Monthly Archives: June 2016

ACA social media history

Members of the American Cryptogram Executive Board (ACA EB) have asked publicly for anyone with dates and knowledge of the ACA’s social media presence to provide them. I have researched this and constructed this timeline. Most of this was found from searching the CD-ROM provided to members, but that only goes to 2009. Citations are provided.


1993 ACA-L LISTSERV (email)-based Bulletin Board formed first post on ACA-L (12/27)
1995 ACA-L first mentioned in The Cryptogram ND1995 p. 3
1996 ACA-L & Crypto Drop Box NORTH DECODER mentioned as owner. Both are not official, but sanctioned by the ACA. The CDB was a place where member’s file content could be uploaded. JF1996 p. 3
1996 ACA-L NORTH DECODER, DABASAP, PRIME are owners MJ1996 p. 21
1999 ACA-L NORTH DECODER mentioned as owner SO1999 p. 3
2002 Yahoo Discussion Group KEYSTONE operates it as an official ACA group. “The ACA has created …” JF2003 p. 11
2003 ACA-L, Yahoo, MSN ACA-L disbanded and “replaced by a Yahoo chat group which has recently moved to MSN” JF2004 p. 10
2004 MSN group KEYSTONE appears in masthead for the first time JF2004 p. 2
2008 MSN group KEYSTONE still operates group on MSN JF2008 p. 3
2009 MSN group Disbanded. Microsoft transferred groups to as a “blog” Feb. 2009 per wikipedia
2012 Multiply blog Disbanded. discontinued blogs and soon went out of business. per wikipedia
2012 Google+ Community THE RAT formed it on 12/7/2012 as ACA community to fill void first post in Community
2013 Google ACA group KEYSTONE formed it. It’s email-based, similar to old ACA-L 12/2013 post in Google+ Community
2013 Google+ Community Renamed Recreational Cryptanalysis (RC). THE RAT encouraged members to move all discussion to the new KEYSTONE official group, but RC continues to have cons posted for people to solve, graphics, etc. (non-email-based content) 12/2013 post in Google+ Community
2016 ACA facebook group Formed by BartW in March JA2016 p. 3

For those not familiar with social media, Facebook and Google+ Communities are both free web-based commercial services, in effect competitors. Both allow posting of graphics, surveys, and other things that are less suitable for email, although it is now possible to put such things in email. Facebook has ads. Google+ or the Google group might also, but I have an ad blocker and do not see ads in either place, so I am not sure. Google+ allows “hangouts” for communities, i.e. live video/audio meetings similar to Skype. The Facebook group, Google group and the Google+ community are closed and thus people must join to post, but people who search for them can find them and request to join. ACA membership is no longer required in the RC. Consult the owners of the other two media for details on those. KEYSTONE reports that the Yahoo group and all its contents, including member files, were taken down by Yahoo, and Yahoo was non-responsive as to why, thus motivating restarting with MSN. The MSN and Multiply groups were disbanded because the host company discontinued all social groups. Much or all of the content of the CDB was moved to the Member’s Area of the ACA website and is still available for download.

The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit by Sloan Wilson

The Man in the Gray Flannel SuitThe Man in the Gray Flannel Suit by Sloan Wilson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This modern classic (to use an oxymoron) began for me almost as a duty read, like something from a teacher’s summer reading list. However, it didn’t take long for it to become a compelling story that evoked visions of my childhood. It was a view of my parents’ life, though, not my own. It isn’t what I would call a fun read, either, but I still enjoyed it. The characters aren’t particularly likeable and there certainly isn’t what passes for action these days. It describes the life of a midlevel office worker in New York who returned from the war (WWII) and becomes enmeshed in the corporate rat race and suburban status race while his marriage seems to be crumbling.

I more or less knew that much about it, that and the fact it had been a Gregory Peck movie back in the 1950s. I was surprised to learn that it was much more. There is a very credible account of the life of a WWII paratrooper, a torrid love affair, a complex family and legal relationship with a rich relative who dies with a contested will. It’s like a better-written Mad Men without all the sex, smoking, and booze. Well, there’s a bit of all of those without the excesses of the TV screen version. The writing style seems dated, almost quaint now. It’s not elegant prose; it’s more prosaic than that (to use a tautology). The plot moves briskly as we wait for the main character’s life to implode at any moment. It definitely makes one think about what life is all about, how to balance responsibilities toward family and employer and one’s own need for happiness. If you read this you will be undergoing some self-examination, so be prepared. Have a mirror handy.

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Standup Guy by Stuart Woods

Standup Guy (Stone Barrington, #28)Standup Guy by Stuart Woods
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

My high hopes were dashed early on this one. It was billed as a legal thriller, but it was neither thrilling nor did it have anything much to do with a legal case. Still, it wasn’t bad so much as disappointing. The author can write grammatically and fluidly, which puts him ahead of two-thirds of what’s out there. The main character, Stone Barrington, is supposedly a lawyer, but all he ever seems to do is eat at expensive restaurants, talk to the president of the U.S., and sleep with women. What little legal advice he dispenses is horribly bad and inaccurate. For example, his first client comes in with millions in money stolen decades earlier but only now surfacing because the thief (now dead) gave his prison buddy (the client) the location. Barrington tells him that the money is now “legal” since the statute of limitations has run. Totally wrong. First of all, the statute of limitations does not change stolen goods into non-stolen goods; it only affects whether someone can be prosecuted for the theft. The money is still stolen property and can be seized by police and returned to its owner. Secondly, since it’s still stolen property, possessing it is a new crime for which the current possessor can be prosecuted, or possibly even for being an accessory after the fact, both crimes that occur in the present day. Not only that but the original statute of limitations may have been tolled for any of several reasons. Yes, I’m a lawyer and former law enforcement, so garbage like this in a novel gets me. If you’re into legal fantasy and it doesn’t bother you that the whole plot could never be close to true, then never mind my complaints. Legal thrillers should only be written by lawyers, in my opinion, and even then, only by ones who know the field. Even Grisham gets the criminal law stuff completely wrong, although he gets the tort stuff right. Apparently that’s his practice area. Unfortunately, though, being a lawyer does not mean you can write well for the general audience. Scott Turow is the only lawyer/author I know of who can write exciting novels and get the law right.

Once I saw the author fail to get that right I knew the plot was hopeless. The real villain in this one is so obvious it was ridiculous. The way the final crime against Barrington was carried out was ridiculous. The criminals did just about every possible thing they could to get caught, if you could call that ending getting caught. The best part of the book was the thread involving his client, who turned out to be a likeable fellow (the eponymous “standup guy”). That sideline was amusing. The whole thing is fluff, mostly inoffensive (although it did get crude toward the end), but not something I could recommend.

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My saddest anagram: The ten deadliest mass shootings in modern U.S. history

My regular readers know that I like to do anagrams on the news from time to time. The letters on the left column (all combined) anagram to the descriptions on the right. This one is the saddest one I’ve ever had to construct. It is, however, useful to ponder what it shows.

Ten worst mass shootings in US History
Omar Mateen
Seung-hui Cho
Adam Lanza
George Hennard
James Huberty
Charles Whitman
Eric Harris & Dylan Klebold
Patrick Sherrill
Syed Farook & Tashfeen Malik
Jiverly Wong
= All crazy men
Hadj thrill killer
Korean nut job
Sandy Hook sickie
Former navy, druggie
Security guard
Was a strong marine
White high schoolers, friends
He went postal
They’re sham Moslems
Asian, the man’s no Arab

The Burning Room by Michael Connelly

The Burning Room (Harry Bosch, #19; Harry Bosch Universe, #22)The Burning Room by Michael Connelly
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My legion of followers (tongue in cheek) knows that I’m a big Harry Bosch fan. This book did not disappoint. The Bosch series is pure police procedural and Connelly really knows his stuff. He uses timely events and the most modern police techniques and tools well. Here Harry is teamed up with a young female detective named Soto, but there is no romance going on between them. I guess it’s no longer plausible that a guy his age (almost 65) can get the hot young chick. He mentors her and we are encouraged that she turns out to be one of the rising stars who really care.

Harry is on the cold case squad. A comatose shooting victim who has been at death’s door for almost 20 years finally passes through. The coroner rules the death a homicide due to the bullet, so they have a murder with the evidence sitting in 18-year-old files. All the original investigators are retired. Bosch and Soto are assigned the case. It turns out the shooting is connected to two crimes: a bank robbery and an arson. To make things more complicated, the arson was of Soto’s childhood residence in the barrio.

Harry leads the way in a very credible, professional step-by-step fashion to solve the crimes, while (of course) stepping on the toes of the politicos in and out of the department. I listened to the audiobook edition, which was read by Titus Welliver, who does a superb job playing Bosch in the Amazon Prime series (title: Bosch)

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Chain of Events by Fredrik T. Olsson

Chain of EventsChain of Events by Fredrik T. Olsson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A retired cryptographer (male) and linguist (female) are kidnapped by a mysterious organization and taken to a remote castle where they are tasked with saving humanity. This sci-fi/medical thriller aspires to be something akin to The Andromeda Strain or The Da Vinci Code, perhaps both. Unfortunately, it falls short on both counts. As a cryptographer I found the whole code thing to be ludicrously portrayed and perhaps that spoiled the whole thing for me. I’d heard it said that you shouldn’t read novels about your own line of work because it will always be unrealistic and disappointing. Maybe. But I’ve also heard that a writer should write about what he knows, and this author obviously knows nothing about code-breaking or DNA, so I’m placing the blame on him, not me.

More than that, though, the author had an extremely irritating habit of bringing the reader up to the brink of some revelation and then leaving the scene and moving on to something else. I’m sure he thought that would heighten suspense. It didn’t, at least not for me. Then, when he finally got around to the big reveal, it turned out to be nothing. In short, it was poorly written formulaic stuff. The author is Swedish and despite his obvious mastery of English, the prose sounds a tad stilted to a native English speaker.

I wouldn’t call the book bad. It provided reading fodder for a few days (although I did have some trouble forcing myself to read it at length). It was just disappointing. The premise had potential.

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A dark day in Orlando

I was planning to post a grammar lesson today, but the events in Orlando make that seem both irrelevant and disrespectful. My condolences to all those affected and my sincere appreciation to the first responders and ER personnel who have tirelessly and bravely tried to lessen the collective trauma. I have confidence the FBI will do a complete investigation but I know there is no stopping these kinds of attacks while AR-15s and similar weapons are in the hands of civilians.

The Girl on the Train revisited

I posted a review of The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins a few months back. I really liked it and gave it five stars. It was a long-time number one bestseller both in the U.S. and the U.K. So I suggested it for my book club, a group of retired men, mostly engineers, and yesterday we met to discuss it. I was the discussion leader.

I was surprised both at the strength in the division over the book, and the fact that most of the discussion group members didn’t like it and said they would have stopped reading it had it not been selected for the club. Two members either didn’t read it at all or stopped less than halfway through. One member absolutely loved it and was passionate and effusive about how much he enjoyed it. The next member said he hated it, at least at first. Those who didn’t like it at first, but who finished it, said that they eventually got into the story and ended up liking it okay, but there was little enthusiasm.  The most common complaint they had was that they were bored. Nothing was happening during the first half in their view.

Needless to say, I didn’t feel the same way. The suspense grabbed me from the beginning. It’s a psychological thriller, not an action thriller. There’s an ominous building of tension over what happened, largely because that whatever it was is not described early on. The reader can tell that something bad has taken place or is about to do so, but the main character, Rachel, is a classic “unreliable narrator” whose alcoholism and psychological issues make the reader doubt what she tells us. It is not a classic good guy(s) trying to find the bad guy(s) kind of mystery. As we get to know the characters better, we find none of them to be very admirable. The police play a minor role in the story even though the crime turns out to be a murder.

One of the members who didn’t like the book said he thought the difference was a male-female thing and wondered aloud what percent of the buyers were women. Of course, those in the group who liked it, the only ones who weren’t engineers, disagreed that only women would like the book, but I’m not sure he was on the wrong track. The author, Paula Hawkins, wrote several romance novels (under a different name) before this book. This book is in no way a romance novel. Still, she writes from a woman’s perspective. The book is told through the eyes of three characters, all women. On the other hand, maybe it is engineers who don’t like psychological thrillers. Perhaps they are more rooted in the concrete, the mechanical, the provable, and want facts and action, not thoughts and feelings of the characters.

While my opinion of the book hasn’t changed, I thought it might be useful to my many readers (he says tongue in cheek) to explain an opposing point of view or at least provide a useful warning to male engineers out there. I didn’t realize it until yesterday, but it seems to be a love it or hate it kind of book. It is also going to be made into a movie, due out this fall.

North Korea endorses Trump

I’m really independent and not very political, but I think this Reuters news bit is worth contemplating and hasn’t made it to any news outlets I regularly follow:

North Korea endorses Trump for president

North Korea has backed presumptive U.S. Republican nominee Donald Trump, with a propaganda website praising him as “a prescient presidential candidate” who can liberate Americans living under daily fear of nuclear attack by the North.

A column carried on Tuesday by DPRK Today, one of the reclusive and dynastic state’s mouthpieces, described Trump as a “wise politician” and the right choice for U.S. voters in the Nov. 8 U.S. presidential election.

Read the rest on Reuters

Tell Me Where It Hurts by Nick Trout

Tell Me Where It Hurts: A Day of Humor, Healing and Hope in My Life as an Animal SurgeonTell Me Where It Hurts: A Day of Humor, Healing and Hope in My Life as an Animal Surgeon by Nick Trout
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you’re a pet lover or would-be vet or just someone who enjoys a wry and witty account of someone else’s workday, you’ll enjoy this book. I can’t quite push it to five stars, but I’m glad I hung in through a few of the rocky spots. Trout writes well and is obviously a very experienced and talented veterinary surgeon. Other reviewers invariably compare him to James Herriot and his All Creatures Great and Small, usually to ill effect. I believe that’s unfair to Trout, who writes about his modern day urban pet practice, which is in no way comparable to the rural farm practice of the 1930s in northern England. I tend to think that the negative comments reflect a nostalgia for a simpler time rather than a critique of the writing itself.

Trout does spout a bit too much of his personal philosophy at times and I tend to think he is too full of himself. I sense some false modesty in his writing, too, but there are many great stories, both humorous and heart-warming to make the book well worth reading. Trout is English but practices in Boston. I’m a bit curious how the decision to stay in the United States to practice came about and he doesn’t really explain it. I listened to it on CDs. The British actor did a very good job conveying the smarmy wit and still was able to switch to a convincing serious tone when the content required it. He even did American women’s accents and voices creditably, if not perfectly.

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