a3nm's blog

Internet investigations

— updated

We don't notice often enough the incredible exploration games that the Internet has to offer. When you're looking at the tip of the iceberg, you see well-known, high-pagerank content: it usually makes sense, and you can easily find context information if you need to. But when you start exploring obscure things, it can be a lot more puzzling. Here are three examples of armchair investigations.

The Hybrid RPG

Wikipedia has a mysterious article (which got flagged for deletion, but kept for lack of a consensus and finally deleted it in 2018 but you can still see it on archive.org) about something described as "a role-playing game", "a model of physical reality", and "unmitigated nonsense". It links to an active blog, a review, and the official site which seems to have vanished.

The blog is enough to give you a glimpse of the thing, but is far from complete. Actually, it only dates back to April 2011. The Wayback Machine has a 2006 copy; it turns out that the author has been deleting old posts. But the archive of the dead original site is much, much more impressive. Over 2 megabytes of purely nonsensical plaintext which is of a particularly intense and interesting flavor of madness. I would really love to believe that this is actually computer-generated, but it doesn't seem likely.

Apparently, the first version of the Hybrid rules were posted, massively and mercilessly, on the Usenet group rec.games.frp.super-heroes. Searching for Hybrid on the Google Groups archives will yield a mass of people complaining about these posts, but I strangely did not manage to find a single message by the guy who posted them; they must have been filtered in some way (or maybe had a do-not-archive header)?

Philippe Tromeur seems to have done the dirty work of compiling these posts into the now-defunct webpage mentioned earlier. The page, of course, is incomplete: it is hard to tell how far back it goes, and it does not include the author's more recent creations, of which some might have been lost forever given his annoying tendency to erase and start over. In a way, it doesn't matter--more than two megabytes is more than enough to pick a random passage and wonder. But in a way, it does matter--this madman has been writing this thing for over ten years now, and I can't help but feel it ought to be saved...

The Ethereal Convent

If you study the OpenPGP web of trust (which I did for school), you might notice a large set of extremely weird keys referring to ranks in an organization called the "Ethereal Convent". The original website seems dead, but blog.nun.org still points to a mostly empty blog, not updated since December 2008.

However, we can still find former versions of nun.org ranging between 1998 and 2004. The Ethereal Convent seems to be some vague religious organization which pretends to have ties with the Order of Perpetual Indulgence, which seems associated to a defunct site selling the well worn undergarments of young men (no, I'm not making that up), and its activities included, apparently, to sell absolute indulgences at a special cut price rate. And apparently, it was based in Thailand.

I should add for completeness' sake that you can also find another related blog (last updated November 2005), a member of which pretends to be reborn into Gay Male Nunhood. It points to another address for the Convent, apparently down. And the rabbit hole continues, and it turns out that there are more URLs, and more obscure mysticism and strange partnerships. (Whois lookups can yield info too, but I won't say more, for privacy's sake.) The world is a very weird place.

The main question, though, is to understand why this appears on the OpenPGP web of trust. The answer is that apparently, from the very beginning, nun.org suggested the use of crypto for email privacy. As time passed, they continued to use crypto: they signed their messages and only accepted encrypted mail. They also had the unexpected idea of selling cryptographically signed "Plenary indulgence" and "Excellence" certificates. Hence, probably, the diverse array of keys on the web of trust, which must have been used to sign the various certificates they sold or intended to sell.

Prime numbers in Haiti

This one will probably appeal more to my French readers. The trail starts on the Haitian Creole Wikipedia article on prime numbers. You might think you don't know this language, but if you can read French, you can read Haitian creole to some extent--just read it out loud. I'll start you off: "Un nombre qui pas capable divisé par aucun autre nombre sinon que par lui même ou sinon 1." (The similarity is no coincidence, of course, and there are a lot of interesting linguistic observations to make, but I won't go into this now.)

On the surface of it, the article seems to have some content (it is even a featured article). Look closer, though. This "Lainé Jean Lhermite Junior" should not be confused with Charles Hermite, and actually, most of the article is devoted to proving his two big formulae you see near the top. This looks like math. However, if you look at the "Premye konsekans imedyat" and "Dezyèm konsekans imedyat", you're bound to notice that this is actually totally trivial. What is going on here?

Well, it turns out that these formulae are a convoluted but correct way of computing the n-th prime (simpler variants exist). However, Lhermite doesn't seem to know about the existing results, and apparently derived others on his own. This still makes sense.

However, one of the sections is weird. Arrows, sheep, red, blue, and a reference to the Bible, along with two dead links. Hmm. Here's the doc mentioned with a dead link, which confirms that prime numbers have a link with 1 Samuel 20:20 ("And I will shoot three arrows on the side thereof, as though I shot at a mark."). Here's the page, mentioning a few "models": "Modèle des boules rouges et des boules bleues" (blue and red balls), "Modèle des flèches" (arrows), "Modèle des quadrilatères et des triangles" (quadrilaterals and triangles), "Modèle des brebis de l'autre pâturage" (ewes from the other pasture), "Modèle du successeur" (sucessor), "Modèle des petits triangles et des grands triangles" (small triangles and big triangles), "Modèle du fils prodigue" (prodigal son). Adequately enough, the page ends by a tribute to the creator of the universe...

comments welcome at a3nm<REMOVETHIS>@a3nm.net