"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.
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.
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).
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.
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".
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."
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.
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.
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.