Hiding secret messages in whale song

Most military underwater surveillance systems filter out whale calls along with other ambient ocean noise. This inspired researchers from China's Tianjin University to create a form of "bio-inspired steganography" in which recordings of whale songs can be edited to contain secret messages and then electronically transmitted underwater. From Newsweek:

In research published in IEEE Communication Magazine, the team said there are two ways to hide signals in whale pulses—changing the signal to include encrypted information or making the signal weaker.

The former is problematic because it would stand out from other naturally occurring signals, Jiang told SCMP. However, the second method holds promise. Researchers could build a coding system around the whale sounds. They could then edit whale sounds so they are indistinguishable from other whale calls. When they are received by the coding system, they can be deciphered. The main drawback for this approach is that it would be difficult to send a message over a long distance.

"Bio-Inspired Steganography for Secure Underwater Acoustic Communications" (IEEE Communications)

Image: "A mother sperm whale and her calf off the coast of Mauritius" by Gabriel Barathieu Read the rest

The Garmin InReach Mini is this digital nomad's new best friend

If you spend your life in cities or on the interstates that connect them to one another, it’s easy to forget that there are parts of the world where cellular connectivity simply doesn’t exist. Right now, I’m 45 minutes from the nearest town, sitting in a motorhome, surrounded by nothing but trees. Out here, a busy day consists of seeing a few logging trucks or maybe some elk wander by. It’s remote, but I’m still able to connect to the Internet and do my job over my cellphone’s cellular connection. I can amplify my connection to cell towers using a cellular booster that I installed on our rig, earlier this year. But there have been instances where we’ve found ourselves far enough out in the sticks that I couldn’t find a cell signal to save my life. That’s why a device like Garmin’s InReach Mini is so cool. It’s a tiny satellite-connected communications device that lets me stay in touch with the outside world even when the outside world is too far away to connect to.

At 2.04” x 3.90” x 1.03” in size and weighing less than four ounces, this thing is designed for the backpacking crowd. It has an IPX7 rating, so it’s OK to clip it to your belt or a backpack without fear of it being fried in a downpour while you’re out and about. That’s good news, as the Mini needs a clear view of the sky for it to connect to Iridium satellite network in order to do its thing. Read the rest

India ironically loses communications with new communications satellite

If you were to ask the Indian Space Research Organization, they'd tell you that space is hard: the IRSO has lost communications with one of its satellites mere days after launching it into orbit.

According to The Times of India, the IRSO launched the GSAT-6A communications satellite into orbit on March 29. Indian ground control was able to command the satellite to alter its orbit on two separate occasions. Smooth sailing! Then, on Saturday, things went south:

After remaining incommunicado the whole of Saturday, ISRO, on Sunday said: “The second orbit raising operation of GSAT-6A satellite has been successfully carried out by LAM Engine firing for about 53 minutes on March 31, 2018 in the morning. After the successful long duration firings, when the satellite was on course to normal operating configuration for the third and the final firing, scheduled for April 1, 2018, communication from the satellite was lost. Efforts are underway to establish the link with the satellite.”

That's got to be disappointing. It's worth mentioning that just because they've lost communications with the GSAT-6A doesn't mean that it's lost forever – yet. There have been plenty of instances where long-range communications have been lost by ground control and then restored. Given the satellite's mission, providing mobile communications for the people of India over the next decade, it'd be nice if the ISRO could get the thing back online.

If they fail, however, a permanent loss of communications with the satellite would mark the second mission failure for the space agency in less than a year. Read the rest

Satellite sets distance record for weird "spooky action" quantum communication

Chinese researchers demonstrated quantum entanglement at a record distance, between a satellite and ground stations 1,200 kilometers apart. When objects are quantum entangled, their quantum states are linked. Measuring the state of one affects the state of the other. It's weird shit. So weird that Einstein called it "spooky action at a distance."

The experiment by physicists at Shanghai's University of Science and Technology of China could eventually lead to highly-secure communications technologies in space and back on Earth.

"I'm personally convinced that the internet of the future will be based on these quantum principles," says Anton Zeilinger, a physicist at the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Vienna who was not involved in the experiment. "China’s quantum satellite achieves ‘spooky action’ at record distance" (Science)

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Have you texted your textdoor neighbor?

The cool kids are texting their textdoor neighbors—people whose phone number is a digit higher or lower than their own—and sharing their adventures at r/textdoor. About half the respondents seem incapable of grasping the concept and keep asking "how did you get this number?" Many conversations are a bit weird and stilted, expressing the paranoia and suspicion of modern internet life. But someone is going on a date, too! Read the rest

Car horns used to communicate "filthy language"

In 1945, police initiated a campaign to stop people from beeping their car horns in Morse Code to "signal out 'vile and filthy language,'" according to the Ottawa Journal on January 18.

Amazing that back then enough people recognized the encoded vulgarities to convince the police to take action, and the media to cover it. (Weird Universe)

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Elements of telegraphic style, 1928

Nelson E. Ross's "small booklet" sets out the principles of sending telegrams "in the most economical manner possible," so you can take full advantage of a communications medium that "annihilates distance and commands immediate attention." Read the rest

Smith-Corona's voice letters by post: dead media

Here's a weird bit of dead media: a Smith-Corona audio-letter that used a "Letterpack cartridge" (which appears to be a 3.5" floppy disc) to record and play back personal voice-letters sent by post. The apparatus is a fascinating dead branch in design history, something that looks like it might be descended from a desktop intercom box, and distinctly unrelated to the apparatus we put up to our faces and heads in this era.

This can really be seen as an arbitrage point between high long distance tariffs by monopoly telco operators and a willingness to tolerate delays in personal voice communications.

Where are they now? Smith-Corona Read the rest

A futurist prediction that came true

Sure, it's fun to post old pages of mid-century science magazines and make fun of the predictions that never came true—flying cars! Weather control!

But it's equally, if not more, enjoyable to read predictions for things that actually happened. These are the things that remind us that the world we live in today is pretty goddamn amazing. Teacher Michael Poser sent me one such prediction that he and his students found in The Science Year Book of 1947, a sort-of proto-aggregator that compiled reprints of stories in science magazines. This quote came from a Scientific American article entitled "Microwaves on the way":

In peacetime microwaves are slated for an even more spectacular career… Private phone calls by the hundreds of thousands sent simultaneously over the same wave band without wires, poles, or cables. Towns where each citizen has his own radio frequency, over which he can get voice, music, and television, and call any phone in the country by dialing. Complete abolition of static interference from electrical devices and from other stations. A hundred times as much “space on the air” as is now available in the commercial radio band. A high-definition and color-television network to cover the country. And, perhaps most important of all, a nationwide radar network to regulate all air traffic and furnish instantaneous visual weather reports to airfields throughout the land. By such a system, every aircraft over the United States or approaching it could be spotted, identified and shown simultaneously on screens all the way from Pensacola to Seattle.

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