Bitcoin, Film, Discoveries, CIA, Credit Scoring

Hic sunt camelopardus: this historical edition of The Browser is presented for archaeological purposes; links and formatting may be broken.

Bitcoin Is Worse Is Better

Gwern Branwen | 31st December 2017

Final version of a much-revised essay, with comments from Nick Szabo, asking why Bitcoin took so long to arrive, given that crypto-currencies had been tried for at least 20 years before Satoshi’s white paper in 2008, and all the component technologies were available at least eight years earlier. Provisional answer: The coders and cryptographers who dominated the field pre-Bitcoin were perfectionists and purists. Satoshi was a pragmatist — push something out and see if it works. It did (9,070 words)

You Can’t See The Join

Charles Norton | BBC | 29th December 2017

How scanning techniques developed to analyse the Antikythera mechanism were used to recover a long-lost Morecambe And Wise BBC TV show from decayed film found in Nigeria. “Was it possible to use an X-ray scanner to lock on to the metal content within the film emulsion layer and turn it into a visible light image? After much discussion Graham concurred that scanning a roll of film with X-rays was probably impossible. And so, naturally, he got to work on it almost immediately” (2,460 words)

New Science Facts From 2017

Science Alert | 31st January 2018

Digest of recent discoveries. “The speed of gravity is pretty much identical to the speed of light”. “It is mathematically possible to build an actual time machine — what’s holding us back is finding materials that can physically bend the fabric of space-time”. “A brand new human organ has been classified, and it’s been hiding in plain sight”. “The brain literally starts eating itself when it doesn’t get enough sleep”. “A single giant neuron wraps around the entire circumference of a mouse’s brain” (830 words)

Wilderness Of Mirrors

Jefferson Morley | Intercept | 1st January 2018

As head of CIA counter-intelligence during the Cold War, James Jesus Angleton became so obsessed with hunting for traitors, at the risk of paralysing the CIA itself, that some thought Angleton himself a Soviet agent. “Angleton is clinically mad and his madness has only gotten worse. This is a madness that is all the more dangerous because it is sustained by an intelligence that has about it elements of the monstrous and that rests on a hallucinatory logical construction” (5,200 words)

China’s Vast Experiment in Social Ranking

Mara Hvistendahl | Wired | 14th January 2018

Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba is co-operating with the government to rank citizens based on spending patterns, official records, and social networks. “Behavior like buying diapers, say, could boost one’s score, while playing videogames for hours on end could lower it”. If a user has debt-dodging friends on social media, the user’s own score goes down. The aim is to “ensure that bad people in society don’t have a place to go, while good people can move freely and without obstruction” (5,660 words)

Video of the day Fingers Bloody Fingers

What to expect:

Tony Iommi tells how he kept playing after a hand injury, inspired by Django Reinhardt (3’30”)

Thought for the day

A problem well stated is a problem half solved
Charles Kettering

Podcast of the day Heavyweight | Isabel

Jonathan Goldstein tracks down the writers of a cache of love letters abandoned in Brooklyn

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