Tag Archives: algorithm

Art And Algorithms And Code And Cash

# 472-byte qrpff, Keith Winstein and Marc Horowitz <sipb-iap-dvd@mit.edu>
# MPEG 2 PS VOB file -> descrambled output on stdout.
# usage: perl -I <k1>:<k2>:<k3>:<k4>:<k5> qrpff
# where k1..k5 are the title key bytes in least to most-significant order

b=map{ord qB8,unqb8,qT,_^$a[--D]}@INC;s/...$/1$&/;Q=unqV,qb25,_;H=73;O=$b[4]<<9

You know that hacking has gone mainstream when the WSJ features it on the from page. Further, you know it must be passé when the WSJ claims that the art world is now purveying chunks of code as, well, art. You have to love this country for its entrepreneurial capitalist acumen!

So, if you are an enterprising (ex-)coder and have some cool Fortran, C++, or better yet, Assembler, lying around, dust off the diskette (or floppy, or better, yet, a punch card) and make haste to your nearest art gallery. You could become the first Picasso of programming — onward to the Gagosian! My story began with PL/1, IMS and then C, so my code may only be worthy of the artistic C-list.

From WSJ:

In March, Daniel Benitez, a cinema executive in Miami, paid $2,500 for a necktie. It wasn’t just any strip of designer neckwear. Imprinted on the blue silk were six lines of computer code that once brought the motion picture industry to its knees.

To the unschooled eye, the algorithm script on the tie, known formally as “qrpff,” looks like a lengthy typographical error.

But to Mr. Benitez and other computer cognoscenti, the algorithm it encodes is an artifact of rare beauty that embodies a kind of performance art. He framed it.

The algorithm sets out a procedure for what copyright holders once deemed a criminal act: picking the software lock on the digital scrambling system that Hollywood uses to protect its DVDs. At the turn of the century, hackers encoded it in many ways and distributed them freely—as programs, lines of poetry, lyrics in a rock song, and a square dance routine. They printed it on T-shirts and ties, like the item Mr. Benitez purchased. They proclaimed it free speech. No matter how many times the entertainment industry sued, their lawyers found the algorithm as hard to eradicate as kudzu.

Now it is exhibit A in the art world’s newest collecting trend.

Dealers in digital art are amassing algorithms, the computerized formulas that automate processes from stock-market sales to social networks.

In March, the online art brokerage Artsy and a digital code gallery called Ruse Laboratories held the world’s first algorithm art auction in New York. The Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, where the auction was held as a fundraiser, is assembling a collection of computer code. In April, the Museum of Modern Art convened a gathering of computer experts and digital artists to discuss algorithms and design.

It is a small step for technology but a leap, perhaps, for the art world. “It is a whole new dimension we are trying to grapple with,” said curatorial director Cara McCarty at the Cooper Hewitt museum. “The art term I keep hearing is code.”

Read the entire article here.

Code snippet: Qrpff. A Perl script for decoding DVD content scrambling.

Computer Generated Reality


Computer games have come a very long way since the pioneering days of Pong and Pacman. Games are now so realistic that many are indistinguishable from the real-world characters and scenarios they emulate. It is a testament to the skill and ingenuity of hardware and software engineers and the creativity of developers who bring all the diverse underlying elements of a game together. Now, however, they have a match in the form of computer system that is able to generate richly  imagined and rendered world for use in the games themselves. It’s all done through algorithms.

From Technology Review:

Read the entire story here.

Video: No Man’s Sky. Courtesy of Hello Games.



Father of Distributed Computing

Leslie_LamportDistributed computing is a foundational element for most modern day computing. It paved the way for processing to be shared across multiple computers and, nowadays, within the cloud. Most technology companies, including IBM, Google, Amazon, and Facebook, use distributed computing to provide highly scalable and reliable computing power for their systems and services. Yet, Bill Gates did not invent distributed computing, nor did Steve Jobs. In fact, it was pioneered in the mid-1970s by an unsung hero of computer science, Leslie Lamport. Know aged 73 Leslie Lamport was recognized with this year’s Turing Award.

From Technology Review:

This year’s winner of the Turing Award—often referred to as the Nobel Prize of computing—was announced today as Leslie Lamport, a computer scientist whose research made possible the development of the large, networked computer systems that power, among other things, today’s cloud and Web services. The Association for Computing Machinery grants the award annually, with an associated prize of $250,000.

Lamport, now 73 and a researcher with Microsoft, was recognized for a series of major breakthroughs that began in the 1970s. He devised algorithms that make it possible for software to function reliably even if it is running on a collection of independent computers or components that suffer from delays in communication or sometimes fail altogether.

That work, within a field now known as distributed computing, remains crucial to the sprawling data centers used by Internet giants, and is also involved in coördinating the multiple cores of modern processors in computers and mobile devices. Lamport talked to MIT Technology Review’s Tom Simonite about why his ideas have lasted.

Why is distributed computing important?

Distribution is not something that you just do, saying “Let’s distribute things.” The question is ‘How do you get it to behave coherently?’”

My Byzantine Generals work [on making software fault-tolerant, in 1980] came about because I went to SRI and had a contract to build a reliable prototype computer for flying airplanes for NASA. That used multiple computers that could fail, and so there you have a distributed system. Today there are computers in Palo Alto and Beijing and other places, and we want to use them together, so we build distributed systems. Computers with multiple processors inside are also distributed systems.

We no longer use computers like those you worked with in the 1970s and ’80s. Why have your distributed-computing algorithms survived?

Some areas have had enormous changes, but the aspect of things I was looking at, the fundamental notions of synchronization, are the same.

Running multiple processes on a single computer is very different from a set of different computers talking over a relatively slow network, for example. [But] when you’re trying to reason mathematically about their correctness, there’s no fundamental difference between the two systems.

I [developed] Paxos [in 1989] because people at DEC [Digital Equipment Corporation] were building a distributed file system. The Paxos algorithm is very widely used now. Look inside of Bing or Google or Amazon—where they’ve got rooms full of computers, they’ll probably be running an instance of Paxos.

More recently, you have worked on ways to improve how software is built. What’s wrong with how it’s done now?

People seem to equate programming with coding, and that’s a problem. Before you code, you should understand what you’re doing. If you don’t write down what you’re doing, you don’t know whether you understand it, and you probably don’t if the first thing you write down is code. If you’re trying to build a bridge or house without a blueprint—what we call a specification—it’s not going to be very pretty or reliable. That’s how most code is written. Every time you’ve cursed your computer, you’re cursing someone who wrote a program without thinking about it in advance.

There’s something about the culture of software that has impeded the use of specification. We have a wonderful way of describing things precisely that’s been developed over the last couple of millennia, called mathematics. I think that’s what we should be using as a way of thinking about what we build.

Read the entire story here.

Image: Leslie Lamport, 2005. Courtesy of Wikipedia.