My Takeaways from “Endure,” by Alex Hutchinson

“Endure” by Alex Hutchinson

I finished listening to the book “Endure” by Alex Hutchinson. It is one of the most important books that I have read. I have had multiple important realizations from it.

Brain sets an expectation. Giving up is almost always a choice.

Brain sets an expectation. You know it or not, feel it or not, your brain sets an expectation at a physiological as well as a psychological level. Try as we may, the brain controls your actions (again, at both the physiological and psychological levels) so that you meet the expectation, but don’t exceed it.

Therefore, these expectations matter. Sometimes these expectations are conscious, in that we can spell them out. Other times, they are at a subconscious or even unconscious level. Are you aware of what you expect of yourself? Expect does not mean hope: what do you really, really expect of yourself?

Continue reading “My Takeaways from “Endure,” by Alex Hutchinson”


My Presentation on Proof-of-Work vs. Proof-of-Stake Blockchain Protocols

I gave a talk in our seminar about the proof-of-work vs. the proof-of-stake blockchain paradigm. Although I don’t have an audio/video recording, here is a Google Slides rendering of my original Powerpoint slides. Some of the animations are out of place/order, but in general, it feels okay.


I intended this talk to be accessible in nature, so I intentionally skipped many details and strived not to flaunt any equation in it.

Advertised Summary: Bitcoin is a blockchain protocol where finalized transactions need a “proof of work”. Such protocols have been criticized for a high demand for computing power i.e., electricity. There is another family of protocols which deals with a “proof of stake”. In these protocols, the ability to make a transaction depends on your “stake” in the system instead of your computing power. In both cases, it is notoriously difficult to mathematically prove that these protocols are secure. Only a handful of provably secure protocols exist today. In this talk, I will tell a lighthearted story about the basics of the proof-of-work vs. proof-of-stake protocols. No equations but a lot of movie references.

 Please enjoy, and please let me know your questions and comments.


Notes on the PCP Theorem and the Hardness of Approximation: Part 1

In this note, we are going to state the PCP theorem and its relation to the hardness of approximating some NP-hard problem.

PCP Theorem: the Interactive Proof View

Intuitively, a PCP (Probabilistically Checkable Proof) system is an interactive proof system where the verifier is given r(n) random bits and he is allowed to look into the proof \pi in q(n) many locations. If the string x \in \{0,1\}^n is indeed in the language, then there exists a proof so that the verifier always accepts. However, if x is not in the language, no prover can convince this verier with probability more than 1/2. The proof has to be short i.e., of size at most q(n) 2^{r(n)}. This class of language is designated as PCP[r(n), q(n)].

Theorem A (PCP theorem). Every NP language has a highly efficient PCP verifier. In particular,

NP = PCP[O(\log n), O(1)].

Continue reading “Notes on the PCP Theorem and the Hardness of Approximation: Part 1”

Ouroboros Proof-of-Stake Blockchain Protocol: Assumptions and Main Theorems

Image Source:
Bitcoin and blockchain protocols

A blockchain protocol is essentially a distributed consensus protocol. A Proof-of-Work protocol such as Bitcoin requires a user to show a proof  — such as making a large number of computations — before he can add a block to an existing chain. Proof-of-Stake protocols, on the other hand, would not require “burning electricity” since the ability to “mine” a coin would depend only on the user’s current stake at the system.

The growing computing power of the bitcoin miners is already consuming a significant amount of electricity. One can easily see the necessity of a provably secure and efficient cryptocurrency without the heavy energy requirement. However, it is easier said than done. So far, I am aware of only three Proof-of-Stake protocols which give provable security guarantees. These are Ouroboros, led by Aggelos Kiayias, Alex Russell, and others; Snow White, led by Rafael Pass and Elaine Shi; Ouroboros Praos from the Ouroboros team; and Algorand, led by Silvio Micali. There is also an open-source initiative to implement Ourorboros, named Cardano.

In this post, I am going to present the main theorems of Ouroboros.

Continue reading “Ouroboros Proof-of-Stake Blockchain Protocol: Assumptions and Main Theorems”

Notes On Unbiased Random Walks

Unbiased Random Walks (source:Wikipedia)
Unbiased Random Walks

Imagine that a particle is walking in a two-dimensional space, starting at the origin (0, 0). At every time-step (or “epoch”) n = 0, 1, 2, 3, \cdots it takes a \pm 1 vertical step. At every step, the particle either moves up by +1, or down by $altex -1$. This walk is “unbiased” in the sense that the up/down steps are equiprobable.

In this post, we will discuss some natural questions about this “unbiased random walk.” For example, how long will it take for the particle to return to zero? What is the probability that it will ever reach +1? When will it touch a for the first time? Contents of this post are a summary of the Chapter “Random Walks” from the awesome “Introduction to Probability” (Volume I) by William Feller.

Continue reading “Notes On Unbiased Random Walks”

Characterizing the Adversarial Grinding Power in a Proof-of-Stake Blockchain Protocol

[Contents of this post are based on an ongoing discussion with Alex Russell and Aggelos Kiayias. It contains potentially unpublished material.]

In a proof-of-stake blockchain protocol such as Ouroboros, at most half of the users are dishonest. While an honest user always extends the longest available blockchain, the dishonest users try to fool him into extending a manipulated blockchain. Here, the user who is allowed to issue a block at any time-slot is called the “slot leader.” As it happens, a number of future slot leaders are computed in advance using the random values present in the blocks. Although counterintuitive, such a scheme ensures that if the adversary does not control more than half the users now, it is very unlikely that he cannot control more than half the slot leaders. The time-slots are divided into “epochs” of length R.

Continue reading “Characterizing the Adversarial Grinding Power in a Proof-of-Stake Blockchain Protocol”