Long Science Night 2008

The Berliners have a thing for "Long Nights of ....". I don't know who was first, but the Long Science Nights have been around for a good may years. Most of the universities and colleges and science institutions get some experiments set up to show the taxpayers what they are funding, the bus company organizes shuttle busses, there's food all over the place, and from 5 pm until 1 am Average Joes (and university folk not showing experiments) mill around looking at stuff.

I started off at the TU, as I will be teaching Cryptography next semester and there was to be a crypto-lab there. The lecture was boooooring, and the young man who then tried to explain to me how to send an encrypted email couldn't actually speak in coherent sentences. I couldn't even follow, although I knew what I was supposed to be doing. And then their email broke down and then all sorts of stuff was broken, and then at least I could generate a key pair, but he admonished me to "choose a small passphrase so it gets made quicker." Duh. People need to be trained to use long passphrases. I made myself known, but he just was not hearing what I was saying.

Disgusted, I hopped on a shuttle and made my way down to the Federal Printing Office. This is where the money is printed (they have a big tube of shredded notes on display) and the new biometric passports are made. I slided up to the guy explaining the wonders of the new passport and started asking questions. It soon turned out that we were two computing women and one computing guy who acutally knew a bit about crypto. The poor guy got rather into a bad spot, as he could not really tell us much.

Apparently, with the data read from the machine-readable portion of your passport they encode your picture. I strongly suspect that with the special structure a picture file has and the situation that much of the key is fundamental law of cryptography is that the strength of a method lies only in the keys, not in any secret algorithms.

Anyway, the fingerprints are then encoded with another secret key that is available at all passport issuing places. Duh again.

Moving on to the 3D facial scanner, one begins to feel uneasy. A little beamer projects a mesh to a face, two cameras take one picture each, the software calculates a little bit, and presto - 3D image of the head, suitable for storage and identification.

Upstairs is a great coppersmith showing how he made stamps in the years gone by.

I took the bus on to the State Criminal Investigations Agency (Landeskriminalamt). They were participating for the first time. They set up a murder scene outside of the building, including a second scene with the getaway car. Inside they had people from all the departments explaining what they did in this case. And there were documents prepared for the case, just as they would be for a real murder.

It was highly informative and highly entertaining. I spoke with a fingerprint specialist about how she became a dactylologist. She said she was just a normal police investigator, but good at fingerprints, so she got in deeper and deeper and now that is her job, which she likes a lot.

I also heard 2 lectures, one explaining DNA-sequencing and identification of people with DNA that was very clear and one by the head of the murder commission explaining how they work.

Got both my admission fee's worth and some value for the taxes I pay. The LKA did a smashing job of explaining what they do to us.

Bedtime now.


brainerror said...

Personally, I prefer "Long Nights of Sleep", which are rather rare those days, erm, nights. :)

I'd like to mention there's a "weakness" in long passphrases: People tend to forget them. So, even if every password hash with less than 10 characters is easily crackable with a rainbow table, there's a major disadvantage for widespread day-to-day use of long passwords. Many people can't even remember their PIN, which has usually only 4 characters...

WiseWoman said...

Well, they can't remember their PIN because they have so many of them and all of are different and have no meaning to them. But there are good ways of choosing passphrases that people can remember: take a poem, song or Bible verse that you know by heart and take the first letter of every word. Make words like "for" or "of" into numbers. Use the punctuation.

So we have:






Just don't whistle as you type your passphrase.....