Archive for August 19th, 2007

Mathematics and cryptography

August 19, 2007

In the Septmeber issue of AMS notices, Neal Koblitz writes about mathematics, cryptography and the (at times uneasy) relationship between the two (pdf). I have not completed reading the piece–I am half-way through–however, whatever I have read so far, I found very interesting.

Here is, for example,  some interesting historical trivia about some of the early Crypto conferences:

The free-spirited tone of the meetings in those years reflected the colorful and eccentric personalities of some of the founders of and early researchers in cryptography. One such person was Whit Diffie, a brilliant, offbeat, and unpredictable libertarian who in 1976 has coauthored (with Martin Hellman) the most famous paper in the history of crystallography.  Diffie used to run the “rump session”, where informal, irreverent, and often humorous presentations were the norm. There was heckling, and at one point Whit had to  impose some restrictions on what could be thrown at a speaker (empty beer cans were okay, but not full ones).

There are also some words of wisdom, like this:

My tone was apologetic to my readers for taking their time with mathematics that, while of great interest to theoreticians, was unlikely, I said, ever to be applied to cryptography. Then within a year I was intensively studying Silverman’s attack on ECC that was based precisely on the idea behind that conjecture. This shows that it is unwise to predict that a certain type of mathematics will never be used in cryptography.

and this:

In academia, the best way to mend fences is to give out money.

Koblitz goes on to mention a couple of downsides associated with funding for  mathematical topics which are of interest to cryptographers:

It was sad that some mathematicians seemed to feel pressured into portraying their research as being somehow related to cryptography.

Apparently the availability of money from NSA had had a corrupting effect on some mathematicians, who started to think in nationalistic and jingoistic terms…

On the whole, an interesting article worth spending an hour or two, reading. Take a look!

Some movie recommendations

August 19, 2007

Here are a few movies that I watched recently:

  1. Something the Lord made;
  2. The history boys;
  3. A midsummer night’s sex comedy;
  4. Pygmalion.

All the movies are about some aspect of academic (and teaching) life, and are very enjoyable.

Physicists on economics

August 19, 2007

If economics can tell us something useful about crime, marriage, or carpooling—as I believe it can—then other academic disciplines should have something to tell us about economies. Last month, Science published an example that may turn out to be important. Two physicists, Cesar Hidalgo and Albert-László Barabási, and two economists, Bailey Klinger and Ricardo Hausmann, have been drawing unusual pictures of economic “space” that promise a deeper understanding of the biggest question in economics: why poor countries are poor.

Tim Harford in Slate (the piece is titled Milton Friedman, meet Richard Feynmann).  Take a look!

U S Air Force misses Nobel

August 19, 2007

No, not for peace! And, no, this is no onion story either.

Dynamics of Cats tells the fascinating story of the discovery of pulsars by a radar officer:

Now, Joe mentioned in the discussion afterwards, and others have mentioned this, that the DEWs had seen pulsars – fluctuating new celestial sources as early as 1964 for the Thule stations. But, it was all anecdotal. Schisler kept logs and he still has them, neat handwritten time and location logs with annotation on strength and nature of the source. This is for real, Dick Manchester checked the numbers, this guy discovered pulsars several months before Jocelyn, and took notes. But, the information, which reveals the DEW radar capabilities was classified.

Take a look!

A snippet from Guha (about Japan)

August 19, 2007

A piece of information that I did not know about Japan:

… a new constitution had been presented for approval to the Japanese parliament, the Diet. This document had been almost wholly written by a group of foreigners. In early February 1946, twenty-four individuals –all Americans, and sixteen of them military officials–met in a converted ballroom in Tokyo. Here they sat for a week, before coming up with a constitution they thought the Japanese should adopt. This was then presented as a fait accompli to the local political leaders, who were allowed to “Japanize” the draft by translating it into the local tongue. The draft  was also discussed in the Diet, but every amendment, even the most cosmetic, had to be approved by the American authorities.

Wiki gives a slightly better perspective on the reasons as to why the Japanese might have allowed such a drafting:

Prime Minister Shidehara Kijuro and many of his colleagues were extremely reluctant to take the drastic step of replacing the 1889 Meiji Constitution with a more liberal document.

In fact, Wiki goes on to inform us,

in adopting the new document the Meiji Constitution would not be violated, but rather legal continuity would be maintained. Thus the 1946 constitution was adopted as an amendment to the Meiji Constitution in accordance with the provisions of Article 73 of that document.


A couple of writing related links

August 19, 2007

The first is a blogpost by Jenny Davidson on the phases involved in “the creation of a text”–I guess that is academic speak for writing; it is also via Jenny Davidson, that I found a link to this delightful essay on punctuation (and its sanctity?):

The assumption that one has the right to repunctuate a writer’s texts is in fact a very dangerous one, since it leaves modern writers open to all kinds of abuse.

Take a look!