The blog of author Dennis Cooper

The unknowable presents … Secretly encoded

‘Steganography is more ancient than codes and ciphers, and is the art of hidden writing. For example, a message might be written on paper, coated with wax, and swallowed to conceal it, only to be regurgitated later. Another way is to tattoo the message on the shaved head of a messenger and wait for the hair to regrow to cover up the ink. The best stenography uses innocent everyday objects to carry messages. A once-popular technique in England was to use a newspaper with tiny dots under letters on the front page indicating which ones should be read to spell out the message. Some people would spell out a message using the first letter of every word, or use invisible ink. Rival countries have shrunk writing down so that an entire page of text becomes the size of a pixel easily missed by prying eyes. Steganography is best used in conjunction with a code or cipher, as a hidden message always carries the risk of being found. There is a secret message encoded in this post.’ — collaged


16 Enigma Machines

‘Like all the best cryptography, the Enigma machine is simple to describe, but infuriating to break. Straddling the border between mechanical and electrical, Enigma looked from the outside like an oversize typewriter. Enter the first letter of your message on the keyboard and a letter lights up showing what it has replaced within the encrypted message. At the other end, the process is the same: type in the “ciphertext” and the letters which light are the decoded missive.

‘Inside the box, the system is built around three physical rotors. Each takes in a letter and outputs it as a different one. That letter passes through all three rotors, bounces off a “reflector” at the end, and passes back through all three rotors in the other direction.

‘The board lights up to show the encrypted output, and the first of the three rotors clicks round one position – changing the output even if the second letter input is the same as the first one.

‘When the first rotor has turned through all 26 positions, the second rotor clicks round, and when that’s made it round all the way, the third does the same, leading to more than 17,000 different combinations before the encryption process repeats itself. Adding to the scrambling was a plugboard, sitting between the main rotors and the input and output, which swapped pairs of letters. In the earliest machines, up to six pairs could be swapped in that way; later models pushed it to 10, and added a fourth rotor.

‘Despite the complexity, all the operators needed was information about the starting position, and order, of the three rotors, plus the positions of the plugs in the board. From there, decoding is as simple as typing the cyphertext back into the machine. Thanks to the reflector, decoding was the same as encoding the text, but in reverse.

‘But that reflector also led to the flaw in Enigma, and the basis on which all codebreaking efforts were founded: no letter would ever be encoded as itself. With that knowledge, as well as an educated guess at what might be encrypted in some of the messages (common phrases included “Keine besonderen Ereignisse”, or “nothing to report” and “An die Gruppe”, or “to the group”), it was possible to eliminate thousands of potential rotor positions.’ — collaged


Lenticular Encryption

‘For all the time we’ve spent staring blankly at GIFs, it’s crazy to think that those looping animations could have been hiding coded messages all along. Prosthetic Knowledge put together this “Lenticular Encryption” project to show how illicit info can be snuck into everyone’s favorite image format.

‘Staring at these with eyes alone won’t reveal their secrets—it takes a little analog and digital media double-team to make that happen. Angling a lenticular sheet on top of the screen will expose a whole new layer of intel and add another “visual narrative” beyond the straightforward animation.’ — collaged


Encode hidden messages in your Facebook pics

‘Facebook is a place where you can share pictures of cute animals and fun activities. Now there’s a browser extension that lets you encode those images with secret, hard-to-detect messages. That’s the idea behind Secretbook, a browser extension by 21-year-old Oxford University computer science student and former Google intern Owen-Campbell Moore. With the extension, anyone – you, your sister, a terrorist – could share messages hidden in JPEG images uploaded to Facebook without the prying eyes of the company, the government or anyone else noticing or figuring out what the messages say. The only way to unlock them is through a password you create.

‘The extension is only available for the Google Chrome browser – Campbell-Moore cites its developer tools and popularity – and the messages are restricted to 140 characters. Less certain is what Facebook thinks; a spokesman declined to comment. But it’s still the first time anyone’s managed to figure out how to automate digital steganography through Facebook, the world’s biggest social media platform. Unlike cryptography, which uses ciphertext to encrypt messages, steganographic messages are simply hidden where no one would think to look.’ — Wired


34 secret codes


Movie encoded onto living bacteria

‘Researchers at Harvard Medical School have stored a video in the DNA of bacteria. It’s the first time a video has been recorded into living cells, as opposed to synthetic material. The team inserted a short animated image of ‘The Horse in Motion’ (one of the earliest moving images ever created) into E. coli, using gene-editing system CRISPR. The movie was split into five frames, and each frame chopped into single-colored pixels. They then created DNA codes corresponding to each color and strung them together. Each bacterium carried snippets of the video stored in their DNA, and when taken together, the scientists were able to retrieve and reconstruct the pieces to play the video.’ — collaged


Hollywood Encodes the Path of the Sun

‘One of the main things that secret societies, the Vatican, Hollywood and the ruling class engage in is the encoding of the sun’s path through the zodiac. Maybe we should stop asking what is encoded but why it is encoded – to include dates of faked events and staged disasters. This clip which details how the sun’s path is encoded in the () film ‘Michael’ is just a reminder of what we should all know by now. All movies and media contain encoded, hidden subtext of the sun’s zodiacal path- but why?’ — Crrow777


28 decoder rings

‘Secret decoders are generally circular scales, descendants of the cipher disk developed in the 15th century by Leon Battista Alberti. Rather than the complex polyalphabetic Alberti cipher method, the decoders for children invariably use simple Caesar cipher substitutions.

‘The most well-known example started in 1934 with the Ovaltine company’s sponsored radio program Little Orphan Annie. The fan club’s member’s handbook included a simple substitution cipher with a resulting numeric cipher text. This was followed the next year with a membership badge or pin that included a cipher disk – enciphering the letters A-Z to numbers 1-26. Similar badges and pocket decoders continued with the Captain Midnight radio and television programs.

‘None of these early decoders were in the form of finger rings, but “secret compartment” rings were common radio program premiums and in the early 1960s secret decoder rings appeared – notably in conjunction with the Jonny Quest television program sponsored by PF Shoes. A later, less ornate, decoder ring was offered by Kix Cereals. and the men’s magazine Oui offered a Captain Jet Decoder Ring[citation needed]- and in 2000 Ovaltine offered a Secret Decoder Ring to be worn on the finger which used their traditional A-Z to 1-26 scheme.’ — collaged


Bruno Borges

‘Brazilian psychology student Bruno Borges seemed fine when he left his family home to work on a ‘secretive project’ four months ago, but he hasn’t been seen since then. His concerned relatives managed to access his locked room, and what they found inside was both bizarre and disturbing.

‘The room was covered wall-to-wall with cryptic text and formulas, as well as several strange paintings. 14 books, reportedly written by Borges, contained an indecipherable script. Watching over it all was a tall statue of Giordano Bruno, a 16th-century Italian philosopher who was one of the first to predict the presence of extraterrestrial life, estimated to be worth around $2500 USD.

‘A video tour of Borges’ room, possibly taken by a police officer, has leaked to YouTube.’ — bored panda


The Secret Code Hidden In All Pixar Movies


A Bug’s Life


Cars 2

Finding Nemo

The Incredibles

Monsters University


Toy Story




This Creepy Puzzle Arrived In Our Mail

‘We received a letter from Poland containing a really weird CD. Written on the disc is what looks like a product key, however upon examining the contents of the CD it’s quite clear that this is a puzzle of some sort.

‘The CD contains a video of this creepy looking dude in what appears to be an abandoned building doing.. stuff.. There are tons of clues in his actions, for one he seems to be blinking in morse code (or something similar, possibly binary) with a light in his hand. There are also symbols popping in and out around him. There might also be clues in his body language, albeit more subtle. In the DVD menu there is also a clue, which I almost missed.

‘Clearly a lot of effort was put into making this, and I’m personally very curious as to what it actually is.

‘I haven’t put all that much time on trying to decode it. I tried googling the letters on the CD and in the video, to no avail. I also checked the disc for hidden files, but there’s just the video. Also there didn’t seem to be any clues on the envelope itself, just our address and a polish stamp. And while there are a few similar puzzles like this, I couldn’t find anything about this one.

‘So I’m reaching out to you to try and help decode this.

‘Update 1:

‘This post has received a lot of attention. It’s getting closer to an answer.

‘Somebody on Reddit put the sound into a spectrogram and this came out. One thing is for sure, there are indeed hidden messages in the video.

‘Update 2:

‘It’s getting really weird now. First of, people are saying it looks like the kind of mask doctors wore during the black death plague. The beak is to fill with various herbs. Somewhat interesting. And this is where it starts to get seriously creepy.

‘But the sickest part is that when decoding images from the sound, disturbing images where uncovered.. Basically what looks like women being tortured, or something.. That’s obviously NSFW, so I won’t post it, but you can find it easily if you look around a bit.

‘Now there are so many theories about this. Some say Illuminati, some say serial killer or even a threat directed at me. Perhaps, perhaps not, but I am highly skeptical. It makes sense to send it to me if it’s an elaborate joke or experiment, but if it were a serious threat I doubt it would be sent to a tech blog … ‘ —

(The story thickens – continued)



p.s. Hey. Today a blog reader and possible commenter who wishes to remain unknown for post-appropriate purposes has delivered a day about secret encoding for us, and I’m all for it, and I hope you will be too. For those of you who get in the spirit of the thing, our guest-host adds that they have secretly encoded their name/identity somewhere in the post. Enjoy the mysteries, and thank you a lot, oh unknowable one. ** Dominik, Hi!!! Unfortunately the technical problems — successfully translating the film from the program we used to make it into the software the sound guy uses to work on it — are rather large, but we should have them sorted by tomorrow morning and be on our way. If I can remain smooth faced, you can certainly remain impeccably short-nailed. Love secretly encoding the password for human teleportation into this sentence, G. ** Misanthrope, Nik to the rescue. I mean, the job doesn’t sound that shitty (says the guy who’s never had an actual job). Ah, crap, on your travel plans. What’s a handful of months, though? Portugal, nice. Portugal’s awesome. I recommend Porto. Self-publishing has never been more legit and accepted/ respected, so, if that’s your route, no big, although you’ll have to prepare yourself to give it a public push. ** _Black_Acrylic, Thanks for the link to the reel, Ben. I’ll watch it in just a bit. ** 2Moody, I haven’t seen an Almodovar since ‘The Skin I Live In’. I think my fave of the later ones is ‘All About My Mother’, if that counts as later. But I’m going to try to catch up. Not sure if I can handle his ‘Brokeback Mountain’ thing though. Mm, unless you have the ability to hire a fabricator, I fear your hands would get buggy, so a puppy is fine. It can keep my donkey piñata company. See, you turned a mere hat-sporting creep into something of wonder and dreaminess. You are a true writer or least poet. Imagination in the face of ire has saved my life multiple times. Realistically, my only real benefit from the cooling down is that it will be less humid in the studios in which I will working on our film until late next week. I have a fear of heights, so I’ll just watch you skydive from the ground and bite my nails, if that’s okay. xoxo back. ** Nik, Hey, Nik! Holy moly, you saw and you returned! Fantastic! Me? I’ve just working on Zac’s and my film pretty much since I last saw you, but we’re almost finished with it. You live in the city and work for Pratt? And are still with Fence. That’s awesome, man. I’d love to hear more anytime that  the old blog’s entrance strikes your fancy. And let me know about the Crime journal, or I’ll hunt it down on may own. Thanks, man, so great to see you. Don’t be a total stranger please. ** Thomas Moronic, Hi, Mister. Fahey is sublime. I so agree. Incredible work, and such an artistic role model. I do miss Bimbo Tower a lot too, yeah. You good, writing, living well? ** Matt N., Hi. No, the ‘audio novel’ will ideally be something never quite done before if we can manage that. We have big ambitions for it, at least. Mm, strange-wise, the only person who comes to mind was this guy David I was friends with in high school. He was extremely brilliant, but he never made any sense (to me). He could talk in this complicated way for hours, and then he could be complete silent for long periods. He could be really serene, and then he’d become extremely violent, not against people but against things. One time I was hanging out with him, and he suddenly stood up and completely destroyed his entire bedroom in front of me, then he sat down and continued what he was saying. In hindsight, I think he was very bipolar, but at the time he completely flummoxed me. Who’s your strangest? ‘It’s hard to reveal a secret that doesn’t want to be found’: maybe today’s post is for you, ha ha. Rock today. ** Steve Erickson, I’ve heard some of those late Fahey records, and I thought they were fascinating. That Shangri-Las book does sound annoying. I’ve always wondered to what degree Shadow Morton was responsible for their songs’ extreme greatness. I’ve assumed a lot. No, I’ve never come across the Lenny Kaye stuff. I would so massively love to hear that. I think the Shangri-Las are genius level. ** TJ Sandel, Hi. I think you recognise the limitations of the characters and fiction’s traditional elements, and that’s what’s important. As long as you know that, you’ll figure it out. I never did an MFA, but I know writer friends who did, and I know it’s a lot to unlearn. I just think of the characters as the fiction’s main entrance and respect their importance to the reader in that regard. But to me they’re always just the most important configurations in the prose, and the feeling/meaning can be conveyed by the writing itself or by other details in the narrative. They don’t own the fiction, I guess. Happy if my talk helps. ** Ollie🦉, Hi. Oh, right, okay, I remember. Well, I move my creativity around a lot, obviously, like making films and such, but I do always try to keeping writing fiction in the margins even when the margins are very small and scattered. You’ll be fine, in other words. Is it normal to write, and start over, write? Absolutely, yes! For me, at least. Don’t worry if you’re doing that. One thing: you can’t judge the quality of your writing without some outside POVs. Some of the most exciting writing for me is not conventionally skilful, but it has an originality that’s much more exciting and important than fiction that is written ‘well’. Writing ‘well’ can be pretty boring. I don’t mind your questions at all, of course, no. I think maybe the best place to start is finding people whose opinion you trust, ideally other young writers or artists at least, and sharing your work with them just to get some initial feedback and support in an almost private, safe kind of way. Then I guess you start sending it out to magazine or sites and stuff. Or make a book and either publish it yourself or find someone to publish it. And  eventually you’re kind of out there in the public in some small way as a writer, and that make things a lot easier. If by career you meaning making a living doing it, I don’t know about that. I’ve never gotten there. But if you mean making writing your concentration and a big part of your identity, it’s just diligence and stick-to-it-iveness and self-belief. Thank you for the birds. I’ll try to unconsciously catch sight and sound of them tonight. ** oliver jude, Good morning (because it’s morning here). I’m excited by your description of your screenplay. Really intriguing characters and ‘set up’. It sounds like the narrative will happen very easily and imaginatively. Great work. I look forward to hearing more. Verow was the cinematographer, etc., gotcha. Do you know/like Moritsugu’s other films? ** Cody Goodnight, Hi, Cody. I’m pretty alright. Fahey’s great. I did see ‘The Music Lovers’, but a long time ago. I don’t remember it so well. I’m weird: I’ve hated carbonated drinks since I was a little kid. I never drink them. You know, honestly, my favorite drink is a really strong, very cold, unsweetened iced tea. I’m pretty simple. I hope your day/night are exciting. ** Mark, Hi, Mark. No, damn, the zine has not arrived. I’m getting a little concerned. Really, the French post is very unreliable often. Strange for such a sophisticated country. Nice that you hung with Kristian Hoffman. He probably doesn’t remember me, but, if you see him again, give him my hey. ** Right. You know what’s in store and not in store for you today, so be there. See you tomorrow.


  1. Dominik


    Oh, my god! I know this post will do my head in, haha! Thank you, though – and I’m not being sarcastic!

    Shit. I hope you can really get the issues sorted by tomorrow! After all the trouble you’re going through to give birth to this film, it’ll be a mind-blowingly beautiful experience to let it out into the world for the first time! Hang in there! (Imagine a heart emoji here, please.)

    Ah, I’d be so, SO grateful to love! Really, that’s one of my utmost desires – to have the ability to teleport. I must crack the code, haha. Love realizing that scallions and leeks aren’t the same, Od.

  2. Misanthrope

    Unknowable one, Hahahaha. I like this post and I like that you’ve put your name in there somewhere. I’ll never find it. But the idea of doing this is, to put it in technical terms, fucking awesome.

    Dennis, You know what? That job isn’t that shitty. It’s not hard. You can get really busy at jobs like that and it seems a nightmare, but everything’s right there for you, from the ingredients to the process. It’s pretty rote, which is maybe what can make it shitty.

    Porto. Gotcha. I’ll suggest that to my friend.

    Dennis—yes, I’ve repeated your name here for emphasis and to imply seriousness (and am using em dashes to boot)—I have a crazy fucking idea of writing all three of these at the same time. No reason other than it popped into my head and I think I can do it. We’ll see.

    Yes, I’m less averse to self-publishing nowadays. I do know, though, that a lot of people, I daresay the great majority, still give it side eye. But whatever. Just to get stuff out there in the world and maybe someone reads it and enjoys it? Yes.

    For example, a friend of a friend asked my friend if she could read my latest thing. He asked me if it was all right. I said yes, of course. Two weeks after she’d finished it, she asked him, “Is he gonna write another one? I can’t get this book and these characters out of my head.” I tell you, that means as much to me as winning a Nobel. Just one person on a faraway continent, but it meant the whole world to me.

    So yeah, self-publishing, not a problem with me anymore.

    The public push, though…hahahahahahahhaaha. Right? I’m like you and so many others here…I get a little queasy thinking about it. 😀

  3. _Black_Acrylic

    @ The unknowable, thank you for today’s fascinating post. I fear this is beyond my decoding capabilities, but I enjoyed the info immensely.

    Re last night’s game, Scotland were beaten by the English 3-1. I fell asleep before any goals went in, which is probably just as well. A definite highlight though was Scotland’s fans booing the English national anthem God Save the King which can be viewed here.

  4. oliver jude

    hi good morning (here)! that’s really kind of you to say, thank you! i’ll update as i get more into it. i’ve only ever seen mod fuck and terminal usa which i also really enjoyed, but i found it on a google drive a couple years ago and really want to rewatch it in better quality. afga just did a big restoration of most of his movies with vinegar syndrome and they put out a bluray boxset of it. i’m going to buy it for myself for my birthday, so i’m excited for that. what about yourself? do you have a favorite?

  5. 2Moody

    Ooh a puzzle in a post! I do daily word puzzles, but clearly this is a sign to expand my horizons (oh dear, not the pareidolia again!)

    ‘All About My Mother’ was my first Almodóvar and I haven’t revisited it since. Y’know when you watch/experience something and it’s like, the perfect setting and time in your life that you wanna keep it in that memory? That’s it for me, but I oughta suck it up and rewatch once I finish these final few flicks of his as a palate cleanser. Here I was thinking I’m the only person unmoved by the thought of Pedro Pascal and Ethan Hawke, wonderful actors as they are, chastely kissing. I’ll let you know just how tepid it is once I get to it.

    Perhaps I’ll invent a Rube Goldberg machine to kindly transport the bug into a box and even wrap it nicely for you. I wouldn’t want your donkey piñata, hypothetical bug-lover it may be, to miss out on a creepy little friend. Piñatas kinda freak me out, or moreso the act of swinging a bat around in rabid stupor while blindfolded. I didn’t trust myself or peers enough back then, so nowadays when the festivities start I practically bolt to take cover. Somehow the thought of getting beaten into a pulp by a blindfolded person thinking I’m a piñata is more terrifying than the thought of getting beaten intentionally. Would that be a rational or irrational fear, you think?

    Oh don’t make me blush! I think the creeps of the world owe us and our sweet imagination big time. I’m most excited to wear pants again without feeling the material stick to sweaty legs, but a humidity-free studio sounds even more rewarding. You ought to start carrying a folding fan around like a coquettish courtesan, just in case. I’m afraid of the journey it takes to reach the heights, but once I’m up there I’m pretty chill. Getting back down is an entirely different story. How do you fare with rollercoasters/drop rides? I imagine well, being the amusement park lover you are. Me, however… I’ll stick with the swings and twisty dark rides. xoxo

  6. Mark

    Great reading this morning with Jack and crew! I read Sala and Equi back in the late 80s as an art student in Chicago. We’ll resend you the zine… hopefully some French postal works are enjoying it! BTW – did you get a copy of my chapbook?

  7. Ollie🦉

    cryptology!! How very very cool. Have you heard of the German cryptologist who was also an occultist among other things called Johannes Trithemius? Really interesting guy with a connection to Necromancy.
    yeah I think i’ll be fine. Its just, I’m so used to intensely consuming so many books that this whole, I guess book burn-out? feels weird.
    I want to actively find writers/artist who have a innate passion for the subjects I like.
    I have alot of artsy friends but even though we have things in common I feel too..embarassed? scared…? that if I get them to read parts of my book they’ll think its way too weird. They’ll think its like too fucked up and prosaic. I like talking to them about things but I feel like there is a whole side of interests that I kind of cant bring up.
    I don’t think I actually have a friend who has an interest in writing like I do. Well maybe I dont know.
    Hmm. Maybe I will actually take the chance and ask my friend to read a piece and see if that goes well? Yes. I think I will. I think I am a hard-working diligent person, despite my occasional episodes, so I think that’s not too much a problem.
    Yes I was talking to this smart guy who works at the program and he gave me good advice about focusing on one thing and though I don’t think writing will be the one thing I do, at the moment its the most prominent goal I have.

    I want to work incessantly for the rest of the year so I can make a lot of money and hopefully move out of the state next year because, truthfully, its really boring here. When I bring up New York people kind of tell me about how the city sucks, and how it is a dangerous, expensive place. Stuff that is admittivity true. Honestly though, I don’t know, I hate the south, and NC (atleast here) it is the worst place to learn to drive its way too hot. Plus there’s not a lot of options in terms of the support I need, to put it shortly.

    Hey I have work tomorrow, so I am looking forward to getting my fingers cut open by cardboard pieces!

    • Ollie🦉

      I think the bird conversation has inspired me to maybe make a wind-up bird that walks on stilts with pistons and going cross-eyed. Too bad I dont have the tools atm.

  8. aleirbaG ,airalaM ,alimaC ,allebasI ,airaM

    Hello Mr Cooper/Coops… I have reversed my name in code so no one is knowing who this is…
    I am hoping you are ok…. I am sometimes from time to time looking in at you again… I am thinking about you the other day when I am on the phone to my ‘provider’ who I am getting very angry with to the point of being arrested… luckily on completion I started crying… and that defused the ‘staerht htaed ‘ (said backwards so no one is knowing apart from you Coops… ) this post is a good one like you it is just my T.Y.P.E stop…. x

  9. Steve Erickson

    That book did lead me to download a much more extensive Shangri-Las compilation than the one I owned. I wonder if their ’70s album was even finished. (Sire was supposed to release it at the time.)

    I watched Almodovar’s THE HUMAN VOICE yesterday and thought it was pretty good. I wonder how it would have worked without Tilda Swinton. (I looked up the Cocteau play, and it seems to have been adapted into at least 10 films.) Much better than STRANGE WAY OF LIFE, with which it will play in the U.S.

    Best of luck getting past your technical issues tomorrow!

  10. Cody Goodnight

    Hi Dennis.
    How are you? I’m ok. Secretly encoded messages are interesting. Especially that whole satanic panic scare involving Ozzy and Judas Priest. I have a caffeine addiction so I can’t relate. Iced tea sounds really good. Watching Possession again tonight, going to watch Shinya Tsukamoto movies tomorrow. Have a good one!

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