Roses float in shit

Did you know roses float in shit?  It's not just that roses float on top of shit, it's that there is a massive river of shit orders of magnitude larger in flux than the miniscule amount of roses that appear, pouring over the roses continually, and yet they still rise to the surface.  If they didn't, there would in fact be very little to live for nor any hope for humanity.

The process of getting roses to float is something one might call academic discourse, selection and conversation, or intellectual discourse, or perhaps even art criticism.  So what am I talking about?  Great literature, great science, great music, great art.  Du vin, du poésie, ou de vertu, à votre guise.  I'm talking about currencies, rappers, classical composers, and blogs.  And yes, flowers.  And architecture, though that really takes ages.  Is that clear?  Well in this post I am going to tell you a little bit about how to watch roses float, how to identify roses, and how to do your part to provide the buoyancy which keeps us from drowning in our own shit.  I have tasted the maggots in the mind of the universe, and I was not offended, for I knew we had to rise above it all.

Let's consider Mencius Moldbug's 2007 blog post called "My Navrozov Moments", to pick a random example.  First, we have a bit of lovely meta here, as this 8 year old post which I recently discovered is one of some ungodly number (I will estimate billions of words) of blog posts that have been self published over the last decade.  Is any of this shit worth reading?  Probably not a substantial percentage of it.  However, some people knew this guy from other contexts and read his stuff.  They called it rose-ish and told their friends.  Their friends told other friends.  Eventually, some folks I had met in other contexts told me it might be worth a look.  Now, I have linked it and told a few of my friends.  The thing is being kicked up near the surface of the river of our own shit, where it catches more eyeballs.  Eight years is damn quick.  Some folks who have had a lot of experience wading through these rivers of shit recommend simply staying away from anything within 30 years of the main sewer.  Boltzmann was perhaps not so lucky with his roses, though they did eventually rise.  Does this Moldbug article deserve your attention already?  Well, we'll get back to that when we discuss rose identification.  In fact, the article itself provides us with a nice segue to that discussion:

It's not clear to me that Digg, Wikipedia, arxiv.org, and other modern systems which solve, or at least purport to solve, the critical problem of separating content from nonsense, are quite ready for their new roles.

Here Mr. Moldbug has given us another metaphor for enabling roses to float in shit: separating content from nonsense.  In his article, he mostly has told us that Universities sometimes suck at it.  Well, true enough.  Those who claim to be Universities can hinder that process in many ways.  But seriously?  It's not clear to him that Digg, Wikipedia, and Arxiv.org won't do any better?  The problem here is that he had false expectations, and now he is very angry that they didn't play out.  Not only is he angry, but he is jumping right on board the false expectation train again for the same disappointment.  Mr. Moldbug, you expected people wearing University hats to separate content from nonsense for you by virtue of their hat.  Now you expect somebody with a Digg LLC mug to do that for you?  Would you rely on these people to tell you which women are more beautiful?  Would you expect them to be the ultimate arbiters of what are pretty flowers?  More to the point, have you considered what they promised in order to get the mugs and hats?  No Mr. Moldbug, it is not Universities that are responsible for all violence in the world.  It is people like you, which expected others such as University employees to be your leaders and betters in all things, who have fucked up.

Another example before I get carried away here.  Some folks were looking at this problem of getting roses to float in shit and they called the process "peer review".  Sure, this is as good a label as any.  Some others tried to formalize this and regulate it in certain forums, which is of course broken and corruptible but hey as long as we recognize shortcomings we can work with this.  At one point an astrophysicist called Chandrasekhar had moved himself up an informal WoT and had a prestigious position as editor of the Astrophysical Journal.  An astronomer by the name of Halton Arp later sent a paper to be published, with some remarkable observations about quasars in relation to galaxies.  Chandrasekhar, who was a busy man, took one look at the paper, saw that it contradicted some stuff which he believed in, and said "Nope, this is shit".  This was Halton Arp's Navrozov moment.

So what happened?  Well what happened is that professors with University paychecks are in fact the ultimate arbiters of what is science, and so Arp's work faded into the rivers of shit never to be heard from again.  Chandrasekhar decided what is a science, just as it was Navrozov's professor who decided what is Hegelian scholarship.  That's why you've never heard of Arp or Navrozov.  Haha, did you catch that?  This is a George Clinton moment for your ass.  Chandrasekhar and Navrozov's professor were playing the part of Sir Nose.  What really happened is that Arp's work has come to be required reading for anyone interested in knowing about quasars and galactic evolution, and he is recognized as one of the best astronomers of his era.  That particular work has risen above the millions of words of ApJ which tried to drown it.  Because funk does not just move, it removes.  Dig?

Another example:  How about the greatest architect of sound, JSB?  The music is out there.  It's not owned and advertised, not patented or professionally marketed.  It's just out there.  Every year rivers of upon rivers of music, sampled, electronic, acoustic, postmodern, mp3, ogg, romantic, death metal, experimental, etc. etc.  are piled on top of this heap.  Every year people discover Bach, and play Bach.  You hear him on street corners, in children's Suzuki recitals, and when allowed enough allegory, everywhere.  That particular rose floats in the stratosphere.  Now there's a Coprophobic Rose for your ass.

At this point dear reader, you should be prepared to answer a few questions.  Who is the ultimate arbiter of truth?  Who is the ultimate decider of what is good science?  Who decides what is a good currency to use?  Who decides what is funky?  Who decides what is beautiful?  Who decides who you should shoot at?  There is only one answer to all these questions, and if you don't know it you are most definitely part of the problem.

A few general guidelines:

1)  Never lose confidence that roses will float on shit.  Yes there will be tragedies, horrible unbearable tragedies to contemplate.  But none the less the tides of time are in our favour.  It might take lifetimes, but roses will emerge.  Proprietary operating systems will wind up floating downstream with fiat, various pop musics, plastic branding, and other shit too countless to mention.  Count on it.

2)  Spread the word ceaselessly.  Did you spot a rose?   Tell your family, your friends.  Blog.  Publish anywhere and everywhere, in a respectable manner.  Sure, you could even put a University hat on, or hell even a USG hat if you can bear that.  I don't care, if you found something you believe in it is your duty to spread the word in any way you can.  Sing!  I can't hear you!  Make some motherfucking noise!

3)  Unless of course, you aren't sure.  In which case, put your feet up and have a nice glass of STFU.  Yes I am the ultimate arbiter of what is good computer science but you know what?  I'm not sure about systemd.  I'm really not qualified to give you a good opinion at this point, so I'm not going to pretend, or link others opinions that have gone up in my WoT, or vote on party lines.  All I'm going to say for now is you do want to be careful what you use to boot your system, and I am sceptical.  You see, saving roses is like chess.  If you aren't sure what you are doing, chances are very good you are making a bad move.  Bad moves suck, because in general it takes a lot of good moves to make up for one bad move.  Is it a rose or a piece of shit?  If you aren't sure, just get out of the way.  And if you are a little sure, give the rose a little boost.  If you are very sure, give the rose a big boost.

4)  Shit can sometimes be safely ignored.  Occasionally it makes sense to point it out so that nobody else will step in it.  Other times, you might need to point out it's particular protein sequence to your fellow macrophages for future reference, but usually the best thing you can do is just move on by.  It will sink on its own.  Focus on the roses.

5)  Just because duckduckgo is not the ultimate arbiter of truth, and harvard adswww is not the ultimate arbiter of what is good astrophysics, doesn't mean you can't use these services.  Use them.  Just because Chandrasekhar was wrong once doesn't mean you should ignore him either.  Even fiat currencies could perhaps be used to your advantage.  One does not swim in the rivers of shit without getting one's hands dirty.  University gardens often have beautiful roses.  Probably grad students taking care of them, who knows.

In point 4 above, I was perhaps too blasé about identifying the characteristics of shit.  In fact those who peddle shit, who push it to the surface at the expense of roses, employ certain methods which it can be quite useful to identify.  Glossy websites.  Advertising and marketing.  Anything that employs these methods should be avoided like the plague, and also it bears pointing out that one should not advertise and market true roses nor make them glossy websites.  Of course there are exceptions.  Every now and then someone will say "lets get the word out about bitcoin!" and make a glossy advert.  Wealthy patrons sponsor flower shows.  So, never discount something entirely based on the bullshit around it.  But mostly, you should be forewarned.  If a product has a large advertising budget, it is very likely that product is shit.  Ignore it and wait a generation to see if it is still around.

To close, lets remember that even if you know you are going to win a war, that doesn't mean it isn't going to mean a lot of work is coming.  Every battle is important.  I'd like to thank my comrades in this struggle, and those true heros who have made great sacrifices.  You know who you are.  Beware my friend, shit winds are a-comin.

“The Majority is Enough”

Abstract:

About a year after Ittay Eyal published two papers claiming vulnerabilities in the bitcoin mining protocol, we have seen that the network is still strong (it has grown in hashpower many times over) and is unaffected by the supposed problems. I show here the biggest reasons the two vulnerability analyses were flawed. The attacks appear to hinder other miners who are competitors. However, both of the attacks harm the attacker's bottom line more than any harm to the competitors can emerge as profits for the attacker.

Selfish Mining Attack

This is discussed in [Eyal and Sirer, 2013]. The attack suggested is to not publish solved blocks immediately, working on their successors in private. The idea is that the attacker can work on finding another block to build off their private unpublished chain, while other miners are doing work that could be proven stale were the attacker to find yet another block. However, more often somebody else will first find a block that competes with the original one found and kept private by the attacker. The authors address this as follows:

In the first scenario where the honest nodes succeed in finding a block on the public branch, nullifying the selfish pool's lead, the pool immediately publishes its private branch (of length one). This yields a toss-up where either branch may win.”

In fact if an attacker waits until he sees another block on the network, the attacker can be sure that a majority of hashpower is now working on successors to that already published block, and not the one the attacker has kept hidden. The result is not a toss-up, but a distinct advantage to the honest nodes who have published their blocks already. This first order error in the resulting analysis of reward is larger than all the other effects considered in the paper. A fast connection to the network and publishing blocks immediately after they are found is of utmost importance in efficient pool operation. The proposed “selfish miner” is throwing away some percentage of his reward for the privilege of winning a much smaller percentage back.

The Miners Dilemma

In this paper [Eyal, 2014] we see a supposed game theory analysis of bitcoin mining with the option of a “block withholding attack” which is referred to as “infiltration”. This attack is one in which a pool operator sends some of his hashpower to another pool, submitting shares of work, but discarding any work which finds valid blocks.

The game theory analysis is flawed in a few ways, one of which being that it is confused as to who the players of the game are. It mostly appears to be the pool operators are the game participants but at times it seems to be the individual miners. The biggest problem is however seen in this quote:

The attacker’s mining power is reduced, since some of its miners are used for block withholding, but it earns additional revenue through its infiltration of the other pool.”

In fact we can see intuitively that there is no additional revenue through infiltration of another pool. This so called infiltration consists entirely of throwing away money (solved blocks), which hardly can be considered “additional revenue”.

The mathematics begins well enough, as the author presents a case of one pool infiltrating another with some amount x of hashpower in Equation 5. However something clearly has gone wrong when they give us the revenue per miner of attacking pool r1 in the expression below equation 7. Here setting the infiltration rate x to 0 gives us r1=1, rather than something proportional to m1. Dimensional analysis also shows something is wrong with the expression given, and the resulting conclusions such as in e.g. equation 8 do not make sense under dimensional analysis. The correct expression for the revenue of the attacking pool is:

$r_1 = {m_1m_2+xm_1-x^2 \over (m-x)(m_2+x)}$                        Eq. 1

Here r1 is the total revenue of pool 1. We can see that if x goes to zero, r1 goes to m1/m as it should, because the revenue is expressed as a fraction of the total network coinbase rewards. A linearization of the expression in the limit of small x (ignoring x2 terms) gives us

$r_1 = {m_1 \over m} - x * {m_1 \over m^2}+ O(x^2)$                 Eq. 2

This shows that a small increase in infiltration of another pool leads to a small loss of revenue. This is a traditional Nash equilibrium at x=0, exactly contrary to the conclusions of the quoted paper.

The situation for two pools which both can both use infiltration is somewhat more complex symbolically. Equation 11 in the paper appears sound. However we can see the same equilibrium will be reached in this case, as clearly one pool throwing money away does not lead to incentive for another to throw money away. The equilibrium game theory solution is that neither pool infiltrates the other. Real world behavior of miners supports this conclusion.

The situation is more clear when considering a miner who is infiltrating a victim pool. When a solved block is found, this miner could receive a fraction of the block's coinbase from the pool by submitting it. However, the miner does not submit the block. Without further context this action could only be irrational and the equations 1 and 2 show the amount of loss expected for the attacker.

Discussion

The operation and theory behind bitcoin mining operations is certainly worthy of discussion and there are many potential viable attacks such as DDOS of competing pools, collusion to obtain large percentage of hashrate, and considerations of rapidly moving miners which all could lead to interesting game theory analysis. The speed in which miners can move, the payout schemes implemented, and the relative transparency as well as transaction acceptance are all relevant here. However, the strategies considered by the authors in these two papers are not vulnerabilities.

Acknowledgements

Helpful discussion in the #bitcoin-assets freenode IRC forum are acknowledged. This work is not supported by any governmental or grant. Contributions are graciously accepted at the following address: 1Jj5bzgb5wCc69Rtemm43QyGxEmaDL9LEN.

References

arXiv:1411.7099

arXiv:1311.0243

Altcoins: Why you need them

A lot of cats have been spitting that "there can be only one", that all non-BTC bitcoin is worthless, and that shitcoins are generally a lead weight strapped on the ankles of humanity.  Who knows, probably some of these cats are more clever than I.  However, on this issue they are wrong.  Allow me to explain.

There are more than one

This really shouldn't need to be pointed out.  There are many coins.  There always will be.  There always have been; even the original Satoshi release had a proviso for "testnet" so you could start your own alt.  Testnet is perhaps the simplest altcoin.  There are as many reasons for starting a new network as there are reasons to achieve a public distributed consensus.  Nothing could ever stop people from building coin networks if they have the motivation.  "There can be only one" is therefore provably false.  Now that that's over with, lets get on to some of the reasons this is a good thing.

Altcoin means Bitcoin Wins

Imagine if you will, a world in which there could only be one.  No litecoin, no dogecoindark, no boolberry.  The complete set of public coin finance resides on the BTC network.  Now imagine that you are a large stakeholder or organizer of a group of stakeholders of a legacy payment network who feel threatened by suddenly emerging competition.  Do you see where I am going with this?  Yes, you could periodically shut down public coin with any number of lengthy expensive DDOS attacks.  All commerce could conceivably be forced to move back to your monopoly payment solution.

Now lets get back to the real world, where cutting the heads off hydras is well known to be counterproductive.  A lengthy DDOS attack against the BTC network by entities who wished that public coins did not exist would do precisely nothing for them.  Why?  Because bitcoin has a thousand heads.  One cannot reasonably stop the spread of knowledge, and people around the world are learning about what is public coin.  Thanks to altcoins, with the internet there will always be viable and accessible public coin.

Financial security has traditionally included diversification, and for good reason.  Do you put 100% of your assets in SHA256 + secp256k1?  Well why not diversify?  Many wealthy individuals hold a certain portion of their wealth in Scrypt coins, and on the DSA front there are prime256k1 coins, and ed25519 coins.  Not enough in my opinion.  There are other reasons to diversify as well as cryptological, for example to hedge against market shocks, or to engage in trading strategies aka gambling.

Want to get your hands dirty and tweak some crypto networks?  Maybe want to try some double spends, DDOS, forks, malformed transactions or other such hacks / tricks of the trade?  Well you won't be able to on mainnet.  That area is basically an experts only zone, and your attempts are not likely to work or make you new friends.  In the world of little altcoins and testnet however, you can go play in a sandbox.

Laundry

Can you think of a time you might like to honestly say you don't have any bitcoin?  Well one way to make this happen is to have another coin instead.  Moving coins through other networks can be a useful tool for private finance, international finance and good old fashioned money laundering.  OK, so maybe not good old fashioned money laundering, for that bitcoin and altcoins are unlikely to help you.  I meant good old fashioned coin mixing, aka modern money laundering.

Politics

Money is politics.  What do you do if you don't like the people who seem to have power and control over a certain coin?  Why, you avoid using that coin of course.  Thanks to altcoins, there are always alternatives.  Nobody can move into bitcoin, take it over, change the protocol or do whatever nefarious thing you can imagine, and force everybody to continue using it.  Why not?  Because altcoin (Edit: amongst other reasons).  Think 比特币 is made by the NSA or dominated by forces loyal to the empire?  Well you are free to use 类特币 or 元宝币 then if you like.  Don't like Shiba Inu?  Try モナコイン.

Other Chain Uses

So far I have only described altcoins as public coins, that is, exchange commodities with all transactions publicly verifiable.  However there are other reasons to maintain a public consensus network, such as data storage (see e.g. Namecoin).  Because the distributed consensus problem is such a fundamental one in computer science, new reasons are going to keep popping up and many are likely to need a public consensus network.  This makes such a network an "altcoin" in some sense of the word.  My prediction is we will see the use of this word broaden and shrink a few times, before it goes it's eventual direction, whatever that may be.

Edit: Clarification

Notice that I haven't said anything about the value of any specific shitcoin or even the market value of a basket thereof.  The sum of all 1000 or so shitcoins that see some use amounts in value to well under 10% of the value of all BTC, and mostly all of that is in the chikun.  That 10% number could go down further, and it could go up, but it will never be zero.  If you meant to say there can only be one mainnet BTC, then my apologies for misinterpreting.  That is most definitely the case and well defined as that chain proving the most SHA256 work.  If you meant that most altcoins are HYIP scams, well you are probably right about that too.