It's Friday, March 18, 2022 and an overcast day in Portland, Oregon. Next week is Spring Break which I'm still getting used to as a Brit in America.
Spring Break is kind of like the UK's Easter Break only obviously not aligned to a religious occasion because as we all know, America observes no formal religion in the way that the UK does not, really*, observe a formal religion. Anyway, it is Spring Break next week which means my kids, at 5 and 9, will be heading down to Mexico or something to get smashed on tequila and bring back cheap meds to sell on the black market.
Week of the 28th I'm going to be Out Of Office, which means there'll be a midseason break. I will probably run re-runs. They'll be good!
After I get done writing and sending this episode, I'll be putting the finishing touches on the first version of Things That Caught My Attention, Volume 1, collecting the best bits of the first 50 episodes of this newsletter.
Paid subscribers and supporters will get a link to a free copy once I've debugged it today.
I realized I haven't told you what's actually in it, other than "the best bits", so here's a very short, non-exhaustive list of what's covered, because otherwise I'm putting a long table of contents in here:
Later today, I'll put up a proper table of contents on Gumroad or wherever, I expect.
As always, you can subscribe at a pay-what-you-want level to support my writing and to get a copy of the ebook.
On with the show! Two things today:
Via a bunch of people, and first via my brother's post, Tear Down This Wall, Mr. BBC!2, which appeared in my RSS reader3 (sorry, Substack app, that's what RSS readers are now), the BBC is now using a thirty day exclusivity window to push people to its not-quite-podcast app, BBC Sounds.
Adrian goes into a bunch of detail about why BBC Sounds is a mediocre mobile internet device audio player, and how forcing people to use a crappy (sorry, mediocre -- I don't want to be mean) app just to listen to something they were perfectly happy with listening elsewhere, is a shitty move.
This morning I made the analogy that Spotify went and acquired Joe Rogan as a content exclusive (among others) to fortify its moat (can you even fortify a moat?) and competitive advantage as the premier digital destination for ear-centered content.
But the thing is, Spotify as an app is actually... not shit, compared to the BBC Sounds player? It has a fairly expansive library of content, also known as: pretty much all the music most people want to listen to. BBC Sounds... does not. The BBC is caught in a bind because it kind of wants to be, or wants to compete with, or is being told it will need to compete with Spotify and Netflix and Disney+ and so on and I sympathize with that, and yet this is still a shitty decision because you can see exactly why it happened, and it's going to make the BBC worse. But then, that's what you'd want, if you didn't want it to exist in the first place.
I just wish more people at the BBC appeared, at least, to understand that this is the road they're going down.
crypto: you want transparency in financial transactions?
you: sure, sounds good
crypto: also apes
you: wait what
crypto: pixelated apes
you: I thought this was about transparency in financial transa-
crypto: okay here's transparently how we fucked up and lost all your money
crypto: hope you can read the code
Via Dare Obsanjo4, news that 98,000 Ether (as of today, $2,876.96 USD) [sic: when originally published, I was off by quite a lot. 98,000 ETH is actually $288,692,320] was stolen on Solana (a... blockchain infrastructure?), from a Reddit post on the solana subreddit: Here's how 98k ETH was stolen on Solana, explained like you're five
It's funny, see, because:
(in a separate conversation yesterday I was hearing about someone being affected by a bunch of clowns, and remarked: sounds you were blindsided by a clown car, for when you've done everything you could've done, you've done everything right, and yet you still get hit with potentially fatal and ridiculous consequences, due to a high-velocity, high-density, unexpected aggregation of gross incompetence)
Look, here's the Solana example, explained like you're five:
five year old: I wanna go biking
a smart contract: okay, we can go biking when your socks and shoes are on
five year old: puts on no socks
five year old: puts on no shoes
a smart contract: checks
a smart contract: okay, great, no socks and no shoes, let's go biking!
me: do you see what happened
five year old: ha it let me go biking with no socks and no shoes on!
me: yes, because instead of checking to see if you have socks on and if you have shoes on, it checked if whether-or-not you were wearing socks was the same as whether-or-not you were wearing shoes, and--
five year old: wheeee look at me I'm biking with no feet on my pedals
See, what happened here is that the smart contract, which, to be fair to things that are smart and not besmirch them, is not a smart contract but instead an exceedingly dumb and literal one, was supposed to check that socks were on and shoes were on. But instead it checked if the state of socks was the same as the state of shoes. Provided the state of socks and state of shoes matched, everything was good. Which again, I guess kind of is an achievement because who doesn't want socks to match?
Look, smart contracts aren't a dumb idea in and of themselves, they're just a dumb idea in a universe with humans in it, and especially dumb in a universe where humans are the ones creating those smart contracts, directly, with code that isn't, say, formally verified, which is something I had to practice for my Masters in Software Engineering and is tedious compared to moving fast and breaking things. Humans don't, generally, like to do tedious things, so here we are. Evolution says: You're welcome!
Oh and I now propose that we just call Smart Contracts Amelia Bedelia Contracts now, because computers are still terrible at doing what we mean instead of doing what we say. I mean, humans can't even reliably get that right between two humans in the same room who've spent their entire lives together, and now you're proposing to enforce that systemic misunderstanding through "code", not only as the code encodes the policy, but because your dumb philosophy and view of the world requires it. Grow up.
Look, I totally blew past 15 minutes on this one. Just the crypto one took 15 minutes, the BBC one took another 7 or so, and then there was the intro and outro part.
How are you doing? It's the weekend tomorrow!
Yes, it does, and in a much more subtle way, a kind of seeping insidious normality that's not aggressively pushed unless you are, I guess, someone like Nigel Farage. ↩
Ha no, I don't use the Substack app. It's 2022 and I use NetNewsWire on my Mac, my iPhone and iPad. NetNewsWire came out in July 2002, which makes it nearly 20 years old, and I started using it when it came out. It's gone through an acquisition, it launched as a commercial version (commercial online software sales were impossible before Apple's App Store was launched, so this in itself is a curiosity worthy of investigation), an acquisition and now is open source. It was one of the first applications (not an app, again) I ran on my first Mac, a TiBook G4, which was a present I lavished on myself after my first big gig. ↩
Bad code, bad code, whatchu gonna do? Whatchu gonna do when they come for you?, Dare Obsanjo, March 16, 2022 ↩