Tuesday, July 17, 2018


One of the things that I, as an observer of the blockchain scene, find fascinating is how the various heists illuminate the deficiencies of actual, as opposed to the Platonic ideal, blockchain-based systems.

I've been writing for more than 4 years that, at scale, blockchains are DINO (Decentralized In Name Only) because irresistible economies of scale drive centralization. Now, a heist illuminates that, in practice, "smart contracts" such as those on the Ethereum blockchain (which is DINO) are also IINO (Immutable In Name Only). Follow me below the fold for the explanation.

Monday, July 9, 2018

School's out (meta)

Grandkids are sick, or didn't get into the camp their parents wanted, so blogging will be close to non-existent for a while. Sorry about that!

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Special Report on Decentralizing the Internet (Updated)

The Economist's June 30th issue features a special report from Ludwig Siegele entitled How to fix what has gone wrong with the internet consisting of the following articles:
I really like the way The Economist occasionally allows its writers to address a topic at length. Siegele provides a good overview of what has gone wrong and the competing views of how to fix it. Below the fold, my overall critique, and commentary on some of the articles.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Josh Marshall on Facebook

Last September in Josh Marshall on Google, I wrote:
a quick note to direct you to Josh Marshall's must-read A Serf on Google's Farm. It is a deep dive into the details of the relationship between Talking Points Memo, a fairly successful independent news publisher, and Google. It is essential reading for anyone trying to understand the business of publishing on the Web.
Marshall wasn't happy with TPM's deep relationship with Google. In Has Web Advertising Jumped The Shark? I quoted him:
We could see this coming a few years ago. And we made a decisive and longterm push to restructure our business around subscriptions. So I'm confident we will be fine. But journalism is not fine right now. And journalism is only one industry the platform monopolies affect. Monopolies are bad for all the reasons people used to think they were bad. They raise costs. They stifle innovation. They lower wages. And they have perverse political effects too. Huge and entrenched concentrations of wealth create entrenched and dangerous locuses of political power.
Have things changed? Follow me below the fold.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Cryptocurrencies Have Limits

The Economic Limits Of Bitcoin And The Blockchain by Eric Budish is an important analysis of the economics of two kinds of "51% attack" on Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, such as those becoming endemic on Bitcoin Gold and other alt-coins:
  • A "double spend" attack, in which an attacker spends cryptocurrency to obtain goods, then makes the spend disappear in order to spend the cryptocurrency again.
  • A "sabotage" attack, in which short-sellers discredit the cryptocurrency to reduce its value.
Below the fold, some commentary on Budish's paper.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Rate limits

Andrew Marantz writes in Reddit and the Struggle to Detoxify the Internet:
[On 2017's] April Fools’, instead of a parody announcement, Reddit unveiled a genuine social experiment. It was called r/Place, and it was a blank square, a thousand pixels by a thousand pixels. In the beginning, all million pixels were white. Once the experiment started, anyone could change a single pixel, anywhere on the grid, to one of sixteen colors. The only restriction was speed: the algorithm allowed each redditor to alter just one pixel every five minutes. “That way, no one person can take over—it’s too slow,” Josh Wardle, the Reddit product manager in charge of Place, explained. “In order to do anything at scale, they’re gonna have to coƶperate."
The r/Place experiment successfully forced coƶperation, for example with r/AmericanFlagInPlace drawing a Stars and Stripes, or r/BlackVoid trying to rub out everything:
Toward the end, the square was a dense, colorful tapestry, chaotic and strangely captivating. It was a collage of hundreds of incongruous images: logos of colleges, sports teams, bands, and video-game companies; a transcribed monologue from “Star Wars”; likenesses of He-Man, David Bowie, the “Mona Lisa,” and a former Prime Minister of Finland. In the final hours, shortly before the experiment ended and the image was frozen for posterity, BlackVoid launched a surprise attack on the American flag. A dark fissure tore at the bottom of the flag, then overtook the whole thing. For a few minutes, the center was engulfed in darkness. Then a broad coalition rallied to beat back the Void; the stars and stripes regained their form, and, in the end, the flag was still there.
What is important about the r/Place experiment? Follow me below the fold for an explanation.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Software Heritage Archive Goes Live

June 7th was a big day for software preservation; it was the formal opening of Software Heritage's archive. Congratulations to Roberto di Cosmo and the team! There's a post on the Software Heritage blog with an overview:
Today, June 7th 2018, we are proud to be back at Unesco headquarters to unveil a major milestone in our roadmap: the grand opening of the doors of the Software Heritage archive to the public (the slides of the presentation are online). You can now look at what we archived, exploring the largest collection of software source code in the world: you can explore the archive right away, via your web browser. If you want to know more, an upcoming post will guide you through all the features that are provided and the internals backing them.
Morane Gruenpeter's Software Preservation: A Stepping Stone for Software Citation is an excellent explanation of the role that Software Heritage's archive plays in enabling researchers to cite software:
In recent years software has become a legitimate product of research gaining more attention from the scholarly ecosystem than ever before, and researchers feel increasingly the need to cite the software they use or produce. Unfortunately, there is no well established best practice for doing this, and in the citations one sees used quite often ephemeral URLs or other identifiers that offer little or no guarantee that the cited software can be found later on.

But for software to be findable, it must have been preserved in the first place: hence software preservation is actually a prerequisite of software citation.
The importance of preserving software, and in particular open source software, is something I've been writing about for nearly a decade. My initial post about the Software Heritage Foundation started:
Back in 2009 I wrote:
who is to say that the corpus of open source is a less important cultural and historical artifact than, say, romance novels.
Back in 2013 I wrote:
Software, and in particular open source software is just as much a cultural production as books, music, movies, plays, TV, newspapers, maps and everything else that research libraries, and in particular the Library of Congress, collect and preserve so that future scholars can understand our society.
Please support this important work by donating to the Software Heritage Foundation.