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BitTorrent inventor Bram Cohen on medium.com argues *against* a "simplistic plan" for scaling Bitcoin with "popular support" among "people who don't know any better" and want a "simple fix". He favors "people doing actual development who aren’t particularly good at talking". Here's why he's wrong.
TL;DR: https://medium.com/@bramcohen/whiny-ragequitting-cab164b1e88#.3svog9gfg Sorry Bram, but part of "real engineering work" often involves actually interacting with real users to solve their real problems, as quickly and as simply as possible (or as you prefer to dismissively put it in your essay: "people who don’t know any better" who are looking for a "simple fix"). This is why Bitcoin Classic is rapidly gaining consensus among major Bitcoin stakeholders, who are rejecting the needlessly slow & complicated roadmap from Core / Blockstream devs - who, as you yourself admit in your essay, "aren’t particularly good at talking" (or listening, for that matter). Experience on successful real projects in the real world has shown us (with Satoshi's initial release of Bitcoin being a case in point) that the fastest, simplest and most popular solutions are actually often the best. In the above essay, Bram Cohen, inventor of BitTorrent, makes the following arguments:
Mike Hearn, Jeff Garzik, and Gavin Andresen ... are doing a good job of whipping up popular support ... They have a simplistic plan which appeals to people who don’t know any better or want to be told that technical problems can be made to magically go away with a simple fix. On the other side are the people doing actual development, who aren’t particularly good at talking to the press or whipping up support on reddit and have a plan which requires real engineering work moving forwards.
There are several things seriously wrong with the Bram Cohen's central argument above: (1) The first part of his statement above is obsolete and hence irrelevant. Mike and Gavin did indeed previously support BIP 101 (smoothly scaling from 8 MB to 8 GB max blocksize by doubling every 2 years for 20 years) - but in the past week, things have changed dramatically, and the community has moved on:
Mike is gone, and it's become clear that support for BIP 101 / XT has dried up;
Gavin and Jeff support Bitcoin Classic, which is not BIP 101.
So Bram's comparison of Core's current roadmap with a deprecated roadmap (BIP 101) is now irrelevant. All the buzz is around a recent new competing repo: Bitcoin Classic. (2) The second part of Bram's statement above is wrong because it is precisely the simplicity and "appealingness" of Bitcoin Classic which are its strengths. He dismisses those factors as if they were bad things - but they're actually good things. The main reason for the past year of impasse is that all previously proposed solutions weren't simple and appealing enough to gain any actual consensus (among the actual users themselves - I don't mean among the devs at a single, out-of-touch and ultimately replaceable team: Core / Blockstream). Bitcoin Classic's only initial change is to do an immediate bump to merely 2 MB - while also providing, long-term, a more democratic, transparent means of governance - based not on Core / Blockstream devs ACKing and NACKing pull-requests on the GitHub repo - but rather on a much more inclusive and deliberative multi-phase process. The fact of being simple and inclusive (which Bram erroneously dismisses as being "simplistic" and "popular" by which he presumably means "populist") is precisely why Bitcoin Classic has been rapidly gaining consensus among all stakeholders in the Bitcoin community: miners, users, devs and businesses: https://np.reddit.com/btc/comments/40rwoo/block_size_consensus_infographic_consensus_is/ https://np.reddit.com/btc/comments/4089aj/im_working_on_a_project_called_bitcoin_classic_to/ Bram can talk all he wants on medium.com about what might have been, and about how his favorite dev team knows better than actual users (who he insultingly dismisses as "people who don't know any better"). But figuring out how to safely and quickly and simply scale Bitcoin (which is the main issue right now) might not be the exclusive province of C/C++ devs who code in isolation all day. In fact, as we are now seeing, it turns out that there are other stakeholders in the Bitcoin space who might actually have better ideas on how to do this kind of scaling. So it's wrong (as well as being elitist) for Bram to dismissively insult such stakeholders as "people who don't know any better" - particularly because in many cases, what we're actually talking about here are major companies with annual revenues in the millions of dollars, with qualified dev teams of their own. To take just one obvious example: look at Coinbase. They were banned from /Bitcoin and bitcoin.org by Theymos for daring to announce that they were testing XT - in order to serve better serve their users under all possible scenarios in the future. Coinbase, as we know, also happens to be one of the major on-ramps for many new Bitcoin users, since they're a major US-registered financial institution. And Coinbase also happens to have the technical and engineering expertise to have written their own open-source fully-validating Bitcoin node from scratch based on Ruby and PostgreSQL. This is kind of Bitcoin stakeholders that Bram is insulting and dismissing when he talks about "people who don't know any better": a company which basically produced a clone of the full-node part of Core. And note that Coinbase wrote this from scratch in different langauges (Ruby and PostgreSQL), instead of inheriting (some would say "hijacking") Satoshi's orignal C/C++ codebase. So Bram is simply being rude and mean when he dismisses a major company like Coinbase as being merely "people who don't know any better". Bitcoin expertise is not confined to Core / Blockstream devs. In fact, there is new breed of Bitcoin experts emerging now - people who know more about the challenges Bitcoin faces today (eg, scaling and network topology) rather than the challenges Bitcoin faced in the past (eg, hasing and crypto). Two names are worth mentioning among this new wave of experts:
Dr Peter R. Rizun - who has also joined Bitcoin Classic now - and who has been terribly maligned and censored by Core / Blockstream:
Dr Peter R. Rizun, managing editor of the first peer-reviewed cryptocurrency journal, is an important Bitcoin researcher. He has also been attacked and censored for months by Core / Blockstream / Theymos. Now, he has now been suspended (from all subreddits) by some Reddit admin(s). Why?
Miners produce a generic COMMODITY: transactions included in blocks on the chain. If certain miners refuse to produce ENOUGH of this commodity, then they CAN and WILL be REPLACED. (Important reminders from Cornell researcher Emin Gün Sirer)
https://np.reddit.com/btc/comments/411yz7/miners_produce_a_generic_commodity_transactions/ Look, I really like the stuff that Pieter Wuille is doing with SegWit - and I also really like the stuff that Greg Maxwell could contribute with Confidential Transactions (but please just ignore the few posters in this search-link who worry that CT is "dangerous" because quantum computing might come along someday.). (Although I think that any such major upgrades should be done as a hard-fork, which is more explicit and thus safer than a soft-fork). So there is room for many types of devs in Bitcoin, and there is exciting work to be done long-term. But Bram's essay is really about scaling now. And Core / Blockstream has not provided any solutions available now, nor have they researched what users really want and need now. Thus it's understandable that users are gravitating towards a new dev team which can deliver a "simple fix" - in this case, Bitcoin Classic. And that's normal and healthy. (3) Finally, there's plenty of owners of major multi-million-dollar mining operations who Bram also dismisses as "people who don’t know any better", people who believe in "magic" or a "simple fix". At the same time, Bram inexplicably praises a bunch of devs who - as he himself admits - "aren't particularly good at talking" or "whipping up support" - while ignoring the fact that it is is precisely this lack of communication skills which got us into this whole mess. Core / Blockstream are screwing up the short-term and long-term project management of Bitcoin, because they have shown that they are totally incapable of coming up with a realistic roadmap which the community could actually support. (They may have their own reasons for the strange way they prioritized their roadmap, but we don't really know - there's lots of theories out there.) On the other hand, the people behind Bitcoin Classic (not mentioned by Bram here, as he focuses instead on the obsolete strawman of Mike Hearn / BIP 101), have proven themselves to be "particularly good at talking" (and more important: listening) to actual users and major businesses, in order figure out a a safe, reasonable and practical "simple fix" to satisfy users' needs and requirements now. Specifically, jtoomim (founder of Bitcoin Classic) has done extensive research, interacting with miners all over the world - on both sides of the Great Firewall of China. As it turns out (and as stated by Gavin, another lead dev on Bitcoin Classic) the Great Firewall of China, and the concentration of so much mining on the "other" side of it, is one of the main obstacles to simple "blocksize-based" scaling solutions. So Gavin previously experimented with 20 MB blocks, and more recently jtoomim experimented with 2-3 MB - in the field - producing empirical evidence that 2-3 MB blocks are feasible and acceptable to miners now. This is the very definition of a "simple fix", with massive "support" from the people who matter: the miners themselves. And this kind of research with users in the field is exactly what Bitcoin needs now - despite the fact that it might not a sexy enough engineering-based solution to satisfy Bram Cohen and the out-of-touch devs at Core / Blockstream, who have proven themselves time and time again to be unable and/or unwilling to do deliver a simple, popular scaling solution. So by isolating themselves in their bubble of censorship to focus on elegant engineering, and avoiding the messy public forums where open debate actually occurs - and openly scorning their users (Greg Maxwell calling /btc a "cesspool" and more recently supporting Luke-Jr's attempt to sabotage Bitcoin Classic by injecting a poison-pill pull request to change the PoW and kick all miners off the network, Peter Todd releasing RBF over massive protests and recently doing a gray-hat double-spend against major US-registered Bitcoin financial processor Coinbase) - Core / Blockstream have shown themselves to be arrogant and out of touch, and have alienated the Bitcoin community by being willing jeopardize the network as they chant their mantra that "there's no emergency yet". This is people are rejecting Core / Blockstream's so-called "scaling" roadmap (which unfortunately includes no "simple fix" - ie a minimal blocksize-based solution acceptable to the community - and instead relies on complicated, untested, fancy code such as SegWit and LN - which be might good later but which aren't ready now). It's too little and too late, too slow and too complicated (and possibly vaporware). Instead, people want the simpler, faster and field-tested solutions researched and developed by the devs over at the new repo: Bitcoin Classic. Bram Cohen is needlessly focusing in his essay on what used-to-be and what might-have-been and what could-be-someday. Meanwhile the researchers and developers at Bitcoin Classic, like Gavin and JToomim, have been focusing on the here-and-now. In this sense, the Bitcoin Classic researchers and developers are closer to Satoshi, with his preference for practical solutions which work "good enough" to be implemented now, instead of "perfect" solutions which are so complicated that they might never get implemented at all. Also recall that several major Core / Blockstream devs didn't believe Bitcoin would work:
Gregory Maxwell "mathematically proved" that Bitcoin would be "impossible" (ignoring a little thing like "complexity" - which shows that he might not be that well-rounded, since many mathematicians are indeed familiar with "complexity theory", involving termination, NP, and all that fun stuff).
Adam Back missed out on being an earlier adopter of Bitcoin even when tipped off by Satoshi (Adam had invented an earlier prototype called HashCash, but in his case he ignored how inflation might work - which shows that he also might not be that well-rounded, since many economists in the real world do indeed know how currency inflation works).
Peter Todd is an odd case, focusing on breaking things that aren't broken in order to petulantly prove a point (so he might be good in Testing or Threat Assessment, but he's probably not the kind of guy you want in Project Management).
These are the kinds of people Bram is arguing we should to support - people whose track record of being right on Bitcoin has been spotty at best, often because they're more interested in spending ages solving complicated engineering problems rather than in providing "simple fixes" for real users in the real world. Meanwhile, guys like Gavin, JGarzik, and JToomim - all of whom are involved with Bitcoin Classic - are operating more in the spirit of Satoshi - they've been working closely with real users in the real world, figuring out what they really need and want and getting ready to actually deliver it, soon - which is why consensus among users, miners, devs and businesses has been rapidly coalescing around the new competing repo Bitcoin Classic.
Hello potential research collaborator! Rumour has it that you, a researcher or manager of researchers, are interested in joint research with the Ethereum Foundation. Below are the primary topics the Foundation will be thinking about for the next 2-3 years. If you, like us, enjoy the prospect of thinking about one or more of these topics for the majority of your waking hours, do get in touch. The Foundation does have money to pay the salaries/stipend of those undertaking high-value research. We have topics in both pure research and applied research. The Foundation as well as the larger Ethereum community seek help on both. Typical outputs from researchers are: peer-reviewed academic papers, technical reports, and/or implementations (prototypes as well as production-ready). Questions in Fundamental Research Q1: Can we create a theory of cryptoeconomic mechanisms? There are certain patterns that are often used in cryptoeconomic mechanisms. These can be studied in the abstract independently of any specific use case. Security deposits (see also proof of stake) How do we model capital lockup costs? Dual-use of security deposits Challenge-response games (one group of actors is given the opportunity to submit evidence that fact X is false, and if no one submits evidence within some period of time, then X is assumed to be true). See also challenge-response authentication. Channels State channels How do we minimize the vulnerability of challenge-response games and channels to liveness or censorship faults of the underlying blockchain? Escalation games Cross-chain interoperability (see the R3 interoperability paper ) Relays Hash timelock atomic swaps Q2: What is the role of cryptoeconomics in distributed systems? What is the role of economics in cryptography? Can we formalize how algorithmic incentives (“cryptoeconomics”) can enhance information security? Modeling behavior of participants in mechanisms Simple (crash) faults Byzantine faults (arbitrary) Byzantine-Altruistic-Rational (BAR) model Uncoordinated majority (e.g., as in selfish mining) Coordinated choice Bribing attacker (as in P+epsilon attacks or iceman) Behavioral economics models (prospect theory, endowment effect, loss aversion, morality, etc.) Complex game-theoretic interactions Blackmail Quantifying cooperative interactions among agents (e.g. dynamic coalition formation) Evolution and enforcements of group norms Q3: How do distributed systems influence current economics? On net, when and how much does decentralization lower transaction costs? No obvious answer. Decentralization _decreases_transaction costs because of: Reduced number of counterparties and reduced need for building trust Yet decentralization increases transaction costs because of: increased technical overhead, Decreased usability, increased responsibility. Are Transaction costs = transaction fees + coordination costs? Q4: Within game-theory, can we quantify coordination costs? for players running a particular protocol for players executing a particular strategy Q5: What are ways we can manipulate (e.g., guarantee/minimize) coordination costs? For example, we can reduce risk by increasing coordination costs. Coordination costs are costs from multiple-agents coordinating. For example: Discovering potential peers, agreeing on computing coalition strategies, synchronization required for execution, costs of proving to the coalition that players followed coalition strategies, cost of getting rid of individual incentives to deviate Q6: What protocols have better fault attribution? A protocol fault is uniquely attributable if there is evidence that could be used to umambiguously convince any observer which actor caused the protocol fault. If a fault is non-uniquely-attributable, the blame for the fault can often at least be narrowed down to within N specific actors. Fault attributability in various consensus algorithms Chain-based (synchronous) consensus Partially synchronous consensus (see minimal slashing conditions) Common coins in asynchronous consensus Attributability of censorship or liveness faults. Translating fault attributions into penalties Shapley values Q7: What are decentralization’s fundamental limits? Building on hundreds of impossibility results. E.g., 1 and 2, or even fundamental limits from other areas of computer science. What centralized protocols can be decentralized (while preserving guarantees)? At what cost in protocol overhead? Are there limits to scalability? For Bitcoin: On Scaling Decentralized Blockchains Only because of the requirement for shared state? At what cost in incentivization? What are the limits to incentivization? Limits to attribution Limits to mechanism budgets With how much security (against coordinated choice, trusted majority required)? Limits to fault tolerance e.g. in objective protocols and subjective protocols Objectives in Applied Research Also knows as Pasteur’s Quadrant. Right now our primary topics in applied research are: plasma, sharding, and Casper.
Base Layer (core protocols) 1.1 Plasma and Sharding [49%] Goal: Allow Ethereum transaction capacity to scale to better than linear with computational capacity of the n nodes.
Sharding FAQ Stateless clients State channels Plasma implementation Data availability proofs [65%] A note on data availability and erasure coding Effective state-space partitioning / Cross-shard communication [15%] Vitalik’s R3 paper, particularly Section “scalability” (p20-30). The whole paper also has a three-page executive summary. High-Level-Languages [20%] Topic: Developing a language that knows to send the cross-shard asynchronous messages whenever contracts are located on different shards. Topic: Applying prior theory from multicore CPUs/parallel threading to sharding. 1.2 Proof of Stake [70% complete] Goal: Fully transition Ethereum from Proof-of-work to Proof-of-stake. Casper the Friendly Finality Gadget Cryptocurrencies without Proof of Work Proof of stake FAQ Economic Incentive analysis [49%] Ouroboros: A Provably Secure Proof-of-Stake Blockchain Protocol Minimum Slashing Conditions Slasher Ghost, and Other Developments in Proof of Stake Least Authority Performs Incentive Analysis For Ethereum Demystifying incentives in the consensus computer On Stake Safety Under Dynamic Validator Sets Delegation protocols (or Voting Pool for PoS) [20%] Using trusted hardware Formal Verification [45%] Formal methods on some PoS stuff A mechanized safety proof with dynamic validators Formal methods on another Casper Securify.ch Testing and Implementation [20%] History of Casper: Chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 Stage 1 CASPER contract and JSON RPC demo 1.3 Protocol Economics [50%] Goal: Increase economic incentive confluence in all aspects of the Ethereum protocol. Gas Limit Policy / state-resource pricing A theory of Blockchain Resoure Pricing [not ready for release; ask Virgil for link to pre-release] Topic: Validatominer economic policy—how much should we pay out? 1.4 Stategies for efficaciously hardforking for upgrades [40%] Goal: Smart-contracts are new territory and the best ideas in the space remain undiscovered. When we discover them, we must be able to roll them out gracefully. Hard Forks, Soft Forks, Defaults and Coercion The beautiful Vlad Zamfir on Soft forks, hard forks, and the Ethereum Social Contract Topic: Hardforking the EVM 1.5 Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM) upgrades and optimization [100%] Goal: Have a fast, efficient virtual machine optimized for processing cryptographic operations and smart-contracts. Update: Solved! We’re moving to eWASM!
Layer 2 2.1 On-chain Random Number Generation [63%] Goal: This is an important special-case necessary for many applications. We wish to solve it.
Implementation Ethereum’s RANDAO A candidate alternative design from Vitalik Bitcoin Beacon On Bitcoin as a public randomness source NIST Randomness Beacon Bitcoin Beacon — Princeton Bitcoin seminar final project Tor project’s attempt at the same. 2.2 Privacy [40%] Goal: Allow apps to benefit from the transparency of blockchain-execution while preserving author privacy and the confidentiality of zer data. One solution, among several, is homomorphic encryption. General: Privacy on the Blockchain Mixers [30%] Bitcoin mixing remains an unsolved problem. As what’s possible in Ethereum is a strict superset of Bitcoin, solving for either case is sufficient. Incentivized Mixing? Princeton Bitcoin course: Anonymity (Lecture 6) An Empirical Analysis of Linkability in the Monero Blockchain CoinParty: Secure Multi-Party Mixing of Bitcoins Secure and Anonymous Decentralized Bitcoin Mixing Decentralized Mixer based on RingSignature Laundromat: Mixing via ring signatures Voting [10%] A Smart Contract for Boardroom Voting with Maximum Voter Privacy Zero knowlege proofs [30%] ZK-Snarks Other Confidential assets 2.3 Decentralized exchanges [50%] Goal: We wish to minimize the necessity of trusted third parties in currency exchanges. Atomic swap on-chain decentralized exchanges mkr market etherdelta 2.4 High-level-languages (HLLs) [40%] Goal: Coding contracts (especially secure ones!) is hard. It should be easier. Please help us. Our packet for recruiting PLT researchers. Languages Solidity Viper Pact Composing contrats: an adventure in finanial engineering Ivy Bamboo functional-solidity-language Pax Codex Hammurabi Project in Wolfram Language Formal Verification of HLLs [15%] Formal Certification of a Compiler Back-end or: Programming a Compiler with a Proof Assistant Short Paper: Formal Verification of Smart Contracts Other programming language techniques to analyse smart contracts Oyente, a symbolic execution based analyser for smart contracts Using Oyente to optimize smart contracts Defensive programming [30%] Step by Step Towards Creating a Safe Smart Contract: Lessons and Insights from a Cryptocurrency Lab A Programmer’s Guide to Ethereum and Serpent A survey of attacks on Ethereum smart contracts Thinking About Smart Contract Security Ethereum Contract Security Techniques and Tips 2.5 Better Tokens, better token sales Goal: Understand how to design and manipulate tokens for specific properties, particularly paying attention to better ICOs Vitalik on his Interactive Coin Offering The MiniMe/ERC223 talk from DEVCON3 An Optimal ICO mechanism Better ICOs category on ethresear.ch All about DAICOs Appendix Ethereum’s old list of open problems. Relevant Conferences Research communities whose interests intersect with Ethereum’s research include (in alphabetical order, non-exhaustive): Algorithmic Game Theory. ACM Conference on Economics and Computation, Conference on Web and Internet Economics, Symposium on Algorithmic Game Theory, International Conference on Game Theory Blockchain. Annual Blockchain Summit, Coinfest, Consensus, Internet of Things World, Workshop on Bitcoin and Blockchain Research Computer Security. ACM Conference on Computer and Communications Security, IEEE Computer Security Foundations Symposium, USENIX Security Symposium Cryptography. CRYPTO (International Association for Cryptologic Research), EUROCRYPT (Annual International Conference on the Theory and Applications of Cryptographic Techniques) Distributed Computation. ACM Symposium on Principles of Distributed Computing, ACM Symposium on Parallelism in Algorithms and Architectures Multi-Agent Systems. International Conference on Autonomous Agents and Multiagent Sytems, AAAI Conference on Artificial Intelligence, International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence http://notes.eth.sg/s/rkxpeG0ff
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