Clickypedia

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For many years my son and I have played a game we call “clickypedia.” He’s 14 now, so he can no longer sit on my shoulders, or behind me on my office chair, or even on my lap. But we still play once in a while.

We started out by just clicking around on Wikipedia, looking for interesting subjects, occasionally making an edit. At some point he suggested we try to get to another specific topic by following links. Later we would start at the Wikipedia main page and see how few links it would take to locate the topic of choice, alternating at the mouse.

Collaborative Clickypedia Rules

  • The players agree on a topic
  • A browser tab is opened to the Main Page
  • Players take turns clicking links to get to the topic
  • Six Clicks is considered success, fewer is better

More recently it’s become a competition…

Competitive Clickypedia Rules

  • The first player chooses a Random Article as the topic
  • The random button can be clicked no more than 5 times
  • Two additional browser tabs are opened to the Main Page
  • Each player controls one of the tabs
  • The second player clicks a link in his tab
  • The players alternate until the topic is located
  • The winner is the first to locate the topic (no ties)
  • Each click must be completed within 60 seconds
  • All clicks must land on a Wikipedia page
  • Clicks to locations withing a page are not counted
  • Text search within a page is allowed
  • Browser back and forward navigation buttons are counted
  • The reference target page can be viewed during a turn
  • No others sources are allowed for reference

In keeping with the original game, a “time out” is called when an interesting subject is discovered that requires exploration. The click clock is stopped and a new tab is opened to the topic. Once the tab is closed play resumes.

A variation on the collaborative game exists where one player tries to get to the topic and the other tries to move away from it. This was originally a bed time avoidance subterfuge, but is also good fun.

Dark Market : Trade is not a crime

Last night, while you were sleeping, three guys at a hackathon in Toronto created a free market. You are probably thinking, what does that even mean? Before one can fully grasp the importance of this event a little background is in order. The free market is any trade unregulated by the state. The term black market arises from the inability of the state to see and thereby control trade, but applies equally to trade over which the state asserts no control. In a free market each exchange is a voluntary agreement between two parties.

Recent research has shown that the size of the free market globally is roughly 23% of world GDP, down from 26% in the 1960’s. The free market has been in a free fall in Asia, currently at a level of 20%. Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and post-socialist regions enjoy free market levels of at least 36%.

shadow economy

Why is the free market declining in the more developed economies and holding its own those that are less developed? It stands to reason that the regulated market is “free enough” in more developed economies, causing more people to “come out of the dark” – accepting regulation as a cost of doing business. Another interpretation is that in the more developed economies trade is more easily controlled. World Bank research shows a strong correlation between “formal account penetration” and per-capita GDP. In other words, wealthier people rely more heavily on banks. A business without financial services in a developed economy is generally at a competitive disadvantage.

account penetration

Account penetration differs enormously between high-income and developing countries in the aggregate: 89 percent of adults in high-income countries, but only 24 percent in low-income countries, report that they have an account at a formal financial institution. – World Bank

Ultimately these are two sides of the same coin. People come out of the dark when their cost of doing business in the regulated economy becomes less than their cost of doing business in the free market. Economically this is a contradiction, since the aggregate cost of doing business in the free market should always be the lowest possible. The catch is that free markets do not exist on a large scale. The means of exchange itself is heavily regulated. In order to trade freely one must either accept unreasonable risk by lugging around piles of cash or join the heavily regulated financial system, with all of its various financial and privacy costs. Cryptocurrency is disrupting this model by enabling trade that does not rely on “formal accounts.” People can trade in cash on a larger scale.

Trading in cash is not illegal, but as we can clearly see in global financial trends, it is going away. It is being replaced by a very expensive and insecure system subject to onerous state-level controls. Developed markets may be “free enough” to sustain this presently, but this is a dangerous trend from a historical perspective. So if trading in cash is legal, and free market trading is legal, why are markets like the Silk Road under state-level attack? On the surface it’s pretty simple, free markets don’t differentiate between legal an illegal trades – that’s the “free” part. So the knee-jerk answer is to shut down the market.

It is not the case that all trades on Silk Road were illicit. Yet all accounts have been closed and 26,000 BTC seized. It only takes a small amount of paranoia to consider that the market itself might have been the target, not illegal trades or even the alleged dark motives of its original operator.

Shut down the black markets take away what little they have, then double the amount of floggings and executions put them on TV. Broadcast them live! Sow fear, more fear. – Plutarch Heavensbee

The beauty of Bitcoin is that nobody is trusted. There is no operator. The protocol cannot commit a crime. This makes it impossible to shut down the system. It’s important to remember however that this does not make it impossible to track down criminals and bring them to justice. It just preserves the rights of the innocent.

The Gift of Satoshi is consensus without trust – we no longer need to accept trust in order to trade. Amir Taaki (libbitcoin and Dark Wallet), William Swanson and Damian Cutillo (both of Airbitz) have in one night given us Dark Market – the first implementation of a Distributed Anonymous Marketplace. The world may never be the same.

In the interest of full disclosure, I work on libbitcoin.

Satoshi Finch

Reading the Newsweek story on Satoshi Nakamoto today I was struck with the same feeling I had when reading the Sports Illustrated story on Sidd Finch (see page 76) in 1985.

sdd_finch

Not because I believed it to be a hoax. When I read the SI story I believed it, we all did. It was crazy and exciting and kind of a bummer when we learned it was an monumental April Fools joke. The Satoshi story is equally enthralling because, like the SI story, it perfect. It’s a story that actually exceeds the expectations of the improbable legend that Satoshi has become.

In this clip he continues to deny any involvement. As the 400 millionaire locks his door he selects a reporter to talk with based on the fact that the reporter is offering him a free lunch. Maybe this is not him, maybe it’s a hoax (sure doesn’t seem like it). But we’re really enjoying it, so Mr. Nakamoto please just keep denying it (and here’s a little something for your trouble). Because as soon as you stop the hoax will have been revealed.

US Congressman Calls for Ban of U.S. Dollar

Colorado Congressman Polis Calls for Ban of U.S. Dollar Bills in Response to Senator Manchin Letter Calling for BitCoin Ban

polis

Bravo Congressman! As our dollars are increasingly transacted electronically and as currency controls continue to tighten even in the US, this is rapidly becoming a question of whether the relative anonymity afforded by cash throughout history will be eliminated entirely.

I expect Forbes to understand opportunity cost

Eric Mack writes today for Forbes about Eric Stromber, the man who placed the first Bitcoin ATM in the US. Stromber purchased the Lamassu last summer at a cost of $5,000, for which he paid about 43 bitcoins.

lamassu

Today that much coin trades at about $30,000. According to Mack, Stromber told Coindesk:

If I had held those bitcoins, they would be worth six times as much now. But that’s looking in the rearview mirror.

The punch line from Mack follows:

That opportunity cost makes it unlikely that Stromberg’s investment in the first American bitcoin ATM to operate will pay off anytime soon.

Why not write about the opportunity cost of Stromber not taking his $5,000 to Vegas and placing it all on 00? The cost of that decision is 3,500% or $175,000. That’s not a reasonable use of opportunity cost because the risk is close to 35x higher than holding the cash or holding the $5,000 ATM asset. An expectation that BTC would rise 6x in 9 months was similarly incomparable. The “opportunity” in both cases only existed in an unforeseeable future, which makes the analysis bogus.

Mack lobs in:

So the road to profitability could be long for Stromberg and his ATM, but such has been the tale of most things bitcoin so far.

Stromber will have earned back his investment once he clears $71,429 in transactions, just as every other business will do once clearing expenses – despite the ever-present Vegas opportunity. This opportunity cost line is a less-than-subtle knock on the idea of a deflationary currency. Mack also offhands that the Lamassu isn’t really an ATM:

And to call the machine a true ATM is something of a misnomer — it’s more of a currency exchanger that simply takes in cash and converts it to the digital currency.

I’ve made this argument myself, but for some reason he’s spinning this as some sort of flaw. The fact that it converts USD (paper) to BTC (digital) and a “true ATM” converts USD (paper) to USD (digital) is hardly a knock on the Lamassu.

Sorry, but this just feels like another old money press hit piece. We can expect a lot more of this.

Free to speak your mind?

I was sued under the Lanham Act about ten years ago. We published serious security vulnerabilities in a competitor’s product. These were later confirmed by CERT (network wide privilege escalation, network wide remote registry attack, log spoofing). It was dropped after a year.

What a pile of dung this law is, trampling basic First Amendment protection of free speech by attempting to draw a distinction between speech and “commercial speech” – a distinction that the Constitution does not make or allow:

Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech…

After eliminating commercial speech, political speech, artistic speech, terror speech and hate speech, what sort of speech do we imagine is left?

The point of free speech doctrine is to prevent words, or more specifically ideas, especially the distasteful, from being criminalized. Navigating the arbitrary maze of speech regulations currently requires a law degree and a crystal ball.

Coming out

It’s been well over four years since I last blogged. I tend to rant to my Facebook friends, in site comments and over email, but I’ve decided to start publishing some of that here. I have a couple of friends who are always asking me to write a book. I doubt I’ll ever undertake such an exercise, but it would be nice to be able to send a link as opposed to retyping the same ideas time and again.

The truth is that I don’t have much in the way of original thought, but I suppose few people do. I write mainly to help focus my mind and to get things off of my chest, but also because I believe passionately in one simple idea – the nonaggression principle.

I find that most people intuitively believe in this principle but unknowingly and frequently violate it. I see this contradiction as the central problem of the human condition. I have found it easy to get people to recognize the contradiction in their own beliefs. At that point each makes a choice – to live with their inconsistent and therefore irrational belief system or to divest themselves of either this principle or their actions that conflict with it. When this clear choice between good and evil becomes evident any meaningful debate is over – a seed has been planted which will eventually bear fruit.