Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Elon Musk: Threat or Menace Part 4

The previous post in this series, Elon Musk: Threat or Menace Part 3, was based on the impressively detailed reporting from a team at the Washington Post on the crash that killed Jeremy Banner in The final 11 seconds of a fatal Tesla Autopilot crash. The team's subsequent equally detailed Tesla worker killed in fiery crash may be first ‘Full Self-Driving’ fatality triggered this comment which concluded:
It seems the driver thought that it was OK to drive home with a blood alcohol level of 0.26 because he believed Musk's hype that Fake Self Driving would handle it despite having to repeatedly override it on the way out.
Now, the team's Faiz Siddiqui and Trisha Thadani are out with In 2018 crash, Tesla’s Autopilot just followed the lane lines. Below the fold I look into what it reveals about Autopilot.

Friday, April 12, 2024

Decentralized Systems Aren't

Below the fold is the text of a talk I gave to Berkeley's Information Systems Seminar exploring the history of attempts to build decentralized systems and why so many of them end up centralized.

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

The Little Garden

Source
Below the fold is the story of how I got a full-time Internet connection at my apartment 32 years ago next month, and the incredible success of my first ISP.

The reason I'm now able to tell this story is that Tom Jennings, the moving spirit behind the ISP has two posts describing the history of The Little Garden, which was the name the ISP had adopted (from a Chinese restaurant in Palo Alto) when I joined it in May 1993. Tom's perspective from the ISP's point of view contrasts with my perspective — that of a fairly early customer enhanced by information via e-mail from John Gilmore and Tim Pozar, who were both involved far earlier than I.

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

The Left Curve

@tzedonn
Muyao Shen explains the concept of the Left Curve in The Big Winners of This Crypto Bull Market Are the `Left Curves’:
There is a surprising amount of respect for people who appear to know nothing about the industry. They’re known as the “left curves.”

The nickname comes from a popular meme in crypto that shows a bell curve with investors on the left who know nothing, or very little, and those in the fat middle of the curve who know something about crypto. On the right are investors who seemingly know everything.
Below the fold I look at the left side of the curve

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

More On Pig Butchering

Thankfully, pig butchering scams are getting attention. Three weeks after I posted Tracing The Pig Butchers, John M. Griffin and Kevin Mei posted How Do Crypto Flows Finance Slavery? The Economics of Pig Butchering:
Through blockchain addresses used by ‘‘pig butchering’’ victims, we trace crypto flows and uncover methods commonly used by scammers to obfuscate their activities, including multiple transactions, swapping between cryptocurrencies through DeFi smart contracts, and bridging across blockchains. The perpetrators interact freely with major crypto exchanges, sending over 104,000 small potential inducement payments to build trust with victims. Funds exit the crypto network in large quantities, mostly in Tether, through less transparent but large exchanges—Binance, Huobi, and OKX. These criminal enterprises pay approximately 87 basis points in transaction fees and appear to have recently moved at least $75.3 billion into suspicious exchange deposit accounts, including $15.2 billion from exchanges commonly used by U.S. investors. Our findings highlight how the ‘‘reputable’’ crypto industry provides the common gateways and exit points for massive amounts of criminal capital flows. We hope these findings will help shed light on and ultimately stop these heinous crimes.
Griffin & Wei Fig. 9
Their Figure 9 shows the flow of funds over time into the scammer's wallets at exchanges. This is how they estimated the $75.3B; their extremely conservative estimate is $35.1B, and their liberal estimate is $237.6B. Note the huge ~$45B increase from January 2021 to January 2023, partly driven by the cryptocurrency boom, and the slowing until January 2024. Presumably the ETF pump will accelerate the rate.

Below the fold, some commentary on this and other recent developments.

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Petabit Optical Media?

Source
Sabine Hossenfelder does the good Dr. Pangloss proud in her report on A 3D nanoscale optical disk memory with petabit capacity by Miao Zhao et al. Their abstract claims that:
we increase the capacity of [optical data storage] to the petabit level by extending the planar recording architecture to three dimensions with hundreds of layers, meanwhile breaking the optical diffraction limit barrier of the recorded spots. We develop an optical recording medium based on a photoresist film doped with aggregation-induced emission dye, which can be optically stimulated by femtosecond laser beams. This film is highly transparent and uniform, and the aggregation-induced emission phenomenon provides the storage mechanism. It can also be inhibited by another deactivating beam, resulting in a recording spot with a super-resolution scale. This technology makes it possible to achieve exabit-level storage by stacking nanoscale disks into arrays, which is essential in big data centres with limited space.
Below the fold I discuss this technology.

Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Microsoft's Archival Storage Research

2016 Media Shipments

Exabytes Revenue $/GB
Flash120$38.7B$0.320
Hard Disk693$26.8B$0.039
LTO Tape40$0.65B$0.016
Six years ago I wrote Archival Media: Not a Good Business and included this table. The argument went as follows:
  • The value that can be extracted from data decays rapidly with time.
  • Thus companies would rather invest in current than archival data.
  • Thus archival media and systems are a niche market.
  • Thus archival media and systems lack the manufacturing volume to drive down prices.
  • Thus although quasi-immortal media have low opex (running cost), they have high capex (purchase cost).
  • Especially now interest rates are non-zero, the high capex makes the net present value of their lifetime cost high.
  • Archival media compete with legacy generic media, which have mass-market volumes and have already amortized their R&D, so have low capex but higher opex through their shorter service lives.
  • Because they have much higher volumes and thus much more R&D, generic media have much higher Kryder rates, meaning that although they need to be replaced over time, each new unit at approximately equal cost replaces several old units, reducing opex.
  • Especially now interest rates are non-zero, the net present value of the lower capex but higher opex is likely very competitive.
Below the fold I look into why, despite this, Microsoft has been pouring money into archival system R&D for about a decade.

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Competition-proofing

Source
Apart from getting started in the midst of one of Silicon Valley's regular downturns, another great thing about the beginnings of Nvidia was that instead of insisting on the "minimum viable product" our VCs, Sutter Hill and Sequoia, gave us the time to develop a real architecture for a family of chips. It enabled us to get an amazing amount of functionality into a half-micron gate array; I/O virtualization, a DMA engine, a graphics processor that rendered curved surfaces directly, not by approximating them with triangles, a sound engine and support for game controllers. As I write, after a three decade-long history of bringing innovations to the market, Nvidia is America's third most valuable company.

I've written several times about how in pursuit of a quicker buck, VCs have largely discarded the slow process of building an IPO-ready company like Nvidia in favor of building one that will be acquired by one of the dominant monopolists. These VCs don't support innovation. Even if their acquisition-bound companies do innovate in their short lives, their innovations are rarely tested in the market after the acuisition.

Below the fold I discuss a new paper that presents a highly detailed look at the mechanisms the dominant companies use to neutralize the threats startups could pose to their dominance.

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Clouds Over The Mines

In early December 2022 when I wrote skeptically about the economics of Bitcoin mining in Foolish Lenders the Bitcoin "price" was around $17K. It has now climbed 153% to around $43K and, below the fold, I am still posting skeptically about the economics of mining.

Thursday, February 8, 2024

Tracing The Pig Butchers

"Vicky"
Chapter 18 of Zeke Faux's Number Go Up: Inside Crypto's Wild Rise and Staggering Fall is entitled "Pig Butchering". It starts when he receives a supposed wrong-number text from a "Vicky":
I showed my phone to my friend and explained that I was stringing Vicky along because I’d heard about a new kind of investment fraud that often started with a random text message. I had a hunch that this was why “Vicky” was texting me. The scam was called “pig butchering” because the scammers liked to build up the victim’s confidence with a pretend romantic relationship and made-up investment gains before stealing all their money in one fell swoop—like how hogs are fattened up before their slaughter.
This is a romance- and cryptocurrency-enabled version of the "Wee Forest Folk" scam we described in our 2003 SOSP paper.

Below the fold, I look into the details of pig-butchering scams, and how the tracing techniques I discussed in Criming On The Blockchain are being applied to identify the cryptocurrency companies facilitating it.

Thursday, February 1, 2024

The Stanford Digital Library Project

The Stanford Digital Library Project stated its goal thus:
The Stanford Integrated Digital Library Project will develop enabling technologies for an integrated “virtual” library to provide an array of new services and uniform access to networked information collections. The Integrated Digital Library will create a shared environment linking everything from personal information collections, to collections of conventional libraries, to large data collections shared by scientists.
Stanford librarians Vicky Reich and Rebecca Wesley provided the "library" input for the research.

Wayback Machine, 11/11/98
In particular Vicky explained citation indices, the concept behind Page Rank, to Larry Page and Sergey Brin. Andy Bechtolsheim was famously instrumental in persuading them to turn their demo of a Page Rank search engine into Google, the company. In his fascinating interview in the Computer History Museum's oral history collection, Andy explains why the idea of ranking pages by their inbound links was so important.

Below the fold I have taken the liberty of transcribing and cleaning up the relevant section of Andy's stream of conciousness, both because it is important history and because it exactly reflects the Andy I was privileged to know in the early days of Sun Microsystems.

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Criming On The Blockchain

I apologize for the delay in posting but, as you will see, the post I was working on grew rather long.

It seems obvious that doing crimes and writing the receipts to an immutable public ledger is risky, but many criminals have been convinced that there is no risk because cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin are anonymous. Although there are cryptocurrencies with anonymous transactions, such as Monero and zCash, they are much more difficult to use and much less liquid than pseudonymous cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. As many criminals have discovered, without an unrealistically intense focus on operational security (opsec), the identity behind the pseudonym can be revealed. An entire industry has evolved to do these revelations, tracing the flow of coins through their blockchains.

Below the fold I discuss the techniques and results of blockchain tracing, based on four main sources:

Thursday, January 18, 2024

A Lesson Learned

You know how backups work great until you really need them? Below the fold, a lesson learned from my recent example of this phenomenon.

Tuesday, January 9, 2024

Autonomous Vehicles: Trough of Disillusionment

Jeremykemp CC BY-SA 3.0, Link
This is the famous Gartner hype cycle and it certianly appears that autonomous vehicles are currently in the Trough of Disillusionment. Whether they will eventually soar up to the Plateau of Productivity is unknown, but for now it is clear even to practitioners that the hype bubble they have been riding for years has burst.

Below the fold I try to catch up with the flood of reporting on the autonomous vehicle winter triggered by the bursting of the bubble.

Tuesday, January 2, 2024

Good News For Tether

USDT "market cap"
The good news for Tether is shown in this graph, with two huge surges in "market cap" this year. One of about $15B early in the year, and another of about $6B recently. It looks like the euphoria over the prospect of spot Bitcoin ETFs has solved the Greater Fool Supply-Chain Crisis with the cryptosphere experiencing a massive inflow of around $20B actual dollars. As one might expect from injecting $20B whose only uses are to HODL or to buy cryptocurrency into the market, the result has been a massive bubble in cryptocurrency "prices".

BTC "price"
Bitcoin has gone from about $16K at the start of the year to around $42K recently. Ethereum has merely doubled, from about $1.2K to about $2.4K.

So all is well with the world; Tether gets to keep the interest on another $20B, which at say 4% is an extra $800M/year on their bottom line, and the Bitcoin HODL-ers see their investment gamble return a 160% gain. Is all really well with the world? Follow me below the fold.