Showing posts with label comic books. Show all posts
Showing posts with label comic books. Show all posts

Monday, December 22, 2014

University of Sydney Uses XTF to Index 60's Sci-Fi Comics

I grew up reading pulp science fiction. There was a time when I would never had admitted something like that in public. But times have changed. Computer programming is now a career instead of a bizarre waste of time that might get you arrested. People wear and fiddle with mobile computers; displaying them at coffee shops like peacock plumage. When I was a kid and told adults I liked computers they assured my parents it was a phase I would grow out of.

As bitter as I may be of the past, I was delighted to find that the University of Sydney Library had combined my youthful passion for computers and science fiction comics into one mammoth project of love. They digitized the Frontiers of Science, a comic strip which was a big deal in Australia in the early 60's by way of the Sydney Morning Herald.

But they did more than just scan the damn things. Any unpaid intern can do that. Instead, they relied on the eXtensible Text Framework (XTF) in order to provide contextual search capabilities for the comic strip. XTF is designed to allow you to work with heterogenous media sources, and index them based on disparate types of metadata. It comes in handy, if say you want to build a database of comics that have already been scanned, and say the knucklehead that did the scanning saved some images as BMPs, others as JPGs and the rest as PDFs. All of these images contain usable metadata, and XTF is clever enough to grab it all and re-index it into a consistent format.

So bear this in mind for future projects, and go check out the Frontiers of Science at the University of Sydney Library's web site.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Chess, Encryption and Comic Books (Mind MGMT)

Lately, I've been hooked on a brilliant comic book from genius Matt Kindt, called Mind MGMT. In a nutshell, Mind MGMT follows a cold war era intelligence service based on the conceit that Men Who Stare at Goats-style ESP spook tactics work, and have silently and secretly played a role in the machinations of world politics throughout the 20th century. Mind MGMT is really clever, the art is striking and the whole business is worth a read on its own.

Part of the fun of the comic book is that the creators seamlessly weave the sort of subliminal messaging they use in the plot, into the layout of the comic itself. Fake advertisements in the back of issues contain hidden text, while the margins themselves are formatted like Scantron documents with little limericks where the dotted "fold here" lines usually go.

Just today I read through issue 23, which opens with a tale of a man gifted with the fore-mentioned spying super-powers; a reclusive Bobby Fischer type who communicates through the world with messages encoded in the notation of championship chess game layouts. Have a look for yourself (click to enlarge):  
MIND MGMT, Josh Wieder, comic book, chess, encryption
The story fills in the picture a bit, while also providing a series of six chess boards with notation beneath each one. I don't want to spoil the fun of decoding the image for you - what do you think the chess boards spell out? Some things to consider - does each board, or does each notation spell a unique character? Does every board / notation spell the same character every time?

Any way, seeing this inspired me. I don't have much in the way of formal education in cryptography, but even I know that chess boards have been used for cryptography before. What I think would be cool is creating a simple program that would allow you to export a chess board from a computer chess game and use it as part of a cipher for an encryption system. There's even been some more recent publishing being done with chess board cryptosystems (which I have yet to read ... I've got a lot on my plate lately).

Not necessarily the most practical project but IMO a fun distraction / way to sharpen development skills for integrating ciphers into applications.

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