A Practical Definition of Intelligence – as Measured by IQ

As I type this, I’m finishing up the first ninety or so pages of what would appear to be the most controversial social science book of all time. More on that book and it’s 20th anniversary later – for now I want to go over a topic of the book that sort of bugs me every time I reread it.

 

I’ve read a number of attempts at giving a workable definition for what is meant by the phrase “intelligence.” But as with attempts that people make at defining government, or contrasting it with the market economy, I just can’t seem to find anything free enough of semantic drawbacks to fully endorse. Here’s a sample of what’s out there:

 

“A very general mental capability that, among other things, involves the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly and learn from experience. It is not merely book learning, a narrow academic skill, or test-taking smarts. Rather, it reflects a broader and deeper capability for comprehending our surroundings—”catching on,” “making sense” of things, or “figuring out” what to do.” - from “Mainstream Science on Intelligence

 

“The aggregate or global capacity of the individual to act purposefully, to think rationally, and to deal effectively with his environment.” -David Wechsler

 

“The ability to deal with cognitive complexity.” -Linda Gottfredson

 

“Goal-directed adaptive behavior.” -Sternberg & Salter

 

When discussions about intelligence or IQ come up, one of the most frequent charges made against either concept is the idea that you can’t measure what you can’t define. That’s actually not a bad formal argument at all, the remaining implied question is whether or not a workable definition of intelligence actually exists. Is intelligence (as well as IQ) really just a subjectively-imposed concept like beauty or emotion? Can we dismiss it as just another “social construct?”

 

For something that has such a tremendous amount of predictive power, the answer is definitely no. If IQ is “socially constructed” then so is time, temperature, weight, volume, or velocity by the same standard. Especially when we’re talking about something that is established to have a very real genetic property that can be measured in a lab environment. Still, with everything from Howard Gardner’s “multiple intelligences” to Richard Sternberg’s “triarchic theory” of intelligence, all the way to “Spearman’s g-factor,” it’s hard not to get confused about what’s being debated.

 

So without further ado, here’s how I would suggest defining intelligence – practically speaking – in a way that can both be measured objectively and also have predictive power in everyday societal contexts:

 

“Intelligence is the ability to comprehend novel circumstances to achieve objective mental goals. To have higher intelligence is to be able to work quicker with a greater variety or volume of information to finish mental tasks that have less room for error.”

 

Sounds pretty straightforward, but elaborating on the three terms I underlined helps to clarify things a bit:

 

Ability can be defined by one or more of the following: the volume, variety, or velocity at which you can operate. More mental loading at once, different types of mental tasks (math, verbal, and spatial for instance), as well as how quickly you can solve problems are all relevant examples of ability that can be quantified. This picture below should give an idea of what volume of information looks like in the context of non-verbal intelligence. Clearly the problem on the right has a LOT more cognitive loading, and this has been used as part of a challenge for English students several years ago.

 

English vs Chinese Math Diagnostic

Apparently China lives up to the stereotype when it comes to non-verbal ability in the form of math and spatial tasks.

 

Novel Circumstances/Informationwould be anything you have to apply mental problem-solving skills to work with rather than rely on mere familiarity from past experience. Trivia questions aren’t in this category; those require little mental effort and instead depend on already being exposed to the correct answer at some previous point. On the other hand, suppose you had to solve a Raven’s Progressive Matrices problem like this one:

 

Raven's Progressive Matrices Sample - small

This is an easy sample with only a few consecutive variables to sort through.

 

Unless you’ve already seen this exact problem on Google Images somewhere (as I obviously have), you’re ability to pick the missing piece is entirely contingent on how well you can sort out three variables: the pattern of background lines from the top to middle to bottom rows, whether they are straight/diagonal/curved, and finally the left/right pattern of the bold shapes. If you’ve already memorized the answer to this exact problem (after you’ve correctly solved it of course) then this problem ceases to be a novel set of circumstances. The key with IQ tests is to have a high enough volume, variety, and complexity of problems so that they require as much mental loading as possible.

 

Objective Mental Goals” are goals that are intrinsic to the task at hand and not something you interpret or impose. An example of the latter would be judging whether or not a painting was a decent piece of art or not – clearly it’s open to interpretation. However, a simple math problem like 2 + 2 has only one correct answer. It’s an objective task where the answer stems from the problem itself rather than only exist as something you subjectively impose. A problem can be objective even if it has more than one correct answer; for example: “Give two numbers which when multiplied equal 64.” Possible answers (using whole numbers) can include 8 x 8, 16 x 4, 32 x 2, and 64 x 1. Again, what determines if an answer is correct or not must stem from the problem itself and not be a matter of personal taste. Moreover, we’re talking about tasks that are mental in nature and don’t involve the need for excess physical performance. That’s not to say that intelligence isn’t used to achieve physical tasks, rather that subject of IQ tests is mental ability.

 

 

 

So now comes the big question: Do IQ tests actually have any kind of predictive validity that make scores on such tests useful information? Apparently the answer is a resounding yes. Nearly a century of data indicates that properly administered tests do tell use something of value for matters of employment. I could go on about education as well, but I suspect most readers agree that much of schooling these days has limited overlap with the real world of work. If anything, consider how effective the Armed Forces Qualification Test has been at helping the military pick better recruits, and what happened when they tried to recruit people who scored poorly on the test.

 

With all this in mind, let’s consider why IQ tests matter so much and why they continue to become more important. As the prevalence of technology becomes more unavoidable, we are increasingly living in an information-driven economy. Successful behavior is therefore becoming less open to interpretation now that so much of what we rely on are mathematical/mechanical things that have less room for error, and are far more sophisticated than mere agriculture.

 

Although an entire post could be devoted to the issue of whether or not IQ tests are “culturally biased” (go ahead, define culture for me), the proper response to that assertion is really more simple than that: Demonstrate that certain problem types on widely-used tests are “cultural” in nature (whatever that means) and create a test with better predictive validity.

 

IQ tests continue to matter more with each passing day now that the volume/variety/velocity of novel information that must be sorted to achieve objective mental goals is on the rise.

 

It doesn’t take a genius to figure that out, but it does take a humanities major to deny it altogether.

 

New Post Series on Intelligence & the IQ Controversy

I’ve recently begun reading some material related to topic of intelligence as a human trait: it’s definition, it’s relevance, and the 20th anniversary of a book that set off a firestorm about the topic as a whole. In particular, I want to critique the perspective expressed in this paragraph which basically sums up conventional wisdom against the idea that IQ is anything tangibly important:

 

“Intelligence is a bankrupt concept. Whatever it might mean – and nobody really knows even how to define it – intelligence is so ephemeral that no one can measure it accurately. IQ tests are, of course, culturally biased, and so are all the other “aptitude” tests, such as the SAT. To the extent that tests such as IQ and SAT measure anything, it certainly is not an innate “intelligence.” IQ scores are not constant; they often change significantly over an individual’s life span. The scores of entire populations can be expected to change over time – look at the Jews, who early in the twentieth century scored below average on IQ scores and now score well above the average. Furthermore, the tests are nearly useless as tools, as confirmed by the well-documented fact that such tests do not predict anything except success in school. Earnings, occupation, productivity – all the important measures of success – are unrelated to the test scores. All that tests really accomplish is to label youngsters, stigmatizing the ones who do not do well and creating a self-fulfilling prophecy that injures the socioeconomically disadvantaged in general and blacks in particular.”

 

The bold emphasis in that paragraph is mine. I highlighted those particular segments because I intend to do a few blog posts explaining why those assertions are wrong. This week and next week I will do posts on defining intelligence, the validity of IQ as well as why it’s not “culturally biased” (whatever that means), and finally do a post on a book in particular that created quite the firestorm two decades ago simply by being flat-out misrepresented.

 

During the past couple years, I’ve become convinced that the idea that we can shape any human being we want into whatever vision we wish to impose on them is pretty inhumane at the least. Parents, educators, society at large, even disadvantaged individuals themselves have been blamed for shortcomings that nobody really has much control over at this point.

 

Consider these posts a series on social science – as if empirical evidence mattered.

 

What I Think of Liberty.me So Far

Not long ago, an Indiegogo campaign to raise money for a new Libertarian social network began. Spearheaded by one of the biggest names in the movement for radically Libertarian thought (Jeffrey Tucker), it definitely looked like something that had promise.

 

 

 

 

That turned out to be an understatement! A couple months ago I became a member on that site when I forked out just over $100 for an annual membership. What motivated me to want to use the site was probably no different than the motives everyone else has on the site. Having an alternative to that holocaust on privacy known as Facebook sure is nice. Having a feed of user-generated articles is great too, in addition to the podcasts and “karma” feature that rewards people who produce great content. Then there’s the ability to create groups centered around specific topics, as well as have chat rooms that are functionally similar to Facebook’s instant messenger feature – but with privacy in mind of course. Top it off with the free massive open online courses they offer from time to time by the biggest names in the liberty movement (David D. Friedman recently did a course!), as well as numerous how-to guides that members are free to download, and what you end up with is a pretty respectable site that is more than worth the money.

 

In terms of the sorts of how-to guides they have, you can find everything from firearms advice, privacy information, a guide on peer-to-peer banking as well as one on how to invest in precious metals.  As if anything couldn’t be more timely, Jeffrey Tucker just did a post on his section of the site about how bad Facebook has gotten, and why Liberty.me is already a good alternative. Oh yeah, did I mention that anyone who signs up as a member get’s their own virtual site on Liberty.me? I’m already contemplating on how to clean up my blog and mirror all the worthwhile old posts onto my second site. From what I can tell this site will make it easy to distribute a PDF version of the book I’ve had in the works for nearly half a decade. Physical copies can easily be done via Createspace.

 

The crucial question with anything you’re considering giving money in return for is if it’s more worthwhile than all the other things you could do with it under those circumstances. Does it make sense to ever buy it? Are there other things I need the money for to a greater degree? Do I need to buy it now or later? Whether or not Liberty.me passes that criteria for you depends on how serious you are about your political leanings. The higher up you find yourself on the Nolan Chart the more likely the site will turn out to be a payoff. It’s a great haven for deep thinkers who are willing to dive into the edgier elements of activism as well. Having a kind of internet foxhole to put ideas together and organize is a necessity.

 

For me, Liberty.me was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. In addition to other sites, such as Libertarian Papers, Libtery.me looks like something I need to get into the routine of using as often as I use Twitter. And perhaps it’s about time I actually do something with my YouTube account that doesn’t involve bitchfighting with people; maybe some playlists of good content are in order?

 

One last note: Use the discount code “STATEEXEMPT” when you sign up. ;-)

 

Ghost Gunner: Proof Defense Distributed is Alive and Well

Here comes a development that warrants that this blog end it’s hiatus. I blogged a year ago on how the State Department has halted CAD file release for “dangerous” objects by Defense Distributed. Looks like that hasn’t stopped them from keeping busy:

 

 

https://ghostgunner.net/

 

I can’t think of a single person (Cody Wilson) or organization (Defense Distributed) that has demonstrated how much market innovation alone can have a bigger impact on current affairs than raw electoral politics alone. Check the official site out linked below the video for the list of innovations this device has, including a new file format that stores information about where to place external support jigs. That alone is a worthy feat, but a machine costing under $1,500 that has the capabilities of bulkier CNC machines costing at least double that speaks for itself. All hardware and source code will be open for people to borrow from or contribute to, meaning this is just the beginning for this sort of device.

 

From what I’ve read so far, this should be capable of machining at least one new AR-15 lower receiver per hour from 80% lowers. Someone could loan this out to a friend, or “sell it forward” so as many people can legally produce lowers as possible. Of course, there’s many more uses for this unit that are unrelated to firearms. I’m thinking “pirating” car parts using a 3D scanner such as this one could be another potential use for what Ghost Gunner could help manufacture:

 

 

Now the inevitable question arises: Do prohibitionists really think committed killers will give an exhausted shit about any law saying they must put a string of numbers on what they make in the name of registration? Such a law was vetoed in California of all places last Tuesday by Jerry Brown. This is the infamous “Ghost Gun” bill everyone was satirizing not too long ago.

 

 

The reason the governor vetoed the bill is so shockingly reasonable for any politician, let alone one from California of all places:

 

To the Members of the California State Senate:

 

I am returning Senate Bill 808 without my signature.

 

SB 808 would require individuals who build guns at home to first obtain a serial number and register the weapon with the Department of Justice.

 

I appreciate the author’s concerns about gun violence, but I can’t see how adding a serial number to a homemade gun would significantly advance public safety.

 

Sincerely,

 

Edmund G. Brown Jr.

 

 

No kidding! The best part of how tools like the Ghost Gunner CNC machine are already changing the conversation? Paternalistic types are now siding with the gun industry in an effort to curb their use. Of course they don’t even realize that’s what they’re doing, but irony of that makes me giddy as hell. See for yourself: https://twitter.com/StateExempt/status/519233597749084160

 

Cody Wilson Responds to Twitter Critic on Ghost Gunner

Very smirk-inducing, and rightfully so.

 

If you aren’t out to ban every firearm from civilian ownership, then you have nothing to fear.

And remember guys: they’re called “Undocumented” firearms. :-) 

 

Coming Soon – A List of Proposed Posts [August 2014 Edition]

The title of this post is self-explanatory, so without further ado here’s the list itself:

 

-My Collected Posts on Crypto-Anarchy

-Rational Ignorance: An Economic Analysis of Time Management

-I Joined Liberty.me and You Should Too!

-Belle Knox, College Costs, and the Signalling Theory of Education

-The Ten Universal Rules of Logic

-Burden of Proof: How You Draw the Line

-Antifragility: A Primer

-Writing That is Both Analytical and Antifragile

-Simple Math Showing that Taxing the Rich Gets Us Nowhere

-Simple Math Showing Background Checks Can be Eliminated – Seriously

-Three Reasons We Can and MUST End Anti-Discrimination Laws

-Demonstrating how “Privilege” is an Intellectual Black Hole

-Five Arguments Feminists Need to Ditch to Remain Credible

-Ten Ways Women Can Increase Pay NOW Without Government

-Five Arguments Anti-Racism Activists Must Ditch to be Credible

-Forget Disease: Single-Parenthood is the Biggest Epidemic in America

-Stop Bashing Christian Conservatives as “Anti-Science.” No really.

-News Flash: Anti-Science Liberalism Actually KILLS People

-Scrap the Precautionary Principle NOW

-The Bell Curve’s 20th Anniversary and it’s Significance

-Human Biodiversity is the Nuclear Physics of Biology and Social Science

-Why Social Justice Needs “The Bell Curve” and HBD

-Yes IQ Matters a WHOLE Lot More Than Socioeconomic Status

-Why Critical Studies Can (and Should) be Scrapped from Colleges

-How to Define Government and the Free Market

-Five Reasons Free Markets Beat Government at  [Five-part series]

-Price Controls Either Cause Shortages, or Aren’t Needed

-Ripple Effect: How Bad Price Controls Can Be

-The Simple Process That Makes Speculators a GOOD Thing

-Why Monopolies are Unlikely in the Absence of Government Intervention

-Universal Case Against Government Regulation I: Costs

-Universal Case Against Government Regulation II: Benefits

-Regulatory Capture is Inevitable – Here’s Some Examples

-Public Choice Theory: An Introduction

-Sorry Democrats, Demographic Determinism is Largely a Myth

-Buying Unowned Property: Aboriginal Reimbursement Explained

-The Many Camps Within Libertarianism – and Where I Stand

-Years Later and No Shred of Evidence Nozick Abandoned Libertarianism

-An Open Challenge to Naomi Klein Fans Who Buy Her Attacks on Milton Friedman

-How Much Would a Free Market Legal System Cost?

-Under Market Anarchy, Would the Poor Lack Protection and Legal Representation?

 

So there we go. These look like they’ll be the next forty or so posts that will appear on here. I pledge to do about 3-5 posts per week if not more. Largely this is possible because most of what I’ll write will be draft-ish material for State Exempt itself. Needless to say I will probably add some stuff to the list from time to time.

 

Sit tight, stock up on drinks, and enjoy what will soon appear!

 

Tentative Outline for Chapter Sections of “State Exempt”

I was supposed to finish a post series on Cryptography-related matters a while ago, and do a whole variety of other posts on different topics. But I pretty much began taking a bit of a break from the internet.

 

With Twitter eating up almost as much time as YouTube did a few years back, I decided to scale that back a bit and put that saved time towards working on other things. Besides taking the time to form new relationships with people in my area that I have a lot more in common with than I did several years ago, I finally got around to finishing this:

 

State Exempt Chapter Section Outline

 

Being the procrastinator that I am, I finally felt compelled to go through my written notes and make an outline that is one step closer to actual draft material. With the outline above, I now have a better idea of what I want to cover and where. From here I just need to reorganize my existing notes to fit that section outline and start reading some key books from a selected bibliography to better inform how I cover various topics.

 

When it comes to projects or tasks I do in life, I don’t plan on focusing on anything I don’t have any control over. And I sure as hell don’t plan on doing anything that won’t matter after I exit the picture altogether. One source of inspiration that really catalyzed my desire to finish the project this site was set up for is the work Cody Wilson and the rest of Defense Distributed have managed to do. At this point Cody could drop dead and his impact will still matter for decades to come.

 

 

I suppose that’s what every activist, artist, intellectual, or writer hopes to do: immortalize themselves through their own work. If I can do just half of what the likes of David Friedman or Murray Rothbard did when their key works came out, then that’s more than enough for me.

The 100th Anniversary of the Federal Reserve Act – Why It Was Misguided

December 23rd, 1913 – a day that will live in infamy. I thought I would meander from my post series on crypto matters to highlight something equally important, if not orders of magnitude more significant in the grand scheme of history.

 

Exactly one century ago, the Federal Reserve Act of 1913 was signed into law. The result was the establishment of America’s longest running central bank – which is the sole issuer of whatever currency a given government wants to have it’s taxes paid in. Since money is half the equation in the vast majority of economic exchanges, this basically put a largely unaccountable institution in the position of manipulating a large portion of the American economy.

 

In case you’re wondering what this means in practice, take a look at the following video:

 

 

Every time new money is printed (almost out of thin air), the money causes the prices of various goods and services to rise as it begins to circulate throughout the economy. The “winners” in this situation are the first people to get the freshly printed cash, because prices don’t rise until after they have spent it. These rising prices are a natural result of supply and demand – more money in circulation chasing the same amount of goods means each dollar loses purchasing power.

 

Unfortunately these rising prices do come at a cost, as the video above explains. The people who lose out every time the Federal Reserve increases the money supply are the people who receive the new money last – which almost always means entry-level workers who are at the bottom of the new money supply chain. The prices of almost every major good and service has already risen long before the amount of spending money they have at their disposal rises as well.

 

To put it bluntly, increasing the supply of fiat currency in any national economy operates like a regressive tax. This tax is basically inflation that affects the poorest people in any given situation who happen to be the last ones to have their wages adjust for the new money in circulation. It gets even worse for those who don’t have any salary whatsoever; the loose change that comes their way only looses more purchasing power due to the rising prices of everything else.

 

 

 

We can easily break this destructive process down into just five steps:

 

1. Banks and the Fed increase the money supply. Those most politically-connected are first to receive new cash.

 

2. These well-connected people/groups spend this money. With more available, they have increased buying power.

 

3. As this money circulates, prices for everything rises to adjust for the increase in total dollars in the economy.

 

4. The savings and purchasing power of those at the bottom is eroded since each dollar loses purchasing power.

 

5. Consequently, the gap between the politically-connected rich and the disenfranchised poor grows with steps 1-4.

 

 

 

The process by which the Federal Reserve and the banking system we currently have actually increases the money supply is something that could occupy an entire post altogether. For now I just want to spend time focusing on the effects this process has. In a couple future posts, I will continue explaining case against central banking and what needs to be changed.

 

 

How Asymmetric (Public Key) Encryption is Possible, and Why It Matters

This post will serve as a basic introduction to something everyone who cares about privacy or information security ought to be familiar with. At less than a thousand words, it will probably only take you fifteen minutes or so to read and understand.

 

Public key encryption has been around for decades and has served as an indispensable solution to one of the biggest problems in the secure transfer of information over the web. With the recent revelations over NSA Spying and the establishment of Bitcoin as a somewhat mainstream form of currency, I find myself in more conversations about this feature of information security lately than ever before. How does it differ from just plain old symmetric encryption and why are the two named as such? Last but not least, what major problem does public key encryption solve and how does it achieve this?

 

In my previous post on low-tech cryptanalysis, I explained how pen and paper ciphers (like substituting each letter of the alphabet with something else) are easy to break but also suffer from a critical flaw that makes them very insecure to use over the web. For someone to use any “secret code” to send messages to someone else, you must first send them the cipher for that code. If you are doing this over the internet, there’s a pretty good chance that cipher will be intercepted and used to read the messages encoded with it. Thus a more robust solution is needed that is both secure when properly implemented and is also safe to implement over a public network.

 

This is where public key encryption comes in. Public key encryption is often known as asymmetric key encryption because it depends on the use of two “keys” that serve entirely different purposes. One key is used to encrypt messages that are sent to a given recipient, while another is used to decrypt such messages. These are respectively known as the public and private key. When using public key encryption to communicate, you begin by generating a set of these keys. The public key is shared with everyone who may potentially want to send you a message.

 

 

This video above gets the basic point right, however I should note that the correct term for the kind of math functions that asymmetric encryption uses is mathematical trap, not “one-way function.” This distinction is critical because the latter term refers to a math function that isn’t just improbable to reverse, but impossible to undo.

 

So now we know asymmetric encryption takes advantage of math problems that can easily be done in one direction, but require too much computing power to reverse. Why is this important, or useful to begin with? Simply put, encryption that operates this way can be used to communicate with people over public networks without having to actually meet in person to exchange a cipher.

 

As an example, consider simple multiplication and division problems. Obviously the kind of math used in public key encryption schemes is exponentially more sophisticated that the simple examples I will show here, but the underlying concept remains the same. Take a moment to ponder the following math problems, and decide which one is easier to do:

 

1. What is the answer to the following: 10 x 100

2. Which numbers were originally multiplied together to get this result: 1,000

 

At face value, you likely would be tempted to answer the second question by saying “ten times a hundred.” But consider just how many ways there are of getting this outcome using positive integers alone: 1 x 1000, 2 x 500, 4 x 250, 5 x 200, 10 x 100, 20 x 50, 25 x 40, 1000 x 1, 500 x 2, 250 x 4, 200 x 5, 100 x 10, 50 x 20, 40 x 25, and so on. If we broke it down into decimals, the number of possibilities would be even higher. Guessing every possible answer to find the right pair is impractical. With the kinds of mathematical functions that public key encryption actually uses, it becomes nearly impossible with today’s computer hardware.

 

Multiplying two numbers has only one answer. Dividing a digit on the other hand is another story altogether, the number of ways of doing so makes it unlikely that you can use a computer to search through all the possibilities and find the pair that was actually used for the encrypted result – hence the term “mathematical trap.”

 

Now comes the final question: How does public key encryption put this feature of math functions to use?

 

Public key encryption works by having a user generate a pair of keys, one public and one private key. The public key is sent out to anyone who might want to sent them a message, while the private key – as the name suggests – is kept hidden. Remember the first of the two problems listed above that involved the simple task of multiplying two numbers together? This loosely resembles how a public key operates.

 

When someone wants to send a message to you, they will take your public key and use it to scramble the message they wish to send to you. This requires very little computational power (recall how easy multiplying two numbers was). But if someone wants to decrypt that same message, they would almost never succeed at doing so because of all computational resources required to break it. Remember the second problem listed above and how there were so many possibilities to sort through? The only way to reverse this successfully is if you have the private key, which makes it possibly to reverse the message encryption without having to sort through endless possibilities.

 

Naturally of course, only you have the private key in question. So the end result is that you can share a public key that can only encrypt messages (multiply two numbers) but cannot be used to reverse the result. That way you can send out a key which people in turn can use to send messages to you that any third party would fail to decipher. This makes asymmetric encryption perfect for communicating over the internet with people you never meet in person. 

 

In my next post, I will go into greater detail on RSA schemes, elliptic curve cryptography, and quantum cryptography.

 

Cryptography 101: Low-Tech Cryptanalysis Explained

Well, with Bitcoin going mainstream, public resentment against the NSA at an all-time high, and people not having a clue what Cody Wilson of Defense Distributed means by labeling himself a Crypto Anarchist, it looks like a few posts on cryptography and Crypto Anarchy are in order.  There will probably be five posts; this one will be an intro to cryptanalysis, the next will explain how public key encryption works, after that I will do another one on elliptic curve and quantum cryptography schemes. From there a post will be devoted to a primer on Crypto Anarchy and the last post will be a categorical list of software tools for any beginning Cypherpunk.

 

Now for some beginning cryptanalysis. To put it bluntly, this post will be an introduction to code breaking that will look at some very simple means of encoding and sending “secret” messages by hand. As it turns out these are pretty trivial to break, but their biggest drawback becomes apparent if you try to use such low-tech methods over the world wide web.

 

Let’s start with the traditional substitution cipher. There’s nothing very sophisticated about it; you simply take a letter of the alphabet and replace it with something else. This could be another letter, a symbol you made up, or what have you. The most famous yet very simple example is the Caesar Cipher. Each letter of the alphabet is replaced by a letter three spaces to the left of it; the letter D is written as A, E is written as B, and so forth. Here’s what the cipher looks like as well as how it “encodes” a message:

 

How a typical substitution cipher works.

How typical substitution ciphers work. A letter is replaced with something else.

 

Simple enough right? Now let’s look at another method called a transposition cipher. Rather than replacing a letter of the alphabet with something else, you simply change where the letters are actually located on the message sheet itself. Here’s a simple example:

 

One of many transposition ciphers. Location is what matters.

One of many transposition ciphers. Location is what matters.

 

So now we know the two main low-tech methods for encoding messages, but breaking them is pretty simple to do.

 

The means of breaking these two general approaches to making “secret codes” varies greatly. For substitution ciphers the longer the message is (or the more material you can intercept over time), the easier it becomes to decipher the meaning of the text. While a number of various techniques can be applied for doing so, they all usually stem from just two strategies: frequency analysis and letter pairs.

 

Frequency analysis takes advantage of the fact that each letter of the alphabet will appear at different rates; the letter “E” for example is the most commonly used letter of the alphabet and chances are the most common letters/symbols in a message will be vowels. This is why it cost money to suggest a vowel on “Wheel of Fortune” – filling in a vowel makes it much easier to guess the puzzle. Letter pairs of course tend to be two vowels as well. Plugging those in can help you decipher a message with some trial and error. The more material you have to work with (longer messages, more messages, or both) the more successful the techniques will be.

 

Transposition ciphers on the other hand are a different story. They are almost always easier to break if the message is very short. In the case of the rail fence example pictured above, it only seems easy because the visible message (25 letters) isn’t concealed by bogus letters that hide how the letters in the message (25 total) have been transposed. The obvious way to try break the cipher would be to take a given letter, and see if a pattern can be found with other corresponding letters that eventually form a word. More complicated means exist for breaking various transposition ciphers, but all that’s beside the point of this post.

 

These two approaches to encoding messages have their own distinct pros and cons. What they both have in common however is that they simply lack the level of security needed to encrypt information sent over the internet. This is because any recipient of an encoding message must have the cipher needed to decode it, and sending it over the internet where a malicious third party could intercept it defeats the whole purpose of using the cipher in the first place.

 

What we need is something that allows someone to send messages to you that are encoded that you can decrypt, but does not require you to send the necessary key for decryption over any information channel an adversary might be listening into. My next post will explain how asymmetric encryption – better known as public key cryptography – solves this dilemma.

 

November 4th, 2013 – Sixth Anniversary of Going Market Anarchist

Update: Well, okay to be fair technically I’ve only been “Market Anarchist” for half a decade. But saying so kind of sort of ignores all the time I was in denial about what I really thought could “work.” And after all this time messing around with Python I refuse to count like a programmer unless I absolutely have to. If I had to pinpoint a day when I first began the transition at all, it would have to be in 2007, when I first came across the general case for abolishing the FDA. A year later when the 2008 Presidential election was called, I finally adopted the title “Anarcho-Capitalist.” To satisfy those who don’t like the origins of the later term, “Market Anarchist” should suffice.

 

 

I can sort of remember the day. The past several months prior to it I went from being nominally conservative to total minarchist Libertarian. All government ought to do is protect people from initiation of force at home and abroad. Yeah I was pretty outside the mainstream but nothing along the lines of wanting to scrap our political system altogether.

 

At the same time I was having some doubts. After spending some time on a now defunct social networking site called “Bureaucrash Social” I had been exposed to some ideas and arguments I never knew existed. Combine this with spending some time on the Mises Institute website, skimming through the daily articles, and it wasn’t long before I started to realize just how far the arguments against government could go.

 

My breaking point ultimately was on the night of the 2008 elections. Having switched from being supportive of McCain (please forgive me for that) to being fascinated by Bob Barr’s campaign (he too defected from conservative politics), I knew I was going to be pretty dissatisfied with the results whether Barack Obama or John McCain won the presidency.

 

As soon as the election was decided, a key element of the outcome finally dawned on me. My mother was in a relationship with someone at the time who noted that millions of people who probably weren’t too happy about the outcome would probably wake up sick the next day. Because just over 50% of the people who chose to vote outnumbered the rest, that was the outcome whether people liked it or not.

 

So what was this key element you ask? I knew to some degree that arguments could be made that law and order could be provided in the absence of government thanks to a short bit that David D. Friedman posted online from his most famous work. He had posted chapter 29 from his book on how the free market might provide police and courts. Combine this with the fact that I was convinced that non-interventionism was the way to go when it came to foreign policy, and that really didn’t leave much of anything for government to do. Consequently, this meant there was next to nothing that a president or elected congress could possibly serve any legislative purpose for.

 

Why waste so much time and effort on having half the country impose certain preferences on the other half if there was so little elected officials should even be allowed to do once elected? That was when a couple months of letting some arguments against anti-trust, intellectual property, government legal systems, and government provision of various public goods finally sunk in. I had yet to figure out precisely how on a functional level a society with no government was supposed to work, but I knew that the idea of supporting one with government kind of relied on some serious double-standards. If business is so evil, why should an institution that can force payment and restrict you from other providers of various services within it’s “legal territory” be any better?

 

No need to go into detail about how my views developed after that. In a nutshell, I started gathering notes for “State Exempt” about a year later in the winter of 2009. I thought I would have it done before summer of the following year because at the time I expected it to be only 150 pages or so. Boy was that a dead wrong estimate on my part…

 

So it’s taken way longer than I thought it would. Rather than a short primer, it will be a borderline treatise even though I never once published a book before in my whole life. I would probably get fired from any job that required me to estimate the amount of time I needed to get something extensive done – no question about it. Hell, at least I have the cover finished:

 

Way less gloomy than the earlier version.

Way less gloomy than the earlier version.

 

Procrastinators of the world unite! Better late than never ought to have merit if it means a better final product.