A key fact

I'm not sure that anyone really knows where the key and lock were invented. Obviously people have been barring doors from the inside since time immemorial (and is probably the reason why to this day, house doors open inwards).  In a world with house slaves you don't need keys and locks very much: the house slave who watches the door (the janitor, in Latin) identifies the visitor and lifts the bar.

The earliest mention of keys that I know of is from Homer, the Odyssey, book 21.  Odysseus after one or two adventures has made his way home to discover an annoying number of men trying to marry his wife.  Penelope goes to collect her husband's weapons (this will not end well for the suitors).

[Penelope] descended the tall staircase of her chamber, and took the well-bent key in her strong hand, a goodly key of bronze, whereon was a handle of ivory.

Here we have a key, at the time of the Trojan War.  Given the likely dating on Homer, the year is at least 600BC and probably well before.  I want to point out the description of the key as "well-bent", and "bronze".  Because in the late 1800s an art collector named Edward Warren, who seriously knew his antiquities, came across this:

credit: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

You can find this interesting item at the excellent Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.  It is exactly like the description from Homer.  The words inscribed in the bronze identify it as the key for the Temple of Artemis at Lusoi, in Akadia. The difference is, this key is dated to the 5th century BC, which is when Nico & Diotima lived. So this is a key as my heroes would have seen them. 

The key fits through a slot in the door, and you then turn it to lift the bar on the other side. 

You can forget about carrying ancient keys in your pocket. This thing is more than forty centimeters long. That's about sixteen inches.



Vicki Leon in the LA Times

The excellent Vicki Leon, who pops in to comment on this blog from time to time, and who wrote Working IX to V, and The Joy of Sexus, today has an opinion piece on the assassination of JFK published in the LA Times.

It's very much worth reading.

Vicki also has a previous piece in the LA Times.  She suggested that killers who do it for the notoriety would be less inclined if there was a perpetual ban on publicizing their crimes or their names.  She uses as her example what happened to the guy who burned down the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus in 356BC.  (It's the same temple that my heroine Diotima works at in The Ionia Sanction, and it was indeed destroyed by arson).

To find out what they did to him, here is Vicki's article.

The mean streets of classical Athens

If you look to the blurb at the top of this web site, you'll see that Nicolaos walks the mean streets of classical Athens.  The mean streets phrase is very famous in detective fiction, but it occurs to me people might not know where it comes from.

Back in 1950, a chap by the name of Raymond Chandler wrote an essay called The Simple Art of Murder.  I'll quote the closing words:
Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid.  The detective in this kind of story must be such a man.
He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man.  He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor, by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it.  He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world.
I do not care much about his private life; he is neither a eunuch nor a satyr; I think he might seduce a duchess and I am quite sure he would not spoil a virgin [tough luck for Nico on that one]; if he is a man of honor in one thing, he is that in all things.
He is a relatively poor man, or he would not be a detective at all.  He is a common man or he could not go among common people.  He has a sense of character, or he would not know his job.  He will take no man’s money dishonestly and no man’s insolence without a due and dispassionate revenge.  He is a lonely man and his pride is that you will treat him as a proud man or be very sorry you ever saw him.
He talks as the man of his age talks, that is, with rude wit, a lively sense of the grotesque, a disgust for sham, and a contempt for pettiness.  The story is his adventure in search of a hidden truth, and it would be no adventure if it did not happen to a man fit for adventure.  He has a range of awareness that startles you, but it belongs to him by right, because it belongs to the world he lives in.
If there were enough like him, I think the world would be a very safe place to live in, and yet not too dull to be worth living in.

IP addresses: the fingerprints of the internet

You may have noticed a sensational real-life case recently in which an 18 year old girl in Sydney had a bomb hung around her neck.  The bomb proved to be an extortion hoax, but they didn't know that for the first 10 hours while they worked out how to get the thing off her, in fear of an anti-tamper trigger.  Which means the girl had to sit still for 10 hours, not knowing if she was going to die at any moment.  (I presume the policewoman who volunteered to sit with her is due a huge medal.)  A man's been arrested for it,  in, of all places, Kentucky.  Since Kentucky is somewhat outside Australian police jurisdiction, the FBI did the honours on their behalf.

I want to talk about the trail that led to the arrest, because it's an interesting example of detection in an internet world.  

The extortion note said to contact a certain email address: dirkstraun1840@gmail.com. I guess the extortionist is a James Clavell fan.  It's nice to know even heartless extortionists can be readers.

So, now we start detecting...

Keep in mind that the extortionist had to access that gmail account to see if his victims had replied.

Every machine connected to the internet has assigned a unique number called its IP address.  If you think of it as being like a telephone number, you'd not be far wrong.

The IP numbers have to be unique, because these things are what the internet uses to send messages to the right place.  Imagine if two people had exactly the same phone number; it's the same logic.  The machine you're using to read this blog has a unique IP address.

IP addresses are always broken into four parts, written as A.B.C.D, purely to make them easier to manage.  Each of A, B, C and D is a number from 0 to 255.  So, for example, the site FBI.gov, has an IP address of

It should come as no surprise that Google logs the IP address of everyone who uses its email accounts.

So the Australian police called Google and asked, who had accessed that email account.  Google replied with three IP addresses, and the dates and times of access.

The first IP address had been assigned to an internet kiosk at O'Hare airport in Chicago.  The email account had been set up from that kiosk, before the crime occurred.  Of course they didn't know who had used the kiosk, but they knew for sure the extortionist had been at O'Hare at that date and time.

The second IP address had been assigned to a computer at a public library at Kincumber, on the central coast of New South Wales.  Incidentally, this is close to where my mother lives, but I don't suspect her.

The third IP address had been assigned to an internet kiosk at a video store not far from the library.

The second and third access had been to see if there was any mail.  And they were accessed after the crime.

Clearly the extortionist had flown from Chicago to Sydney, committed the crime, and then gone north to Kincumber, and the police knew dates, times and places of where he'd been.  This, plus travel records and some video camera footage from the locations was enough to find their suspect.

How did they know where to find the computers with those IP addresses?  Since every number must be unique, a central authority called ICANN allocates them.  ICANN, through third parties, allocates them in blocks.  A small ISP might ask for a block of IP addresses for its customers to use, and be allocated for example every address that begins 10.20.30.  That's called a class C block because the A, B and C parts of the addresses are all the same, and only the D part varies.  (Remember I said IP addresses are always written in four parts?  This is why.)  The ISP in this example has available to allocate every number from to

ISPs, in turn, keep a record of which of their customers have been assigned which numbers.

When the police got the three IP addresses from Google, they could immediately look up which ISPs owned the blocks in which those numbers sat.  They then had to get from the ISPs which computers had those numbers assigned at that particular time.

So in summary, the web site owner can tell the police the IP address of the criminal.  ICANN tells the police which ISP controls that address, and the ISP tells the police precisely which computer was using the address at the moment of the crime.

IP addresses are, therefore, very much like fingerprints on the internet.