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April 25, 2014 9:32 PM   Subscribe

MetaFilter is well acquainted with numbers stations (previously with previouslies inside of that). Well, they may just have migrated to YouTube.

A BoingBoing BBS user by the name of Enkidu has stumbled upon a YouTube channel with over 77,000 brief 11 second clips of seemingly randomly generated red and blue rectangles with accompanying tones. Enkidu has a possible theory, but these could be possibly anything.

Falling outside Enkidu's area of expertise, a plea has been made to see if others can make sense of the data.
posted by theartandsound (46 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
After I decoded and enhanced the tones... I got:
DRINKYOUROVALTINE
(Hoping that Boards of Canada turns this into an album too, somehow.)
posted by raihan_ at 9:41 PM on April 25 [9 favorites]


There is a fire at the travel agency.
posted by pjern at 9:44 PM on April 25 [1 favorite]


Boy do my cats hate those. I remember being creeped out by numbers stations I picked up as a kid on my dad's cheap-o RadioShack Realistic multiband radio receiver.
posted by item at 9:44 PM on April 25 [5 favorites]


After the whole horse_ebooks thing, I somehow picture people out there making large quantities of really weird, random stuff just trying to fish for someone who wants to buy it for use in an ARG.
posted by Sequence at 9:45 PM on April 25 [8 favorites]


how much data can be transmitted by 5 tones and 5 different pictures?

This is no numbers station. 77,000 messages in a little over a year? that's 210 messages a day. What possible intelligence service would be stupid enough to send 210 messages a day? That's asking to have a code broken. The key is to use it rarely.

Plus, radio and the one-time pad are far superior. You would never leave the videos up after you transmitted the message, you'd delete them to remove possible elements of a solution out of the hands of those who would intercept them.

some dude with a computer.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:03 PM on April 25 [12 favorites]


Webdriver Torso is the name of my next band.
posted by freakazoid at 10:06 PM on April 25 [5 favorites]


I love this kind of stuff, and this is pretty, but I have a hard time getting interested anymore. There seems to be a lot of these lately and the answer always turns out to be "it doesn’t mean anything".

"When you're telling these little stories, here's a good idea. Have a point, it makes is so much more interesting for the listener."
posted by bongo_x at 10:19 PM on April 25 [3 favorites]


I wish I had the time to figure this out, but I think I'd have to give up MetaFilter.
posted by ob1quixote at 10:43 PM on April 25 [1 favorite]




Yup, looks like test data created by varying a small number of parameters.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:52 PM on April 25


This is no numbers station. 77,000 messages in a little over a year? that's 210 messages a day. What possible intelligence service would be stupid enough to send 210 messages a day? That's asking to have a code broken. The key is to use it rarely.

Couldn't 99% of them be junk?
posted by eugenen at 11:29 PM on April 25 [1 favorite]


Just found my next ringtone to annoy the office with.
posted by arcticseal at 11:42 PM on April 25 [3 favorites]


It strikes me that, if you're going to send secure transmissions, a series of public YouTube videos is a hell of a bad way to do it. Every video on YouTube can be downloaded to your hard drive if you use the right tools, so it's not exactly obscure.
posted by JHarris at 12:16 AM on April 26


I love this because something is obviously very wrong with me.
posted by louche mustachio at 12:19 AM on April 26 [5 favorites]


Every time I run an integration test for the web application that I develop a random tweet is created by the automated test runner and posted to this account. That piece of automation software is called Selenium Webdriver. This is almost certainly the result of automated tests.

So... nothing to see here.

Though it is amusing to think that people are going to spend hours of their lives interpreting the output of an automated testing process. And especially amusing that some people are going to refuse to accept this explanation.
posted by aychedee at 1:38 AM on April 26 [12 favorites]


This is no numbers station. 77,000 messages in a little over a year? that's 210 messages a day. What possible intelligence service would be stupid enough to send 210 messages a day? That's asking to have a code broken. The key is to use it rarely.

If these do contain messages, it's probably safer for the people you're transmitting to, to have the flexibility of accessing those messages at their leisure instead of at a specific time. Burying your information in an enormous noise:signal ratio can be a good way of hiding that information. It would be stupid to send 210 real messages a day, but it wouldn't be stupid to send one real message, once in a while, hidden among thousands of videos of meaningless junk. The junk creates the channel for the message. Even if this *is* a way to send messages to someone, there's no way to know *if* the message has even been sent yet. This could be part of a contingency plan, a place to put a message if a message is one day necessary. Honestly, this could be anything. It would be possible to send messages through it, though, so I think it's plausible that someone might want to.
posted by rue72 at 1:52 AM on April 26 [2 favorites]


And especially amusing that some people are going to refuse to accept this explanation.

We shall call it Foucaut's Webdriver!
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:39 AM on April 26 [2 favorites]


It wouldn't be a good way to communicate secretly anyway, because the number of people downloading any particular video is going to be minuscule and easily traced. Numbers stations work because nobody knows who's listening in.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:50 AM on April 26 [4 favorites]


I bet Jodie Foster could figure it out...
posted by HuronBob at 3:14 AM on April 26 [1 favorite]


7
9
11
2
2
4
7
12
5
7
5
posted by Thorzdad at 3:46 AM on April 26 [3 favorites]


It wouldn't be a good way to communicate secretly anyway, because the number of people downloading any particular video is going to be minuscule and easily traced. Numbers stations work because nobody knows who's listening in.

Unless you made it a meme and provided cover for your agent first...

Well, it's probably still pretty crummy, but makes for entertaining fiction.
posted by codacorolla at 5:35 AM on April 26


I wonder if after playing one of these, one of the related videos being the Stooges' Now I Wanna Be Your Dog says more about my YouTubing, the originating video, or some nexus of the two.
posted by Gotanda at 5:51 AM on April 26 [1 favorite]


after downloading all 77k of these videos and analyzing them through hours and hours of number crunching through translation programs the answer i get is 42
posted by pyramid termite at 6:05 AM on April 26 [1 favorite]


Unless you made it a meme

So sneaky
Much subterfuge
The doge flies at midnight
posted by arcticseal at 6:51 AM on April 26 [13 favorites]


It's a shopping list.
posted by jquinby at 7:03 AM on April 26 [1 favorite]


And a cookbook.
posted by notyou at 7:13 AM on April 26 [1 favorite]


Throw some black lines and yellow rectangles in there, and you've got Mondrian!
posted by crazy_yeti at 7:17 AM on April 26 [2 favorites]


With one-time pad encryption, the volume of messages wouldn't make a difference in the ease of breaking the encryption. If you designed the system correctly, you'd be using a different "key" or one-time pad to encrypt and decrypt each message, which would make any analysis across messages useless. I will grant you that 210 messages a day is a crazy number, but a well-funded state intelligence agency could easily hire minions to code and deliver these messages. And if most of the messages are decoys anyway, a well-written pseudo-RNG and some scripting could produce the fakes pretty easily.

I do agree that posting lots of these messages and hiding the real ones in with fake ones to obfuscate which ones are significant would be good policy. You would probably encourage the recipient of the message to use TOR and/or a public VPN service, and download multiple fake messages along with one real one to further obfuscate which messages are real.
posted by ensign_ricky at 8:47 AM on April 26 [1 favorite]


If these do contain messages, it's probably safer for the people you're transmitting to, to have the flexibility of accessing those messages at their leisure instead of at a specific time. Burying your information in an enormous noise:signal ratio can be a good way of hiding that information.

An even better idea would be to bury the information that agents need to retrieve in a more inconspicuous format which doesn't invite speculation. Steganography is sufficiently easy online to make this sort of thing trivial; i.e., “Go to the Instagram feed of “katieluvsponys123”, download any photos of black-and-white kittens. Hash the least significant bit of the blue channel and take the value modulo ___. If it's 4384, initiate Plan Ragnarök immediately”
posted by acb at 9:04 AM on April 26 [4 favorites]


Seems like a really bad numbers station. YouTube, as part of the Google Empire, certainly logs every viewing of every video in its system. So, let's say that Cuban Intelligence (or whomever) decides to use YouTube to communicate with its spies: if the CIA or FBI figures out what's going on, it's a simple matter to go to Google and get the records of what IP addresses have ever viewed that video, and then go to the ISPs and start hunting them down. Not good.

A shortwave broadcast, by contrast, doesn't leave any traces. Sure, it's a little weird for a person to have a SW receiver anymore, but not that weird. And you can easily concoct a cover story for it (ham radio, likes the BBC World Service, listens to crazy religious broadcasts, whatever).

If you really wanted to do that over the Internet, the way to do it is via Usenet. There used to even be a group specifically dedicated to that sort of thing ("alt.anonymous.messages", I believe). The way Usenet works it's a distributed system. There's no central point where you can log who has read what message, and it's not hard to set up a Usenet server that sucks down tons of text groups. It still seems more dangerous than shortwave, but it's a lot better than YouTube. It also wouldn't require any software that's terribly out of the ordinary (at least back in the day, most alt.anonymous.messages were just PGP encrypted, but you don't really even need to do that if you have a good coding system set up yourself).
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:45 AM on April 26 [1 favorite]


> 7 9 11 2 2 4 7 12 5 7 5

UP YOURS BUDDY MY MOTHER WAS A SAINT!

er. uh. I mean... The crow flies at midnight but the doner has extra tzaziki sauce.
posted by at by at 9:54 AM on April 26 [1 favorite]


Though it is amusing to think that people are going to spend hours of their lives interpreting the output of an automated testing process. And especially amusing that some people are going to refuse to accept this explanation.

Oh I hope so.

You know people, this "automated testing process" sounds like a cover up to me.
posted by bongo_x at 10:10 AM on April 26 [1 favorite]


These remind me of some bizarre kids' show segment. The kind you know must have been created by a psychologist for some specific early childhood development reasons, but freak little kids out anyway. I'm not gonna lie to you, that's a healthy piece of real estate!
posted by Metroid Baby at 10:30 AM on April 26 [1 favorite]


Exactly 210 uploads per day? Or is there a message encoded in the upload count? Hmmm?
posted by sammyo at 12:00 PM on April 26


Thread's over now folks. We've made it to Homsar.
posted by JHarris at 12:03 PM on April 26 [1 favorite]


(Homsar being the point of least internet energy. Over time, all systems tend towards Homsar.)
posted by JHarris at 12:05 PM on April 26 [1 favorite]


Unless you made it a meme.

Agent theartandsound, your identity has been compromised. Extraction protocol Echo-Niner-Quebec.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 1:16 PM on April 26 [2 favorites]


Another possibility - some sort of health-checking/monitoring/heartbeat script. Some widget puts it up there, another widget checks to see if it's there. The only thing watching this consistently (other than miscreants like us) is a Sitescope tickler.
posted by jquinby at 1:49 PM on April 26


Kid Charlemagne, Tango-Whiskey-Foxtrot. Report to station 45.38. Await further instruction.
posted by theartandsound at 2:05 PM on April 26


An even better idea would be to post the video to a popular website, some sort of 'community' 'web' 'blog', so lots and lots of people view it.
posted by signal at 2:07 PM on April 26 [1 favorite]


Why in the hell would someone make an automated process output data like this? How would it be interpreted?
posted by NoraReed at 2:39 PM on April 26


Glad to see Oskar Fischinger is still putting his work out there.
posted by drezdn at 2:54 PM on April 26 [1 favorite]


FROM THE GRAVE!
posted by bongo_x at 2:59 PM on April 26 [1 favorite]


Why in the hell would someone make an automated process output data like this? How would it be interpreted?

It may not be intended for interpretation, but rather just a test of a plugin or something that automatically encodes and uploads a youtube video. The people running the test may not even realize that it's still running; or that it's uploading a video to Youtube "for real." The only time they'd be likely to notice would be if the test failed, and everyone on the team got emails about it, and the "you broke the build" alarm went off.
posted by sonic meat machine at 3:35 PM on April 26


"Hey, Bob...remember that script you wrote awhile back? Did ever you pull that incrementing piece out like we talked about? Remember? Switch it over to write-and-then-overwrite the next day?"

"Uh, I'm pretty sure I did that, yeah."

"OK, cool."
posted by jquinby at 6:16 PM on April 26 [5 favorites]




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