Cryptography from the Ground Up

“One of the most interesting and useful things computers can do for us is cryptography. We can hide messages, validate identities, and even build entire trustless distributed systems. Cryptography not only defines our modern world, but is a big part of how we will build the world of the future.

However, unless you want to dedicate years and a PhD to studying the subject, the actual workings of cryptography can be hard to learn. It can involve a lot of pitfalls and if you dare build from scratch, you are bound to make a fool of yourself. Why?

In my opinion, it comes down to history. Cryptography has had centuries of methods that have been made, broken, and remade again. Most tutorials on cryptography focus on the what: do this, don’t do that, follow the rules. But they skip over the why: why do we do the things we do? What are we trying to avoid?

To understand the why, we need to understand how we got here in the first place. And to do that, let’s set computers to the side for the moment and delve into the world of classical cryptography.”

70 Over 70 Podcast

“You know those 30 under 30 lists that make you feel kinda inadequate and terrible? 70 Over 70 is the opposite of that. Max Linsky talks to 70 remarkable people all over the age of 70 about their lives — what they’ve learned, what they’re still trying to figure out and how they’re thinking about what comes next.”

70 Over 70

Explained From First Principles

“The goal of this website is to provide the best introduction available to the covered subjects. After doing a lot of research about a particular topic, I write the articles for my past self in the hope they are useful to the present you. Each article is intended to be the first one that you should read about a given topic and also the last — unless you want to become a real expert on the subject matter. I try to explain all concepts as much as possible from first principles, which means that all your “why” questions should be answered by the end of an article. I strive to make the explanations comprehensible with no prior knowledge beyond a high-school education.”

Only articles on email and the Internet, but a good start.

Principles of Democratic Structuring

“Once the movement [grows to the point of needing structure and/or] no longer clings tenaciously to the ideology of “structurelessness,” it is free to develop those forms of organization best suited to its healthy functioning. This does not mean that we should go to the other extreme and blindly imitate the traditional forms of organization. But neither should we blindly reject them all. Some of the traditional techniques will prove useful, albeit not perfect; some will give us insights into what we should and should not do to obtain certain ends with minimal costs to the individuals in the movement. Mostly, we will have to experiment with different kinds of structuring and develop a variety of techniques to use for different situations. The Lot System is one such idea which has emerged from the movement. It is not applicable to all situations, but is useful in some. Other ideas for structuring are needed. But before we can proceed to experiment intelligently, we must accept the idea that there is nothing inherently bad about structure itself — only its excess use.

While engaging in this trial-and-error process, there are some principles we can keep in mind that are essential to democratic structuring and are also politically effective:

1) Delegation of specific authority to specific individuals for specific tasks by democratic procedures. Letting people assume jobs or tasks only by default means they are not dependably done. If people are selected to do a task, preferably after expressing an interest or willingness to do it, they have made a commitment which cannot so easily be ignored.

2) Requiring all those to whom authority has been delegated to be responsible to those who selected them. This is how the group has control over people in positions of authority. Individuals may exercise power, but it is the group that has ultimate say over how the power is exercised.

3) Distribution of authority among as many people as is reasonably possible. This prevents monopoly of power and requires those in positions of authority to consult with many others in the process of exercising it. It also gives many people the opportunity to have responsibility for specific tasks and thereby to learn different skills.

4) Rotation of tasks among individuals. Responsibilities which are held too long by one person, formally or informally, come to be seen as that person’s “property” and are not easily relinquished or controlled by the group. Conversely, if tasks are rotated too frequently the individual does not have time to learn her job well and acquire the sense of satisfaction of doing a good job.

5) Allocation of tasks along rational criteria. Selecting someone for a position because they are liked by the group or giving them hard work because they are disliked serves neither the group nor the person in the long run. Ability, interest, and responsibility have got to be the major concerns in such selection. People should be given an opportunity to learn skills they do not have, but this is best done through some sort of “apprenticeship” program rather than the “sink or swim” method. Having a responsibility one can’t handle well is demoralizing. Conversely, being blacklisted from doing what one can do well does not encourage one to develop one’s skills. Women have been punished for being competent throughout most of human history; the movement does not need to repeat this process.

6) Diffusion of information to everyone as frequently as possible. Information is power. Access to information enhances one’s power. When an informal network spreads new ideas and information among themselves outside the group, they are already engaged in the process of forming an opinion — without the group participating. The more one knows about how things work and what is happening, the more politically effective one can be.

7) Equal access to resources needed by the group. This is not always perfectly possible, but should be striven for. A member who maintains a monopoly over a needed resource (like a printing press owned by a husband, or a darkroom) can unduly influence the use of that resource. Skills and information are also resources. Members’ skills can be equitably available only when members are willing to teach what they know to others.

When these principles are applied, they insure that whatever structures are developed by different movement groups will be controlled by and responsible to the group. The group of people in positions of authority will be diffuse, flexible, open, and temporary. They will not be in such an easy position to institutionalize their power because ultimate decisions will be made by the group at large. The group will have the power to determine who shall exercise authority within it.

-Jo Freeman (aka Joreen), “The Tyranny of Structurenessless.” May 1970.

The Library of the Great Silence

“Founded on the principle that knowledge about catastrophic risks and strategies of survival are of universal interest – and that all beings throughout the cosmos want to thrive for as long as possible – the Library of the Great Silence will invite beings throughout the universe to collaboratively research planetary futures. At the core of this new research center, managed in partnership with the SETI Institute at the Hat Creek Radio Observatory, will be an archive of transformations presented in the most accessible form possible: Instead of texts, the library will collect objects associated with transformational moments, including natural disturbances (instantiated in materials such as lava and meteorites and fossils of extinct species), and human impact (instantiated in artifacts ranging from handaxes and money to trinitite and plastiglomerate). The library will also provide an open space to explore relationships between collected items, enabling representation of phenomena ranging from chance to complexity to overreach. An open invitation to contribute information and ideas will be broadcast throughout the cosmos.”

The Library of the Great Silence

The obvious conclusion is that anyone in a position to contribute will likely have already seen a standard set of transformational moments and survived them. The work is probably best focused on those that didn’t survive edge cases, which is the work of archeology.

How to Make Enemies and Influence People

“This essay outlines the characteristics of what I call the ‘totalitarian mindset’. Under certain circumstances, human beings engage in patterns of thinking and behavior that are extremely closed and intolerant of difference and pluralism. These patterns of thinking and behaving lead us towards totalitarian, anti-pluralistic futures. An awareness of how these patterns arise, how individuals and groups can be manipulated through the use of fear, and how totalitarianism plays into the desire in human beings for ‘absolute’ answers and solutions, can be helpful in preventing attempts at manipulation and from the dangers of actively wanting to succumb to totalitarian, simplistic, black-and-white solutions in times of stress and anxiety. I present a broad outline of an agenda for education for a pluralistic future. The lived experience of pluralism is still largely unfamiliar and anxiety inducing, and that the phenomenon is generally not understood, with many myths of purity and racial or cultural superiority still prevalent. Finally, as part of that agenda for education, I stress the importance of creativity as an adaptive capacity, an attitude that allows us to see pluralism as an opportunity for growth and positive change rather than simply conflict.”

-Alfonso Montuori, “How to make enemies and influence people:
anatomy of the anti-pluralist, totalitarian mindset
.” Futures. 2005. pgs. 18-35.