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Did a reporter just solve the bitcoin mystery? (npr.org)
114 points by andrewpi 2264 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 52 comments

"The writer also notes that Satoshi typically uses British (rather than American) spellings.

So he narrows the field to people from the UK at Crypto2011."

Not Singapore, NZ, Australia, Hong Kong, India or any number of prior British colonies that use British English and spellings instead of American? (How about China? Not sure what English version they use, but wouldn't be surprised it's Brit).

Unles there was no one from any of those countries at Crypto2011, then it looks like he excluded up to 2/3rds of the solution space.

Also, I wouldn't be surprised at a skilled cryptologist who wanted to stay incognito faking his spellings to throw people off. For example, I'm not a cryptologist, am American, am not trying to be incognito, and enjoy using British slang and spellings occasionally anyway. And this guy Clear sounds like he's enjoying taking the piss out of the reporter.

(How about China? Not sure what English version they use, but wouldn't be surprised it's Brit).

I'm well acquainted with many native speakers of Chinese who have learned English as a second language (and am married to one). There was a time when the British standard was consciously preferred by educational authorities for English instruction in both China and Taiwan. But that time is past. American English spellings are dominant in China and in a larger part of the "expanding circle" of international use of English.






Completely accurate tokenadult. The official Chinese curriculum still uses the "Fun With English" Oxford books, but American English (as in Korea) is fast becoming the prestige variant. The British version is fading like a vestige of the Opium Wars.

Satoshi's English was better than would be indicated by most Chinese students.

The guy seems to be an excellent developer with a very strong knowledge of crypto. He would not be "most Chinese students" (indeed he would not be "most students" at all), especially in writing.

>Not Singapore, NZ, Australia, Hong Kong, India or any number of prior British colonies that use British English and spellings instead of American?

Not to mention Ireland.

Don't forget Canada. Blame Canada.

..America's hat.

What about all the other europeans? From my experience as a researcher (on another field), europeans in general tend to use british english way more than american english...

Also I wouldn't be surprised if Satoshi was staying away from cryptography conferences.

Getting results out of this sort of process seems to depend upon making hazardous leaps. Even concluding that UK spellings mean UK English locale is a leap in logic. Who's to say the author couldn't possibly have selected the UK spellchecker in emacs?

Put another way, you can risk accidentally filtering the right answer out in exchange for good odds of finding the answer, or you can get bogged down in sifting through China.

Hell, I'm Greek and I prefer British spellings.

You beat me to this point and made it better. Kudos.

This appears to be a denial by the person in question: http://www.scss.tcd.ie/~clearm/bitcoin.html

I did the same undergrad as the guy. I have to say, I'd be really impressed if he put together Bitcoin just as he was finishing college. I would have guessed it was designed by someone, or group, with many years experience developing crypto infrastructure. But who knows.

The bit at the end of the article, about the wallets being encrypted, seems completely spurious to me, and no evidence that the reporter found the right guy (which the reporter seems to intend it to be).

Well it is very possible these gentlemen socialize in the same circles. Interesting read indeed.

Never title something with a question that can be answered "No."

Why not? Isn't it much more honest to ask the question, rather than report it as a fact?

I like this title far more than eg "Reporter discovers likely identity of bitcoin author"

The dichotomy you present ("ask the question" vs. "report it as fact") is false. If you're phrasing it as a question, it's either because the answer is "No" or because you aren't capable of answering the question. Just tell me what you know instead of asking a question neither of us can answer.

The question headline is more compelling, but that's because it creates a false expectation that the question might be answered. It lends itself just as well to sensationalistic headlines like "Did Obama just give the order to nuke France?"

The dichotomy is not false, because the author of the article believes the reporter did find the identity. Probabilistically, he believes the likely answer to the question is "yes" (No, you cannot have a definite answer to that question. But this is true of any future question of fact or policy: "Will Obama win the election?" "Should we create a carbon tax?")

Given the content of the article, it would be an inaccurate title to say "reporter postulates that Michael Clear is the author of BitCoin" because the NPR article implicitly argues that Davis is probably correct. In this situation, the question is perfectly appropriate to express some level of doubt, but a likelihood of truth.

It doesn't matter — asking a question of the reader is still tacky and misleading. "Did a reporter just solve a BitCoin mystery?" either sounds clueless or promises far too much depending on whether you read the question as rhetorical. If you're the reporter, why are you asking me whether this guy "solved a BitCoin mystery"? (The answer is "To create the false expectation that the article will have an answer to the question.")

If the thrust of the piece is that you think Michael Clear is the author of BitCoin, then an accurate headline would be something like, "Joshua Davis just might have unmasked the author of BitCoin." This reflects the thesis much more closely than the original.

Any article that has a question as a title is always answered "no".

The reason is that the question title is used when the reporter is unsure of the facts. If they knew the answer they would make a declarative statement in the headline "Bitcoin Author Discovered by Reporter".

Not sure why you are getting downvoted. I think that it's one of those "Internet Laws" but I can't find a reference as my Google-fu is weak.

I think it's an HN thing. At least, I heard it here.

I get downvoted a lot.

I think I heard it here, too. It's funny how often the rule works, mainly with sensationalist news stories. "Is this the iPod killer?" No.

He's getting downvoted because his comment doesn't add materially to the conversation.

DID a reporter just solve the bitcoin mystery?

Is Hacker News going to provide the answer?

I think the rule is, never title something with a question when the answer IS "no." That happens all when e.g. reporting on sexy rumors that everyone knows aren't really true.

This is an actual open question, though. I have no problem with that.

My point wasn't about grammar, it was that the stated hypothesis is false, and the story is pointless. This reporter did not find his target or even shed any light on the subject.

You should read the original article:

http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/10/10/111010fa_fact_... (subscription required, unfortunately =/. use your uni account or something)

The tone there is much more neutral, because Michael Clear in fact qualifies his statement.

quote from the new yorker article -----------------------

Clear responded that his work for Allied Irish Banks was brief and of "no importance". He admitted that he was a good programmer, understood cryptography, and appreciated the bitcoin design. But, he said, economics had never been a particular interest of his. "I am not Satoshi," Clear said. "But even if I was I wouldn't tell you."

The point, Cler continued, is that Nakamoto's identity shouldn't matter. The system was built so we don't have to trust an individual, a company, or a government. Anybody can review the code, and the network isn't controlled by any one entity. That's what inspires confidence in the system. Bitcoin, in other words, survives because of what you can see and what you can't. Users are hidden, but transactions are exposed. The code is visible to all, but its origins are mysterious. The currency is both real and elusive -- just like its founder.

"You can't kill it," Clear said, with a touch of bravado. "Bitcoin would survive a nuclear attack."

So, anyone written any software that compares two pieces of code and gives the odds of them both being written by the same person?

Far from scientific analysis but using Unmask[1] I get a pretty low scare (109/300) comparing the first Michael Clear pre-print I could find against the Bitcoin paper.

[1] http://immunityinc.com/downloads/unmask1.0.tar.gz

One of my CS professors claimed he had a script to analyze all of his students' programming assignments to find possible instances of cheating. I have no idea how extensive his algorithm was: it could have been anything from a simple whitespace and variable name normalization to an analysis of the abstract syntax tree. Or he may have just been bluffing.

Here's a very simple trick that works for programming languages with a C-style syntax: strip out everything except parentheses, braces, and semicolons and compare. I know that it was used successfully in an algorithms course (shortest paths, flows, that kind of stuff) which had stand-alone implementations of the algorithms as assignments.

Edit: Of course there was a manual inspection step involved as well, this matching process was only used to flag suspicious instances.

And I wouldn't punish cheating in those courses directly: Just add the requirement that people need to be able to explain their solutions however they arrived at them. Being able to explain other people's code is a useful skill, too.

It may be a useful skill, but it's also not what's being taught in an algorithms course.

Likely something like http://theory.stanford.edu/~aiken/moss/, I'd guess.

If not, software that does the same for plain text might work.

I've met Michael Clear a few times, being in the same University as him and generally hanging around with the same crowd of people.

As much as I would love to believe this conspiracy, and would suddenly make my pub meetings with his research group way more interesting, I don't think it's him. But I will keep this article in mind so I can bring it up at every opportunity.

The shroud of secrecy hardens my conspiracy theory that bitcoin was created by the FBI to track illegal payments.

Not created by them, but when people start using a perfectly traceable currency to make illegal purchases, the FBI must rub their hands in glee...

Until they try to trace it to an actual person...

If people assume bitcoin itself is untraceable, they will most likely neglect to try to hide the entry/exit points. And from what I read around, many do make this assumption.

NPR should stick to reporting real news.

There's a pretty good interview with Michael Clear in todays Irish Times:


I hope that British spellings weren't the basis of the UK search. A fair portion of the English speaking world use British spellings. Not that I'm claiming bitcoin for New Zealand.

Good job, link to an https article when over half the content on the page is delivered via HTTP.

Finally! Another bitcoin story makes it to the front page of HN again! It's been a long time. I was beginning to think the HN community has moved on to more important things. When will this Bitcoin nonsense fade away? I think the dollar/yuan situation is far more relevant than some fairy coins nobody uses outside of the World of Warcraft crowd.

The line

> "I'm not Satoshi"

reminded me of this: http://pbfcomics.com/archive_b/PBF045-Wise_Shitashi.jpg

Wonder if Satoshi likes PBF..

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