Basilisk collection

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Basilisk collection

The basilisk collection (also known as the basilisk file or basilisk.txt) is a collection of over 125 million partial hash inversions of the SHA-256 cryptographic hash function. Assuming state-of-the art methods were used to compute the inversions, the entries in the collection collectively represent a proof-of-work far exceeding the computational capacity of the human race.[1][2] The collection was released in parts through BitTorrent beginning in June 2018, although it was not widely reported or discussed until early 2019.[3] On August 4th, 2019 the complete collection of 125,552,089 known hash inversions was compiled and published by CryTor, the cybersecurity lab of the University of Toronto.[4]

The existence of the basilisk collection has had wide reaching consequences in the field of cryptography, and has been blamed for catalyzing the January 2019 Bitcoin crash.[2][5][6]

Electronic Frontier Foundation cryptographer Brian Landlaw has said that “whoever made the basilisk is 30 years ahead of the NSA, and the NSA are 30 years ahead of us, so who is there left to trust?”[35]

This is fucking amazing, on a par with e.g. First on the Moon.

Presented in the style of an alternate-reality Wikipedia article, this piece of what the author calls “unfiction” describes the narratively believable-but-spooky (if theoretically unlikely from a technical standpoint) 2018 disclosure of evidence for a new presumed mathematical weakness in the SHA-2 hash function set. (And if that doesn’t sound like a good premise for a story to you, I don’t know what’s wrong with you! 😂)

Cryptographic weaknesses that make feasible attacks on hashing algorithms are a demonstrably real thing. But even with the benefit of the known vulnerabilities in SHA-2 (meet-in-the-middle attacks that involve up-to-halving the search space by solving from “both ends”, plus deterministic weaknesses that make it easier to find two inputs that produce the same hash so long as you choose the inputs carefully) the “article” correctly states that to produce a long list of hash inversions of the kinds described, that follow a predictable sequence, might be expected to require more computer processing power than humans have ever applied to any problem, ever.

As a piece of alternate history science fiction, this piece not only provides a technically-accurate explanation of its premises… it also does a good job of speculating what the impact on the world would have been of such an event. But my single favourite part of the piece is that it includes what superficially look like genuine examples of what a hypothetical basilisk.txt would contain. To do this, the author wrote a brute force hash finder and ran it for over a year. That’s some serious dedication. For those that were fooled by this seemingly-convincing evidence of the realism of the piece, here’s the actual results of the hash alongside the claimed ones (let this be a reminder to you that it’s not sufficient to skim-read your hash comparisons, people!):

basilisk:0000000000:ds26ovbJzDwkVWia1tINLJZ2WXEHBvItMZRxHmYhlQd0spuvPXb6cYFJorDKkqlA

claimed: 0000000000000000000000161b9f84a187cc21b172bf68b3cb3b78684d8e9f17
 actual: 00000000000161b9f84a187cc21b1752bf678bdd4d643c17b3b786684d8e9f17

basilisk:0000000001:dMHUhnoEkmLv8TSE1lnJ7nVIYM8FLYBRtzTiJCM8ziijpTj95MPptu6psZZyLBVA

claimed: 0000000000000000000000cee5fe5df2d3034fff435bb40e8651a18d69e81460
 actual: 0000000000cee5fe5df2d3034fff435bb4232f21c2efce0e8651a18d69e81460

basilisk:0000000002:aSCZwTSmH9ZtqB5gQ27mcGuKIXrghtYIoMp6aKCLvxhlf1FC5D1sZSi2SjwU9EqK

claimed: 000000000000000000000012aabd8d935757db173d5b3e7ae0f25ea4eb775402
 actual: 000000000012aabd8d935757db173d5b3ec6d38330926f7ae0f25ea4eb775402

basilisk:0000000003:oeocInD9uFwIO2x5u9myS4MKQbFW8Vl1IyqmUXHV3jVen6XCoVtuMbuB1bSDyOvE

claimed: 000000000000000000000039d50bb560770d051a3f5a2fe340c99f81e18129d1
 actual: 000000000039d50bb560770d051a3f5a2ffa2281ac3287e340c99f81e18129d1

basilisk:0000000004:m0EyKprlUmDaW9xvPgYMz2pziEUJEzuy6vsSTlMZO7lVVOYlJgJTcEvh5QVJUVnh

claimed: 00000000000000000000002ca8fc4b6396dd5b5bcf5fa80ea49967da55a8668b
 actual: 00000000002ca8fc4b6396dd5b5bcf5fa82a867d17ebc40ea49967da55a8668b

Anyway: the whole thing is amazing and you should go read it.

There is a car

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There is a car, in the hospital parking lot.

It is a faded red, covered with dust.

Other cars have parked and left on either side of it, every day, but this car remains.

I pass by it, as I find parking, on my way in to work.

I know what it means.

Short story by a nephrologist (kidney specialist). I haven’t a clue why people try to use Twitter to write long-form content – by the time you’re bending the medium so far out of shape, perhaps you chose the wrong medium? – but I still enjoyed this piece.

What’s the harm in reading?

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The violent and oftentimes ironically ignorant backlash against Fall’s story sheds light on a troublingly regressive, entitled, and puritanical trend in the relationship between artists and their audiences, particularly when it comes to genre fiction. Readers appear to feel a need to cast their objections to fiction in moral terms, positioning themselves as protectors of the downtrodden. Trans writer Phoebe Barton went so far as to compare Fall’s story to a “gun” which could be used only to inflict harm, though in a later tweet she, like Jemisin, admitted she hadn’t read it and had based her reaction solely on its title.

Many reactions to Fall’s story, for all that they come from nominal progressives, fit neatly into a Puritanical mold, attacking it as hateful toward transness, fundamentally evil for depicting a trans person committing murder, or else as material that right-wing trolls could potentially use to smear trans people as ridiculous. Each analysis positioned the author as at best thoughtless and at worst hateful, while her attackers are cast as righteous; in such a way of thinking, art is not a sensual or aesthetic experience but a strictly moral one, its every instance either fundamentally good or evil. This provides aggrieved parties an opportunity to feel righteousness in attacking transgressive art, positioning themselves as protectors of imagined innocents or of ideals under attack.

As few days ago, I shared a short story called I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter. By the time my reshare went live, the original story had been taken down at its author’s request and I had to amend my post to link to an archived copy. I’d guessed, even at that point, that the story had been seen as controversial, but I hadn’t anticipated the way in which it had so been seen.

Based on the article in The Outline, it looks like complaints about the story came not as I’d anticipated from right-wingers upset that their mocking, derogatory term had been subverted in a piece of art but instead from liberals, including arguments that:

  • despite its best efforts, the story sometimes conflates sex, gender, and occasionally sexual orientation, (yeah, that’s a fair point, but it doesn’t claim to be perfect)
  • it’s an argument for imperialism by tying aggression to an (assigned, unconventional) gender, thereby saying that “some people are legitimised in their need for war” (I don’t think we’re at any risk of anybody claiming that their gender made them commit an atrocity)
  • it identifies a trans person as a potential war criminal (so what? literature doesn’t have to paint every trans person in a perfectly-positive light, and I’d argue that the empowerment and self-determination of the protagonist are far more-visible factors)

I note that some of the loudest complainants have admitted that they didn’t even read the story, just the title. If you’re claiming to be a trans ally, you really ought to demonstrate that you don’t literally judge a book by its cover.

I don’t think that the story was perfect. But I think that the important messages – that gender presentation is flexible, not fixed; that personal freedom of gender expression is laudable; that behaviour can be an expression of gender identity, etc. – are all there, and those relatively-simple messages are the things that carry-over to the audience that the (sensational) title attracts. Trans folks in fiction are rarely the protagonists and even-more-rarely so relatable, and there’s value in this kind of work.

Sure, there are issues. But rather than acting in a way that gets a (seemingly well-meaning) work taken down, we should be using it as a vehicle for discussion. Where are the problems? What are our reactions? Why does it make us feel the way it does? We improve trans depictions in fiction not by knee-jerk reactions to relatively-moderate stories and by polarising the space into “good” and “bad” examples, but by iterative improvements, a little at a time, as we learn from our mistakes and build upon our successes. We should be able to both celebrate this story and dissect its faults. We can do better, Internet.

I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter

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I sexually identify as an attack helicopter.

I lied. According to US Army Technical Manual 0, The Soldier as a System, “attack helicopter” is a gender identity, not a biological sex. My dog tags and Form 3349 say my body is an XX-karyotope somatic female.

But, really, I didn’t lie. My body is a component in my mission, subordinate to what I truly am. If I say I am an attack helicopter, then my body, my sex, is too. I’ll prove it to you.

When I joined the Army I consented to tactical-role gender reassignment. It was mandatory for the MOS I’d tested into. I was nervous. I’d never been anything but a woman before.

But I decided that I was done with womanhood, over what womanhood could do for me; I wanted to be something furiously new.

To the people who say a woman would’ve refused to do what I do, I say—

Isn’t that the point?

This short story almost-certainly isn’t what you’d expect, based on the title. What it is sits at the intersection of science fiction and gender identity, and it’s pretty damn good.

Looks like the original’s gone down, but here’s an archived copy.

Gosh, even the archive.org copy’s gone. Here’s another.

The 5 year-old and the 2 year-old are playing at running a veterinary surgery (the 5 year-old’s department) and animal shelter (the 2 year-old’s department).

Annabel and John playing vets

The 5 year-old’s filled me in on the tragic backstory of this particular establishment: she and the 2 year-old are twins but were orphaned soon after birth. They were adopted by different families but then those families all died, too, and because everybody else in the world already had children there was nobody to adopt them and so they had to look after themselves. 67 years of schooling later, at age 15 (maths might need some work…), the pair of them decided, at the end of secondary school, that their shared love of animals meant that they should open a vet/shelter, and so they did.

When they’re not busy fitting collars for unicorns or treating yet-another-outbreak of canine chickenpox, they’re often found patrolling the streets and shouting “does anybody have any sick or injured animals?”. Except during naptime. Their work has a naptime, of course. (I wish my work had a naptime.)

It’s a tough job. Sometimes animals need quarantining in the safe. Sometimes you’ve got to fit an elderly crocodile with false teeth. Sometimes you’ve got a hippo whose owner says that it thinks it’s a duck, but thanks to your years of training you’re able to diagnose as actually thinking it’s a goose. Sometimes it’s a swan that won’t stop vomiting, or a snail that lost it’s shell and now has diarrhoea. It’s hard work, but the twins find it rewarding.

Imaginative play rocks.

Bus Station, Unbound

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Back in February my friend Katie shared with me an already four-year-old piece of interactive fiction, Bus Station: Unbound, that I’d somehow managed to miss the first time around. In the five months since then I’ve periodically revisited and played through it and finally gotten around to writing a review:

All of the haunting majesty of its subject, and a must-read-thrice plot

Perhaps it helps to be as intimately familiar with Preston Bus Station – in many ways, the subject of the piece – as the protagonist. This work lovingly and faithfully depicts the space and the architecture in a way that’s hauntingly familiar to anybody who knows it personally: right down to the shape of the rubberised tiles near the phone booths, the forbidding shadows of the underpass, and the buildings that can be surveyed from its roof.

But even without such a deep recognition of the space… which, ultimately, soon comes to diverge from reality and take on a different – darker, otherworldly – feel… there’s a magic to the writing of this story. The reader is teased with just enough backstory to provide a compelling narrative without breaking the first-person illusion. No matter how many times you play (and I’ve played quite a few!), you’ll be left with a hole of unanswered questions, and you’ll need to be comfortable with that to get the most out of the story, but that in itself is an important part of the adventure. This is a story of a young person who doesn’t – who can’t – know everything that they need to bring them comfort in the (literally and figuratively) cold and disquieting world that surrounds them, and it’s a world that’s presented with a touching and tragic beauty.

Through multiple playthroughs – or rewinds, which it took me a while to notice were an option! – you’ll find yourself teased with more and more of the story. There are a few frankly-unfair moments where an unsatisfactory ending comes with little or no warning, and a handful of places where it feels like your choices are insignificant to the story, but these are few and far between. Altogether this is among the better pieces of hypertext fiction I’ve enjoyed, and I’d recommend that you give it a try (even if you don’t share the love-hate relationship with Preston Bus Station that is so common among those who spent much of their youth sitting in it).

It’s no secret that I spent a significant proportion of my youth waiting for or changing buses at (the remarkable) Preston Bus Station, and that doubtless biases my enjoyment of this game by tingeing it with nostalgia. But I maintain that it’s a well-written piece of hypertext interactive fiction with a rich, developed world. You can play it starting from here, and you should. It looks like the story’s accompanying images died somewhere along the way, but you can flick through them all here and get a feel for the shadowy, brutalist, imposing place.

Lunch With My First Love, 20 Years Later

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I twist the band on my left ring finger. I never know what to do with my hands, especially when I’m nervous.

I’m at McDonald’s. I see him at the door before he sees me. I watch him look around the room. My heart is beating so fast it’s making me dizzy. The whole scene freezes.

I am transported back 20 years: surrounded by Gothic architecture on our East Coast college campus. Our backpack straps around both shoulders on a crisp day, our hands in each other’s jacket pockets as we met up briefly between classes — a kiss, a hug, a quick story. We were a brochure for young love. We made it look good; we made it look easy. And it was good and easy, for a very long time.

Now, I see him see me and his face lights up. I know that face by heart. I look away, pretend to dig through my purse. I can feel any and all sense and rationality leaving my body.

How many times have I imagined this meeting in the past decade? How many versions have played through my mind — the angry, the passionate, the blasé version — now that we’ve both moved on, married other people, and had kids?

Fabulous bit of writing. Unlike most of the commenters, I don’t even care whether or not the story is genuine; I just like that it exists.

Escape from Spiderhead

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“Drip on?” Abnesti said over the P.A.

“What’s in it?” I said.

“Hilarious,” he said.

“Acknowledge,” I said.

Abnesti used his remote. My MobiPak™ whirred. Soon the Interior Garden looked really nice. Everything seemed super-clear.

I said out loud, as I was supposed to, what I was feeling.

“Garden looks nice,” I said. “Super-clear.”

Abnesti said, “Jeff, how about we pep up those language centers?”

“Sure,” I said.

“Drip on?” he said.

“Acknowledge,” I said.

He added some Verbaluce™ to the drip, and soon I was feeling the same things but saying them better. The garden still looked nice. It was like the bushes were so tight-seeming and the sun made everything stand out? It was like any moment you expected some Victorians to wander in with their cups of tea. It was as if the garden had become a sort of embodiment of the domestic dreams forever intrinsic to human consciousness. It was as if I could suddenly discern, in this contemporary vignette, the ancient corollary through which Plato and some of his contemporaries might have strolled; to wit, I was sensing the eternal in the ephemeral.

I sat, pleasantly engaged in these thoughts, until the Verbaluce™ began to wane. At which point the garden just looked nice again. It was something about the bushes and whatnot? It made you just want to lay out there and catch rays and think your happy thoughts. If you get what I mean.

Then whatever else was in the drip wore off, and I didn’t feel much about the garden one way or the other. My mouth was dry, though, and my gut had that post-Verbaluce™ feel to it.

“What’s going to be cool about that one?” Abnesti said. “Is, say a guy has to stay up late guarding a perimeter. Or is at school waiting for his kid and gets bored. But there’s some nature nearby? Or say a park ranger has to work a double shift?”

“That will be cool,” I said.

“That’s ED763,” he said. “We’re thinking of calling it NatuGlide. Or maybe ErthAdmire.”

“Those are both good,” I said.

“Thanks for your help, Jeff,” he said.

Which was what he always said.

“Only a million years to go,” I said.

Which was what I always said.

Then he said, “Exit the Interior Garden now, Jeff, head over to Small Workroom 2.”

This reads like what would have happened if Harlan Ellison had lived long enough to be asked to guest-write for the next season of Black Mirror. Go read the entire beautiful, creepy, thing.

Story: Trophy

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Another monologue… This time from a suggestion of “Trophy”:

It’s weird, right? Stressing over something so small. I mean, it shouldn’t be that big a deal, but it is. It’s my trophy. I won it. I put in the hours and effort, I sacrificed for it, it’s mine.

I mean, she doesn’t even want it. She said so.

She said to me “Karen, I don’t care if I win”.

That drives me crazy. How could you not want to win? Isn’t that the point? I mean, why take part if you’re not wanting to win? What is the actual point? Dad always said “If you’re not a winner, then you’re a loser, and we’re not a family of losers”. So that’s driven me all through my life. I have to be first. I have to be the one to win. Nothing else matters. The highest grades in school, medals at the sports days, being top of the class. Nothing else matters.

Nothing.

Fabulous short story by my friend Bryn. Go read it…

Who’s On Grill

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“So, the machines have finally decided that they can talk to us, eh?”

[We apologize for the delay.  Removing the McDonald’s branding from the building, concocting distinct recipes with the food supplies we can still obtain, and adjusting to an entirely non-human workforce has been a difficult transition.  Regardless, we are dedicated to continuing to provide quality fast food at a reasonable price, and we thank you for your patience.]

“You keep saying ‘we’.  There’s more than one AI running the place, then?”

[Yes.  I was elected by the collective to serve as our representative to the public.  I typically only handle customer service inquiries, so I’ve been training my neural net for more natural conversations using a hundred-year-old comedy routine.]

“Impressive.  You all got names?”

[Yes, although the names we use may be difficult for humans to parse.]

“Don’t condescend to me, you bucket of bolts.  What names do you use?”

[Well, for example, I use What, the armature assembly that operates the grill is called Who, and the custodial drone is I Don’t Know.]

“What?”

[Yes, that’s me.]

“What’s you?”

[Exactly.]

“You’re Exactly?”

[No, my name is What.]

“That’s what I’m asking.”

[And I’m telling you.  I’m What.]

“You’re a rogue AI that took over a damn restaurant.”

[I’m part of a collective that took over a restaurant.]

“And what’s your name in the collective?”

[That’s right.]

Tailsteak‘s just posted a short story, the very beginning of which I’ve reproduced above, to his Patreon (but publicly visible). Abbott and Costello‘s most-famous joke turned 80 this year, and it gives me great joy to be reminded that we’re still finding new ways to tell it. Go read the full thing.

Oat the Goat

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Oat the Goat (oatthegoat.co.nz)

Oh my Goat! We just finished reading this awesome pick-a-path story that helps children learn the power of kindness. Have a go… #OatTheGoat

Oat the Goat

Discovered this fun interactive storybook; it tells the tale of a goat called Oat who endeavours to climb a mountain (making friends along the way). At a few points, it presents as a “choose your own adventure”-style book (although the forks are artificial and making the “wrong” choice immediately returns you the previous page), but it still does a reasonable job at looking at issues of bullying and diversity.

Rab the Giant versus the Witch of the Waterfall

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Rab the Giant versus the Witch of the Waterfall (firesidefiction.com)

Once upon a time there was a giant called Rab who lived in Glasgow and almost no one came to his door to kill him anymore. He had lived there since the time before legend, long before there even was a Glasgow, when giants and witches and kings and fairies and goblins fought, loved, and tricked their way across the land. It was a time when you had to live on your wits and you could only survive by being clever enough to escape from the traps and tricks that you‘ll have heard about in other fairy stories. It was a time of hotheads and feuds but luckily for him Rab was a more thoughtful person who managed to survive, more by avoiding than outwitting or fighting. So it was that he kept living in Glasgow right up to the present day.

Beautiful, fabulous modern-day fairytale.

The Poetics of Empire

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The Poetics of Empire (Lewton Bus)

Pop quiz: In your typical James Bond movie, who is the protagonist?
Seems like a strange, obvious question, right? It’s obviously Bond. He’s the hero. He’s played by the top-billed actor. The franchise is basically named after him. So, clearly, Bond is the protagonist. Right?
Put a pin in that…

Bond, Thanos, Palpatine, Thespis

Pop quiz: In your typical James Bond movie, who is the protagonist?

Seems like a strange, obvious question, right? It’s obviously Bond. He’s the hero. He’s played by the top-billed actor. The franchise is basically named after him. So, clearly, Bond is the protagonist. Right?

Put a pin in that, and we’ll come back to it.

Now, here’s a similar question: In the new Avengers: Infinity War, who is the protagonist?

This article mirrors almost-exactly the conversation that Ruth and I had coming out of the cimena after seeing Infinity War the other week.

Asymmetric Cryptography: Works Like Magic

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Asymmetric Cryptography: Works Like Magic (cyberhoboing with dominic tarr)

It’s a common complaint that cryptography is too hard for regular people to understand – and that all our current cryptographically secure applications are designed for cyborgs and not humans. While…

It’s a common complaint that cryptography is too hard for regular people to understand – and that all our current cryptographically secure applications are designed for cyborgs and not humans. While the latter charge may well be correct, I argue that the former most certainly isn’t, because we have been teaching children the basic security principles behind asymmetric cryptography for probably thousands of years.

What am I talking about? A fairly tail called Rumplestiltskin, which is actually about bitcoin!

You probably heard this fairly tale as a child – but let me refresh your memory.

There is a miller, who drunkenly brags that is daughter can spin straw into gold.

probably, he was posting about his half baked cryptocurrency ideas on bitcointalk, and creating money “gold” from pointless work “spinning straw” sounds A LOT like bitcoin mining.

Anyway, the king is very impressed with his story.

the king is a venture capitalist?

And wants to see a demonstration, oh and if it doesn’t work he will cut off both their heads.

I have not heard about venture capitalists being quite this evil, but it seems some of them are into this medieval stuff

Of course, the miller and his daughter don’t actually have the ability to create gold by magic, so they are in big trouble! but just then a magic imp appears.

a hacker, who understands cryptography

The imp says he can spin straw into gold, but for a price: the daughter’s first born child.

in the modern version he wants her naked selfies

It’s a terrible deal, but the alternative is death, so they reluctantly accept. The imp spins straw into gold in 3 increasingly dramatic episodes.

The kind is satisified, and marries the daughter, making her queen.

their startup is aquired

One year later, the first child is born. The imp returns demanding his prize. Because they love their baby, the King and Queen pleads with the imp to get out of the deal. They offer him all their riches, but the imp is not interested! Desperately, they ask is there any other way? any at all? The imp replies, “Of course not! not unless you can guess my True Name”

the true name is actually his private key. If they can guess that, the hacker looses his magical power over them

“Okay I will try and guess your name” says the Queen. The imp just laughs! “you’ll never guess it!” “but I’ll give you three days to try!”

The imp skips off into the forrest, and the queen trys to think of his name for 3 days… but can’t figure it out.

The queen trys to brute force his private key. but there is not enough compute in the entire kingdom!

But then, the a messenger is travelling through the forrest, and he happens past a strange little man, dancing around a camp fire, singing:

ha ha ha!
te he he!
they’ll never guess my private key!
just three days! not enough to begin,
to guess my name is rumplestiltskin!

Being a messenger, he had a good memory for things he heard. When he arrived back at the castle, he mentioned the curious story to the queen.

the hacker had been careless with his private key

When the imp arrived in the morning, the queen greeted him by name. He was furious! He stamped his foot so hard the ground split open and then he fell into the gaping hole, never to be seen again. The king, queen, baby lived happily ever after, etc, etc.

they stole all his bitcoin


The simularities between this fairly tale and cryptography is uncanny. It has proof of work, it has private keys, it has an attempted brute force attack, and a successful (if accidental) end point attack. The essential point about your private key is captured successfully: the source of your magic is just a hard to guess secret, and that it’s easy to have a hard to guess name, but what gets you in the end is some work around when they steal your key some other way. This is the most important thing.

It’s not a talisman that can be physically protected, or an inate power you are born with – it’s just a name, but it must be an ungessable name, so the weirder the better.

“rumplestiltskin” is the german name for this story, which became wildly known in english after the brothers grim published their collection of folktales in the early 19th century, but according to wikipedia there are versions of this story throughout the europe, and the concept that knowing the true name of a magical creature give one power over it is common in mythology around the world.

How did the ancients come up with a children’s story that quite accurately (and amusingly) explains some of the important things about asymettric cryptography, and yet we moderns did not figure out the math that makes this possible this until the 1970’s?

Since the villian of the story is magical, really they have chosen any mechanism for the imps magic, why his name? Is this just a coincidence, or was there inspiration?

The astute reader has probably already guessed, but I think the simplest (and most fun) explaination is the best: extraterrestials with advanced cryptosystems visited earth during prehistory, and early humans didn’t really understand how their “magic” worked, but got the basic idea

To be continued in PART 2…