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Blockchain is a solution in search of a problem

Someone showed the Kickstarter board a fancy PowerPoint presentation with lots of big numbers, they ran to invest a bunch of their own funds in a blockchain without stopping to ask their own devs if the tech had any value for what the site actually does, and now they’re desperately trying to justify it after-the-fact.

…that’s my current running theory, anyway.

More analysis of Kickstarter’s announcement here — including a bunch of background explanation, for people who still aren’t following what all the new tech terms mean.

When companies announce a vague “shift to blockchain” with no specific idea what they’re doing: “Back in 2017, we reported on the bizarre story of the Long Island Iced Tea Company rebranding itself as the Long Blockchain Corp. […] Now the Securities and Exchange Commission has revoked Long Blockchain’s stock registration, effectively banning the general public from trading its shares altogether.”

The big fraud in the heart of “Web3” discourse: “The cryptocurrency web3 starts with all our existing infrastructure. So I still need a DNS name, I still need a server, I still need storage, and I still have a distributed computation occurring between the browser and the server. So already I haven’t removed any of the gatekeepers from the conventional distributed system, showing the claims of gatekeeper-free decentralization are false. Web3 is only about adding an additional layer of complexity in the name of justifying the underlying cryptocurrencies.

Problem links about NFTs/”cryptoart” specifically

A few days after the Kickstarter announcement, I got my first alert through DeviantArt Protect that an NFT is linking to one of my drawings without my permission. So it’s been an inauspicious week for blockchain news all around.

(As of this writing, the NFT-selling site is entirely ignoring the copyright claim…but I do appreciate DA for alerting me that it was happening at all. This is what a site that actually cares about its creative users looks like!)

A breakdown of what NFTs are — in straightforward terms, not in wild/ridiculous metaphors. (Which, to be clear, aren’t wrong — it’s just that I know many people don’t find them helpful.)

My days of regularly sharing this link are coming to a middle: Here Is The Article You Can Send To People When They Say “But The Environmental Issues With Cryptoart Will Be Solved Soon, Right?”

You couldn’t store the actual digital artwork in a blockchain; because of technical limits, records in most blockchains are too small to hold an entire image. Many people suggested that rather than trying to shoehorn the whole artwork into the blockchain, one could just include the web address of an image […] Seven years later, all of today’s popular NFT platforms still use the same shortcut. This means that when someone buys an NFT, they’re not buying the actual digital artwork; they’re buying a link to it. And worse, they’re buying a link that, in many cases, lives on the website of a new start-up that’s likely to fail within a few years. “

2020: “The developers of non-fungible token project NiftyMoji pulled an exit scam as they have closed the official website, all social media and dumped their tokens on the market. Also the associated Coinbreeder accounts have vanished. The developers ran off with an estimated amount of one million dollars.

Alternately, the link could get replaced with something else. Say, a bunch of random photos of rugs: “I just pulled the rug at my NFT collection on @opensea. Nobody got hurt. It is pretty easy to change the jpg, even if it does not belong to me or it is on auction. I am the artist, my decision, right?”

“The Billion Dollar Torrent,” as it’s called, reportedly includes all the NFTs on the Ethereum and Solana blockchains. These files are bundled in a massive torrent that points to roughly 15 terabytes of data. Unpacked, this adds up to almost 20 terabytes.”

Problem links about blockchains in general

Things crypto evangelists don’t like to talk about: “During a hard fork, software implementing bitcoin and its mining procedures is upgraded; once a user upgrades their software, that version rejects all transactions from older software, effectively creating a new branch of the blockchain. However, those users who retain the old software continue to process transactions, meaning that there is a parallel set of transactions taking place across two different chains.

In other words: there isn’t one single, central version of Bitcoin. It has multiple versions, and they’re mutually incompatible with each other. And yet, some people still believe blockchain is the magic bullet that will make every website interoperable. Suuuure.

Also, if you’re hearing anyone talk about how miraculous and unhackable anything blockchain is:

November 2017: “On November 19, 2017, more than $30 million worth of Tether tokens were removed from the official Tether Treasury wallet by malicious hackers. Due to this security breach, Tether has executed a newly hard forked version of the Omni Core code, which powers the Tether network. Why? Because this code refused to transact any of the stolen tokens.”

December 2021: “One of BitMart’s addresses currently shows steady outflows of entire token balances, some worth tens of millions of dollars, to an address currently labeled by Etherscan as the “BitMart Hacker.” In a follow-up tweet, PeckShield estimated the losses to be $100 million in various cryptocurrencies on the Ethereum blockchain and $96 million on Binance Smart Chain.”

“it is not new to me. im a distributed systems engineer & programmer. ive been building shit like this for decades i serve a playerbase larger than most countries and have built networks spanning the globe. blockchain is old news. it is my job to find new technologies and use them if they’re better. these are not. they are bad, embarrassingly bad.”

My hero today is whoever made the call to totally sidestep the phrase “nu variant”

All COVID news in here. If you don’t want to read anything depressing this evening, maybe open the first link, but skip all the others.

March 16: “…the authors find evidence of fairly significant change, but all before the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 in humans. This means that the ‘generalist’ nature of many coronaviruses and their apparent facility to jump between hosts, imbued SARS-CoV-2 with ready-made ability to infect humans and other mammals, but those properties most have probably evolved in bats prior to spillover to humans.

May 27: “Isabella had felt like a bit of a black sheep in her conservative, COVID-flippant family. Even so, she was shocked when she found out that her great-aunt and great-uncle had died after not getting vaccinated. Both had been eligible for a dose since the beginning of January.

November 2: “Mariano Quisto, a remote community leader in Peru’s dense Amazon rainforest, first learned of the global pandemic in October when health workers arrived by boat at his isolated village with vaccines.

November 11 (Twitter thread): “My brother died of COVID on Monday. I’ve learned he left the hospital early, against doctor’s recommendation. He never told me that part. He let me think he was getting better. For 9 days, I did what I could to help him. In the end, he died alone. I’m on another planet now.”

(Compiled into an article on DailyKos for easier reading, if necessary.)

November 23: ““I have been on ivermectin for 16 months, my wife and I,” Dr. Bruce Boros declared at the end of the meeting at the World Equestrian Center in Ocala. “I have never felt healthier in my life.” Two days later, the 71-year-old cardiologist fell ill with COVID-19.

November 23: ““If you look at healthcare systems that have actually mandated this, they’ve retained over 99% of their workforce,” he said in support of the mandates during an August press event. “Their workforce does go along when the employer requires it.” […] Fierce Healthcare will update this list as more deadlines are reached and hospitals share their numbers.”

November 24: “With more than a month to go to close out the year, the CDC has recorded 386,233 COVID deaths in 2021 through Tuesday, more than the 385,343 counted in 2020 […] The paper cited experts as saying the cause was not just persistently low vaccine uptake but also the relaxation of safety measures such as wearing face masks and avoiding indoor gatherings, with many people wrongly assuming that vaccines alone had effectively ended the crisis.”

November 24: “When she went to the emergency room because half her body had gone numb, the ER doctor offered to book her an appointment with a counselor. Another doctor told her to try removing her IUD, because, she remembers him saying, “hormones do funny things to women.” When she asked her neurologist for more tests, he said that her medical background had already earned her “more testing than I was entitled to,” she told me. Being part of the medical community made her no different from any other patient with long COVID, her eventual diagnosis.” (Most of the medical professionals interviewed for this article are, unsurprisingly, women — but not all.)

COVID medical facts! With reliable scientific sources! Since we can always use more of that

September 30: “Alabama is shrinking under the onslaught of Covid-19, its chief medical officer said, as deaths in the state outnumber births for the very first time.”

October 4: “18% of health care workers have quit their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic, while another 12% have been laid off. Among health care workers who have kept their jobs during the pandemic, 31% have considered leaving.”

October 7: “…the model projected the risk of reinfection under endemic conditions — in which everybody has either been infected by or vaccinated against the virus. In these conditions, unvaccinated individuals should expect to be reinfected with COVID-19 every 16 to 17 months on average.”

October 21: “A WHO paper on Thursday estimated that out of the world’s 135 million health staff, “between 80,000 to 180,000 health and care workers could have died from Covid-19 in the period between January 2020 to May 2021”.”

October 25: “Sixty-eight years later, an iron lung is still keeping Lillard alive — she sleeps in it every night. While many people who had polio or post-polio syndrome either weaned themselves off the machines or switched to another form of ventilator, Lillard never did.”

The legacy of polio — and of its vaccines. (It is amazing how this went from “a constant, overwhelming threat” to “a nearly-eradicated nonissue” in, what, a generation or two?)

October 27: “It’s true that of all members of our population, 5–11 year-olds actually have the lowest risk of hospitalization due to COVID-19 according to COVID-NET data published in the MMWR. However, even if you look at this fact, based on historical estimates, COVID-19 would be the 8th leading cause of death in this age group.”

Children are at low risk, but they’re not at no risk.

“As far as the vaccine, with the pediatric dose, there are 0.06 mg tromethamine and 0.4 mg tromethamine hydrochloride. [The generic product warning antivaxxers are up in arms about] describes a 500 mL solution of tromethamine containing, in total, 18 g of tromethamine (3.6 g per 100 mL), or 60,000 times as much tromethamine.”

So if the Secret Nefarious Medical Cabal snuck this into the vaccine formula to prevent Secret Undisclosed Heart Problems…they skipped the step where they tell us to give every kid 60,000 doses.

Non-COVID-related bonus:

“Unwanted, intrusive visual memories are a core feature of stress- and trauma-related clinical disorders such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) […] even once intrusive memories have been laid down, playing a visually-demanding computer game after reactivating the memories may reduce their occurrence over time.”

In other words, if you or someone you know get caught up in a traumatic event? Once they’re safe, have the survivor get out their phone and play Tetris for a while. It’ll make a long-term difference.

“People will reject science right until the second they need everything I have to keep them alive”

August 11: ““What makes me the maddest,” one of my doctor friends told me, “is that these people will reject science right until the second they need everything I have to keep them alive, and then they feel that they can come to our door and be entitled to that help and that hard work.”

September: “The generators held, but like Terrebonne General, the hospital lost water and air conditioning. As the storm raged, a bleeding man arrived to drop off his fiancée, who had been sucked out of their wrecked home a few blocks away. The emergency room staff got to work mending her wounds as water poured from the ceiling.” COVID-choked hospitals weathering a hurricane.

September 8: “Getting the first dose of COVID-19 [vaccine] resulted in significant improvements in mental health, beyond improvements already achieved since mental distress peaked in the spring of 2020.” One piece of good news! Not only do the vaccines fight off COVID, getting them right now will literally help with depression.

September 13: “My wife and I don’t get to see much of each other. […] Right now shifts start at 8 a.m. and we are currently working 19 to 20 hours the first day of our two-day shifts. Then we’re back up after sleeping a few hours, and we don’t sleep that second night of work. Then I go home and either work other places in my town ― […] or, if I am lucky, I will sleep 30 hours straight.” This isn’t an account from a doctor or nurse. He’s an embalmer.

September 15: “The U.S. has recorded more than 41.4 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 665,800 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data.” That’s 1 in 500 of the entire US population. (And 2 in 125 of people who have gotten it.)

September 17: “On Thursday, shortly after Idaho enacted crisis standards of care statewide, Dr. Steven Nemerson with Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise said that to his knowledge, no patient in the state had been removed from life support in order to provide the equipment to someone else. But he warned it would happen.”

September 18 (NYT): “Vaccine-resistant Americans are turning to [monoclonal antibodies] with a zeal that has, at times, mystified their doctors, chasing down lengthy infusions after rejecting vaccines that cost one-hundredth as much.” This treatment isn’t any older than the vaccines! It hasn’t had longer to develop. It hasn’t been tested more. The only difference is that it hasn’t been brigaded by antivaxxers…oh, and that it doesn’t last. Unlike the vaccine, which teaches your body to make its own antibodies.

September 21: “We’re in the worst state that we ever have been in the pandemic, this surge has been back-breaking for our health care facilities,” said Katherine Hoyer, a spokeswoman for Panhandle Health District that covers five northern counties in Idaho. “Our case investigators, they cannot keep up.”

October 3: “I did not appreciate the intensity of support for a vaccine mandate that existed, because you hear that loud anti-vax voice a lot more than you hear the people that want it,” Kirby said. “But there are more of them. And they’re just as intense.”

October 13: “We’ve demonstrated conclusively that saving nearly everyone who dies of the flu is within our power. To do nothing now—to return to the roughly 30,000-deaths-a-year status quo without even trying to save some of those lives—would seem irresponsible. So what do we do? Which measures do we maintain and which do we let go?”

The Onion: “Astounded by the damning information, local anti-vaxxer Pete Dixon was reportedly horrified Thursday after discovering that every single American who got a smallpox vaccine in the 19th century was now deceased.

And: “We found that when presented with a counterfeit vaccination card, Covid-19 was unable to distinguish it from the real thing approximately 7 out of 10 times.”

Meanwhile, a bit of history: “When news of a successful [polio] vaccine came in 1955, The Christian Century lavished praise on Dr. Jonas Salk and other scientists. “We hope,” the editors wrote that April, “that services of thanksgiving to God are being held in millions of homes and thousands of churches for this answer to prayer, this successful completion of a decade of intensive concentration on medical research.”

I put all the nice links in the back half of the post (tech, grifting, COVID, economic boosts, and more)

Things to worry about:

June 12: “In 2016, Gun Violence Archive recorded that 241 people were shot and killed or wounded in a road rage incident; so far this year, as of June 7, that number is 212, the analysis found. ‘I don’t think we quite realized how dramatic the change was going to be.’

“Customers trying to avoid online delivery platforms like Grubhub by calling restaurants directly might be dialing phone numbers generated and advertised by those very platforms — for which restaurants are charged fees that can sometimes exceed the income the order generates.

Magie filed a legal claim for her Landlord’s Game in 1903, more than three decades before Parker Brothers began manufacturing Monopoly. She actually designed the game as a protest against the big monopolists of her time — people like Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller. […] And yet it was the monopolist version of the game that caught on, with Darrow claiming a version of it as his own and selling it to Parker Brothers. While Darrow made millions and struck an agreement that ensured he would receive royalties, Magie’s income for her creation was reported to be a mere $500. ”

“What do you mean ‘text’? There’s obviously some math text on the blackboard on the right, just like there’s obviously a woman covering almost half of the photograph. Is that woman invisible? Why?” When neural nets try to auto-detect what’s in an image…and what kinds of things they miss.

The Onion, in “this isn’t even a joke”: “Promising to let him know as soon as something becomes available, nurse Janae Howager informed a man having a heart attack Thursday that there was about an hour wait until the next Covid-19 patient died.”

Things to make you smile:

“Despite being lauded by some of the right-wing media’s leading figures, though, the Freedom Phone’s buyers could be getting less than they expect for its $500 price tag. That’s because the Freedom Phone appears to be merely a more expensive rebranding of a budget Chinese phone available elsewhere for a fraction of the Freedom Phone’s price.” But hey, influencers get referral codes, so when their followers buy the phones they get a $50 cut. It’s grifters all the way down.

February 25: “The lawyers working to reunite immigrant parents and children separated by the Trump administration reported Wednesday that they have found the parents of 105 children in the past month.” And that was just the Biden administration’s first month.

““We both started writing grants,” Dr. Weissman said. “We didn’t get most of them. People were not interested in mRNA. The people who reviewed the grants said mRNA will not be a good therapeutic, so don’t bother.’”” (There’s a happy ending! It’s the research that led to the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech COVID vaccines.)

“A New York City pilot program that dispatches mental health specialists and paramedics instead of police for certain nonviolent emergency calls has resulted in more people accepting assistance and fewer people sent to the hospital, early data shows.” Don’t send cops to do non-cop jobs! It works!

Cash transfers have arguably the strongest existing evidence base among anti-poverty tools, with dozens of high-quality evaluations of cash transfer programs spanning Africa, Asia, and Latin America and including both unconditional and conditional cash transfer. These studies include many randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and also include studies that measured impacts 4–5 years out,1,2 evidence which exists for hardly any other interventions.”

The Onion again: “Deeming the move unfortunate but necessary to keep his fledgling Silicon Valley dream alive, CEO Jason Ipser told reporters Tuesday that his struggling tech company was almost desperate enough to start making an actual product.