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[FYI] "The Victorian Internet"


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16 January 1999 

The New York Times, January 16, 1999 


The Granddaddies of All Hackers 

Last month the United States and 32 other countries agreed to create
new international controls on the export of data-scrambling hardware
and software. Many nations fear that the most advanced scrambling,
which makes it impossible for anyone without the key to decode the
data, could thwart efforts by intelligence agencies to track
terrorists. Though the issue is a product of the information age,
battles over secret coding have far older precedents. Below are
excerpts from "The Victorian Internet" (Walker & Company, 1998), by
Tom Standage, in which he writes about what he calls the "19th-century
precursor" to the Internet: the electric telegraph invented by Samuel
Morse and Charles Wheatstone. 

Cryptography -- tinkering with codes and ciphers -- was a common hobby
among Victorian gentlemen. Wheatstone and his friend Charles Babbage,
who is best known for his failed attempts to build a mechanical
computer, were both keen crackers of codes and ciphers -- Victorian
hackers, in effect. "Deciphering is, in my opinion, one of the most
fascinating of arts," Babbage wrote in his autobiography, "and I fear
I have wasted upon it more time than it deserves." 


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