Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Newsweek myth busted: "disk space is cheap"

What makes the Newsweek outing of "Satoshi Nakamoto" so egregious is that the story cites no evidence. Everything cited in the story is easily disproven. An example is the following "evidence" described by the "forensic analyst" involved in the story.

According to this article, one of the corroborating bits of evidence is the bit from the Bitcoin paper describing how to conserve "disk space". According to the analyst, disk space is cheap these days, and no young person would consider conserving it. Therefore, according to her reasoning, the creator of bitcoin must come from the pocket-calculator/slide-rule generation.

This is nonsense. The current blockchain is 17.3 gigabytes in size. It takes up a sizeable amount of my 256-gigabyte SSD boot drive, meaning that Bitcoin is already too big to fit easily on laptops. Moreover, Bitcoin is growing faster than Moore's Law, meaning the problem will only get worse. In another couple years, after which desktop drives will have doubled in size, Bitcoin will have double more times, and be too big to fit easily on those drives.

Here's the thing about Moore's Law: it exists because we are constantly bumping up against resource limits. Disk drive manufacturers spend billions of dollars every year in research finding ways to increase disk drive space because we still don't have enough. Only when Moore's Law stops will we have reached the point when these resources have become too cheap to be considered.

Every engineer who does real work is constantly hitting the limits of CPU speed, network bandwidth, and drive space. Whether 17 or 70, it's unreasonable to expect that the creator of Bitcoin would ignore these resource constraints when designing a system to handle billions of transactions.

The above story claims that the forensic analyst,  Sharon Sergeant (@AncestralManor), is a "systems engineer by training with experience in computing security, military protocol analysis, and artificial intelligence". This appears to be an exaggeration. Her profession is "genealogist", not a "systems engineer". For all we know, the sum of her experience is a single engineering class in college. She may actually be more qualified, but her incorrect claims that engineers ignore resource constraints indicates otherwise.


Patrick Cunningham, CISM, CDPSE, FAI said...

There's a reason that publications used to have editors -- to keep writers accountable to the facts and make sure they didn't reach for conclusions. That said, Ms. Sergeant does have some systems analysis credentials with a variety of name brand tech companies. Her LinkedIn profile is hard to follow, which makes me think some of the name brand gigs were consulting engagements, but she has been in the tech world. www.linkedin.com/pub/sharon-sergeant/3/8b6/707 Still, listing your profession as "forensic genealogist" makes tech creds a bit of a stretch.

Unknown said...

Agreed. No matter how cheap the disk space is, kids today still learn fairly quickly that:
a) the less data that their code needs to manage, the better;
b) removal of useless/outdated/irrelevant data is a must to meet a).

Having said that, I'm not surprised that someone that has spent considerable professional time in performance analysis would say that kids today just don't get it. ;-)