The unique light signatures of nautical beacons translate into hypnotic cartography.
- Many of the world's 23,000 lighthouses feature a distinct combination of color, frequency, and range.
- These unique light signatures help ships verify their positions and safeguard maritime traffic.
- But they also translate into this map, visualizing the ingenuity and courage of lighthouse builders and keepers.
Land and sea are both shaded dark, so it's a bit hard at first to make out that this collection of merrily blinking lights is actually a map. Once the coastal contours pop, though, all becomes clear: these are lighthouses!
The Age of Big Data
The map not only shows where they are, but how they are: static or blinking in various colors with the size of the circles corresponding to the range of their lights.
Up until the 20th century, a map of lighthouses would have been a subdued affair: just a string of dots strung along lines of coast. But this is the 21st century! We're in the Age of Big Data, ruled by the clever boffins who know how to stitch one dataset to another. Zap it with electricity and presto: it's alive!
That's what the folks did over at Geodienst, the spatial expertise center of the University of Groningen (Netherlands). Back in 2018, student/assistant Jelmer van der Linde (currently with the University of Edinburgh) came across OpenSeaMap, an open-source resource for nautical information similar to its more famous landlubber cousin, OpenStreetMap.
OpenSeaMap contained a database with detailed information on nautical beacons and lighthouses, which included not just their location, but also the frequency, range, and even the color of their signals. Would it be possible to visualize all those data points on a map? Yes, it would!
The result is this riot of a map. It's important that ships don't mistake one lighthouse for another. That's why they come in various colors and their lights flicker with a distinct frequency. Norway in particular is lit up with beacons and lighthouses, as its fjord-indented coast warrants. And the rest of Europe is well provided with nautical warning lights.
However, while the map is reminiscent of other global traffic trackers for flights (like Flightradar24 or FlightAware) or shipping (such as VesselFinder or MarineTraffic), it is neither live nor global. The flickering lights aren't a real-time report; they merely repeat the code in the original database. And that database is incomplete.
Zoom out, and the map gets a bit too dark. According to the Lighthouse Directory, there are at least 23,000 lighthouses in the world. And even though the United States has more lighthouses than any other nation – 700 by some counts – the map only shows a handful of lights in North America.
Like its parent, the lighthouse map is open source too, so if anyone out there is capable of filling in the gaps, they can. Lighthouse enthusiasts, get to it!
Not one yet yourself? Below are 10 lighthouse facts to help you come over to the light side.
Trapped in a giant phallus and other true facts about lighthouses
- The world's smallest lighthouse is the North Queensferry Light Tower, near the Forth Bridge in Scotland. A mere 16 feet (5 m) tall, it was built in 1817 by Robert Stevenson, famous builder of lighthouses, as was his son Thomas, who was the father of the famous novelist Robert Louis Stevenson.
- Reaching a height of 436 ft (133 m), Jeddah Light in Saudi Arabia is the world's tallest lighthouse.
- The 2019 movie The Lighthouse, starring Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson, was based on a true incident, known as the Smalls Lighthouse Tragedy. In 1801, a storm trapped two Welsh lighthouse keepers, both named Thomas, in their lighthouse. One died, the other went mad. Asked to summarize his film, writer/director Robert Eggers said, "Nothing good can happen when two men are trapped alone in a giant phallus."
- From its inauguration in 1886 until 1901, the Statue of Liberty also served as a lighthouse. Its nine electric arc lamps, located in the torch, could be seen 24 miles out to sea.
- All U.S. lighthouses are now automated – save for Boston Light, the oldest continually used lighthouse in the country. For historical reasons, Congress has decided it shall remain staffed year-round.
- Hook Lighthouse, on Hook Head in Ireland's County Wexford, claims to be the world's oldest lighthouse still in use. It was first built by a medieval lord in the early decades of the 13th century.
- The Tower of Hercules in La Coruña, Spain has a slightly better claim. It was built by the Romans in the 1st century AD and still functions as a lighthouse.
- Stannard Rock Lighthouse is also known as "the loneliest place in the world." It is located in Lake Superior, Michigan. At 24 miles (39 km) from shore, it is the most remote lighthouse in the U.S. and one of the most remote in the world. It opened in 1883 and was staffed for parts of the year until 1962.
- A lighthouse on Märket is the reason for the weird border on the island, divided between Sweden and Finland. In 1885, the Finns built a lighthouse on the highest part of the island – on the Swedish half. Thanks to a complicated land swap, the lighthouse is back on the Finnish side.
- In the United States, August 7 is National Lighthouse Day.
Strange Maps #1082
Many thanks to Toon Wassenberg for sending in this map. Got a strange map? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
From 260-year-old ciphers to the most recent Zodiac Killer solution, these unbreakable codes just needed time.
- After 51 years, the Zodiac Killer's infamous "340 code" has been solved.
- Humans have a natural passion for puzzles, making cryptography a lifelong pursuit for some.
- Other famous cracked codes include Poe's Challenge and Zimmermann's Letter.
Humans love puzzles. Thanks to an evolutionary skillset that lets us piece together fragments of information necessary for survival, we've turned biological instinct into a love for games. Sometimes our affection manifests in Candy Crush; other times, in solving uncrackable ciphers.
Numerous unbreakable codes persist. The CIA awaits the brave thinker that will crack the fourth code in its Kryptos monument. The Beale ciphers may or may not reveal $60 million in hidden treasure. Composer Edward Elgar continues to laugh from beyond the grave.
Few codes stand the test of time, however. It took nearly 600 years for researchers to realize the Voynich manuscript was effectively a rip-off copy of Women's Health. The MIT time-lock puzzle was only 20 years old, yet it still took a nifty programmer three years to crack it. And then there's the Zodiac Killer.The recent news that a 51-year-old letter from the infamous Bay Area murderer, whose story was immortalized by David Fincher, has been cracked recently made headlines. While this code will bring no peace to the families of the unknown killer's victims, the solving of this letter reminds us once again that nothing is impenetrable.
How I cracked the Zodiac Killer's cipher
After the Zodiac Killer's first cryptogram was quickly solved in 1969, he followed up with a 340-character puzzle that has baffled cryptographers ever since. Three men worked tirelessly on the letter and finally revealed the encoded message:
I HOPE YOU ARE HAVING LOTS OF FUN IN TRYING TO CATCH ME THAT WASN'T ME ON THE TV SHOW WHICH BRINGS UP A POINT ABOUT ME I AM NOT AFRAID OF THE GAS CHAMBER BECAUSE IT WILL SEND ME TO PARADICE ALL THE SOONER BECAUSE I NOW HAVE ENOUGH SLAVES TO WORK FOR ME WHERE EVERYONE ELSE HAS NOTHING WHEN THEY REACH PARADICE SO THEY ARE AFRAID OF DEATH I AM NOT AFRAID BECAUSE I KNOW THAT MY NEW LIFE WILL BE AN EASY ONE IN PARADICE DEATH
While the San Francisco branch of the FBI has acknowledged the puzzle has been solved, they're not providing any more comments considering the case remains open.
Edgar Allan Poe's "The Gold Bug" was based on a cipher mystery, as Poe himself was fascinated with puzzles. In 1840, he offered a free subscription to Graham's Magazine to anyone who could stump him. He claims to have solved a hundred entries, ending the contest by publishing a challenging code written by W.B. Tyler—who many at the time suspected was a pseudonym.
It wasn't until 2000 that a software engineer decoded the message, which opened up, "It was early spring, warm and sultry glowed the afternoon. The very breezes seemed to share the delicious languor of universal nature..."
Given the numerous typesetting mistakes, recent researchers aren't convinced that Poe actually wrote it. The author will likely remain a mystery, but the code itself is in the books.
An entire team spanning two countries was needed to crack the 260-year-old mystery of the Copiale cipher. Unlike a few lines of prose, this 75,000-character manuscript filled 105 pages written by a group of ophthalmologists. The book was encrypted in German and relied on a complex substitution code that used symbols and letters for spaces as well as text.
Dating from the second half of the eighteenth century, the first 16 pages discuss a masonic initiation ceremony by the Oculists. The strange ritual involves initiates "reading" a blank piece of paper before being given a pair of glasses—those wily eye doctors. After their eyes are washed, the referees then pluck a single eyebrow of each recruit.
Better than college hazing, though still an odd text to keep so secretive. Then again, maybe that was the point.
Slate statue of Mathematician Alan Turing at Bletchley Park
Credit: lenscap50 / Adobe Stock
The Zimmermann Telegram
Not all codes are so playful, or strange. Some are insidious. Such is the case with the Zimmermann Telegram, a note sent from Germany to Mexico in 1917. Intended for the German ambassador to Mexico, Heinrich von Eckardt, the Germans were preparing America's southern neighbors for battle—in the name of Germany. In exchange for weapons and funding, the Mexicans would reclaim Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas upon victory.
The cipher was cracked about a month after interception by Britain's "Room 40." The text read, in part:
"We make Mexico a proposal of alliance on the following basis: make war together, make peace together, generous financial support and an understanding on our part that Mexico is to reconquer the lost territory in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. The settlement in detail is left to you."
Tensions between the US and Germany were already high; this message pushed America over the edge. A month later, President Wilson overruled his intention of remaining neutral and entered World War I on the side of the Allies.
The Enigma Code
One of the most famous cracks in history is certainly the Enigma Code. If the Zimmermann Telegram helped us get into World War I, the second chapter only ended in our favor thanks to Alan Turing's unforgettable machine.
The Germans were utilizing an enciphering machine to pass messages to its Axis partners. Perhaps learning from past mistakes, they changed the entire cipher system on a daily basis.
Turing responded with his own machinery: the Bombe, Lorenz, and Universal Turing Machine. Thanks to his inventions, alongside tireless efforts by British cryptologists, the Allied forces exploited procedural flaws and operator mistakes by the Germans. The Enigma Code was cracked, saving countless Allied lives and helping turn the tide of the war.
Stay in touch with Derek on Twitter and Facebook. His new book is "Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."
We're safeguarding the world's seeds in the Arctic, why not our most precious data?
- Buried underground near the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is the Arctic World Archive safeguarding humanity's books, documents, and data.
- The Archive includes the massive GitHub library of software code behind the world's open-source applications.
- Information in the vault is stored on special media said to be durable for 1,000 years.
For a place that's so cold, Norway's Svalbard archipelago is downright hot when it comes to safeguarding some of humanity's most precious stuff. We've written before about the Svalbard Global Seed Vault that holds the world's backup supply of seeds capable of replanting our planet's flora should some horrible catastrophe occur. Since 2017, there's been another critical repository embedded about 91 meters down in that Svalbardian mountain: It's called the Arctic World Archive (AWA) and it holds the world's books, documents, and data from across the globe.
The Arctic World Archive
The AWA describes itself as "home to manuscripts from the Vatican Library, political histories, masterpieces from different eras (including Rembrandt and Munch), scientific breakthroughs and contemporary cultural treasures." Government and research facilities can store their data at AWA, as can private companies and individuals, for a price.
"Our ambition is to be a secure world archive to help preserve the world's digital memory and ensure that the world's most irreplaceable digital memories of art, culture and literature are secured and made available to future generations." — Arctic World Archive
AWA's first deposits were made by the National Archives of Mexico and Brazil, and have been joined by a growing number of entities from over 15 countries. These include the National Museum of Norway, the European Space Agency, the Museum of the Person, and major global corporations.
GitHub’s vault with a vault
Within the AWA is the GitHub Arctic Code Vault, located roughly 76 meters below the Svalbard surface. GitHub is the preeminent library of programming code for those who develop open-source software applications. Each directory — think: folder — of code is a GitHub repository. Together, it's a massive resource used continually by countless programmers storing and sharing their source code. GitHub says it has 37 million users and holds over 100 million repositories.
21 terabytes of GitHub data have already been moved to the code vault — or copied, presumably, since GitHub remains an active day-to-day resource — beginning with the 2019 deposit of 6,000 of the most important repositories GitHub held at the time. The latest transfer contains a snapshot of all of GitHub's active libraries as of February 2, 2020.
Says GitHUb's director of strategic programs, Julia Metcalf, "Our mission is to preserve open-source software for future generations by storing your code in an archive built to last a thousand years." It's hoped that the source code in the vault will provide insight into today's programming and provide a trail of bread-crumbs that reveals the workings of apps from our era, apps that may become foundational for future applications.
How to store data for the future
The lifespan of any given storage medium is brief. Gone the way of the dinosaurs are floppy disks, cassettes, and so on — a 10-year-old may even wonder what a CD was. "It is easy to envision a future in which today's software is seen as a quaint and long-forgotten irrelevancy, until an unexpected need for it arises," says the GitHub Archive Program website. So, AWA data is stored on a specially developed, digital archival film called piqlFilm — GitHub alone has filled up 186 reels of it so far. This may at first seem sort of a retro approach, but it's not.
piql, one of the two partners behind the AWA, developed the film. The company claims it can "keep data alive" for over 1,000 years, so long as one has an app that can read it, such as the open-source app GitHub has created. piql asserts that their film has undergone "extensive longevity testing," and can withstand electromagnetic exposure.
piqlFilm is made up of layers of silver halide on a polyester backing. The data, when written, looks similar to a QR code, although it can hold far more information: Each frame in piqlFilm can pack about 8.8 million microscopic pixels. A reel of piqlFilm loaded with these frames is almost a kilometer long and can thus store a truly massive amount of data.
Of course, it remains impossible to guess the capabilities of future humans (presumably) trying to decode all this data, so GitHub has a backup plan, a human-readable document called the "Tech Tree," which they describe as "a roadmap and Rosetta Stone for future curious minds inheriting the archive's data."
Warming up to Svalbard
Svalbard has a number of attributes that have made it attractive as a permanent storage site. It's a demilitarized zone by agreement between 42 nations. It's also quite remote. Plus, it's very cold and dry, for now.
When the seed vault was first contemplated, Svalbard seemed a place that could be counted on to remain frigid, with the underground vaults dug deep into the area's permafrost safe from moisture damage. However, conditions are changing more rapidly than anticipated thanks to climate change. The Arctic, says NOAA, is warming at "twice the rate relative to the rest of the globe."
Between 1971 and 2017, the temperature in the Svalbard area has risen by 3-5° Celsius. Svalbard's current average temperature is -8.7° C, but models suggests that with moderate global emission levels going forward it will go up by 7° C, and with heavy emissions up by 10° C.
Already, there has been at least one incident of ice melting and then freezing in the entrance to a seed vault tunnel. Also, less snow and ice means more rain, which can cause landslides in the previously stable local environment, and glaciers nearby are breaking up more frequently.
The seed vault's managers say, for now, that it looks like their vaults will be okay, and the people running the AWA and the GitHub Arctic Code Vault are also optimistic.
The tech giants seem to be all in on blockchain.
- With everyone from Google, to Amazon, to Long Island Iced Tea dipping their toes into blockchain recently, it's hardly surprising that IBM has decided to jump on the bandwagon - and on a huge scale.
- IBM stands to gain a significant amount by getting in on the action early. There's a reason why blockchain is gaining popularity so quickly. Its potential to improve business efficiency across a huge range of industries is huge.
- If they play their cards right and learn from their mistakes with Watson, IBM will have a significant advantage over its competitors across the blockchain industry in the long-term.
The IBM blockchain commitment
There are multiple reasons why IBM should have such a vested interest in blockchain technology.
First and foremost is the undeniable fact that blockchain is moving to the mainstream very quickly. Studies by Gartner have revealed that the business value of blockchain technology is expected to reach $176 billion by 2025, and is set to increase even further to a staggering $3.1 trillion by 2030.
If this prediction turns out to be true, IBM stands to gain a significant amount by getting in on the action early. There's a reason why blockchain is gaining popularity so quickly. Its potential to improve business efficiency across a huge range of industries is huge.
Some of its biggest potential uses include:
- Improving supply-chain-management by increasing traceability and cost-effectiveness, while simplifying processes such as ownership transfer, production process assurance, and payments.
- Improving quality assurance by quickly pinpointing the source of any irregularities in the supply chain. This makes it faster and cheaper for businesses to carry out investigations. In certain industries, such as the food industry, this is critical in order to improve safety.
- Smart contracts will be able to save companies substantial amounts of money by cutting out middlemen and enabling agreements to be automatically validated, signed, and enforced.
Of course, these are all massive industries, and disrupting them will be no small feat.
Industry insiders believe that IBM will pave the way for future innovation and projects to develop blockchain solutions.
Co-founder of Tatau Andrew Fraser has said that :
"IBM are a thought leader in the Blockchain space, and like many other large corporations, are investing heavily in this nascent technology. The key to their success will be partnerships with other innovators which will help accelerate their developments and minimize risk"
Daniel Trachtenberg, CEO of Zinc has stated that: "Judging by the time and effort IBM is putting into developing blockchain solutions, it's clear that they realized this tech is valuable and very efficient to generate transparency, allow secure management of user identity and user data, manage commercial relationships, manage supply chain and inventory, etc."
Since IBM was established back in 1911 in New York City, it has developed into a huge multinational corporation. Today, it is known all over the world for its quality computer hardware, middleware, and software.
With everyone from Google, to Amazon, to Long Island Iced Tea dipping their toes into blockchain recently, it's hardly surprising that IBM has decided to jump on the bandwagon - and on a huge scale.
IBM currently has 1,500 employees working on over 500 blockchain projects in a wide range of different industries - including shipping, banking, healthcare, and food safety.
Over the past few months, the company has even managed to form new partnerships with the likes of Columbia University as a means of advancing the development of the technology and coming up with even more ways it can be used.
Following many controversial events over the past year, including the likes of the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data scandal, IBM's blockchain division has also endeavored to do more work in the self-sovereign identity field, with the ultimate goal of giving users more control over their personal data.
Is this a risky strategy?
Despite all of the attention being drawn towards blockchain over the past few months, there are still skeptics who don't quite agree with the technology. In fact, some have even said that it's downright dangerous.
In addition, given the novelty of the technology, we are still largely unaware of what it will actually be used for in the future.
However, when it comes down to it, such a bold move is hardly surprising from a global corporation like IBM. Ever since the company was created, it has been pushing the boundaries when it comes to innovation.
One example of this was their Watson supercomputer, which began as a research project back in 2006, and has quickly become one of the world's best known artificial intelligence systems. However, despite providing some revolutionary breakthroughs within the field of AI, Watson has one glaring problem - it isn't making any money.
In one report, Jefferies investment bank stated, "it seems unlikely to us under almost any scenario that Watson will generate meaningful earnings results over the next few years".
It is clear that the company must tread lightly if they wish to avoid making similar mistakes when it comes to the blockchain.
When does IBM expect to see the payoff?
Much like artificial intelligence a few years ago, blockchain is still a very new development.
There are still many kinks that need to be ironed out, and more importantly, many questions to be answered about this technology.
There has been a significant amount of debate regarding when blockchain technology will become mainstream. And despite plunging millions into blockchain development, it will likely be years before IBM even begins to see any results.
However, Trachtenberg was spot on when he said, "I think that having companies like IBM vesting this much effort into blockchain, specifically into advertising solutions on the blockchain, will accelerate mass adoption and allow other projects to develop consumer applications for mass market adoption."
If they play their cards right and learn from their mistakes from Watson, IBM will have a significant advantage over its competitors across the blockchain industry in the long-term.