Have you ever noticed the four round lights on top of the Adobe Almaden Tower in San José? They look like cat eyes turning to a rhythm. Every 7.2 seconds they change their position.
This is a semaphore – in the early days a semaphore was the person holding two flags to send messages by changing the arm positions. In computer terms it is a variable used for multitasking operations. This semaphore has four wheels each of them can change into four different positions. Enabling it to have a 256 item vocabulary. It is transmitting a code that you can spend weeks to crack.
Ben Rubin was chosen as the media artist to install this artwork in 2006. By 2007 Bob Mayo and Mark Snesrud cracked it. It took them 3 weeks to find out the semaphore was spelling out Thomas Pynchon’s Crying of Lot 49.
The code has been solved twice now. The most recent update was in October 2012.
You can spend hours in front of the building or check out Adobe’s website to study the pattern. If you are successful in deciphering the code you can submit it to Adobe and they will award you bragging rights and a year’s subscription for the Adobe Creative Cloud. In 2017 the Tennessee math teacher, Jimmy Waters figured out that the code at that time was a sound file voicing Neil Amstrong’s famous sentence: “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”.
A true Silicon Valley experience.
Have you ever cracked a semaphore code?