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Passing

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I’ve said elsewhere that I don’t think that the GPT, OpenAI arbitrary-text-generation stuff is all that interesting. A machine repeating permutations of things we’ve already said back to us is a weird thing to be impressed by or frightened of, unless you secretly know that your job is confidently repeating plausible-sounding nonsense with no regard for whether there’s any truth to it.

But in practical terms, their real impact will be that how we conceive of knowledge at all gets rapidly bifurcated into “small towns that can still pump clean water from the wells” and “London during the Great Stink, though, so as the attendants say, be sure to put your own mask on first. Anyone remember when Google’s mission was “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”, and not “build tools that automatically generate an endless stream of believably averacitous text?” Yeah, me neither.

I guess it’s no surprise that a few consecutive generations of people being really, methodically deliberate about misinterpreting the Imitation Game to avoid staring directly at Turing’s persecution, debasing his life and work so profoundly that they’d claim that a believable deception is some indicator of nascent intelligence would bring us here.

The Imitation Game was a cry for help from a man being destroyed by the society he spent his life saving. Is it any wonder that a brilliant, closeted gay man, who might be incarcerated or even executed for the crime of being themselves, would have existential questions about what it means to need to deceive people – your friends, your colleagues, your family and maybe even yourself, every single day – simply in order to be treated like a human being?

Using the tools Turing gave us to build stochastic parrots that cannot hew to any concept of right or wrong, whose only utility is a weapon aimed at the foundations of justice, civil democracy and the entire concept of truth, that’s bad enough. But saying they pass a made-up test about plausibly lying to yourself that you’ve named after a closeted man the state hounded to suicide is beyond disgusting. It’s grotesque.

The mere existence of these tools demeans us all as scientists, engineers and humans. If you’re involved in building these things you should resign from the field in shame. In honour of Alan Turing’s memory and basic human decency, if nothing else.

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jepler
2 hours ago
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Food for thought. I'm aware of Turing's (and many others') persecution by authorities. I never considered what _else_ the Imitation Game might be, other than as the core idea to what became "the Turing Test".
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acdha
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Foolish Lenders

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From the "no-one could have predicted" department comes David Pan's Crypto Lenders’ Woes Worsen as Bitcoin Miners Struggle to Repay Debt. The TL;DR is that until recently companies accepted mining rigs as collateral for loans.
“There hasn’t necessarily been the best due diligence on whether a miner was credit worthy or not,” said Matthew Kimmell, digital asset analyst at crypto investment firm CoinShares.
These companies did so little due diligence that they didn't realize the collateral would be worthless in about 18 months, even if Bitcoin continued moonwards. Below the fold, the details.

Pan writes:
Miners, who raised as much as $4 billion from mining-equipment financing when profit margins were as high as 90%, are defaulting on loans and sending hundreds of thousands of machines that served as collateral back to lenders. New York Digital Investment Group, Celsius Network, BlockFi Inc., Galaxy Digital, and the Foundry unit of Digital Currency Group were among the biggest providers of funding to finance computer equipment and build data centers.
BTC "price"
Why can't the miners service their loans? Pan identifies three reasons:
The liquidity crunch hitting digital-asset markets after FTX failed comes as low Bitcoin prices, soaring energy costs and more competition weigh on miners.
These are three good reasons. A year ago BTC was around $57K, it is now below $17K. Bitcoin creates about 144 block/day, and each rewards miners with 6.25 BTC. The transaction fees are normally a small additional amount, so the miners get roughly 1000 BTC/day. So, as the graph shows, their revenue tracks the price closely.

Miners' revenue
But their ability to service their loans depends upon their gross margins. Much of their cost is energy. The spike in energy costs from Russia's invasion of Ukraine and OPEC's pre-election price manipulation clearly had a huge impact on miner's margins.

The "more competition" that Pan identifies comes from two sources, both illustrating the inability of the lenders to understand the business they invested in:
  • The first was the inevitable result of the lenders own actions:
    “People were pouring dollars into the mining space,” said Ethan Vera, chief operations officer at crypto-mining services firm Luxor Technologies.
    Clearly, the result of massive investment in increasing capacity in a market whose income is fixed in BTC terms could only result in a reduction of the return on the investment in BTC terms. So the lenders were betting that the "price" of BTC would increase faster than the rate at which they were "pouring dollars into the mining space". After last November, this wasn't a good bet, but some lenders were still making it much later. NYDIG gave Iris Energy:
    a $71 million loan secured by 19,800 rigs as recently as March. That was the miner’s third facility secured by NYDIG,
    NYDIG was obviously way bullish on BTC back then, despite the Russian invasion of Ukraine's obvious impact on energy prices.`
  • The second was the looming transition of Ethereum from Proof-of-Work to Proof-of-Stake. As was forseeable, miners who could no longer mine ETH switched to mining BTC. This caused a spike in the BTC hash rate, meaning the fixed supply of BTC rewards was shared among more miners, reducing their revenue.
Hash rate
You can see the Proof-of-Stake spike in the hash rate, but you can also see what has happened since as the increased competition hit each individual miners' share of the total revenue.

The lenders looked at the ludicrous margins the miners were earning at the peak of the BTC "price", and failed to understand that these didn't reflect the underlying profitability of the mining business.

Because anyone can mine if they can get their hands on hardware efficient enough to earn more than the cost of the electricity it burns, in a steady state margins would be very low. But when BTC is heading moonwards, that is a big "if". The profits they were making were because the supply of state-of-the-art rigs was constrained, limiting competition.

But there is another important reason that Pan doesn't identify:
Loans backed by the computer equipment, known as rigs, had become one of the industry’s most popular financing tools. Many lenders are now likely facing substantial losses since they can’t seize any other assets besides the machines, whose value has dropped by as much as 85% since last November.
This should not have been a surprise to the lenders. In 2014's Economies of Scale in Peer-to-Peer Networks I wrote:
When new, more efficient technology is introduced, thus reducing the cost per unit contribution to a P2P network, it does not become instantly available to all participants. As manufacturing ramps up, the limited supply preferentially goes to the manufacturers best customers, who would be the largest contributors to the P2P network. By the time supply has increased so that smaller contributors can enjoy the lower cost per unit contribution, the most valuable part of the technology's useful life is over.
And in 2018's The State of Cryptocurrency Mining, David Vorick wrote:
The biggest takeaway from all of this is that mining is for big players. The more money you spend, the more of an advantage you have, and there’s not an easy way to change that equation. At least with traditional Nakamoto style consensus, a large entity that produces and controls most of the hashrate seems to be more or less the outcome, and at the very best you get into a situation where there are 2 or 3 major players that are all on similar footing. But I don’t think at any point in the next few decades will we see a situation where many manufacturing companies are all producing relatively competitive miners. Manufacturing just inherently leads to centralization, and it happens across many different vectors.
In other words, mining profits depend on (a) cheap electricity and (b) early access to leading-edge rigs. Bitmain has a history of introducing a new, more efficient chip about every 18 months, so it should have been evident that rigs were a wasting asset. This effect wasn't news when in December 2021 Alex de Vries and Christian Stoll estimated that:
The average time to become unprofitable sums up to less than 1.29 years.
Depreciation rates
It gets worse. Miners' profits should also depend on accurate accounting but as Paul Butler documented, the miners were using bogus accounting to pad their margins. Their rigs were worthless after about 18 months but their accounts depreciated them over five years. Their margins were partly due to not reserving enough cash to replace their rigs when they became uneconomic.

So the lenders now have a huge pile of uneconomic rigs, either because the miners they lent to ran out of cash:
Iris Energy Ltd. said this month it expected to default on $108 million of limited recourse loans, which is mostly backed by mining rigs. ... Core Scientific Inc., which has warned of bankruptcy, had $39 million of rig-backed loans with NYDIG, and $54 million with now bankrupt BlockFi, as of September. Stronghold Digital Mining already returned around 26,200 mining rigs in August to eliminate $67 million debt owed to NYDIG.
Or because the miners can't make money using them:
While miners tend to default when they are cash-depleted, some companies may have decided to stop paying the loans even if they still have cash on balance sheets, according to Luxor’s Vera. The collateral can be worth less now than the remaining payments for some miners.
What are the lenders to do with the rigs?
Lenders are already looking at a glut of machines after liquidating rig-backed loans from miners. They face the option of selling equipment at a steep discount or finding data centers to mine Bitcoin themselves.
Neither is a good option. Selling will drive down the value of their remaining collateral and encourage miners to dump more rigs on them. If the miners can't make money running the rigs, neither can the lenders. And if they do end up running the rigs that is going to drive down the income of their borrowers, causing more bankruptcies and thus more rigs being dumped on them.

How bad is mining these days (hat tip Amy Castor and David Gerard):
The most amazing thing about this situation is that the lenders who didn't understand the business asking for money were not generic banks faced with an unfamiliar industry. They were specialist cryptocurrency lenders:
New York Digital Investment Group, Celsius Network, BlockFi Inc., Galaxy Digital, and the Foundry unit of Digital Currency Group were among the biggest providers of funding to finance computer equipment and build data centers.
Note that in the case of Celsius and BlockFi, it is the liquidators who are wondering what to do with the huge pile of worthless rigs, and it is likely that Digital Currency Group will join them. New York Digital Investment Group isn't looking healthy either. The tide is going out and we are seeing that everyone in the cryptosphere is swimming naked.

Also swimming naked is the state of Texas, as detailed in David Pan and Naureen S Malik's Texas’s Crypto Mining Boom Is Starting to Look More Like a Bust:
The digital gold rush in Texas is losing its luster as Bitcoin miners grapple with financial woes, leaving behind what some fear will be a wasteland of unfinished sites and abandoned equipment.

In an effort to become a haven for crypto mining, Texas has aggressively lured miners with cheap power and favorable regulations, prompting many to take out billions in loans to buy pricey machines and build out infrastructure.

However, soaring energy costs, a sharp decline in Bitcoin prices and more competition have compressed profit margins and made it difficult for miners to repay debt. Some are on the verge of bankruptcy.
Ever ready to destroy the environment for short-term profit, and never ready to make their electricity grid sustainable, Texas leapt on the opportunity of the Chinese crackdown on mining. Pan and Malik write:
For one, local authorities provided incentives such as tax abatements that reached into the tens of millions of dollars. The power generation planned that the region sorely needs to avoid another energy crisis may not materialize. Some developers made hefty investments to build out Bitcoin mining facilities. The average cost to have one-megawatt capacity of mining infrastructure is currently around $300,000 in the state, the high end of the range
Given that miners are declaring bankruptcy and defaulting on loans, the numbers are insane:
Texas has about 1.5 gigawatts of crypto mining capacity, mainly Bitcoin, operating with about 37 gigawatts vying to connect to the state grid as of Oct. 20, according to the most recent data available from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. That queue has more than doubled in six months.
37GW at $300K/MW is $11B. Even if the existing miners were profitable, which they aren't, why would anyone think it made sense to invest another $11B to increase competition for the fixed supply of, at the current price, $5.6B/year?

Update: Part of the explanation for the Proof-of-Stake spike in the Bitcoin hash rate comes from Eliza Gkritsi's A Huge Glut of Bitcoin Mining Rigs Is Sitting Unused in Boxes:
Hundreds of thousands of brand new mining rigs that could be generating bitcoin (BTC) have never been used, further skewing the economics of cryptocurrency mining, a sector that has been hit hard by sinking prices for bitcoin and other tokens and by high energy costs.

Last year, miners struggled to buy enough rigs. Manufacturers couldn’t fulfill orders fast enough. Now, Matt Schultz, executive chairman of bitcoin miner CleanSpark (CLSK), figures 250,000 to 500,000 mining rigs are still sealed up in boxes in the U.S. alone, based on his conversations with analysts. Ethan Vera, chief operating officer of mining services firm Luxor Technologies, put the number at 276,000 worldwide in September.
Once the chips became available, the bottleneck switched to rack space. That bottleneck was alleviated by the "The Merge". Then it took a while for the added competition for the fixed supply of BTC at a fairly constant $16-17K to force out the least competitive miners, and bring the hash rate down close to the pre-Merge level.

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jepler
3 hours ago
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> The most amazing thing about this situation is that the lenders who didn't understand the business asking for money were not generic banks faced with an unfamiliar industry. They were specialist cryptocurrency lenders
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acdha
5 hours ago
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Amazon Luna Can Now Play Games You Own On PC, No Channel Subscriptions Required

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Amazon Luna is one of the better cloud gaming options if you play a lot of Ubisoft titles, and it's getting a big upgrade this week. You can now sync purchases on Luna to PC and play without a subscription. 9to5Google reports: Since its launch, Amazon Luna has worked solely on a subscription model. Players can access games through "channels," each of which includes a rotating selection of games. One of those channels is Ubisoft+, which has a selection of Ubisoft games for $17.99/month that can share that subscription cost with other platforms such as PC. But the one downside of Luna is that you always need one of those subscriptions -- that is, until now.

Available starting today, Amazon Luna will allow players to stream Ubisoft games they've purchased on PC without any channel subscriptions needed. You just need accounts from Amazon and from Ubisoft and to purchase compatible games. The only subscription required is Amazon Prime. By syncing Ubisoft Connect with Luna, players can stream their purchases instantly with no downloads and on more devices, such as Chromebooks and smartphones. But unlike other cloud platforms that have allowed purchases, such as Stadia, these games can also be downloaded and played on PC. Amazon notes that once your accounts are linked, future purchases from the Ubisoft Store will automatically appear in Luna.
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jepler
5 hours ago
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Thanks to this new tech .. you can play video games you bought on the hardware you own?
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The really tiny RISC-V emulator: But, can it run Doom? #RISCV #Emulation @cnlohr

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Last week, we blogged about the making a very small RISC-V emulator. Folks asked the author the next logical question after finding out that the emulator works: Can it run Doom?

The original Doom is considered one of the first pioneering first-person shooter games, introducing to IBM-compatible computers features such as 3D graphics, third-dimension spatiality, networked multiplayer gameplay, and support for player-created modifications with the Doom WAD format. Over 10 million copies of games in the Doom series have been sold; the series has spawned numerous sequels, novels, comic books, board games, and film adaptations.

The author fortunately had made a port of doom for small memory constrained systems and used that for tests.

See the video below on the results:

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jepler
6 hours ago
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The doom port is at https://github.com/cnlohr/embeddedDOOM/ and it looks like an interesting approach, targeting lower RAM systems. still too big for an rp2040's RAM though, I think
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Kimchi and Cultural Appropriation in Food.

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I waved her off. "No. We're making it on the floor like we always make it. Doing it on the table is ridiculous and no one is going to make fun of us for doing it the way it's supposed to be done."

The post Kimchi and Cultural Appropriation in Food. first appeared on The Korean Vegan.

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rocketo
1 day ago
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one of the best explanations of cultural appropriation that i've ever read.
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jepler
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MOOF disk image support for Floppy Emu

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Good news! Today’s BMOW Floppy Emu firmware update brings support for the Macintosh MOOF disk image format. MOOF is a new disk image format for 3.5 inch Macintosh floppy disks, designed by John K. Morris, with the goal of capturing all the low-level disk information needed for copy-protected software. It’s the Macintosh equivalent of a WOZ disk image for Apple II computers. With a MOOF, you can use original floppy disks exactly as they came from the publisher, with copy protection still intact, instead of relying on cracked or modified versions. Although media-based copy protection was never as common in the Mac world as it was for Apple IIs, there’s still a good amount of early software from the era of the Mac 128K, 512K, and Plus that’s copy-protected. Most of them are 400K disks, but there are some 800K ones too. Archive.org has a collection of MOOFs at https://archive.org/details/moofaday

 
Understanding MOOF

A regular Macintosh .dsk or .img disk image is a byte-level representation of the logical data contained in a disk. It’s all of the disk’s sector data concatenated together into one big file. It supports normal disk behavior that’s built around a typical ReadSector() and WriteSector() API. For an 800K floppy disk, the .dsk disk image is precisely 800K in size.

A MOOF disk image is a bit-level representation of the disk as it’s physically implemented in the floppy media. It’s everything on the physical disk, including the empty space between sectors, the headers and footers, and GCR 6&2 encoded data or whatever non-standard encoding the developer may have chosen. For a MOOF that’s created using John’s Applesauce hardware, it will also correctly preserve the relative angular positions of adjacent disk tracks, and areas of the disk where there are no bits, both of which are essential for some copy-protection schemes. For an 800K floppy disk, the MOOF image is typically about 1300K in size.

I don’t recommend rushing to re-encode all your Mac disks as MOOF. For the vast majority of disks, this is not only unnecessary, but counterproductive since MOOF images are larger and more difficult to use with common software tools. But for those few Mac disks with embedded media-based protection, a low-level MOOF image is just what’s needed.

 
MOOFing the Floppy Emu

When people asked me about MOOF in the past, I said it was impossible for Floppy Emu to support bit-level 3.5 inch disk images because there wasn’t enough RAM to store a complete track at the bit level. So what kind of black magic makes this possible now?

To make the data fit, the Floppy Emu firmware must depart slightly from the behavior of a real floppy disk. For a real 800K disk, there’s a small delay when switching between tracks, but switching between sides is instantaneous. For a normal .dsk disk image, the Emu can support this by storing track 0 side 0 and track 0 side 1 in RAM at the same time. There’s only a delay when new data is fetched from the SD card for the next track, which mimics the delay of a real floppy drive’s mechanical head stepping movement. But for 800K MOOF images, there isn’t enough RAM to store both sides. Only track 0 side 0 is stored in RAM and there’s a delay for SD card access when switching to track 0 side 1. In theory this might cause software errors or copy-protection failures, since there’s no equivalent delay with a real disk. But in practice, I don’t think it’s a problem.

This RAM-saving trick works for 400K and 800K MOOFs, but can only be extended so far. RAM limits are one of several reasons you’ll probably never see 1440K MOOF support on this hardware. But that’s no great loss since the era of media-based copy protection had mostly ended by the time 1440K disks were introduced. All of the MOOF examples in Archive.org’s Moof-A-Day collection are 400K and 800K disks.

This MOOF implementation for Floppy Emu is read-only. A few Moof-A-Day games require writing to the disk in order to play, so although they load and run, they’re not fully usable. A writable version of MOOF support is in the works. The rare MOOFs that use pure FLUX data are unsupported by the Floppy Emu, due to hardware limitations. The only example that I know is the game OIDS.

 
WOZ 3.5

The MOOF format is essentially identical to the 3.5 inch WOZ format for Apple II computers, just with different metadata. That means it’s theoretically possible to add 3.5 inch WOZ support to Floppy Emu too, and that’s my hope. But it’s unfortunately not as simple as just re-using the Macintosh MOOF code: the Apple II version of the firmware is substantially more complex than the Mac version, because it supports many more types of disk emulation and disk image formats, and it’s already pushing the limits of the microcontroller’s performance and memory, and the CPLD logic chip’s resources. It’ll be a major challenge to weave 3.5 inch WOZ support into this environment.

 
Moof-A-Day Known Issues

  • Two titles still don’t pass the copy-protection check, for unknown reasons: The Ancient Art of War and The Surgeon. The Surgeon also fails its check with archive.org’s built-in MAME environment, so it’s not just Floppy Emu that has trouble with it.
  • Mac Vegas will silently fail to write to the read-only disk, then restart or crash when you begin a mini-game.
  • Some games have other requirements like only running properly on a Mac 512K, or only when the disk is in the internal drive, or they require two disk drives.

Please give this a spin, and let me know of any problems you find with MOOF support, or with other disk emulation features that might have broken accidentally.

Download the latest Floppy Emu firmware from the project page, or buy a new Floppy Emu Model C at the BMOW Store.

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jepler
2 days ago
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MOOF? MOOF!
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