Just trying to wrap my head around what the crap is going on...and why this is happening. submitted by
This is an overview for those who may have not been following events closely, so unfortunately a TL;DR is not possible. However, I have added headings to make navigation easier. Depending on your interest, you can navigate to: The Debate, Decision Time or How to Run a Node Introduction
China is having some huge celebrations right now for their new year, which to China is like Christmas for us. So they're enjoying their time with their families and friends, enjoying their food and I should think they are enjoying some wine. I wish them all a very happy new year and may it bring them good health and good fortune.
Hopefully they'll have some time during their holidays to consider the matters summarized here. The Debate
As you know, we have been having a debate for about three years now and a massive debate for the past 10 months on the question of whether onchain transaction capacity should increase. After two conferences, then a third in Miami, then a fourth in China, a wide economic and mining consensus has been achieved with almost all prominent bitcoin companies supporting classic, with 54% of real hashing power expressing their clear support for classic so far, with 80% of users by most polls and with renown users such as Roger Ver and "loaded" who in combination hold some 340k btc, having expressed support for classic.
We do not however have 100% agreement. Some developers have maintained for quite some time that onchain capacity should not be increased or should be increased by the smallest amount that is absolutely necessary and that most, if not almost all, transactions should instead happen on layer2 settlement systems.
Chief amongst them is Gregory Maxwell who has maintained the same view over the past 3 years and has formed a company with a number of other developers to provide lightning and other products to operate as the settlement system they envision.
Another developer who has maintained the same view is Peter Todd who argued in a propaganda video some three years ago that increasing onchain scalability means nodes will have to be run on datacentres which affects decentralization, therefore everyone should pay $100 or $1000 per onchain transaction instead with most transactions operating through centralized hubs which do not employ proof of work (commentary: no proof of work - no decentralization)
Gavin, Jeff Garzik, many other developers, academics, almost all wallet developers, take a different view. They argue that bitcoin can remain decentralized while scaling onchain. I would add to their argument two points. Bitcoin is efficient because it automates away man. Software is very cheap, employees - the tens of thousands that visa has and the millions that banks have including their rented space etc - are very, very expensive. Calculations have been made which show that to run a node, even if blocks were full right now at 20mb per block, would cost only $100 per year. I'd argue that is a tiny price to pay for the huge benefits that onchain scalability provides. And, even if it costs 1k or 10k, it should be the node operator who pays the market price for the extra security that his node provides, rather than ask users to pay 100 or 1k dollars per transactions instead.
A node provides indirect, but in some circumstances necessary, value to businesses, miners, researchers, hobbyist and whoever wants to run one. Asking 5k nodes to pay 1k makes far more sense than asking 200k transactions a day to pay 100 or 1k per transaction and it is of course way cheaper too.
However, after all the conferences, after all the debates, after all the never ending arguments, they retain their position. Therefore, developer agreement is not possible. Decision Time
As such, the decision has now been opened to everyone to decide one question alone. Whether you agree with Satoshi's vision that we should scale onchain - and thus support classic - or whether you agree with Gregory's vision of a settlement system, and thus keep running a core node.
The way this works is in stages. Firstly, nodes have to upgrade first so that everyone has the time and opportunity to upgrade and be on the new rules. This is extremely important because old nodes (including core nodes) won't be able to work anymore if classic succeeds. Therefore, the economy (which includes businesses, miners, individuals) has to be given the opportunity to upgrade first, with miners having their vote second by the blocks they mine.
An indirect result of the upgrade process is that it gives an indication of where the sentiment and public opinion stands. Of course, this can be played, so it is not a perfect indication, but there are ways of telling when this indication is played to a significant degree. I'd rather not go into the details just as google doesn't go into the details of how it ranks pages, but this is an important time for bitcoin and the world so I would ask all who have the true interest of bitcoin at heart to refrain from any immature behavior so that we can learn where the community stands, giving the losing side, whichever it may be, the opportunity to accept the will of the people, and the results, thus allowing us to move forward as one.
I'll give some instructions on how to run or upgrade a node in a way that can be counted. First I want to say that you should run a classic node for many reasons, but chiefly three. It implements Satoshi's vision, the vision of that genius who knows how bitcoin works best and who with that knowledge designed it to scale considerably.
The second is in regards to our community. Many individuals, and not just Theymos, have engaged in censorship and banning in almost all the main communication channels, including the Hong Kong conference, the mailing list, the IRC channels and of course on bitcoin
. I hope you agree with me that it is extremely important for us to show fundamental disapproval with such unprincipled and immoral behavior by running classic, and not reward them for it.
Thirdly, because cheap, fast and convenient is an incredibly important competitive quality of bitcoin. I would argue that the only reason why the mainstream media and silicon valley is abuzz about bitcoin is because it can save billions in fees and other ways such as making value transfer faster and more convenient. I want to change the world and offer to all bitcoin's supreme qualities of an open, permissionless, decentralized, global ledger, with fast if not almost instant and very cheap transactions, while having a gold like retention of value.
We know this works. It has been working for 7 years and works right now (although blocks are full making it not work as well as it can). Let's keep it working by upgrading to welcome the new wave of people and companies and miners. How to run a node:
If you are not already running a node, you can download classic here: https://github.com/bitcoinclassic/bitcoinclassic/releases/tag/v0.11.2.cl1.b2
For windows, it is as easy as downloading any normal software. You just have to wait for it to synchronize and you are good to go.
You'll then need to open port 8333 for your node to be counted https://bitcoin.org/en/full-node#daemon-peer-info
If you already run a node you can easily upgrade without having to re-download the whole chain.
You can use cloud servers as well if you wish. Cloud nodes do still provide all the functionalities, but the cloud admin may have some control over your node, so it is best you run it on hardware you control. If nonetheless you still wish to use cloud, it is best that you do so through your own account rather than through someone else.
I think that covers all grounds. Obviously the above overview is necessarily reflective of my own views, but nullc
are welcomed to express their views at this important time and I hope they do not get downvoted simply because we disagree with their views, but allow them to have their say.
Craig Wright just performed a public spectacle, not a mathematical proof submitted by
It is totally irrelevant whether someone, anyone - be it Gavin or Satoshi or Galileo or the Pope - writes some blog post
saying they personally "witnessed the keys signed and then verified on a clean computer that could not have been tampered with
". [emphasis added]
Even the further detail which Gavin provides here... https://np.reddit.com/btc/comments/4hfyyo/gavin_can_you_please_detail_all_parts_of_the/d2plygg
...might be interesting from a sociological perspective, but from the perspective of mathematics, it is utterly meaningless.
People who know my post history know that I have supported Gavin's approach for "simpler and safer scaling now" via things like bigger blocks and Classic - and I have vehemently criticized Theymos for being tyrannical and Luke-Jr for being doctrinaire.
But regarding Craig Wright's extraordinary claims and his unorthodox methods for supposedly "proving" them, Gavin is wrong (for believing them - or, more precisely, for expecting us
to believe his hearsay testimony about them) and people like Theymos
- as well as many other people on these threads
- are right (for questioning or simply ignoring Craig's claims and "demos").
This little demo in London
is not, and has never been, the way a mathematical proof
And, frankly, aside from any particular details of this so-called irrelevant pseudo-"proof", it is shocking that Gavin does not know this basic underlying fact about the methods of mathematics - which go back for centuries, long before we started doing mathematics with the assistance of electronic computing machines.
Someone (in this case, Gavin) talking about having witnessed
some pixels on a screen driven by a heap of metal and silicon stirring "a vast sea of binary soup"
on a machine running a von Neumann architecture manufactured by Intel or AMD using some "funky OpenSSL procedure"
and has never been "mathematical proof" - and it is shocking that Gavin suddenly seems to have forgotten this well-known mathematical fact.
Gavin may "believe" that he "witnessed" a mathematical proof. And it's fine for him to write about this on his blog. But he should not present his witnessing and his blogging as some kind of "mathematical proof" for the rest of us
Because (as many of us might remember from our high school geometry classes): mathematical proof is not and cannot be provided by a mere human witness or blog report or reddit comment.
As we all know, a person or a comment might talk about
a proof, and might even (for convenience) provide a reference or link to the proof itself - so that we could all
But the "proof itself" must involve a publicly available method or algorithm which any
interested party can access and repeat / reproduce on their own, to their own satisfaction.
And it would be shocking and appalling for someone who supposedly knows a bit about math (Gavin) to not understand this basic fact about mathematics. I don't know what the hell happened to Gavin here, but this sure is yet one more fascinating event in the ongoing drama of Bitcoin! Proofs vs politics
If you're inclined towards tinfoil theories, then what we're seeing could also possibly be interpreted as an economic or political event (ie: a stunt?), when we remember that the proposition whose truth is supposedly being "proven" in this case happens to involve:
- a guy claiming to be the inventor of a controversial new debt-free currency which has been struggling mightily to liberate and resuscitate a dying global civilization which has been enslaved by certain people who issue their own debt-backed currencies, and
- another guy who has also generated a certain amount of controversy by being a prominent advocate and coder (often treated as a figurehead for certain people to focus their hate) on the "big-blocks" side of the ongoing scaling debate.
There could be enough drama and mystery here for us to engage in wild speculation and theorizing until the last Bitcoin is mined. But that's not what this post is mainly about. This post is about proof. Everyone who took high school geometry knows what a "proof" is
As we know, a mathematical proof
, unlike a political stunt or a public spectacle, is essentially an abstract artifact (in math it's often called a "theorem" or an "assertion") in association with one or more concrete (but, most importantly: public
) "realizations" or implementations demonstrating the "truth" of that theorem of assertion. By the way, all these various realizations or implementations (or proofs) are in some sense equivalent - even if they might happen to use different "languages" or formats.
The important thing of course is that a proof must be arbitrarily reproducible by anyone, using their own methods and tools - and hardware!
For example, some people might prefer to go through the steps of a proof on a laptop using a library written in C++ or Python, others might use the Coq theorem prover, and others might use pen-and-paper. Some people might use an algebraic approach, others might use a geometric approach, etc.
But the point is: a proof is just an abstract idea (theorem or assertion) plus the concrete implementation(s) which demonstrate its "truth" - with the implementation(s) getting done again and again, by anyone in the public who wants to - not just once on some laptop during some event in London before some hand-picked witness who got specially flown in for the occasion. A "proof" must be public, repeatable, and reproducible
A proof is something you
(can and should) do yourself.
You. The public. Everyone in their own way, using their own language, to repeatedly prove the same proposition, in their own way, to their own satisfaction, on their own device.
In order to verify that 32
you don't rely on a blog post from some guy who got flown to London and who personally "witnessed" it.
You prove it yourself, whichever way you know best - using a calculator, your laptop, your smartphone, chalk on a blackboard, pen and ink on back of a cocktail napkin, or scribbles drawn in the sand.
Or, in another situation, to verify that some software you downloaded is authentic, you grab some public keys off servers and you run some code to check some signatures, while of course taking reasonable steps to avoid man-in-the-middle attacks, ensure that your computer is virus-free, etc. You Do The Math
What you do not
do is "believe" the mathematical proof of the Pythagorean Theorem or the Quadratic Formula or someone's cryptographic signature simply because some well-known guy got flown to London and personally "witnessed" it "on a clean computer that could not have been tampered with".
Also, by the way, that "well-known guy" should be very careful how he writes about what he "witnessed":
- It's fine for him to say that he believes what he witnessed.
- And it would be helpful if he were to also provide a link so that everyone else could repeat the same proof themselves - as is standard procedure in public-key cryptography.
- But in no way should Gavin's blog post or reddit comments, on their own, be considered "mathematical proof".
Those are just reporting of something that Gavin says he saw. Mildly interesting - but mathematically irrelevant.
And it is very strange that Gavin is even posting them. You would that he has enough mathematical background to know that such communications, devoid of reproducible results, are meaningless. We all need to be able to repeat the proof ourselves
Sometimes, if a proof involves lots of details or some tricky concepts, we could alternatively watch someone else do it - but there can't be anything "up their sleeve". They have to "show all their work" - to us
For example, you can watch some Khan Academy YouTube videos that provide nice, easy-to-follow proofs of the Pythagorean Theorem or the Quadratic Formula.
These videos are quite satisfyingly convincing
. For example, to prove the Pythagorean Theorem, they use a geometric approach where they break up a triangle into chunks, and then they move the chunks around to reposition them, so you, me, anyone, can literally (geometrically) see, and "prove",
(where a and b are the "legs" and c is the "hypoteneuse" of a right triangle).
In this approach, we are verifying everything ourselves
. There is nothing "hidden" - there is nothing that even could
be tampered with behind the scenes: the little triangles are all there in front of us. Those proofs on the Khan Academy YouTube channel are done in chalk
before our eyes. Not behind the scenes, spitting out some result, on some computer that we merely believe "could not have been tampered with".
So, the essence of the meaning of "proof" is that anyone
who is interested must able to conceptually go through the actual steps themselves - it's not about taking someone else's word for it. Proof, like Bitcoin itself, is permissionless
"Proof" isn't about doing something behind a curtain (or on a chip on a computer in London) for a specially chosen audience.
"Proof" is about me and you and anyone else being able to repeat and reproduce the results ourselves.
Maybe Gavin himself did
indeed "see" something, and as far as that goes, it's fine - for him
. And of course he's entitled to write a post expressing his
opinions and beliefs.
But that has nothing to do with mathematical proof for us
, and it would be crazy (and very un-mathematical) of him to expect us to give any mathematical weight to his personal experiences and opinions and beliefs as expressed on his blog or in his comments. Real mathematicians and programmers (and, presumably, Satoshi) already know all this
All over these subs, many people are saying that if
Craig Wright wants to prove that he is Satoshi, then he should simply follow the standard procedures for proving this (from mathematics and public-key cryptography). And if not, GTFO.
And they're absolutely right.
Satoshi Nakamoto certainly knows the standard procedures and requirements of science and mathematics and public-key cryptography - and none
of them have been followed in this weird farce: most importantly, the requirements that scientific and mathematical proof must be based on a permissionless, repeatable, reproducible procedure
(and not some private performance). A bizarre episode
Maybe eventually we'll get to the bottom of all the fascinating social or political or economic details behind this bizarre episode.
And if Bitcoin does turn out to be anti-fragile the way many of us believe, then hopefully someday we all might be able to look back on this strange day as yet another twist in the history of Bitcoin and cryptocurrency. Bitcoin is about trusting math, not humans
I have no idea what's going on with Gavin. The fact that someone so central to Bitcoin development (and so prominent on one side of the scaling debates) has gotten involved with this whole weird Craig Wright spectacle is, shall we say, "very interesting" - and could be the basis for any number of wild speculative theories.
My own (admittedly somewhat tinfoil) theory would be that, even though we don't know what
specifically is happening here, we can at least take this as one more suggestive indication that certain people seem to be trying very hard to do various things to the publicly visible developers of Bitcoin. Many devs seem to have been "neutralized" in various ways - whether co-opted by a corporation (like most of the Core devs now at Blockstream), or ostracized and hounded into rage-quitting (like Mike Hearn), or now (apparently) publicly duped and discredited (like Gavin).
Meanwhile, right now I'm just happy that people like Theymos
(both of whom I've vehemently disagreed with in the past) - as well as many other people on these threads
- understand and insist that the only way you can prove something in Bitcoin is if "you do the math" yourself.
Why do both sides of the debate seem “right” to me? submitted by
I know, I know, a healthy debate is healthy and all - and maybe I'm just not used to the tumult and jostling which would be inevitable in a real live open major debate about something as vital as Bitcoin.
And I really do agree with the starry-eyed idealists who say Bitcoin is vital
. Imperfect as it may be, it certainly does seem to represent the first real chance we've had in the past few hundred years to try to steer our civilization and our planet away from the dead-ends and disasters which our government-issued debt-based currencies keep dragging us into.
But this particular debate, about the blocksize, doesn't seem to be getting resolved at all.
Pretty much every time I read one of the long-form major arguments contributed by Bitcoin "thinkers" who I've come to respect over the past few years, this weird thing happens: I usually end up finding myself nodding my head and agreeing
with whatever particular piece I'm reading!
But that should be impossible - because a lot of these people vehemently disagree!
So how can both sides sound so convincing to me, simply depending on whichever piece I currently
happen to be reading?
Does anyone else feel this way? Or am I just a gullible idiot? Just Do It?
When you first look at it or hear about it, increasing the size seems almost like a no-brainer: The "big-block" supporters say just increase the blocksize to 20 MB or 8 MB, or do some kind of scheduled or calculated regular increment which tries to take into account the capabilities of the infrastructure and the needs of the users. We do have the bandwidth and the memory to at least increase the blocksize now, they say - and we're probably gonna continue to have more bandwidth and memory in order to be able to keep increasing the blocksize for another couple decades - pretty much like everything else computer-based we've seen over the years (some of this stuff is called by names such as "Moore's Law").
On the other hand, whenever the "small-block" supporters warn about the utter catastrophe that a failed hard-fork would mean, I get totally freaked by their possible doomsday scenarios, which seem totally plausible and terrifying - so I end up feeling that the only way I'd want to go with a hard-fork would be if there was some pre-agreed "triggering" mechanism where the fork itself would only actually "switch on" and take effect provided that some "supermajority" of the network (of who? the miners? the full nodes?) had signaled (presumably via some kind of totally reliable p2p trustless software-based voting system?) that they do indeed "pre-agree" to actually adopt the pre-scheduled fork (and thereby avoid any
possibility whatsoever of the precious blockchain somehow tragically splitting into two and pretty much killing this cryptocurrency off in its infancy).
So in this "conservative" scenario, I'm talking about wanting at least 95% pre-adoption agreement - not the mere 75% which I recall some proposals call for, which seems like it could easily lead to a 75/25 blockchain split.
But this time, with this long drawn-out blocksize debate, the core devs, and several other important voices who have become prominent opinion shapers over the past few years, can't seem to come to any real agreement on this. Weird split among the devs
As far as I can see, there's this weird split: Gavin and Mike seem to be the only people among the devs who really want a major blocksize increase - and all the other devs seem to be vehemently against them.
But then on the other hand, the users
seem to be overwhelmingly in favor of a major increase.
And there are meta-questions about governance, about about why this didn't come out as a BIP, and what the availability of Bitcoin XT means.
And today or yesterday there was this really cool big-blockian exponential graph based on doubling the blocksize every two years for twenty years, reminding us of the pure mathematical
fact that 210
is indeed about 1000 - but not really addressing any of the game-theoretic
points raised by the small-blockians. So a lot of the users seem to like it, but when so few devs say anything positive about it, I worry: is this just yet more exponential chart porn?
On the one hand, Gavin's and Mike's blocksize increase proposal initially seemed like a no-brainer to me.
And on the other hand, all the other devs seem to be against them. Which is weird - not what I'd initially expected at all (but maybe I'm just a fool who's seduced by exponential chart porn?).
Look, I don't mean to be rude to any of the core devs, and I don't want to come off like someone wearing a tinfoil hat - but it has to cross people's minds that the powers that be (the Fed and the other central banks and the governments that use their debt-issued money to run this world into a ditch) could very well be much more scared shitless than they're letting on. If we assume that the powers that be are using their usual playbook and tactics, then it could be worth looking at the book "Confessions of an Economic Hitman" by John Perkins, to get an idea of how they might try to attack Bitcoin. So, what I'm saying is, they do have a track record of sending in "experts" to try to derail projects and keep everyone enslaved to the Creature from Jekyll Island. I'm just saying. So, without getting ad hominem - let's just make sure that our ideas can really stand scrutiny on their own - as Nick Szabo says, we need to make sure there is "more computer science, less noise" in this debate.
When Gavin Andresen first came out with the 20 MB thing - I sat back and tried to imagine if I could download 20 MB in 10 minutes (which seems to be one of the basic mathematical and technological constraints here - right?)
I figured, "Yeah, I could download that" - even with my crappy internet connection.
And I guess the telecoms might
be nice enough to continue to double our bandwidth every two years for the next couple decades – if we ask them politely?
On the other hand - I think we should be careful about entrusting the financial freedom of the world into the greedy hands of the telecoms companies - given all their shady shenanigans over the past few years in many countries. After decades of the MPAA and the FBI trying to chip away at BitTorrent, lately PirateBay has been hard to access. I would say it's quite likely that certain persons at institutions like JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs and the Fed might be very, very motivated to see Bitcoin fail - so we shouldn't be too sure about scaling plans which depend on the willingness of companies Verizon and AT&T to double our bandwith every two years. Maybe the real important hardware buildout challenge for a company like 21 (and its allies such as Qualcomm) to take on now would not be "a miner in every toaster" but rather "Google Fiber Download and Upload Speeds in every Country, including China".
I think I've read all the major stuff on the blocksize debate from Gavin Andresen, Mike Hearn, Greg Maxwell, Peter Todd, Adam Back, and Jeff Garzick and several other major contributors - and, oddly enough, all
their arguments seem reasonable - heck even Luke-Jr seems reasonable to me on the blocksize debate, and I always thought he was a whackjob overly influenced by superstition and numerology - and now today I'm reading the article by Bram Cohen - the inventor of BitTorrent - and I find myself agreeing with him too!
I say to myself: What's going on with me? How can I possibly agree with all
of these guys, if they all have such vehemently opposing viewpoints?
I mean, think back to the glory days of a couple of years ago, when all we were hearing was how this amazing unprecedented grassroots innovation called Bitcoin was going to benefit everyone from all walks of life, all around the world:
- wealthy individuals trying to preserve and transport their wealth across space and across time
- iPhone and Android users who want to buy a latte on their smartphone at Starbucks
- Venezuelans and Argentinians and Cypriots and Russian oligarchs and Greeks and anyone else whose state-backed currency sucks
- unbanked Africans who will someday be texting around money via SMS messages on their cellphones
- online content providers who will finally be able to get paid via micropayments
- smart contracts and stock brokering and lawyering and land deeding and the refrigerator calling out to order more milk and distributed anonymous corporations (DACs) automatically negotiating and adjusting driverless taxicab fares in the Uber-future of the Internet of Things
...basically the entire human race transacting everything into the blockchain.
(Although let me say that I think that people's focus on ideas like driverless cabs creating realtime fare markets based on supply and demand seems to be setting our sights a bit low as far as Bitcoin's abilities to correct the financial world's capital-misallocation problems which seem to have been made possible by infinite debt-based fiat. I would have hoped that a Bitcoin-based economy would solve much more noble, much more urgent capital-allocation problems than driverless taxicabs creating fare markets or refrigerators ordering milk on the internet of things. I was thinking more along the lines that Bitcoin would finally strangle dead-end debt-based deadly-toxic energy industries like fossil fuels and let profitable clean energy industries like Thorium LFTRs take over - but that's another topic. :=) Paradoxes in the blocksize debate
Let me summarize the major paradoxes I see here:
(1) Regarding the people (the majority of the core devs) who are against
a blocksize increase: Well, the small-blocks arguments do seem kinda weird, and certainly not very "populist", in the sense that: When on earth have end-users ever heard of a computer technology whose capacity didn't grow pretty much exponentially year-on-year? All the cool new technology we've had - from hard drives to RAM to bandwidth - started out pathetically tiny and grew to unimaginably huge over the past few decades - and all our software has in turn gotten massively powerful and big and complex (sometimes bloated) to take advantage of the enormous new capacity available.
But now suddenly, for the first time in the history of technology, we seem to have a majority of the devs, on a major p2p
project - saying: "Let's not scale the system up. It could be dangerous. It might break the whole system (if the hard-fork fails)."
I don't know, maybe I'm missing something here, maybe someone else could enlighten me, but I don't think I've ever seen this sort of thing happen in the last few decades of the history of technology - devs arguing against
scaling up p2p technology to take advantage of expected growth in infrastructure capacity.
(2) But... on the other hand... the dire warnings of the small-blockians about what could happen if a hard-fork were to fail
- wow, they do seem really dire! And these guys are pretty much all heavyweight, experienced programmers and/or game theorists and/or p2p open-source project managers.
I must say, that nearly all of the long-form arguments I've read - as well as many, many of the shorter comments I've read from many users in the threads, whose names I at least have come to more-or-less recognize over the past few months and years on reddit and bitcointalk - have been amazingly impressive in their ability to analyze all aspects of the lifecycle and management of open-source software projects, bringing up lots of serious points which I could never have come up with, and which seem to come from long experience with programming and project management - as well as dealing with economics and human nature (eg, greed - the game-theory stuff).
So a lot of really smart and experienced people with major expertise in various areas ranging from programming to management to game theory to politics to economics have been making some serious, mature, compelling arguments.
But, as I've been saying, the only problem to me is: in many of these cases, these arguments are vehemently in opposition to each other! So I find myself agreeing with pretty much all of them, one by one - which means the end result is just a giant contradiction.
I mean, today we have Bram Cohen, the inventor of BitTorrent, arguing (quite cogently and convincingly to me), that it would be dangerous to increase the blocksize. And this seems to be a guy who would know a few things about scaling out a massive global p2p network - since the protocol which he invented, BitTorrent, is now apparently responsible for like a third of the traffic on the internet (and this despite the long-term concerted efforts of major evil players such as the MPAA and the FBI to shut the whole thing down). Was the BitTorrent analogy too "glib"?
By the way - I would like to go on a slight tangent here and say that one of the main reasons why I felt so "comfortable" jumping on the Bitcoin train back a few years ago, when I first heard about it and got into it, was the whole rough analogy I saw with BitTorrent.
I remembered the perhaps paradoxical fact that when a torrent is more
popular (eg, a major movie release that just came out last week), then it actually becomes faster
to download. More people want it, so more people have a few pieces of it, so more people are able to get it from each other. A kind of self-correcting economic feedback loop, where more demand directly leads to more supply.
(BitTorrent manages to pull this off by essentially adding a certain structure to the file being shared, so that it's not simply like an append-only list
of 1 MB blocks, but rather more like an random-access or indexed array
of 1 MB chunks. Say you're downloading a film which is 700 MB. As soon as your "client" program has downloaded a single 1-MB chunk - say chunk #99 - your "client" program instantly turns into a "server" program as well - offering that chunk #99 to other clients. From my simplistic understanding, I believe the Bitcoin protocol does something similar, to provide a p2p architecture. Hence my - perhaps naïve - assumption that Bitcoin already had the right algorithms / architecture / data structure to scale.)
The efficiency of the BitTorrent network seemed to jive with that "network law" (Metcalfe's Law?) about fax machines. This law states that the more fax machines there are, the more valuable the network of fax machines becomes. Or the value of the network grows on the order of the square of the number of nodes.
This is in contrast with other technology like cars, where the more
you have, the worse
things get. The more cars there are, the more traffic jams you have, so things start going downhill. I guess this is because highway space is limited - after all, we can't pave over the entire countryside, and we never did get those flying cars we were promised, as David Graeber laments in a recent essay in The Baffler magazine :-)
And regarding the "stress test" supposedly happening right now in the middle of this ongoing blocksize debate, I don't know what worries me more: the fact that it apparently is taking only $5,000 to do a simple kind of DoS on the blockchain - or the fact that there are a few rumors swirling around saying that the unknown company doing the stress test shares the same physical mailing address with a "scam" company?
Or maybe we should just be worried that so much of this debate is happening on a handful of forums which are controlled by some guy named theymos who's already engaged in some pretty "contentious" or "controversial" behavior like blowing a million dollars on writing forum software (I guess he never heard that reddit.com software is open-source)?
So I worry that the great promise of "decentralization" might be more fragile than we originally thought. Scaling
Anyways, back to Metcalfe's Law: with virtual stuff, like torrents and fax machines, the more the merrier. The more people downloading a given movie, the faster it arrives - and the more people own fax machines, the more valuable the overall fax network.
So I kindof (naïvely?) assumed that Bitcoin, being "virtual" and p2p, would somehow scale up the same magical way BitTorrrent did. I just figured that more people using it would somehow automatically make it stronger and faster.
But now a lot of devs have started talking in terms of the old "scarcity" paradigm, talking about blockspace being a "scarce resource" and talking about "fee markets" - which seems kinda scary, and antithetical to much of the earlier rhetoric we heard about Bitcoin (the stuff about supporting our favorite creators with micropayments, and the stuff about Africans using SMS to send around payments).
Look, when some asshole is in line in front of you at the cash register and he's holding up the line so they can run his credit card
to buy a bag of Cheeto's, we tend to get pissed off at the guy - clogging up our expensive global electronic payment infrastructure to make a two-dollar purchase. And that's on a fairly efficient centralized system - and presumably after a year or so, VISA and the guy's bank can delete or compress the transaction in their SQL databases.
Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but if some guy buys a coffee on the blockchain, or if somebody pays an online artist $1.99 for their work - then that transaction, a few bytes or so, has to live on the blockchain forever?
Or is there some "pruning" thing that gets rid of it after a while?
And this could lead to another question: Viewed from the perspective of double-entry bookkeeping, is the blockchain "world-wide ledger" more like the "balance sheet" part of accounting, i.e. a snapshot
assets and liabilities? Or is it more like the "cash flow" part of accounting, i.e. a journal
revenues and expenses?
When I think of thousands of machines around the globe having to lug around multiple identical copies of a multi-gigabyte file containing some asshole's coffee purchase forever and ever... I feel like I'm ideologically drifting in one direction (where I'd end up also being against really cool stuff like online micropayments and Africans banking via SMS)... so I don't want to go there.
But on the other hand, when really experienced and battle-tested veterans with major experience in the world of open-souce programming and project management (the "small-blockians") warn of the catastrophic consequences of a possible failed hard-fork, I get freaked out and I wonder if Bitcoin really was destined to be a settlement layer for big transactions. Could the original programmer(s) possibly weigh in?
And I don't mean to appeal to authority - but heck, where the hell is Satoshi Nakamoto in all this? I do understand that he/she/they would want to maintain absolute anonymity - but on the other hand, I assume SN wants Bitcoin to succeed (both for the future of humanity - or at least for all the bitcoins SN allegedly holds :-) - and I understand there is a way that SN can cryptographically sign a message - and I understand that as the original developer of Bitcoin, SN had some very specific opinions about the blocksize... So I'm kinda wondering of Satoshi could weigh in from time to time. Just to help out a bit. I'm not saying "Show us a sign" like a deity or something - but damn it sure would be fascinating and possibly very helpful if Satoshi gave us his/hetheir 2 satoshis worth at this really confusing juncture. Are we using our capacity wisely?
I'm not a programming or game-theory whiz, I'm just a casual user who has tried to keep up with technology over the years.
It just seems weird to me that here we have this massive supercomputer (500 times more powerful than the all the supercomputers in the world combined) doing fairly straightforward "embarassingly parallel" number-crunching operations to secure a p2p world-wide ledger called the blockchain to keep track of a measly 2.1 quadrillion tokens spread out among a few billion addresses - and a couple of years ago you had people like Rick Falkvinge saying the blockchain would someday be supporting multi-million-dollar letters of credit for international trade and you had people like Andreas Antonopoulos saying the blockchain would someday allow billions of "unbanked" people to send remittances around the village or around the world dirt-cheap - and now suddenly in June 2015 we're talking about blockspace as a "scarce resource" and talking about "fee markets" and partially centralized, corporate-sponsored "Level 2" vaporware like Lightning Network and some mysterious company is "stess testing" or "DoS-ing" the system by throwing away a measly $5,000 and suddenly it sounds like the whole system could eventually head right back into PayPal and Western Union territory again, in terms of expensive fees.
When I got into Bitcoin, I really was heavily influenced by vague analogies with BitTorrent: I figured everyone would just have tiny little like utorrent-type program running on their machine (ie, Bitcoin-QT or Armory or Mycelium etc.).
I figured that just like anyone can host a their own blog or webserver, anyone would be able to host their own bank.
Yeah, Google and and Mozilla and Twitter and Facebook and WhatsApp did come along and build stuff on top of TCP/IP, so I did expect a bunch of companies to build layers on top of the Bitcoin protocol as well. But I still figured the basic unit of bitcoin client software powering the overall system would be small and personal and affordable and p2p - like a bittorrent client - or at the most, like a cheap server hosting a blog or email server.
And I figured there would be a way at the software level, at the architecture level, at the algorithmic level, at the data structure level - to let the thing scale - if not infinitely, at least fairly massively and gracefully - the same way the BitTorrent network has.
Of course, I do also understand that with BitTorrent, you're sharing a read-only object (eg, a movie) - whereas with Bitcoin, you're achieving distributed trustless consensus and appending it to a write-only (or append-only) database.
So I do understand that the problem which BitTorrent solves is much simpler than the problem which Bitcoin sets out to solve.
But still, it seems that there's got
to be a way to make this thing scale. It's p2p and it's got 500 times more computing power than all the supercomputers in the world combined - and so many brilliant and motivated and inspired people want this thing to succeed! And Bitcoin could be our civilization's last chance to steer away from the oncoming debt-based ditch of disaster we seem to be driving into!
It just seems that Bitcoin has got
to be able to scale somehow - and all these smart people working together should be able to come up with a solution which pretty much everyone can agree - in advance - will
Right? Right? A (probably irrelevant) tangent on algorithms and architecture and data structures
I'll finally weigh with my personal perspective - although I might be biased due to my background (which is more on the theoretical side of computer science).
My own modest - or perhaps radical - suggestion would be to ask whether we're really looking at all the best possible algorithms and architectures and data structures out there.
From this perspective, I sometimes worry that the overwhelming majority of the great minds working on the programming and game-theory stuff might come from a rather specific, shall we say "von Neumann" or "procedural" or "imperative" school of programming (ie, C and Python and Java programmers).
It seems strange to me that such a cutting-edge and important computer project would have so little participation from the great minds at the other
end of the spectrum of programming paradigms - namely, the "functional" and "declarative" and "algebraic" (and co-algebraic!) worlds.
For example, I was struck in particular by statements I've seen here and there (which seemed rather hubristic or lackadaisical to me - for something as important as Bitcoin
), that the specification
of Bitcoin and the blockchain doesn't really exist in any form other than the reference implementation(s)
languages such as C or Python?). Curry-Howard anyone?
I mean, many computer scientists are aware of the Curry-Howard isomorophism, which basically says that the relationship between a theorem and its proof is equivalent to the relationship between a specification and its implementation. In other words, there is a long tradition in mathematics (and in computer programming) of:
- separating the compact (and easy-to-check) statement of a theorem from the messy (and hard-to-check) details of its proof(s);
- separating the specification of a system from its implementation(s); and
- being able to prove that an implementation does indeed satisfy its specification.
And it's not exactly "turtles all the way down" either: a specification is generally simple and compact enough that a good programmer can usually simply visually inspect it to determine if it is indeed "correct" - something which is very difficult, if not impossible, to do with a program written in a procedural, implementation-oriented language such as C or Python or Java.
So I worry that we've got this tradition, from the open-source github C/Java programming tradition, of never actually writing our "specification", and only writing the "implementation". In mission-critical military-grade programming projects (which often use languages like Ada or Maude) this is simply not allowed. It would seem that a project as mission-critical as Bitcoin - which could literally be crucial for humanity's continued survival - should also use this kind of military-grade software development approach.
And I'm not saying rewrite the implementations in these kind of theoretical languages. But it might be helpful if the C/Python/Java programmers in the Bitcoin imperative programming world could build some bridges to the Maude/Haskell/ML programmers of the functional and algebraic programming worlds to see if any kind of useful cross-pollination might take place - between specifications and implementations.
For example, the JavaFAN formal analyzer for multi-threaded Java programs (developed using tools based on the Maude language) was applied to the Remote Agent AI program aboard NASA's Deep Space 1 shuttle, written in Java - and it took only a few minutes using formal mathematical reasoning to detect a potential deadlock which would have occurred years later during the space mission when the damn spacecraft was already way out around Pluto.
And "the Maude-NRL (Naval Research Laboratory) Protocol Analyzer (Maude-NPA) is a tool used to provide security proofs of cryptographic protocols and to search for protocol flaws and cryptosystem attacks."
These are open-source formal reasoning tools developed by DARPA and used by NASA and the US Navy to ensure that program implementations satisfy their specifications. It would be great if some of the people involved in these kinds of projects could contribute to help ensure the security and scalability of Bitcoin.
But there is a wide abyss between the kinds of programmers who use languages like Maude and the kinds of programmers who use languages like C/Python/Java - and it can be really hard to get the two worlds to meet. There is a bit of rapprochement between these language communities in languages which might be considered as being somewhere in the middle, such as Haskell and ML. I just worry that Bitcoin might be turning into being an exclusively C/Python/Java project (with the algorithms and practitioners traditionally of that community), when it could be more advantageous if it also had some people from the functional and algebraic-specification and program-verification community involved as well. The thing is, though: the theoretical practitioners are big on "semantics" - I've heard them say stuff like "Yes but a C / C++ program has no easily identifiable semantics". So to get them involved, you really have to first be able to talk about what
your program does (specification) - before proceeding to describe how
it does it (implementation). And writing high-level specifications is typically very hard using the syntax and semantics of languages like C and Java and Python - whereas specs are fairly easy to write in Maude - and not only that, they're executable, and you state and verify properties about them - which provides for the kind of debate Nick Szabo was advocating ("more computer science, less noise"). Imagine if we had an executable algebraic specification of Bitcoin in Maude, where we could formally reason about and verify certain crucial game-theoretical properties - rather than merely hand-waving and arguing and deploying and praying.
And so in the theoretical programming community you've got major research on various logics such as Girard's Linear Logic (which is resource-conscious) and Bruni and Montanari's Tile Logic (which enables "pasting" bigger systems together from smaller ones in space and time), and executable algebraic specification languages such as Meseguer's Maude (which would be perfect for game theory modeling, with its functional modules for specifying the deterministic parts of systems and its system modules for specifiying non-deterministic parts of systems, and its parameterized skeletons for sketching out the typical architectures of mobile systems, and its formal reasoning and verification tools and libraries which have been specifically applied to testing and breaking - and fixing - cryptographic protocols).
And somewhat closer to the practical hands-on world, you've got stuff like Google's MapReduce and lots of Big Data database languages developed by Google as well. And yet here we are with a mempool growing dangerously big for RAM on a single machine, and a 20-GB append-only list as our database - and not much debate on practical results from Google's Big Data databases.
(And by the way: maybe I'm totally ignorant for asking this, but I'll ask anyways: why the hell does the mempool have to stay in RAM? Couldn't it work just as well if it were stored temporarily on the hard drive?)
And you've got CalvinDB out of Yale which apparently provides an ACID layer on top of a massively distributed database.
Look, I'm just an armchair follower cheering on these projects. I can barely manage to write a query in SQL, or read through a C or Python or Java program. But I would argue two points here: (1) these languages may be too low-level and "non-formal" for writing and modeling and formally reasoning about and proving properties of mission-critical specifications
- and (2) there seem to be some Big Data tools already deployed by institutions such as Google and Yale which support global petabyte-size databases on commodity boxes with nice properties such as near-real-time and ACID - and I sometimes worry that the "core devs" might be failing to review the literature (and reach out to fellow programmers) out there to see if there might be some formal program-verification and practical Big Data tools out there which could be applied to coming up with rock-solid, 100% consensus proposals to handle an issue such as blocksize scaling, which seems to have become much more intractable than many people might have expected.
I mean, the protocol solved the hard stuff: the elliptical-curve stuff and the Byzantine General stuff. How the heck can we be falling down on the comparatively "easier" stuff - like scaling the blocksize?
It just seems like defeatism to say "Well, the blockchain is already 20-30 GB and it's gonna be 20-30 TB ten years from now - and we need 10 Mbs bandwidth now and 10,000 Mbs bandwidth 20 years from - assuming the evil Verizon and AT&T actually give us that - so let's just become a settlement platform and give up on buying coffee or banking the unbanked or doing micropayments, and let's push all that stuff into some corporate-controlled vaporware without even a whitepaper yet."
So you've got Peter Todd doing some possibly brilliant theorizing and extrapolating on the idea of "treechains" - there is a Let's Talk Bitcoin podcast from about a year ago where he sketches the rough outlines of this idea out in a very inspiring, high-level way - although the specifics have yet to be hammered out. And we've got Blockstream also doing some hopeful hand-waving about the Lightning Network.
Things like Peter Todd's treechains - which may be similar to the spark in some devs' eyes called Lightning Network - are examples of the kind of algorithm or architecture which might
manage to harness the massive computing power of miners and nodes in such a way that certain kinds of massive and graceful scaling become possible.
It just seems like a kindof tiny dev community working on this stuff. Being a C or Python or Java programmer should not be a pre-req to being able to help contribute to the specification (and formal reasoning and program verification) for Bitcoin and the blockchain.
XML and UML are crap modeling and specification languages, and C and Java and Python are even worse (as specification
languages - although as implementation
languages, they are of course fine).
But there are
serious modeling and specification languages out there, and they could be very helpful at times like this - where what we're dealing with is questions of modeling and specification (ie, "needs and requirements").
One just doesn't often see the practical, hands-on world of open-source github implementation-level programmers and the academic, theoretical world of specification-level programmers meeting very often. I wish there were some way to get these two worlds to collaborate on Bitcoin.
Maybe a good first step to reach out to the theoretical people would be to provide a modular executable algebraic specification of the Bitcoin protocol in a recognized, military/NASA-grade specification language such as Maude - because that's something the theoretical community can actually wrap their heads around, whereas it's very hard to get them to pay attention to something written only
as a C / Python / Java implementation (without an accompanying specification in a formal language).
They can't check whether the program does what it's supposed to do - if you don't provide a formal mathematical definition of what the program is supposed to do. Specification : Implementation :: Theorem : Proof
You have to remember: the theoretical community is very
aware of the Curry-Howard isomorphism. Just like it would be hard to get a mathematician's attention by merely showing them a proof
without telling also telling them what theorem
the proof is proving - by the same token, it's hard to get the attention of a theoretical computer scientist by merely showing them an implementation
without showing them the specification
that it implements.
Bitcoin is currently confronted with a mathematical or "computer science" problem: how to secure the network while getting high enough transactional throughput, while staying within the limited RAM, bandwidth and hard drive space limitations of current and future infrastructure. The problem only becomes a political and economic problem if we give up on trying to solve it as a mathematical and "theoretical computer science" problem.
There should be a plethora of whitepapers out now proposing algorithmic solutions to these scaling issues. Remember, all we have to do is apply the Byzantine General consensus-reaching procedure to a worldwide database which shuffles 2.1 quadrillion tokens among a few billion addresses. The 21 company has emphatically pointed out that racing to compute a hash to add a block is an "embarrassingly parallel" problem - very easy to decompose among cheap, fault-prone, commodity boxes, and recompose into an overall solution - along the lines of Google's highly successful MapReduce.
I guess what I'm really saying is (and I don't mean to be rude here), is that C and Python and Java programmers might not be the best qualified people to develop and formally prove the correctness of (note I do not say: "test", I say "formally prove the correctness of") these kinds of algorithms.
I really believe in the importance of getting the algorithms and architectures right - look at Google Search itself, it uses some pretty brilliant algorithms and architectures (eg, MapReduce, Paxos) which enable it to achieve amazing performance - on pretty crappy commodity hardware. And look at BitTorrent, which is truly p2p, where more demand leads to more supply.
So, in this vein, I will close this lengthy rant with an oddly specific link - which may or may not be able to make some interesting contributions to finding suitable algorithms, architectures and data structures which might help Bitcoin scale massively. I have no idea if this link could be helpful - but given the near-total lack of people from the Haskell and ML and functional worlds in these Bitcoin specification debates, I thought I'd be remiss if I didn't throw this out - just in case there might be something here which could help us channel the massive computing power of the Bitcoin network in such a way as to enable us simply sidestep this kind of desperate debate where both sides seem right because the other side seems wrong. https://personal.cis.strath.ac.uk/neil.ghani/papers/ghani-calco07
The above paper is about "higher dimensional trees". It uses a bit of category theory (not a whole lot) and a bit of Haskell (again not a lot - just a simple data structure called a Rose tree, which has a wikipedia page) to develop a very expressive and efficient data structure which generalizes from lists to trees to higher dimensions.
I have no idea if this kind of data structure could be applicable to the current scaling mess we apparently are getting bogged down in - I don't have the game-theory skills to figure it out.
I just thought that since the blockchain is like a list, and since there are some tree-like structures which have been grafted on for efficiency (eg Merkle trees) and since many of the futuristic scaling proposals seem to also involve generalizing from list-like structures (eg, the blockchain) to tree-like structures (eg, side-chains and tree-chains)... well, who knows, there might be some nugget of algorithmic or architectural or data-structure inspiration there. So... TL;DR:
(1) I'm freaked out that this blocksize debate has splintered the community so badly and dragged on so long, with no resolution in sight, and both sides seeming so right (because the other side seems so wrong).
(2) I think Bitcoin could gain immensely by using high-level formal, algebraic and co-algebraic program specification and verification languages (such as Maude including Maude-NPA, Mobile Maude parameterized skeletons, etc.) to specify (and possibly also, to some degree, verify) what
Bitcoin does - before translating to low-level implementation
languages such as C and Python and Java saying how
Bitcoin does it. This would help to communicate and reason about programs with much more mathematical certitude - and possibly obviate the need for many political and economic tradeoffs which currently seem dismally inevitable - and possibly widen the collaboration on this project.
(3) I wonder if there are some Big Data approaches out there (eg, along the lines of Google's MapReduce and BigTable, or Yale's CalvinDB), which could be implemented to allow Bitcoin to scale massively and painlessly - and to satisfy all stakeholders, ranging from millionaires to micropayments, coffee drinkers to the great "unbanked".
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