Bitcoin Cash : Stay Away

Posted by Blieden on January 12, 2018 in Cryptocurrency, Technology | Short Link
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A brief word of caution to all my friends, family, and acquaintances – I advise you to stay away from Bitcoin Cash. I disagree fundamentally with the project on a technical level, and I don’t like the rhetoric in the community. Bitcoin Cash (BCH) was borne out of a genuine and important debate about how to scale Bitcoin (BTC), but there are a whole host of emergent properties in the Bitcoin Cash culture which I have come to see as harmful. Please consider the following red flags:

False Prophet

The first time I heard Roger Ver speak was an interview on Let’s Talk Bitcoin. The topic was supposed to be Bitcoin scaling, but he wanted to talk about censorship on Reddit. Again and again he returned this theme, even as the hosts tried to bring him back to the conversation. While he had legitimate points to make, he returned again and again to a chorus of wounded indignation and blame. His position was that forum moderators on the bitcoin subreddit had silenced anyone with views like his, and therefore his plans for bitcoin scaling could not get a fair hearing. I have a hard time with people who place blame rather than focus on constructive action, but placing blame on a Reddit thread for your professional frustration is pathetic. The Bitcoin improvement process adheres to the traditions and protocols established by the open source community, and those protocols do not involve Reddit.

Roger was an early Bitcoin adopter, and he deserves credit for spreading news of the technology. He even earned the moniker “Bitcoin Jesus” for his proselytizing, but in this epoch Ver has emerged as Bitcoin Cash’s champion and lead investor and his behavior is anything but Jesus-like. His chip-on-the-shoulder rhetoric has further divided what was already an anarchic community.  In every appearance he repeats the same lie about Bitcoin having “$30 fees and unreliable transactions,” like a bad politician who’s memorized a single talking point.  The truth is nuanced and he is exploiting those nuances for personal gain. In politics all the players play this way, so voters choose which lies they like the best and settle for that. But Ver is politicking against a system that runs on mathematics. If you opt out of Ver’s argument, you are opting out of the realm of human emotions, and into Bitcoin, a persistent and immutable record of universal truth, backed by privacy, sound monetary policy, and unstoppable by any government on the planet.

Ver has referred to Bitcoin as cripple coin, which I find terribly offensive. My friends with disabilities loathe that word.  I hate name calling in general because only 5 year olds resort to that, and I am not 5 years old.

Ver recently bragged about how rich he is to when cornered in an online debate. To me that is the measure of a vulnerable ego, and it gets to the heart of how emotional this topic of money is to begin with. Money is an abstraction and a shared delusion. It’s like a giant movie screen upon which we project our fears and ambitions, and which reflects back to the world our true nature.

Religious Textualism 

Roger Ver and BCH advocates constantly refer back to Satoshi Nakamoto’s bitcoin whitepaper, claiming that only they are upholding the true original vision of Satoshi, Bitcoin’s pseudonymous creator who vanished from the internet after releasing Bitcoin. From the 10 Commandments to the Constitution, I see major red flags when someone claims the mantle of leadership by draping themselves in the orthodoxy of old documents. Believe in sacred texts if you want, but I simply don’t give them that kind of authority and in the world of software design it strikes me as bizarre.

Nostalgia

In the early days of Bitcoin, when it was known widely enough to be a movement but still fringe enough to be inexpensive to transact with, there were visions of Bitcoin replacing the banking system, Western Union, Paypal, and federated financial institutions everywhere. Practically speaking however, the underlying technology (referred to in its generic form as “blockchain” or DLT – distributed ledger technology) is not suited to every purpose. The Bitcoin open source development community has adopted an approach of scientific rigor and pragmatism, looking forward to ideal use cases that are both within the scope of the technology and executable by the widest user base. In the immediate term this has meant accepting that users must chose one of two: either higher transaction fees or longer confirmation times. This in turn has rendered Bitcoin less than ideal for smaller, quotidian transactions. 

People in the BCH community posit that the ability to conduct every single monetary transaction on chain is the best use of DLT. This is a terrible idea, and in an insidious way it is merely an appeal to the nostalgic days of 2013, a time when it was just as easy to send a million dollars over the  network as it was to send fifty cents. This was a liberating vision at the time, but for now it’s not practical. No one has given up on this vision entirely, but the current state Bitcoin calls for trade-offs. The BCH community does not want to grow up.

Cartels

Bitcoin remains one very few cryptocurrencies not controlled by any single entity, and not vulnerable to a single point of failure.

Transaction validation and confirmation on the network comes from a mathematical process called, symbolically, mining. Bitcoin and other decentralized cryptos favor properties which make mining profitable and enticing for the widest swath of users, but at current prices the barriers to entry are high for miners. Proponents of a currency may be willing to run nodes or mine at a loss if financially incentivised, i.e. if prices are kept artificially high. But this is not how decentralized currencies work, and cartels return us to the problem of rampant manipulation, single points of failure, and cutting out the little guy. 

I am not an investigative journalist but in the past year few months I have absorbed through osmosis more than a whiff of collusion on the part of Roger Ver, who owns the domain bitcoin.com, and crypto mining hardware manufacturer Bitmain. As the scaling wars intensified, Bitmain joined Roger in opposition to a technological upgrade called Segwit. Segwit was the upgrade that the Bitcoin development community, all volunteers, had decided to employ in a next step to scale the protocol. It was then discovered that Bitmain miners, which the company sold and also employed in their own mining operations, had the potential to exploit a bug in the bitcoin code. That exploit was called ASICBOOST, and it gave their technology an unintended 20% advantage in mining, though they were not the only company to install asicboost capability.  The asicboost cannot run on upgraded software, the Segwit upgrade. People have wondered if this is why Bitmain originally joined Roger in the campaign to scuttle segwit. Bitmain insisted that Asicboost was never activated on their hardware. 

Another oft discussed attack vector on crypto networks is the 51% attack, also called a consensus attack. This is possible when a single actor has enough hash power to control 51% of the network. Even under ideal circumstances it would be a difficult to mount a consensus attack, and impossible for almost anyone but a state actor to sustain one due to the massive amounts of electricity required. Nonetheless inoculation against consensus attacks is mandatory for the health of a cryptocurrency. As I write this, 32% of all BCH block are mined by “other”, that is to say they are unknown or unattributed. 15% are mined by Roger Ver’s bitcoin.com. If the unknown miners and Roger were to collude, they would instantly have 47% control of the network, dangerously close to the fabled 51%.

Currently only 4% of Bitcoin blocks are mined by “other”.

Cartels are just underground monopolies which resist innovation and gouge consumers. Bitcoin is an antidote to financial cartels, at least it could be.

I cannot prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that BCH is the work of a cartel, but in the age of Trump and Russia I feel more attuned to the workings of psy ops, troll armies, and influence campaigns. When it comes to BCH, all of my spidey senses are tingling.

Propaganda Disguised As Impartiality

Bitcoin.com is a domain that Roger Ver purchased secretly before his ownership was accidentally revealed in 2015 as part of a lawsuit between him and the Bitcoin exchange OKcoin. I have heard that he paid a lot for the domain, the number one million dollars has been thrown around but I can’t verify it. While there is a long standing and revered convention around open source projects using .org addresses, your average newcomer is going to make whatever.com their first stop when dipping toes into the world of whatever.

 

If you click on “Start Here” and scroll down to “Latest Bitcoin Articles”, here is a list of the current headlines:

  1. Bitcoin Cash Compared To Bitcoin Core, An Infographic
  2. What Is Bitcoin Cash?
  3. Ver On The Rubin Report: How Bitcoin Works
  4. Bitcoin Cash Is Bitcoin
  5. Bitcoin Whitepaper: A Beginner’s Guide

 

Here we see a very fine dusting of objectivity, placed oh so delicately and deliberately, like an art director putting cobwebs on the set of a horror movie. To the novice, however, it is probably enough to blur the underlying bias. Bitcoin.com clearly hosts overt pro-BCH messaging, while otherwise maintaining the false veneer of a neutral public-facing organ. I have a particular grievance against misleading front groups such as this, that prey upon the uninitiated. It’s a predatory way to ensnare them with a branding attack. Bitcoin Cash is out to steal the Bitcoin brand.

Destructive Mindset

I am surprised at how often I see evidence of a naked desire for Bitcoin to fail on the part of BCH supporters. This is suicide to the crypto community because for now BTC is the bellwether of the space and if it goes down then everything else would fail with it. It’s like Orville Wright rooting for Wilbur Wright to die in mankind’s first flight so Orville could have the honor.

Today I did a stupidly simple experiment. I did a twitter search for the terms BCH and BTC. Here’s what I found in the first 20 results:

SEARCHING FOR BCH: Out of the first 20 results, 5 of them were pro BCH tweets that bashed BTC directly. That’s 25% hate tweeting against BTC.

SEARCHING FOR BTC: Out of the first 20 results, I found 0 tweets bashing BCH. In fact, I scrolled down to the the 50th search result and still found 0 tweets bashing BCH. It took me 66 results to get to BTC tweet that bashed BCH.

A zero sum game approach to crypto is an emotional cancer eating at the corpus of the BCH community. We as a community have much more in common than we have in opposition. We should be supporting each other and setting egos aside to achieve our common goals. To me there is actually a compelling case to be made for the larger goals of Bitcoin Cash, but the truth is that these goals are better implemented as steps in a Bitcoin improvement processes, not as a fork. The horse has left the stable, however, and the Bitcoin Cash fork is now something we must contend with.

Bad Game Dynamics

Bitcoin Cash has profound misunderstanding about the nature of fees. I acknowledge that high fees may, at this particular moment in Bitcoin’s evolution, be hurting the use case of Bitcoin as payment rail for everyday purchases.  Users must remember, however, that fees are not imposed on the marketplace any more than house prices are imposed on home buyers, or the cost of a pair of vintage Nike Dunk High Pro SB’s in squadron blue are imposed on people bidding for them on Ebay. Fees are being paid by the highest bidder in a free and open market. Fees exist because there are customers bidding them up to unprecedented levels and because fees are dominated in BTC, so the higher the value of BTC, the greater the cost of fees.  Just think of it this way: Success = High Fees.

To claim that users deserve low fees is like arguing for an entitlement program in crypto. This is what happens when people confuse their nostalgia for the Bitcoin that was, with a decentralized game-theoretical transaction validation scheme in which all parties participate out of their own selfish best interest, i.e. the Bitcoin that is.

Scaling a decentralized system is one of the hardest parts of deploying one. Fees are an elegant and fair damping mechanism for a capacity-strained, resource-intensive project in which no one has control and no one participates out of charity. Fees were designed to give miners an incentive to validate transactions in the present, and keep them on the network when the issuance subsidy runs out, which it will. To have a network with no fees is to have a network with no validators.

All that being said Bitcoin developers are working on several new technologies to ameliorate the high fees and that they haven’t come fast enough for some has been a PR boon for BCH.

That is how Bitcoin Cash came to be. I hope you will join me and stay away from Bitcoin Cash.

Short doc I directed for Sarah Silverman

I was crying while we shot this so don’t hold back.

So sweet. Review on Huffpo.

Yay for this sweet review we got on Huffington Post.


“This 70 minute film is too good to spoil, so I will stop here and add that it’s also too hilarious and poignant to miss.”


Shira Hirschman Weiss.

 

Short Film – Objects

Posted by Blieden on January 28, 2017 in Shorts/Web | Short Link
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Soundcloud Project – Episode 11

Climate Change Tourist

Posted by Blieden on January 20, 2016 in Climate Change | Short Link
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This is just a fun video I made about my friends and our trip to Paris, but I thought it would be worth explaining how that trip came to be.

Back in October of 2015 I was feeling paralyzed with anxiety about climate change. I started putting more time aside every day to talk about environmental issues with friends and write letters or comments online. Everyone close to me knows that this has taken center stage in my life this year.

One day last summer I was reading Jeremy Leggett’s amazing book “Winning The Carbon War,” which chronicles his participation in major climate negotiations in recent years, among other significant developments in the effort to decarbonize our world economy. There was one passage in particular where he describes young activists present at one of the talks, and suddenly I was overcome with an urge to be among these people. I put the book down and bought a ticket to Paris for the COP21 climate summit.

Admittedly, buying a plane ticket was a hypocritical move on my part. Unnecessary plane rides are the opposite of limiting my carbon footprint. I did buy carbon offsets for my ticket, which Delta makes very easy, but still it’s a carbon intensive luxury that can’t be dismissed lightly. I follow developments with electric airplanes and I hope that one day soon I can fly in a commercial flight powered by nothing but sunlight. Until then I know that I’m harming the planet every time I fly, and there’s no way around that except to fly less.

Dan Bree and Jessica Makinson are two of my dearest friends. Knowing that they share my concern for the planet, I urged them both to come with me and they did. This video is more about them than the climate summit. It’s just a little vacation video I made to capture the memories.

Standing Up For Solar Energy

Posted by Blieden on December 19, 2015 in Climate Change | Short Link
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Screen Shot 2015-12-18 at 9.07.13 AMFor the past year and a half I’ve been looking for arguments in the comments section of climate change articles on the internet. I know that it’s a sewer, and people tell me all the time that it’s not worth it. But I find it therapeutic and to be quite honest, I have so much anxiety and frustration with the climate change debate that sometimes I just want to get into a fight. So this is where I go for a bare knuckle brawl.

It all boils down to this – I have a particular sensitivity to watching people play dirty tricks with logic and manipulate the public with mind games. In fact I can’t stand it.

It started when I read a comment where some individual, it seemed, had read a glossary of terms which apply to exclusively the fossil fuel industry (pollution, out of control GHG emissions, disruptive to local habitat) and then simply went online and claimed, without any evidence or support, that they applied to the renewables industry instead. This kind of rhetorical perversion is rampant, and it made me boil over with moral outrage.

I spent the next 15 months getting into polite, but firm arguments in comments sections. I guess you could argue that I’m a troll for climate change, and unapologetically I concede. I’ve gotten better at it, and I’ve learned a lot more about how climate change deniers think and argue. Many of them are quite smart, and they have helped me refine my position

The other day I was reading this article in the LA Times: PUC Plans New Rooftop Solar Fees

In this article I caught a whiff of something devious that the utilities were trying to do in their messaging, so I sprang into action, and for the first time I wrote a letter to the editor. I don’t know why this hadn’t occurred to me before, because this is like the Hall Of Fame for comments.

My comment got published yesterday. Here is the text of what I submitted in full, as it was edited by the paper for publication:

Readers beware. California utilities have found a very cagey argument for increasing fees on solar users, invoking the “cost burden” to non-solar customers. As a renter and California ratepayer, installing solar is not an option for me, so I’m happy to support homeowners who have the roof space and the will to install solar panels. The true cost burden should be measured not in cents per kilowatt hour, but in excess molecules of carbon dioxide emitted by centralized utilities that will have to rely on dirty power for years to come, and the loss of efficiency as power is transmitted over long distances to our homes. The grid is a resource for all of us, and there is common sense in maintaining it so that we can share the electrons generated elsewhere. But my favorite electrons are the ones that come from my neighbors next door, even the ones with bigger houses than I could ever afford, and generous arrays of solar panels on the roof. Don’t be fooled by the utilities who put residential solar in their crosshairs and feign doing so out of “fairness”. This is a fight for their business model, and while they’d be stupid not to try, we’d be stupider to let them get away with the ruse.

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