My Ideal Writing Tool

I am often unduly tool obsessed when it comes to tasks, and am hesitant to change my tools once I have found one that I can manage.

I love photography, yet use a years old camera (partially because quality has not improved that much) in part because I enjoy knowing exactly how the thing will react to my input.

I have never found a writing tool that worked exactly how I wanted it to though. I find Google Docs occasional slowness exasperating, and Word’s ability to mess up references and footnotes frustrating. I love Scrivener most of the time, except that I find I struggle to keep all my research labeled appropriately and sorted intelligently.

Perhaps, I think as I write this that the problem lies not with the tools, but with the poor carpenter. Yet still since I love writing I will still describe my ideal tool in the vague hope that someone can point me towards it, or it will motivate me enough to build it myself.

Each project is structured in a directory. The application can display a variety of content, allowing it to be used as the basis for much of the research gathering process as well. Each file has the ability for a significant amount of metadata to be added, this will include the information necessary to automatically generate citations, but also can include links to other files, addresses, etc…. References inside the text will appear while editing as a hyperlink to the specified content, and when you go to ‘render’ the final document it will use the metadata to generate the citation in the form you request. If needed metadata is missing it will prompt you.

Reading what I just wrote it makes me think that this is something I could conceivably develop and maybe I will. Or perhaps I just need to re-do the Scrivener tutorials. Who knows. Maybe what I am describing is a Jupyter notebook writing mostly in Markdown with some conversion coolness at the very end. Either way I find the disconnect between research and writing difficult currently. I get excited for the research, but end up with chaotic half-references and memories. I get excited to write and cannot find the references I need.

Yes, I know LaTEX is a thing, and maybe I should just learn how to use it. Honestly, this will never be solved by a tool and eventually I will just need to accept that my habits are what need to change.

Weird Coincidences

Author’s Note: This was inspired by this old thread of mine.

Our world is full of happenings that seem to the untrained eye to be worrisome coincidences, but in reality they can easily be explained away.

Consider for example that both Stuart Hoegner (General Counsel for Bitfinex and Tether) and Brock Pierce (Founder of Tether) worked for Bitcoin Decentral a short-lived incubator in Canada. The honest truth is that the blockchain industry was small back then and there were only so many combinations of ways people could work together in an industry that small. Trying to make that into something more is deceptive and wrong. You can see the list yourself at the link I sent, this is where anyone who was anyone in crypto was choosing to associate themselves.

It makes total sense that the stablecoin founded by Brock Pierce would go to the lawyer that Brock Pierce had worked with. Why would that be shady? I mean sure they are not technically auditors but they can sign a letter better than any bank in the Bahamas. But speaking more seriously, these are the same lawyers who were associated with this casino. That’s just another coincidence though.

So yeah that same Sunlot from before. Pierce and Betts who worked together on this ended up founding the bank that would bank Tether when they were cutoff from almost every other option. To put this in a different light though it makes perfect sense. Crypto people are going to be more comfortable banking crypto people than most banks would be. They have a better understanding of the true risk profile.

So this one can be observed pretty easily here. But again from the perspective of Bitfinex this was just good business sense. Why disclose their ownership if it was likely to invite undue attention and perhaps even make it harder to maintain their always tenuous banking relations. It was the clear choice to announce it as a partnership instead.

So I think the reason that this hack is very rarely discussed outside of the Tether Truther circles is that they were able to force a hard fork of Omni which allowed them to freeze these funds and any others. Since the money was not actually lose it is easy for people to not care about. However, it is still quite odd that someone was able to get into the treasury like that.

So as we just discussed Tether can now freeze any Omni Tethers that they want (I am almost positive that they can on Ethereum too but it has been a while since I read their smart contract so don’t hold me to that) and they are supposed to track these frozen Tethers on their transparency page here. They should be listed under Quarantined Tethers on the Omni part. Now the problem is that there are more frozen Tethers than are listed here. Consider for example 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. Now I am no accountant but I know that those numbers add up to more than Tether claims are quarantined. Weird coincidence.

So in order to understand this one you need the context of the second Bitfinex hack, where afterwards to help regain trust they promised a full financial and security audit of Bitfinex. They hired a security consultant who allegedly gave them the report, Bitfinex thought this firm could do a financial audit as well, they could not, and the security “audit” was always referred to as a report from here on out. The financial audit obviously never came. I mean they couldn’t even get an audit for Tether which was supposed to just be 1 dollar per token. This was many tokens, banks across a huge number of jurisdictions, plus they had just issued the BFX token and the RRT token further complicating the job. In hindsight it was a thing that never should have been promised.

So the audit for Tether was going to prove that they always had the money they claimed they did. The audit for EOS was supposed to come out and prove that they did not trade their own token during the sale. To explain, during the year long ICO of EOS wherein it traded on several exchanges there were accusations that the block.one team was selling tokens on exchanges and using the proceeds to buy more tokens which inflated their $4bn sale. They promised an audit to prove that this did not happen. As of writing it has not occurred.

I saved this one for last because for me it is the hardest one to wrap my head around. Raphael Nicolle was the founder of Bitfinex and he left the very same month that their hot wallet was drained. This hack was relatively forgotten because they covered the losses, but it was always odd to me that was the month that Raphael officially separated from Bitfinex. Complicating this picture is that Raphael claims on his Linkedin that he continued to do some programming for Bitfinex. This means he was still connected to Bitfinex, but in a much more easily minimized role. The other amusing wrinkle is that Raphael is a Ruby on Rails developer, which is important to remember because Bitfinex was based on the leaked Bitcoinica exchange code which was a Ruby on Rails site coded by an ambitious 16 year old.

So yeah our world is weird and there are so many crazy coincidences.

Analysis of December NYAG and Tether Filings

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, this is not legal advice or financial advice or life advice or medical advice or romance advice. Especially not romance.

So this is more than a little bit delayed, but better late than never I figure. You can see the original threads that I am going to be reviewing for this analysis here: NYAG and here: Tether.

The fundamental tension between the NYAG has become less a dispute about facts and more frequently a dispute about service, jurisdiction, precedents, and language. Tether especially was much more creative in this filing than previous ones.

Let’s start by outlining the broad strokes of the NYAG argument. Their primary thrust seems to be that Tether’s claim of improper service is invalid, due to existing precedence and their failure to bring it up in an earlier motion. They also find themselves frustrated by the lack of documents that have been provided by the merry men of Digfinex.

Listen if I am going to be blunt I think all of this posturing around jurisdiction is a load of shit. The Block reported [paywalled] that it was relatively easy for a NY resident who was moderately comfortable with lying to get an account there. Now based on the New Yorkers I have seen on the national stage recently I have reason to believe at least some New York residents are comfortable lying. Also it appears that the requirements for Martin Act jurisdiction are relatively light and we also know that an accounting firm they hired, a PR firm they hired, were also in New York. Oh also they helped onboard a New York based trading outfit and loaned them Tethers. Now you can argue that the Martin Act provides too much jurisdiction, but if that is the thrust of your argument you’re going to struggle.

Now looking more in detail at the Tether response we see some excitement from their lawyers for once. One of their primary thrusts seems to be that they were improperly served, and thus everything from then is bunk. It really comes down to whether serving the outside counsel of Bitfinex who was communicating with NYAG was appropriate or not. I am not qualified to assess the law, but it seems to me that they are unlikely to win this service argument.

The second thrust of their argument is jurisdictional. Namely the New Yorkers we worked with either were technically international or we did not know they were New Yorkers. This argument would hold a little more impact if they did you know anything except asking a single question to determine if someone was from New York.

Then they try to argue that Tether is not a security or a commodity and thus not subject to Martin Act. This is their most creative argument, but it seems the reach of the Martin act will still bring them to heel here.

Overall, my assessment of these two responses together is that Tether and Bitfinex are in a pickle and are taking steps to lengthen the proceedings and win in the court of public opinion.

A Luddite Technologist

n.b.: This is more rant and less article. If you expect structure or coherence perhaps this will not be the experience you want tonight.

I believe I must have gotten dumber, for the machines seem to now be smarter. Before they had no ability to recommend, sort, tag, and partition. Now, they Just Work (TM). This simplicity and clarity allows for many to create, consume, and engage. However, I find myself frustrated beyond what can be considered reasonable.

Consider for example the brilliant product Apple Music. It seamlessly combines your existing library with a massive streaming library which allows you to have the best of both worlds. At some point it decided for some of my files that its version was better than my own and replaced it in my library. Now they were likely right! Their file was likely a higher bitrate and probably sounded better, but when you replace an explicit song with a clean one it can be jarring. Especially when the album is Eminem and half the words are gone. However, this was likely my fault as I probably selected the wrong option during setup, or perhaps my file was labeled “wrong.”

Have you ever tried to put a picture in a Word document? It goes exactly where you put it, but later you realize that you should have put it somewhere else. Be careful moving it or your entire document structure may go upside-down. There’s an easy way to fix it by changing the text wrapping of course.

I code for my day job and for fun. However, I will admit that I do not always use the appropriate PEP-8 formatting, however, we are in luck because my IDE has an autopep8 extension that takes care of it for me. Except for the day that it moved an import statement, created an import loop, and it took me hours to find and fix. But hey that was my fault, I should have known I was not following PEP-8 formatting with that import statement moved down like that.

I have found that Netflix gives me a new sense of urgency to watch the shows and movies that I love, because I always have a sense that they are short for this world. Weirdly enough many of them are on DVD right across the room and could be watched whenever.

For some reason this blog now struggles to hold my attention, while my Tweet volume has remained incredible. Luckily I hope I have learned from Shakespeare and kept my wit despite the brevity.

I carry around a slab of glass and metal that is more powerful than machines I once dreamed of owning. It keeps me informed of exactly what I have told it I want to be informed about. I find myself needing to shut it off.

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Sunday Reads – Links I Found Interesting 6/16

PyTorch

PyTorch Hub is an awesome new step forward in research reproducibility for machine learning and artificial intelligence. Makes it super easy to publish your pre-trained research models and for others to download them and test them. I was shocked how uncommon it was for people to publish their models when I first started reading machine learning papers.

An enzymatic pathway in the human gut microbiome that converts A to universal O type blood

This was a metagenomic study that identified two enzymes that may help convert A and B blood to O increasing the supply of blood available.

SciHive

This is a cool ArXiv access point with upvoting and down voting, ability to save notes, see twitter commentary on paper and more.

The Good Social Internet

Social media often sucks. The social internet is a magical place full of rich relationships, new connections, intriguing ideas, and true community.

What do I mean when I say the social internet? It is all of the internet designed for sharing, connecting, and engaging with other people. This may include social media, but it also includes personal blogs, forums, discord servers, random IRC channels. In short, places where people congregate around shared interests.

Continue reading “The Good Social Internet”

Sunday Reads – Links I Found Interesting 6/9

Mapping human microbiome drug metabolism by gut bacteria and their genes

A fascinating look at how the microbiome may affect drug metabolism. Important to remember that the game does not end at pharmacogenomics and we need to be paying attention to the complex interplay of numerous complex systems to understand drug action.

Deep learning can predict microsatellite instability directly from histology in gastrointestinal cancer

Thanks to the ‘magic’ of deep learning we may be able to better predict which patients are going to respond to immunotherapy in gastrointestinal cancer with cheaper tests. More people treating their cancer certainly sounds good to me.

CCR5-∆32 is deleterious in the homozygous state in humans

The gene that was CRISPR-ed in those Chinese babies makes it more likely you die. This isn’t even accounting for the potential off-target effects. Turns out the thing we all knew was unethical is in fact unethical. Who da thunk?

Principles of and strategies for germline gene therapy

Following in the same vein as the previous article we take a theoretical look at the potential for these germline therapies.

The Sweetgreenification of Society

Interesting Substack post about the increasing stratification of society through the lens of boutique businesses.

RNA sequence analysis reveals macroscopic somatic clonal expansion across normal tissues

From one, many. Our bodies are a huge mess of different mutations each of which could or could not be maybe contributing to diseases. Thinking of yourself as having one genetic identity is flawed.

A Jaunt Down Financial Fraud Lane

A fun article taking a look at some of the numerous scams in the cryptocurrency ecosystem. I am partial to the disaster that is EOS.

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Sunday Reads – Links I Found Interesting 6/2

EfficientNet: Improving Accuracy and Efficiency through AutoML and Model Scaling

Google did that thing they do again where they make vast steps in artificial intelligence and machine learning. Efficiency of these image recognition networks is up to 10* greater. Most of this gain is because they try to use “scaling coefficients” so that the network scales in a predictable way. I’m just mad because it’s a TensorFlow model and not PyTorch so I can’t drop it into any of my existing image recognition notebooks.

A promising step forward for predicting lung cancer

Another Google blog post about how they are doing incredible things. Man what I wouldn’t do to work for Google Brain. (This research is also being done at the same university I am doing my capstone with, so hey maybe they can sneak me in) Okay so in this article they describe a state of the art result for predicting lung cancer using improved volumetric predictions of CT scans. They instead of looking at individual slices in the image are instead reconstructing 3-d structures to improve the accuracy. This both is and is not a crazy step forward. Being able to use the 3-d structure seems to be truly revolutionary, but some of the radiologists performed equally as well as it. Seems that it will be a useful assistance tool for now.

Moving Camera, Moving People: A Deep Learning Approach to Depth Prediction

I promise this won’t be all Google, but again what they are doing right here is incredibly cool and a little bit scary. They have found a way to approximate the 3-d size, shape, and depth of moving people even when the camera is moving. This work has really cool implications for AR and VR and a little bit terrifying uses for a potential police state. There are many places where face recognition has been banned or people are considering banning it, however, combining a 3-d map of a person with existing effective identification techniques like gait tracking can serve as a proxy for facial recognition in those areas. Combined with facial recognition it could provide an even stronger match limiting false positives, and avoiding false negatives.

Speech2Face: Learning the Face Behind a Voice

Okay we are finally away from Google, but into something even more terrifying. This neural network when fed a small sample of speech is able to generate a qualitatively accurate facial guess. The model seems quite adept at identifying both race and gender. Scary stuff.

Defund Crypto

This fun parody site created by Joshua Davis, Kyle Gibson, and the pseudonymous Cas Piancey mercilessly lampoons the tomfoolery of Kik’s attempt to challenge the SEC. For the record, I do not think promising an Ethereum public DApp and delivering a one node Stellar fork is a good thing.

Exist 

This interesting service will likely not be appreciated by the privacy minded. While they do have a strong privacy policy its purpose is to bring a ton of your disparate personal data together and find interesting correlations. Whether it is useful or just noise remains to be seen.

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Key Excerpts and Commentary from NYAG/Tether Court Transcript

First of all link to the transcript: https://www.docdroid.net/Wk3pePO/transcript-may-16-2019.pdf

Second of all congrats to @lawmaster and The Block for a great scoop.  https://t.co/22w3xY8mc8 Now let’s get down to business.

Bitfinex is still being hesitant to hand over documents to the NYAG.  They have struggled to get access to documents relating to the transfer from Tether to Bitfinex, and this suggests to me that either the documents don’t exist or there is a very good reason they are not being shared.

Screen Shot 2019-05-21 at 5.03.56 PM

This is directly contrary to what Bitfinex has claimed to the public wherein they have claimed that they have been fully cooperative. https://www.bitfinex.com/posts/356 Archive link: https://web.archive.org/web/20190521220643/https://www.bitfinex.com/posts/356Screen Shot 2019-05-21 at 5.05.47 PMHowever, I’m sure that there is no reason to think that Bitfinex is hiding something. No reason at all.Screen Shot 2019-05-21 at 5.09.29 PM

Shortly after this we learn very interesting things, Tether’s lawyer admits to Tether investing in Bitcoin:

Screen Shot 2019-05-21 at 5.13.37 PM

Luckily we have a sharp judge here who quickly gets to the meet of the issue and correctly points out that this seems contrary to the nature of a “Stablecoin”.Screen Shot 2019-05-21 at 5.14.31 PM

The Tether lawyer responds by confirming what we all suspected since the ToS change is that other assets includes cryptocurrencies:Screen Shot 2019-05-21 at 5.15.35 PM

The Tether lawyer then continues basically saying they will not produce documents and will instead appeal and challenge every single step of the way:Screen Shot 2019-05-21 at 5.17.11 PM

The Tether lawyer then also says that they do not think there is any amount of dollars they need to keep in reserve:Screen Shot 2019-05-21 at 5.19.17 PM

The Tether lawyer then takes the classic Tether defender tactic of it’s okay because banks do it too:Screen Shot 2019-05-21 at 5.20.19 PM

The judge quickly ascertains the issue with this and points out that this effectively means there is no reserves:Screen Shot 2019-05-21 at 5.21.18 PM

The Tether lawyer responds by saying it’s okay, if they need to they’ll earn money some other way, pay it back, and just delay redemptions:

Screen Shot 2019-05-21 at 5.22.23 PM

A little further down the NYAG reveals that Bitfinex/Tether executives get lump sum payouts from the unsegregated Tether accounts where no reserves have to be kept:

Screen Shot 2019-05-21 at 5.25.12 PM

The NYAG also reveals the juicy tidbit that the largest redemption ever was less than $25 million:

Screen Shot 2019-05-21 at 5.29.07 PM

Why is this particularly juicy? Well let’s take a quick trip over to their treasury address on Omni: https://omniexplorer.info/address/1NTMakcgVwQpMdGxRQnFKyb3G1FAJysSfz/1 here it does not take long to find bigger transactions coming in than that like this: https://omniexplorer.info/tx/572792736c6846998ac0b8c532d0317f7d8460886ce900bb6005260ed66cd80a So somethign is seriously amiss here.

Now relevant to this entire document is the issue of disclosure. Tether claims that they are not in the wrong because once they started using other assets they disclosed it.  However, is that true? I will contend it is not. Let us consider Tether’s own website: https://web.archive.org/web/20150521003646/https://tether.to/faqs/

In 2015 Tether openly admits to exchanging Bitcoins for Tethers without KYC. Now it is possible, but in my opinion unlikely that they still had sufficient fiat reserves at that point, but I think it is plausible to doubt that and to believe that Bitcoins have often been a part of the backing.

Screen Shot 2019-05-21 at 5.48.34 PM

In conclusion: Tether has paid executives dividends out of non-segregated accounts, does not feel a need to keep cash reserves, is buying bitcoins with reserves, and cannot handle a rush to redeem.  Their largest claimed transaction is also smaller than multiple apparent redemptions on the blockchain.

Update 5/23/19: I remembered in a dream last night that Tether discussed in their whitepaper people being able to redeem for bitcoins. https://tether.to/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/TetherWhitePaper.pdf

tetherbits

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A Guide to a Hypothetical Internationally Coordinated State Level Attack On Bitcoin

There was a recent comment by Joseph Stiglitz in which he expressed his desire to “shut down the cryptocurrencies”.  This prompted me to seriously consider how one would go about shutting down or seriously damaging Bitcoin. This is not an easy problem because Bitcoin is designed to be a remarkably resilient system, however, I do think with coordinated international action a significant amount of damage could be done.  My proposed plan relies partially on how Bitcoin does difficulty adjustments.

Every 2016 blocks (~2 weeks) the difficulty of Bitcoin mining adjusts so that blocks continue to come approximately every 10 minutes.  This is important because the hashrate dedicated to mining Bitcoins has varied significantly over time, and so this helps keep block time relatively stable.  However, major swings in hashpower can significantly change the time between blocks.

Furthermore, it is important to remember that Bitcoin mining tends to run with a pretty narrow profit margin, and as such major swings in price can significantly affect the profitability of miners on the network.

So knowing these things, how do we attack Bitcoin? Step 1 is to start buying up old mining hardware.  Because mining demands a high level of efficiency to be profitable old generations of miners are rapidly abandoned as miners with access to more efficient technology can reap larger rewards.  However, if you do not care about profitability you can acquire these miners. Now make sure you keep them off the network, you do not want people to know that you are acquiring hashpower as it would cause suspicion.  Right after a difficulty adjust bring all of your hash online and wait until the next difficulty adjustment.

The next step is to try to negatively affect the price as much as possible in as short of a time as possible.  These steps need to occur right after the difficulty adjustment after you brought your hash online. You will accomplish this price with drop with two primary techniques. The first, as a major state level actor you have seized and safeguarded Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies in the normal course of law enforcement actions. You will now sell it all, or as much of it as humanly possible.  Instead of trying to maximize your potential monetary gains from these sales you will instead try to sell them on the lowest liquidity places you can access, with the goal of throwing off indices and inciting further selling from major holders. While you are doing this you will simultaneously try to pull a major source of liquidity from the market. If there exists for example a poorly regulated exchange and stablecoin who combine for a significant portion of the liquidity in the market you will seize them right as you begin to sell.  Allow as many people as possible to stampede for the exits.

Now we must do everything we can to reduce hashpower on the network.  Turn off all of the hashpower you brought onto the network, and simultaneously coordinate with China to convince them to cutoff as many of their miners as possible.  Seize any mining hardware you reasonably can and keep it off the network for now. This drop in hashpower, combined with a major drop in price will cause many previous profitable miners to now be mining at a loss.  Many will choose to turn off their machines rather than lose money continuing to mine. The lower the hashrate goes here the less usable the network is. Block times will lengthen and people will grow increasingly frustrated and apt to sell, perpetuating the cycle.  Whenever anyone sells mining hardware buy it.

Now you wait for the next difficulty adjustment.  This will take longer than it normally will because the time between bloks has vastly increased.  However, Bitcoin is a stubborn beast and there are likely some people who have isolated themselves reasonably well from state intervention and will mine to keep it alive.  Once the difficulty adjusts again, you will again deploy your hash which should now be even more. If you control the majority of hash you will mine empty blocks making the network entirely useless.  The only transactions you will allow through are those meant to help you sell your block rewards. You will sell your entire block rewards with the goal of continuing to push the price even lower.

If you do not control the majority of hash, but do control >25% you will selfish mine and continue to try to identify other miners on the network and seize their hardware.

Regardless of whether or not you are controlling the majority of the hash the next difficulty adjustment should come quick, in less than two weeks.  Again you will withdraw your hash and let block times lengthen, but now transactions will be going through, giving desperate people a chance to sell.

Lather, rinse, and repeat.  Eventually you will control the majority of hashpower and once this happens you will force the community to make incredibly tough decisions.  These could include changing the hashing algorithm or changing how difficulty adjustments work. These decisions are likely to be contentious and will therefore further fragment the community.  If these contentious issues result in forks you will see people on each side of the fork trying to dump the other side of the fork, further depressing the price. Even if some vague semblance of a Bitcoin is left standing after this attack it will be a shell of its former self and you will have demonstrated to people that it is more vulnerable than they have ever believed.  Enjoy your continued monopoly on money printing.

Note: Typos have been fixed from an early edition of this article

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