That Old Time Blockchain Religion

When I was younger, I had a serious disdain for anything remotely faddish or suddenly mainstream. Fads have always seemed to me to be useless mind viruses, transmitted from one uncritical host to the next.

I’ve mellowed a bit on that in my old age, bucking the usual “Get off my lawn!” trend, but I still reserve the right to shake my fist at any hype-mongers who deserve it.

Blockchain and cryptocurrency most definitely deserve it.

In the not too distant past, a friend of mine pulled me into a Signal group message thread with some other friends of his. The topic: Bitcoin. The atmosphere: mostly skeptical with occasional bursts of religious fervor. To be more precise, one gentleman in the group became angry anytime he came across an article on the web expressing even the most remote levels of skepticism about Bitcoin.

If you can’t handle pushback on your “precious”, then it’s a religion. Even people who are members of actual religions should be able to handle doubt and questioning without anger if they’re intelligent humans who really believe what they’re preaching.

If something is true, it doesn’t matter what people say about it — it’s true. If it’s not true, it doesn’t matter how much people believe in it — it’s not true.

Technologists have a hard time avoiding techno-religion, primarily because most technologists love technology. Passion is good, but it shouldn’t come with even a voluntary lobotomy. That’s why one of my favorite technologists is cryptography and security expert Bruce Schneier.

Rather than seeking an altar to worship at, Bruce analyzes technology by looking at its most important characteristic: its practical effect on people. This approach allows him to properly rate actual threats versus perceived threats, and conversely to see through hype and determine if there’s actual substance there.

When that approach is applied to the topic of blockchain, his takeaways are quite revealing:

Do you need a public blockchain? The answer is almost certainly no. A blockchain probably doesn’t solve the security problems you think it solves. The security problems it solves are probably not the ones you have.

And:

Honestly, cryptocurrencies are useless. They’re only used by speculators looking for quick riches, people who don’t like government-backed currencies, and criminals who want a black-market way to exchange money.

Obviously I agree with Bruce on this topic because I agree with Bruce on this topic. I already felt blockchain and cryptocurrencies were mostly libertarian pipe dreams long before this, but just because Bruce confirms my own suspicions with his conclusions doesn’t mean he’s wrong.

Blockchain and bitcoin are actually quite clever as technical concepts. I’ve no doubt that whoever is really behind Satoshi Nakamoto, for example, is either fabulously rich or gained some other form of power over people who flocked to get in on the cryptocurrency gold rush.

Still, if you perceive any technology as magically able to solve all your problems and free you from whatever overlords you’re angry at, you’re almost certainly deluding yourself. Also, in the case of blockchain and cryptocurrencies, the environmental price paid by everyone on the planet in energy consumption just to fuel unrealizable dreams for a few antisocial types doesn’t seem worth it.

Lest you now wish to murder me in my sleep for daring to shake my head in disgust at the object of your libertarian fantasies, I’m always open to having my mind changed on pretty much any topic. As stubborn as I can be, I’m also rational. I just have a hard time seeing it in this case given what we currently know and the behavior we’ve witnessed with blockchain applications.

Maybe cryptocurrencies will someday become useful and trustworthy, and blockchain will actually solve some problem other than rounding out a list of techno buzzwords. But I don’t imagine a way around the physics of bitcoin mining, for example, even if those other roadblocks are magically removed.

The Pattern Recognizers

William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition is high on my list of all time great books so I was excited to find The Incomparable 446: Allergic to Brands in Overcast this morning. I love the deep dives The Incomparable does on just about any topic, and they don’t disappoint here.

I particularly loved Lisa Schmeiser’s dissection of the generational interplay at work in the book. We’ve all seen it, the differences in beliefs and attitudes that occur from generation to generation, but I could have never vocalized the way she does how Pattern Recognition uses it to not just separate characters but to tie them together as well.

The hosts also get into the concept of pattern recognition itself, how it’s used by Gibson, and how it works when a sci-fi writer with futuristic sensibilities turns their eye on modern times. It’s a fascinating look at what is itself a fascinating look at society through the eyes of a master of pattern recognition himself, William Gibson.

If you haven’t read Pattern Recognition or at least listened to the audio book (I recommend both – written and spoken words trigger different parts of the brain, and listening is not reading and vice versa), do that and then spend a happy hour and 10 minutes with the crew of The Incomparable sifting for patterns in the signal.

Challenger

Today is the 33rd anniversary of the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger shortly after liftoff from the Kennedy Space Center. It’s an event many Americans remember well, both because we saw it unfold live and because of the revelations of massive mismanagement that came later.

If you’re interested in some good old fashioned technical analysis of what doomed the Challenger crew, as well as the human factors that made an easily preventable tragedy a certainty, Episode 8 of Causality with John Chidgey provides outstanding insights into what went wrong.

You can follow John on the Fediverse by searching for him at @chidgey@pleroma.engineered.space or directly at https://pleroma.engineered.space/chidgey.

There is also an extremely detailed 28 minute YouTube video called Inside Space Shuttle Challenger STS-51L During the Accident (Investigation and Analysis) that’s well worth watching. The channel is called Earth Station Alpha, and while I’m always leery of recommending people and views I’m not completely familiar with from YouTube, the video is a good one and seems to stick to well established facts.

And now for a slight tangent, but one I feel is in fact directly related to what happened in the sky over Florida 33 years ago. It is about knowledge, authority, peer pressure, and the ability to live with a clear conscience.

The lesson of Challenger is to never let anyone tell you you’re wrong if you have done your homework and know for certain that you’re right. Equally, the lesson is that you should never shut anyone down until you’ve done your own homework and made certain that they are not in fact correct, particularly when they are pointing out something that can lead to an undesired outcome.

Early in my daughter’s school career, an adult authority figure told her something that was incorrect, and I could tell from the look on my little daughter’s face when it happened that she knew they were wrong and was confused as to why someone she was supposed to trust would insist on something that was false. I waited until later when we were alone and told her to remember that feeling and trust it whenever people said or did things that were out of line with her understanding of the situation.

Whether lives are on the line and the stakes are insanely high or it’s just a matter of principal and doing what’s right, people all have their own motivations and no one should be inherently trusted to make the correct decisions just because they’re the right ones.

Far from turning my daughter into a rebel, this revelation has helped her to view information critically instead, and while she is positive and helpful and productive in school, she knows that she always has the right to determine for herself when she feels that something is wrong and she should stand up for herself. I will always accept and support her beliefs and decisions so long as she has considered them carefully and made a good faith effort to think and do the right thing.

It isn’t about casting aspersions on people and making a decision to dislike them, it’s about being willing to analyze all data critically and trust yourself once you have done so. You can like and trust someone and still decide that they are very wrong about something and that you’re not compelled to act according to their determinations.

It is our responsibility to give our young people the confidence to go against anyone, even adults, when they are certain it is the right thing to do. Obviously this directly applies to their own personal safety in the world, but also later to their roles in society and the workplace. Many good and smart people tell us to do things that turn out in retrospect to be really bad ideas, and not all people are good and smart to begin with.

Ood

There are a lot of excellent Doctor Who fancasts, including Bubblesort TV’s coverage of the show (honestly, except for the episodes I’m on – I too am getting quite sick of the sound of my voice). My favorite Doctor Who Cast though easily has to be The Ood Cast.

The Ood Cast S07E11 is a prime example of the show’s typical podcasting genius. Plenty of skits, jokes, emphasis of the rule to never bring back previous characters for gratuitous appearances (while simultaneously bringing back previous characters for gratuitous appearances).

Oh, and the Haiku. Whoaiku? Whoku? Hmm.

Overcast Link.

Apple Podcasts Link.

Website Link.

Sleep

Originally I wasn’t going to take the whole week of Christmas off, but I’m so glad I did. I have exercised more than usual and (most importantly) slept way more than normal.

Check it out. I went from a 29% sleep deficit according to AutoSleep to a 5% surplus.

And I did it with nights like this:

 

Even my worst night this week was magical by real life standards.

I love this week so very much. Love, love, love. I want more times like this in my future!

Counters

This post is written in loving memory of Vic’s Apple Music playlist day counter.

Apple has an incremental problem. I’m referring to counters. Photos, days. Whatever.

Photos on Mac has been stuck at 3843 photos and 127 videos since probably sometime in 2015 or 2016. My iPhone, by contrast, informs me that I currently have 3,934 photos and 129 videos. Is that accurate? I don’t know, but at least it changes by the right number when I add or delete things.

I’ll admit whenever I initially encountered the issue in Mac Photos app, I thought there was an iCloud sync issue and it drove me nuts. Once I realized Apple just can’t count and that all my photos and videos seem to be present and accounted for, I stopped caring. I have since spent exactly zero minutes trying to understand or fix those stupid stuck numbers.

Vic, on the other hand, has a weird weekday counter issue with Apple Music. It’s always a day behind for him. Is it Friday? Not for Vic! It’s Thursday again! All he has to do is consult Apple Music to know.

On the other hand, his playlists seem current (as far as he knows), but still it bothers Vic immensely. Should it? Probably not. It’s not like the issue I had with Apple Music back in late 2017(?) when playing a song from Apple Music would crash the music app for me every single time.

Resolving that one required a wipe and clean install of iOS, and it really was imperative because I was paying for Apple Music but couldn’t play it on my iPhone. If there’s one device music needs to play on, that’s the one.

In the meantime, I think Vic should just relax and enjoy the past. Being perpetually a day younger than you’re supposed to be can’t be a bad thing. You should tweet at him and let him know.

Stop already

Lately I hear a lot of podcasts in which a guest or cohost is angry because they think people are slighting their beloved iPads. In the most recent instance I’m aware of, someone became upset when John Siracusa mentioned on the last episode of ATP that he likes Terminal and the command line.

Yes, how dare he like computer things and understand them? As if the iPad isn’t a computer too and is in its own separate precious little category, untainted by 1’s and 0’s and registers and Unix commands and Cocoa frameworks.

I do agree with iPad lovers who get frustrated when Mac people try to do something on iOS the same way they do on the Mac, find out they can’t, and proclaim it can’t be done at all on iOS. Yes, that is ignorance. Yes, it is annoying. It’s an inability to adapt and learn.

But it goes both ways: Mac owners who can’t adapt – stupid. iPad owners who also can’t adapt and can’t accept that experience and Apple history can be useful – also stupid.

There are a lot of people with strong opinions on “both sides” about things they don’t actually understand at all. The fact that any Apple users would try to create a divide and proclaim that there are sides to begin with is itself a serious attitude problem.

Stop already.

I work in semiconductor test. Exactly 0% of the hardware and software in my job is the same as when I started, but I’ve learned and adapted and moved on. The principles are always the same — we stick needles into silicon to facilitate the introduction of voltage and current into tiny devices to perform functional and logical testing. All of the many complicated details surrounding it exist in service of that solitary purpose. Understand how THAT works, and you’ll understand anything new that comes along in the semiconductor test universe.

The mechanics of die planarity and the concepts behind test programs don’t change much. Some of the methods of, say, thermal control or parallel testing might, but it’s never an entirely new thing people have to wrap their heads around. It’s all just details. Sometimes very complicated details, but details nonetheless.

It’s no different with computing platforms. They are computers underneath, and the less you’re able to see beneath the icons, the weaker you are in terms of flexibility and adaptability. If you can’t understand what’s really going on functionally, you’re stuck with your particular hardware and software combo, and that makes you ineffective outside of your specific tiny time/space window. Heaven forbid anything change if all you understand is procedures instead of concepts.

My 11 year old daughter definitely gravitates towards iOS devices in terms of mastery, but she uses her Mac daily and learns and tries things. She doesn’t put up an artificial mental barrier or look down her nose at one or the other. She will frequently run from iPad to Mac or vice versa if she has something that’s easier on one versus the other.

So I have to ask: why can’t so many self-proclaimed adult tech nerds be this flexible? It’s like they’re ok with being button pushers, as long as the buttons are pretty ones that they approve of.

I have more respect for people who aren’t super technical but don’t put up arbitrary mental barriers and just figure out how to get their work done on WHATEVER they have than I do for masters of one type of hardware and software who quake in their boots when confronted with a different type of computer and resort to pretending like it’s inferior because they don’t understand it.

Sure, it’s perfectly ok and normal to have personal preferences and to be more skilled in a particular environment than others, but the fundamentals of how all this stuff works is unchanging. Don’t pretend like your golden calf isn’t connected to something larger somehow.

For DECADES Apple enthusiasts put up with people calling the Mac a toy, heard how stupid and useless it was, and endured all kinds of mind-boggling ignorance. I remember being asked as late as 2005 by a co-worker if the Mac supported ethernet and TCP/IP. All I can say is I know some current iPad owners who would never have survived the 80’s and 90’s without some pretty massive therapy bills given their excessive sensitivity and desperate need to be the center of the computing universe.

Personally, I didn’t and still don’t care what other people thought or think about Apple. I don’t think it fazed most of us at all back then, honestly. I certainly don’t remember the kinds of persecution complexes currently on full exhibit today.

It’s also a bit odd to me that people who are completely unaware of this history want to alienate others who might actually understand best how they feel when people diss their beloved things. Stop creating ridiculous and unnecessary fights with people who started using Apple products before 2010, maybe.

Guys (and it is always guys, by the way) – who cares? Get over it already. Are you that unsure of yourselves?

There is no divide except in the minds of people who are stuck, mentally and emotionally. Get away from them. Get to work and stop dissing other Apple people.

It’s OKAY to know something about computers of ALL kinds and not just be surface deep nerds. Stop limiting yourselves and make great things.

Thank you

Yesterday morning I was pleasantly surprised to find episode 97 of my friend Clay’s Cybrcast sitting in my Overcast queue, an emotion that turned to humble contemplation as I began to listen.

As the gentlemen of Cybrcast listed things in their lives they are grateful and thankful for, I was forced to ponder my own tendency to focus on the negative rather than acknowledge how fortunate I really am and how much I have and how little of it I really deserve or did anything to earn.

Ty spoke of thankfulness for family. I am fortunate beyond measure here.

My wife is one of the most genuine and wonderful people in the universe, and I am so glad she somehow found herself stuck with me. The winner in this arrangement is definitely all me — I can only hope she’s enjoyed a few good days out of the deal as well.

My daughter is a kind, smart, funny, and just plain FUN human being. I love her beyond measure. She’s a genuinely good kid, and lest that sound arrogant or like I am bragging, I assure you I’m fully aware of how little any of it has to do with me. Whatever positive influence her parents may have had on her attitude is entirely due to her mother, but mainly, she was always going to be this way, and we’re just fortunate enough to be her temporary guardians.

I’m also extremely grateful for the fact that I have 11 days off, starting today. It’s hard to underestimate how valuable a break every now and then can be. If I’m lucky, I might even sneak in a podcast with my friend Peter during this time. One can dream.

It’s here!

It is here. My website, that is. I was hosting it at saw66.com, but due to the end of Pocket Sized Podcast and wanting a place to archive that along with my desire to write more tech articles, I’ve decided that using my name on my site makes more sense than the cryptic saw66 that no one ever really seemed to get.

My fault – bad branding.

You can find the Pocket Sized Podcast archive episodes mixed in with other podcast archives here, but it’s best subscribed to in a podcast app of your choosing by plugging in this Pocket Sized Podcast archive specific rss feed url, or else using the iTunes subscription link.

More to come!!