Learning Latin with children’s books

A desire has been growing in me for some time now to pick up a little Latin. And now with the spring semester at a close, I jumped at the chance to browse some beginning Latin books at the library.

The one I took home with me is “Teach Yourself Beginner’s Latin.” It starts out very basic and has you reading simple Latin from the first chapter. (By “simple” I mean “Dick and Jane” level, but far more interesting, as it discusses the antics of a monk and his mule in the woods.) Despite its simplicity, the feeling of accomplishment is satisfying. Mulus equos non amat. “The mule does not like the horses.” The book jumps right in with declensions (nominative, accusative, and ablative) but, curiously, reserves introducing gender for a few chapters later. So far, it feels comfortingly similar, yet intriguingly different, from my previous studies of French, Spanish, and Italian.

Once I gain some basic reading ability, I will want something to read. That is, something within a beginner’s reach, which probably rules out Tacitus.

My local library contains, to my surprise, two children’s books that have been translated into Latin: Tela Charlottae (Charlotte’s Web) and Winnie Ills Pu (Winnie the Pooh). The former is in juvenile non-fiction, while the latter is in adult non-fiction, due either to inconsistency or some guideline I have not yet grasped. The Library School won’t let me take Cataloguing to find out, until I take some required database class this fall! The non-fiction designation alone puzzled me, until I realized that these books are next to annotated or scholarly versions of various children’s (fiction) literature, so I guess a translation is similar in spirit.

There are also some good pointers to online materials for beginning Latin readers. This list led me to a delightful 1933 text called Cornelia, which is designed with a progressive vocabulary that makes a point of encouraging you to learn words by context as they are encountered. From the Author’s “Foreward to Pupils”:

Salvete, discipuli. This is the story of a little American girl named Cornelia. Her life was different from yours, but not very different. You will readily understand the things that she did. I hope that you will like her and that you will enjoy the adventure of finding out about her in a language that is not your own. Valete, discipuli.

Benigne, magistra!

Protecting a rover from hackers

Cybersecurity is a serious issue not just for computers on Earth, but also for those in space.

Last month, JAXA (Japan’s space agency) announced that hackers had broken in to gain access to information about the Kibo Space Station module. The information consisted of Kibo “operation preparations” and mailing lists. In September, a 16-year-old was sentenced to six months in jail for hacking into NASA (and other) computers. In early 2012, NASA’s Inspector General Paul Martin testified to Congress about the state of NASA’s cybersecurity defenses and woes. “In 2010 and 2011, NASA reported 5,408 computer security incidents that resulted in the installation of malicious software on or unauthorized access to its systems,” he said. This goes beyond hacking into an employee’s PC: “The March 2011 theft of an unencrypted NASA notebook computer resulted in the loss of the algorithms used to command and control the International Space Station.”

Naturally, the same concerns apply for our rovers on Mars.

On Tuesday, I attended a talk titled “MSL Cyber-security implementation status report” by Bryan Johnson and Glen Elliott of JPL. You can view the slides from a similar conference talk. They reported on the long list of actions the team has taken to increase the security of operations and commanding for the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover. These include the implementation of Two-Factor Authentication for access to mission systems and applications, consolidating computers into a single virtual LAN, implementing and testing an “incident response process,” and taking obvious (but time-consuming and easy-to-overlook) steps like pruning the list of people with access to the MSL network.

These steps all aim to improve security here on the ground. I asked whether they would discuss measures being taken to prevent unauthorized access to the rover itself, such as encryption or authentication prior to the rover accepting commands. Unfortunately, they declined to discuss it, but the unofficial word is that there is little or no security on the rover side. Conceivably, anyone with a powerful enough antenna and the right pointing information could send the same kind of signals currently being transmitted by the Deep Space Network to all of our remote assets (rovers, orbiters, and other spacecraft). And as we know, security through obscurity only gets you so far. MSL has had a sufficiently high profile that a rumor began circulating last August that the hacker group Anonymous was trying to gain access to the rover:

MarsCuriosity: “Anyone in Madrid, Spain or Canbarra who can help isolate the huge control signal used for the Mars Odyssey / Curiosity system please? The cypher and hopping is a standard mode, just need base frequency and recordings/feed of the huge signal going out. (yes we can spoof it both directions!)”

A group dedicated to “Space Asset Protection” is looking into this side of the problem. Unfortunately, there is some reluctance to adopt encryption, which carries its own overhead in complexity and bandwidth consumption for the often severely limited data links available for spacecraft communication.

And as for authentication, there’s always the chance that the rover might suddenly say, “I’m sorry, Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.”