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    “Truly immutable timestamps could be useful”

    As with most stuff, there’s already a standard for that. One company, Surety, even puts the hash of their timestamp ledger (hash chains) in the New York Times to create a paper trail. I’m sure the decentralized checking part could be scaled horizontally a bit without much change in protocol or energy usage. The individual operations are still simple enough to do on chips that are a few bucks each.

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      there’s already a standard for that. One company…

      The big feature that Bitcoin and other blockchains bring to the table is decentralization. If you can rely on a company for stewardship of your ledger, then by all means use a permissioned database like Surety does.

      On the trusted timestamping page you linked, if you skip to the decentralized section, you can see it immediately starts talking about Bitcoin.

      I’m not sure how much Surety’s service costs, but piggybacking on the Bitcoin or Ethereum blockchains is likely far cheaper. Here is a tutorial on how to store a message as an Ethereum contract. The cost is variable with the string length, but in this case only cost about $0.20. It works by deploying a solidity contract that is just a couple string variables. The output is observable on etherscan.

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        In my model, several foundations in different countries run by different people would agree on a protocol. It would store stuff in SQLite, FoundationDB, or something similarly fast/resilient. A web or app server with plenty of cache would give snapshots of the ledgers. They’d charge a fixed price for bandwidth and storage which could go up as the tech improves.

        This setup for something small like hashes with a niche audience could run on $5/mo VM’s. Even dedicated servers, 5-way redundancy with years of compute, storage, and bandwidth would be just over a $1,000 a month. The components theyd use are so vanilla the admins could be part-time. How much does Ethereum or Bitcoin cost in comparison?

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          Check it out, this message cost $0.80. Zero sysadmin effort on my part due to leveraging a preexisting system. Also, the message won’t vanish if I stop paying VPS bills.

          If you’re a large corporation that wants to timestamp thousands or millions of messages, the centralized approach could very well be cheaper. For me, verifying maybe a handful of messages per year, it’s way easier to piggyback on a large blockchain project.

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            That’s a decent point. If you’re just externalizing and aimjng for low cost, you can post the messages in threads of diverse forums, Pastebin, etc. I used to do that with hashes on blogs. Never cost a cent.

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              verifying maybe a handful of messages per year

              What’s your actual usecase for this? I struggle to see viable usecases for the blockchain beyond speculation so it’s interesting to hear what people consider are valid usecases for it.

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                I should have worded that differently… I don’t timestamp messages all that often. What I meant to convey is that $1000/mo is definitely overkill for anyone with intermittent needs.

                Pastebin and forum posts are fine, but centralized. If Pastebin ever goes down, or starts manipulating old posts, then the integrity of your verification is compromised. Embedding the message in Ethereum’s blockchain is a much stronger guarantee of permanence and immutability.

                What sorts of blog posts need such tamper-proofing? Anything dealing with warrant canaries, reverse engineering, or low-level firmware might deserve it.

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                  I should have worded that differently… I don’t timestamp messages all that often. What I meant to convey is that $1000/mo is definitely overkill for anyone with intermittent need

                  The $1,000/mo is for the hardware and bandwidth to run the alternative to a blockchain. In the blockchain, you’re a user that pays for a tiny portion that you use. In the alternative, you’d similarly pay for a tiny portion that you use. Maybe a membership fee that covers general cost of operations with you paying the usage parts at cost. I gave the examples of $5 VM’s to illustrate the difference between whatever Bitcoin is doing for mining or transactions. I imagine it takes a bit more hardware than $5/mo.

                  The other article today said companies were paying $10,000 a unit for what supports this system. My hypothesis was getting orders of magnitude better performance with a year of usage at the same price with five-way checking. Adding actors that don’t trust each other just adds small amounts to the system without dragging down the speed of its main DB’s. Whereas, the folks buying the ASIC’s are spending tens of millions to support almost nothing in terms of transactions. The traditional tech is so cheap that I was using blogs to do my version of it. They didn’t even notice. That’s the difference between crypto-currency tech and traditional tech w/ decentralized checking.

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                    Pastebin and forum posts are fine, but centralized. If Pastebin ever goes down, or starts manipulating old posts, then the integrity of your verification is compromised. Embedding the message in Ethereum’s blockchain is a much stronger guarantee of permanence and immutability.

                    It doesn’t solve the permanence problem, but just signing text is sufficient to address tampering, which doesn’t use a lot of electricity. So is being permanent the selling point? There is also ipfs which doesn’t require PoW but is decentralized, would that + signing be sufficient for your needs?

                    Basically, I’m still struggling to figure out what the blockchain does that makes the excessive energy usage worthwhile. Maybe I’m just being narrow minded, but I still only really see financial speculation as the primary motivator, so if that becomes unviable, why would anyone continue to run a bitcoin node (and there goes the permanence?)

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                    Yeah, you’d really need to know the use case to try to use it as justification for the Bitcoin blockchain and all its baggage. As the full quote from the linked article says:

                    Truly immutable timestamps could be useful — assuming anyone finds a timestamp use case so important that it warrants a country-sized percentage of the world’s electricity consumption.

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                      Ah, sure. Immutable timestamps are a fun way to piggyback on the existing Bitcoin and Ethereum blockchains, but timestamping by itself is not a justification for those coins existing.

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              plenty of hype here too: https://guardtime.com/ for example

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                Oh Lord… they gotten bitten by the bug. No surprise, though, since it’s a fad with momentum and lots of money. I expect any company that can do a blockchain product to build one just to make money off it. Given their prior work, there’s little reason to think they actually needed a blockchain vs hash chains with distributed checking and/or HSM’s. Just cashing in. ;)

                Btw, do check out that Functional-Relational slide deck I submitted. It shows the Out of the Tar Pit solution is essentially what the new, GUI frameworks are doing. It was just years ahead. So, maybe some practical uses for some version of their model.

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                  Guardtime’s KSI Blockchain is probably my favourite blockchain hype. The product was first released in 2007 and they only branded it “blockchain” a few years ago … for marketing reasons.

                  I have a post about it here. In one of their white papers, they literally redefine “blockchain” to mean containing a Merkle tree:

                  Unlike traditional approaches that depend on asymmetric key cryptography, KSI uses only hash-function cryptography, allowing verification to rely only on the security of hash-functions and the availability of the history of cryptologically linked root hashes (the blockchain).

                  I hear cryptocurrency people touting Estonia’s BLOCKCHAIN REVOLUTION as great news for Blockchain, and even great news for cryptocurrency. It’s not even a blockchain.

                  I mean, I have no reason to think there’s anything wrong with it. I’m sure it does its job just fine. But goodness me, it’s the greatest marketing success “blockchain” the buzzword ever saw.

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                    If anything, it was a great way to show we didnt need a blockchain when our older concepts were working fine. They might benefit by using the buzzword. Yet, such misleading usage just reinforces the phenomenon where the BS spreads further.

                    Im not even sure it’s reversible at any level given these fads usually either level off or implode with the name and reputation damage permanently attached to whatever the name touched. AI Winter, expert systems, and Common LISP are some of best examples.

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                      There’s probably a post I need to write on this topic: basically, we’re going to see a resurgence in the popularity of linked lists with hashes, and they’re going to be branded “blockchain(tm)”. There are a few non-bogus projects along these lines, but it’s not so great actually and in all cases they should have just used a frickin database.

                      Likely case, we get mostly-working systems that have an eternally painful “blockchain(tm)” implementation at the core that can’t easily be replaced by something sane.

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                I had no idea about surety or even the ability to do that — thanks!

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                  Sure thing! Trusted timestamping is actually one of my goto examples for hash-chain-using tech that predates blockchain craze. What timestamping-on-blockchain folks hope to achieve is what such companies have been doing reliably and efficiently for years now. Better to just invest in and improve on efficient models that already work.

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                  The standard isn’t the hard part, the trust is.

                  How much money would it take to bribe the Surety employee who has the fewest scruples? That’s about the ceiling for which you can bet on their authentication service.

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                    The thing I push is centralized, standard ledgers with decentralized checking. For Surety done that way, it would take you bribing all the checkers. Alternatively, the HSM’s can mitigate some of the insider risk.

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                  Posts like this are refreshing and I feel like they bring back some sanity to the crypto-currency madness.

                  We are talking about massive wastes of energy for creating what? I’ve had one friend say better money. I really like to think of money as a problem (read: Debt: The First 5,000 Years) and I’d hope humanity would one day move past money and a resource scarcity based economy.

                  Bitcoin is just more resource scarcity. Fuck crypto-currency in general at sending prices for video cards and dram through the fucking roof. I can’t even build a new system today because DDR4 prices and GPU prices have doubled since last year!

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                    For what it’s worth, DRAM manufacturers have allegedly been conspiring to fix the price higher. So it’s not totally crypto’s fault.

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                    I’m always curious about the intended audience with these types of posts. The posts typically paint a straw man picture that there are people unwilling to change the operating model to be more efficient given the option, which is absurd. Should we abandon bitcoin? Is that the thesis here?

                    Clearly the non technical people would probably not know PoW is inefficient but they also have little to no control over the dominance of bitcoin and the way it works. There are strong economic incentives for actors supporting the current structure to keep supporting it as is and the blog post does not address this problem at all.

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                      The cryptocurrency posts themselves paint a strawman that we cant do anything better than corrupt, for-profit, centralized tech unless we switch over to blockchains. That’s a lie with many counterexamples. Bitcoin itself also has huge hype and drawbacks in practice.

                      The author is highlighting that hype and drawbacks. He’s also highlighting a social phenomenon where many proponents try to talk like bad things are good things to downplay them. I’d straight up call that fraud since they’re trying to get people’s money.

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                        I understand that you have a strong opinion on the subject but you’re essentially calling anyone who has an interest in decentralized systems a fraudster. I think it’s disingenuous to say “people who have interests different from my own are by definition fraudsters”.

                        Decentralized, trustless systems have important applications. Bitcoin was created as a response to the banks being involved in widespread fraud. Calling Bitcoin users frauds seems to miss the point in the largest way possible.

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                          “ Bitcoin was created as a response to the banks being involved in widespread fraud.”

                          So were credit unions and non-profits in response to earlier fraud. I don’t see a lot of them involved in things like 2008 crises. I thought even Bitcoin had a non-profit/foundation controlling or supporting it.

                          He’s also highlighting a social phenomenon where many proponents try to talk like bad things are good things to downplay them. I’d straight up call that fraud since they’re trying to get people’s money.

                          That was the key circumstance that I brought up fraud on. The need to use as much energy as Ireland to avoid unscupulous parties screwing up a few transactions a second is one such implication. It’s a total lie since the regular, banking system prevents or catches lots of stuff like that on a daily basis. From there, I pointed out in another comment that a system using regular databases and protocols with distributed checking might take a $5 VPS or one server per participant. Those don’t take the energy of Ireland, insanely-slow transactions, or crypto magic.

                          That the very-smart proponents of Bitcoin don’t investigate such options or tell their potential investors of such alternatives with their risk/reward tradeoffs means they’re more like zealots or con artists. I mean, most people might trust such alternatives since they’re using the regular financial system. They might love solutions that knock out all the real problems they’ve dealt with efficiently plus make plenty of headway on the more rare or hypothetical risks many cryptocurrency proponents worry about all night.

                          Save the best for last. If it’s Bitcoin, they might also want to know it’s primarily a volatile, financial instrument used for speculation instead of a stable currency they can depend on as its proponents are selling it. I know people who are day trading these things right now riding the hype waves profitably while the adopters driving them and sustaining the systems aren’t getting the much better thing people probably promised them. Many of them have also lost money they wouldn’t have lost storing currency in traditional, financial system. Looks like fraud to me.

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                            The need to use as much energy as Ireland to avoid unscupulous parties screwing up a few transactions a second is one such implication. It’s a total lie since the regular, banking system prevents or catches lots of stuff like that on a daily basis. From there, I pointed out in another comment that a system using regular databases and protocols with distributed checking might take a $5 VPS or one server per participant. Those don’t take the energy of Ireland, insanely-slow transactions, or crypto magic.

                            It sounds like you might endorse the notion that PayPal is more effective than Bitcoin. PayPal supports more transactions per second, catches a lot of fraud, supports chargebacks when fraud does happen, and doesn’t require proof-of-work – it all runs safely on PayPal’s verified servers. This is all true, and for many people PayPal is fine enough.

                            However, the centralized nature of PayPal does have some problems. There’s always the risk of getting your account frozen, which has happened to countless people. Minecraft made too much money in 2010. Wikileaks pissed off powerful entities in 2012. Google has over 600,000 results for “paypal accounts frozen”. I hear that PayPal freezes lots of crowdfunding efforts in particular.

                            What it comes down to is trust. If you can trust the corporate entity PayPal to expedite your transactions and send you on your way, then the status quo is fine. But if you have a problem with PayPal, or PayPal has a problem with you, then you need to find an alternative.

                            You can see the same problem on a larger scale with the SWIFT network. Nearly every international interbank transfer takes place on SWIFT, and it works fine as long as everyone trusts each other. But if you find yourself on the wrong end of US sanctions, suddenly your banking system comes to a screeching halt. Russia, China, and Iran are all too aware of this problem and are trying to build alternatives. Russia is working on SFPS and China is building CIPS. They’re also both stockpiling gold; another asset that won’t freeze you out at a moment’s notice.

                            Bitcoin never freezes anyone out of their funds. If you have the private key, you control the bitcoin wallet, period. It’s math, not bureaucracy.

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                              “This is all true, and for many people PayPal is fine enough.” “However, the centralized nature of PayPal does have some problems”

                              You’re almost there. The centralized solution like PayPal works really well except in well-known failure modes. SWIFT is another good example I bring up myself in these discussions as better than Bitcoin so far. There’s centralized companies, esp credit unions or nonprofits, that aren’t doing all the shady stuff PayPal does. That’s by design. There’s cooperatives leaner than Swift, too. So, the logical, first thing to explore is how to mix those protections with centralized companies like PayPal. If we do decentralized, the first thing to explore should be proven tech for centralized case with distributed checking maybe at a granularity of participating organization like with banks and SWIFT. So, so, so much more efficient to do that.

                              Instead, cryptocurrency proponents paint a false dilemma between for-profit, greedy banks vs distributed, energy-sucking, blockchain system. It’s misleading given all the designs in between. Not to mention they seem to only focus on what for-profit, scumbag banks do instead of what centralized organizations designed for public benefit can do. A little weird to sidestep the whole concept of nonprofit, consumer-focused banks or companies, eh? It’s like they want a specific solution ahead of time looking for justifications for it instead of exploring the vast solution space trying to find what works best for most peoples’ goals.

                              “Bitcoin never freezes anyone out of their funds. If you have the private key, you control the bitcoin wallet, period. It’s math, not bureaucracy.”

                              You’re telling me Bitcoin ledgers, exchanges, and/or hardware can’t be blocked or made a felony in a country. I doubt that. Hell, the mining situation makes it look more like a traditional oligopoly. I can’t remember if they’re all in China or not. That would be even worse given it would be an oligopoly whose companies are under control of one government that’s not about libertarianism and greater good. There’s currently more diverse control and subversion difficulty in traditional, banking system right now if not doing business with banks that are scumbags. I’d avoid any of them on the bailout list to start with.

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                                Good points all around. On second thought, what you’re describing sounds less like PayPal and more like Ripple.

                                In May 2011, [the creators of Ripple] began developing a digital currency system in which transactions were verified by consensus among members of the network, rather than by the mining process used by bitcoin, which relies on blockchain ledgers. This new version of the Ripple system was therefore designed to eliminate bitcoin’s reliance on centralized exchanges, use less electricity than bitcoin, and perform transactions much more quickly than bitcoin.

                                It’s targeting the interbank/SWIFT space, and purports to “do for payments what SMTP did for email”.

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                                  Oh yeah, I loved their concept when I looked into this stuff. Interledger was my favorite concept but Ripple stood out, too. Obviously, I have some technical disagreements but they’re going in much smarter direction. Their marketing said you can pay for stuff with quick settlements, multiple parties checking stuff, and none of Bitcoin’s energy problems. The quick settlements in a global system probably being the main, selling point for most customers.

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                        there are people unwilling to change the operating model to be more efficient given the option, which is absurd

                        There are absolutely lots of these people unwilling to change the operating model to be more efficient given the option. This is why I looked for claims from reasonably noteworthy bitcoiners and not random nobodies - though the random nobodies use the same arguments, and quote the noteworthy arguments - and linked and quoted them at length to make it clear that this is not straw but actual arguments they make in real life. This is all real. I’m not sure how I could make that clearer.

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                          I don’t see a quote about choosing PoW over efficient alternatives. All the claims quoted in your post all seem to be something along the lines of “the benefits of proof of work are worth it.” To these claims you respond with the argument that they are “highly questionable to anyone who isn’t already a Bitcoin fan.”

                          From my read I’d say you do not address the claim that immutability and a shared transaction concensus is useful with any sort of reasoning or argumentation, just a slew of examples meant to bring doubt in the readers mind. You use terms like “waste” to describe the use of energy, which clearly reveals the a priori and entirely unargued assumption that it is not worth it. A better approach would be to lay down a reasonable framework for analysis and explain the limits of immutability and the price being paid for it within that framework.

                          Ultimately, I still don’t quite understand the thesis of this post. Why should the externality of energy expenditure be regulated by the economics driving it (proponents of PoW blockchains) and not governments?

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                        Somebody sent me the white paper of a cryptocurrency scheme he was promoting and asked for my comments. I will abstract the name to [Color][Fart] to protect the guilty. Their goal is to produce a zero emission world. (heh heh heh)

                        Hi Don,

                        I hope you’re doing well!

                        I wanted to get your thoughts on a project I have been working on with an international group called [Color][Fart], a blockchain solution for creating a zero-emission world.

                        We are about to release our [Color][Fart] white paper publicly, and I was hoping you could take a look first? It’s quite a long read, but I would already be thrilled if you could take a look at the summary on page 1. I would really like to hear your thoughts.

                        Please feel free to share this white paper with anyone that you think may be interested, perhaps specifically in the energy and real estate space, or in crypto currencies in general. We’re always trying to get better from feedback.

                        We’ve been having a number of exciting conversations with folks from around the world, most recently at the World Economic Forum in Davos, and we’re hoping to build on that strong momentum before launching publicly.

                        Best,

                        [FirstName] [LastName] chairman & founder [Color][Fart] The leading blockchain solution to a zero emission world

                        White Paper:

                        [Color][Fart] White Paper: [Color][Fart]: The leading blockchain solution to a zero emissions world.

                        Summary: Creating a zero emission world may be both the greatest environmental challenge & the greatest financial opportunity of our generation.

                        [Cows] cause 33% of global climate changing greenhouse gasses through the [bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla] [Color][Fart] [Cow] [Fart] [bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla] [Fart] [Fart] [Fart] [bla bla] [Cow] [bla bla bla] the final [Color][Fart] [Cow] solution. That’s the beauty of it! Cryptocurrency is basically one big pyramid scam. Those that get in on the top get rich. Those that get in on the bottom get fucked. So: do you want to get rich, or do you want to get fucked?

                        Now where have I heard that before???

                        https://youtu.be/jmaRTZpJgPA?t=2m10s

                        And where else have I seen that Brock Pierce guy??? Oh yeah:

                        https://youtu.be/g6iDZspbRMg?t=19m42s

                        So I replied:

                        Yes, I’m doing well, and [bla bla bla]! I’ve [bla bla bla], including [bla], and it’s quite [bla bla bla], enabling me to [bla bla bla]! You should have seen the look on his face.

                        Thanks for sending me the [Color][Fart] white paper. I’ve read the summary, but not the whole paper.

                        At first from the title I was quite excited because it sounded like you had come up with a zero emission block chain.

                        Isn’t the block chain itself (or at least Bitcoin as currently implemented) extremely and necessarily wasteful of energy?

                        That’s the huge terrible problem with the blockchain that really needs to be solved for the good of humanity.

                        But and as far as I know it’s a difficult unsolved problem, and will be for a long time. I thought all of the proposed solutions so far have serious flaws. (Even Bram Cohen’s “proof of disk storage” still requires some “proof of work”, and a shitload of disk drives, which require power and create pollution themselves.)

                        So I don’t see how building a “zero emission” system on top of an extremely energy wasteful system could be itself very efficient.

                        If each transaction uses as much energy as it takes to run your house for a week, then how many transactions will it take to run a [Color][Fart] [Cow] for a week, and how many houses of energy will that have to somehow offset just to break even?

                        I also don’t understand what it is about using a blockchain that magically makes this plan work (and surmounts all the chicken and egg problems of coming out with a protocol that you want everyone to suddenly start using), that couldn’t be done in some less wasteful (albeit less trendy and headline catching) way.

                        What difficult and otherwise unsolvable problem does the blockchain solve in this context, that can’t be solved otherwise?

                        And how does that compare in difficulty to the other intractable problem of getting everyone to trust your company and invest the time and money in using your protocol somehow?

                        Or is the whole point of using the block chain that everyone who uses your protocol will not need to trust you, and get rich quick, so everyone will want to sign up?

                        -Don

                        Never heard back! ;(

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                          Nothing in this article shows that Bitcoin’s energy expenditure is wasteful, and a lot of the claims in this article are completely false. You continue to spread debunked nonsense. Your entire “But what about the entire financial system and everyone in it?” section is proof of that. People have pointed out the flaws in your arguments, I have done that multiple times now, but you don’t seem to care, if anything you are proud.

                          But, you keep doing you, David! Lots of people make careers out of misleading people.