Secret Decoder Rings · 13 July 2019

Alberti Cipher Disk
by Augusto Buonafalce contributed by Antonio G Colombo
(Alterations: size and transparency changed)
Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Whatever happened to secret decoder rings?

Back when I was a kid in the dark ages, we all had secret decoder rings. Okay. Not everybody had them. After all, if they did, we could never send secret messages to our friends who had those secret decoder rings. Everybody would be in on the secrets. But we did have them. We might have even used them to write a message or two with them.

Okay. Secret decoder rings were not that special. They were just rings with two sets of rings of the alphabet on them. The one ring was fixed and the other ring twirled around. If you wanted to just have no code, you just lined up the A on one ring with the A on the other ring. There is no point in that, but if you ever did write a secret message, you would want to line up the A with the other A so that nobody could find out your cipher.

The real power of a secret decoder ring was when you twirled the outer ring. You lined up a different letter with the A and you could make your secret code. Line up the B with the A and you got one code. Line up the C with the A and you got something completely different. You could write notes to people and if somebody (ostensibly the enemy, who might or might not have been teachers) got ahold of it, they could not read it. At least not without the secret decoder ring and knowing what letter matched up with A.

What we did not know then (or maybe we did but just ignored it) was that all you needed to know how to do was add or subtract to decode those secret messages. And you needed to know what letter matched up with A so you could determine how many letters to subtract to get to the correct letter. So when somebody found that message that said:

Nz eph buf nz tipf.

All they would need to know is that A was lined up with B and they could decode the message and find that the original was:

My dog ate my shoe.

Of course, back in those days, we would never write such a note. After all, secret codes were meant for personal secrets not for daily happenings. Or even silly messages. No. Secret decoder rings and secret codes were for special things. Like:

Yjcv ctg aqw jcxkpi hqt uwrrgt cpf kh kv ku iqqf, ecp K eqog qxgt?

Which is of course:

What are you having for supper and if it is good, can I come over?

(The A would be lined up with the C to encode or decode that message with the secret decoder ring.)

Of course, these days, the NSA, CIA, FBI, and the kid next door could decipher the messages I have coded into this blog post. They would not even need a secret decoder ring.

I guess people have gotten more sophisticated these days. Or maybe they are just better at adding and subtracting. At any rate, secret decoder rings are a thing of the past that we just read about or see in old books or movies, like A Christmas Story. (Make sure to drink your Ovaltine.) Even so, I will leave you with one last thought:

Whoo brxu iulhqgv wr uhdg PhglrfuhPdq.frp.

Get out that old secret decoder ring. (Or just subtract three. Or just look here: Tell your friends to read

© 2019 Michael T. Miyoshi

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Parentheses Make Words Invisible · 6 July 2019

Parentheses make words invisible in a composition. (Or at least they are supposed to.)

I have written previously that parentheses make words invisible. It was in one of those “But that is another story” parenthetical remarks that I often make in my blog (see Parentheses). Which are usually in parentheses which is why you might not have seen the remark.

At any rate, I have already commented about how I use parentheses far too much in my posts (again, see Parentheses), but I wanted to write about the thought that words become invisible when enclosed in parentheses.

(If you want to go back to the original post by following the link in parentheses in the last paragraph, now would be a good time. Go ahead. I will wait.)

(By the way, if you thought at least one sentence in that old post was crazy, so did I when I looked back at it. I know what I wanted to say, but I did not say it very well. “I actually do understand that parentheses are supposed to add clarity or make prose easier to read. And they can be used when using commas to serve that purpose just does not work.” What I really meant by that statement was that there are times when you want to clarify things with an added phrase that could be placed between commas, but parentheses make things clearer than the commas would. Or something like that.)

(By the way, I thought it rather coincidental that I wrote about parentheses a couple years ago. Almost to the day. At least the day it was released to the wild.)

Words (and even paragraphs) can become invisible when put in parentheses. I know this because I have skipped over parenthetical statements before, and I know I cannot be the only one who does that. Or at least I think I know that. (After all, who can really know that they are not completely unique in something or even somethings.) So even though parenthetical remarks can be clarifying or add additional content or give the reader some insight into a writer’s psyche (doubtful), they can also just make the writing therein invisible. After all, when you are skimming through things, it is far too easy to just skip the parenthetical thoughts.

Think about it. Who really reads every word anymore? People just gloss over the stuff on the internet. Social media has done that to people. Look at the picture, skim the words, then move on.

Geoffrey had a gall…
Bernice shaved her…
Glenda had a house…

Wait. Go back and read that whole thing.

Glenda had a house dropped on her cousin. She arranged it to look like the cause was the weather or the sudden appearance of a strange girl (who is now in said cousin’s ruby slippers) and her little dog too.

Yes, I know. There are some people who read every word in their social media feeds. They are scrolling and scrolling and scrolling down the page. They look at all the pictures and read all the captions. They read and they read and they read. And they are still stuck reading and looking at pictures because there is never an end to a feed. They just go on and on and on and on and on… And those poor people who keep scrolling do not realize it. They just keep scrolling and scrolling and scrolling and scrolling… (Boy, that got old fast.)

Now where was I?

Ah yes. Not ranting about social media. In fact, I actually like social media. It lets me see what other people are doing. (I cannot imagine having everything I do on social media, but what do I know.) And I can do a quick post about my writing or other projects that I put on the internet. I am not that great at self promotion or using social media, but that is okay. I still like it.

But back to parentheses. They are marvelous composition constructs and I like to use them. Sometimes too much. But somehow they make words and thoughts invisible. Or at least I used to think so. (Not so sure anymore.) Or maybe I just said it and then it became true for me. (A likely story.) Or maybe I just said it for some reason that I do not remember. (A more likely story.) At any rate, I like parentheses (as if you could not already tell) and sometimes I think I am being clever by hiding my thoughts in them. Even if it is not true that parentheses make words invisible.

So like I said in the previous post about parentheses (you can still check it out with this link), if you are wondering why this one is so short, just go back and read the stuff in parentheses. It is there, you just need to get out your secret decoder ring and spy glasses to see the invisible stuff in parentheses.

© 2019 Michael T. Miyoshi

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A Missed Opportunity · 29 June 2019

Christ Carrying the Cross
by El Greco

This work is in the public domain.

I missed an opportunity to do a little evangelizing the other day. But I am not missing this one.

I was taken aback the other day when a colleague said that she tries to be like me. I actually did not know what to say right away. Close to right away, but then the moment passed and she was off.

I do not know that I have had anybody tell me something like that before. Sure, I have heard people say, “I want to be like Mike,” but they were saying they wanted to be like Michael Jordan, even if they were looking at me. After all, Be Like Mike was an ad campaign featuring Jordan and his amazing basketball skills. But be like me? They were just joking.

So when my colleague embarrassed me by saying she wants to be like me, I was a bit shocked. Like I said, speechless. Part of the reason I was speechless was because of my character traits she said she would like to emulate. Essentially, cool, calm, and collected. Even-keeled. Serene. She might have even used one or two of those words.

It is funny. I have been waiting for somebody to say those words for a long time. That they want to be like me. For those reasons. After all, that would give me an opening to tell that somebody why I am like I am. It would give me a chance to say, “I am just doing my best to follow Jesus,” or “It would be better to follow Jesus’ example instead of mine,” or some sort of evangelistic statement. After all, I am just trying to follow the Master. And I am a poor example at that.

At any rate, missing that opportunity might have been good. It gave me another example of just listening to that still small voice. I heard it at just about the right moment. But I hesitated, and the moment passed. Still, I told the story to another friend of mine when we were talking about something similar. And I am writing about the whole thing now. So maybe it was a missed opportunity that turned into so much more. I may never know.

I do know I am not going to miss this opportunity to write about the whole thing. After all, I have had a few days to think about it. I might even have an answer to give people when they say something about wanting to be like me. I am nothing. At least without Jesus. After all, He is my Lord. And I cannot do anything without Him. But I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:13) Including writing a few words about not being quick enough (or brave enough or astute enough) to talk about Him.

There is one other part about the whole witnessing, evangelizing thing. I need to be gentle. Yes, I need to be ready to give an answer for the hope that is in me, but I need to be gentle and respectful. (1 Peter 3:15) I need to keep people’s hearts in my mind when I am telling them about why I am hopeful, why I am even-keeled, why I am calm. At least why I am that way most of the time. After all, I am not perfect. Just forgiven and redeemed.

Well, I might have missed the opportunity to say all those things to my friend, but I am not going to miss the opportunity to tell people about my missed opportunity to tell somebody about Jesus. It is just too good an opportunity.

© 2019 Michael T. Miyoshi

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