There’s no divorce in Bitcoin

There’s no divorce in Bitcoin

I attended a presentation hosted by the BCS, and given by Ron Ballard, based on his article in IT Now, “Blockchain: the facts and the fiction”. What he said inspired some thoughts and reminded me of others, some of which I have previously published on my blog. I wrote an article, called Learnings of Bitcoin, which was meant to be a spoof on the Borat film title and posted it on my linkedin blog, The article looks at the tight coupling of Bitcoin, and its consensus mechanism, the proof of work, together with its costs and vulnerabilities. It examines the goal of eliminating trust authorities and its questionable ability to meet the necessary roles of money as a means of exchange and a store of wealth. In the comment pushing it, I say, “This might be a bit basic for some, but you can’t have a coinless immutable blockchain, at least not one based on ‘proof of work’.”, at which point you need to consider if there are better data storage platforms for your use case.

Ballard is an anti-bitcoin polemicist and his anti-slide is comprehensive, although it misses the asynchronicity; I am less clear about his assertion that relational databases are good enough. Stonebraker in his paper, “The End of an Architectural Era (It’s Time for a Complete Rewrite) § 6.[12]” identifies five use cases where relational databases are sub-optimal including stream/feed processing and also states that SQL is not suitable for all data retrieval problems. I would add that an SQL database is not immutable, and most implementations do not come with a “four-eyes” super-user implementation; much effort needs to be invested in controlling the activities of these super-users, especially to implement the “developers can’t run code, and operators can’t change code” rule.

If the only use of Bitcoin, is paying for the electricity to keep it secure, exchanges become necessary. There’s something on how is Bitcoin valued by the market, but I haven’t found it yet also marginal utility theory requires two commodities; I wonder what the alternative to the crypto-currencies is and how liquid the exchange mechanisms are? Also are we trusting the exchanges? If so, the solution is not trustless! (I mean the alternative is cash since it’s the only way we measure energy and like cycles, electricity can’t be stored.

Some have suggested that the language used such as mining, is designed to suggest that the Bitcoin is similar and as safe as Gold, which isn’t! The use of the word ‘nonce’ which in IT security field means ‘number used once’, and is part of the chain design to my mind disguises the role of this field. It is only used once, but it is the output of the proof of work.

Ballard challenged his audience to find a good use case, and to my mind the proof of work and its costs make it hard, but I wonder if either trade confirmations or P2P name resolution are potential use cases, certainly bitcoin have had to solve the later and has inspired the namecoin project. There may be better ways to do both, but doesn’t look like anyone else is working on it.

The presentation was published on youtube here … …


This is a long diatribe at Hacker Noon about the Bitcoin bubble and the blockchain hype. I had been considering writing something similar although my focus was on the excessive use  & cost of electricity to “mine” coins and the demonstrable industrialisation and economic consolidation of the mining operations.

Bitcoin, in particular, has a shrinking use as a means of exchange, as identified by this business insider preview of a Morgan Stanley opinion. This is compounded by the fact that the transaction fees are now too high for small or micro payments, and that it is not real time, (it can take minutes to clear) and thus cannot be used for transactions that require simultaneous exchange, be it a cup of coffee or a house.

The block chain does not scale well, despite the massively distributed architecture. If its performance is matched with say Visa or other significant global payment processors, VISA is rated at 60,000 transactions/sec (TPS) where as the Bitcoin maxes out at 7 TPS. So not only is it expensive, but it can’t cope with real world volume; it’s just as well that small transactions are deserting the platform.

What started me thinking this time round, was the realisation that the amount of power required to “mine” the currency grows and is now significant. While the compensation for the miners is scrip/free, the real cost in electricity and thus carbon pollution is significant. This adds to the cost, both internal but more importantly the external cost. The planet cannot afford the electricity power and the carbon footprint to virtualise global capitalism’s money supply.

Kai Stinchcombe argues that the lack of regulation is also a disincentive to use crypto currencies and examines the Etherium/DAO hack and draws the conclusion that on the whole society needs contracts to be interpreted by people, not by software.

Money must be a means of exchange, and a store of wealth, block-chain crypto-currencies are struggling and increasingly failing  to be the former and it’s current price peaks , historic volatility and lack of regulator suggests it’s weak as the latter. Is it just a con? …

delicious bookmarks recovered

I found my delicious bookmarks, and decided to remove the easily identified as gone away and expose the tags, on the way, I removed those without descriptions. The links came from from ~3525 to ~1800. I was fascinated by when I first discovered it, and used it as a micro blog. This is how it now looks in wordpress, but I need to put the anchor text, descriptions & tags through an ascii to html converter. The code is on github, in repo called delicious tools. The next stage is to allow them to be queried using the tags (or not, if I think it's worth it). The wordpress plugin on broken links continues to identify those that are broken, and I usually unlink them. If interested, 'read more' …

e-voting using the blockchain

I have written a couple of things about e-voting, most comprehensively in an article entitled e-voting; I was in a hurry. I came across this twitter thread which reinforces the arguments I make, although he summarises the problems as secrecy and coercion. Matthew also takes a pop at the advocates of bitcoin though and that’s because its complex, not because its private and horrendously expensive.

There aren’t 833837 items in the thread, or at least I haven’t found that many, I make it about 14. Why not check it out? …