Grok the Modern Vision of Blockchains

“…this course will focus on the fundamental principles of blockchain design and analysis, such as they are in 2021 (it’s still early days. . . ). The goal is to equip you with the tools and concepts to evaluate and compare existing technologies (cutting through the rampant marketing crap), understand fundamental trade-offs between the goals one would want from a protocol or application, and perhaps even create something new and important in the near future (because it’s early days, you can have a tremendous impact on the area’s future trajectory).

It’s worth recognizing that we’re currently in a particular moment in time, witnessing a new area of computer science blossom before our eyes in real time. It draws on well-established parts of computer science (e.g., cryptography and distributed systems) and other fields (e.g., game theory and finance), but is developing into a fundamental and interdisciplinary area of science and engineering its own right. Future generations of computer scientists will be jealous of your opportunity to get in on the ground floor of this new area—analogous to getting into the Internet and the Web in the early 1990s. I cannot overstate the opportunities available to someone who masters the material covered in this course—current demand is much, much bigger than supply.

And perhaps this course will also serve as a partial corrective to the misguided coverage and discussion of blockchains in a typical mainstream media article or water cooler conversation, which seems bizarrely stuck in 2013 (focused almost entirely on Bitcoin, its environmental impact, the use case of payments, Silk Road, etc.). An enormous number of people, including a majority of computer science researchers and academics, have yet to grok the modern vision of blockchains: a new computing paradigm that will enable the next incarnation of the Internet and the Web, along with an entirely new generation of applications.”

-Tim Roughgarden, “Lecture 1.” COMS 6998-006: Foundations of Blockchains. github.com. September 15, 2021.

h/t Alex Taborrak in Marginal Revolution.

The first lesson is fairly easy to understand. Looking forward to reading more.

Nothing’s More Practical Theory

“If we want to learn to use a system, part of that is speeding up this process of operant conditioning – learning what’s safe, and what to avoid. Having an adequate mental model of the system seems to be a key part of that, because it lets you figure out this mapping of action to outcome.”

—David R. MacIver, “Learning to use the system.” DRMacIver’s Notebook. July 10, 2020.

Possibly my favorite blog. Reminded me of a saying of my cataloging professor, “Nothing is more practical than theory.” You can’t troubleshoot a problem if you don’t have a mental model for how the system it is part of works. Perhaps your problem is a “feature” when looked at from a different perspective.

Stephen Wolfram’s Fundamental Theory of Physics

“We have such a simple rule. Yet applying this rule over and over again produces something that looks really complicated. It’s not what our ordinary intuition tells us should happen. But actually—as I first discovered in the early 1980s—this kind of intrinsic, spontaneous generation of complexity turns out to be completely ubiquitous among simple rules and simple programs. And for example my book A New Kind of Science is about this whole phenomenon and why it’s so important for science and beyond.”

-Stephen Wolfram, “Finally We May Have a Path to the Fundamental Theory of Physics…
and It’s Beautiful
.” StephenWolfram.com

Bookmarking for later.

The Theory of Visitors

“She leaned in. ‘Do you believe in the theory of visitors?’ She said this conspiratorially, as if she was sharing with me a secret.

‘What’s that?’ I asked.

‘All relationships are transient,’ she said. ‘Friends who stab you in the back. People you network with at a fancy party. Relatives who die. The love of your life. Everything is temporary. People come into your life for a limited amount of time, and then they go away. So you welcome their arrival, and you surrender to their departure. Because they are all visitors. And when the visitors go home, they might take something from you. Something that you can’t ever get back. And that part sucks. But visitors always leave souvenirs. And you get to keep those forever.'”

—Sam Lansky, “The Theory of Visitors.” Medium.com. November 10, 2017.

Enjoyed the whole essay. It invites us to consider that the theory of visitors and the looking for the next swipe right encounter might be preventing us from interacting more deeply with people. Engaging with the projected personas that are reflected in the digital medium that can only be maintained at short intervals or at a distance, we make quick judgments about complicated, multi-faceted human beings. Perhaps everyone is a visitor, but the key point may be that relationships (at least some of them) are worth investing time in, irrespective of their duration.