In a world where mediocre supernatural stories have gripped the fantasy genre, Rebecca Alexander’s The Secrets of Life and Death trounces the competition with its spellbinding tale of occultism and sorcery.
Meanwhile in the 16th century, Dr John Dee and his assistant Edward Kelley find themselves in hot water when they’re called upon by the King of Poland to save his dying niece, a woman who’s beyond the help of ordinary herbal medicines and already engulfed in death. Initially this constant switching of timelines is distracting but the reason why each chapter jumps either back and forth in time soon becomes clear. What comes across so well in The Secrets of Life and Death is the incredible detail Alexander has put into the story in order to involve the reader in this world of ancient sorcery and occultism.
With characters that you warm to almost immediately, The Secrets of Life and Death is an incredibly engaging and confident novel that wills the reader, as if by the magic it describes, to keep turning the pages. In modern day England, Professor Felix Guichard is called in to identify occult symbols found on the corpse of a young girl.
Something else can emerge,Like the phoenix rising from the ashes, The being you really are and the purpose for why you are here. If you are too afraid to open up to the experiences of dying, if you shut down, become rigid or mindlessly follow the frightened lead of others, you miss out on this profound and magical time. Are you ready to shift into a whole new way of being with death and loss?A whole new way of living your life? Check out our current Workshops and Teleconference and join with others in a safe and supportive arena for exploring the mystery and magic of life and death. Get your own copy of one or all of the Secrets of Life and Death Home-Study packages with a complete set of exploration guides to help you release your fears and claim the gifts that come with opening to the journeys of death.
When something happens to you, be it death or incapacitation, there are some important steps that need to occur that can be greatly assisted by legal documents. An advance health care directive (aka “Living Will”) specifies what actions should (or shouldn’t) be taken with regards to your healthcare if you’re no longer able to make decisions for yourself. A durable power of attorney allows you to designate someone to legally act as you if you become incapacitated. A last will and testament allows you to legally assign caregivers for minor children as well as designate where you’d like your possessions to go.
It turns out that creating these documents is essentially a matter of filling out a form template.
One of the steps involved in filling out the “Information for Caregivers and Survivors” document is to list “Secured Places and Passwords.” It’s a helpful section that your executor can turn to if something happened to you in order to do things like unlock your cell phone or access your online accounts.
It’s probably rational to just write your passwords down and put them in a safe which your executor knows the location of and can access in a timely matter. DISCLAIMER: The above simple approaches are probably fine and have worked for a lot of people over the years. In fact, you’re probably clever enough that you don’t create or remember most of your passwords anymore.
You also understand that your email account credentials are a “skeleton key” for almost everything else due to the widespread use of simple password reset emails. Something you have (your cellphone), that creates or receives a one-time use code when you want to login. On top of all of this, you try your best to follow the trusty advice that your passwords should be ones that nobody could guess and you never ever write them down.
When you put all your eggs into a password manager basket, you really want to watch that basket.
Let’s borrow an ancient yet incredibly useful idea: if it’s really important to get your facts right about something, be sure to have at least two or three witnesses. By the 20th century, this “two-man rule” was implemented in hardware to protect nuclear missiles from being launched by a lone rogue person without proper authorization. If this idea is good enough for protecting nuclear weapons, the Fort Knox vault, and one of the most critical security aspects on the Internet, it’s probably good enough for your password list. Let’s say you want to require at least 2 witnesses to agree that something happened to you before your secret is available.
Notice that each piece is twice as long as your original message (about twice the size of a package tracking number). Well, either you included a note with each secret piece or you emailed them previously with instructions that they’d just need to download and run this small program. This “message” approach is useful if you have a small amount of data such as a password that you could write on a piece of paper. This creates a slightly more complicated scenario because you now have 2 things to share: the secret pieces and the encrypted file with all your data.
It might sound complicated, but if you’re familiar with the process, it might only take a minute.
SecretSplitter implements a “(t,n) threshold cryptosystem” which can be thought of as a mathematical generalization of the physical two-man rule.
Another important practical concern is that you should consider adding redundancy to any threshold system.
IMPORTANT LEGAL NOTE: It’s tempting to keep everything, including the important directives and your will in only electronic form (even when they’re signed).
Given the sensitive nature of the data being protected, I wanted to make sure I understood every part of the mathematics involved and literally every bit of the encrypted file. To get started, recall that computers work with bits: 1’s and 0’s that can represent anything. Now that we have a single number, let’s go back to your algebra class and remember the equation for a line:  y=mx+b. It’s critical to realize that having just one of these points gives us no useful information about the line. The mathematically fascinating part about this idea is that a line is just a simple polynomial (curve) and this technique works for polynomials of arbitrarily large degrees.
Given this equation, we can generate as many “shares” as we’d like: (1,12), (2,21), (3,34), (4,51), etc. You’ve just learned that splitting a secret that requires three people is just a matter of creating a parabola. Instead of using numbers, we translate the data to a big polynomial with binary coefficients.
Instead of using middle school algebra, we use a “finite field.” This helps keep results about the same size as the input and adds some security.
To prove the compatibility, you can use the ssss-split demo page and paste the results into SecretSplitter and it’ll work just fine. For lots of data, we use a hybrid approach: encrypt the file using standard file encryption with a random key and then split the small “key” into pieces.
I always use AES with a 256-bit key for encryption, even if users select a smaller effective key size. The actual file encryption key is always a hashed, salted, and stretched version of the reconstructed shares text.
The encrypted file has an integrity protection packet to detect if the file has been modified and ensure it was decrypted correctly.

Since I used common formats, you can verify the correctness of the generated files using a Linux shell.
Although I tried to simplify the user experience for broad use, it could still use some user experience enhancements to simplify it further.
If you’d like to donate your time to any of the above ideas, I’d encourage you to just give it a go.
SecretSplitter is just a tool that gives another option for backing up very sensitive information by splitting it up into pieces. If you’re young, don’t have any minor children, and don’t care at all what happens to your stuff, then you could run some mental actuarial model and convince yourself that the probability of you or your survivors needing these documents or password recovery procedure anytime soon is low, but you’re not given any guarantees. At the very least, it’s a good idea to make sure all of your financial assets and life insurance policies have a named beneficiary and at perhaps at least one alternate. The increasing digitization of our lives means that more personal things will only be stored digitally. Finally, on a more personal level, I think it’s healthy to be reminded about our own mortality at least once every year or so.
If a little bit of fancy math can help you sleep better at night, well then, I’d consider it a success. Taking place in two different timelines that are inexplicably linked by an ancient evil, the novel will shroud you in the type of darkness only found in magic as it reveals the consequences of tampering with life and death. The girl’s lifeless corpse is adorned with symbols drawn onto her body, symbols that Professor Felix Guichard recognises as he studies the mystery surrounding the girl’s death. Facing their own executions if they don’t save the Countess, Dee and Kelley set in motion events that will inevitably bring us to the evil that Felix and Jack are battling hundreds of years later. The timelines work parallel to each other, starting with a sense of edgy calm and slowly building with tension as evil develops like a giant storm cloud over the story.
I can only imagine the amount of research she must have done to bring this story to life and more importantly, make it plausible for a reader who knows nothing of occultism – it’s quite the challenge but she meets it head on with aplomb.
His investigation brings him in contact with a mysterious woman, Jackdaw Hammond, who guards a monumental secret–She’s Dead. Do you feel confused, frightened, and abandoned in dealing with the physical, emotional and spiritual challenges of death and grief? Sure, your survivors might be able use legal force to get access without it, but only after months of sending official documentation.
Alternatively, you could pay for an attorney or a third-party service and leave your password list with them. If you’re comfortable with these basic approaches, by all means use them and ignore this post. You know, the one whose password was so easy to guess that his email account was broken into and who “wrote” to you saying that he decided to go to Europe on a whim this past weekend but now needs you to wire him money right now and he’ll explain everything later: that guy. You use a password manager like LastPass or KeePass to automatically generate and store unique and completely random passwords for all of your accounts. For this very reason, you probably realize that it’s critical to protect your email login with “two-factor” authentication.
If you’ve done everything “right,” then your master password and all your second factor details go with you. Maybe you had a really relaxing three week vacation and now you can’t remember the exact keyboard combination of your password.
This is especially true concerning matters of life and death but it also comes up when protecting really valuable things. The main vault at Fort Knox is locked by multiple combinations such that no single person is entrusted with all of them. I created a program called SecretSplitter to automate all of this to hopefully make the whole process painless. You also want to build in redundancy such that any pair of people can find out your password. You could do all sorts of clever things like send letters to people that will be delivered far in the future or read them over the phone. Two of the three family members that you gave pieces to would come together and agree that “something” indeed has happened to you. They could now use this master password to log into your password manager where you’ve stored further details. If you’re not tech savvy and have never done it before and type slowly, it might take 30 minutes. The idea is that you split up a secret into pieces (called “shares”) and require at least a threshold of “t” shares to be present in order to recover the secret. Unfortunately, most states require the original signed documents to be considered legal and most courts will not accept a copy.
You’re more than welcome to just use the program without fully understanding the details, but I encourage people to verify my math and code if you’re able and curious. We can also treat this entire sequence of bits as a single 55 bit number whose decimal representation just happens to be 32,765,950,870,971,762.
However, having any other point on the line would allow us to use a ruler and draw a straight line to the y-intercept and thus reveal the secret (we could also work it out algebraically).
For example, a second degree polynomial is a parabola that requires 3 unique points to completely define it (one more than a line).
If you just had two points, as in (1,12) and (2,21), you could create an infinite number of parabolas going through these points and thus have infinite choices for what the y-intercept (i.e. Requiring more people is just a matter of creating a higher-degree polynomial such as a cubic or quartic polynomial. There was already a good tool called “ssss-split” that generates shares similar to how I wanted.
In addition, I created command line programs from scratch that are fully compatible with ssss-split and ssss-combine.
In practice, it doesn’t work well because each share would be huge and not something you’d be able to write down by hand or say over the phone, even using the phonetic alphabet.
I decided to use the OpenPGP Message Format, the same format used by PGP and GNU Privacy Guard (GPG).
This means that users can pick any size key they want and thus balance security and share length. In Cryptography Engineering, the authors write “secret sharing schemes are rarely used because they are too complex. You don’t have to ask for my permission but it would be nice if you posted your results somewhere or left a comment to this post. You can also declare things like organ donor preferences on your driver’s license instead of making declarations in other documents. From our journals to email to videos to health records, all of this will eventually only exist digitally and likely hidden behind passwords. Instead of holding out a secret until after your death, maybe you should get that resolved today.

It’s a helpful reminder of how much a gift every day is and helps focus what we do and not worry about things that don’t matter. Felix’s discoveries lead him to Jack, a practitioner of occult magic who’s linked to the dead girl in more ways than one. As a Christian, I’m not overly concerned about death itself, but my grandma’s death reminded me that these documents are not really for me, but rather the people I’d leave behind.
In most cases, you just need disinterested third parties, such as friends or coworkers, to witness you signing them to make them fully legal. However, this seemed like it would cause a maintenance problem, especially as I might add or update my passwords frequently. This has simplified your life so that you only have to remember your “master password” that will get you into where you keep all the rest of your usernames and passwords. Perhaps you’re living in some spy novel life where you’re worried that people will take you out to prevent something you know from being discovered.
Encryption is great for keeping prying eyes out, but it could sadden survivors that you want to have access to your data. Given that our brains have to recreate memories each time you recall something, it’s possible that you could stress yourself out so much trying to remember your password that you effectively “forget” it. On the Internet, the master key for protecting the new secure domain name system (DNSSEC) is split between among 7 people from 6 different countries such that at least 5 people are needed to reconstruct it in the event of an Internet catastrophe. It’s easy to get caught up in gee-whiz cryptography and miss fundamentals: you ultimately have to trust something, especially with important matters.
If your message becomes much larger then it will no longer be feasible to type it in manually. In either case, it’s faster than having to drive to your home and search around for a folder and it contains everything you wanted people to know (especially when things are time sensitive). The reason is that if you’re going out of your way to use a threshold system, then you probably want to make sure you have a backup plan in case one or more of the shares are unavailable. For this reason, you should still have the paper originals somewhere such as a fireproof safe. The only noticeable difference is that you have to think of operations like multiplication and division in a more abstract way. This technique is formally known as a Shamir Secret Sharing Scheme and it was discovered in the 1970’s.
This program adds a special twist by scrambling the resulting y-intercept point and therefore adds an extra layer of protection.
I didn’t want to have to worry about licensing restrictions or including a third-party library, so I wrote my own implementation from scratch that did exactly what I wanted. By relying on people I trust instead of a third-party company, it helped me remove one excuse I had for not preparing somewhat unpleasant but important documents that we should all probably have. This future needs some safety net for backing up sensitive things in a safe and accessible way.
Jack is hanging in the balance between life and death, a precarious position that’s tipping over to the side of death as each day passes. This sense of similarity in the two narratives complements the story and the switching between two timelines becomes a joy rather than a chore. In the frightening chaos that follows in its wake, there is a unique opportunity for discovery and transformation.
In that emotional last week, I was reminded of great memories with her and the fragility of life. I knew that if something happened to me, I’d potentially be leaving behind a mess, and that concern of irresponsibility compelled me to investigate what I could do. Also, it’s very likely that a lot of important things will be missed and no one would ever know they existed.
However, if you want a little more security, or need to liven up this process with a little spy novel-esque fun, read on. The thought of something being lost forever might make you almost yearn for the days when you just put everything into a good safe that’s rated by how many minutes it might slow somebody down.
SecretSplitter provides a trust circuit breaker just in case (because even well-meaning people can lose important things). Whatever threshold you use, it’s really important that each “shareholder” know the threshold number of shares. However, be careful where you put the originals: although it might sound convenient to put them in a bank safety deposit box, there’s usually a rather long waiting period before a before a bank can legally provide access to your box to a survivor, so don’t put any time sensitive items there. For details, check out my source code’s use of Horner’s scheme for evaluating polynomials, peasant multiplication, irreducible polynomials with the fewest terms, Lagrange polynomial interpolation to find the y-intercept, and using Euclidean inverses for division. Since this program was already the de-facto standard, I wanted to be fully compatible with it.
However, going the extra step and making very basic final documents doesn’t require that much more work. SecretSplitter was built with the assumption that everything that really mattered could be stored in a file small enough to email to others. My general view is that these final “secrets” should be mostly boring by just containing account details and credentials. Someone very old and very powerful, who won’t rest until they’ve taken the magic that keeps her alive….In Krakow in 1585, Dr John Dee, the Elizabethan Alchemist and Occultist, and his assistant Edward Kelley have been summoned by the King of Poland to save the life of his niece, the infamous Countess Elisabeth Bathory. When the roles and routine are stripped away, when all you know and have counted on become dust . Most importantly, the thought of writing down my passwords on a piece of paper, even if it was in a relatively safe place, went against every fiber of my security being. My recommendation at the current time would be to include copies of the signed originals in your encrypted file and also include detailed instructions on where the originals are located and how to access them. A few bug fixes later and I had a working implementation that was able to interoperate with GPG. Besides, once you have baseline documents, keeping them fresh is just a matter of occasional updates due to life events. Please share this video with other so we can develop the experiment and prove once and for all that life after death is possible! But they soon realize that the only thing worse than the Countess’ malady, is the magic that might be able to save her…As Jackdaw and Felix race to uncover the truth about the person hunting her, it becomes clear that the answers they seek can only be found in the ancient diary of John Dee’s assistant, Edward Kelley. This feature allows you to send out updated encrypted files that can be decrypted with the pieces you’ve already established in person. The only problem was that it was originally released under the GNU Public License (GPL) and it used a GPL library for working with large numbers. My goal was to make my implementation as open as I could, so I asked the author if I could look at his code to derive my own implementation that I’d release under the more permissive MIT license and he graciously allowed me to do this.

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