Back to: Silence is ending (soon)

Unforeseen Consequences and that 1929 vibe

So: me and bitcoin, you already knew I disliked it, right?

(Let's discriminate between Blockchain and Bitcoin for a moment. Blockchain: a cryptographically secured distributed database, useful for numerous purposes. Bitcoin: a particularly pernicious cryptocurrency implemented using blockchain.) What makes Bitcoin (hereafter BTC) pernicious in the first instance is the mining process, in combination with the hard upper limit on the number of BTC: it becomes increasingly computationally expensive over time. Per this article, Bitcoin mining is now consuming 30.23 TWh of electricity per year, or rather more electricity than Ireland; it's outrageously more energy-intensive than the Visa or Mastercard networks, all in the name of delivering a decentralized currency rather than one with individual choke-points. (Here's a semi-log plot of relative mining difficulty over time.) Credit card and banking settlement is vulnerable to government pressure, so it's no surprise that BTC is a libertarian shibboleth. (Per a demographic survey of BTC users compiled by a UCL researcher and no longer on the web, the typical BTC user in 2013 was a 32 year old male libertarian.)

Times change, and so, I think, do the people behind the ongoing BTC commodity bubble. (Which is still inflating because around 30% of BTC remain to be mined, so conditions of artificial scarcity and a commodity bubble coincide). Last night I tweeted an intemperate opinion—that's about all twitter is good for, plus the odd bon mot and cat jpeg—that we need to ban Bitcoin because it's fucking our carbon emissions. It's up to 0.12% of global energy consumption and rising rapidly: the implication is that it has the potential to outstrip more useful and productive computational uses of energy (like, oh, kitten jpegs) and to rival other major power-hogging industries without providing anything we actually need. And boy did I get some interesting random replies!

As viral tweets go, this one didn't get retweeted a whole lot—only about 200 times. (My all time record is over 5000 rts.) It attracted a lot of replies from folks who don't follow me and I've never heard of, all of them really contemptuous/insulting (as is often the case on twitter: thick skin recommended). Obviously, a lot of folks with BTC wallets are kind of attached to them and dislike the idea of losing them. What I wasn't expecting was the alt-right/neo-Nazi connection. Bitcoin isn't just popular among libertarians, it's popular among folks with green frog/Kek user icons and anti-semitic views. ("Are you a Jew?" asked one egg.)

One possible explanation, which looks quite reasonable as a first approximation, is that the US libertarian fringe has been assimilated by the neo-Nazis. After all, once you take one red pill, why not take another, and another, until you overdose on the bloody things? Alternatively, Bitcoin boosters are using the same twitter-based astroturf techniques as the alt-right to shout down anyone who publicly qustions or threatens their investment. But I didn't see the wave of obvious bots I'd have expected if the second explanation was correct: it looked to me far more like an angry human mob, with added political extremism on top.

Now, I'd like to remind you about an at-first-sight unrelated historical phenomenon: the collapse of the Papiermark in 1923 in the Weimar Republic, and the subsequent Beer Hall Putsch. The Nazis failed to take over at that time; the German economy was stabilized and the global economy in general wasn't as fragile as it would later become during the Great Depression. But the 1919-23 hyperinflation was a major driver for the initial rise of the Nazi party. Hitler's mass support wasn't motivated solely by his anti-semitism and revanchist imperialism: it was made all about the money supply. (In the 1929-33 period, mainstream politicians were discredited by the wave of mass unemployment triggered by withdrawal of US bank loans, and Brüning's policy of deflation. When nobody has any money to buy bread, and the bakers have no money to buy grain, but the bank mortgage on the bakery isn't getting any smaller, bad shit ensues.)

It's fairly clear now that since 2007/08 we're living in the dying days of the former neoliberal system. With disruption and collapse spreading throughout the developed world, the systematized recipe known as the Washington Consensus is being applied not only to client states but back home in the heartlands of the USA, UK, and EU members (where it's sold to the economically illiterate as "austerity"). It's also being used as cover for disaster capitalism, the systematic looting of public assets and social capital for the enrichment of small groups. Meanwhile, weaponized media (both social media and mass media owned by the oligarchs) is used to channel the sense of grievance felt by the immiserated population into acceptable directions, via slogans like "taking back control" or "make America Great again". Directions such as resentment towards immigrants, get-rich-quick schemes such as cryptocurrency bubbles or goldbuggery, and ritualized abusive denunciation of anyone who questions these attempts to divert attention away from the real problem—the way we're being conditioned for exploitation by our self-proclaimed masters.

So I now have two follow-on questions about BTC.

Firstly, what if BTC's supporters are right? That is: if BTC delivers what its supporters promise, then how will the oligarchs react? A working distributed cryptocurrency model is inimical to the interests of billionaire monopolists who want to get rich by imposing rent-seeking practices on the immobilized peasantry (ahem: I mean us ordinary folks). They won't go quietly, there will be a crack-down, and we may be seeing the first signs of the shape it will take in China (which is banning bitcoin excchanges). Distributed systems, contra received wisdom, can be banned: you just have to be sufficiently ruthless. (You criminalize possession, then enforce by imposing deep packet inspection at the network backbone level, apply criminal penalties for being caught selling goods or services in return for the currency, and make it impossible to run a legitimiate business taking BTC in payment.) If you can marginalize BTC so that it is only useful for child pornography, ransomware, and illegal narcotics, it's no longer a threat to the mainstream economy. So I see one possible outcome of cryptocurrencies threatening the existing banking system as being to hasten the shuttering of the open internet. (Not that the oligarchs have any great love for the open internet in the first place: we get rowdy and organize. They're a lot happier with it being a non-neutral channel for sedative YouTube videos and, er, kitten jpegs. Discussion fora, blogs, and activists not wanted on board.)

A second problem: if, as I think, BTC doesn't deliver, then the bubble will eventually burst. I called it a long time ago: and although BTC continues to follow an overall upward trend (there have been, ahem, fluctuations that would have ben recognized as a full-on collapse in any conventional currency) we're going to run out of new BTC to mine sooner or later. At that point, the incentive for mining (a process essential for reconciling the public ledgers) will disappear and the currency will ... will what? The people most heavily invested in it will do their best to patch it up and keep it going, because what BTC most resembles (to my eye, and that of Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase) is a distributed Ponzi scheme. But when a Ponzi scheme blows out, it's the people at the bottom who lose.

The longer BTC persists, the worse the eventual blowout—and the more angry people there are going to be. Angry people who are currently being recruited and radicalized by neo-Nazis.

834 Comments

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1:

Ye gods and little fishes! 0.12%? That's evil. I had never looked at it closely, so didn't know the Ponzi scheme and cost inflation issues, but will ask my expert contact about it. But, I agree, we can expect a rapid increase in Bitcoin when (say) the UK economy comes apart and the new government attempts to do something about it, with consequences you may be able to imagine but I can't.

2:

I would be rubbing my eyes and suggesting taking the figures with a pinch of salt, were it not for the very real problem of bitcoin mining software in javascript being served up by web advertising exchanges — see coinhive for an entire business based on this crapware. (The idea is that it's more profitable to leech a victim's electricity to mine bitcoins than it is to show them adverts.)

And that's without getting into the growing problem of bitcoin miners embedded in malware (to make money for the bad guys).

3:

At that point, the incentive for mining (a process essential for reconciling the public ledgers) will disappear and the currency will ... will what?

From my outsiders understanding, this isn't really a problem, as there are two mechanisms countering the end of mining rewards: transaction fees (already necessary today to have reasonably fast transaction times) on one hand and a general drop-off of miners as mining becomes un-profitable.

4:

At which point, you start wondering about parasitic load: if some malware is sufficiently restrained not to bring its host to a halt, it's more likely to escape detection.

5:

And then you get the spam:

support 9/11/17 (Launching) Bitcoin Code
support 14/11/17 Brand New Software - Generates $2,589 a Day!
Bitcoin Code 14/11/17 Your Bitcoin Code beta tester account has been activated --
Bitcoin Code 18/11/17 Your Bitcoin Code beta tester account has been activated --
support Thursday Congratulations! You Qualified -- (email address redacted)
support Thursday Congrats! You're IN -- (email address redacted)

Fortunately a few choice words in a couple of filter rules and they are never seen again.

6:

I think if it becomes more profitable to infest someone's machine with bitcoin mining code than sell them ads then it will be interesting to see what Google &co do: their business model currently revolves around selling adverts to peopl, so do they change (is this 'pivoting'? I forget) to foisting malware on their users, or do they help to kill bitcoin?

Related to this: these companies have very large farms of machines, which are not completely utilised I assume. If bitcoin mining is more profitable than its electricity cost then they should (and I assume are) set up low-priority tasks to mine bitcoin on those farms and run their systems at whatever their capacity limit is (heat dissipation I suppose) all the time.

As a climate-science person, all of this smells just terrible.

7:
if BTC delivers what its supporters promise, then how will the oligarchs react?

I was listening to the news this morning and I thought the characterisation of Bitcoin as an "unregulated financial product" by one of the business folk is a nice indicator for how they'll manage it.

Regulation.

It's up to 0.12% of global energy consumption and rising rapidly

I somewhat sarcastically tweeted earlier today that Nick Bostrom's Paperclip Maximiser makes more sense if you replace "Paperclip" with "Bitcoin".

8:

Given the high proportion of far-right views among self-proclaimed libertarians and the anti-bank philosophy behind Bitcoin, I'm not surprised that Bitcoin is catnip to anti-semites (who, after all, are sure that Jews run every financial institution on Earth).

I'm not sure you need any theory about infiltration or conspiracy for this: the underlying memes are aligned enough to create a strong correlation.

9:

I noticed the arrival of the bitcoin spam about a month ago too.

Historically spam-mail about some topic seems to start once the smarter players conclude that the end-game has started and they need to offload their holdings to non-smart players before it is too late.

And yes, my first thought when I saw those spam-mails were: Pop-Corn!

10:

Bitcoin mining is now consuming 30.23 TWh of electricity per year

In WMD units, that's 26 megatons a year, one medium-yield B61 bomb per day.

11:

One possible explanation, which looks quite reasonable as a first approximation, is that the US libertarian fringe has been assimilated by the neo-Nazis. After all, once you take one red pill, why not take another, and another, until you overdose on the bloody things?


This is the case. There has been quite a bit of writing lately examining the "libertarian-to-Nazi pipeline", the Niskanen Center (a bunch of libertarians who saw the slide start with the Kochs and Cato and are growing alarmed by it) has been giving it a hard look for a while now. These, in series, do a good job laying it out

https://niskanencenter.org/blog/explaining-white-nationalisms-anti-statist-bedfellows/

https://niskanencenter.org/blog/libertarian-democracy-skepticism-infected-american-right/

https://niskanencenter.org/blog/libertarian-origins-libertarian-influence-ruling-american-right/

These 3 are the pretty critical ones but this

https://niskanencenter.org/blog/black-liberty-matters/

looks at the historical biases which shifts things a bit and here

https://niskanencenter.org/blog/defense-liberty-cant-without-identity-politics/

It goes into a bit more that "black lives should matter as much as tax rates so why don't they to libertarians?"

Here they go into how libertarianism is shooting towards fascism because they only do a superficial consideration of their principles on markets and ignoring most of what Hayek said

https://niskanencenter.org/blog/the-shortcut-to-serfdom/

This one covers how trying to be "edgy" with their ideas feeds the fascism

https://niskanencenter.org/blog/public-choice-theory-politics-charity/

Here they go into how the embrace of climate denialism is very tied to fascism

https://niskanencenter.org/blog/climate-change-denial-historical-consciousness-trumpism-lessons-carl-schmitt/

Here about how their embrace of the republican line on nationalism is goostepping towards fascism

https://niskanencenter.org/blog/fuzzy-borders-benign-nationalism/

here they are more explicit about it

https://niskanencenter.org/blog/liberal-case-nationalist-immigration-restrictions/

And here even more so

https://niskanencenter.org/blog/individual-liberty-power-exclude/

With this one they try to point out to their fellow libertarians that they aren't willing to fight this and "what the HELL man!"

https://niskanencenter.org/blog/revitalizing-liberalism-age-brexit-trump/

And here they talk how the idea of being a libertarian is becoming toxic because of all this and they may need to shift

https://niskanencenter.org/blog/moderation-ii-rules-moderates/

Additionally, while I haven't completed it yet, the second edition of The Reactionary Mind https://www.amazon.com/Reactionary-Mind-Conservatism-Edmund-Donald/dp/0190692006/

Deals a lot with how the libertarian style worship of markets and business ties in with the same reactionary impulses we see in neoconservatism and its take on military prowess and how both are tied with domination.


So yeah, libertarians getting fed into the alt right/Nazi hopper is totally a thing now. Question is if Charlottesville was enough to break those guys before they got going. Given how the New York Times is boosting Nazis, probably not

12:

How do transaction fees work? I mean, I always use them against anybody claiming the old "Bitcoin is free to use" bit, which it isn't, because electricity, but also because transaction fees is a field in a Bitcoin transaction and right now might not be necessary but once all BTC are generated it will.

But what I mean by how do they work… if I'm a miner code, can I only generate a block with pending transactions that have a transaction fee? Or is a block required to include all pending transactions in the network? If the first, then transaction fees are bound to go up, to at least enough to cover electricity costs. If the second, how do they propose to solve the freeloader problem?

13:

Thinking about this while digging the garden, I wonder if the Great Powers are beginning to think of bitcoin as a threat (as you say above), and are thinking of mounting a covert attack. I don't know about about blockchain or it to be able to spot vulnerabilities, but there assuredly will be to be some - note that I am NOT talking about the trivial attacks that are so common, but an out-of-context attack on the entire mechanism. And there at least two combinations among the usual culprits who probably have the skills and resources to mount such attack: USA / Israel / UK? and Russia / Serbia. I doubt that North Korea has either, and I doubt that China, Japan etc. would, even if they could. As you describe, China is not subtle when it comes to this sort of thing.

14:

Some people more knowledgeable on the topic than me tell me that CPU mining of bitcoins is dead. Specialized ASICs are so much efficient there that the probability (it's a competitive probabilistic process) to find a bitcoin when you're on CPU is effectively zero. As a result, there's no web-based distributed bitcoin mining process at scale in the wild.

That's not true of the other coins out there though. And the events on ethereum are just... beautiful.

OG.

15:

That word "libertarian" has ground my gears ever since people started freely chucking it about, because it looks as if it ought to relate to things like liberty and liberalism, but when trying to deduce its meaning from contexts of its use and the kind of views it seems to describe, the answer I come up with has always been "fascist". So I've been resolving the cognitive dissonance by simply mentally doing s/libertarian/fascist/g for a long time now.

16:

As a miner you pick which transactions you want to include in your block. You can if you want to include ones that have no / very small transaction fees, but generally you pick the transactions that have highest fee per byte (so that you get the most you can for your full block, which is limited by size).

As for the article: it's sad to see you call people Nazis in such broad strokes. Yes, BTC is still unproven; yes, it'll likely have to go through significant modifications to become efficient enough (lightning network comes to mind).

I'd expect the impact of malware / javascript mining on energy consumption to be minimal - those pcs are running anyway. I guess a busy cpu might be working on higher voltage than when semi-idling? But I wouldn't expect this to significantly impact long-term consumption.

Electiricity consumption of dedicated mining will stabilise at the point of profitability; the cost here is directly sent to the users of BTC, and if the users become unwilling to pay that price some miners go bankrupt, hashpower / difficulty level drops, and less electricity is used. If the final level of consumption is within an order of magnitude of current, but the idea of BTC as a global payment network succeeds, then that would be definitely worth it. The internet currently uses significantly more power than BTC; but we're willing to pay for that.

17:

the US libertarian fringe has been assimilated by the neo-Nazis.
Yes, well - see: Fascism increasing in US - but they can't "see" it.

18:

where it's sold to the economically illiterate as "austerity"
Lest we forget, "austerity" was invented (in the UK) by a very deeply unpleasant christian socialist ploiticain called Stafford Cripps. It was, justifyably well-hated & was largely responsible for Labour losing the two elections in 1950-51. But Cripps pushed austerity as a "good thing" - christian hair-shirtism enforced on an unwilling public who didn't actually NEED little luxuries like unrationed bread ...
The turnabout is extremely delicious in a cynical sort of way, but you are correct - it was bollocks then & it's bollocks, now, too.

19:
I'd expect the impact of malware / javascript mining on energy consumption to be minimal - those pcs are running anyway. I guess a busy cpu might be working on higher voltage than when semi-idling? But I wouldn't expect this to significantly impact long-term consumption.

Anecdotal, I know, but I have an issue when sometimes when my laptop comes out of suspension the Browser process in Chrome starts using 100% CPU. This is always tied to a specific tab, but since it's the Browser process that shows the symptoms and I sometimes have too many tabs open, sometimes I won't even attempt to fix it if I'm going to be using the computer for only a short time. Anyway, when this happens, load average shoots over 1.5 when idle, and of course the CPU fan turns on. Under this condition my laptop's battery lasts half as long as normal, or worse.

So yes, if I have malware running that makes my CPU busy it means I'm paying for the electricity for it to run. It's not free.

20:

"Libertarian" politics is an American thing, and it leverages the American folk-understanding of "Liberty", which has always had a nasty undernote of "liberty to own slaves".

21:
But what I mean by how do they work… if I'm a miner code, can I only generate a block with pending transactions that have a transaction fee?
As a miner, you can generate whatever block using whatever subset of pending transaction you want. Since the number of transactions per mn has hit the block limit (and all attempts at extending it have failed, including forking the blockchain), all miners have done that: they process the transaction with the highest fee first. Your no-fee transaction gets bumped until there's a lull in transaction activity.

Assuming the blockchain does not burst, at one point, BTC will no longer be viable as "money", since the fee competition means it is only useful for large amounts (that is, going around currency exchange controls).

22:

it's sad to see you call people Nazis in such broad strokes

You didn't see all the kek/alt-right/((())) shitheads springing to the defense of BTC in my twitter feed last night.

Seriously, I didn't see it coming (until it showed up).

It need not be the case that all BTC users are neo-nazis, for it to be the case that neo-nazis have a hard-on for BTC.

23:

I thought the alt-right--libertarian connection was that the alt-right has a large number of former libertarians who suddenly realized that in Libertopia the "wrong" people could not be kept out.

Besides, usually when someone asks if I'm a Jew, it's in response to something libertarian, and not always about border-control. One one occasion, it was in response to a defense of strip mining.

24:

it's sad to see you call people Nazis in such broad strokes.

they want to create a militaristic homogeneous ethnostate that privileges white people, and while they will generally elide exactly how they will get rid of all those they deem undesirable, are very open to "joking" about concentration camps, gas chambers, and genocide. Their rhetoric is aggressively anti-Semitic (see chanting "Jews will not replace us" at Charlottesville), they are fond of nazi tropes and styles (again, see the torch march at Charlottesville), and much of their chose imagery intentionally invokes Nazi imagery (the "Kekistan" flag is a very slightly modified version of the German Nazi war flag).

Oh, and they are big on swastikas and outright saying they are Nazis.

If the jackboot fits, wear it.

25:

There was an article on Slashdot yesterday: 17-23% of all bitcoins are lost, based on studying the blockchain.

http://fortune.com/2017/11/25/lost-bitcoins/

https://news.slashdot.org/story/17/11/27/1517255/nearly-4-million-bitcoins-lost-forever-new-study-says

That's a lot of virtual coins.

26:

Of course, no historical precedents exist. The Spanish economy in the seventeenth century didn't collapse with any relationship whatsoever to its continued mercantilism and dependence upon importation of new currency from the New World (and how about those collateral consequences, eh?) instead of localized efficiency, devolution of inefficient oligarchies, and/or actual implementation of a working local economy.

Nope, nothing to see here. Not even regarding the rest of Europe at the time. What's that old chestnut about being doomed to repeat the past that we don't understand?

27:

Interesting, especially the distribution of from whom they are lost. One wonders whether they really are all lost, or there is some extremely subtle fraud, money laundering or whatever going on. A healthy share of 10-20 billion is enough to get some serious attention from the major organised crime groups.

28:

BitCoin is a bit of a puzzler and every time I come across any serious discussion of it it makes me starting thinking about what "money" is.

I tend to view that BitCoin is a Ponzi scheme.

However, if it turns out to be successful as a currency, I mean generally used as a means of exchange for a significant portion of world trade then things get a interesting. I think the first effect is deflationary; a transfer of wealth to those holding BitCoin from those holding other assets (including their own labour). Then I think followed by a period of inflation as everyone tries to set up their own BitCoin. Which is akin to forgery or perhaps seigniorage.

Which makes me wonder why you would use BitCoin or similar as a means of exchange when it doesn't have a practical monopoly on being the means of exchange in a geographically defined area with unified regulatory bodies who have a monopoly of sanctioned violence.

29:

Thanks for that link. Given how much effort conservatives have put into breaking the system, it's more than a bit disturbing.

30:

Now THAT ( "liberty to won slaves" ) also has a very nasty historical echo.
Cato & Cicero etc in the late Roman Republic always went on about "Liberty" - but not for the proles, of course.
It got them, in the end, two very bloody civil wars & the Principate - which we call the Roman Imperium.
Historical paralells? What are they?

31:
And there at least two combinations among the usual culprits who probably have the skills and resources to mount such attack
It's not that hard.
32:

It CANNOT BE USED AS A CURRENCY - for the exct same reason that Gold can't be (any more) ...
There isn't enough of it to go around.
Of course, the BTC-pushers view this as a feture, not a bug ... & ties in to some extremely "stange" opinions that seem, certainly borderline fascist.

33:

Bugger
"Liberty to OWN slaves"

34:

they literally have a sub called /r/physicalremoval that is used to discuss genocide/ethnic cleansing.

Or go check out the comments in /r/The_Donald

Fuck off with the "I don't see any Nazis here" bullshit. "A few hours searching" is a crock of shit, they have open subreddits that they boost to the front page dedicated to it.


Is "neo-nazism" and "white supremacy" really systemic, as the article suggests? It's not clear to me. I'm still waiting for the evidence.

Try reading a fucking history book.

35:

Interesting. Thanks. The analyses are a bit naive, because there are reasons an attacker might want to crash bitcoin - either because it is seen as a threat or because you can make a lot of money out of a crash. It also makes me wonder how many of those lost coins were lost, and how many spirited away for some nefarious purpose - you don't need more than very brief control to achieve that sort of result - probably very few, if any, but ....

36:

[ DELETED for violating moderation policy. Sock puppet commenter banned. ]

37:

"It isn't real because I haven't seen it."
"it isn't real because you haven't done the research"
"It might be real but what about these guys over here"
"It might be real but here's some anti-establishment links that allude to my point"
"Needs more evidence"

Anyone else playing troll bullshit bingo? I think I have a finished line.

38:

Nazi astroturfer/apologist unpublished and banned. Sorry for the attention sink.

39:

I had virtually the full card.

40:

Moderation note:

If you are new to this blog and feel like commenting, read the moderation policy first.

This blog has a zero-fucks-given approach to deleting comments by alt-right apologists and banning their asses, so you might as well piss off now rather than wasting your energy posting here.

Hint: my family tree was drastically truncated between 1939 and 1945. I grew up attending a synagogue with concentration camp survivors who had the numbers tattooed on their wrists. Nazis can fucking die for all I care.

41:

It was such an epic whine that I'll actually consider reposting it, with point-by-point rebuttal ... once we're a couple of hundred comments further in so that it doesn't give aid and comfort to the cuckscreechers.

(Neologism time: "cuckscreecher" = "someone who screeches 'cuck!!!' at their enemies; a neo-nazi".)

42:

"Libertarian" politics is an American thing, and it leverages the American folk-understanding of "Liberty", which has always had a nasty undernote of "liberty to own slaves".

One problem with Libertarian "thought" is that all the Libertarians believe they're going to be John Galt once the government stops oppressing them. They can't comprehend not being among the elite. The real world in NOT Lake Wobegon and they can't all be above average ... but the fallacy persists.

Their politics are designed to maximize profits for private sector oligarchs (with whom they include themselves) while pushing costs off to the Untermenschen.

There really wasn't that much difference between Libertarianism and Fascism in the first place.

43:

Oh, it's gone. Well the devil needed a better advocate anyway.

44:

"One problem with Libertarian 'thought' is that all the Libertarians believe they're going to be John Galt once the government stops oppressing them."

Actually no. My hope is that there will be enough "captains of industry" around to compete with each other and prevent monopolies.

45:

Re. Ponzi schemes: What you said. There's a reason why all major currencies are state-regulated and peer-pressured into a semblance of civilized behavior by the international community—and it's not just to enrich the 1% and keep tax lawyers gainfully employed.

Re. exponentially growing energy consumption by BTC mining: *Fe* Ah, the (gravitational) singularity! When the BTC energy-consumption curve goes vertical, there will be no energy left to power Internet of Things appliances. As these devices cool, they will shrink (because the average kinetic energy of their atoms decreases, causing a volume decrease). Because the rate of increase in BTC energy consumption goes vertical at the singularity, the rate of energy withdrawal from IOT devices becomes infinite, as does the rate of cooling. The resulting contraction is sufficiently fast that it surpasses the ability of atoms to withstand the contraction forces. Micro-fusion (massive releases of small amounts of energy) ensues, in a process that competes with the even-faster creation of micro-black holes. The micro-black holes quickly begin to merge, creating macro-black holes that merge with their kin to create even larger black holes. Then, as in the suddenly prophetic Simpson's black hole episode (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treehouse_of_Horror_XXIII), the world is consumed, leaving nothing but a dully glowing object in orbit around our sun to warn alien civilisations. Conveniently, this also explains the Fermi paradox. If we looked for a large population of planetary-sized black holes instead of radio waves, we'd find all the missing civilizations!*/Fe*

Well, it could happen! Alt-physics!

46:

I noticed that the London Evening Standard (possibly published by interests that are not sympathetic to Bitcoin, but I don't think it matters) had an article about this on their financial pages last night, suggesting that the bubble is likely to bust and there might be better investments out there:

https://www.standard.co.uk/business/bitcoin-bubble-fear-as-frenzy-pushes-price-near-to-10000-a3702646.html

I'm staying well clear - I don't trust it or understand how it ever got to be any more "real" than the guys who play online RPGs to win magic items etc. and sell them to the other players, and sooner or later I suspect that someone with a quantum computer or some other technological boost will corner the market and get VERY rich just before the bubble bursts.

48:

Re that,
Quantum computers also (will) pose some (other) potential issues that could turn Bitcoins from a gold-analogue (with a small and easily mined amount of gold in the reachable universe) to a lead-analogue. (I didn't search hard for critiques of these papers, though.)
Quantum attacks on Bitcoin, and how to protect against them (28 Oct 2017)
and very slightly later (authors cite first paper, say it covers same ground and was written at same time.)
Bitcoin and quantum computing (12 Nov 2017)
They both identify the elliptic curve digital signature algorithm (ECDSA) as a potential medium term weakness. From the second paper (after dismissing some simpler attacks on bitcoin via ECDSA attacks),
Another possibility is that once a public key is revealed in a pending transaction, a malicious actor, Eve, with a quantum computer could steal the bitcoins before the transaction is finalized. In principal Eve only has 10 minutes to find the private key before the transaction is finalized. In practice bitcoin transactions often sit in an unofficial pending pool (the “ mem - pool ” ) for an hour or more. For 256 bit ECDSA about 1500 qubits are required and 6*10**9 one-qubit additions are needed. Each one-qubit addition takes 9 quantum gates. Thus to execute this type of attack within an hour the quantum computer needs to perform gate operations speed of around 660 MHz . The demands on the number of qubits and speed may make this challenging, at least in the near term.

49:

I still don't get bitcoin.

Anything which is produced in a fixed quantity by design is a collectible, not a currency. Bitcoins are like the coins struck for coin collectors, or Ming vases, or Barbie Dolls in Original Packaging.

There is no intrinsic value in a collectible; its price is set by the "bigger fool" principle.

Money, on the other hand: money is created when loans are made, and destroyed when they are paid back.

So as far as I can tell what we have with Bitcoin is a classic Tulip Bubble.

What am I missing?

50:

You forgot the various "religious" - in the USSA, inevitably some form of really well-past-barking-mad "christians" claiming that it is "Gahd's work" or similar & who are you to deny the almighty ( almighty pile of shit that is )
This is happening right now in the senatorial by-election, IIRC.

51:

You specifically limit your complaint to bitcoin and not blockchain. But to me, it looks like the power consumption issue is probably inherent to blockchain. Am I wrong?

I've never dug deeply into the algorithms, but the usual high-level explanation of Blockchain's security is that the "miners" vote on what goes into the chain, and so you can't "steal" the chain and write whatever you want unless you control 51% of the mining power.

(The slightly-more-technical explanations usually make it sound less like voting and more like a lottery, which I think is rather frightening, but setting that aside...)

So let's suppose we are using blockchain to protect some asset with value V, and that a malicious actor who controls 51% of the mining power can effectively steal that asset and extract its full value (V) for themselves. If you can buy 51% of the mining power for less than V, then it is economically rational for someone to do so--they'll instantly make a profit.

That means that the blockchain is only secure as long as it is continuously defended by computational assets worth at least V--otherwise, someone could overpower the defenders and seize the asset for a cost lower than the asset's value.

That means your defense costs more than the value of the asset you are defending. At which point, it is economically rational to just let the asset get stolen rather than try to protect it.

Now, yes, real life is much dirtier than that. Theft is usually negative-sum: the value of the asset to an attacker is probably less than its value to the defenders, which hypothetically creates a window where it might be worth defending the asset.

On the other hand, all the computers the attacker bought in order to temporarily overpower the defense don't disappear in a puff of smoke after the attack; they can resell them or use them for other purposes. Which means the NET cost of the attack is probably much lower than the up-front cost. That pushes things in the opposite direction. (This doesn't help the defenders as much, because they need to defend the asset as long as it exists; the attacker only needs the computational power for as long as it takes to loot the asset.)

And if miners are effectively anonymous, it's not clear an attacker will suffer any real reputational costs. (Though it depends on the asset being defended and how the attacker would want to use it.)

Is there some reason I'm missing why the security properties of blockchain are not economically insane?

52:

Nothing
See my post @ # 32

53:

Hmmm.

I remember back a few years ago (Google says 2013-2014) that Goldman Sachs was playing around with manipulating the aluminum market through mass storage.

The reason I bring that up is that government-backed fiat money only works if there's a government to back the fiat. Blockchains and cryptocurrencies appear to go around that, so (if you're libertarian minded) that's one less function you need a government for. Money without governments is a good thing, if you're a libertarian.

Now these two don't look like they blend with each other, but I suspect they do. The connection is the future:

--I suspect that the rich (who by culture if not genetics are effectively think they want to own the rest of us) see the future as having a lot less people in it, and rather than give up their power, they are trying to claim ownership of stuff people need (power, water, food, materials, access to information, etc.), including the use of force to protect their ownership. That, I suspect, is where the real action is right now, but it's disguised because it can be broken right now.

--The rest of us rubes think money is important. We're not buying farmland where it rains for when civilization collapses, or hoarding bullets and distilling equipment to take or make money. Rather, we're utterly dependent on being able to buy stuff, and therefore we try to maintain distribution chains into cities, because that seems more sensible than getting ready to kill off the competition so that you can be the cock crowing atop the dunghill after the shit hits. For us, blockchains look really useful, because they're a way to help cut through all the capitalist deception and BS we routinely put up with.

--Cryptocurrencies look nice for two reasons in this scenario. One is that they allow claims of ownership that don't necessarily depend on government fiat. Secondly, they're currently blowing a nice bubble, allowing the clever manipulators to profit and buy more resources while impoverishing the so-clever cool-spotters who jumped on latter and don't realize what trouble they're in. Since those so-clever people are the ones who would cause the property owners trouble later on, impoverishing them might be smart. Therefore, blowing bubbles with cryptocurrencies seems to be a good strategy right now.

As for blockchains, I'm hoping they don't end up as the social media of the 2020s, yet another necessary part of our infrastructure, but controlled by a few really wealthy companies who franchise out mining and such. I suspect that's where they will go, until things get worse. But if mining takes so much energy, blockchains have a limited lifespan.

54:

I wasn't aware that mining BitCoin was getting so ridiculously energy intensive. I should have been, because I've seen schemes like this popping up this fall (tl;dr: hook a solar farm to a processor farm to mine for bitcoin).

Serious question for people who actually know about blockchains:

How useful are blockchains that are NOT so energy-intensive as Bitcoin to mine?

I'm thinking about how useful blockchain technology might be for, say, ethereum-style contract validation and such in developing parts of the world, such as, perhaps the Rust Belt or central Africa. Some of these countries have jumped a lot of first world development costs by, say, jumping straight to cell phones and skipping landlines. Are blockchains equally revolutionary, or are they so computation/energy-intensive that they'll always, ultimately, be creatures of the wealthy and powerful?

55:

Any discussion of bitcoin tends to devolve into technical aspects, which are less interesting than the social ones (i.e. that it's obviously a ponzi scheme).

However, given that we're talking about it and not everyone here is a computer scientist who reads bitcoin papers for the laughs, here's a very brief low-tech rundown of what bitcoin is and how it works:

Bitcoin is theoretically a distributed peer-to-peer network implementing what amounts to a public bank ledger. The rows in the ledger are transactions, like "Publisher gave Charlie £100" and they go back to the beginning of time. Thus, each participant in the network needs to maintain a database of every bitcoin and bitcoin transaction in history. In practice, this means that it isn't really a P2P network, but rather a bizarre semblance of a P2P network maintained by a small number of powerful network operators.

To make sure that just anyone can't decide to give your money to Charlie (or more accurately, to enforce a "no backsies" rule), the ledger is decided via a voting scheme called "mining." Each miner is given a number of votes based on how much money they're willing to buy (or steal), and dump into a bonfire of Libertarian excess. In return, they're given bitcoins either from nowhere, or in transaction fees.

Like other distributed voting algorithms, this is thought to be secure as long as there are no bugs (surely you jest) and nobody buys 51% of the votes at any point. At the present time, something like 80% of the votes are owned by billionaires in China running the software on custom ASIC server farms.

Because Libertarians love deflationary currency, the software is designed to limit the total number of bitcoins in existence. However, this has little to do with the market price of bitcoin, which is what people actually care about. To actually buy bitcoin, you send real money to a broker ("Exchange") which pockets your money and issues buy orders on your behalf, much like a stock broker.

Given that thousands of people have been frantically mortgaging their houses to buy bitcoin, which they see as more valuable than investments (or in some cases, more valuable than food or shelter for their children), the price is understandably trending up rather than down. This has nothing at all to do with bitcoin's function as a currency for trade, which is becoming more and more irrelevant.

Finally, given that in reality bitcoin doesn't really work as a transaction processing network, hardly anyone really transfers bitcoin directly. The way it really works is that people keep bitcoin "wallets" on a small number of online services, vaguely resembling banks. These services transfer bitcoin between each other (and to "exchanges") periodically in large transactions, making bitcoin functionally resemble more of an inter-bank settlement service.

56:

Digital contracts are less useful than they sound, since they can only examine and modify stuff on the same blockchain, not in the real world.

For instance, if we want to have a contract where I'll pay you some cryptocurrency if you deliver me some bananas, the digital contract doesn't have any magical way to tell whether the bananas have been delivered, or to force you to deliver them. You'd need to have some trusted third party "tell" the contract whether the bananas were delivered or not, and the contract would have to take their word for it.

But if you have a trusted third party, you could probably just use them as an escrow agent and dispense with the digital contract.

For most applications, it's not clear that this provides any advantage over a traditional paper contract. (Even ignoring the energy/infrastructure costs and all the new possible points of failure.)

57:

Bitcoin mining is now consuming 30.23 TWh of electricity per year

In WMD units, that's 26 megatons a year, one medium-yield B61 bomb per day.

I overlooked the "of electricity" part there. Assuming that the electricity is mostly generated from heat engines using various sources of heat, the heat-to-electricity power ratio is around 3, so ~75 megatons per year, a mid-range B61 every 8 hours.

58:

So basically, blockchains are most useful as evidence chains, of the type, "X said Y at spacetime Z"? That's still useful for catching falsehoods. They would demonstrate what the contract was, but couldn't automatically enforce it.

The only place that a blockchain e-contract might be useful is where the statement Y was in itself the product being moved, I guess. A unique hash of the statement that "X shipped critical data Y to A at spacetime Z," followed by a hash of "A acknowledged receipt of Y to sender A at spacetime Z'" would constitute evidence of a contract and its fulfillment. No bananas here, but an ebook about banana-culturing might be part of such a contract. Is this correct?

59:

I wondered what economist Bernard Lietaer who wrote “The Future of Money” had to say about BTC and found a YouTube posting from April 2014. Lietaer calls BTC a “faux flac” or essentially a fake currency that is,

“focusing on two features of conventional money which happens to be negative for society in general … the fact that it is a speculation tool and not really a medium of exchange.”

However, Lietaer is interested in the BTC architecture (blockchain).

Here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5IQiBADQzXo


60:

Blockchains are an excellent solution to a very specific set of problems and 99% of the people talking about them would do better to implement a less data-and-energy intensive process.

For Example: There was recently some terrible bit of news of a Silicon Valley company that wanted to rate and tip waiters with a blockchain that would follow them from job to job, which was hideous, but also completely unecessary; why not run it on the company servers? In theory it means that if/when the company folds you can still have a tip/rate information stuck to people, but then that makes your company redundant which is bad capitalism. And if the blockchain requires the company to verify it, then there are cheaper and simpler ways than a blockchain.

61:

It might make sense to put bitcoin miner rigs in the basements of apartment blocks[1] and use the spent electricity to heat people's homes. Instead they're located up mountains in China next to cheap hydro power plants and the waste heat is dumped into the river water so the ASIC miner hardware can be overclocked.

[1]At least one French company has suggested doing this with a number of general-purpose cloud servers. The apartment block gets a fast fibre connection which the tenants can leech a few GB/s off for their own purposes and the 30kW of heat-death-of-the-Universe from a dozen servers turning and burning in the basement keeps everyone toasty.

62:

Nathaniel Popper, author of "Digital Gold" talks about BTC server farms in Mongolia, Tibet, and Iceland, in an interview with Terry Gross, host of FRESH AIR on npr:

“Anywhere where you can get cheap electricity to run computers very fast, people have set up basically server farms, big, you know, buildings just filled with computers trying to sort of unlock these new bitcoins but also sort of serving as the backbone of this network.”

“I went a couple years ago to one in China. They have gotten a lot bigger and more sophisticated since then. I mean, there are literally sort of towns that are built around this in China where you have people just living in the bitcoin mining facility, you know, Chinese people who really - you know, the people who are working there are sort of the custodians. They - most of them have no idea really what's going on or how the system works. But it's - you know, it's created this whole economy.”

Here’s the entire interview: https://www.npr.org/2017/11/09/563050434/once-an-underground-currency-bitcoin-emerges-as-a-new-way-to-track-information

63:

For Example: There was recently some terrible bit of news of a Silicon Valley company that wanted to rate and tip waiters with a blockchain that would follow them from job to job, which was hideous, but also completely unecessary

Right now blockchains, bitcoins, and even weirder things called "Initial Coin Offerings" are generating buzz and people are willing to throw money at them. I could easily believe that the company in question had never intended to use blockchains, but did a hasty rewrite because otherwise nobody would pay attention to them.

I can just aboud understand bitcoin and blockchains after a good explanation, but it tends to fade after a couple of days. But Initial Coin Offerings?Is there really anything there other than taking money from suckers and stashing it?

64:

Is there really anything there other than taking money from suckers and stashing it?

Yes. There are the political consequences of Wall Street taking the big dump under Trump, if in fact it happens. Unfortunately, knowing a bubble is getting blown is not the same thing as knowing when it will pop, as I learned back in 2002 (when I could see that there was a housing bubble, but thought it would pop in a few years, not in 2008).

One awkward consequence that could happen is if the US Republicans lose hard next year (perhaps with the Brexiteers?), Trump and Pence get impeached in 2019 (as the Brexiteers evaporate politically), and President Pelosi and PM Corbyn get to preside over the Great Bitcoin Bust.

65:

The primary purpose of every ICO is to enrich the issuer.

There may be secondary purposes, but I wouldn't (ahem) bet on them.

66:

I was wondering if blockchain technology could be a backbone for Strossian style interstellar economies.

It seems like it maybe could work. Thoughts?

The downside is that if you start such a novel now, it's likely to come out just as the whole bubble is bursting, and the timing might be, erm, unfortunate.

Still, could we blockchain a Martian colony, to help interplanetary economies somehow? Or is that just as stupid as it sounds?

67:

I haven't studied digital contracts in depth, but I don't immediately see a useful way to do what you're suggesting about verifying the shipment of digital goods.

You could probably have a contract along the lines of: "if someone pays me $5, I will let them download file X". But the customer wouldn't be able to verify that file X is actually the ebook they wanted until they got to see it. If they can't see it until after they pay, then the contract isn't really enforcing that they got the specific ebook that they wanted. (And if they can see it before paying, then by definition they already have a copy, and don't need to pay.)

You could publish a hash of the book publicly, but the customer still can't tell from the hash that the book you're offering is really the ebook about banana-culturing that they wanted. That only proves that you decided what you were going to sell at the time you made the hash, not that the thing you're selling conforms to any promises you made about it.

If you made a record that you gave me data X (or data that hashes to X), and I made a record that I received data X, then hypothetically either of us could prove after the fact that the data was transferred. But that only helps if both of us are honest at the time of the transaction; if you give me data X but I refuse to give you a receipt, then the public record probably doesn't help you.

You could ask a trusted third party to host the file and make a record when it is downloaded, but then you're back to an escrow agent.


If you want to use the blockchain strictly as a witness/notary that says "parties X and Y agreed to contract Z at time T", then yes, it can probably do that. (Subject to the usual limitations that "party X" really means "someone with access to X's private cryptographic key", and that this record is only as reliable as the witness (blockchain miner) that recorded it.)

68:

One problem with Libertarian "thought" is that all the Libertarians believe they're going to be John Galt once the government stops oppressing them. They can't comprehend not being among the elite.

Replace Libertarian and elite with Calvinist and elect and you get a similar vib from a different group. With a lot of overlap from what I can tell.

69:

Heteromeles wondered "...if blockchain technology could be a backbone for Strossian style interstellar economies."

Only if you assume the availability of ansibles. Without such a device, time delays due to the light-speed limitation would make it a bitch of a problem to keep the records consistent between solar systems. Do you really want to wait 4 years for the electronic funds transfer to arrive in your bank account?

Not to mention that anywhere records aren't instantly in synch, with near-zero latency, someone's going to find a way to profit (at someone else's expense) from the time lag before records are synched. In banking, it's called "the float". There's bound to be a blockchain equivalent.

Oh, wait: quantum-entangled bit(coin)s! I've achieved alt-physics twice in the same day! *GDR*

70:

time delays due to the light-speed limitation would make it a bitch of a problem to keep the records consistent between solar systems. Do you really want to wait 4 years for the electronic funds transfer to arrive in your bank account?

You haven't read "Neptune's Brood", have you? That's EXACTLY how slow money transactions work in that universe. They are not called "slow money" for nothing!

71:

the 30kW of heat-death-of-the-Universe from a dozen servers turning and burning in the basement keeps everyone toasty.

And for the summer?

72:

Agreed. I can see why libertarians might want this. Blockchains seem to be a way to create public records without having a government creating and curating them, so things like birth records, death certificates, and simple real estate transactions might be memorialized and publicized in a block chain. This would be most useful if the cost of verifying each transaction was set and didn't rise.

Of course, the converse problem (as pointed out by James Scott in Seeing Like A State) is that things like public records are there only tangentially to help the public. Mostly they're there so that the state knows who its citizens are, where they live, and what they own, so that they can be taxed.

However, people use bitcoin for criminal transactions all the time, so I suppose there is some exchange. It's not much different than trading tulip bulbs for tea, but there you have it.

73:

I've seen the argument that the price of bitcoin goes up because there's only a limited supply of bitcoin, so it's a good investment despite having no underlying value, just like the price of gold is much higher than the industrial use of gold would support. (I think this argument is largely nonsense, but I understand it at least.)

But the big hole in this always seemed to be that although there's a limited supply of bitcoin, there's no limit to the number of other bitcoin-alikes that could be invented. And over the last few months we seem to have an ever increasing supply of new bitcoin-alikes. Final frothing before the bubble burst that Charlie started with?

74:

ilya187 noted: "You haven't read "Neptune's Brood", have you? That's EXACTLY how slow money transactions work in that universe."

I have read it, but please note that the Saturn's/Neptune's universe is populated by essentially immortal androids/robots. They can afford to wait for slow money; most of us wetware types really can't. I assumed Heteromeles was referring to an economy for the benefit of us.

In principle, it would be no different from modern Internet protocols... with light-speed timelags of years. Imagine replacing the modern banking system with the pre-railway, pre-telegraph system of transferring money in the form of bank drafts carried from city to city on horseback, without ever knowing if the source bank was still in existence by the time (say) your New York draft arrived in San Francisco!

75:

Well, one might define money through its functions and its properties.

The primary function of money is to serve as a universal medium of exchange. The other are measure of value, standard of deferred payment, store of value

The main properties are: fungibility, durability, portability, cognizabilit, stability of value.

(this is pretty common knowledge of course, I just put it here as a reference point)

How much exactly Bitcoin satisfies this definition is disputable, but we can safely say that it satisfies significantly, qualitatively more then Ming Vases or Barbie Dolls. E.g. any sane clusterization of Bitcoin, fiat money, tulips, Ming Vases and Barbie Dolls on those functions/properties will put Bitcoin and fiat money to one set and other items to another one.

(not so obvious if we add golden bullions but I just have no enough time to expand this line of thought)

If we compare Bitcoin to fiat money things become less obvious and more interesting. The winner depends on the context. If the fiat money in question is USD in USA it wins in most (but not totally all) contexts. If the currency is Zimbabwe dollar then the winner is Bitcoin. And there is a full spectrum between those two.

As for the bubble - current rush on the cryptocurrencies is obviously speculative and the bust at some point seems to be imminent but when and how exactly it will come? Nobody knows. It may be a complete collapse but personally I don't see it as the highest probability (may be because it would be too boring).
Other possibilities are
* It may stabilize then float around some point (above or below its current value) like the price of the gold in the after-the-gold-standard world do
* It may be replaced by some other cryptocurrency (Ethereum, Monero, Ripple etc) that better satisfy the requirements. There was something about guys in Australia who promise a coin with ten times better transaction throughput then Visa. And who knows what comes next
* Bitcoin itself may evolve to became better currency (lighting network, SegWit etc)
* Anything else.

76:

Let's go back to the Silk Road and the Indian Ocean Spice Trade. It took years for trades to become real, and the reputation of the merchants for keeping their deals was critical in keeping it working. IIRC, this is where the Hawala system came from. Note that Hawala basically runs on the honor system, and works more on the long-term balancing of accounts, than on the long-distance transfer of money.

Anyway, I did google "international trade blockchain," and it looks like a lot of people are now trying to make this work (e.g. this piece from the World Economic Forum).

So yes, one could write an SFF story about the use of some bastard descendant of a blockchain in a space opera. The argument against is that, if such a book comes out the day after Bitcoin bites it, then most people aren't going to buy the story. So the question is, do you feel lucky, writer?


77:
I've seen the argument that the price of bitcoin goes up because there's only a limited supply of bitcoin, so it's a good investment despite having no underlying value [...]

Hypothetically, if it was used as a currency like the aficionados like to promote it as, then the underlying value would simply be that people need it to buy their drugs or hard disk unlocking codes or whatnot from the mafia. In this world, the price would then indeed very slowly go up over the course of many years as the demand exceeded the supply.

A quick look at the actual price behavior should immediately rubbish that idea. They basically don't work as a transaction processing framework due to the inherent, incredible inefficiency of the blockchain... But as a meaningless bauble for the less sensible to trade via unregulated grey market brokerages, they work fine, and this is the basis of their trading price.

78:

Bitcoin is very clever social engineering, and terrible software engineering. It is designed to gradually make it more expensive to make more, which creates an incentive to buy and hold now. And to tell other people to buy and hold after you, yourself, has bought. Because the more people buy in, the higher the price goes, and then you as a relatively early adopter can sell out for profit.

It is a ponzi scheme that outsources the gladhanding of more victims to your victims, and the fact that it works makes me want to cry. This is not even a question of intelligence - Newton lost his shirt in the south sea bubble, it is simply one of those very stupid things even smart people fall for.

At no point during any of this is there any need for anyone to use it as a currency, and to a first approximation, nobody does. Because it is *terribly* designed as a currency.

Here is how you design a proper Crypto-Currency:

Step one: Be a bank. Or start one. In Switzerland, or the equivalent.

Step two, set up hardware for the generation in bulk of true random number sequences. Not pseudo random. I do not care how clever your algorithm for making them is, go away, we are using the real deal here. Geiger counters pointed at a handy mountain will do.

Step 3. Put one copy of each one-gigabyte pad of random numbers on a secure pseudo-phone you hand to customers.
This device is Secure - in the sense that its entire operating system and network stack have been formally proven, and its attack surfaces are non-existent. (Well, people can steal it and beat the user id out of you. Do not see any way to solve this) All this device can do is call the bank server, and access your account over a one time-pad encrypted link. If you manage to do enough banking to go through a gigabyte of network activity.. well, your phone will require replacing from age before that, so... The server has the matching pad copy for each customer device, and since all activity is internal to the bank, noone can trace any of it. Or read it. You can tell someone is a customer, sure, but with any decent size of customer base and trivial random delays on transactions and / or just doing all transactions as timed operations (all phones call base once per hour. Regardless of whether they have business.) Network analytics wont work.

There, done. Costs : mostly designing the access "phone" and bank server to be natively secure, but per customer, the marginal cost is utterly negligible, and even the initial design effort should be reasonable - the required capability, and thus the complexity of the code that needs formal proving is very low and mostly already exists thanks to academic work.

This gets you an utterly untraceable economic transaction network proof against any adversary that does not mount a physical seizure of the bank, and more importantly, it can be expanded by depositing more regular cash at the bank.

79:

The primary purpose of every ICO is to enrich the issuer.
There may be secondary purposes, but I wouldn't (ahem) bet on them.

Yeah, reminds a (very) little of early gold frauds. Here's a delicious[1] one (gold from seawater) from 1896:
The Gold Accumulator
Except that in ICOs they're proposing currencies pegged to new limited supply artificial materials, [crypto-currency-name]ium, and promising that early investors will get most of the gains. (I think; haven't looked at one of them to be honest.)
(Amusing meta: in at least one load of that page, there were two advertisements, one for a gold dealer, and one for a bitcoin mining company.)
[1] a [N]grandfather lost his substantial savings in a silver mining scam, so not being deliberately crass here.

Might drop some links later related to semi-plausible (i.e. passes the immediate-laugh-test) applications for blockchain, notably permissioned blockchain. Lots of dodgy stuff; fraud/scam/hype/lie detectors need to be fully operational, set to twitchy.

80:

Heteromeles noted: "Let's go back to the Silk Road and the Indian Ocean Spice Trade. It took years for trades to become real, and the reputation of the merchants for keeping their deals was critical in keeping it working."

Yes, as I noted in my "bank drafts by horse" example. It could work. But would the speed be acceptable given the pace of modern economies? I'm not sure. Once you've tasted Gigabit fiber, it's awfully hard to go back to 300 baud dialup with an acoustic coupler. Would the level of security be acceptable? How many ships never returned from the China or India trade? Would those losses be acceptable to investors today?

Perhaps more importantly, the sophistication of financial scams has improved enormously. We like to think that technology for preventing such scams is up to the challenge, but the criminals tend to stay one step ahead of the guardians. And fancy technological solutions only solve technological attacks. For example, public key encryption is a wonderful technology -- until someone steals your private key through social engineering. Security certificates and trust authorities are wonderful tools until someone hacks the company's Web site and steals credentials or forges their own.

Trust was feasible when you met the customer or vendor in person and had a chance to gut-feel whether they were reliable and talk to people who had been dealing with them for years and could vouch for their stability. And there was always the notion you could hire someone to track them down and break their legs if they absconded with your money. The notion of "trust" in the modern computer era is harder to imagine when you can't see the person, will likely never meet them, know that they might be Russian scam artists, and know that they are sufficiently anonymized they can disappear without a trace, taking your money and reputation with them.

81:

Step two, set up hardware for the generation in bulk of true random number sequences. Not pseudo random. I do not care how clever your algorithm for making them is, go away, we are using the real deal here. Geiger counters pointed at a handy mountain will do.
Step 3. Put one copy of each one-gigabyte pad of random numbers on a secure pseudo-phone you hand to customers.

Insufficiently paranoid; doesn't protect against some esoteric attacks.
(There's at least one paper to be written about defenses against such attacks. :-)

And yeah, A Fire Upon The Deep had a human planet in the low beyond that had built a business reputation for reliably distributing one time pads. In 3 parts with independent physical distribution typically, combined (XOR?) by users.

82:

I said: the 30kW of heat-death-of-the-Universe from a dozen servers turning and burning in the basement keeps everyone toasty.

And for the summer?

Open some windows? It's not an uninhabitable equatorial hellhole like Florida, it's France. If it gets hot enough vent the server heat out into the street where it can compete with a few thousand other heat engines turning and burning.

83:

Put the server farm in the attic. Use it to heat the air running through the HVAC in the winter, vent it to the outside in summer.

Actually, I think I mentioned this idea a long time ago, on this blog, although I was thinking of a distributed server farm rather than a mining system. Still, if everyone needs a big enough server in order to have a civilized life, there's no reason not to turn these turkeys into a cogeneration system of some sort. A few centuries ago, having the water heater embedded in the wall of the main cooking oven accomplished much the same thing.

84:

White nationalism has some overlap with survivalist doomsday prepper types, and for some reason bitcoin has become very popular with the preppers.

85:

Because they are very vulnerable to the affinity fraud? Ponzi schemes are nearly always affinity fraud, and the vector of infection for the pyramid-scheme affinity fraud that is bitcoin goes through the fringes of the right, primarily. Thus people who should really, really distrust something that only exists in the cloud. Ffs.

86:

Cheery thought - maybe Bitcoin and the other work-alikes are the Culture's way of weaning us from our childish obsession with money; at a suitable point they'll pull the plug on them by grabbing all the blocks, wreck everyone's economy, then introduce their version of an economy of abundance. It seems like the sort of thing Culture minds would come up with, if only as retaliation for endless terabytes of social media and cat videos. We probably won't like it...

87:

Remember, we're talking about interplanetary commerce, such as between Musk's ultimate gated community on Mars and the still-productive slums of Earth, or something. You can only speed that up so much.

This is also true for FTL Space Operas. The more I look at it, the more I think that planetary customs officers will really like blockchain technology, and that goes double with their equivalent of ag inspectors. After all, if you think that intercontinental transport of invasive organisms is a problem now, imagine how much fun interplanetary transport of invasive organisms (other than humans) will be. Having *really good* records of what's in the shipping containers in your starship's hold would be kind of mandatory as a prerequisite for obtaining landing rights.

88:

.. Unpack? There are ways that come to mind of attacking this system, but they are mostly aimed at things like attacking the reputational capital of the bank, not the math. (Because it is so secure, difficult to document you are not stealing peoples accounts. I mean, you would be crazy to, but it is difficult to defend against the libel)

89:

Thank you. I always distinguish between "libertarian", which I consider myself to be, and "Libertarian" which is something quite different, and extremely unsavory. OTOH, I also consider myself a "conservative", i.e., someone who wants to conserve the good features of the current situation, not someone who wants to return to the imagined good features of some past situation. That is really a reactionary. And I object to telefactors being called robots when they are really just remote control devices.

This is a continual problem with language. It's a feature that allows it to adapt to a changing situation, but it renders prior descriptions nearly worthless. So while I consider myself a libertarian conservative, I never describe myself that way to anyone unless I have time to first explain what I mean by those words.

90:

Ordinary money is stuff that a government promises to accept as a payoff so that it won't steal your property. Because of this it has value to people other than the government.

It's quite possible to argue either way as to whether the government should be able to make that kind of threat, or whether the word "steal" is appropriate for an action that's perfectly legal, etc., but it's that threat that gives money its value. It's not a commodity, or something that is inherently valuable. (I have occasionally suggested using a monetary standard that is inherently valuable, like monocrystalline silicon, but this would be subject to large fluctuations in value.)

91:

The bracket clause is contradictory. If it was inherently valuable - the value was a property of the stuff itself - then you would be able to depend on the value much as you are able to depend on the melting point. The large fluctuations in value are possible because what is called "the value" is a function of stuff made up by people.

Which leads me, at least, to considering that the computation involved in DNA transcription is efficient enough to get down to about 10x the Landauer limit, which is several orders of magnitude better than artificial computing technologies. And then to imagining the possibility of using DNA-type computation to do bitcoin computations (it's probably quite well suited to at least some common cryptographic computations, though I don't know if that's relevant to bitcoin), and outperforming the Chinese server farms with a few buckets of genetically-engineered self-replicating organic bitcoin goo. (Which once it's done what you want it to, can be eaten, as a bonus.)

92:

Right. That fits with the vibe I get that someone describing themselves as a "libertarian" is certainly concerned with their own liberty, but is not concerned with trampling on that of others in pursuit of their own.

93:

That is not why you should not back money with inherent value. You should refrain from doing that because enough money has to exist to facilitate the sum total of all your commerce and liquid-store-of-value needs, and if money is backed by directly useful stuff, that is an enormous amount of value taken out of use to gather dust in a vault somewhere to no good end, directly making the world that much poorer

94:

> Last night I tweeted an intemperate opinion [...] that we need to ban Bitcoin because it's fucking our carbon emissions.

I was having pretty much the exact same thoughts yesterday. Stop thinking with my brain, Charlie, I'm using it to draw comics. Or at least buy me a beer, geez. :)

(I know you didn't put it there via Twitter, either, as I've been taking ever-longer Twitter sabbaticals. Come to Mastodon, we have goofy server names and less nazis.)

Bitcoin's a perfect symbol of the death throes of capitalism, really. Convert energy directly into global warming and a tiny fictional piece of "value" for a small number of people who were already rich, and a small number of people who got rich riding the wave.

The damn thing just hit $10k tonight and I'm increasingly sure that BTC as it is now is never gonna be The Future Of Money. It's not gonna be useful for that until everyone has a cryptocurrency miner running on their phones, helping to validate everyone's transactions at a much higher speed than the current network can, for a hell of a lot less electricity.

All of that doesn't stop me from selling the .3btc I had on Coinbase and cashing that out though. That's my next couple month's rent paid by the Dark Cyberpunk Future.

95:

The energy usage estimates for bitcoin mining have been around for a while, e.g.
Bitcoin Mining and its Energy Footprint (2014, O’Dwyer and Malone).
We also show that the power currently used for Bitcoin mining is comparable to Ireland’s electricity consumption.
or
A Cost of Production Model for Bitcoin (2015, Hayes)
And the curves could have been drawn far earlier.
Neither of those papers mentions carbon/co2. People were mostly ignoring them; not sure when people generally[1] realized that energy usage meant CO2 emissions, and not sure why it's emerging as a widespread concern now, but not complaining. Bitcoin isn't getting any less absurd. :-)
[1] No points for realizing it at the time or earlier(including myself in that): the key is mainstreaming the concern.


96:

Cheery thought - maybe Bitcoin and the other work-alikes are the Culture's way of weaning us from our childish obsession with money; at a suitable point they'll pull the plug on them by grabbing all the blocks, wreck everyone's economy, then introduce their version of an economy of abundance.
Bitcoin still has some mystery associated with it, and that speculation has been around, perhaps here. "Culture" generically means interventionists, who put options to disrupt global economies in place, or encourage them. Or maybe for some other reason. Fun to speculate.
I would not be surprised. :-)

97:

So any creative ideas about how to repurpose all the bitcoining mining operations once the crash has happened? Or are we just going to have miner graveyards sitting beside dams all over the world?

98:

The big problem with bitcoin is that it only looks decentralized. If you look at how it works, it gives big advantages to whomever can command immense computing resources and rapid network speeds. When bitcoin first came out it was a big hit with the gamers who had oversized gaming rigs capable of turning acres of Excel spreadsheets into pico-bit thick data crumbles. Once bitcoin mining and transaction processing started becoming profitable, the big guys moved in with their supercomputer arrays capable of crushing MMPORGs of gaming rigs into their component transistors.

Let's ignore the limited number of bitcoins that could ever be mined. Let's ignore the designed in restrictions on the transaction processing rate that makes bitcoin worthless as a general purpose transaction processing system. Let's ignore the bitcoin protocol's inability to scale either in scope or temporally. Ignore all that, and bitcoin will still only be profitable for a small set of highly capitalized miners and transaction processors, like the guys in Inner Mongolia with their coal mines and specialized server farms, and will only be useful for those needing to perform money transfers where it is worth paying a premium for secrecy.

Bitcoin may have fascinated the gamer crowd, but they were always small fry. Like the diesel engine, invented as a prime mover for the small workman but winding up as the ultimate centralized, capital intensive power source, bitcoin's final customer base is going to be large players who want to move large sums of money while avoiding scrutiny. I'm not surprised that bitcoin attracted a certain crowd of power worshippers, and I won't be surprised if they continue to push bitcoin even as it becomes increasingly obvious that they are just two bit tools.

99:
Or are we just going to have miner graveyards sitting beside dams all over the world?

Sadly, the bulk of the mining these days seems to be done by special computer chips which can't really do anything except compute SHA-256. They're custom built for bitcoin mining and nothing else.

Perhaps the air conditioned boxes full of metal racks can be used to shelter goats during a heat wave -- who knows?

100:

Regarding the electricity usage estimates for the Bitcoin network, I can't find what hardware is assumed to be running it. This is roughly the efficiency that I've seen by hardware generation, in Megahashes/Joule:

CPUs: 0.1
GPUs (AMD): 2
FPGAs: 20
ASICs: 1000 (although the Antminer S9 apparently does 10K)

101:

In fact, doing a bit of math (might not be super wise at this time of the day), using an estimated 12e9 Mhashes/s as the current network hashrate, combined with the highest ASIC estimate I could find (10,000 MHashes/s/Watt for Antminer S9), it comes out to around 1200 kilowatts for the whole network, which to me doesn't sound so insane.

Looking through Charlie's digiconomist link, they claim to use an efficiency estimate of 3,500 Mhashes/s/Watt, but that still sounds like it would be off by a lot from the energy full countries run.

Hopefully someone can check my numbers, I must be missing something.

102:

I spent much of this year literally writing a book on this stuff, Attack of the 50 Foot Blockchain. (See my link.)

The edgy libertarians were, of course, in it from the start - it was started by ancap cypherpunks. As usual, the Extropians are ultimately to blame. I wrote a chapter about this, but the book I cribbed from was The Politics of Bitcoin by David Golumbia, which nails down every dot of Bitcoin's ideological descent.

I must note that the technology, blockchain, is pants too. I turned the book site into a bitcoin/blockchain news blog, and I'm consistently finding it's much less than it's painted as. The hype is, literally, Bitcoin hype with the buzzword changed to "blockchain" - whatever the claim, and whatever the actual technology.

Most business "blockchain" is not in fact the full Bitcoin-style blockchain, with proof-of-work and trustless competition and a currency - the term is getting applied to simple append-only transaction ledgers with hashes for tamper-proofing. This is, of course, excellent stuff! Geeks know it as git. And we had it in 2005, four years before Bitcoin. What's good is not new and what's new turns out not to be any good.

Everything bitcoin and blockchain is a fabulously layered world of fractal incompetence and arrogance. I have been wrong about Bitcoin before, and it's been whenever I assumed the market was in any way sensible or rational and not actually made up of lemmings on PCP.

103:

the Great Bitcoin Bust
Who gets hurt if BTC goes under?
Do we care? Or are those CHinese remote towns just going to shrivel up & the inhabitants starve?
Apart from them, as far as I can see BTC crash-&-burning & the more spectacularly the better could be an (almost) unalloyed good.
Discuss?

104:

Her blueprint for survival also depends upon working internet: part of her money, assuming she needs some after civilization collapses, is in bitcoin.
And THERE is it's (other) weak spot - needs stable, dependable, regular electric power supplies ... after a collapse, yeah, right.
I'm having difficulty comprehending this level of stupid.

105:

And WHAT IS WRONG WITH "endless terabytes of cat videos." ??

106:

Talikng of which
A Canadian Lynx, behaving as if it was a large domesic moggy He is being brushed, & the rolling & furious rumble-purring are very familiar to any human cat-servant. "Dangerous wild animal", yeah ....

107:

See also my reply regarding "Liberty" as regarded in late Republican Rome.
I think the parallel defintions are very nearly congruent.
Which is, incidentally, not a good or easy analogy, once you think of it.
Is the USA in that pre-revolutionary civil war period & is T Donald Rump Marius or Sulla?

108:

I'm staying well clear - I don't trust it or understand how it ever got to be any more "real" than the guys who play online RPGs to win magic items etc.

I'm with Warren Buffett, who noted, "never invest in something you don't understand".

Cryptocurrencies really fit the bill here; you need some serious math chops to understand how they even work, they're vulnerable to the (admittedly remote) risk of a mathematical breakthrough destroying their integrity, and that's before we even get to the whacky sociological epiphenomena surrounding them in use: for example, the weird anecdotes about people using the free electricity for their Tesla to run miners. (Not possible with Bitcoin any more, but might be workable with other currencies ...)

At this point we're getting well into "buy my magical gizmo that extracts gold from the water coming out of your taps!!!" territory.

109:

So as far as I can tell what we have with Bitcoin is a classic Tulip Bubble. What am I missing?

What you are missing is that Bitcoin is popular with people who don't understand money, let alone economics. Just like goldbugs, who think gold has some magical inherent value, unlike "fiat currency".

110:

You specifically limit your complaint to bitcoin and not blockchain. But to me, it looks like the power consumption issue is probably inherent to blockchain. Am I wrong?

Yes and no.

Blockchain power consumption increases as your chain gets bigger. But if you're using blockchain simply as an authentication log for some database, you can end one chain and start up a new one, thereby forking it.

The problem with bitcoin is that new coins are paid out in return for performing reconciliation on the existing chain. So you can't fork the chain without addressing the problem of an expanding currency (BTC was designed to be fixed in size — i.e. by a goldbug who doesn't understand money).

111:

Ordinary money is stuff that a government promises to accept as a payoff so that it won't steal your property.

That bit about "steal your property" sounds very big-L libertarian to me since the only thing that permits property to be owned by individuals in this world is a government, whether its an allotment committee or a world-spanning military dictatorship like the US. No government, no property rights for anyone, including "small-l" libertarians.

Ordinary money is debt, public IOUs issued by a government to fund the government, pay salaries, buy stuff, rent office space, encourage worthy causes etc. Those IOUs are backed by the government's word, its promise to pay the bearer on demand etc. Because folks trust that word (full faith and credit) they are willing to circulate those IOUs between each other as tokens of wealth. When the faith is lost, they become like Confederate dollars, worthless. BTC and its clones are running on that full faith and credit at the moment but there's no real organisation "backing" them, heck even the first bitcoiner ever (Satoshi) is anonymous and keeping his/her/their head down.

Taxes aren't paid to fund government, they're actually paid to destroy money, to take it out of circulation and prevent rampant inflation since any government can always print more IOUs if they need to. Too many IOUs in circulation without a matching economy to use them up makes them worth less (inflation) and eventually that "full faith" deal breaks down.

Time was our local co-operative store network had their own actual money, plastic coins paid out as a dividend that could only be used in their stores but they COULD be used as money there because people believed they were worth something in the stores. They were another form of public IOU but more limited in scope. Nowadays the "divi" is paid directly to the members in Sterling.

112:

So basically, blockchains are most useful as evidence chains, of the type, "X said Y at spacetime Z"?

Yes.

Where we should be using them is for certification of the evidence chain in distribution of life-critical items. For example, to log that a quality assurance lab has taken random samples from this batch of antibiotics, run them through a GC-MS rig, and confirmed that they are in fact genuine antibiotics and not floor-sweepings from a Chinese backstreet factory churning out counterfeits. (How to permanently tag a physical object with a blockchain ID is an interesting question. SmartWater perhaps?)

113:

Here is how you design a proper Crypto-Currency: Step one: Be a bank.

In principle, this could work.

In practice ...

Well, things might have changed in the 16 years since I left DataCash, but my experience of Banking IT staff is that it consists of a vast sea of mediocrity punctuated by the odd isolated expert who knows their shit. When they need IT expertise they hire in contractors (usually via one of the Big Five audit firms first, or from an outfit like IBM or HP who specialize in servicing enterprises like banks). When they need banking expertise they send a banker. But you don't get promoted to board level within a bank by specializing in computer science, any more than you get promoted to C-suite territory in the CIA by wandering the hillsides of Kandahar speaking Pashtun to the tribesmen in hope of figuring out what the Taliban are going to do next.

114:

the vector of infection for the pyramid-scheme affinity fraud that is bitcoin goes through the fringes of the right

Because International Banking is a Jewish Conspiracy, don'tcha know? As is "fiat currency" and fractional reserve banking, apparently.

(As my wife commented yesterday, "I'm still waiting for my pay-out for joining the hidden rulers of the world".)

This is some Protocols of the Elders of Zion shit right here, and it's baked into the folk memory of white supremacists and racists.

115:

The housing Ponzi scheme was started in the 1960s in the UK, and some of us noted that it was such (and so eventually going to fail) in the early 1970s. I am flabberghasted at how long it has been kept going - when it does crash, it's going to be horrific. No, it didn't pop, not even in 2008, but merely deflated - here, it scarcely did that. The point is that our house prices are three times the maximum viable value, so a crash would be at least a factor of three drop in prices. And, no, 'building more houses' is not a solution. An ordwerly deflation is possible in theory, if damn hard, but I don't see the political will.

116:

Here's a thought: maybe we could buy off the simplistic goldbug-minded "money is a commodity" thinkers by proposing a coal standard? That is: treat burnable fossil carbon as money?

Like BTC, there's a finite amount of it remaining to be mined. Like BTC, mining the last reserves gets incrementally harder over time. Unlike BTC, if you burn it, it's gone for good, so there's an incentive to stockpile it and not burn it (ideally by stockpiling it in the ground, where it comes from, by buying land title to fossil fuel reserves).

Done right, maybe we could turn the libertarian fringe into fanatical carbon conservationists?

117:

Thanks for that insight. The extropian connection should not surprise me ...

118:

"Step two, set up hardware for the generation in bulk of true random number sequences. Not pseudo random. I do not care how clever your algorithm for making them is, go away, we are using the real deal here. Geiger counters pointed at a handy mountain will do."

No, it won't, not reliably, though it IS a useful component. I gave a talk on that for a cryptography conference some time ago. The executive summary is that the required properties for statistical and cryptographic random numbers are different, and neither will do for the other - despite claims of many compscis, who should know better. Yes, a true random sequence is perfect for both, but that's theory, not practice.

One good approach is to take multiple, independent sources, including (say) a few entirely separate Geiger counter outputs and a couple of excellent pseudorandom sequences (based on different mathematics), normalise the first ones (separately) and exclusive or all of them together. The pseudorandom sequences eliminate the (Nth order) biasses in the Geiger counter outputs that have got through the normalisation.

119:

That bit about "steal your property" sounds very big-L libertarian to me

It is, however, straight out of Graeber on debt and the origins of money in the early bronze age. Just replace "property" with crops and "government" with "the king's soldiers, marching on campaign".

King does not want his army to steal the crops and starve/kill his peasant subjects. That sort of thing triggers uprisings. So King tells the peasants that tax, formerly paid in the shape of a tithe of the crop, has to be paid using these weird tokens. He then gives tokens to the soldiers, and tells them to pay for their provisions. Peasants are still tithing the king, but they receive a token that can be returned to indicate they've paid their tax. If they're over-tithed, maybe some other peasant who has no tokens because the army hasn't rolled over their farm will accept tokens in return for grain? And so the cycle gets started.

But this predates the availability of credit: money was a tool for keeping track of food in this model. It took a lot of iterations and generalizations for loans, banking, and credit to show up, and I'm not sure the libertarians ever really understood how complicated it's all become: they don't generally seem good at handling abstractions, even though they fetishize one (liberty).

120:

My tame expert says that there is a real problem with distributed currencies - all known solutions use resources that are super-linear with scale. The 'exception' is a trusted key hierarchy - i.e. a virtual bank.

121:

>>This gets you an utterly untraceable economic transaction network proof against any adversary that does not mount a physical seizure of the bank, and more importantly, it can be expanded by depositing more regular cash at the bank.

Yeah, I'm pretty sure this makes it not a proper Crypto-Currency. Single point of failure.

122:

There's a lot of crypto-currency madness right now.

A few years back when bitcoin suddenly exploded I was hanging out at a local hackspace on the open night when some young women visiting started asked if there was anyone who could talk about bitcoin for "a report" they were doing. I assumed students from the local uni doing a paper on it for some class.

I've never got involved in it but I'm familiar enough with crypto to have a reasonable understanding of it's workings. Ran through some of the basics of crypto, keys and who has control of keys under various models. Absolute basic stuff.

Later got a thankyou email. Turned out they weren't students but rather worked for a london finance house and the "report" was for that firm. I was struck by a moment of "holy shit people are literally making decisions about this shit based on 'what some guy in a hackspace told me over beer'"

Etherium and smart contracts are even more crazy. People seem to be throwing fistfuls of money at things like smart contracts with no idea whatsoever what they're throwing their money at. Madness like the DAO where people were putting tens of millions in the control of code that's not even been formally proven. (and not even any apparent attempt to do so) Proving code is expensive and slow but when it's code to control that much in assets you'd expect it as a bare minimum.

For that matter the software carrying billions worth of these currencies is also cobbled together with regular security flaws.

It's insanity. There's going to be some big crashes though I suspect crypto-currencies are here to stay in some form.

If any really big actor like the US government decided tomorrow they wanted to do away with bitcoin they could probably pretty easily wipe it out for less than the cost of a single Stealth Bomber. They could commission enough ASIC's to destroy almost every crypto currencies trust and stamp all over them.

If the chinese government wanted to screw with bitcoin they wouldn't even have to hunt down miners, they could just use their magical firewall powers and some selective organised DOSing to mess with the protocol to split the network into fragments for a few hours, when the networks fragments reconnect the one with the most compute wins (probably the section within china) and anyone who's bought or sold things elsewhere: those transactions get reversed, trust in the network takes a big hit, prices collapse and the number of miners massively decreases.

I can easily imagine that when more of the infrastructure kinks are worked at some point more traditional entities are going to start issuing their own currencies using bitcoin-like infrastructure but without the mining element and with their coins as more simple fiat currencies. Modified blockchain-like tech may very well get recycled into such systems to make auditing, taxation and tracking of cash etc more bullet proof.

I think the link between the Libertarians / Alt right / etc and cryptocurrencies is mostly down to oddball fringe things attracting oddball fringe people. The historical nazis picked up support from lots of weird fringe groups almost purely because they were fringe groups like the animal rights crowd.

123:

I wonder if some bright, wealthy but not entirely sensible person is hoping to use bitcoin as a blunt instrument to knock down the existing order, that the bulk of their worth is inextricably tied to, to usher in their fantasy order?

124:

The origins of money in history aren't that important to what money has become today, a tokenisation of the structural and material wealth of a nation however imperfectly distributed. Big-L and small-l libertarians are fixated on the Shiny! and can't or won't see past the metal and paper and bits-on-a-disk to what money really is. They can continue in their delusions and beliefs in comfort only as long as most of the rest of the population do hold "full faith and credit" in the government's debt instruments.

125:

Very 'libertarian'. Any medium of exchange before there was such a social organisation (and things like armies came late) is clearly 'not money'; I have no idea which theory is right, but that's not my point. It is just as they carefully airbrush out the history (and morality) of how 'their' property came to be 'theirs'. As the poem goes:

The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose off the common
But leaves the greater villain loose
Who steals the common from the goose.

126:

I believe that a lot of bitcoin action is occurring in the criminal field. It's difficult to become rich doing drugs, people trafficking etc. these days without compliant banks and financial organisations and they're getting tracked down and stomped on a lot. Russian oligarchs had large amonuts of money in Bank of Cyprus accounts for access to EU institutions and it was more and more difficult to hide them and eventually it all went tits-up for them. The Panama Papers and other public releases of supposedly-private financial data are also hitting such folks hard.

The supposed anonymity of Bitcoin is very tempting to such people, allowing them to move wealth around the world with less inspection and legal limitations. So Bitcoin costs a bit more as the "price" goes up? Don't care, there's more money coming along the criminal pipeline and if that money's stuck in Russia or the US in trackable roubles and dollars then it's worth less anyway. Bitcoin is mobile wealth and that's worth a big premium for many folks and unlike other fungible materials like gold, armaments, cocaine, opium etc. it's bits in a wire not solid objects that can't reliably get through a Customs inspection any more.

127:

Ordinary money is stuff that a government promises to accept as a payoff so that it won't steal your property. Because of this it has value to people other than the government.

No offence intended, but that sentence is heavily packed with potentially dubious implications. Inappropriate reification is common when people talk about government and/or property, particularly from a right wing stance, which then gets echoed in wider discussion.

First "government" is not a specific object or entity, rather it is the ruling system (i.e. what creates, maintains & modifies the rules) of a society: that can be the individual who issues arbitrary commands to everyone else who obey them (possibly for fear of the armed thugs who will kill them up if they don't, or for whatever other reason), through to a direct participatory democracy where all decisions are decided by collective votes, and everything in between.

Secondly, "property" is meaningless outwith a society, being the set of rules that a society has to permit individual member shared or exclusive use of corporeal items and/or areas of space AND to call upon services of other members of the society.

(As a side note, in Gaelic there are two different grammatical possessive forms, one for inherent/inalienable items like "my hair", "my mother" mo and one for property like "my knife" aig, agam. A nice distinction, not so immediately apparent in the English language.)

So, no "government" means no "property". That's before we unpack the meanings of "promise" and "steal".

But broadly yes, "money" usually means the token that the society accepts as the book-keeping to show one has completed ones obligations or has a right to call on resources or obligations due.

So basically, blockchains are most useful as evidence chains, of the type, "X said Y at spacetime Z"?

Yes.

Where we should be using them is for certification of the evidence chain in distribution of life-critical items.

One obvious use would be for forensic chain of evidence certification when digital evidence is obtained: bearing in mind the legal/criminal justice professions usual uptake of new technology I am confident it would probably be accepted for such by the C25th...

128:

Given the discussion of cryptocurrencies, people might like to know that the Jeremy Vine show on BBC Radio 2 is doing a discussion on the subject now (time slot 12:30 to 13:00 GMT if you want to find it on iplayer).

129:

Slight addition:
This is some Protocols of the Elders of Zion shit right here, and it's baked into the folk memory of white supremacists and racists.... and quite a few "muslim organisations" - copies of "the Protocols" have been found for sale in quite a few bookshops in the UK, euw ....
Please note the quote-marks.

130:

#45 - Nice piece of alt'physics even.

131:

Don't worry, Brexit will trigger it, along with a few other nasties ....

132:

I completely agree.

As for a political will to create a "soft landing" at least some of them believe the "big lies" that:-
1) House prices are real money. They're not, and you can't even make a profit until/unless you can at least partially cash out, say by selling your parents' house in Sarf Larndarn and moving somewhere cheaper.
2) House price inflation is an infinite inflationary spiral.

133:

BUGGER - above was meant to be a reply to EC @ 115

134:

This is really a strange mixture of, um, things. The children of Satoshi in bed with oligarchs, neo nazis, old nazis and miners in a high rise in Shenzen, all laying waste to the abandoned settlements of the Hambacher Forst. One would imagine Milo Yiannopoulos reading this on his iPhoneX and whispering in anger, „too soon, he has found out, now we have to act...“

comic relief: The comparison with Ireland is not valid because of the electric fence they'll have to build after brexit.

But, this sounds really like you have developed a more conservative view of the world. I've observed this with some friends of mine, growing older, becoming conservative. And suddenly we argue about kickstarter, bitcoin and why electric cars are evil.

Why the Heinlein-in-reverse ?

135:

A typical definition of libertarian is a believer in free will or an advocate of liberty. Semantic drift certainly occurs but misappropriation by certain groups is more common. In my country Republicans call themselves conservatives for example. There is sometimes a grain of truth in the appropriation process but often it is just seeking respectable cover for their positions and using the term to confer legitimacy. I think it is important to resist this process. I have recently seen sexism calling itself conservatism. Neo-Nazis calling themselves libertarians is absurd but it can confer legitimacy in the eyes of the naive. The media's willingness to be complicit in this is very disturbing. Every convicted murderer claims to be innocent but if he is quoted it should be as 'convicted murderer claims innocence' not as 'innocent man protests his conviction'. A politician however can claim to be fiscally responsible when he is anything but that without correction.

On this blog 'libertarian' usually draws hostility but on further review it is usually toward some group that is really far from the definition. Libertarians, both the real and the self-styled, are so varied that the term as used means almost nothing now.

136:

That was the original definition, yes. But it is almost entirely unlike the, er, 'philosophy' of the people who call themselves libertarians today. It's more than semantic drift - it's an abuse of terminology for the purposes of propaganda.

137:

Yeah. And to Greg Tingey. It's why I am hoping for the worst in the next 4 months - that MIGHT be enough to bring down the current government, get a second referendum, cancel Brexit (or at least sign up to an EEA etc. deal) and restore some sanity to politics. It's not what I am expecting.

138:

But, this sounds really like you have developed a more conservative view of the world.

Only in opposition to today's self-proclaimed conservatives, who are frankly terrifying radicals (who, in extreme cases — Steve Bannon springs to mind — are Leninist insurgents who want to smash the existing system so they can rebuild it with one of their own).

I'm all for electric self-driving cars, as long as they're properly engineered with safety in mind (third parties, not just the driver's). Kickstarter? I've supported some campaigns — I'm wary of its potential for supporting rip-offs and fraud, but I'm not shrieking for a ban on it. Blockchain? Also useful in its place.

On the other hand, a cryptocurrency with baked-in libertarian values, designed by people who want to trash the existing financial system, and beloved of neo-nazis? Excuse me for being a little bit skeptical, now ...!

139:

I'm sure banning Bitcoin will not be yet another precedent for banning other activities people do on their computers.

/s

140:
"Are you a Jew?" asked one egg.

That one made me laugh out loud -- got some funny looks in the office.

141:
Is the USA in that pre-revolutionary civil war period & is T Donald Rump Marius or Sulla?
You're not the first to draw that analogy.
142:

I'm all for electric self-driving cars, as long as they're properly engineered with safety in mind (third parties, not just the driver's).

May I suggest a mandatory pedestrian detection test where the team leaders of the development team are the pedestrians?

143:
I'm having difficulty comprehending this level of stupid.
Yeah, how could anybody be so dumb that they don't know the post-apocalypse money will be based on the stable value of the bottle cap.
144:

Heteromeles noted: "Remember, we're talking about interplanetary commerce"

Sorry, didn't notice that you'd changed horses midstream; your original post, which is what I replied to, specified "interstellar", not "interplanetary". Interplanetary time lags are far more manageable, though still not ideal (think "arbitrage").

Heteromeles: "Having *really good* records of what's in the shipping containers in your starship's hold would be kind of mandatory as a prerequisite for obtaining landing rights."

Yes, in principle, but in practice, it doesn't work that way. We nominally have such a system in place now. The problem is that for any busy port, there are far more cargo containers than there are inspectors available to inspect them. The inevitable result is that a lot of stuff slips past inspection because the inspection is based on random or pseudo-random sampling. Cocaine is labeled "whole-grain white flour", cargos of human slaves are labeled "tourist souvenirs", and so on. Inspectors may take such claims on faith, particularly if that faith is lubricated by bribes. And it's not necessarily the shipper who's behaving illegally; it's relatively easy to crack open a container and fill it with your own swag. Doubly so for intermodal transport, where the containers are unguarded while a trucker is filling up on coffee at a truck stop. Block chain only tells you that the shipper fervently believes that their container holds flour or souvenirs, not that those are the actual contents. And the shipper may be correct initially, but not after their container has been opened and re-sealed.

Charlie noted: "maybe we could buy off the simplistic goldbug-minded "money is a commodity" thinkers by proposing a coal standard? That is: treat burnable fossil carbon as money?"

In the carbon emission market, they call that "cap and trade" and "emission permits". *G* It's not clear whether the system actually works, since it requires as a bare minimum that the cap be set low enough to force emission reductions and that the cap is lowered over time. (Canada's province of British Columbia has recently had considerable success with carbon taxes rather than cap and trade.) Carbon credits for tree planting (etc.) seems to be a bit more equivocal in terms of their success.

145:

I'm sure banning Bitcoin will not be yet another precedent for banning other activities people do on their computers.

That ship already sailed.

Or are you proposing to decriminalize child pornography?

146:

Oh dear - and - does anyone else agree with us on that subject?
( USA = Pre civil wars late-republican Rome )

147:

The problem there is not the internal car systems, it's the vulnerability to hacking, as per "smart" meters.

148:

Agreed, if we're talking about inter-whatever-planetary commerce on the current scale.

Countries tend to be very stupid about borders, to the extent that right now, a new species arrives every month (possibly every week) in places like Hawai'i and California. The Ag Inspectors are good but underfunded, and so we end up, at random times, with the multi-million dollar messes that new invasives taking hold cause (it costs in the neighborhood of $10-15 million to find biocontrols for invasives and vet them properly, and that's for species where biocontrol is likely to work. I've been on the periphery of efforts to control the shothole borers that are nuking trees in southern California right now, that's how I know the cost. Most of it is paying for skilled labor.).

Now, if we're talking about a small colony on another planet, they'd better be carefully checking everything that comes in. Unlike a giant country like the US, they don't have the resources to deal with an invasive species, be it a pathogen or a pest. Hopefully they won't be overwhelmed by incoming shipments. I was looking at this for story possibilities, again because of what I've learned about just how complicated it is to deal with this kind of thing, and how hard people work at it. One of the best local workers lost his arm on the job and is still at it...

---

As for using coal as money, it's a great joke. The problem is that it's like using diamonds for pocket change--quality varies so much that they're not precisely exchangeable (1 carat diamonds are not all the same price, and the same with lumps of coal). The US used to brag about being the Saudi Arabia of coal, but reportedly much of the coal is of such low quality that under normal mining procedures, it would take more energy to get it out than it contains (this may well be where mountain-top mining came from, due also to demands for low-sulfur coal to deal with acid rain).

As for cap-and-trade, I suspect the problem isn't the gamesmanship that's going on with it, it's more fundamental: according to at least one analysis (this pdf from 2013, but I think there are more recent ones), no major industry is profitable if they have to pay the costs of pollution and resource depletion that they currently externalize. Cap-and-trade is merely a way to wind down the petrochemical industries without devastating everything, but the externalities problem equally applies to things like livestock production and farming major crops like wheat and rice. We'll see if cap-and-trade ever works, but I do think it's much better than the uncontrolled alternatives.

Global civilization has at least some characteristics of a bubble, whose collapse has been predicted for centuries. Fortunately for us, there have been enough believers in the full faith and credit of civilization that we keep patching things up and making the whole system clunk along, regardless of its many and fundamental flaws. It's weird, but then again, none of us would be here if our predecessors hadn't been big enough "fools" to buy into the system. Maybe that's why we keep blowing financial bubbles of our own.

149:

No, that's only ONE of the problems.

The uses for terrorism do not necessarily even involve hacking. Any vehicle that can can have a trip programmed into it becomes equivalent to a drone.

Another is the risk (nay, near-certainty, in the UK) that the systems will be deemed to be faultless, in the absence of conclusive proof to the contrary. That's not good news for pedestrians or, worse, cyclists - the latter ALREADY have that problem with most police forces in the UK. Consider an extreme case - a recumbent bike - despite claims, they are extremely visible to anyone who is actually looking - or a cyclist who has already taken a spill. There is essentially damn-all chance that the autonomous vehicles will be tested against those, so Cthulhu alone knows how they will react.

150:
Blockchain power consumption increases as your chain gets bigger. But if you're using blockchain simply as an authentication log for some database, you can end one chain and start up a new one, thereby forking it.

Disagree. Primarily, blockchain power consumption increases because it's envisioned as a distributed fault-tolerant system that anyone can join. The power consumption isn't an algorithmic side effect, it's an economics ploy.

Generally, a distributed consensus algorithm is only secure as long as the "good" actors control 51% of the votes on the network. Otherwise, a bad actor can rewind history and make a new one with different facts. This means you need some way of limiting the number of voters.

The way blockchains work, the method to limit voters is to equate votes with electricity (proof-of-work). This way, anyone wanting to seize control has to spend real money -- but as the blockchain becomes more valuable, it requires more and more wasted money to keep it out of reach of bad actors.

If you take away the proof-of-work and replace it with digital signatures or something, then the power consumption should be roughly constant for each block added to the chain. But then, why call this "blockchain" at all? It's really just chained signatures.

I submit that to a first approximation, "blockchain" is useful for nothing at all. The only use to which it's well suited is for crypto-currency itself, but that use would be better served simply by limiting the number of votes and using digital signatures.

151:
Where we should be using them is for certification of the evidence chain in distribution of life-critical items.

But why use a blockchain for this? The point isn't to crowd-source the certification so an unknown number of anonymous people attest to the distribution log by burning money in effigy.

All you're really looking for here is attestation by known people. That is, each time a tech receives or sends something, she plugs her badge in and types in a password (and her partner does the same as witness). There's no distributed algorithm or P2P network or anything, just an append-only log file.

152:

Heteromeles noted: "Now, if we're talking about a small colony on another planet, they'd better be carefully checking everything that comes in. Unlike a giant country like the US, they don't have the resources to deal with an invasive species, be it a pathogen or a pest."

The risk of interplanetary and interstellar invasives is a really interesting question. Whether this is a serious risk is going to depend on how similar the biospheres and biochemistries are. Any colony world suitable for humans is likely to be equally hospitable for our pests (e.g., rats) ***if*** the biochemistries are sufficiently compatible. I suspect that the odds of completely compatible amino acids are very low, suggesting that a pest from one world is likely to starve to death on a world with a significantly different biochemistry. And there are many other categories of metabolites that are likely to be so different that they're either outright toxic or have no nutritional value for terrestrial life -- and vice versa for invasions of our planet. Then there are micronutrient and microbiome issues.

That's not to say an invasive pest won't cause all kinds of grief until the last one starves to death. Hereabouts, we have squirrels that nibble all our garden crops to death even though they can't eat the fruits and vegetables. But major damage to an ecosystem is most likely if the biochemistry is very similar, thereby allowing the pests to survive long enough to become a problem.

Seems like this would be a great topic for a future guest blog by you when Charlie's overwhelmed with work.

In relation to your other point: Given the high cost of controlling (and of failing to control) invasive species, it's a false economy not hiring many more inspectors and applying really tight controls on imports and exports. It makes no sense downsizing the inspection staff to save money and hoping (in the face of strong evidence to the contrary) that nothing bad will happen. But asking importers to pay for part of these costs would raise their costs, thereby defeating the purpose of offshoring jobs. The importers might actually have to hire locally and pay a living wage. Thus, it won't happen.

153:

Re: BlockChain

This popped up in my Nature news email this morning. To my non-scientist eye looks like this year's fad in tech-collaboration tools.

https://www.researchinformation.info/news/analysis-opinion/what-blockchain-research

Re: BitCoin:

Okay - have zero expertise in tech but the bits of finance that I do understand about this offering keep me coming back to:

(a) Where are the transactional taxes in all of this? Doubt there's a gov't on this planet that doesn't charge transactional taxes, so if taxes are also embedded in the history of the BitCoin, then less chance of users not paying taxes. No more Panama papers! (Otherwise, it's in the best interest of gov't any/everywhere to ban 'cyber-currency'.)

(b) Crowd-sourcing computational energy - corps running such currencies could easily sign up members as part of their computational farms, i.e., that laptop or three at home that your family isn't using during office/school hours or while you're asleep. (Such crowd-sourcing has been in use for crowd science for decades now.)

(c) If (b) happens, there will be a greater push by ISPs to control access, connection speeds, memory/data storage. Alternatively, ISPs could set their rates to time of day usage same as electricity providers to reduce the chances of their subscribers 'illegally re-selling' bandwidth/access/storage and continually using all of the bandwidth that they're entitled to (but actually hardly ever use).

(d) Cloud computing/storage. My understanding is that there's a major push for almost everyone to go to cloud computing. If that happens, then control over BitCoin and blockchain automatically goes to ISPs - doesn't it?

154:

That ship already sailed.

Or are you proposing to decriminalize child pornography?

Sigh.

Have you considered the possibility that it may not be wise to blow even more wind into the sails of said ship?

You know, the best way to eliminate child pornography is a system that constantly monitors the content and input/output of every computer in the world. You could detect and stop child pornography at the point of its manufacture. You could detect and stop every other content-related crime.

Would you consider the existence of such a system worth it, if it meant no more child porn? And if not, where do you draw the line?

155:

It's more complicated than that.

One red herring is the whole amino acids thing. A lot of organisms synthesize amino acids. We're actually unusual in the number of amino acids we do not synthesize (as with vitamins), but unless there's a complete mismatch between our entire suites of amino acids, probably at least some bacteria, fungi, or whatever might slip through, find something they like (your eyebrows, perhaps) and start growing and spreading.

That's not the biggest problem though. The biggest problem is Earth, which is this enormous reservoir of propagules just waiting to find a new home somewhere else. A Gaian colony is basically a semi-closed propagule of the Gaian biosphere planted on some other world. Assuming the colonized world has its own biosphere (and the more I see, the more I think this isn't as stupid as it sounds), there's going to be all sorts of coevolution happening where the two biospheres meet and organisms mix and mingle. What may well upset the functioning of a Gaian colony is a pest coming in from Earth. For instance, if it turns out that the only food plant that grows well on Planet X is manioc, and one of its many pests hitches a ride out with a new manioc variety that someone helpfully sends from Earth to increase the food supply, then Planet X could face crop failure and starvation.

The second problem is if colonies start trading with each other. It's not just extraterrestrial microbes, fungi, and other critters moving from colony to colony, it's that colonies are likely to ship out with largely the same repertoire of food plants and animals, simply because people tend to copy what works, rather than building complex new systems from scratch. Over time, pests, parasites, and pathogens are going to evolve to take advantage of these similar complex systems, and if they're passed around from one smallish, semi-closed biosphere to another, then you could see waves of crop failures and the like, analogous (or identical, actually) to the spread of antibiotic resistant diseases on Earth right now.

So yeah, if I wanted to pick the unsung heroes of a space operatic world, I'd stop romanticizing smugglers doing the Kessel Run and start looking at the inspectors and everyone else trying to keep stuff from falling apart.

156:

just an append-only log file

Back in the early days of CD drives, when 20 MB was a big hard disk, there was talk of using a CD writer as a hard drive that would provide an audit trail of changes to documents. I don't think anything came of the plan (or if it did it obviously wasn't commercially successful).

157:

(Yes, off topic (and topic is interesting) so keeping it short)
Consider an extreme case - a recumbent bike - despite claims, they are extremely visible to anyone who is actually looking - or a cyclist who has already taken a spill.
Agree with the point, but recumbent bikes and fallen pedestrians are likely to be in the training and test sets. (OK IMO)
More like a wave of snow that resembles a giant polar bear, or artwork (e.g. psychedelic) on the side of a van that messes up the visual object classification system, or similar deliberate/malicious attacks. Deliberate could just mean selfish, e.g. for many human drivers a car following them that looks or behaves like a police vehicle will cause them to slow down and shift lanes. A grey market "deflector beam" modification for autonomous vehicles would be exist if it were possible. (Real-time negotiation would quickly become rather vile, particularly if black(red?) markets/cryptocurrencies were involved.)
A roundabout that captures naive autonomous vehicles would be fun. Round and round they go, until one runs out of fuel/charge. :-)


158:

But this predates the availability of credit: money was a tool for keeping track of food in this model. It took a lot of iterations and generalizations for loans, banking, and credit to show up, and I'm not sure the libertarians ever really understood how complicated it's all become: they don't generally seem good at handling abstractions, even though they fetishize one (liberty).

According to Graeber (and I have no reason to doubt him on this), credit long predated cash. He sees debt as a fundamental part of human relationships. For example, what would happen if a parent demanded you pay off all the costs of being born and raised by them? You could do that, but paying that debt would end the relationship.

Bronze age civilization ran entirely on credit, backed to some degree (per Graeber) by lumps of precious stuff stuck in temples. This is where a lot of the language about things like honor come from. A fairly simple civilization that runs entirely on credit needs to have people who will place honoring their debts above all else. Cash came along well into the Iron Age, when it became popular for invaders to loot temples and turn those lumps of silver and gold into coins to things more like coins to be used as Charlie above.

I'd even note that money, both the cash we're used to and archaic forms like ornaments, have a proof-of-work in them. They're composed of stuff that's hard to make and/or obtain, and that's one thing that makes them valuable. I don't think much of creating specialized computers to mine bitcoin, but the idea of proof-of-work has been implicitly in any form of exchange pretty much since the beginning.

159:

Since the question pops up wether bc is money (ok, on here not really), one interpreatation - bc is fictious capital & it's value, like many other assets is basically what the owner hopes to get at a later time. A good primer on the idea that helped me understand a few things a few years back was this: "Once Again, On Fictitious Capital".

I would view the current *coin bubble as, among other things, a sign of the fact that there's (compared to other times in the past) less of a profit to be had in the real economy. So we have all kinds of speculations on bubbles (housing wold be another one, in certain areas of the world). It's one of the tenets of marxist political economy that these crises happen inevitably once in a while, and are either resolved by absorbing new value or by destroying capiatl - not that anyone thinks "hmm, with a war or two, we should rekindle a nice boom phase" *twirls mustache*, but that how it often turned out.

So I'm with the second scenario in Charlies OP - it'S a bubble and it will burst sooner or later. The smart (=big) money should know this and should try to offload their bc on some rubes - a mix of ordinary investors (who hope to save their retirement from inflation/rising costs of living?) and the various Nazis, Libertarians and others who are drawn to *coin for more ideological reasons.

160:

One of the big problems with automatic XXX-recognition is doing so when the XXX is in an unusual state. People unable to login because they have fallen over or been beaten up and their face is swollen is one example. I am not sanguine that a sufficient range of unusual states of unusual modes of progress will be in the training set. My moniker does end in 'cynic', after all :-)

161:

I have. The established theories are different, which indicates that there are at least multiple viewpoints. The second is that at least some pre-'government' societies used things as barter objects. Consider Fred the farmer, who wants to buy a cow from a neighbouring village, but has only bulky and heavy roots and fruit to sell. He swaps some with his flint-knapper for some axe-heads or spear points, carries those to the neighbouring village, trades for the cow, and comes back with it. Simples.

Is that how it started? Dunno. But it's sure as eggs is little chickens plausible.

162:

The IBM 3330 was introduced in 1970 with a capacity of 200 MB. CD-ROMs were not introduced until 1984. What you say is true, but the reason is that CD-ROMs had a much higher capacity for a given volume or weight than hard disks, not that they were bigger.

163:

IIRGC*, his criticism of the established theories you mention is that anthropologists found no such barter systems among tribal socieites. Also no direct historic evidence of these barter systems.

*If I recall Graeber correctly

164:

CD-ROMS could be mass-produced, the same way CDs and LPs are -- by stamping. (I was indirectly involved in a company that crossed the threshold from "low-enough volume to justify recording our own CD-ROMs" to "high-enough volume to justify sending a master tape out and producing thousands of them at once.")

165:

Yes, but that's different. Look at #156 for the context.

166:

Ok, my take on BTC and all the rest: the bs about "keeping government out of it" are codewords, just like, in the US, "states' rights" are codewords for outright racism. What they really indicate is a way to hide your money, a fancy-schmancy version of offshore credit hideouts, to AVOID PAYING TAXES. Period.

Show me one person who's into cryptocurrency who's willing to pay taxes, and sees them for what they buy (via the gov't) as opposed to "THEFT BY DE GUMMINT!!!". For that matter, I'd bet that at least 80% of everyone into cryptocurrency is self-incorporated, and complains about "double taxation", not understanding that their incorporated company is an artificial person that's being taxed, rather than they, personally, are being taxed twice.

No one likes paying taxes, but thank you, I like my infrastructure, and want to provide a safe3ty net for those under the poverty line. I believe in living in a society*... which is why I'm a socialist.

* Libertarians, as far as I can tell, think they live in some imaginary primeval plain, and stand or fall by their own efforts....

Also, there were left-wing libertarians - I have a booklet, somewhere, that I inherited from my father, from 1950 or so.

167:

Others have claimed they had found such systems. Whether or not they had, long-distance trading was widespread long before the establishments of 'governments' (i.e. in the neolithic). I haven't a clue how that worked, but can't imagine a way that it can without some kind of portable valuable.

168:

John Galt. A character, created by a *terrible* writer, who spends 60 or 90 pages giving a speech.

Right.

And, as some folks like to point out, she lived her last years on social security and Medicare. (SOCIALISM!!!)

But let's look back: from what I read, she used a guy to get her to the US, then dumped him, and continued on that path. Real "pull yourself up by your bootstraps". And then, let's notice she started writing in the thirties... gosh, I wonder what other -isms were on the upswing then?. And my reading of Hitler was always that the wealthy wanted a pseudo-populist to control the masses, who might otherwise turn on them. Libertarianism feeds that same strain: "don't work together, the others are holding you back", which leads to "the only reason I'm not rich is that my 80-hr weeks aren't long enough". The result is Stockholm Syndrome, where they identify with the wealthy, and imagine they are or will be... and are blind to their actual situation and how they got there.

It's a secular (and sometimes not-so-secular) version of the way religion, esp. Christianity, has been used for over 1500 years, to control the populace, and put down dissent.

169:

That's one thing that Graeber does deal with, the notion that coins replaced barter for day-to-day commodities. There's not a lot of evidence for this ever happening, it was apparently a just-so story cooked up in the 19th-20th centuries. It seems logical to us, but generally barter turns up in cash societies among people who are strapped for cash.

The counterexample is people having IOUs and running up bar tabs, paying them off when they have the money or an equivalent. This can be extended to a farmer making a deal with a potter to get some pots to hold his grain harvest when it comes in. In return for the pots, the potter gets a share of the harvest (presumably in one of his own pots). That's a credit system, not a barter system, and it allows for useful deals that don't depend on someone having something to trade immediately.

Getting back to an earlier topic, credit is apparently how the Inkan empire ran, based on a study of a very traditional village. The "family corporations" (ayllus) that made up the village kept tabs on who got and gave away what, in terms of crops, labor, wool, whatever. Up until around 1900, they did it using knots on their sets of khipus. From 1900 to the present, the used paper. In any case, they'd get all indebted to each other, within and across ayllus, then once or twice a year they'd take a day to literally settle accounts, figure out who owed what to whom, and finally, once every exchange had been cancelled out, then might something like money or some other valuable get exchanged to pay off some debt that hadn't been fully settled.

In a community where people are going to have long-term relationships, these kinds of credit-based debt relationships work great. They can be "monetized" by having the debts accounted for in the local currency (whether or not anybody has any of it is beside the point, it's an accounting unit), or not, if they use standardized exchange conversions (the idea that a large basket of yams is worth a medium-sized pig by fiat, for example, or a day's work is worth a day's food or its equivalent).

Barter's a bit too limited to handle all this. Certainly people do and did barter, but it's something that you do with strangers, a straight exchange at one point in time, done with someone whose reputation and accountability are not known.

170:

Knowledge works equally well as a portable valuable. Check out Lynne Kelly's Memory Code.

171:

On-topic, very short news piece:
Fed not developing digital currency, Williams says
The Federal Reserve does not have plans to issue digital currency, but the U.S. central bank is interested in the underlying technology and is actively researching it, San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank President John Williams said on Wednesday
Does anyone here have an understanding (or a link) of how a government-controlled cryptocurrency might work?

172:

A pretty important secondary effect of the bitcoin runup that seems to be overlooked is there is now a large passle if semi lunatic crypto fanatics that have just become tremendously wealthy

I wonder what in the world they are going to do with their billions ?

I wonder what they are going to fund

173:

Oh, yes, and the other use for cryptocurrency is for crime. Every ransomware that I'm aware of, for example, wants payment in untraceable BTC.

174:

Short on details, but looks like Dubai is state sponsoring a crypto currency and China is considering it.

https://www.openaccessgovernment.org/dubai-launches-worlds-first-state-cryptocurrency/38737/

175:

Now Just One MInute: you're suggesting that the Culture Minds have nothing in common with our Lords & Masters. I suspect a close relationship, actually, given that the Internet *was* invented for cute cat pictures....

176:

Yes! I have zillions in cryptocurrency!

Yeah? And how are you going to pay me for the corn?, asks the guy who brought it up in the pickup powered by home-brew biodiesel, with no Internet....

177:

Wait, you mean I should be expecting that any day now? But that's a lot older, and I'm still waiting for my check from the Kremlin for all my protesting in the sixties....

178:

Isn't credit just negative abstract money? Maybe gifts, with status and relationship implications, were the first kind of economic exchange.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Potlatch
Parent child relationships and bartering could be subsets and variants on the basic socially meaningful gift. Like debt and cash for that matter. If so, cash is an upgrade. Potlatches (like Christmas and birthday obligatory gift exchanges) were wasteful.

179:

Hey, here's a science fiction scheme, science fictional because I don't do economics and this looks not-quite-batshit to me.

You need something like a blockchain as the equivalent of a notarized ledger at the spaceport, to make sure that everything going in and out is what it says it is. You also probably should blockchain the discoveries of your survey teams, so that you have some record of where stuff like microbes comes from when it starts chewing on people's crotches or whatever. The point here is to have trustworthy records on a world where people are moving around, coming in, and they're not all known to each other.

So you have, well, miners is a sucktastic term, but you do have computers doing the hashing, verification, and storage. They may be hired on, or they may be run by whatever passes for local government. In any case, society owes them a debt for their critical work. That debt can be monetized, and spent around the colony on whatever, like for the salaries of the inspectors, surveyors, and IT crew.

Note that I'm not (necessarily) talking about a cryptocurrency, merely monetizing the debt owed to a critical piece of the colony that otherwise makes no money. Similar schemes here could monetize the debt owed to first responders as a way to pay them. Other debt-based currencies seem to run more on war debt, and I'm wondering in my naive way whether this kind of debt can be rejiggered to cover social costs.

180:

Yes, it does, but it isn't really plausible for all of the neolithic long-distance trading. Basically, I don't have a clue, except that I doubt any explanation that posits that the establishment of 'governments' (probably in the bronze age) was a prerequisite. Neolithic society was just too advanced to work without SOME such mechanism.

181:

Go read that book I referenced if you want another, fairly reasonable, theory of how it all worked. Seriously.

182:

Then there's the semantic drift of "liberal". Liberalism (classical, Adam Smithish) long ago split between the Bastiat branch which became those who now call themselves "libertarians" and the Mill branch which eventually evolved into social liberals (who see private oppression as just as much a hindrance to liberty as public oppression, basically progressive lite), not to be confused with the overlapping set of social liberals (who are for a liberal rather than conservative approach to social and cultural matters such as race and sex) not to be confused with the overlapping set of social liberals (barely at all left center left, social democrat lite). All should be able to make the argument that their north star is liberty, they just have different ideas of how to optimize it.

183:

Apologies. I meant personal computer hard disks, not mainframes. My fault for not specifying.

(And I'm implicitly assuming the North American market, because that's where I was working then. Europe might have been different.)

184:

Something that makes me despair about most 'sciences' (including much of modern physics, incidentally) is that the requirements for a theory to be 'proved' are merely that (a) it is vaguely plausible and (b) it wins out politically. That doesn't constitute what any rigorous thinker would regard as proof.

In this sort of area, plausible theories are two a penny. Most of them have plausible counter-arguments, too. Convincing evidence is what is in really short supply.

185:

Or you can just read the Wikipedia article if you are (as I am) somewhat sceptical of investing the time in reading books that claim to “unlock the secrets of the ancients and the hidden powers of the human mind”

In general her theory seems to be “Stonehenge is a kind of physical memory palace “. Which seems an interesting if unprovable theory

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lynne_Kelly_(science_writer)

186:

Heteromeles objected to my suggestion of incompatible biochemistries: "One red herring is the whole amino acids thing. A lot of organisms synthesize amino acids."

Ah, but you're assuming the alien organisms synthesize the same amino acids that we require. There's no guarantee alien life forms will do that; in fact, it may be implausible to expect that they will. For example, we depend on 20 amino acids for just about every protein we use; that's a small subset from a superset of potentially thousands of amino acids (https://www.astrobio.net/origin-and-evolution-of-life/mapping-amino-acids-to-understand-lifes-origins/).

So could we depend on imported terrestrial organisms? There's also no guarantee that the life forms we depend on (from microbes to plants) can survive in a sufficiently different alien environment with (say) very different soil chemistry. Consider, for example, what happens to the soil microbiome in soils with long-term heavy nitrogen fertilization (many microbes can't survive under those conditions and the bacteria/fungus balance shifts) -- so an alien soil with very high nitrogen would be problematic. As another example, consider that some plant species can't be transplanted between very different soil types; boreal conifers (except maybe pines) won't grow on tropical laterites, and many crops have relatively narrow growing preferences. (Let's not even consider light quality and quantity and its effects on phenology.) So on a planet with significantly different soil or light characteristics, many of our microbes and plants aren't going to do well. Then there are complications related to soil minerals and the inorganic compounds (including simple cations and anions) that they release through weathering.

As you note, it's complex. Really, what it comes down to is this: at what point does an alien environment become sufficiently alien that it can't support Earth-evolved life forms? You lean towards the "it would have to be really, really different" side of the spectrum; I lean towards the "probably not as different as you think" end. The truth will probably end up somewhere in between. That's why I suggested that exploring this topic in some depth would make a great guest blog post -- or three.

Heteromeles also wondered: "Hey, here's a science fiction scheme, science fictional because I don't do economics and this looks not-quite-batshit to me. You need something like a blockchain as the equivalent of a notarized ledger at the spaceport, to make sure that everything going in and out is what it says it is."

As I noted earlier, there's a huge problem with this: How do you know it "is what it says it is"? Through a notarized ledger created by people who inspect the goods to confirm this... thereby eliminating the need for blockchain. (Throwing technology at a solved problem doesn't always produce a better solution.) Simply ship a copy of the appropriate page from the notarized ledger (or its electronic equivalent) along with the cargo.

Your suggestion is primarily science fictional because it assumes that everyone is honest, accurate, diligent at their work, well-trained, and unbribable, and that no criminals exist (who can alter the contents of a shipping container after they've been notarized) and no Ayn Rand capitalists ("I only care about me; the rest of you can go hang") exist. Economics used to make the same mistake by relying on the flawed assumption that analyses could be based on Homo economicus, the consistently economically rational human being. It's not an unreasonable simplifying assumption, but it's patently unrealistic in real-world applications.

187:

Elderly Cynic notes: "Something that makes me despair about most 'sciences' (including much of modern physics, incidentally) is that the requirements for a theory to be 'proved' are merely that (a) it is vaguely plausible and (b) it wins out politically. That doesn't constitute what any rigorous thinker would regard as proof."

As for (a), I'm not confident you're correct to despair. Most sciences -- and particularly the "hard" sciences like physics -- require a high standard of proof for anything that's formally described as a theory. You're right, however, that language has changed such that many scientists use "theorize" when what they really mean is "hypothesize" (i.e., propose a testable explanation based on the available evidence). Replace their "theory" with "working hypothesis" and the description is usually correct. There are some scientists who try to get away with proclaiming a theory based on scant evidence; they're usually quickly shot down by their peers.

As for (b), you need to be more specific about how you mean "politically". It's always been the case that the powers (politicians) can control what aspects of science are allowed to be spoken of in public -- and that's been true from Lysenko to Trump. If you're referring more to the central dogma of any given science, which can become highly politicized among scientists, you're only partially correct. Most sciences are conservative in the good sense of the word: they require a high standard of proof to overturn what time and repeated tests have demonstrated to be a good description of reality (i.e., the central dogma). When faced with enough strong evidence that the central dogma is wrong or incomplete, it gets replaced with a new dogma (e.g., from Newton to Enstein).

188:

Have you considered the possibility that it may not be wise to blow even more wind into the sails of said ship

Have you considered maybe not teaching your grandfather to suck eggs?

Seriously, I've been aware of — and thinking about — such issues for a few decades now. (And writing books about them.)

189:

Oh you sad person, you are so missing out. Since I've read that book and a lot of books on Stonehenge, I'd take this one quite seriously.

Here's the fun thing about the book. She started with what existing cultures (like the Australian Aboriginals, some of whom did have standing stones), learned how they created memory palaces, abstracted ten design principles, found them in Stonehenge first, asked the leading Stonehenge archaeologists if there was any problem with her research to that point, received information that there was no problem with her interpretation, and that it should be taken seriously, and went on from there.

In other words, she's working with the archaeological community. This isn't a book (like, say, Hot Earth Dreams) that's written by a dilettante, Memory Code is the pop-sci version of her PhD thesis. The only reason I'm not recommending her thesis (also in print) is that it's effing expensive. I checked out a copy, and it's even better.

She's also not just a historian of memory palaces, but someone who practices them. One of her personal criteria is that something has to work as a mnemonic device for her or others she knows in order for her to describe it as a mnemonic device.

One fault is that she's a bit shy of describing how she uses things as mnemonic devices, but she apparently has a book contract to do that, hopefully we'll get the details in 2019.

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190:

Oh lordie. I only minored in soil biology, but that's not where you want to go. Soil's about as alien an environment as you can find near the surface of the Earth, where you can go from an oxygen-based ecosystem to a hydrogen-based anoxic ecosystem in a few centimeters, and researchers seriously ask questions like, "how few water molecules can there be and it's still an aquatic ecosystem for microbes." It's not worth going there.

As for alien amino acids, I think you're both right and wrong. Ol' Isaac Asimov made this point back in the 1960s, and I think it still stands, that it takes energy and resources to assemble things like amino acids, and they're not interchangeable. You have to look at things like how stable they are, how versatile they are, how much energy it costs to make them, and so forth. When you run that list, AFAIK the amino acids found on Earth are pretty versatile and pretty cheap. Could alien life use others? Of course, but I'd expect at least a partial overlap, simply on cost-efficiency grounds.

Anyway, if I wanted to deal with alien soil, I'd cook it (slash and burn might be one way), mix it with lots of Gaian compost, and keep doing that until I had enough soil to establish a Gaian ecosystem. If the soil biota were really problematic, I'd use something like the giant autoclave I used doing my PhD experiments, that sterilized about a ton of soil at a time and was big enough to step into (about 4 feet tall and 12 feet long, as I remember). It's not energy efficient, but if you've made your way to an alien world, I suspect that energy efficiency is not your primary issue.

Light and seasons now, that's where things get fun. Soil is fun too, quite honestly, and I'd suggest that colonizing a planet that naturally experienced a lot of fires would be more difficult than one where humans could burn the heck out of it. Fire has been our ally in transforming landscapes for probably 40,000 years or more. As long as the atmosphere of a planet is more than ~16% oxygen, there's no reason we can't go play xenoarsonist on another world too.

191:

Your suggestion is primarily science fictional because it assumes that everyone is honest, accurate, diligent at their work, well-trained, and unbribable, and that no criminals exist (who can alter the contents of a shipping container after they've been notarized) and no Ayn Rand capitalists ("I only care about me; the rest of you can go hang") exist. Economics used to make the same mistake by relying on the flawed assumption that analyses could be based on Homo economicus, the consistently economically rational human being. It's not an unreasonable simplifying assumption, but it's patently unrealistic in real-world applications.

Um, not quite, but I read one of your comments distracted, so fair's fair.

I'm more suggesting that you might be able to monetize the debt racked up by supporting an inspection system, and that part of this debt could be generated by something hashing the ledgers in order to make them more tamper resistant. Rewriting a bill of lading is so trivial with computer technology that I could do it. Of course people can be corrupted, but show me one monetary system that isn't infected with corruption. Monetizing the debt owed to first responders, bureaucrats, and their equivalents hasn't, to my knowledge, been tried as a form of cash, but I can't think of a reason (other than small supply) why it wouldn't work. It's certainly less problematic than tried-and-true methods like war debts.

192:

Perhaps I'm thick, but how exactly is "monetizing the debt racked up" different from "paying them for doing it"?

193:

An example. Say you give an IOU for $100. If I want to get something worth, say, $100, I write something on that IOU you gave me to the effect that I gave it to this other person, who can do the same. That IOU has just become worth $100, and so long as everyone believes it will be honored, it can circulate as a $100 bill until it wears out.

One way this worked was (from Graeber) that in 1694, a bunch of London and Edinburgh merchants collectively loaned William III 1.2 million pounds to help finance his war with France, in return for allowing them to form a corporation that held a monopoly on the creation of bank notes. This gave them the right to advance IOUs for a portion of the money the king owed them to any citizen who chose to borrow from them, and these debts, formalized as bank notes in standard denominations, came to be circulated as money. Oddly enough, that debt racked up by King William III has never been repaid to the corporation (now known as the Bank of England), and one might argue that the pound would go away as a working form of cash if the British royal family ever repaid their debt in full. The only reason a pound note is valuable is that it's backed by the full faith and credit that the debt it embodies could get paid off.

So if a colony owes somebody for some non-productive task but can't simply give them resources (food, medical care, supplies) to pay off the debt, then those IOUs can by the people paid with them to buy stuff, so long as everyone believes that the IOU can eventually be paid off, whether or not that happens.

194:

OK, but I still have no clue what distinction you are drawing between this and what we already do right now, in real life.

In our current real-life economy, when we say the government "pays" someone, we generally mean it issues them IOUs (in the form of the local currency).

For instance, if the US government hires a bureaucrat, it probably pays them by issuing them US dollars, which are a form of IOU backed by "full faith and credit" in the US government.

But that is presumably NOT what you mean, since you wrote "Monetizing the debt owed to first responders, bureaucrats, and their equivalents hasn't, to my knowledge, been tried as a form of cash."

So how is "monetizing the debt owed to them" different from giving them dollar bills, like we have been doing routinely for centuries?

195:

It's the same as what we do now, in fact, it's (near) the start of the modern system. The thing is, prior to Renaissance, we didn't do it this way, treating standardized IOUs as valuable cash. Cash was, well, cash: coins made of allegedly valuable metals. Debt was normal, but it wasn't in itself considered valuable. Kings would finance their war debts by sacking their opponents, taking their valuables, and using their share of the loot to pay off their creditors.

On thing to realize about Graeber's Debt is that he wrote the book to understand money, and realized that debt was more fundamental, a normal part of human life.

196:

Oh, yes, and the other use for cryptocurrency is for crime. Every ransomware that I'm aware of, for example, wants payment in untraceable BTC.

That's something that bothers me. I try to practice safe computing.

Still, if somehow I did manage to screw up and infect my computer, I have no idea how or where I would get "bitcoin" to pay the ransom?

197:

... and the Mill branch which eventually evolved into social liberals (who see private oppression as just as much a hindrance to liberty as public oppression ...

I guess that's me. I don't see any difference between oppression by a government and oppression by corporations, oligarchs or kleptocrats.

198:
Still, if somehow I did manage to screw up and infect my computer, I have no idea how or where I would get "bitcoin" to pay the ransom?

Don't worry -- organized crime operations are nothing without good customer service, so they provide you with detailed links to fast and efficient ways of sending them your ransom money. In case of difficulty, their quick and attentive customer service reps will be more than happy to guide you through the process via anonymous darknet email relays.

199:

In my limited career in the sciences I never once heard anything described as "proof" or "proven". I heard "disproven" a lot.

"Proof" in physics appears as near as I can tell to be entirely confined to popular press and poor quality outreach. I can't think of a single time I've ever seen the words used in a physics paper.

I don't think it's even a term that has a meaning in physics. You're not thinking of Maths are you? I've seen proofs in Mathematical Physics papers. A quick google scholar of "physics" "Proof" turns up a lot of Mathematical Physics papers and a smattering of computational physics.

201:

Then were you proposing to ban Bitcoin ironically? Like when other people on Twitter call to "kill all men", "destroy capitalism" or "deport the muslims"?

202:

A] Thanks - I'd forgotten about the autonomous-street drone aspect - silly of me.
B] Although I'm a cyclist I am not a "cyclist" if you see what I mean, & cyclists are not going to be vulnerable to autonomous vehicles, because most of them are made of metal & have lots of angles & corners, thus reflecting radar/lidar very well, including recumbents. It's soft, curvy, non-reflecting pedestrians who are going to be most at risk, I'm afraid.

203:

I suspect that the odds of completely compatible amino acids are very low

REALLY?

I thought that there were only 22 amino acids, at all.
And that Carbon-based life-forms would therefore have to use those 22, even if their genetic-equivalent material is totally incompatible with Earth's DNA/RNA bases

204:

Also, there were left-wing libertarians
Ever heard of Kropotkin ???

205:

AND
The first "governor" of the Bank of England was one John Houblon
Who had been, an Hugenout refugee from Lille ...

206:

No, there are a lot more than 22 amino acids - Wikipedia says 'over 500'. I suspect that our selection of biological amino acids has something to do with how easy they are to make and how useful they are, so I think extraterrestrial life which coms from a relatively close environment chemically would use many of the same amino acids. This is because the same chemistry works and the same things would be easy to make and would perform the same functions.

207:

(Also to gasdive) Unfortunately, that's only how it seems if you don't look at it too closely :-(

Let's take a fairly extreme example, for clarity: cosmology. Pretty well everything is based on Einstein's formula being sacrosanct - not just valid up to and beyond its singularities but also being the Final Prophecy. Take Hubble's hypothesis - it's not the only plausible theory, and the ONLY proofs are by consistency, but that means the others don't get seriously considered. Or black holes and gravitational waves - the proofs of their existence depend on assuming the perfection of the formula that they are used in support of! Note that 'dark matter/energy' is nothing more than a finagle factor being used to prop up the established theory.

Or anthropology, and the savanna hunter theory that will not die, no matter HOW many times it is debunked :-( Note that I am talking about the phase when we converted from a brachiating quadruped to an obligative biped.

Medicine and related areas are even worse, of course.

208:

I am a OCD observer, keen gardener and mad composter, and notice the interesting variations within incredibly short distances in soil and compost heaps, and between the same soil in the ground and in pots. You don't need more than to look, carefully, to realise that it is going to make human biochemistry look simple :-)

209:

That's FAR too simplistic. I know something about the 'training' methods used, and their failure modes, which is why I say what I do. Drivers often run into cyclists because they do not allow for the speed of cyclists, and the way that cycles move, and it is those aspects which are likely to cause the trouble. In particular, it's going to be the behaviour which occurs (say) 1% of the time under 0.1% of the circumstances. I have been run into by other cyclists for exactly that reason (though the probabilities were higher in those cases). And note that recumbents move differently from upright cyclists.

210:

If I find a cheap copy of her book, or can get hold of her thesis, I may look at it, but "unlocking the secrets of Stonehenge" is hardwired into my bullshit detector - which I got from my stepfather, who was a leading Wiltshire archaeologist and friends with all the obvious suspects! Essentially for the reason I gave - a plausible explanation is not a proof, and we know that the truth is not and cannot be simple because of the inherent complexity of the project.

But it's irrelevant for the purposes I was talking about, anyway. Trading information, yes, but information is simply NOT suitable for a trading token (a.k.a. proto-money). Inter alia, consider someone with a pack pony crossing the channel. If his goods were near-universally useful, he could barter, but that's not always the case - and then there is the Channel crossing, where the boatmen might well say "we have more pottery than we need - - you can damn well swim". Remember that there was enough long-distance neolithic trade to create actual roads and for a lot of artifacts etc. to be found hundreds of miles from their origin.

211:

First off, I know enough about blockchain databases to know that I don't know enough about them to comment meaningfully. So I won't, but I am starting to learn more about them.

You may find me in other strands of this thread that I do know something about.

212:

Really, what it comes down to is this: at what point does an alien environment become sufficiently alien that it can't support Earth-evolved life forms?

My current preferred solution to this problem (space opera on hold pending time to rework it): from the top down — the basic organic molecular building blocks are more or less ubiquitous and have similar chirality thanks to bottom-up astrophysics/chemistry. Specifics like ribosomes and the codon sequences they map to transfer RNAs are much more variable, so while alien biochemistries follow similar-ish rules they're mostly incompatible.

So the usual solution for human (or rather, hominid) visitors is to rely on cooking, and some very heavily tailored gut microfauna/microflora to break down the weird-ass local polysaccharides and polypeptides, plus artificial dietary supplements. Permanent colonists require a whole lot more modification, of course, and there's no one-size-fits-all solution: for any given subspecies visiting any given survivable biosphere there's a brisk bowel prep followed by whole raft of customized bugs delivered via fecal transplant — and it only works about 50% of the time; the other 50% of worlds are different enough that you'd need to bring a packed lunch and wear protective gear to avoid becoming lunch for the local equivalent of damp rot.

213:

Sorry Greg, that's only even potentially correct if you presume that self-driving vehicles must be part of the "internet of things".

214:

Extend my existing proposal for the candidate group for pedestrian detection systems testing to make them the (recumbent) cyclists test group as well?

215:

No irony intended whatsoever. But it's easier to nuke Bitcoin by stopping merchants who accept it from laundering the proceeds into the official currency system than it is by policing every potential user's personal computer or web browser.

Remember, money is only useful if other people accept it. Companies exist within a legal framework; if the legal framework forbids them from handling BTC — and provides for auditing, and penalties if they're caught out — then the vast majority won't use it, and its utility to the public will decline drastically, making it less attractive.

216:

With the note that I actually enjoy driving; what I do not enjoy is sharing the roads with people who neither enjoy driving nor seem to care how their actions may impact on other road users.

The only effect a Police vehicle tends to have on my driving is to make me more careful about checking my speed whilst we're mutually visible.
I'm one of the people who actually enjoys passing a "battenburg" at the ruling speed limit on a dual carriageway, whilst mentally "pointing and laughing at the Audiots who've fallen in behind it".
Also I've actually accelerated hard past a marked Police vehicle on dual track, and the only reaction from the driver was a wave of approval when I kept accelerating until past, and then released the throttle when I returned to the left lane.

217:

True this - Witness the varying levels of utility against time of the Scottish clearing banks bills of exchange as money when visiting England (and even even varying levels of utility within England).

218:

Charlie, what are you trying to ban? The specific instance of crypto-currency known as Bitcoin (which can be forked extremely easy - see the hundreds of altcoins)? Or the general idea of people using blockchain as a distributed ledger?

219:

The specific deflationary goldbug-esque Bitcoin currency that seems to have been designed by a climate change denier.

We'll deal with other cryptocurrencies on an ad-hoc basis if they warrant it, but BTC is basically a Ponzi scheme with a toxic underlying political agenda that's turning into a magnet for the bad crazy. (Here's a hint: I view libertarianism — the US political ideology — as "the bad crazy", more tolerable than nazism only because it hasn't yet been given the power to build its own pyramids of skulls.)

220:

cyclists are not going to be vulnerable to autonomous vehicles

As long as the vehicles have fast reflexes and use something other than visible light sensors…

Yes, I'm being facetious. I've just had yet another near miss with a cyclist clad in high-visibility charcoal grey* weaving between road and pavement (and moving vehicles), secure in his belief that traffic signals and laws** don't apply to him.

At least I'm awake now, with an elevated heart rate :-/

*Possibly taking his lead from the Toronto Police Chief, who decided that dark grey with a white stripe was the best colour for patrol cars.

**Both traffic and physics. No bloody way I could have stopped in time if he'd fallen while cutting in front of me — my only choices would have been veering into oncoming traffic or hitting a parked car and hoping that I didn't knock it into the pedestrians on the pavement. Or running over him, I suppose.

221:

I view libertarianism — the US political ideology — as "the bad crazy", more tolerable than nazism only because it hasn't yet been given the power to build its own pyramids of skulls.

I'd argue for the Irish Famine, the transatlantic slave trade, and the conquests of the East India Company as pyramids of skulls for libertarianism, though those certainly aren't the only examples.

222:

The thesis itself is available from La Trobe University as a pdf at no charge.

223:

How does one get it? I've searched, but the only link I could find keeps returning "access denied - try again later" messages.

224:

Yes - it's a bit of a mess. The first one I found demanded that I sign in, and then failed to do so. But this works:

https://roundedglobe.com/books/86f326a9-2344-4d95-a3cc-199c82b3a0b6/Grounded:%20Indigenous%20Knowing%20in%20a%20Concrete%20Reality/

225:

Heteromeles, I also minored in soil ecology *G*, but probably didn't get as advanced in my study as you did with your doctorate. Yes, you could terraform even a hostile alien soil with enough energy and Terrran compost. But it wouldn't be easy, and success isn't guaranteed. Barring very advanced tech, you'd be working on very small areas of soil to begin with, and propagules (spores etc.) of all kinds of alien organisms would keep drifting in and trying to overwhelm your Terran organisms. You could build greenhouses to exclude that problem, but it's an expensive and fragile solution.

Charlie's comments on biochemistry are bang on (no surprise). About the only quibble is about chirality of molecules; last I looked into this, we mostly didn't know why one chirality is preferred over another, since the two forms are usually equally likely based on thermodynamics. The notion of fecal transplants of tailored organisms is likely to be a really good solution. I can easily see "space tourists" getting these inoculations the same way we now get vaccines before traveling to certain countries. The technology's a ways off, but by the time we get to other stars, it should be in place.

Good point about the thermodynamics of amino acids. Our 20 represent a demonstrably energy-efficient solution. Without a fair bit of experimentation with alternatives, it's hard to say whether other "alphabets" are equally viable. I lean in the direction of "infinite diversity in infinite combinations", subject to thermodynamics (and applied thermodynamics, which is chemistry). There have been some early experiments that demonstrate synthetic DNA (made from outside our set of 20 amino acids), but I haven't followed them to see whether the macromolecules are viable (i.e., can stably reproduce both themselves and a functional set of proteins).

Heteromeles noted: "I'm more suggesting that you might be able to monetize the debt racked up by supporting an inspection system, and that part of this debt could be generated by something hashing the ledgers in order to make them more tamper resistant. Rewriting a bill of lading is so trivial with computer technology that I could do it."

Fully agree with your revised description, with the footnote that resistance to tampering depends on both the sophistication of the "signing" technology and that of the criminals. Paper and PDF is easy to fake; public-key-encrypted documents and physical holograms less so. (Which is why, for example, Canadian currency contains holographic "proof" of validity that thus far hasn't been forged. It will be, just hasn't been done yet.)

Greg Tingey wondered: "thought that there were only 22 amino acids, at all."

No, many, many more. However, some that are "possible" are unlikely (see above re. thermodynamics).

Elderly Cynic noted cosmology as an example of "unproven" theories. Yes, and no. Yes, in the sense that astrophysicists tend to use "theory" sloppily when what they really mean is "working model supported by considerable evidence" or "here's my guess at something we can now start accumulating evidence for or against". No, because most would not call their "theory" proven until it has been rigorously tested. I definitely agree with you re. the arrogance of assuming that Einstein represents the "end of physics". Einstein will eventually be replaced the same way Newton was, and our current models of the universe will be seen as "quaint". Whether this happens tomorrow or in 500 years? Who knows?

226:

Returning somewhat reluctantly to the original subject of this blog entry after some cool diversions... *G*

What fascinates me about money is just how slippery it becomes when you try to look closely. (Not quite Schrödinger, but headed in that direction.)

So long as a currency is stable, we all agree to accept the government-sanctioned face value of its tangible representation (e.g., a $100 bill) as our consensus objective reality. Where things get weird is when you try to exchange that nominally consistent and objective value for a good or service. Say I buy a good in late October for $100, but my wife buys two copies of the identical good on Black Friday for $100. Has the currency value appreciated by 100% within 1 month? Not in a society-wide sense, but clearly yes in this limited sense of our relative buying power. The symbol remains the same; its meaning changes.

Note that I fully understand the economics of discount pricing. My only and specific point is that the practical meaning (2 goods instead of 1) changes dramatically without the consensus value of $100 changing.

Similarly, consider the value of that same $100 to a homeless person living on the street, vs. to a millionnaire or billionnaire. The objective society-wide consensus value of $100 does not change, but takes on a radically different subjective meaning.

Both examples of monetary weirdness seem to have a clear relationship to bitcoins: the same (meta)physical unit (BTC) has very different meanings depending on time and context. There are differences, of course, such as the fact that BTC values in dollars fluctuate widely. But the similarities strike me as interesting.

227:

Amino acids come in stereo-isomers, so there is a left handed and right handed version of each. Most terrestrial life uses the left-handed isomer. If you remember the trytophan scare (and ban in the US in 1990), the cause was that the largest supplier in the world changed their filtering mechanism and they no longer filtered out the right-handed isomer. The right handed isomer caused a flu-like illness and a number of deaths.

I seem to remember that some antibiotics work by producing right handed amino acids which poison bacteria.

228:
But it's irrelevant for the purposes I was talking about, anyway. Trading information, yes, but information is simply NOT suitable for a trading token (a.k.a. proto-money).
Hawala - which appears to have been in use in the Indian Ocean trade in the 8th century - needs no government, no denominated store of value, no money. It requires communications and a willingness to take on debt.
229:

Ah an "invisicyclist" - far too many iof them around ....

230:

Oh dear ...
Someone else who doesn't realise that the only countroes in Europe that didn't have actual famine in 1847-8 were England & Belgium .....
Though I admit that the prevailing politic-economic theories at the time made a bad situation (much) worse.

231:

@Greg Tingey Though I admit that the prevailing politic-economic theories at the time made a bad situation (much) worse.

This was, in fact, my entire point.

232:

Yeah, I wonder why England didn't have a famine in 1847. Can't possibly think of an explanation.
Your smugness is disgusting.

233:

Er, no. It doesn't involve the PHYSICAL transfer of money, but it critically relies on the EXISTENCE of money. The era being discussed is the neolithic, before the concept of money as we know it was invented.

On this matter, I have just read Lynne Kelly's essay. Very interesting and, if she writes a book on how to apply those methods, I would like a copy - it would be interesting to see if it helps with my aging memory :-) But it has nothing relevant to say about trade and the origin of money.

234:

I was originally suggesting information as a trade good, not as a form of hawala. I'm more thinking of the Amesbury archer, who, according to isotopic analysis, was born in the Alps and died near Stonehenge around 2300 BCE. We'll never know his story (that being the nature of old stories), but sharing his knowledge is one thing that might have made him locally welcome.

As for knowledge as a trade good, I do know of cases in the anthropological literature, both in California and in Australia, where whole sets of rituals were deliberately bought and sold. That's the kind of thing I'm thinking of. If you want modern examples, everyone from professors to martial arts instructors makes their living from passing on information as well as from utilizing it.

235:
It doesn't involve the PHYSICAL transfer of money, but it critically relies on the EXISTENCE of money
What transfer of what is money in the modern incarnation could not be replaced by transfer of goods in a Neolithic one?
236:

That's an essay on part of her work. Her thesis is Knowledge and Power in Prehistoric Societies: Orality, Memory and the Transmission of Culture (Amazon link). Speaking of knowledge being restricted to people willing to pay for it... I was lucky enough to get it through interlibrary loan.

237:


"still waiting for my pay-out"

That shows admirable restraint and judgement, if you didn't exploit the opportunity for a snappy comeback, such as to mimic a Bronx accent, strike a dramatic pose and reply "Hey, ya lookin' at it."

238:

Pretty much my thinking, although I fudged with Nysus and gave goats the fecal transplants and added bacteria and fungi around the plant roots to deal with the conversion of local amino acids to things humans ate. Since this was a nasty, deliberately low-tech world design, if you wanted to travel long distances, you either needed to travel from farm to farm, or you needed to travel with a herd of lactating goats and live off goat's milk and whatever's in your knapsack.

The fudge factor here is that rumens have a lot more complex microbiomes than do human guts. The good side is that this gives a goat more time to have its gut process whatever it was it ate, which suggests that it would be better to alter a ruminant gut to process alien flora and drink their milk, rather than eat the leaves yourself. The bad thing is that, well, complicated ecosystems don't always take kindly to wholesale alterations, goats don't always lactate, and when they do, sometimes chemicals from what they ate make it into the milk. Oh well.

Still, living planets aren't as lethal as, say, Mars, and the presence of a thick, oxygen-containing atmosphere, free water, and plate tectonics and microbial action that have concentrated elements into useful ores makes them a bit more attractive for settlement compared with, say, the Moon, or Ganymede, or Pluto, or possibly even Mars. The biology part is more insidiously problematic, since I know full well how sloppy people are about keeping things clean, but if accidentally leaving a door open won't kill you, an alien biosphere isn't the worst place to live.

239:

Yes, I know, and I agreed that it was a viable trade good in #130. Where I disagreed, and still do, is that it is viable for the sort of trade goods a long-distance trader uses for supplies, transport and other assistance on the way. Inter alia, knowledge can be spent once per location (and is likely to have spread by the next year by being traded on), and it has no value to people who already know something equivalent or are not interested in that area. And yet quite a lot of such trading went on ....

It's like the generally ignored riddle of Stonehenge - how the hell did they organise it, with no settlement larger than a small town (large village by modern standards) and needing a lot of people for a long period over long distances? The neolithic phase is easier, I agree, but implies either that their economic productivity was phenomenally high, or there was cooperation over a wide area WITHOUT any detectable form of centralisation. And it's not the only such site, just the most spectacular.

Arising from a previous thread, I have now read Guns, Germs and Steel and skimmed The Way It Was. The first is OK, but there's far too much "it happened that way, therefore that was inevitable / the only possibility". The second I was unimpressed with, because of the failure to mention the well-known anomalies (like neolithic western Europe). That's relevant, because I see exactly the same here.

240:

Thanks. I have access to that, so will look at it in due course.

241:

Thank you very much (again).

242:

We interrupt your usual neepery to let you know that Bitcoin just lost over 20% of its value in the past day (Reuters). That is all.

243:

What, you doubt that those books "unlock the secrets of the ancients and the hidden powers of the human mind”? Of course they do.

Assuming that the "secrets of the ancients" include "there's a sucker born every minute", and the "hidden powers of the human mind" include "gullibility".

Y'know, I have this *great* moneymaker, I own this bridge in a northeaster US city, and I just can *not* get up there to install the tollbooth, so I'll sell it to you....

244:

Not smugness & bollocks, actually.
You obviously missed my mention of Belgium, too.
Those two countries - notice I didnt say "The rest of GB", I said "England" - some parts of Wales & Scotland were badly hit, though nowhere nearly as much as Ireland ( their potato-monoculture made them especially vulnerable, of course )
England & Belgium had, at that point the most sophisticated & *cough* "industrialised" agricultural systems on the planet, which is why they were not hit as badly.

245:

Right. And if there's any here who disagree, I suggest you look up the phrases "company town", and "being paid in company scrip", and the bully-boys in the employ of your employer who will be there to object if you try to leave town without "paying off your debts".

Right now, Big Corporate Brother is more dangerous than Big Government Brother, esp. with the right-wing gutting government for the benefit of Big Money.

246:

I see, on slashdot, that a US judge has ordered coinbase to turn over all info on any users who, in the course of the year, have transferred more than $20k.

Now, in the US, if you write a check for $10k or over, the banks are required to hold it for 10 days, and it's reported to the IRS. I see absolutely no reason NOT to do that for cryptocurrencies.

247:

just the most spectacular.
Maybe, maybe not.
But the Avebury henge, Ring of Brdgar & the Stones of Callanish are all pretty impressive.
Geographical situation including long sight-lines & visibility seem to have been v. important for such - one of the bst in that category is Castleriig, close to Keswick

248:

Um, sorry, he was an anarchist. And there is a difference: libertidiots think that they're Lone Predators, who live and die by their own strength and skills, and screw the rest of you.

Anarchists believe in a self-organizing society (y'know, like any sf club you've ever belonged to, or any con you've gone to). And I speak as someone who, twice in my life, has been a dues-paying member of The premier anarchist-syndicalist organization: the Wobblies.

I've gone "back" to socialism, because we need a government that can protect us against the crooks and the ultra-wealthy (or did I just repeat myself?).

249:

So why was so much food imported, then?

250:

I was about to post a pseudo-amusing comment along the lines of Tulips will be Tulips, but a bit of pre-posting research suggests in an amusingly meta way the Tulip Crash never was....


https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/there-never-was-real-tulip-fever-180964915/

251:

Any time spammers are screaming that something's a sure-fire money-spinner, that's the time to be getting out of it. Gold is only really a refuge for small amounts of capital; it will never become a currency again (and barely qualifies in antiquity; most people used Roman small change once it became available).

With regards politics, you have to understand that the average person is quite like you or I, only on average a bit stupider. Given the great acts of outrageous stupidity I have been known to perform, that's a scary thought. Most people trundle through life barely switching on the full power of their brains, and a good thing too since thinking tends to stop them doing very much else.

So, with the libertarians turned nazis, what i think we might be seeing is people not so much thinking as sliding from one comforting meme-suite to another. Libertarianism generally feels nice, until you realise it means EVERYONE should be free and that means everyone else can out-compete you if they are actually better at things than you are.

On the other hand, if you can round up enough gormless neo-nazis then you can try to assume some sort of socio-economic clique and exclude the people you perceive to be inferior and/or an economic threat. The fact that this sort of thing has never in recorded history actually worked merely demonstrates that this slide from libertarian to nazi isn't a consciously reasoned move, but merely an emotional slide.

Bitcoin is an interesting first stab at a cryptocurrency, but that's all. It has served its purpose, best to let it die quietly now (and for goodness' sakes, sell any you happen to have lying around before they become worthless!).

252:

Bad news for my friend who invested about 200 quid a few months ago.

(Being able to afford it, and admitting it was a high risk, speculative investment. Which is true! Just higher risk than is generally advertised.)

253:

Actually, your friend who invested £200 a few months ago is probably still ahead by about £200; BTC is still way up on where it was as recently as the middle of the year.

On the other hand, the right time to invest £200 was probably 2012 ...

254:

The 3 base DNA codons used by life on earth limit the number of amino acids that could be specified for translation into protein to 64. The usefulness of additional amino acids diminishes as the variety of building blocks needed to build a sufficient variety of proteins out of them. Another limit would be that organisms need a biochemical pathway to synthesize each one. In reality there are a lot of amino acids which are encoded by more than one codon, particularly the third base pair is often ignored, and a few codons are used to mark the end of the protein. 20-22 is apparently chemically expressive enough that organisms have settled on those numbers.

Keep in mind none of this was really set 'first' it all sifted out together with more or less the first thing that worked pretty well sticking. All attributes simultaneously optimized by a very random massively parallel process.

Vastly more amino acids are chemically possible because the 'side chain' can be anything.

There is not much reason to expect a separate life origin to have settled on the same 20-ish amino acids as ours did. I'd expect them to have about 20, and probably to be able to map their 20 roughly onto our 20 in terms of structure. IE this one has a long non-polar side chain, this one is very compact and polar, one exists with such and such kind of chemical group exposed, etc. Maybe some of the smaller ones would actually be exactly the same?

And then one also has to consider non-proteins. The fats, the carbs, the other chemicals we use in small amounts (iron, magnesium, etc). And finally alien microbes or parasites.

So how long could a human survive by eating the food on an alien planet?

I suspect the answer is certainly not long. Might be immediately poisonous. Probably not super likely to be neurotoxin-kills-you-in-minutes. Those toxins are specific. Best case its like you ate a big pile of seaweed and a nylon rope that washed up on the beach a week ago. You might digest some of it, but won't sustain you, and you probably regret trying. Bad news is the native microbes in your gut with the native food can eat it. So lactose intolerance... but for almost all the macromolecules in the food.

Best plan I can think of is to digest it with earth microbes of some sort. Marmite every day. Maybe that would work? Earth microbes might evolve to eat the native life fairly quickly.

With sufficient technology you build pathways into people/symbiotic microbes/nanobots so humans can eat alien life.

Old joke: you are much more likely to have a baby with an oak tree than with a true alien humanoid.

It should be significantly easier for a human to live off of whatever they could scrape from the side of a black smoker deep in earth's ocean than anything on an alien planet.

255:

Well, building Stonehenge isn't as big a riddle as how they built Gobekli Tepe about 8,000 years earlier in Turkey.

It's probably a facet of the same problem, which is why do people raise megaliths. It's pretty much a worldwide pattern, with people still raising small megaliths in Madagascar (there's a neat aside about what a Malagasy archaeologist thinks Stonehenge was used for. He's speaking from personal experience as a member of a megalith-raising society). Kelly's hypothesis (right or wrong, and it doesn't preclude other uses of a place like Stonehenge) is that there's a general pattern:

--Roaming hunter gatherers tend to use the landscape as a mnemonic device by doing things like creating stories, songs, and dances to pass on information, and tying them to "sacred sites" that function as loci or groups of loci under the more modern Memory Palace system.
--As populations grow, people start herding animals and doing agriculture, and territory shrinks, some sacred sites become inaccessible. This is a problem, because long term information transmission depends on people going to specific places and doing specific things in order to help remember and to transmit the information to successors. They still have to remember all that information (things like when to plant, when to harvest, what medicines to use, values, history, ad nauseum), but they have to reorganize that knowledge to make it transmissible in a much more confined landscape.
--Her solution, which helps to explain megaliths, is that people started building memory palaces, just as Medieval Cathedrals built labyrinths so that pilgrims could walk the labyrinth and have something akin to a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Where her work gets interesting is that she came up with a 10 criteria that would make a site usable as a memory palace, so that it is possible to test her theory fits a particular archaeological site or not. Personally, I'm a bit biased towards testable hypotheses.

In essence, a megalith may be a memorable "proof of work," just as a bitcoin is thought to be valuable because you have to work to make one. In theory you can use any rock as a mnemonic device, but if it breaks or gets lost, you're kind of screwed. Having hundreds of people moving big rocks around, whether at Stonehenge, Gobekli Tepe, or Easter Island, is a way to help make the whole thing memorable and to invest everybody in the importance of the site, and big rocks tend to last longer than do small ones. Of course the megaliths can also be used "as a way to commune with the ancestors" (my remembrance of the Malagasy explanation), or as an astronomical observatory for keeping track of the seasons, but neither precludes a megalithic site's use as a place where information could be remembered and selectively transmitted.

256:

The autonomous car/ bicycle thing suggests to me that the first thing cycling organisations will want to do when the government permits self driving cars onto the road, will be to hire or borrow or even buy one and see how well it reacts to dummies falling in front of it. The publicity might be quite useful, assuming the UK hasn't fallen as far into dictatorship as the USA seems determined to just now.

257:

We'll know if we ever get to another biosphere and find out how it works.

My bet is that a lot of stuff will turn out to be comparable, simply because our life started from a random walk and all ended up with one system through a mix of randomness and competition adding to evolution. While I agree that there are likely to be lots of toxic things out there, I wouldn't be surprised to see multicellular land "animals" using cells that are mostly water, breathing oxygen, using iron-based pigments to move oxygen internally, DNA, RNA, some suite of amino acids that overlaps ours (looking at the list of amino acids, I'd expect serine, threonine, glycine, alanine, leucine, and valine to be pretty universal, and that's about a quarter of what we use already), mobile life-forms using fats for energy storage and likely calcium for structural support (because fats save weight and making bones is a good way to use an otherwise excess element), immobile phototrophs to use sugars for energy storage and carbon polymers for structural support (because photosynthesis generates a lot of surplus carbon, and since weight isn't as much an issue for sessile organisms, keeping carbon polymers around as a bulky energy supply works, as does dumping carbon into dead structural support), and so forth. Note that this doesn't make the world safe for humans, but there's a lot that likely will be shared.

The other part is that it's certainly faster to find/engineer/evolve Gaian microbes to digest alien materials than it is to fiddle humans to do the same thing. Because of this, the "first-in" team on an alien planet really should be comprised mostly of really good biochemists, molecular biologists, and microbiologists and mycologists, who can start figuring out what it would take for Gaian life to survive on the new planet and what needs to be fiddled on the Gaian side to make it happen. And to figure out safety protocols too.

258:

Are you sure it will not have the same effect as Russian dashcam videos of people very obviously throwing themselves in front of a car in order to get insurance payment? (They do not get paid, and entire world laughs at them.)

259:

You seem to have misunderstood my point. Yes, Gobekli Tepe could well be a much earlier example, but I am NOT talking about the engineering. The point is that we know a great deal about the British Isles at the time, and it doesn't match up.

In the case of the British Isles, we are pretty certain that there were NO large settlements nor any other signs of centralised organisation - I believe that is much less clear in Turkey. The second point is that the British Isles is a much more marginal environment, and communities were living within a few percent of starvation until well into historic times, which means that the number of people cooperating was necessarily a large factor (possibly 100x) larger than the number actually working on it.

260:

As with you, I'm talking about the organization, not the engineering.

My understanding is that there's no evidence for large settlements anywhere near Gobekli Tepe, although it's such a thoroughly farmed landscape that this doesn't mean much. What it looks like in neolithic England, as in pre-neolithic Turkey (and on Easter Island, for that matter), is that people were carving and moving enormous rocks, even though they were apparently in marginal environments, and in the cases of Turkey and England, they weren't even doing agriculture (Stonehenge people were more into herding, IIRC, but the archeo-Turks were apparently foragers).

The other thing is that the main stone movement took place in a 200 year time window. It's not clear to me whether they moved the 50-odd sarsen stones all at once during this period, or did them in fits and starts and it took over a century to build the whole thing. If it's the latter, that's a lot less work than organizing hundreds of people to build the whole thing at once. The same holds true for Gobekli Tepe.

261:

Amino acids come in chiral forms, left-handed and right-handed (chemistry structural nomenclature here).

Earthly organisms only use the left-handed forms, despite the right-handed ones being chemically (but not structurally) identical. Indeed, a few antibiotics are right-handed versions of amino acids.

An alien biosphere that used even a few right-handed amino acids would be mutually poisonous to Gaian life.

262:

It doesn't really change the puzzle. Even if they did it only after a few years' of good harvests (i.e. when they had the spare resources), what social structure would manage a coherent design over that period? While Turkey's climate was more reliable, the same question applies.

Only Stonehenge I (which had no big stones) was neolithic, and that was the era of the first farming and forest clearance in the British Isles. Foraging always has been infeasible as a way of life in the British Isles.

263:

Not relying on one single clone of potato plant which was completely vulnerable to a few strains of potato blight, and not having a population that had grown to the point that it was living year to year would be another reason. England was not reliant on one food-crop, and was not using the single worst choice of food crop out there, either.

To be extremely blunt, the Irish population was an accident waiting to happen. The Irish Potato Famine was exacerbated by food exports, but would have been bad even if the export system had been reversed and Ireland turned into a net importer of food, financed by English lords beggaring themselves.

Even then, you would only have been putting off the inevitable for a few years; the Irish population would only have carried on expanding until it hit the danger zone again, and sooner or later you'd get another time when there was a strong low pressure system sitting over Ireland just at the right time to transport Phytophthera infestans spores all over that island to clobber that year's potato harvest.

Some disasters are inevitable.

Bitcoin is going to hit the buffers, and collapse. Idiot investors are going to realise that electronic money is merely farts and fantasy unless backed by something, so the spammers will have to go back to flogging bio-active pills.

264:

All right, let's see how well this works.

SFnal premise.

There is an observer-mediated FTL drive, based on a blockchain algorithm that can conduct verified observations of an extremely unlikely remote entanglement, resulting in instantaneous translation to a spacetime location implicit in the collapsing wave function. The translations are in random directions; but the blockchain's algorithm only notices the ones that go in the desired direction.

The drive thus falls into the venerable class of microjump FTL prior art.

The blockchain is the drive, and the drive is the blockchain. OK?

Short story title: The Velocity of Money.

I hereby release this compelling imaginative concept into the public domain. I couldn't possibly monetize it.

265:

Re: 'The Velocity of Money'

Glad someone mentioned 'velocity'. Seems to me that the most concrete/measurable aspect of these currencies is their velocity/turn-over. Profits are being made by constant churn rather than by 'savings' or production. Very self-referential and self-reinforcing. (Smells like the IPO market minus any stocks.) Agree that cryptocurrency seepage into the regular money supply would create havoc unless someone figures out some kind of 'discounting' scheme based on the same rationale as cashing in bonds before their maturity date. If this happens, then ancillary markets could be created aka 'crypto futures', 'crypto hedge funds', etc. ... even more out-there fictitious stuff than current crypto.

Am curious whether anyone has computed how much cryptocurrency is needed to completely overwhelm (take down) existing computing power. Ask because I'm not sure this is a straight-line function since I suspect that the number of likely and probable interactions balloons much faster thereby creating longer strings of data to crunch through, etc.

267:

hire or borrow or even buy one and see how well it reacts to dummies falling in front of it.

One terrifying possibility is that humans don't possess the characteristics that the car thinks distinguish dummies from empty plastic bags blowing across the road. Because you don;t want the car doing an emergency stop every time it sees a shadow on the road, but it's tricky to find out whether it thinks a drunk falling over is worth stopping for. That's why we're going to let them roam the roads for a while, because from an ethical point of view performing the experiment in controlled conditions is different from performing it on the unsuspecting public.

Cyclists are going to be one of the considerations, not least because cyclists are a pretty effective political force in many rich countries. Recumbent cyclists will likely benefit also from the number of disable people who use them, because from a PR point of view the very first "autonomous car kills cripple" headline is going to shuffle the priority list for car makers.

There's going to be a whole lot of exciting things discovered from this series of experiments, but I'm pretty sure that answer we care about will be "fewer deaths", and it will be affirmative. Not least because I expect most of the autonomous cars to be electric.

268:

I suppose the interesting thing is that bitcoin is different from any other commodity any of us have any experience with.

If the price of gold gets very high, someone will go and open up a mine to dig up some more to increase the supply. Likewise a sufficiently high price for tulips could encourage an increase in supply. And so on for everything we have in any sane economy.

We rely on this kind of feedback mechanism to keep things stable: not everyone will start producing tulips, because the price would drop so far as to make them nonviable to farm.

But with bitcoin, the higher the price, the more incentive there is to mine, which increases the difficulty, which reduces the supply to exactly cancel everything out.

There's no natural mechanism to anchor bitcoin at any particular price. So on the one hand, there's nothing stopping the economy from ignoring it altogether (pricing it at $0), but also there's nothing really stopping the entire economy from devoting all resources to mining it.

We've never dealt with this before.

Satoshi just started the engine, and now it is running out of our control with no brake and no accelerator.

269:

how much cryptocurrency is needed to completely overwhelm (take down) existing computing power.

Not sure what you mean - surely not Landauer's principle applied to a minimal checksum, but everything else is a design decision. Bitcoin could be tweaked so that a modern graphics card could run the whole thing (set # of iterations to 1), or alternatively tweaked the other way so that every computing device in the world working together couldn't possibly find the next key in the 10 minutes allowed. That's as true for a single 1 cent bitcoin as it is for a billion, billion dollar bitcoins. As David Mitchell said of the GFC "it's all just numbers in a computer" :)

So, to quote that famous Australian intellectual leader "please explain"

270:

> But with bitcoin, the higher the price, the more incentive there is to mine, which increases the difficulty, which reduces the supply to exactly cancel everything out.

Wait, what exactly do you think is being canceled out?

More miners reduces the average salary per miner, but not the amount of bitcoin in circulation.

271:

Kropotkin believed in a very early version of "small is beautiful" actually - not classical anarchism, but co-operatives & small groups & town meetings & similar.
Never mind - paricularly as Stalin killed almost all of his followers, not long after

272:

... and now it is running out of our control with no brake and no accelerator.
Which, I suspect is quite deliberate.
It's a wrecking mechanism, designed to crash our system - & agreeing with Cahrlie, no they don't understand what money is, but that doesn't matter, because that's not the end-desire.
It's very much aligned with T Ronald Dump & his followers, trashing everything, though, isn't it?

273:

No brakes you say?

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2017/11/30/oh_god_here_come_the_libertarians/

Word getting out that it's not quite as tax free as people liked to imagine will probably have some effect.

274:

I wonder what in the world they are going to do with their billions ?

Well if any of them try and cash them in for another currency they will quickly not be worth billions.

275:

Now, in the US, if you write a check for $10k or over, the banks are required to hold it for 10 days, and it's reported to the IRS.

Got a reference? I've had checks drawn for more than that several times in the last year or few and none got held for 10 days.

Now there is a requirement that all (sort of kind of almost) transactions over $10K get reported to the authorities to make sure you're not money laundering.

276:

Because we never did anything about, or even had the idea of doing anything about, making sure that the population size did not exceed what the agricultural output could provide for, and instead got stuck in the rut of having to pinch food off other people to make up for it.

Without wishing to reignite the arguments about Malthus from a recent thread, it was not improved agricultural output that lifted us out of the rut of everyone having to spend all their time farming, it was increased ability to grab other people's output.

This was well established long before the time in question. It was apparent to Napoleon that Britain was vulnerable to being starved out. Agricultural output did increase after his time, but the population increased even more, so the overall situation got worse, not better, and by the time of WW1 the situation was even more precarious.

It's not much different even now, as although the agricultural output has caught up a bit, that's because we're eating oil now.

277:

"Stonehenge people were more into herding, IIRC, but the archeo-Turks were apparently foragers"

Maybe this is what enabled it - compensating for low food availability by drawing your supplies from a larger area than you can farm - kind of the same principle as my previous post, but at a much lower density. If you're a forager, you can find the food to move your 20-ton boulder by foraging around your route on the way; and if you're doing it over several centuries at an average rate of one boulder every few years, the area has time to regenerate before the next party of boulder-rollers comes through. Or if it's herding you're into, it's comparatively simple for a small number of people to maintain a much larger herd than they need just for themselves; your limiting factor is not how much forage there is for humans, but how much there is for creatures that eat grass; in England, once you've cleared the bigger plants away, that is "lots", and the grazing itself tends to stop them coming back.

I don't think the maintenance of common purpose over centuries is really a problem. After all, medieval cathedrals often took a few centuries to build, and they are much more complex structures being built in a time when factors like increasing population size, density and mobility, plus the odd plague, made the project much more vulnerable to disruption by outside context events.

I don't think it matters regarding that last point that the construction time was often greatly extended by the thing falling down half way through. Nor do I think it matters that the completed form had evolved rather from what the original instigators had in mind; it only might seem to because we're looking at it backwards. (For cathedrals and Stonehenge both.)

278:
“Now, in the US, if you write a check for $10k or over, the banks are required to hold it for 10 days, and it's reported to the IRS.”

Got a reference? I've had checks drawn for more than that several times in the last year or few and none got held for 10 days.

Might depend on whether you're dealing with one of those banks that regularly jerks customers around. I received a check from a major insurance company when some jerk ran a traffic signal and totaled my car. The bank refused to release the funds for 10 days.

279:

This worked for me, not sure why it wouldn't otherwise, as I am accessing it via a commercial account, not an academic one

http://arrow.latrobe.edu.au:8080/vital/access/manager/Repository/latrobe:34816?queryType=vitalDismax&query=kelly+lynne

280:

An amino acid is simply a molecule that has both an amine group and a carboxylic acid group* attached to the same hydrocarbon skeleton. Carbon being what it is, the number of possible skeletons is effectively unlimited, and so the number of possible amino acids is too.

However, here you are starting from molecules being assembled at random out of element soup by chucking some sort of energy at it, so your carbon chains are coming together from nothing one or two atoms at a time, and as they get larger they quickly start to get knocked apart as fast as they can form. So your pool of skeletons consists almost entirely of combinations of no more than a handful of carbon atoms, and the number of such combinations which are possible is obviously only a relative handful itself.

I agree with Heteromeles that the very simplest amino acids, as he lists, will be ubiquitous, because they contain so few carbon atoms that the entire range of possibilities is certain to be covered in abundance by random assembly.

The differences will arise with the heavier molecules, where the number of possibilities is much larger and the stability lower, the abundance is correspondingly less, so whether or not they get used starts to depend less on random chance and more on the proto-organisms** expressing some particular chemical affinity for them. At this point a visualisation of the set of constraints on possible "next steps" as a structure in phase space stops being a blob and becomes a branching tree structure. Further on still the branches will start to exhibit tangles and coalescences, but at this stage they are separate, and it is whichever ones are successful that set the "chemical alphabet" for later on.

For instance, one important amino acid (or pair of amino acids) on Earth is cystine/cysteine. This contains a sulphur atom, and different molecules of it some distance apart along a protein chain can link to each other sulphur-to-sulphur, which is very important for making sure that the protein can stably tie itself in the right sort of knots. Any biochemistry that depends on stringing amino acids together and tying the result in knots (which pretty much amounts to any biochemistry we can reasonably imagine) will need some component that behaves like this, but at the relevant level of complexity there are many possible arrangements for the carbon skeleton, and nothing says the dice have to land on the same one, nor that the sulphur atom has to be in the same place, nor that it even has to be a sulphur atom and not some other function capable of crosslinking.

*"Amino acid" in this context is an abbreviation for "α-amino carboxylic acid", meaning that it is a -COOH group providing the acid properties, and the amino group is attached to the same carbon as the -COOH is attached to. Very nearly all amino acids encountered in biochemistry are like this, but you can also have amino acids with acid functions other than carboxylate, and/or with the amino group not on the alpha carbon.

In "normal" amino acids the alpha carbon has four different things attached to it - the carboxylic acid group, the amino group, a hydrogen atom, and the rest of the molecule. This means that there are 2 distinct orders in which the things can be attached, which cannot be converted into each other without pulling two of the things off and swapping them around (try playing with a caltrop and four different fruits). The 2 orders are designated "left-handed" and "right-handed" or fancier words that mean the same, and the "handedness" property is known as "chirality" (opp. "achirality", its absence).

In reactions with achiral molecules that produce chiral molecules, the chirality comes out random, but when the starting molecules are also chiral it usually doesn't. So right at the start (element soup) amino acids of either chirality are equally likely to form. But once these start reacting with each other their chirality makes a difference, and in the long term one chirality comes to predominate over the other; as far as we know it is 50-50 which one.

**This is rather like machining the term "proto-organism" into a cylinder with fat ends and putting it into a test rig...

281:

How to isolate Birmingham from the motorway network with four life-size baby dolls...

282:

Could it be successfully argued, I wonder - or could it be reasonably straightforwardly possible to successfully argue - that it doesn't count as a "real" currency because it's not endorsed by a government or any of the other things that things like pounds and dollars are; therefore buying and selling it is buying and selling merchandise; therefore it counts for VAT?

283:

There is a good argument for saying bitcoin is a commodity, finite, requires mining and the market liable to disruption by state actors at any point.

284:

Now THAT is a really good idea - isolating Brummagem, that is (!)

285:

A bit cruel and unusual I think.

I lived there for a while. Hated the place, liked the people. The ability to leave at weekends was the main thing keeping me sane.

286:

One terrifying possibility is that humans don't possess the characteristics that the car thinks distinguish dummies from empty plastic bags blowing across the road.

You know all new Volvos come with pedestrian collision avoidance radar, as of this year? (It's been a high-end option for a little while.)

It only operates at speeds under 25mph, and it's only about 50% effective, but if the car thinks the driver is going to hit something — including small children, dogs, concrete bollards, other vehicles — and the driver doesn't hit the brakes in time, the car brakes automatically.

Note: 50% effective means "50% of the time when the driver was going to run over a pedestrian, the car stops them from doing so". It's imperfect, but it reduces traffic accidents significantly. And they're actively working to improve hazard perception as they get more vehicles and more data on the road.

So this isn't a hypothetical characteristic of some middle-distance-future fully self-driving vehicle; it's a safety system showing up in cars today. And I expect that by the time we have fully autonomous vehicles, it'll be as effective and as thoroughly entrenched as seat belts, air bags, and having a brake mechanism fitted to every wheel on the vehicle (which is a post-war innovation, at least in the UK).

287:

And also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Truck_Acts with the note that the issue is over the original laws allowing workers to be paid in goods, rather than the "Truck Acts (repeal)" legislation that the article mostly discusses.

288:

Stonehenge is only even "most impressive" for values relating to "biggest individual rocks". Avebury, and the Callanish (Lewis) and Ring of Broadgar complexes all have far more individual rocks (well over 200 in the case of Callanish).

289:

The ECJ has ruled that Bitcoin is a currency, and so exempt from VAT — but Capital Gains Tax applies.

292:

There's still a lot of confusion. The riddle is how that was organised without any form of centralised authority - or, at least, without one that left any traces in the archaelogical record. Nothing similar, let alone such a society, survived into the historical era or has evolved since. The cathedrals are NOT an example, because the church WAS a centralised organisation.

And, to paws4thot: that was my point. Perhaps I should have said 'most obviously spectacular'. Stonehenge attracts the loons because of the way it stands out on the landscape, but was only one of many equally mind-boggling sites.

293:

.. No. This is a very common talking point, but it is wrong. We are eating concentrated energy, yes, but substituting electrons for all oil uses in agriculture is utterly trivial.

Tractors and farm machinery can run on ammonia easily, ammonia can be synthesized in bulk and at reasonable prices entirely from ocean water, air and electricity. It is currently sourced from natural gas only because natural gas is a slightly cheaper hydrogen source. Not "Massively cheaper". Slightly.

Absolutely no part of mechanized agriculture will be impacted in any way you will notice whatsoever by civilization going off oil.

294:

Yes. And it isn't just whether you have the building blocks, but whether you have other components that are catalytic poisons or mimic the building blocks but don't work properly. We have plenty of such examples, after all. As you go up the level of complexity, the possibilities expand exponentially, and I would expect the variation would, too. For example, consider something very like cobalamin, but subtly different, or a ubiquitous compound that binds tightly to cobalamin, and what that would do to our biochemistry!

295:

You are an optimist - but we knew that!

Yes, I agree that it will deal with the simple cases, but that's not my concern. A pedestrian runs out into a road, too close for the car to stop, so it swerves instead - straight into a cyclist. Overall, I agree that there is the potential to increase safety, but there is also the potential for the government to give the vendors a free pass, so they get immunity from the failures of their systems. In the UK, that's SOP in the privatised national services, from ports and railways onwards.

I think that there are other, likely, serious harmful effects, too - but they will all be indirect. One will be propping up the unsustainable way in which dwelling, employment, utility and recreational areas are separated so that there is little option but a car-based solution. Another will be the traumatic effects on employment, and the social consequences of that - just as the conversion from arable farming to raising sheep was in the UK.

296:

Yeah
There are railway level-crossing being equipped with similar syatems, so that, even without CCTV, the crossing can be closed for trains ...
They've been having "fun" distinguishing between real actual pedestrians, inc small children, & the odd rabbit or dog ....
It's got a lot better in the past 18 months, since they started on this, but they were getting far too many false positives.

297:

Remind us, again, to save effort - what's the ammonia "burning" cycle?

298:

... so they get immunity from the failures of their systems. In the UK, that's SOP in the privatised national services, from ports and railways onwards.

Bollocks

I STRONGLY SUGGEST that you go & read a few RAIB reports.
START HERE

299:

A pedestrian runs out into a road, too close for the car to stop, so it swerves instead - straight into a cyclist

This is an interesting example of what I call the false trolley problem. The giveaway is the bit "too close for the car to stop" — someone is going to be hit by the car because the scenario is set up that way. The only question is, does the car hit the pedestrian or the cyclist?

Swap another variable: what if, instead of a cyclist, there's a car in the way. Should your self-driving car hit the other car instead? What if it's a bus, full of passengers without air bags and seatbelts?

The point is, the scenario is rigged from the outset because the parameters are set up so that someone is going to get hurt. To which my response is, "when did you stop beating your wife?"

(I'll grant you that locking in the automobile culture is a bad thing. But that's a different discussion.)

300:

That looks like what I was trying. Here's the error message:

SAFARI CAN't OPEN PAGE

Safari can't open the page "long URL" because the server unexpectedly dropped the connection. This sometimes occurs when the server is busy. Wait for a few minutes, then try again.


I get that every time I try the link.

301:

It's going to be a legal question, especially if you assume both the car and cyclist are following the road laws. If the car swerves, if the pedestrian responsible for the cyclist's death (as it was their action that caused the swerve)? If the car doesn't swerve, is the pedestrian responsible for their own death, considering that if the cyclist hadn't been there the car would have swerved and the pedestrian would have lived*?

I can see lawyers arguing all sides of this one.

(Note: assuming that the technical problems are solved sufficiently that the car's software can tag both pedestrian and cyclist as 'objects that must not be hit' and therefore must decide which to hit.)


*So suppose that they had been walking across the road there for years because cars always missed them. Does that create an expectation of safety?

302:

Do you end up with a worst of all options kind of moral calculus?

Essentially you instruct the car to average risk of death across all participants in the crash. That way, you are not placing the value of one life above any other, but you can demonstrate that the car did it's best to minimise the loss of life in some kind of averaged way.

Problem is (another false trolley, sorry OGH) but you would then presumably get situations where the car would either

1. Try to thread the needle between cyclist and pedestrian (risk of death, 90% each)
or
2. Choosing to plough into the cyclist (risk of death 100% (cyclist) and 0% (pedestrian))

Option 1 will almost certainly kill 2 people, but with no attempt to favour one over the other (thus attracting legal liability) so probably the 'safest' option for the car.

303:

What I would expect to actually happen is for the car to brake as hard as it can and hit the nearest object as slowly as possible.

It results in the fewest decisions, carries none of the risks of swerving and is predictable to other road users. It's what most people do anyway.

304:

The point is, the scenario is rigged from the outset because the parameters are set up so that someone is going to get hurt. To which my response is, "when did you stop beating your wife?"

If there is an option for no one to get hurt, that's obviously what you go with. A question with that solution doesn't inform anything.

305:

From watching Youtube dash cam videos (not a scientific sample, I know), I'm not convinced that's what most people do. Braking hard and swerving to avoid what is immediately in front seems to be the most common reaction.

Which in my forced-choice scenario would be hitting the cyclist.


In any case, I'm not so concerned about a single hypothetical example as what unifying principle society will use to determine responsibility for road collisions, and what rules car software will be forced to use by the legal system (by threat/fear of lawsuit or by legislation doesn't matter). Because there will be collisions and deaths, caused by software malfunction, human error, and bloody-minded stupidity and malice*.


Thinking a bit on a tangent, if cars are programmed to always avoid pedestrians (slow down, stop, give them lots of room, etc) then will pedestrians take over the streets again once they trust that cars won't run them down? How will that affect public behaviour? Will people just start crossing streets whenever they want rather than at corners? Will cars be forced to move at a jogger's pace because they'd rather run on asphalt than concrete**? Will we need to make some streets restricted access (like divided highways) so that traffic can move faster than a walk?


*Running 'innocently' across the road in front of a car pushing a pram (thus causing the car to decide you are two people and swerve into something. I suspect 'pranking' cars will be popular with a largish number of young folks.


**Already happens in my neighbourhood. I've noticed that the joggers quickly move out of the way for big cars, but force small cars to drive behind them until they can pass.

306:

You should have learnt better by now. I did not say that they had NO constraints, merely that they are granted (a large amount of) immunity from laws that apply to other bodies. Look at the older acts (for ports and railways) or, for modern examples, look at privatised prisons (including Yarlswood) or the Disability Discrimination Act - and, if you think the latter's not a safety issue, think harder.

307:

Braking and swerving to the side of the road is a sensible solution - braking and swerving into traffic would be more likely to cause a head on collision and make things worse.

But the car would need to know what rules it was under at all times and whether swerving away from traffic is towards the left or the right. And one way streets would be problematic.

308:

No, that's not what I was talking about. My point is that the harm is likely to be biassed against some classes of road user and the REAL risk is that the government gives the vendors a 'get out of gaol free' for such cases. And it's the latter aspect that concerns me most.

"Swap another variable: what if, instead of a cyclist, there's a car in the way. Should your self-driving car hit the other car instead? What if it's a bus, full of passengers without air bags and seatbelts?"

Generally, yes, because the risk of harm is lower. But let's assume that it would be a head-on collision between an HGV and bus at speed; the sane decision then would be to kill one or the other of the cyclist and pedestrian. The risk there is that that it would be (usually) the innocent cyclist - whose family would have limited or no redress if the previous point applies. But, ethically and (in theory) legally, the optimal decision would be to kill the pedestrian, whose negligence caused the accident.

My point ISN'T that this is a blanket argument against autonomous vehicles, but that it IS one against letting known biassed authorities (and the DfT and many others involved are) make the rules in secret. And, if you think we are going to be told the details of the training criteria for the vehicles, I have this historic metal bridge over the First of Forth to sell you.

309:

Stand just out of line-of-travel ( so car "sees" you & notes you aren't moving ) but intermittently swing an empty can on a piece of string round your head, thus spooking car radar systems.
Already been done to empty speed-cameras of film, IIRC.

As for stupid & malicious ...
Set of traffic-lights on fairly major road, traffic moving through, including cyclist, who is wobbling a bit, car driver *just touches horn* (i.e. a very short "beep") to warn cyclist of his presence - cyclist goes bananas, speeds up, deliberately weaves in front of car whilst making gestures. Wanker.

310:

GRRRRR.

STOP IT.

You SPECIFICALLY SAID Railways ( & Ports) & I restricted my self to Railways.
[ You have now introduced prisons/detention centres, which are known problems - I believe this is called "whataboutery" ... ]
And & so, you are still talking bollocks, becasue railways have had specific safety legislation & inspection for a very long time.
And no, they are NOT "Granted immunity" - if only because they have their own, very strict safety legislation & regulation, which is well-inspected.

311:

Breaking news.
M Flynn has turned himself in to the FBI/Mueller investigation ...
Flip'em in turn, until you get to the big one .....

And E Musk has, apparently beat his own deadline to get his AUS battery back-up "farm" on-line.

312:

Yes, railways. If you chase through the laws, you will find that many of the details are in regulations, and they are handled differently (and often omitted) for railways. E.g. electrical (think exposed high voltages) and multiple staffing regulations. But let's take an example I have direct knowledge of. They have no explicit legal requirement to make facilities, including level crossings, safe for disabled people. They usually do, but that needs political pressure. There was a case near me when they improved a dangerous level crossing by separating the pedestrians and cyclists from the motor vehicles, but the pedestrian facility was unusable by people in wheelchairs. There was a major row and they fixed that but, initially, they didn't want to. Oh, it's unusable by many cyclists, too, but that's normal and sane cyclists use the road, anyway.

313:

Likewise with the IRS:

IRS Virtual Currency Guidance : Virtual Currency Is Treated as Property for U.S. Federal Tax Purposes; General Rules for Property Transactions Apply

https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/irs-virtual-currency-guidance

314:

Then there's the case we had here last week. People waiting for the bus which doesn't come for 30 minutes. Eventually two busses arrive and everyone crowds on, but the driver can't see out the doors (ie. safety issue) so asks those standing in front of the white line to get off. They are understandably upset.

One young woman decided that she's going to walk in front of the bus as a protest. When the driver changes lanes to pass, she changes lanes. Driver calls Dispatch to report that bus will be delayed because it is proceeding at walking speed.

https://www.thestar.com/opinion/star-columnists/2017/11/13/angry-ttc-commuter-takes-the-bitter-way-home-mallick.html

315:

Actually BOTH of them probably were wankers.

If a cyclist is wobbling, absolutely the LAST thing to do is to sound the horn, because that will make him jump and possibly lose balance and fall over. And why did the driver do it in the first place? Because he was intending to overtake at traffic lights - which is illegal and often dangerous.

The cyclist's behaviour (except for the gestures) is one of the options for minimising the risk from that sort of motorist. Without seeing the junction, I can't say for certain if it was an appropriate one in that case.

316:

And YOU ARE STILL TALKING BOLLOCKS

The railways are required to operate & maintain all level crossings, with no monies from the roads budget, in accordance with the usual strict railway safety legislation.
Disabled-access requirements are new & they really are doing their best to keep up, but there are still lots of (far too many) level cossings.
Like I said READ the RAIB reports ....

I suggest you compare railway fatalites now, with what they were in 2007,1997, 1987, etc
And then look at road deaths for those years.
And, then, just maybe, you will stop talking bollocks

317:

Thinking a bit on a tangent, if cars are programmed to always avoid pedestrians (slow down, stop, give them lots of room, etc) then will pedestrians take over the streets again once they trust that cars won't run them down? How will that affect public behaviour? Will people just start crossing streets whenever they want rather than at corners? Will cars be forced to move at a jogger's pace because they'd rather run on asphalt than concrete**? Will we need to make some streets restricted access (like divided highways) so that traffic can move faster than a walk?

People already cross the road pretty much whenever they want, while self driving cars might be more responsive and safer than manual ones there is still going to be a risk of getting run over.

If it ever was a serious issue there are a few things that could be done to diminish it. Firstly have all SDVs equipped with a laser on the front that paints hatching on the road equivalent to their safe braking distance. There are many bikes that use a similar technology to laser-paint a symbol of a bike on the road a few meters in front of them to help cars see them.

Step onto the road into that and not only are you at risk of getting hit but it triggers the onboard sensors to save the recording. Given how face recognition technology is seemingly exploding at the moment those recordings could be used for issuing fines. Jaywalking isn't a crime here but if the issue of people walking out really is that serious then maybe it will be introduced.

318:

Bill Blondeau "There is an observer-mediated FTL drive... The blockchain is the drive, and the drive is the blockchain. OK? Short story title: The Velocity of Money."

Cool idea, but not "velocity", please; that should be reserved for physical distance per unit time. Use "rate" for all other changes per unit time. I'd counterpropose "Burn Rate", which puns on the meaning for both rocketry and venture capital. (I also release that title into the public domain, though a tip of the hat would be nice if you get the story published under that title.)

Re. delays in cashing $10K cheques in the U.S.: You're conflating 2 things here. First, the RICO requirement that banks report all transactions greater than $10K. Second, the requirements imposed by some banks (not all) that a cheque must successfully pass through the "clearinghouse" (rather than bouncing) before you're given access to the funds. This can easily take 10 days; I once had a bank draft (incorrectly) bounced by the clearinghouse more than 30 days after I deposited it, resulting in an unpleasant surprise. And don't get me started on the delays and sometimes hefty fees charged for clearing cheques from Canadian banks deposited in American banks.

On another topic, the obvious solution for cyclists in a world of self-driving cars? Self-driving bicycles. Needless to say, they'd require a completely incompatible data transmission protocol and software developed in clean rooms to avoid any hint of copyright violation wrt smart car code. That couldn't possibly end badly, could it?

I suspect that, as is so often the case in software, we're attacking the problem from the wrong end. Since most cases of vehicle strikes person are likely to end up in court, we need to start developing a consensus legal and ethical/philosophical opinion on a hierarchy of goals for how to avoid accidents. The goal is to optimally protect other people, but also protect software developers who are doing due diligence.

Since we need to at least begin the research now, so that we're farther along when the consensus eventually arrives, it's not necessarily a huge problem that every vehicle manufacturer is working with different design criteria. For at least some of the current software, it should be possible to retrofit the software to meet eventual consensus goals rather than doing whatever feels most comfortable to each software team. Less efficient than starting with a design target, but will probably work out in the end.

Better still, I'd love to see something along the lines of the open-source movement, with the entire auto industry pooling their resources to create a single set of software that meets a consistent set of guidelines. That is, treat human safety as a joint good rather than a commercial advantage. I do recognize the risk of committeeware (bloat, inefficiency) vs. customized and highly efficient software. But I'd say the Linux and OpenOffice examples are proof of concept that large collaborative software projects can work reasonably well when the goal is cooperation rather than coopetition or competition.

319:

"The point is, the scenario is rigged from the outset because the parameters are set up so that someone is going to get hurt."

And the other point is that the car doesn't have to drive perfectly, it only has to do better (or at least as well as) a human driven car. So the question in my mind is "what do humans do in this situation?". Or actually, can you point to any actual real life instances of this problem happening on our roads?

320:

As I said, it happened to a particularly lethal crossing near me, just recently, where the initial proposals to upgrade increased the danger, especially to wheelchair users. Foxton. You seem to be making the assertion that all laws and regulations are equivalent.

One example where railways get immunity is in the matter of liability to trespassers, not least from the aspect of exposed high voltages. Yes, THERE ARE GOOD REASONS for that immunity - but it's still immunity.

321:

Not necessarily poisonous. Note that they currently sell junk food with - are you sure we use left-handed, and not right-handed aciss? - with the opposite kind of sugar, so it's sweet, but doesn't get metabolized.

322:

I thihk that's sorta been done... let's see, highly improbable, which I suppose is like bistromath, and then there the Infinite Improbabliity drive.... Like a nice hot cuppa?

323:

If memory serves, biology uses left-handed amino acids and right-handed sugars. Chemically identical sugars that are left-handed fit our sensors for what a sugar should taste like, but don't fit amylase enzymes so cannot easily be metabolised.

Sweetness of a substance is determined by a property called the sweetness triangle; see here:
http://shodor.org/succeed-1.0/compchem/projects/fall00/sweeteners/index.html

Sugars fit this sensor, but not quite as well as weird things like Stevia, which are super-sweet.

324:

Sure. In 2016, when I wrote a large check from one money market fund to put into my credit union savings account, that's what they told me.

Could be a credit union thing. They *do* have to report anything of $10k or over.

325:

Just had a thought - it could be that the FULL AMOUNT was not accessible for 10 days, but I might have had access to some of it.

I know when I had to sell my house in Chi-town, in '03, a wire transfer took 3 days to fully clear.

Btw, David L - are you the author of Arabella of Mars? And, for that matter, did you used to be in TAPS?

326:

Ever read Stephenson's Zodiac? Shut down a city with a very minor number of incidents....

327:

And plead guilty to one, and only one, lesser charge. This seems pretty obvious that he's singing an opera, and handing over the libretto, to Mueller.

328:

count as a "real" currency

In my mind a real currency is any token people will accept in exchange for real goods. And people are willing to swap with each other.

IOU notes written on napkins count as long as you can "spend" them when needed.

Heck that 8 year or so old Zimbabwe note I have for 1,000,000 with an expiration date was a real currency. Worth not much more than Monopoly money but it was real. And I have a vague memory of some of us kids using Monopoly money to keep track of some things once upon a time. For that purpose it was "real".

329:

it's a safety system showing up in cars today.

Yep. My no where near autonomous 2016 Civic has adaptive cruise control, lane keeping[1], and emergency braking. Being stupid it errs on the side of caution and will slow down for things that I don't need to slow down for. Especially things in other lanes when going around curves at slower speeds. In the 18 months I've had it it has braked a few times for a shadow or similar in front of me.

[1]Lane keeping is interesting. It will steer the car to keep you in your lane if traveling at over 45mph. But if it doesn't notice any resistance from you holding the wheel it will flash a warning on the dash then talking telling you that "Steering is required."

330:

And the other point is that the car doesn't have to drive perfectly, it only has to do better (or at least as well as) a human driven car.

Given the current state of the US legal system I'd say not over here.

People are usually considered fallible. Well unless they have deep pockets.[1] Machines are supposed to be perfect.

My wife works for a major airline. A somewhat related question we have discussed at times is "Why do your surviving relatives get to be rich if you die in an airline crash but not if you get hit by a drunk drive on the way to or from the airport?".

331:

Btw, David L - are you the author of Arabella of Mars? And, for that matter, did you used to be in TAPS?

Nope. Not me.

332:

Will people just start crossing streets whenever they want rather than at corners?

Hmm? You may find the UK somewhat confusing since that's what we do already.

333:

There are two issues here. (In the US banking with checks.)

One is that it is easy to forge an "official" bank or cashiers check so banks do want to verify that they funds exist. Which is why they really like wire transfers for things like major house or car purchases. My bank drawn checks for over $10K were for tax payments across the country. I didn't get a penalty for being late but I suspect if I'd shown up the next day to sell the property I'd run into some issues.

The other thing is that the federal government has laws about transactions over $10K must be reported to someone. FDIC, IRS, or some other agency. And walking in with $9900 in cash to deposit every few days will certainly get you a visit from some people in dark suits and a lack of a smile.

334:

Foxton?
- This one?
IIRC they're trying to get rid of it, IF they can get someone else to come up with the money for a bridge.
Problematic, because the works @ Barrington is taking traffic again (I think).

And, no - I was trying to emphasise that, usually, the railways have a higher imposed safety standard than elsewhere - as the accident record shows over the years, even with the higher rates in the past.

335:

Made several attempts to grow Stevia but it either doesn't germinate, or turns its toes up ....

336:

Is that the one about organochlorine pollution? I vaguely remember picking holes in what they got up to, which is what I usually tend to do with that kind of narrative :)

337:

That one. No, they WERE trying to eliminate it, but settled on a mere improvement to the level crossing - and it was that which I was referring to.

338:

Re: IRS guidelines for virtual currency.

Plenty of wiggle room for misrepresentation and fraud:

'The character of gain or loss from the sale or exchange of virtual currency depends on whether the virtual currency is a capital asset in the hands of the taxpayer.'

339:

What I would expect to actually happen is for the car to brake as hard as it can and hit the nearest object as slowly as possible.

It results in the fewest decisions, carries none of the risks of swerving and is predictable to other road users. It's what most people do anyway.

It's what most people should do, but too many will swerve anyway. It seems to be a "natural" reaction (i.e. some kind of involuntary reflex). I've seen it happen several times where animals run out into the street and a driver swerves into oncoming traffic resulting in a head-on collision.

And if you do brake straight ahead without swerving, there's a good chance the driver behind you won't be paying attention and will hit you in the rear end.

340:

O2 + NH4 -> H2O + N2? Or do you mean, what kind of engine?
You can burn anhydrous in a conventional combustion engine if you strip out the polymer tubing for copper and adjust a few things. People have been doing that since ww2, (And farmers do it today!) it works.
More efficiently, fuel-cell + electric drive recovers an impressive percentage of the amount of energy expended making the NH4. But that is a luxury, its not necessary to keep the tractors rolling.

341:

.. Not if the driver behind you is a machine. That is one reason I expect cars without .. driving assists, to become outright illegal. Self-driving cars will probably include a spectrum of cars that pretend you are in control to various degrees, but all of them will have the reflexes of silicon to deal with the car in front doing an emergency halt. No pileup, just a lot of hot break pads.

342:

Prediction: All vehicles will at some point be equipped with GPSes feeding a wireless LAN. Pedestrians can opt-in using an app on their smartphones. The data streams will feed a heuristic system in each car, giving them absolute awareness of every connected unit in the immediate area.

343:

Re: US Banking - 'hold'

The US is based on a unit banking system so there are (still) plenty of ma-and-pa type banks, not just the mega, mega BoA and Citi that capture headlines. It's mostly for that reason that there's a tradition of a long hold on checks until they pass the clearinghouse. Fine for the 17th, 18th, 19th and right up to the late 20th century ... but .... this makes zero/none/zilch sense in an era when 99.99999% of all inter-bank transactions are done electronically (processed at near light speed). Personally, I think that these banks are (ab)using tradition to leverage some 'free' funds to play with and to avoid paying their customers for that privilege.

Recall the first time I sold some 'company' stock: first, the official corporate stock brokerage firm held onto the money for about 5 business days and then the inter-bank transfer took another 10 business days. Then my bank sat on it for a few days because it was a sizeable amount. Anyways, it took almost a month before I actually had the money free to use. Betcha each outfit that touched these funds used them at least passively to shore up their trades.

344:

Actually, it's not that simple. I have seen cars continue to brake when they should have swerved, which can be as bad. On black ice, often the correct solution is to release the brakes (entirely) and swerve into the verge, or at least hit other traffic a glancing blow. But I am not denying the mistake of swerving to miss a squirrel and hitting another car head-on is probably more common.

345:

A rather interesting analysis of the tech behind cryptocurrencies I've seen recently: https://blog.chain.com/a-letter-to-jamie-dimon-de89d417cb80

OG.

346:

"Given the current state of the US legal system I'd say not over here."

Yes, I was rather assuming a rational legal system...silly of me, really. But I guess a country still refusing to use the metric system of measurements could be expected to be a bit slow in other areas, too.

347:

Lars predicted: "All vehicles will at some point be equipped with GPSes feeding a wireless LAN. Pedestrians can opt-in using an app on their smartphones. The data streams will feed a heuristic system in each car, giving them absolute awareness of every connected unit in the immediate area."

Yes! And add predictive technology that identifies patterns of movement so as to predict which pedestrians are likely to intercept a vehicle's trajectory. Ideally, pedestrians should also be alerted by their cell phones when they're about to wander into a street. Great idea! I'd vote for that.

*Fe*As an additional bonus, it would help thin the herd of "libertarians" who insist that the government has no right to track them.*/Fe*

Sarcasm aside, I see the small-L libertarian concept as a lovely utopian ideal that hasn't a chance in hell of working in the real world. It assumes that everyone -- without pressure from an external agent such as a government -- will accept everyone else's right to exist and voluntarily restrain one's own actions to avoid inconveniencing or harming anyone else. Hence: like anarchy, patently unrealistic in the real world, probably very dangerous, and for the same reasons.

348:

It reads like a scam: you compete to do this service for us and we'll send you our very own ingenious imaginary asset.

349:

"...sound the horn, because that will make him jump..."

It also issues (what I call) a reptile-level challenge to a fight. This is the problem with car horns: it is impossible to use them in a non-aggressive manner, because it is an inherently aggressive sound. There is no such thing as "just a friendly bip", regardless of the driver's intention. A car horn has the same kind of sonic qualities as an animal's vocal chords being driven to maximum output - like a barking dog, or a human yelling in rage - and so it causes an instinctive activation of fight-or-flight response.

I read Greg's description of the cyclist's reaction not as defensive behaviour, but as an aggressive response - the sentiment "fuckin' beep at me, you cunt, I'm gonna piss you off" expressed in actions rather than words. I would also expect the driver to interpret it as aggression (regardless of its actual intention), and to react with a further escalation, such as shoving ahead of the cyclist and then pulling almost into the gutter while still only about half way past.

I disagree with the labelling of that kind of cyclist behaviour as "defensive riding", both because (as above) it is counterproductive from that viewpoint, and because of the tendency these days of cyclists of the fanatical cars-are-evil variety to deliberately try and push the situation to the verge of collision, so that they can post the video on youtube while crying about "I was riding defensively and this evil car still nearly hit me!" - the label "defensive riding" being used as a cloak for aggressively holier-than-thou behaviour which is bound to end in tears sooner or later.

The audible alert device on a car ought to be something like a pleasant-toned handbell, or a glockenspiel, or something sweet-toned of that kind. (If it absolutely has to be a horn, then it should be something like a tuba, which can be comic rather than aggressive.)

(Conversely, the audible alert on an emergency vehicle should be a mechanical/pneumatic horn or something similar, and not an electronic waily thing. Reason being that the horn produces frequencies which are not harmonically related, and this makes it much easier for the hearing system to determine which direction the sound is coming from. But the harmonically-related sounds from a waily thing tend to sound as if they're coming from no particular direction, so instead of being able to react sensibly as soon as you hear it, you end up spending several seconds staring around in a distracted and gormless fashion until the actual blue lights come into view.)

350:

I agree with you that Greg's description was of aggressive behaviour, but you are simply wrong that it might not have been primarily defensive. Often the safest thing to do if a motorist is showing signs of overtaking approaching a pinch point is to speed up, pull out, wobble (if you can do so, safely) and make it clear that it is NOT an appropriate place to overtake. Oh, yes, that can go wrong - but so can NOT doing it, because the driver overtakes, realises there isn't room, and swerves into you. Damned if you do, damned if you don't. As a vulnerable cyclist (very poor balance), I am very sensitive to this problem.

351:

Re: AI cars, pedestrians & cyclists --- streets?

Seems that everyone is assuming that street design will remain the same even as self-driving cars become standard. Why?

Streets are constantly being repaired, re-surfaced, and - increasingly - re-channeled, i.e., dedicated public transit, bike & HOV lanes. Consequently, I'm guessing that AI cars will force another urban roadway re-configuration that will probably reduce the potential for car and pedestrian interactions. Also, consider: if the car passenger is not driving, he/she does not need to see the road - and would probably prefer to watch his/her smartphone screen anyways - therefore the cars do not need windows, and with no viewing of the outside being done, AI car traffic lanes could be covered over entirely until car lanes become indistinguishable from underground subways.

353:

Elderly Cynic noted: "On black ice, often the correct solution is to release the brakes (entirely) and swerve into the verge, or at least hit other traffic a glancing blow."

Not quite. Here in Canada, black ice is a common road hazard under certain weather conditions. "Swerve" is the wrong suggestion almost 100% of the time. On black ice, the coefficient of friction is damned near zero, and you rarely have enough traction to swerve. If you do, there's usually just enough friction that you completely lose control of the car and create a spin you're not going to get out of before you hit something. The correct response 100% of the time is to lift your foot completely from the gas and allow air resistance to begin slowing you. Then use standard winter emergency braking techniques (see below) as soon as you're off the black ice; braking while on the ice is typically just going to cause a spin.

(Note: Black ice is really just normal ice, but tends to be much smoother. Hence, less friction.)

That's not just theory... They teach us this at an early age in the driving courses most of us take before we apply for a license. I've passed through several patches of black ice at speed over the years, fortunately with no serious problems. Worst one, I ended up in a snowbank because I was on a turn and had no chance to avoid the ice. Most dramatically, I survived hitting a patch of black ice at 110 kph on Interstate 95 in the U.S. by doing exactly what I described, but I was damned lucky: it was just before a bend in the road, and I saw the car ahead of me hit the ice and spin, giving me time to brace myself and react appropriately. The ice ran out just before the bend, letting me slow down enough to make the turn. I then immediately got off the road and spent the night in a hotel until the road crews had time to spread salt.

Elderly Cynic: "But I am not denying the mistake of swerving to miss a squirrel and hitting another car head-on is probably more common."

We're infested with squirrels out here in the 'burbs, so yeah, what you said. It's an instinct you can control with a combination of foreknowledge of the solution, keeping your eyes open for the little bastards, and retraining your instinctive response into a braking response. With modern antilock brakes, you just keep the steering wheel straight, mash down on the brake pedal, and let the car's electronics do the work for you. With older cars, you don't "pump" the brakes (a misleading description of the correct technique), but instead press down slowly but firmly until the wheels begin to lose traction, then back off and try again. The result resembles "pumping", but pumping incorrectly suggests rhythmic back and forth motion on the pedal rather than the more effective adaptive braking I described.

Note: Also works for cats, dogs, and toddlers.

354:

Re: 'The audible alert device on a car ... a pleasant-toned handbell, or a glockenspiel, or something sweet-toned of that kind.'

Or, connect the sensor to your phone so that Siri can tell you there's a car coming.

355:

Great Britain has c. 246 million miles of road; how much of that do you think will be converted in the next 50 years?

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/428857/road-lengths-in-great-britain-2014.pdf

For some demented reason, the Web seems to have the deluded idea that it is 1,000 times shorter, and the USA has the longest network. I can't find a figure for the USA comparable to the GB one.

356:

Ah, as simple as that - I was expecting a much more complicated route, for some reson.
OK why aren't we doing it RIGHT NOW - even given the poisonous nature of NH4 ??

357:

Don't go there ...
f the car passenger is not driving, he/she does not need to see the road - and would probably prefer to watch his/her smartphone screen anyways - therefore the cars do not need windows, and with no viewing of the outside being done, ...
Thus guaranteeing that a large percentage of the passengers will promptly vomit all over the inside of the car. [ Motion with no referents ]
Please think these things through ......

358:

The great attraction of ammonia (NH3) is that you can contain it in a fairly similar spec of tank to that which is already used for Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG). Due to some work done at Leeds University, a catalyst to turn ammonia into hydrogen and nitrogen gas is now available.

This means that you can run hydrogen fuel cell vehicles off an easily stored, easily supplied fuel which isn't carbon-based, and which in storage isn't an absolute nightmare to contain. Until the automotive fleet is hydrogen fuel cell based, relatively ordinary internal combustion engines can use ammonia as a fuel.

359:

Actually, its coefficient of friction is quite high - at least 5%. And, while I agree that losing control is the worst solution, and I probably should have said 'steer' rather than 'swerve', you are wrong that steering for a lower impact is almost always the wrong thing to do. Air resistance doesn't help much at low speeds, for example, and I should HOPE that you are driving slowly if black ice is even likely. I can give you an anecdata example, which is one of quite a few I have had or seen in my life.

I was driving on a rural road at c. 20 MPH where I expected black ice, when the car 50 yards ahead stopped. I tried to slow down, by touching my brakes, but my anti-braking system wasn't having any of it, and I was on a slight slope down (1:200). I thought for a moment (yes, I had time) and steered into the bank, which stopped my car.

Yes, I learnt that technique, too, and used it - which is why I loathe anti-braking systems, but they are unfortunately unavoidable nowadays :-(

360:

Great Britain has c. 246 million miles of road;

Overestimate by a thousand, according to the very government document you link to.

361:

Re: Subway & vomit

You've gotta be kidding me. There are tens/hundreds of millions of subway and commuter train riders who each day, twice a day do not look out the windows and do not vomit.

Greg ... maybe as per your own advice: 'think things through'? (Or, do you personally happen to suffer from a form of 'motion sickness' that manifests when you're in a moving vehicle and unable to see a horizon?)

362:

I really AM going senile, aren't I? I rechecked that three times, and saw my delision each time. There's no need to answer that ....

363:

Elderly Cynic noted: "Actually, its coefficient of friction is quite high - at least 5%."

Fair enough. I was speaking from the perspective of retaining control during braking. For that context, it's damned low.

EC: "And, while I agree that losing control is the worst solution, and I probably should have said 'steer' rather than 'swerve', you are wrong that steering for a lower impact is almost always the wrong thing to do."

My bad... I didn't extend my reply sufficiently far. I was fixated on my U.S. Interstate highway example, and that's a divided highway. In most cases, you're going to be on a relatively straight stretch of road where simply coasting to a halt while keeping the wheel straight ahead will be an option. We certainly agree that if you're not going to be able to stop before hitting something nasty (like an oncoming logging truck in a non-divided highway), you do want to steer into the softest collision you can manage. Ideally a snow bank.

EC: "I should HOPE that you are driving slowly if black ice is even likely"

It's not always that simple. Weather can change unpredictably over relatively short periods and short distances in winter. For example, Montreal to Boston via Vermont on I95 is a 5- to 6-hour drive, with highly variable conditions. We've learned all the nasty points, and we check weather conditions at key points along the way both before we leave and (when possible) en route. In 18 years of driving that road, it was the first time we hit black ice... and the roads were clear right up to the point where the ice appeared, giving no warning.

364:

There speaks someone who obviously doesn't suffer. Trains are generally fine for travel-sickness victims as rails are smooth and acceleration and deceleration constant. Road vehicles on the other hand move in unexpected directions rapidly and it's generally the small random movements that trigger the vomiting. I won't get in a car if certain people are driving, I can't sit sideways in a short haul bus, and I can't read or watch a screen when a passenger in any road vehicle. If I can't see out there'd better be a supply of puke-proof bags immediately available.

365:

But I guess a country still refusing to use the metric system of measurements could be expected to be a bit slow in other areas, too.

We don't refuse to use metric. We just use both so all the handy types like me and mechanics and machinists and such get to own 80% more tools than elsewhere in the world. Keeps the economy running with all that extra spending and such.

Oh, well.

366:

Thanks for that analysis link.
Another couple of links, just because links are good.
While poking through stacks of papers on a desk, found this indirectly; might be interest to some. It directly addresses attacks on Bitcoin crypto primitives. (Note that attacks such as the hypothetical Chinese DDoS-based attack described by Murphy @ 122 are not covered.)
https://ai2-s2-pdfs.s3.amazonaws.com/2377/2e1eb97b39865aee0a3b3e83b0d87d0798ab.pdf
On Bitcoin Security in the Presence of Broken Crypto Primitives (19 Feb 2016)
(Note: Don't see any citations refuting it.)
We have presented the first systematic analysis of the effect of broken primitives on Bitcoin. Our analysis reveals that some breakages cause serious problems for Bitcoin, whereas others seem to be inconsequential. The main vectors of attack on Bitcoin involve collisions on the main hash or attacking the signature scheme, which directly enable coin stealing.

( Via Long-Term Public Blockchain: Resilience against Compromise of Underlying Cryptography, paywalled, April 2017. )

367:

To do what you describe require the tires to keep rolling without sliding on the ice. And with front wheel drive automatic transmissions that just plain hard to do unless you understand what is going on. Shifting into neutral or depressing the clutch on a manual is the first step. But most people have no idea.

368:

"Damned if you do, damned if you don't."

I think what's going on here is that you and I are assigning different weightings to the "do" and "don't" options. I pretty much never consider it desirable to try and discourage drivers from overtaking just because it's narrow. I find it's quite the opposite problem - what I find massively annoying is drivers sitting on my back wheel for ages and not coming past, and the message I try to convey by my riding style is not "don't come past", but "for goodness sake do come past, stop thinking you need to give me six feet clearance, six inches is fine, just stop sitting on my arse".

Pretty much the only occasions when I do ride as you describe are when I'm trying to turn right, and so need to somehow make my way across the stream of traffic and out into the middle of the road. (Indeed it's not entirely deliberate, since trying to screw my head round far enough to see over my shoulder while sticking my right arm out tends to make me wobble all over the place.)

Perversely, that seems to be more effective at encouraging drivers to shove past regardless than sticking rigidly in the gutter is.

I quite agree that many cyclists (although not Greg's one) do do it for primarily defensive reasons. After all, there is plenty of propaganda to promote it on that basis. My point of disagreement is that such propaganda and beliefs are flawed, because they assume that the driver will react like an Asimovian robot and not like a bald monkey. Real drivers often see it as a challenge, and respond by trying to retake their perceivedly advantageous position.

(Viewpoint perspective: my reason for using a bicycle is that it's less effort than walking. My speed, therefore, rarely exceeds 10mph or so, absent gravity assistance. When I'm cycling I am fully aware that to the car drivers I am a pain in the fucking arse, and that cyclists most certainly are "second-class citizens" on the road, no matter what the law says, for inescapable and overwhelming practical reasons. It is inevitable that I will piss drivers off just by being there, so I try not to piss them off any more than I can help. I find it fiercely embarrassing - and consequently annoying - when the exigencies of the route (like turning right) compel me to ride in an aggravating style. I feel the same when the behaviour of one driver, in refusing to overtake no matter how meekly I try and ride, is causing my presence to piss off all the drivers behind them and making me feel it's my fault they're all being held up. I've been knocked off countless times, but all the times I can remember it's been due to cars crossing give-way lines when they shouldn't.)

369:

See also: C&SLR :)

370:

I was driving on a rural road at c. 20 MPH where I expected black ice, when the car 50 yards ahead stopped. I tried to slow down, by touching my brakes, but my anti-braking system wasn't having any of it, and I was on a slight slope down (1:200). I thought for a moment (yes, I had time) and steered into the bank, which stopped my car.

Similar incident last winter. This was in the US so adjust right/left as needed. Car was stopped at a stop sign 50 meters ahead on a similar slight downslope. ~25 MPH. Brakes applied, but weren't slowing the car. Managed to maneuver the car to a straight line several meters to the right of the initial trajectory, and hard braked straight line. Car ended up with 50 cms to the car on the left (not counting mirrors) and 50 cms to the stop sign pole to the right, windows even with other car's windows. Exciting. Should have been paying closer attention to the possibilities perhaps. This is just to say that these maneuvers are possible.

Anyway, some (not all) black ice terminology purists insist that it is that generally-morning condition of invisible frost on the road, with no reflection to give it away. The heuristic in my area is that when the windshield(screen) of a car outside needs to be cleared of frost in the early AM, all turns that haven't been exposed to full sun should be assumed to be covered in black ice.

371:

Actually, I suffered from motion sickness (cars, trains, buses, planes, etc.*) into my 20s when I took up sailing. :) Not sure how or why, but after that I could handle (almost) any type of movement. Can even read a book while riding in a car which is a big deal for anyone who's ever had motion sickness.

372:

Automatic transmissions are not common over here. Everyone who is physically able to do it passes their driving test in a manual, because if you do it in an automatic you only get a licence to drive automatics and that is a crippling restriction. They then carry on driving manuals because it's cheaper, mainly.

What EC is on about is the inability of the rather crude ABS systems everything uses these days to cope with slippery conditions. The brake modulators and wheel rotation sensors are too coarse to provide the delicate control required, so the system just gives up and you get no braking at all. With plain brakes you'd at least get a tiddly bit. Unfortunately it's next to impossible to buy a car without ABS these days.

In icy conditions you're mostly better off to not touch the brake pedal at all, and do all your slowing down on engine braking. The problem, of course, is that you can't come to a complete halt this way. You still need the friction brakes to lose those final few mph.

On snow, it can be useful to lock the wheels deliberately and use the wedge of snow ploughed up ahead of them to help you stop. Again, you can't do this with ABS.

IMO the main problem with black ice is simply that you can't see it. I used to think it didn't exist, and was just an excuse people made up for being incompetent at driving on ordinary ice - until I hit some one day. I was amazed to find that even on getting out of the car and trying to stand on it, I still couldn't see it, even though it wasn't easy to stand either.

373:

You may find the UK somewhat confusing since [crossing anywhere is] what we do already.

Last time I drove in the UK was in the 1980s, and I don't recall that happening much. But I didn't do much city driving anyway (driving on the wrong side was pretty stressful) and decades-old memory isn't very reliable.

In Canada jaywalking is a misdemeanour in most places, and it's a decent defense for the driver if they hit you[1]. People do it, but they usually[2] look both ways first and wait for gaps.

I'm thinking that if pedestrians believed the autonomous cars would always see them and stop they would do it a lot more, to the extent that vehicular traffic could become a lot slower with cars always braking and accelerating back to speed (which would also eat into the energy savings of autonomous cars).

I heard Peter Watts say (at a seminar last spring) that a science fiction writer is trying to predict the traffic jam from the horseless carriage. What 'traffic jams' will autonomous cars bring?

Technical question: is the software actually able to tag objects as 'person', 'tree', 'dog' etc, or if it more of a self-trained 'when you see this image you do this' kind of thing? If it's the later then worrying about trolley problems is probably useless, as the car won't know enough to run some moral calculus of value routine. If it can do that then making those choices has to be part of the design process.

I'm all for autonomous cars (and I want to buy one) but I suspect the legal hurdle they have to clear isn't 'safer than the average driver' but 'perfectly safe'.


[1] Driving at 60 km/h along a road when someone darts out from the sidewalk you're expected to stop, but as they are expected not to do that you're much less likely to lose your license.

[2] Excepting phone zombies and people running for the bus on the other side of the road…

374:

I think that these banks are (ab)using tradition to leverage some 'free' funds to play with and to avoid paying their customers for that privilege.

back in the 1980s I moved from Edmonton to Ottawa. Opened a new account a local branch of the same bank I had used since I was six, and they transferred all my money over and closed the old account. Very convenient.

Except they also put a hold on the money 'until the funds clear' — when they were being electronically transferred between branches of the same bank. I discovered this when I spent a holiday weekend broke in a strange city (no cash from the cash machine, no cheques because the new cheques hadn't arrived, and no branches open).

The bank wouldn't admit that they had done anything wrong in not warning me this would happen. They had the use of my life savings for a week while I had to borrow money from friends to buy food.

That's the reason I avoid the Bank of Montreal even decades later.

375:

Sure, there's always some wiggle room, but I'm sure the IRS would take notice of transactions over 50K.

Also here's the IRS Cryptocurrency FAQ: https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-drop/n-14-21.pdf

376:

And ... tube trains have windows & you can (even if only marginally) see the wall/tunnel outside.
As stated by others, car motion is different & can be very bad. I don't normally suffer from motion-sickness of any type - but: ( Only time I've been sea-sick was on a modern "cruise" type of long-distance ferry, with not enough windows - the sea wasn'r especially rough, either, I've been i much worse & kept my lunch where it belonged ... )
OTOH, I have felt distinctly unwell in road vehicles, especially those with "soft" suspensions.

377:

4-wheel drive!
Limited slip-diff between front & back!
Chunky tires!
0.5 tonne adhesion weight per wheel!
And still - take it slowly & gently in those conditons, because if/when over 2 tonnes of L-R start to slide ( yes, it does happen ) you had better be prepared.
I have an unfair advantage, I started to learn to drive in the winter of '62-63.

378:

Mostly, engineering laziness / difficulty.

There is an obvious market for farm machinery designed to run on anhydrous ammonia - a lot of farmers have to deal with the stuff anyway, and it is a whole lot cheaper than even diesel before taxes, but you cant just drop an off-the-shelf engine in to this years tractor model, you have to roll your own, and that is not the kind of expertise most designers of farm machinery even have.

So you get the occasional gear head doing a mod themselves, but the default has been to stick with mainstream engine. That status quo would last, oh, about a week, under conditions where oil supply was even under slight question. The availability of ammonia-> hydrogen catalysts will probably kill it even absent any further oil price spikes, because that allows for efficient electrification of the entire power train, and hydrogen fuel cells are an off-the-shelf kind of deal by now. (Direct ammonia-to-power fuel cells exist. But are nowhere near mature. )

379:

My series 3 had chunky tyres too. Turns out the chunks are actually too big to be of any use on greasy wood (which behaves similarly enough to ice) so they were effectively just slicks. That resulted in a firm slide into a tree, which graciously slowed me to a stop.

380:

I have to say, about the word "libertarian," that I have called myself that since I learned the word in 1969, and have used it with a fairly consistent meaning throughout that time. What I mean by it is fairly well summed up by the phrase "equality before the law, liberty under the law, nobody above the law" that I read in some novel much earlier this year. I don't think I know the people some of you are talking about, perhaps because I don't follow popular political culture closely.

381:

Is there a link for the ammonia to hydrogen process? I've been starting to do some research on fuel cell technology for a current project, but I haven't run into this information as yet.

382:

I know about automatics in the EU. We recently paid an extra e80 for a week to get an automatic rental in Ireland. No need to try and shift with the "wrong" hand AND stay on the wrong side of the road. I wonder how long this will last as automatics can now get better mileage than all but the best drivers of manuals.

My point is that with front wheel drive you not only need to not brake to keep some control over steering but also disable the drive train. On a rear wheel car you can retain some control over steering by just staying off the brakes.

383:

Yes. One of the things I miss about my 96 Explorer is the ability to put the drive train into 4 wheel lock mode so no differential slip and a very low gearing. I would just put it in Drive or Reverse and let it crawl along.

4800 pounds with just one passenger and not a full tank of gas.

As to driving a stick, I learned driving a 1954 8N Ford farm tractor and a 59 Chevy pickup in fields. The Chevy was fun as it was 3 on the column. I doubt many of the people who think they can drive a manual could handle a non stopping turn with a blinker and down shifting while turning. Especially turning left as your arms are moving in opposite directions.

384:

I think it's important to remember that there are two kinds of Libertarians. First, there are those Libertarians who don't understand that Ayn Rand was writing fiction, and second there are those who don't understand that Robert Heinlein was writing fiction.

385:

I have successfully opened and downloaded Kelly's thesis in both Safari and Chrome from that page. So it is possible

386:

First, there are those Libertarians who don't understand that Ayn Rand was writing fiction,

Well considering that she didn't admit to such...

See Alan Greenspan.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Greenspan#Objectivism

387:

Yeah.
The transmission alterations & improvements when the Defender series was introduced made a huge difference. [ Lim-slip front/back diff, much better gearboxes, steering that goes where you point it & mpore power - very useful for engine braking, permanent 4-wheel drive as a result of the new diff ... ]

388:

A "grey fergie" was one of the most fun drives I've had ...
One of these

389:

I doubt many of the people who think they can drive a manual could handle a non stopping turn with a blinker and down shifting while turning. Especially turning left as your arms are moving in opposite directions.

* Rubs eyes *

You mean you don't have multi-lane roundabouts in your country? As in: approach from dual carriageway speeds, slowing down, keep an eye peeled, go directly onto the roundabout in second gear without stopping if there's nothing in your way, accelerate around it, and exit in third?

I'm not sure you can pass a UK driving test without changing gear while turning.

("Automatic" transmissions are getting commoner these days because it's impossible to build an efficient hybrid with a truly manual drive train, and electrics just don't need gears at all, and the dominant cost in running a vehicle in the UK is still buying the fuel for it, which means modern automatics have an edge. But it still takes a decade for this sort of price signal to filter through the second hand market.)

390:

Those are intersecting categories!

391:

Whose law? Your definition is fine, but incomplete, without an answer to that. It's not merely the plutocrat and the peasant issue, but whether minorities have any rights if the majority doesn't want them to have them.

392:

I don't want to pursue this one, but your attitude is why cycling is not going to recover as a form of transport in the UK my lifetime. Many people are seriously endangered by close passing, whether by cars, other cycles or even pedestrians, and I am one of the few such who still cycles. Basically, anyone with seriously impaired balance is, and that includes most elderly people.

That has led to most of us (yes, including me) to change from cycling to driving, even for just a mile, if the route is likely to have that problem; I now drive 70% more than I used to, for that reason alone. And that includes ALL cycle lanes less than 1.5 metres wide and ALL cycle paths less than 2.5 metres wide, as well as the much-favoured pinch points at lights and elsewhere.

This relates to the autonomous car issue, because I have seen reports that some planners and other govbods are rubbing their hands at the prospect, because the improved predictability means that they will be able to reduce the size of roads. Yes, cycling (possibly assisted) remains BY FAR the best solution to the short- and medium-range personal transport requirements.

393:

Troutwaxer notes: "I think it's important to remember that there are two kinds of Libertarians. First, there are those Libertarians who don't understand that Ayn Rand was writing fiction, and second there are those who don't understand that Robert Heinlein was writing fiction."

I've read several reviews of Rand biographies, and the gestalt that I took away from them was that Rand had the emotional maturity of a 2-year-old in mid-tantrum. She was apparently a nasty person in real life, and there wasn't much philosophy in what she wrote beyond "I got mine". If the reviews were even moderately objective, her fiction was all Mary Sue stories, and her attitude towards others was "I want all the benefits and none of the responsibilities, and too bad if it hurts you". Not having read the actual biographies or any contrasting biographies written by her fans, I can't say how accurate this description is. But nothing I've read about her or her books makes me interested in reading further. Contrary opinions from those who have actually read Rand welcomed; I'm always happy to readjust my mind map of the world when I'm wrong.

Heinlein, though not nearly as nasty as Rand, seems also to have been a fairly unpleasant person if you didn't happen to fit neatly within his prescribed worldview. (I particularly recall stories about how badly he treated Arthur Clarke when they disagreed over pacifism.) I have read some biographical information about him, including his own "Grumbles from the Grave", and it seems likely that Lazarus Long was Heinlein's Mary Sue. Although it's true that you can't necessarily infer an author's character from their fiction, it's equally true that *most* authors won't spend a career writing about protagonists who they find distasteful. That being said, it's easy to see many congruencies between his life and the protagonists in his fiction, and they present a consistent pattern. I think that had I met him, I'd have loved him as a teacher -- until I began to disagree with him and we parted ways unpleasantly. And I've always admired, but never fully trusted or unreservedly liked, the few real people I've known who fit the Heinlein character profile.

In contrast with Rand, I read pretty much everything Heinlein wrote, and greatly enjoyed most of it -- even when I disagreed, he made me think about why. Only two exceptions: I've never been able to get more than 50 pages into "I Will Fear No Evil" (no idea why -- it just doesn't catch me) and "Farnham's Freehold" is one of the few books I've been tempted to burn or use as kitty litter. His consistent message of the importance of brains and the need for self-sufficiency resonates strongly with me and became an important factor that shaped adolescent and young adult me. I'm grateful to him for that.

394:

I don't doubt it. I'm just unable to do so myself, using either Safari or Firefox.

Maybe the TDSB firewall/caching server is interfering somehow? I'll have to try again from another location and see if it works there.

395:

OK. Re-reading my comment I guess I wasn't clear. I was referring to a manual shift on the steering column. It's a definite skill set that many manual drivers, at least in the US, do not have.

396:

"Automatic" transmissions are getting commoner these days because it's impossible to build an efficient hybrid with a truly manual drive train, and electrics just don't need gears at all, and the dominant cost in running a vehicle in the UK is still buying the fuel for it, which means modern automatics have an edge.

My other point was that even for petrol powered transportation cars (not so much pickup trucks and larger SUVs, which don't seem to exist in Europe in meaningful numbers) automatic transmission are getting to the point where there are very few drivers good enough with a manual to do better.

In the US an automatic adds between $1,000 and $2,000 to the cost of a consumer transportation vehicle (Corvettes and such excluded) so if you can use less than that in gas over a few years they will start to make more inroads faster in Europe.

397:

Though I think I haven't even seen a manual shift in the steering column since the Eighties here in Finland. The car I last remember seeing one was a 1970's Jeep Wagoneer, and that wasn't common even then.

Using regular manual shift in the centre column, even I haven't found it hard to change gears when needed in most situations. I drive very little nowadays, and mostly with automatic shift boxes if I can choose, but I did get my license in a manual shift car and drove those almost exclusively for almost twenty years.

398:

The US is based on a unit banking system so there are (still) plenty of ma-and-pa type banks, not just the mega, mega BoA and Citi that capture headlines. ... Personally, I think that these banks are (ab)using tradition to leverage some 'free' funds to play with and to avoid paying their customers for that privilege.

FWIW, I've never experienced a problem getting funds in a timely manner from a "ma-and-pa type bank". It was always one of the "mega, mega" banks, but that's exactly what they were doing, screwing customers to use the money for just a bit longer without paying for it.

399:
"...sound the horn, because that will make him jump..."

It also issues (what I call) a reptile-level challenge to a fight. This is the problem with car horns: it is impossible to use them in a non-aggressive manner, because it is an inherently aggressive sound.

That just reminded me of something.

There is still a law on the books in North Carolina that requires you to sound your horn before passing someone on a two lane road (any road where there is not an actual "passing lane").

Had to re-take the written test when I renewed my license several years ago & that was the only question I missed.

400:

"Better" is a very biassed word. More efficiently, yes. More safely, no. I have once saved my life by being able to double-declutch, and several times have come far too close to a serious accident because an automatic did what it wanted to, not what I wanted. Also, automatics generally need a more powerful engine than manuals.

Also, for people like me (as well as for many people who replace cars when almost new and ones with sky-high insurance), the dominant cost (even in the UK) is NOT the cost of the fuel - over its lifetime, both the capital cost of the car, and the non-fuel recurrent costs are higher. My car costs about 13 grand new, I spend just over a grand on maintenance, insurance and MOT, and under 700 quid a year on petrol. And there are quite a lot of old fogies like me (in that respect) :-)

401:

You might find it interesting to read Alexei Panshin's article on Heinlein, or was it an entire book? Anyway, should be available on the web somewhere such as Panshin's own website. The gist of it, as I remember, is that panshin had a brush with Heinlein in the late 1960's that reflected badly on Heinlein and his real as opposed to presented in his fiction, attitude to thinking for yourself and challenging authority. Part of Heinlein's problrmaticness seem to stem from his first wife being radical and leftie and his 2nd being hard core right wing so she helped change the direction of his thoughts in what many of us would see as a bad direction.

402:

Re automatic vs manual transmissions in the US... it has become quite common to hear a manual transmission referred to as "the most effective of all anti-theft systems".

403:

Interestingly, that was NOT Asimov's experience, though he half expected it.

404:

Just a couple of things ...

I found this article useful and informative:

https://niskanencenter.org/blog/libertarian-democracy-skepticism-infected-american-right/

And this one just made me scratch my head and ask WTF?

http://fortune.com/2017/12/02/spacex-falcon-heavy-tesla-roadster-mars/

405:

Manual shifts on the steering column are nasty. (In the US we frequently refer to them as "three on the tree,") and driving one of them is a rite of passage for certain categories of gearhead. I had to drive one once and it was not fun at all. Much grinding and profanity ensued, but I did get the big load of my employer's crap to the dump.

406:

But Asimov was one of Heinlein's few peers - one of the original greats of the field - a fellow member of the science fiction writers who'd worked in research during WWII, and a Ph.D (to Heinlein's bachelor's degree.) who was probably one of the last genuine polymaths. Is it even possible for someone to seriously imagine winning an argument with Asimov? Starting a feud with Asimov... you'd have to be very, very drunk to think that was a good idea, because by the time you'd recovered from your hangover the next morning he would have written a perfectly-researched 200-page book about how badly you sucked.

407:

The time to which he was referring was before he was well-known.

408:

Guthrie noted: "You might find it interesting to read Alexei Panshin's article on Heinlein, or was it an entire book?"

It was a whole book: "Heinlein in dimension". Haven't read it, but if memory serves, it attracted a lot of flack from both sides of the Heinlein fence. The whole text seems to be available here: http://www.panshin.com/critics/Dimension/hdcontents.html

Elderly Cynic noted (about Heinlein if I've got the threads right): "Interestingly, that was NOT Asimov's experience"

True, but then they both served in the military together as researchers. Heinlein had more respect for fellow veterans than for avowed pacifists and conscientious objectors, though "Starship Trooper" is far more nuanced on this subject than most readers believe.

Troutwaxer noted that "Starting a feud with Asimov... you'd have to be very, very drunk to think that was a good idea, because by the time you'd recovered from your hangover the next morning he would have written a perfectly-researched 200-page book about how badly you sucked."

Heh. Very nicely put.

409:

The fact that "Billionaire announces plan to launch car into space" isn't even in the top five most implausible stories of the week shows just how lazy the writing for the 2017 season of "Human race" has become.

410:

War criminal drinks poison in court declares, "I'm drinking poison", isn't top 5 implausible.

Satire is impossible, farce is current affairs, morbid surrealism barely makes an impact any more. We're running out of genres. Soon straight forward action adventure heroism will be the only story possible, which will be good news for the next general to appear on TV denying that there is a coup.

411:

In the US an automatic adds between $1,000 and $2,000 to the cost of a consumer transportation vehicle (Corvettes and such excluded) so if you can use less than that in gas over a few years they will start to make more inroads faster in Europe.

That used to be true here in the U.S., but lately it's becoming harder and harder to find vehicles with manual transmissions. Many American brands no longer even offer the option of a manual transmission, and for those that still do, the manual transmission is now the extra cost option.

412:

Sorry, but it is not valid to generalise from a situation arising from a personal impairment to the situation of the population whose lack of said impairment provides the standard by which "impairment" can be defined. (I too now cycle far less than I used to, and my personal version of the argument would be "cycling is never going to recover as a form of transport in the UK because my seriously impaired breathing means I can't cope with gradients significantly steeper than you'd find on a railway"; expressed like that, the invalidity is obvious).

The real reason it isn't going to "recover" is the same as the reason it declined in the first place: your last sentence is only true for somewhat eclectic values of "best", and most people define the term somewhat differently - ie. in terms of such things as not requiring personal effort for propulsion, having a closed and heated cabin to keep the rain and cold off, being able to carry passengers (especially kids), being able to carry non-trivial amounts of luggage, etc. Therefore they choose a means of transport that provides those advantages over one that doesn't.

(Electric bicycles only address the first of those points, and are prevented by legislation from doing so in any more than a distinctly half-arsed manner; in particular, they are not allowed to be able to gain altitude faster than roughly 20cm/sec or so with a rider on, so they start to be useless at climbing gradients at about the same point that you'd want them not to be.)

413:

Well, yes. Putting both steering and traction forces through the front tyres is one of the well-known downsides of front wheel drive. On the other hand, if it is the rear wheels that lose traction (either braking or accelerating) the back end of the car tends to try and overtake the front end. For this reason most people think that FWD is better overall in slippery conditions, and with the width of tyres fitted as standard these days it may well be true.

With both manual and automatic transmission you need to be able to disengage the drivetrain, but at the same time it is usually better to be using the drivetrain rather than the friction brakes to decelerate. An automatic may have an advantage here, as the engine braking is gentler than a manual and it doesn't start going g-junk-g-junk as speed gets too low.

I think the local prejudice against automatics is a bit stronger than you suggest. They have been able to get better gas mileage than manuals in urban driving for decades, and that is also the situation where their other advantages really stand out. Especially for people who do most of their driving in places like London you'd think they'd be the preferred choice, but they aren't, and you still need the excuse of a crippled leg to avoid being viewed as terminally decadent for having one.

414:

DOn't forget the weight of the engine over the driving wheels. I've seen rear wheel drive cars fail miserably to get up gentle slopes that I am able to grind up slowly in my front wheel drive.

415:

You mean before Heinlein was well known, i.e. before he got older and grumpy and got his 2nd wife who was rabidly right wing? I.e., decades before Panshin has his brush with him? People do change as they get older. In some cases they have clear cognitive impairment, e.g. trump, others it's harder to say why, but there are a number of climatologists who have abandoned science altogether despite doing some decent enough work when they were younger.

416:

My weekend-car is a BMW Z4 with manual transmission. I got it as a CPO, after it sat on the dealer's lot for over 3 months -- because nobody wanted to buy a convertible sports car with a stick. (I was so very happy about this.)

That said, I'm pretty sure that the clutch pedal is going away. Cars will either be automatic, or gearless (e.g., electric), or use a sequential manual gearbox -- traditional manual transmissions will be a shrinking niche. (In the US and equivalent markets, I mean.)

417:

Hats off to the vast majority of drivers who seem to be able to herd around an automatic with gears. I've driven a CVT auto and they're pretty good, almost like an electric (almost), but the autos with gears... I see people driving them around and I'm just gobsmacked at their ability.

I've driven a few RWD ones. As you're going around a corner and start to squeeze on the power for exit, they helpfully disconnect the drive, nicely unsettling the car, making the front wheels push. My reaction to having the front wheels start to scrub in a RWD is to apply more throttle. So as it's in neutral, the engine whizzes up to some ungodly RPM, clunks into gear and promptly unhooks the rear wheels. Presto chango, I'm on the wrong side of the road, facing the way I've just come. If I'm really fast on my reactions, I can back off in time, the car does a little jiggle and the fronts unhook. I still end up on the wrong side of the road, but at least I get to see what I'm about to hit.

FWD is even more amusing. I used to live at the top of a very steep drive. The boss would sometimes make me drive her car (which I was in no way competent to do). As we drove up the driveway the car would slow down (because for some reason it always decided to start off in 2nd). As it slowed I'd apply more throttle. Helpfully it would slip it into neutral, I'd feel the car coming to a halt and since I wanted to go up the hill, not roll back down, I'd apply more throttle. Then with about 6000 rpm on the tach, it would clunk into gear, the fronts would unhook and burst into wheelspin. I'd back off the throttle to control the wheelspin, so the car, sensing I was doing 80 km/h with no throttle would helpfully change up to 4th gear, the car would come to a complete stop and start to roll backwards down the hill. A good dose of throttle would halt the downward slide, until it noticed that I had full throttle in 4th gear at 0 km/h.... Then the madness would repeat. All the while the boss would be screaming at me "What are you DOING?"

I never did figure out how you're supposed to drive them without locking them into one gear (which the boss told me wrecks them)

418:

It doesn't, as long as you still remember to change gear yourself at an appropriate speed.

For a long time I fought shy of autos because I was expecting that they would like to change down with a thump half way through a bend and put the back out (ie. I was expecting your RWD experience only not so bad). When I did end up getting one I found (a) it didn't, (b) on the rare occasions it did it changed smoothly with no adverse effect, (c) these days I usually can't be arsed to push it hard enough for that kind of thing to matter anyway, and (d) if I do decide I want to really hammer it I can just lock it into second and it's fine anywhere between 20mph and 80mph. (Borg-Warner BW35 for those who care.)

They really should not have false neutrals all over the place. It sounds to me as if all the ones you've driven have never had the fluid level checked and are running perilously low on it, at the least.

419:

For this reason most people think that FWD is better overall in slippery conditions, and with the width of tyres fitted as standard these days it may well be true.

As someone who's had the fun of driving on snow, packed snow, sleet, and glare ice at times I'll take front wheel drive auto on all but glare ice. For that I'll prefer a manual RWD. Push in the clutch and gently steer until you get to enough friction to do something else.

Driving through the non glare ice for a few hours at a time will teach you a lot about friction, momentum, and inertia.

420:

Yeah, I'm sure it's just me, no-one else has a problem. Also my formative impressions of autos came from 1960's V8 cars that had... two speed transmissions. (Two! count them!) They probably were out of oil or had loose widgets or something. Also I came from a pretty pure motorcycle background and it took a lot of mind resetting to remember how glacially slow you have to go around corners in a car. Nor did I get much practice driving and was pretty terrible at it.

Now when I forget to slow down my AWD car does something fancy with the brakes and a light comes on the dash to tell me that it's just saved my life again, and please stop doing that.

421:

What it means is that SpaceX doesn't have a paying or even unpaid customer for a fifty-tonne lift launcher, even one that's willing to risk a first-try launch failure.

My own useful cheap fifty-tonne payload would be a couple of tanks of UDMH and N2O2. Park them in orbit as a fuel stop for anyone launching a planetary probe. Launch the probe into the same orbit, dock, fuel up (proven technology from ISS), change orbit and boost out to the destination. The other alternative would be fifty tonnes of liquid argon for ion drive engines (fifty tonnes of liquid xenon would be a lot more expensive).

422:

Yes, cycling (possibly assisted) remains BY FAR the best solution to the short- and medium-range personal transport requirements.
UNLESS you want to move something heavy, or worse still, bulky.
I'm still cycling & I'm older than you, but thanks the the London Borough of What the Fuck (Look up "LBWF") their "mini-holland" cycling scehme crapping on local car ownners pogrom has made cycling less attractive.
I use a small luggage trolley for awkward items & walk, or, it it's really big, use the Great Green Beast - that's what it's there for, after all (amongst other things)
When I'm distributing "London Drinker" magazine, I use an old wheeled suitcase, for the first few, then carry the rest to their destinations ( 180 of those can mass up to 15kg )
Ah yes London Drinker

423:

"manual shift on the steering column"
Euw
A US fashion that was breifly popular here in the mid-50's
DO NOT GO THERE
So many linkages, all with play & "slop" in them, that getting any gear, let alone the correvct one was an expert job, accompanied by large quantities of luck.

424:

British Daimlers & RT buses had Pre-Selector gearboxes.
Interesting to drive - I've only done so once, & for quite a short distance.

425:

The answer to that set of problems & the RWD ones, is, of course 4WD ( like mine, of course! )
Incidentally, about 5 years back we had a breif heavy snowfall, and the approach to the car-park space outside the hall where we did dance practice was a breif uphill - I got in, noo problem, didn't even think about it, frankly. But the next person in, with an almost-new nice Skoda had his front wheels spinning & couldn't get in. An rwd car might have made it, fwd, no way.

426:

“I came from a pretty pure motorcycle background and it took a lot of mind resetting to remember how glacially slow you have to go around corners in a car. ”

It constantly surprises me how often I hear this.

Speaking as somebody with about 10 years experience of being a very ordinary club level motorcycle road racer, either you’re doing it wrong or have only driven very badly broken cars. Four large contact patches trump two small small contact patches every time, and that applies even when you’re directly and contemporaneously comparing a not especially sporting saloon car (like say a Mercedes C200) with a state of the art (at the time) sports bike (like say a K6 Suzuki GSXR750). Throw something more capable (like say an Audi A4 quattro sport) in on the car side and the difference in cornering speed safely attainable isn’t even funny, even when you’ve got a wife, two children, and a weeks worth of camping kit in the car with you...

427:

Unable to gain altitude faster than roughly 20cm/sec sounds terrible. But out in the real world (unless you live in the Alps or Edinburgh), a UK E-Bicycle means never going below 10mph, maintaining 15mph on the flat and >20 downhill without getting out of breath or breaking a sweat. And regardless of wind direction. And in typical urban and sub-urban UK, you'll be quicker than any other vehicle in traffic. That's enough, and if you need more than that then get a moped. If capitalism has been reasonably good to you and you have off street parking with a power point, it's easy to end up with several bicycles, an E-Bike, a scooter, sports M/C and a car. And I find the vehicle that gets used the most is the E-Bike because almost all journeys are <5 miles and involve no more than 2 grocery bags.

#426. I agree but with one proviso. Using 75% of the (dry) cornering performance envelope of a motorcycle feels effortless. While 75% of the car's envelope feels dangerous and throws the passengers around. Maybe we should all just slow down a bit?

428:

"A working distributed cryptocurrency model is inimical to the interests of billionaire monopolists who want to get rich by imposing rent-seeking practices on the immobilized peasantry "

A working distributed cryptocurrency model is also inimical to:
- fair taxation
- preventing fencing of stolen goods
- preventing the buying and selling of illegal weapons
- preventing drug dealing, money laundering, etc, etc

Maybe I'm being naive, but I don't see that governments have any reason to want that.

And when govts and billionaire monopolists both have reasons to oppose something... well.

429:

Hehehe.

Audi Quattro!

Hehehehee

You have no idea how bad cars can be.

My Mum who was a non-driver bought me cars in order to drive her around. The first of which was an EJ station wagon. It was given to her and she was ripped off getting it for free. It rolled around on ancient crossply tyres. Many years later a girlfriends father, who had raced them (!!!!) for Holden in the early 60's told me that the motor made 32 hp on the engine dyno. So basically you had to not slow down for corners because it took so much to get the speed back. Not that you really could slow down much. If I remember right, twin leading shoe drum brakes at the front, (which didn't work at all in reverse). At the time I regularly pulling stoppies on an RD350LC.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holden_EJ

That was followed by the mighty V8 Holden Brougham https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holden_Brougham
V8 with two speed auto, also running crossply tyres. It handled like a motorboat in a confused sea. There was no identifiable damping left on any wheel and the power steering gave no feedback at all and would cut in and out randomly. It had a limited slip diff, which just meant that it would unhook both back wheels at the same time. I managed to spin it 1 1/2 rotations on a straight wet road. I'm not quite sure what bike I had at that time (several, 600 Pantah?) but my Brother was getting about on an RZ500 so about 1985ish. I remember he had the RZ because my mother's friends were giving her a hard time for having got a 'V8' for the 'children' to drive. Too much power you know. We lived on a hill, and my brother used it as a dyno and called it the 'phone box run'. So to check how the sheer power of the V8 compared, we tried the Brougham on that run and it passed the phone box at 70 km/h. The RZ500 was touching 200 km/h at the same spot. I 'followed' (wallowed along in his wake) on one phonebox run. There's a kink half way up and the RZ was sliding through the kink. The Brougham got through ok, unsettled but not actually sliding, but being 100 km/h slower probably helped a lot.

Through both of those cars I sometimes drove my Great Aunt's Datsun 120Y which was much more modern than the Holdens. Because it was driven by the proverbial little old lady it still rolled around on the original tyres, now well over a decade old. I vividly remember going through a bend and having the back start to gradually slide out. I started to worry as I knew my Brother was following on his bike. I glanced at the mirror. I could see my Brother following on his RD350LC. He wasn't bothering to hold the handlebars and was almost perfectly straight up and down.

So my experiences with autos were tainted by driving horrible old cars that had been poorly maintained and which I drove like a daft teenager.

Cars are completely different now of course.

430:

My weekend-car is a BMW Z4 with manual transmission.

I bought a second hand Jeep Liberty a couple of weeks ago. I'd been looking for one for a while (more than a year), but this was the first I'd found with a manual transmission. Not a "weekend-car" as such, but meant for National Parks and other scenic locations where 4WD is required for access.

My "daily driver" continues to be a Ford Focus Wagon - FWD w/5-spd. That one only took me nine months to find.

431:

I wasn't. It's based on enquiring and observing why people don't cycle over many decades. My EFFECTIVE balance is better than most older people's (i.e. over 60), because a lifetime of adaptation counters my basic handicap. My point was that the acceptance of being forced onto psychle farcilities (including the pavement and gutter) will prevent any real recovery. I could explain why, in detail, but it's a diversion.

432:

Before Asimov was well-known. I can't remember where I read what he said.

433:

Rand biographies

Short version: Ayn Rand was a bright middle-class Russian girl who had the bad luck to hit her mid-to-late teens—the rebellious years—in Moscow during the Communist revolution. She rebelled, and made her way to the USA, and her teenage rebellion ossified. To be fair, her class background made her ripe for anti-Communism (expropriation of your home and being told you're a class enemy will probably do that), and she made her home in a nation undergoing periodic red scares on a level we can only understand today by reaching for militant islamism as a metaphor, but still: call her the 1930s Ann Coulter and have done with her.

Heinlein, on the other hand ...

Heinlein defies easy thumbnails, but can reasonably be described as "complex, and changed his beliefs as he aged".

Teenage Bob wanted to be an astronomer, but there were no university options open to him, so he joined the Navy as a cadet and went to Annapolis (hint: celestial navigation) then ended up as a navy officer.

Teenage Bob was into free love (and had an early marriage — fornication being illegal in those days — that he later swept under the rug). He appears to have caught a nasty STI that got him invalided out of the Navy and probably rendered him sterile, which in turn may have influenced his ideas about women and children that turned up later in his writing.

Post-Naval Bob was a left wing political activist who ran for the California State Senate. Post-Naval Bob wrote letters to the newspaper editors that got him deemed unsuitable for Navy service during the second world war because he was probably a communist sympathizer or something.

Post-Naval Bob got into writing to make money, was in a love triangle with L. Ron Hubbard, knew Jack Parsons (inventor of rocket fuels, founder of JPL, thelemite) and oh dear god it gets complex.

Then his second marriage disintegrated and he met Virginia, who seems to have been an old-school republican, and infected him with a bunch of libertarian bullshit—although it was a direction he was leaning in anyway.

Oh, and he was into unreliable narrators and post-modern firework shows all along.

The point is, you can't read Heinlein (should you wish to do so) without taking into account both which epoch of Heinlein you're reading, and trying to work out what the hidden message might be, and also whether he's bullshitting for real or poking fun at the bullshit du jour. If you take him at face value, then anything after 1955 is libertarian wank: except taking Heinlein at face value mean you tied your shoelaces together before the starting gun fired.

434:

By "manual shift on the steering column" do you mean an automatic gearbox? Or a manual transmission with a clutch pedal and all, with the gearstick somewhere highly inappropriate (unless it's a Citroen 2CV)?

435:

You mean before Heinlein was well known, i.e. before he got older and grumpy and got his 2nd wife who was rabidly right wing?

Make that his third wife. #1 was airbrushed out of history. (Married in the mid-1920s, divorced by the early 1930s.)

436:

I think that "nobody above the law" would prevent the plutocrat from being able to take that special position; and "equality before the law" would elevate the peasants to the same level as the plutocrat. In any case it's a literary and evocative statement and not a treatise on political philosophy. And in any case, if you're going to object to it, you could raise the same objection to Mr. Stross, substituting in the party member for the plutocrat; that's certainly a known political failure mode, and one his imagined society seems very close to falling into.

Though I would also note that as a libertarian, I don't believe that "the law" is whatever set of rules the people in power choose to enact. I think that there are objectively valid principles of law, just as there are objectively valid principles of engineering or medicine. Claiming that you have the gold, or the gun, or the majority of the votes, and you get to set those principles aside and make whatever rules you want, and cannot be called to account, has led to some really ugly places. This is really a political version of the question in Plato's Euthyphro.

437:

It's been a while since I read the two-volume biography, but I thought the first marriage lasted a lot less time than that, one measured in months rather than years.

438:

See also the Gupta/Zuma scandal, highlighted in this weeks FT comic

439:

Weirdly enough, column shift manuals were considered a safety innovation when a floor shift in a car without seatbelts sometimes impaled the occupants in a collision, see Ralph Nader's "Unsafe At Any Speed" for background. And they weren't that bad to use, until they got loose with wear... but I don't miss them.

440:

All this device can do is call the bank server, and access your account over a one time-pad encrypted link. If you manage to do enough banking to go through a gigabyte of network activity.. well, your phone will require replacing from age before that, so... The server has the matching pad copy for each customer device, and since all activity is internal to the bank, noone can trace any of it. Or read it. You can tell someone is a customer, sure, but with any decent size of customer base and trivial random delays on transactions and / or just doing all transactions as timed operations

Then you've reinvented central banking. Perhaps someone outside of the central bank can't tell what's going on, but a single break or insider in the central bank, and the whole system is exposed.

There's another problem, and I'm not comfortable that BTC or other cryptocurrencies address it, namely that if an attacker against the system has enough money, they can do a pretty good job of mapping out transactions simply by doing transactions with people and using them to build up a massive set of cribs for traffic analysis. Let's suppose that I'm the FBI and I had the CIA help me steal a gigantic number of BTC. So, now I want to build evidence against some online drug seller: simple I buy drugs. At exactly 01:09am I bought $400 worth of drugs. Following that, this particular account did a set of transactions at 01:10am. Then I bought $500 worth of drugs at 03:03am and the same account did a similar set of transactions at 03:04am. If I have enough money to spend that way, I can map out an entire economy. Bitcoins don't have a particular serial number that can be tracked but the entire purpose of "money" is to engage in meaningful transactions and meaningful transactions can be tracked; that's what a transaction is. I'm aware that transactions get pooled together, which would make them a bit harder to track in this manner but then it's just a matter of having enough BTC to have a high likelihood that you're most of the transactions in the pool.

441:

Also: what happens if SHA256 turns out to have collisions?

Troutwaxer