaos Communication Camp 2011 showing how to quite reliably detect ISPs that artificially delay traffic to particular sites (video of Dan’s talk).

Note that the first 2/3 of the talk is a very interesting exploration of the security characteristics of Bitcoin, also showing how the Bitcoin database can be used as a peristent shared store. The latter third of the talk introduces Dan’s tools for detecting artificial delays introduced by ISPs.

Topics: Web, Internet, Computing | No Comments »

Four Rock City Band appearances in May

By Noah | May 3, 2011

I have gotten out of the habit of announcing all of our Rock City Band appearances here on the blog, in part because I’m now keeping a mailing list for those who are interested. May is a particularly busy month for us, with four appearances coming up, so I thought I’d make an exception and post again here. We’ll be appearing:

May 7 (this Sat): Princeton Station, in Chelmsford, MA (on Route 4, just east of Route 3)
May 13 & 14: The Haluwa Lounge, in Nashua, NH (in the Nashua Mall, exit 6 off Route 3)
May 28: Back at Princeton Station one more time

All shows start at 9 PM, and there’s no cover at either Princeton or the Haluwa. I expect to be playing bass all four nights.

If you’d like to be on the mailing list to get announcements of all our gigs, please e-mail me at “blogmaster AT arcanedomain DOT com”, making the obvious substitutions for AT and DOT.


Topics: Music, Non-technical | No Comments »

Why the New York Times paywall is not like public radio

By Noah | March 29, 2011

One of the excuses that’s been trotted out by several commentators in defense of the New York Times paywall is that it’s “just like public radio”. Well, no. When I contribute to public radio, which I do, my contribution helps make all of that content freely available to everyone. If I “contribute” to the New York Times paywall, I’m buying myself access, and supporting a model in which valuable Web content is only available to those who can afford it.

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Topics: Non-technical | No Comments »

Documents in applications

By Noah | March 8, 2011

It has become fashionable to divide Web resources into two broad categories: each resource is either a document, rendered primarily in HTML, or an AJAX-style  Web application that uses Javascript to facilitate very dynamic interaction, navigation and information retrieval.  My purpose here is to argue that we need to be more careful, that many AJAX applications in fact provide access to documents after all, and that the Web would be much more robust if we took some care to identify and access those documents using the same sorts of URIs that we use for other Web documents.

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Topics: Web, Internet, Computing | No Comments »

Rock City Band March 2011 Appearances

By Noah | March 7, 2011

Rock City Band is appearing for two nights, March 18 & 19th, at Princeton Station in Chelmsford, MA.  We’re on from 9PM to 1AM both nights. We’ve got three more gigs in early April too.

Topics: Boston area, Music, Non-technical | No Comments »

Jeni Tennison appointed to the TAG

By Noah | March 7, 2011

When I said all those nice things about Jeni Tennison yesterday I was not yet aware that she had been appointed to join our W3C Technical Architecture Group. Well, now she has been. Terrific news for us and for the Web!

Topics: Web, Internet, Computing | No Comments »

Jeni’s terrific post on #!

By Noah | March 7, 2011

There are excellent introductions to the !# controversy available from Tim Bray (Broken links) and Mike Davies (Breaking the Web with hasb-bangs), but Jeni Tennison last night posted a truly remarkable, detailed and insightful analysis. Very, very highly recommended. I confess that I’m not entirely comfortable with her conclusion that “hash-bang URIs are an important pattern that will be around for several years because they offer many benefits compared to their alternatives”. My own opinion is closer to: avoid these wherever possible, particularly for document-oriented content. Still, Jeni’s analysis is terrific, and she’s got good links to many other postings.

Topics: Web, Internet, Computing | No Comments »

Updated post: what’s that AF-ON button for anyway?

By Noah | February 13, 2011

I’ve added a brief new section titled “Exposure and AF-ON” to the entry DSLR hint: what’s that AF-ON button for anyway?

Topics: Photography | No Comments »

Four Rock City Band gigs in the next 3 weeks

By Noah | January 30, 2011

I’ll be playing bass for Rock City Band four times in the next few weeks:

Come on out and join us! The Princeton and Haluwa shows start at 9PM and go until about  1AM. I think at Bentley we play two sets, starting at 9:40 PM and ending at 12:30 AM. We play covers ranging from the 60’s (Blues Brothers, Sam & Dave, Beatles) to the present (Lady Gaga, P!nk, Black Eyed Peas, Kings of Leon). If you need directions or more information, let me know (contact information can be found on the About this blog page).

Topics: Boston area, Music, Non-technical | No Comments »

Some interesting readings in Computer Science

By Noah | January 21, 2011

I’ve just posted on the  main Arcane Domain Web site a short bibliography of Computer Science papers that I have found to be particularly worthwhile.  There’s no attempt here to be comprehensive or balanced. Rather, it’s a list of papers that I think are interesting, well written, of unusual historical significance, or just under-appreciated. A few are quite obvious or well known, but I’ve tried to emphasize some that may be less familiar, especially to those who started their work in CS more recently.

By the way, Alan Kay used to have some wonderful online lists of recommended readings, and I haven’t been able to find them lately.  Anyone know whether they’re still posted?

Topics: History of computing, Web, Internet, Computing | 2 Comments »

Joining the band

By Noah | January 3, 2011

After several years as the backup, I’ve just joined Rock City Band as their full time bass player — first gig is this Friday, January 7th, at Princeton Station in Chelmsford, MA, 9 PM to 1 AM.  We’ll also be welcoming back the terrific Brenda White as our lead vocalist.  Schedules, song lists, and other information are always available on the band’s Web site. If you’re north of Boston, come on up and see us!

Topics: Music, Non-technical | 2 Comments »

The Web is 20 Years Old Today

By Noah | December 25, 2010

Twenty years ago today, on December 25th, 1990, Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau first successfully connected a browser to a Web server — the Web as an operational system is 20 years old today.

Topics: History of computing, Web, Internet, Computing | 2 Comments »

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