0257: "Code Talkers"

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0257: "Code Talkers"

Postby Pathway » Fri May 04, 2007 4:08 am UTC

Image

http://xkcd.com/c257.html

Alt-text: "As far as I can tell, Navajo doesn't have a common word for 'zero'. do-neh-lini means 'neutral'."

It's amusing to visualize attempting to get higher bandwidth. "Oh yeah, and get me a few million Navajo for next Tuesday. We have another subscriber!"

No wonder the Navajo are so few now. They've been timenapped!

Also, the front page says he's doing some hacking to get the comic to display properly. Whaa?
Last edited by Pathway on Fri May 04, 2007 8:05 pm UTC, edited 3 times in total.
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Postby scwizard » Fri May 04, 2007 4:09 am UTC

I don't get it :(
~= scwizard =~

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Postby Belial » Fri May 04, 2007 4:13 am UTC

I don't get it


During world war II, navajo was used as a code for military transmissions because it's ridiculously hard to break. The grammar and such just don't line up to the standard rules that one would use to "crack" a language code.
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Postby Pathway » Fri May 04, 2007 4:13 am UTC

Spoiler wrote:In WWII, the USA used speakers of a particular Native American language, the Navajo people, to secure communications. The code was never broken.


For more info: http://www.history.navy.mil/faqs/faq61-2.htm
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Postby The LuigiManiac » Fri May 04, 2007 4:13 am UTC

scwizard wrote:I don't get it :(


I didn't either, so I looked it up on Wikipedia and was a minute too late for starting the thread.

(EDIT: Beaten again to replying. Tonight is just not my night)
Last edited by The LuigiManiac on Fri May 04, 2007 4:15 am UTC, edited 1 time in total.
Spoiler:
THE CAKE IS A 3.141592653589...!

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Postby EYanyo » Fri May 04, 2007 4:13 am UTC

Hmm... I believe it's an allusion to WWII when someone (The Japanese, maybe?) used Navajo as their method for encoding and it took us (the Americans) quite a while to figure it out. I don't know much about history, so I may be making this up entirely.

Edit: I was close... not really. :oops:

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Postby Belial » Fri May 04, 2007 4:23 am UTC

Hmm... I believe it's an allusion to WWII when someone (The Japanese, maybe?) used Navajo as their method for encoding and it took us (the Americans) quite a while to figure it out.


That would be really weird if that were true, since the Japanese have a surprising lack of navajo people on hand, and we have a comparative wealth of them.

But, unfortunately for irony-hounds, it was the other way around.
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Postby OneLess » Fri May 04, 2007 5:06 am UTC

Wouldn't "nothing" be better than "neutral"? Or maybe they don't have a word for that either?

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Postby Akula » Fri May 04, 2007 5:27 am UTC

The messages were first encrypted into a very rudimentary "code word" based code, and then translated into Navajo.

For example, tanks were referred to by the Navajo word for tortoise. Machine gun used the word for wood-pecker, or something like that.

Also, as far as us having difficulty with the Japanese code... bollocks! Christ we broke their codes almost immediately. It's been remarked that our submarines knew the Japanese Navy's orders before the Japanese Navy...

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Postby antion » Fri May 04, 2007 5:35 am UTC

Most Native American languages do not have words for the concept of "zero," a fairly revolutionary idea. This is despite the fact that the Maya are recorded using zero in 36 BC or so.

In Lushootseed, the language I study (Chief Seattle's language), the word that has been adapted for use as zero is " p'áƛ'aƛ' " (the barred lambda is a voiceless lateral affricate, kind of a clicking l sound) which effectively means "to be of no value, of no importance; does not matter" or, alternatively, "trash."

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Postby Binary Dragon » Fri May 04, 2007 5:39 am UTC

In case any of you are wondering, if you assume that the 15 bits in the comic start at the beginning of a btye (the last bit of the second byte being left off) then the message is either "¿L" or "¿M", depending on what the last byte is. What this could mean, I have no idea.

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Postby Rocco » Fri May 04, 2007 6:05 am UTC

What does the alt text say? I'm on Firefox, and refuse to load up IE.

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Postby Jerf » Fri May 04, 2007 6:09 am UTC

If you want to play "what character is that", since the first byte's first bit is one, that takes it out of 7-bit ASCII. Therefore, if you insist on treating it as an ASCII (since "the" ASCII is only 7-bit), you have a number of choices, although they are pretty much all symbols.

If I'm working my Python correctly, it's not legal for the beginning of a UTF-8 string. In UTF-16, it's either Unicode Han Character '(same as 鴻) wild swan, a wild goose, vast; profound' or Unicode Han Character 'in the manner a toothless person chewing food' (U+4DA8).

(I note that UTF-16 seems to have reversed the order of the bytes from what I expect; I'm trusting my Python install on this one that it really is U+4[CD]A8 and not U+A84[CD]. Damned endianess.)

But of course, since it's encrypted according to the cartoon, it's really just arbitrary binary data, and since the message is significantly smaller than any feasible key with any reasonable encryption algorithm, most likely (though not with certainty), for any given real-world decryption algorithm (that doesn't involve some sort of constrained header or something) you can find a key that will decode that to any arbitrary two bytes. Thus, this was an excuse to link to fun Han characters, not a valuable hidden message. :)

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Postby 6453893 » Fri May 04, 2007 6:10 am UTC

Rocco wrote:What does the alt text say? I'm on Firefox, and refuse to load up IE.


Seconded.

/r/ Alt Text

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Postby The LuigiManiac » Fri May 04, 2007 6:15 am UTC

6453893 wrote:
Rocco wrote:What does the alt text say? I'm on Firefox, and refuse to load up IE.


Seconded.

/r/ Alt Text


Title: As far as I can tell, Navajo doesn't have a common word for 'zero'. do-neh-lini means 'neutral'.

I use Firefox as well, you just need to right click the image on the main page, and go to properties. The last field of the properties is the title.

EDIT: Replaced both incidences of alt text with title.

Instances, maybe?
Last edited by The LuigiManiac on Fri May 04, 2007 1:37 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.
Spoiler:
THE CAKE IS A 3.141592653589...!

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Postby SaxIndustries » Fri May 04, 2007 6:17 am UTC

Rocco wrote:What does the alt text say? I'm on Firefox, and refuse to load up IE.


"As far as I can tell, Navajo doesn't have a common word for 'zero'. do-neh-lini means 'neutral'."

I might be wrong, but I'm using Firefox in Ubuntu, and when I mouseover the image, the alt-text shows up, though it is cutoff.

Alternatively, in Firefox, do ctrl-U to view source (or view menu - view source), hit ctrl-f for find, type in "img src," then ctrl-g my way to the specific snipit.

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Postby Locus Cosecant » Fri May 04, 2007 6:32 am UTC

Yeah, the code-talkers never really made sense to me either.

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Postby Switch625 » Fri May 04, 2007 8:36 am UTC

For those using Firefox, I just ferreted out a handy extension which sets Firefox to display the full Alt-text in a popup.

It's at http://piro.sakura.ne.jp/xul/_popupalt.html.en

(Incidentally, Firefox and Opera's default behaviour regarding ALT text is correct according to the W3C standards. It is, as usual, IE being naughty by behaving differently).

Great comic by the way!

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Postby Myself » Fri May 04, 2007 8:48 am UTC

As the judge and curator of the Anything but Ethernet contest (http://www.notacon.org/events.html), I should point out that anyone using Navajo in an entry next year will get insane amounts of admiration, if not points.

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Postby OmenPigeon » Fri May 04, 2007 9:11 am UTC

Switch625 wrote:For those using Firefox, I just ferreted out a handy extension which sets Firefox to display the full Alt-text in a popup.

It's at http://piro.sakura.ne.jp/xul/_popupalt.html.en


Okay, this is kind of absurd. It's been mentioned at least three times around here, and its in the goddamn FAQ - theres a perfectly good extension to just make the alt-text not cut itself off anymore, no popups needed. I can't imagine why you would rather have a popup than not a popup, but maybe I'm just being crazy and not considering the feelings of the "I <3 As Many Firefox Windows As I Can Get My Grubby Little Paws On" demographic.
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Postby smithman89 » Fri May 04, 2007 11:10 am UTC

ah, the unbreakable Navajo code, maybe they should upgrade to hex codes...

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Postby plams » Fri May 04, 2007 11:37 am UTC

This code is unbreakable!!

I mean the message could be "the invasion starts june 6, 0300, sword beach" or "^K^W^Z_^V^Q ^^^L^V^P^Q_^L^K^^^M^K^L_^U^Q^Z_IS_OLOOS_^L^H^P^M^[_^]^Z^^^\^W" but how can we know for sure? Z is Oloos?

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It's not ALT text!

Postby Johnny Vector » Fri May 04, 2007 12:36 pm UTC

Okay everybody, it's not ALT text. ALT text is only for display as an ALTERNATIVE to the image, not in addition to it. For all I know, IE may still be doing this wrong, but Firefox correctly does not display ALT text.

However, the "secret" captions on xkcd are not in ALT attributes at all; they're in TITLE attributes, which are allowed to be shown in a popup, or other simultaneous way (iCab used to show them in the status bar). Firefox correctly displays them in a tooltip, at least on my version (2.0.0.3 Mac), but annoyingly cuts them off. I use the "Long Titles" add-on to fix that.

C'mon people, we're supposed to be nerds here.

But hey, this thread isn't about HTML, it's about code talkers. And so, a song:

Code Dance

Sandy morning, shy and crimson,
Dawn approaches, bearing light.
From our canyon, we are called out.
We must speak to win the fight.

Though our ancestors are lost to
Treaties past, our loyalty
Lifts us now across the ocean:
Coded words to keep us free.

Into the darkness.
Brave, marching on.

Chorus:
I am the poet of battle.
My tongue keeps our secrets and ways
Wrapped in a mystery, all for a victory.
29 heroes, protecting our days.

Now my brothers join the dancing
Feathered eagle's silent ride.
Not for rain, for stars above me
Red and white stripes side by side.

Though our service be forgotten
Consequence remembered still
From our message rings a bright flag
Raising tableau on the hill.

Into the future.
Brave, marching on.

Chorus

Final chorus:
Mine is the silent path,
Mine is the aftermath,
Mine is the weeping
For those who have gone.

Mine is the silent talk,
Mine is the hidden lock,
Mine is the keeping
For fifty years long.


(c) 2003 Kevin Boyce

Yeah, I'm impressed by the code talkers. Also, note subtle reference to "enigma". Ooooh!

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Postby 6453893 » Fri May 04, 2007 1:59 pm UTC

EYanyo wrote:Hmm... I believe it's an allusion to WWII when someone (The Japanese, maybe?) used Navajo as their method for encoding and it took us (the Americans) quite a while to figure it out. I don't know much about history, so I may be making this up entirely.

Edit: I was close... not really. :oops:


Yah, it was America that used Navajo. The navajos, you know, being native american. The japanese could just search their 50,000 kanji dictionaries for more obscure kanji for everyday words, kanji pretty much no western linguist/speaker of japanese/military official had ever seen before.

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Postby entropomorphic » Fri May 04, 2007 2:06 pm UTC

:) I laughed. An excellent demonstration of why running the results of one form of encryption through another does not always make your code stronger.

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Postby Ketsuban » Fri May 04, 2007 2:41 pm UTC

antion wrote:In Lushootseed, the language I study (Chief Seattle's language), the word that has been adapted for use as zero is " p'áƛ'aƛ' " (the barred lambda is a voiceless lateral affricate, kind of a clicking l sound)


Translating from linguist-sprak: it's the sound of a Welsh double-L (as in Llanfairpwll...gogogoch) with a T sound before it, like the difference between SH and CH. Difficult to produce without spraying the other conversant with saliva.

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Postby DeadCatX2 » Fri May 04, 2007 3:13 pm UTC

I knew SOMEONE would have already tried to decode the bits. I was right.

Oh, btw, comic 256's "next" link is broken.

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Postby The LuigiManiac » Fri May 04, 2007 3:16 pm UTC

DeadCatX2 wrote:I knew SOMEONE would have already tried to decode the bits. I was right.

Oh, btw, comic 256's "next" link is broken.


*Checks* So it is. I wonder if it is caused by the link to large version of the comic.
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On Navajo words

Postby tyroneslothrop » Fri May 04, 2007 3:29 pm UTC

According to the Robert Young and William Morgan The Navajo Language published in 1987 by the University of New Mexico, the Navajo word for zero is ádin (high tone on the first vowel) and the word for one is ŁÃ¡a’ii (as in counting) (the barred L is a voiceless alveolar lateral [the double ll in Welsh] or the l after p in many dialects of 'please', the ' is a glottal stop, the catch in the throat in uh-oh). These forms are also found in the Leon Wall and William Morgan Navajo-English Dictionary originally published in 1958. 'ádin has the sense of "there is nothing, none." The Navajo language is famous for its reluctance to borrow words into the language. Instead, they coin new words.

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Postby Shii » Fri May 04, 2007 3:59 pm UTC

Locus Cosecant wrote:Yeah, the code-talkers never really made sense to me either.
Apparently the idea of using Navajo which is an entire language with its own syntax and grammar, instead of an easily breakable code, just blows your mind.

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Postby frezik » Fri May 04, 2007 4:39 pm UTC

do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, a'la'ih, a'la'ih, a'la'ih, a'la'ih, a'la'ih, a'la'ih, a'la'ih, a'la'ih, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, a'la'ih, a'la'ih, a'la'ih, a'la'ih, a'la'ih, a'la'ih, a'la'ih, a'la'ih, a'la'ih, a'la'ih, a'la'ih, a'la'ih, a'la'ih, a'la'ih, a'la'ih, a'la'ih, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, a'la'ih, a'la'ih, a'la'ih, a'la'ih, a'la'ih, a'la'ih, a'la'ih, a'la'ih, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, do'neh'lini, a'la'ih, a'la'ih, a'la'ih, a'la'ih, a'la'ih, a'la'ih, a'la'ih, a'la'ih, a'la'ih, a'la'ih, a'la'ih, a'la'ih, a'la'ih, a'la'ih, a'la'ih, a'la'ih

Perl is great.
AACS, not so much.

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Postby Akula » Fri May 04, 2007 5:23 pm UTC

entropomorphic wrote::) I laughed. An excellent demonstration of why running the results of one form of encryption through another does not always make your code stronger.


Well, you could make it stronger by changing the order things are encoded in. Change the message to Navajo first, and then encrypt that text.

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Postby Akula » Fri May 04, 2007 5:26 pm UTC

On another note, I actually attended a seminar on the code talkers last semester. Really very interesting. Some funniness too.

The code word for the continent of africa was the literal navajo translation for "Darkies"

Ahhhh the 40's... even the Indians were racist

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Postby Arancaytar » Fri May 04, 2007 5:38 pm UTC

Yes, it's a perfect example for why encryption and compression operations are not commutative...

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Postby straight » Fri May 04, 2007 5:54 pm UTC

Title: As far as I can tell, Navajo doesn't have a common word for 'zero'. do-neh-lini means 'neutral'.



Surely they could just use the Navajo word for a capital O?

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Postby Belial » Fri May 04, 2007 6:00 pm UTC

Surely they could just use the Navajo word for a capital O?


Please tell me you're joking. It's so hard to tell on the internet.

If you are, that is really, really funny, and you're to be commended.
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Re: On Navajo words

Postby jc » Fri May 04, 2007 6:11 pm UTC

tyroneslothrop wrote:According to the Robert Young and William Morgan The Navajo Language published in 1987 by the University of New Mexico, the Navajo word for zero is ádin (high tone on the first vowel) and the word for one is ŁÃ¡a’ii (as in counting)... The Navajo language is famous for its reluctance to borrow words into the language. Instead, they coin new words.


Most languages have added a word for zero only recently, and often have more than one word for the concept of nothingness. This includes English, where "zero" is a 17th-C word (according to the OED), borrowed from Arabic via Spanish. Another English word is "cipher", from the same Arabic word but with less garbled mispronunciation. We also routinely say "oh" for zero, based on the fact that the digit "0" looks a lot like the letter "O" in most fonts. So we have at least three words for zero. And, of course, most of us here would recognize NUL as a name of the zeroth ASCII/ANSI/Unicode character.

If you ask amazon.com about "code talkers", you'll find a whole flock of books on the topic, some written by the guys that did the talking. I've read a couple of them. One point the writers have made is that when the US military started the code-talker project, a problem they had was that most Navajo technical terms were borrowings from Spanish or English, and those words would be a giveaway to many listeners. So they did the obvious thing: They thought up a list of metaphorical words. Someone mentioned "turtle" for "tank". They had a long list like this. They also used slangy Navajo, with lots of phrases that wouldn't mean much to someone raised off the reservation. The result was a lot like the stereotype of poetic native-American speech. It was quite successful as an encryption scheme.

I'll bet that this cartoon is passing around the Navajo reservation, getting a lot of chuckles from the small geek population there, and puzzled looks from everyone else.

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Asked a Speaker

Postby Justinlrb » Fri May 04, 2007 6:12 pm UTC

I asked.
First I got Ndigah. I was told that that means no.
Then I got ldin. I was told that this means empty or none.
At last I got Ahden.

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Postby tyroneslothrop » Fri May 04, 2007 6:48 pm UTC

Navajo really does not borrow lexical items from other languages in any significant number (there are a few, but not many and no where near as many as there are in English). Take, for example, the Navajo word for "car" or "automobile": chidí. This is an ideophone (or onomatopoeia) based on the sound that early automobiles made (there was also a form chuggi that fell out of use). The curious thing is that this form has spread (or become productive): chidí naat'a'í ‘the chidí that flies about’ and chidíłtsooí (chidiltsxoo’i) ‘school bus, the yellow chidí’. Though in some dialects of Navajo there is also beesh naat'a'í 'the metal that flies about.' Robert Young, among others, has written about this lexical elaboration principle in Navajo. (The linguistics here is that the above productive examples are a noun + verb + nominalizing enclitic; most nouns in Navajo are actually nominalized verbs.) The ability to coin new words is a point of pride among many Navajos. Navajos even rename towns that have English names into Navajo Kin ŁÃ¡ní ‘Many Houses’ for Flagstaff, AZ.

The lack of borrowing into Navajo appears to be a pan-Athabaskan feature (the language family that Navajo belongs to). That is most Athabaskan languages also do not borrow lexical items into their languages. Edward Sapir, Harry Hoijer, Mary Haas, and others all made these points in the 1920s and 1930s and they continue to hold true today, though the attendant ideological valorization of said practice has increased.

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Postby Mike Graham » Fri May 04, 2007 6:53 pm UTC

It was the Americans who used Navajo code talkers in WWII. This isn't because of the complexity of the grammar, I don't think, as much as because virtually everyone with knowledge of the language were in the U.S., making translation quite difficult. The messages themselves were encoded, too, but to get to the formulaic code you had to get through a more complex code (a language) before you could crack it.


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