Category Archives: history

Visit to NSA

The National Security Agency (NSA) has a large campus on Fort Meade, Maryland, protected by fences, barbed wire, police dogs, guards, and maybe a dragon or two. It is not visitor friendly.

But right outside of the campus is the National Cryptologic Museum,  an old motel once used by visitors for housing guests. The motel is no longer a motel, but a rather casually laid out museum, sprawling through hallways and odd spaces, filled with artifacts on the art of sending, receiving, and stealing secret messages.

This formerly super-secret agency (nicknamed “No Such Agency,” as even the name was a secret) recently displayed a sign in the entrance claiming it was a Pokémon Go stop, which is a major step forward into the world of publicity.

The National Cryptologic Museum at Fort Meade started advertising itself as a Pokemon Go "Pokéstop" shortly after the Pokemon Go craze started. You could hunt for Pokemon and learn about secret messages at the same time.
The National Cryptologic Museum at Fort Meade started advertising itself as a Pokémon Go “Pokéstop” shortly after the Pokémon Go craze started. You could hunt for Pokémon and learn about secret messages at the same time.

Right inside, and probably to the great surprise of the British Museum, is the Rosetta Stone, one of the best examples of coding from the ancient world,

The Rosetta Stone, often thought to be housed at the British Museum in London, but really located outside the gift shop of the National Cryptologic Museum in Fort Meade, MD. Unlike that one in London, this one is easier to photograph and touch.
The Rosetta Stone, often thought to be housed at the British Museum in London, but really located outside the gift shop of the National Cryptologic Museum in Fort Meade, MD. Unlike that one in London, this one is easier to photograph and touch.

The museum houses artifacts that may not so obviously be associated with cryptology, such as a hunk of wreckage from Gary Powers’ U-2 surveillance aircraft, shot down over the Soviet Union on May 1, 1960. The Soviets fired fourteen missiles at the high-flying  U-2, finally hitting it with an S-75 Dvina, specially designed for the attempt. The Soviets also accidentally shot down one of their own MiG-19 fighters, sent up in an attempt to intercept the U-2.

The wreckage of the U-2 fell almost 14 miles before hitting the ground. A piece of that wreckage was presented to the US by Russia in 1994.

A piece of the wreckage from Gary Powers' U-2 surveillance aircraft, shot down by the Soviets in 1960 and presented to the US by the Russian government in 1994.
A piece of the wreckage from Gary Powers’ U-2 surveillance aircraft, shot down by the Soviets in 1960 and presented to the US by the Russian government in 1994.

You can check out a earlier blog entry for more photos and information about the museum, including the famed Enigma coding machine.

Early version of Google

This was the early version of Google. Using these humble wooden drawers, generations of scholars and researchers, desperate students and cunning spies, despairing parents and fanatical bibliophiles, and every other shape and size of reader delved into the depth and breadth of human understanding.

Something worth considering: Google contains only a fraction of the knowledge once cataloged by card catalogs. Technology has digitized and indexed only that which is easy to digitize and index; most journal articles, newspaper articles, books, scientific papers, notebooks and other written material are still confined to physical forms, and unknown to Internet search engines.

How I miss card catalogs.

The humble card catalog was the early version of Google. These wooden drawers held the wonder's of the world's past and the future of the universe.
The humble card catalog was the early version of Google. These wooden drawers held the wonder’s of the world’s past and the future of the universe.

Along the Louisville waterfront

Louisville is a seaport, of sorts. The Louisville, Kentucky, “seacoast” is the waterfront along the Ohio River, with that other coastal state, Indiana, just across the water. Barge traffic has moved up and down the river for a couple of centuries, winding its watery way to the Gulf of Mexico.

Most of the waterfront is industrial, or devoted to roads. There are a couple of parks. And a boat ramp, where this sign was found:

"Cars will be launched" could be frightening, unless you had a car that was also a launch, which is a particular type of boat.
“Cars will be launched” could be frightening, unless you had a car that was also a launch, which is a particular type of boat.

Less whimsical is this concrete obelisk, marked off in feet, showing the height of the river above “normal” elevation. At 26.5 feet is a note that this was the height of the 1997 flood. A mark at 29.2 feet shows the 1964 flood level. A mark at 30.1 feet shows the 1945 flood level. And the red arrow at the top points to the air above the 32 foot mark, noting the 1937 flood level, at 40 feet, would be somewhere up there.

Flood gauge along the Ohio River front in Louisville, Ohio, showing the heights of the 1997, 1964, and 1945 floods. A mark at the 32 foot level notes that the 1937 flood would have been up there somewhere, eight feet higher.
Flood gauge along the Ohio River front in Louisville, Ohio, showing the heights of the 1997, 1964, and 1945 floods. A mark at the 32 foot level notes that the 1937 flood would have been up there somewhere, eight feet higher.

Bottle cap Flag

In the United States, you can start a riot, or sink a political campaign, or fill nightly newscasts for a week with a real or implied desecration of the American flag. But apparently there is nothing at all wrong with creating a flag out of beer bottle caps.

Beer bottlecap flag over bar in Northern Virginia
To be honest, this really is an impressive piece of artwork.

It is worth noting that the American Revolution was fomented, in large measure, in the fermented confines of taverns.

Official Fourth Estate

Here we see a newspaper box at George Mason University in Northern Virginia. Note that the title of the newspaper is “Fourth Estate.” Then notice the slogan at the top: “Broadside and Connect2Mason present George Mason University’s official student news outlet.”

George Mason University has an official Fourth Estate, just like other well-known totalitarian regimes.
George Mason University has an official Fourth Estate, just like other well-known totalitarian regimes.

We can only assume that George Mason either lacks a department of journalism or lacks a history department, or both.