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Bitcoin Developer Taking Hits: Shedding Light on the Luke-Jr Controversy

Last Updated March 4, 2021 4:43 PM
P. H. Madore
Last Updated March 4, 2021 4:43 PM

For the third time, open source developer , creator of BFGMiner , and founder of the Eligius mining pool, Luke-Jr, has been publicly attacked for what some view as unilateral patching of Bitcoin core packages in the Gentoo Portage repository.

At issue  is the Bitcoin Core developer’s implementation of what he considers “improved spam filtering.” The commonly accepted definition of “spam” in relation to Bitcoin blocks is non-transactional data. Folks who run Bitcoin nodes, be they miners or everyday users, keep a ledger of all transactions that take place.

As part of dealing with the denial-of-service weakness inherent in an open ledger system, work has been done since version 0.3.19  to aid nodes in dealing with non-standard, oversized, double-spend, or otherwise unacceptable entries. The nature of the open protocol is that the entries can always be submitted. Whether or not mining nodes confirm them and place them into finalized blocks, and whether or not other nodes broadcast them, is another issue.

In the case of gambling sites that remit a single satoshi in order to inform the user of a loss, the transaction not only costs more than it is worth to move, but it has long been considered abusive of the collective ledger. Such uses of the network indubitably contribute to the phenomenon known as “blockchain bloat .”

But Luke-Jr’s work does not explicitly prevent any transaction from taking place on the network, not any sort at all – that would be impossible to do without a full-blown fork of the blockchain. Luke-Jr’s modification enables the node operator to increase their protection from being forced to forward non-transactional data.

A lot of things have been said about Luke-Jr and block chain spam. In this article, I aim to illustrate points that seem to have gotten lost in the shuffle, as well as present exclusive comment from other intimately related to the matter.

Luke-Jr Is Not Opposed To Gambling

Some in the community have taken an anti-Catholic stance, believing that Luke-Jr’s patches were motivated by his religious beliefs. Before I get to why this is ridiculous in and of itself (imprinting a prayer  onto a coinbase is no more or less acceptable than doing ASCII art or a headline, as Satoshi famously did), I’ll give a sample of the religious hatred leveled at Luke-Jr:

He’s doing this because he is extremely religious and is known for spamming idiotic religious bullshit into the blockchain. Why do people let a religious zelot idiot do important technical things i dont know. Just stick to reading your irrelevant book of bullshit and let normal people do this. – /u/indeepth0ught

Here’s the problem with all of these accusations that the spam filter improvements are somehow religiously motivated – hold your breath – the Catholic church does not define gambling as strictly immoral !

On certain conditions, and apart from excess or scandal, it is not sinful to stake money on the issue of a game of chance any more than it is sinful to insure one’s property against risk, or deal in futures on the produce market. As I may make a free gift of my own property to another if I choose, so I may agree with another to hand over to him a sum of money if the issue of a game of cards is other than I expect, while he agrees to do the same in my favour in the contrary event.

Luke-Jr Is Not, Technically, the Gentoo Package Maintainer

Gentoo, like all Linux distributions, has a lot of people involved in its development and maintenance. Many in the Reddit community have called for Luke-Jr to be “banned” from contributing to the project. This is, simply, not how it works. Anyone can modify open-source software. To ban Luke-Jr from doing so — or even from contributing to the Gentoo repository in particular — would go against the nature of open-source software. There are other ways to deal with unwanted patching, after all. And according to Andreas K. Huettel , Gentoo Community Relations Team Leader, Luke’s patches were changed back to non-default before the developers had even heard of the new controversy (see here and here for previous controversies). (Indeed, the changes were reverted days before the new controversy even began.) In comment to CCN.com, Huettel said, in part:

As can be seen from the commit log the controversial “spamfilter” or “censoring” patch was disabled by default again already long before news of the discussion reached us.

I would point out one popular misconception. “Luke-Jr” is not the Gentoo maintainer of the package. He is a Gentoo user who is participating in our proxy-maintainership program  and submitting code for inclusion into Gentoo. As such, there are no privileges or commit permissions that can be revoked. We will review our internal procedures to see whether improvements can be made to ensure that Gentoo policy is followed when committing materials from proxied users.

These facts notwithstanding, users called for Luke-Jr’s head, so to speak.

I urge you, put your money where your mouth is: boot luke-jr from maintainers. It is not the first time he secretly implements this sort of changes. It is clearly not an honest mistake, he intentionally breaks the package. There should be zero tolerance for such actions. –/u/wk4327

Luke-Jr is Not Pushing an Agenda on Bitcoin

The hyped position that goes something like this: Luke-Jr is a lunatic who wants everyone to share his beliefs; doesn’t approve of gambling and has a singular view of how things should be.

In fact, after he handed off control of the Eligius mining pool to other parties, he ran for a seat on the Bitcoin Foundation. His platform directly contradicted this recently elucidated idea that he believes Bitcoin has a moral or ideological responsibility to outside interests:

My vision for Bitcoin is pretty simple: a legal and widely utilized, decentralized replacement for fiat currencies. I’ve noticed some people are using Bitcoin as an exclusive vehicle for their own ideologies. I dislike that agenda. I’m particularly against agendas of this sort which focus on promoting tax evasion, anarchy, or other anti-government activities. These agendas increase the probability that governments will perceive Bitcoin as a threat and try to make it illegal or regulated more than necessary. While I don’t wish to police individuals from political experimentation, it isn’t something I believe Bitcoin itself should be wagered on. There are many different ideologies in the world, and I think Bitcoin can be of value to all of them for different reasons.

In the final election , he did not farewell. However, for those that think the Bitcoin Foundation is out of touch with the everyday Bitcoiner, his platform continued in a democratic tone:

I also think decisions shouldn’t be centralized on the board of directors. If called upon to vote or decide on a non-trivial matter as a member of the board of directors for the Bitcoin Foundation, I intend to consult with the community before making a decision, including using polls for non-landslide cases (potentially anonymous, as long as we can ensure no sockpuppets).

Default is not the Way to Do Things

For changes to make it into a final, official release version of an open-source program, a lot – a lot – of due process is involved. Unlike more commercialized software production environments, there is not necessarily a single entity who is the end-all, be-all of a product.

Linus Torvalds is famous for being the last stop before code makes it into the kernel, for instance. But if a particular new feature were popular enough and he continually denied it for non-technical reasons (read: philosophical), a fork would be likely to result. The other side of that is that users are always able to install custom patches on their systems – that’s the point.

Community input is incredibly important to open source, and patching such as Luke-Jr’s is valuable. In this whole debate, Luke-Jr’s longstanding commitment to the Bitcoin community has been undervalued, and, for this reason, I felt it important to clarify the preceding points.