The 365 Commitment

Jevron’s Number

William Stanley Jevron in a book called Principles of Science claimed that no one would ever know what two numbers he multiplied together to get to 8,616,460,799. The concept was that it is easy to multiply two prime numbers together, but really difficult to determine what the factors were to get to that number. He asked this question in 1874, before any rudimentary computers. Fifteen years later, in an article published in 1889, Charles Busk created a methodology on how to find factors of any proposed number. The process before that was to effectively run through every prime number and try it to see if it divided into the number with no remainder. I read the article, is was printed in Nature Magazine in Feb. 28th 1889. He solved the problem, published the results. Without getting too technical, he basically figured out a way to break the number into smaller chunks, allowing it to be much easier to determine using known primes. He was able to solve Jevron’s number in two minutes, whereas people were still working on that problem for over a decade. BTW, just in case you are curious the solution to Jevron’s number is 89,681 X 96,079. It would not be until 1996 that the mathematician, Solomon Golomb would demonstrate how to solve a problem like this on a household pocket calculator.

So this was a unsolvable problem, that actual was quite solvable. Although Jevron issued the formal challenge, you can go all the way back to 196 B.C. with Greek mathematicians, such as Eratosthenes that posed this challenge. I thought about this last night as my 11 year old daughter was solving the factorization of a complex number. Little does she know that the the problem that she was solving for was using a methodology that had alluded the brightest minds in all human history for thousands of years. That is incredible, really. Humans are really amazing, complex creatures.

There are so many unsung heroes of the modern age that have solved incredibly complex problems that we take for granted. One of my favorites is a man named Ralph Merkle, who is still alive. You could actually reach out and talk to one of the people that had the greatest influence in modern society, and no one really knows it. Just to give you a quick glance. One of the biggest problems in modern security is the ability to transfer an encryption key back and forth between two parties. How do you do a key exchange between parties that might not know each other and are a significant distance apart? You cannot just electronically send it to them, because then anyone could get a copy. Well Merkle created the concept of how to do this. Now he did not completely perfect the idea, that came later but the concept was significant. Merkle also created the concept of contention resistant compression, which inadvertently led to the development of an algorithm that could take a block of data and convert it to a discrete data set of the same size, known as a hash. These two ideas led to Public Key Cryptography (the way you send you credit card to Amazon over the Internet) and the SHA256 algorithm (the method used to encrypt those bitcoins that you are buying right now).

Not sure why I am sharing this. Just gives me hope for humanity I guess!

Guy Reams


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