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.

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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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On the Social Scalability of Bitcoin and the 21 Million Cap

Many Bitcoin proponents, chief among them Nick Szabo, laud Bitcoin for its social scalability.  In order to discuss this issue fairly we must first define social scalability. In the famous blogpost where it was first used, Szabo defines it as:

“Social scalability is the ability of an institution –- a relationship or shared endeavor, in which multiple people repeatedly participate, and featuring customs, rules, or other features which constrain or motivate participants’ behaviors — to overcome shortcomings in human minds and in the motivating or constraining aspects of said institution that limit who or how many can successfully participate. Social scalability is about the ways and extents to which participants can think about and respond to institutions and fellow participants as the variety and numbers of participants in those institutions or relationships grow.  It’s about human limitations, not about technological limitations or physical resource constraints.” (http://unenumerated.blogspot.com/2017/02/money-blockchains-and-social-scalability.html)

First, I must acknowledge that there are significant benefits to Bitcoin’s design that enable social scalability.  Among these are the expense required to censor a transaction, the prevention of double spend without a centralized entity, and the issuance of rewards without a central entity.  Each of these has contributed significantly to the success of Bitcoin and are what make it such a compelling piece of technology to me. However, certain design decisions have created a significant and hard to rectify argument surface that may limit future growth.  The most important of these, in my opinion, is the choice of a finite, hard cap.

Challenging this hard cap is challenging many of the fundamental ideas held by Bitcoiners and as such I’ll belabor certain points in order to ensure they’re addressed thoroughly.  First of all there is a conception among Bitcoiner’s that inflation is inevitable in our modern fiat system, and that this inflation will be bad either for them individually, or for society as a whole.  I am willing to concede among these points that inflation may sometimes be bad for the individual, however I contend it is often still a net-positive. Furthermore, I want to challenge the assumption that a finite supply is useful in reducing argument surface.

As Bitcoin’s are lost to theft, technical mistakes, and deaths the supply will continue to contract as Bitcoin becomes a deflationary currency..  For existing holders this seems to be a positive thing. The more the supply contracts the greater proportion of the total value their investment represents.  However, it may still be a net negative if it places an upper bound on total value of Bitcoin. Furthermore, it is valuable to realize that, due to the emission schedule of Bitcoin, a large number of Bitcoins are held by a small number of people.  I will not attempt to estimate exactly how many, because it is beyond the scope of this article, but I would estimate 0.01% of the world’s population possess at least half of the Bitcoins that will ever exist (it is likely much less, for statistics go here: https://bitinfocharts.com/top-100-richest-bitcoin-addresses.html).  This is an intense concentration of wealth, and as the price of a Bitcoin measured in fiat goes up you will expect significant wealth to accrue to these holders.

This natural enrichment of early holders could be considered fair for them shouldering the lion’s share of the initial risk, and believing in a nascent technology before there was significant evidence it would survive.  However, the truth of the matter is that having such disproportionately large early holders makes it harder to convince people to buy in, because the primary benefit to their investment is enrichment of the early investors.  Now, the response here would be that these people are still incentivized to buy in, as they will end up capturing a larger share than the later holders, however, a structure depending on convincing people to enrich early holders at the expense of later investors is a structure that has made many people at the top quite wealthy.  Even now while we are still relatively early in the long life of Bitcoin, it’s difficult for me to envision mass usage, as most are unwilling to enrich a few solely to gain censorship resistant transactions. However, they may purchase Bitcoin as a speculative asset, but my only response to that is I do not see it as a path to adoption.

Furthermore, with Bitcoin (or any other deflationary currency) widescale adoption would provide the largest holders with an entrenched power base.  If it were to become globally accepted in the manner described by the proponents of hyperbitcoinization, then early adopters will obtain incredible wealth, and from that, shocking power.  Since they are incentivized to hold that wealth and not to spend or deploy it, the wealth changes hands infrequently.  This appears to predispose Bitcoin to create an entrenched oligarchic system.

Next, it’s pertinent to consider the value of inflation.  Important to this conception is the idea of a risk curve. The risk curve, which can be gracelessly summed up as a comparison between two assets showing how the change in risk affects the expected return, is important to understanding the said value of inflation:  For example, you may choose to switch your excess money from USD (low risk, negative expected return) to equities (high risk, high positive expected return). The value of maintaining the negative expected return for USD is that it incentivizes greater deployment of capital up the risk curve.  Investors are willing to take on risks in order to protect their wealth and ensure returns. This capital allows for the expansion of the total economic pie as businesses grow and create new products, new efficiencies, and new markets. However, deflationary money can seriously mess with this contention.  If you have a well-established deflationary money then your money will have (low risk, positive expected return), and as such you have little incentive to deploy it up the risk curve. This may seem to be a relatively small and technical matter but it is a significant matter. Hyperbitcoinization would be destructive for society and would result in a regression of economic games to zero-sum along with establishment of an entrenched oligarchy.  This may not prevent adoption, but it may affect the argument surface.

My argument rests on,  “a relationship or shared endeavor, in which multiple people repeatedly participate, and featuring customs, rules, or other features which constrain or motivate participants’ behaviors — to overcome shortcomings in human minds and in the motivating or constraining aspects of said institution that limit who or how many can successfully participate.”  The hard cap on Bitcoin has created disincentives to cooperative behavior. The reduction to zero-sum or net-negative games makes it such that the nature of every interaction becomes competitive instead of cooperative.

There are a couple potential counter-arguments to my points here.

The first many Bitcoiners/Austrians (big overlap there) will turn to is an effect referred to as the Cantillon effect or the injection effect. I am not a true economist, but it can be summarized as the place where money enters a system, has a significant effect, and is likely to enrich those closest to the injection point.  There is little, but not zero, empirical evidence for this in traditional central banking systems, but even if we accept that it is a real effect other features of Bitcoin help minimize it. Consider who is closest to the injection point in Bitcoin: the miners. The miners are required to either exchange it for fiat to pay power bills, or purchase power directly using Bitcoin.  This cost to produce helps eliminate the disproportionate wealth effect (if it exists) from monetary injection.

Some, Hasu comes to mind, have advocated that instead of removing the hard cap there could be a requirement to move your coins regularly or they will be ‘reclaimed’.  I have always considered this idea seriously problematic because of the implications it has for some of the fundamental tenets of Bitcoin. One of the primary tenets of Bitcoin is that your key gives you, and solely you, control of your Bitcoin, and this invalidates that assumption. For those who keep their coins in cold storage it also represents a (slight) security risk to have to access the coins and move them to a new wallet.  Additionally, this could destroy the predictability of mining rewards which may change the incentive structure. It seems to me this would more fundamentally change the protocol and argument structure than simply continual issuance.

The argument that creating a hard cap and creating such a cult around the inflation schedule has reduced the argument surface surrounding Bitcoin and in so doing improved its social scalability.  This would fit neatly with Szabo’s definition, as it basically limits the participant’s ability to influence the inflation rate. It also helps with the argument that a cap was necessary in order to achieve any social scaling of Bitcoin, because the early adopters would not have been motivated to use it without that cap.  This theory does have significant merit, and is even somewhat compelling to me. However, the fact that we are already having regular conversations about the cap suggests to me that the argument surface has not been maximally minimized.

The final argument I’ll address is that modification of the inflation schedule begets greater modification of the inflation schedule.  I may have to concede this argument. It is possible that by deviating from the cap we have created a scenario where people will continually advocate for changes to the inflation schedule, but Bitcoin governance is helpful here.  Bitcoin relies on what can be termed fork-based governance in which people have the freedom to run exactly what node implementation they choose, miners choose which chain to mine, and exchanges choose which versions to trade. This means that the only way for this inflation schedule to change is with a very difficult consensus making process, which reduces the likelihood of more than one switch (and makes the one switch I want incredibly difficult).

Fundamentally, Bitcoin does solve several important scaling issues by creating irreversible, censorship resistant transactions without a central party.  However, the economic model of Bitcoin limits social scalability and mass adoption.  It may also be important for Bitcoiners to realize that they may be potentially limited their returns and adoption due to devotion to this hard cap.

Thank you very much to CasPiancey and Kyle S Gibson for their help with this article.

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Why I Left Medium

So I have previously published pieces about the advantages of Medium (here) and later published a piece about the advantages of using it as a syndication platform, which mostly still stands. However, for me personally I will no longer be using it any capacity.

I wrote an article (note this article is not up for reasons) criticizing a problematic cryptocurrency, this article was distributed by Medium curators, and was up for five months before I finally received this email:

You can review the article yourself but I do not think it was gratuitously abusive, and I do not think harmful is a meaningful metric here.  If any post that could be harmful to a business is taken down then you are effectively eliminating the ability for people to criticize or review.  Once I realized it had been taken down I decided to review their Terms of Service (something I should have done before ever promoting them).  They include in their terms this line right here: Capture.PNG

This blanket statement made me realize that it was no longer going to be a fortuitous relationship for me to allow them to use my content to advance their platform.  I encourage all content creators to control your own domain, control your own hosting if you can (or use one who has committed to being anti-censorship like WordPress), control your own email list, and keep backups of your content.  I did all of these things so this takedown has little effect on me, but I worry about the effect it could have on someone else.

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A New Brave World

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Disclaimer: This story is a fictional rendition of what it would be like if there was a company that chose to accept payments on the behalf of content creators without their knowing about it, and then give them away if not claimed in time. There is unlikely to be any resemblance to real life events because there is no chance anyone would do that right? It was also meant to be satire, but sometimes when you live in the craziest possible world, the best you can do is a retelling.

It was a long evening of grinding away on his stream. John had been working for months and finally built up a couple thousand followers on Twitch. He was far from a major name who could do it exclusively, but he did have a few people who were willing to subscribe and make sure he had a few dollars every month. They seemed to enjoy his dry wit and his ability to break down certain strategy games that were a little bit less common on Twitch. He figured he was going to playing anyway, might as well share his love of the games with a few others.

Erin was a huge fan of John. As often as she could she would tune into his streams. She had never met someone in real life who played these same games as her, and especially not someone who could make even the watching exciting. She was a huge supporter of her favorite content creators online, and luckily her browser had a couple of buttons that made it super easy to tip people she loved watching. She logged on to watch John stream and soon found herself laughing uproariously. She clicked a couple buttons and sent him a few dollars, glad to help someone who brightened up her days.

John’s lifeblood as a subscriber was the few people who chose to invest the money to subscribe to his channel. Those who chose to do this got a couple of little perks: a badge they can use in the chat, a subscriber only chat, no ads, and the pleasure of knowing they were supporting a content creator. He didn’t have a ton of subscribers, but the few he did have he started to gradually develop relationships with. Since they got access to the subscriber only chat he would pop in and talk to them, many of them fans of his same favorite games. It was a good arrangement. Besides those subscribers there were some people who were willing to hop in to his streams and “cheer” which acted as a small tip for John. This right now only added up to a about a hundred dollars a month for him right now, but this amount helped convince him it was worth continuing, and kept his equipment up to date. He was hoping in a couple of months he would able to justify an upgrade to a brand new keyboard, one he had been eyeing for a while.

Erin had continued to tip John through the browser, and finally decided one day to send him a message noting her appreciation for his channel.

Hey John,

Just wanted to send you a quick message to say that I love your channel. Not often do I find someone else who loves these games, and you make watching them fun and funny. I hope you keep doing what you are doing, and I hope my few small tips of RAT is helping to make that happen :).

Your fan,

Erin

John opened up his messages and was confused. He had never before heard of a tip of RAT and was totally confused what Erin might be doing. He decided to sent Erin a quick message back to find out what was going on.

Hey Erin,

I wanted to say thank you for your message, support like yours is why I keep doing this. I was wondering though what a “RAT” is, obviously I know the furry little rodent, but I’m guessing that is not what you are sending me.

-John

Erin was now the one confused, when she had opened up her tipping page on her browser, she had seen a total profile for John, complete with his profile picture and his information. It had seemed like all of her favorite content creators had pages, and so she would send them a few dollars when she can. Now she was a little bit confused, because it seemed like John had never gotten any of her tips. She decided to start digging and went looking through what she could find out about how this tipping worked.

In the meantime John who had a small but loyal following on Twitter decided that he wanted to describe his experience.

I want everyone to know that if you have been tipping me RAT that I am not set-up to receive it. I have shared no information with that company and I am not receiving those tips. 1/

It appears that this company decided to make a fake profile for me and they have been soliciting these tips on behalf of me and other creators. 2/

Glancing through the ToS for this company it also looks like they do not refund these tips to the people who choose to tip, but instead use them for their own purposes. 3/

This company seems to be exploitive and seems to take advantage of both creators and their fans. It is not right to use my image to solicit money that will never get to me. 4/4

This quickly became one of John’s most interacted with post he had ever made on Twitter. Turns out that RAT had previously been quite popular. Even the CEO of the company that made RAT decided to chime in on the issue. He wanted everyone around to know that he saw no problem with what he was doing, and that furthermore it was okay to be doing it because he saw himself as a Nietzschean Ubermensch. It turns out that many content creators had been “receiving” tips that they never received, and many people had been tipping people who never received.

It seemed that the goal of this company was to get content creators to opt-in by convincing them they were missing out on these tips, which then makes the platform look better to people because there are more people using it. Quite possibly one of the worst tactics in the sleazy growth-hacking playbook. John considered for a second signing up in order to receive these tokens, because every dollar did help, but the simple truth is he refused to support a sleazy model like this. He hoped that if he refused to participate and drew attention to it, other creators may eventually see some of the problems.

Erin seeing this whole debacle made a simple choice. It was time to find a new browser, and she decided to sign up as a channel subscriber to John. She still loved his content and wanted to do what she could to support him.

Disclaimer: I am not signed up to receive RAT or any similar products, please do not send them to me.

Totally Unrelated Link: https://twitter.com/tomscott/status/1076160753793683456

A Response to “Bitcoin’s Existential Crisis”


View at Medium.com

Nic Carter, one of the General Partners at Castle Island Ventures (a previous edition misidentified the fund), the VC fund infamous for investing in Flipside Crypto who sold baskets of shitcoins, recently wrote an article describing what he called the existential crisis of Bitcoin. If you don’t have 12 minutes to read it, it can be summarized as “Bitcoin has no leader and therefore it forks sometimes.” However, in this article that has some in the Crypto Media referring to Nic as Satoshi 2.0, he has several instances of flawed or incomplete thinking.

The first three paragraphs of this piece are quite well thought out, and if you ignore the usage of phrases like “intersubjective consensus” (for those who do not know intersubjective consensus is an idea that pops up in cognitive and philosophical journals to describe how people create a shared conception of reality) a useful introduction to some of the issues in the identity of cryptocurrency.

“The first and most common method is to give a corporation or foundation rights to a trademark, as is the case with Tezos or EOS.IO. This is the default for non-Bitcoin blockchains and gives an entity the legal force to anoint and ratify a single chain. Of course, no one is bound to follow this, and there could be a fork of Tezos that everyone mutually agrees to use.

However, the trademark carries certain legal protections, and if a fork tried to retain the name, the trademark owner would have recourse, at least where the fork tried to interact with regulated institutions. In this case, the trademark is just one manifestation of the core issue, which is confirmation that the leadership of a blockchain is seeking authoritative ratification of their control. Other activities this entity might engage in would be pressuring exchanges to use one ticker over another or support one fork over another as well as spreading a consistent message to the media. All of these give the entity de facto control over which fork is chosen in a dispute.”

This section is humorous to me because people have tried to trademark Bitcoin. See here, here, here, here (cash), here, here, here, here, and here. (Note many of these are for different products, not actual Bitcoin.) However, Nic is making a good point. Namely, that you can either defend against identity crises with legal structures, which are generally antithetical to the stated goals of this space, or you can embrace the difficulty.

The other approach is to throw caution to the wind and spurn any external marker of identity, relying instead on an intersubjective consensus, such that the system can change over time while remaining faithful to its original goals. This is the approach leaderless (or, more accurately, leader-minimized) systems like Bitcoin and Monero go for. Of course, there are influential individuals in both systems, but neither has a foundation or corporation in control of a trademark or a clear decision-making body. Many critics would say that Bitcoin Core, as the author of the dominant implementation of Bitcoin, wields disproportionate control, but that’s a reductive reading. It is not an official body, and the dominant implementation that they create does not define the essence of Bitcoin but rather its instantiation.

Here is where we get into some of the fun parts of the argument. The idea that Bitcoin Core is solely an instance of the consensus around the rules that define Bitcoin. This is ostensibly true, but it is important to remember that Bitcoin is at its core the software the nodes run. There was a recent instance wherein Bitcoin Core had a massive denial of service and inflation bug. Any inflation bug like that is inherently against the social consensus that governs the emission schedule of Bitcoin, yet it existed nonetheless in the instantiation, suggesting the influence of Bitcoin Core here is much larger than Nic is trying to imply. I do agree that there is no single leader of Bitcoin, but denying the influence of Core is myopic. He tries to cover it up with a Pierre Rochard quote that claims when the software and the consensus conflict, the software is mistaken, however, since we have established the software is the instantiation of the rules, the practical reality is that Bitcoin depends on the software. Without the code instantiating the network, there is a brief paper popular amount cypherpunks. Furthermore, since Bitcoin is decided solely by social consensus, and due to the primary software being written by one body, we actually see an increased likelihood for forks arising when the incentives of Core do not align with the incentives of holders or users.

Absolute commitment to the sound monetary policy (the 21 million hard cap) is a core virtue of Bitcoin but limits its design space and ability to pivot if the fee market doesn’t work. But this is the tradeoff Bitcoin has opted for.

Okay quick pet peeve here: finite supply is not the only way to sound money. Even gold had an elastic supply that inflated over time. Furthermore, in order to accept that Bitcoin has a capped supply, we must accept that forks do not represent an increase in the supply. This is true to a point, in that a Bitcoin will likely always remain capped. However, there is still an incentive to increase supply, meaning that in the future the social consensus around Bitcoin could change and the supply could increase. Claiming that Bitcoin will always have a capped supply is ignoring the practical realities of the incentive model that governs the security of the network. As former Bitcoin Foundation member Brock Pierce once said, “If I need money, I just make a token.” The appeal of determining the values, and taking the lion’s share of the reward is immense and difficult to avoid, even for those closely connected to Bitcoin for years like Brock.

Moreover, when forks occur due to a contentious issue in the community they will likely fracture the community, damage the networks effect around Bitcoin, and may, therefore, represent an increase in supply in proportion to the degree they fracture the community. This point is a little bit difficult to understand immediately and so I would like to break it out a little bit in an attempt to make it more clear.

  1. A significant portion of Bitcoin’s value derives from the network effects and continual strengthening of the community.
  2. The “real” Bitcoin is determined by social consensus.
  3. Contentious forks fracture the community and diminish the ability to reach unified consensus.
  4. Therefore, contentious forks increase the quantity of “effective” Bitcoin by diluting the ability for any fork to clearly claim to be Bitcoin.

The solution to this fracturing that Nic claims is the dedication to a few very stable values. However, we have already established that it is hard to keep this community aligned.

The remainder of the article divides perspectives on Bitcoin into various philosophical camps. I actually believe he may have usefully pointed out the ideological differences. However, I see the existence of these different camps as evidence that Bitcoin may never achieve alignment between these different positions, and is likely therefore to continue to fork as various issues arise. Every contentious fork that arises represents an increased difficulty in Bitcoin ever achieving the network effects it requires in order to be effective.

H/t to Kyle Gibson and Joshua Davis for help editing this