## Bitcoins (2)

My first blog on this topic was in January with some basic arithmetic, which showed that buying fancy kit to mine bitcoins looks a thoroughly dicey business. I intended the next article to be about various schemes being deployed to make money in such an environment – all the standard financial tricks are being wheeled out, and I wanted to warn any naive folk left out there …

But first I need to deal briefly with some more immediate news – the apparent collapse earlier this week of Mt Gox, the main bitcoin exchange.

Certainly, the website has gone down and useful information has emerged from its management slowly and painfully. Then a bitcoin blogger (Ryan Selkis) put up this which he claimed was an internal MtGox discussion document:

In bold on the first text page of the 10 page document we have this claim:

At this point 744,408 BTC are missing due to malleability-related theft which went unnoticed for several years.

The cold storage has been wiped out due to a leak in the hot wallet. The reality is that MtGox can go bankrupt at any moment, and certainly deserves to as a company. However, with Bitcoin/crypto just recently gaining acceptance in the public eye, the likely damage in public perception to this class of technology could put it back 5~10 years, and cause governments to react swiftly and harshly. At the risk of appearing hyperbolic, this could be the end of Bitcoin, at least for most of the public.

The document goes on to claim that MtGox has essentially this balance sheet:

Assets $32M + 2,000 bitcoins (in the hot wallet) Liabilities:$55M + 744,408 bitcoins

This seems bizarre for a document which has had any input from an accountant, so my immediate instinct was that it was a hoax. The whole document is fairly muddled, but the claims seem to be essentially that “hackers” stole 744,408 bitcoins (essentially belonging to customers) from the MtGox site, leaving it bankrupt. Odd because the numbers above suggest it was bankrupt to the tune of about $20M even before the alleged disappearance of the bitcoins. However, we then had this: Karpeles made the statements in an Internet Relay Chat (IRC) this afternoon with Jon Fisher, an industry consultant and founder of WickedFire.com, a New York-based internet-advertising watchdog. FOX Business obtained private chat logs (excerpts can be found below) from the conversation. In those logs, Karpeles tells Fisher he has not “given up” on Mt. Gox and he can’t disclose if he has decided to step down as CEO of the exchange … In the IRC obtained by FOX Business, Karpeles denies the document was produced by Mt. Gox, but confirms that it is “more or less” legitimate. Hmmm. Not produced by Mt Gox, but “more or less” legitimate. If the claim of a massive theft/loss was false, that would be a totally dumb thing to say. But maybe Karpeles is totally dumb when it comes to PR. In any case, the statement has been taken by the mainstream media (eg the BBC) to confirm the theft/loss. The method of theft is known as “transaction malleability” according to BusinessWeek: A hacker can tinker with the code that makes a Bitcoin transaction happen, so that it looks like it didn’t go through. The person who was supposed to receive a payment then asks again and, in Mt. Gox’s case, is paid again automatically. Mt. Gox has acknowledged this was happening. It seems that someone has been slowly bleeding it for months, leaving it without the funds to pay out legitimate withdrawals. But with the company being pretty tight-lipped about it for now, that’s only the best theory. Mainstream media are now speculating that Bitcoins may now be dead. Eg, the LA Times on Tuesday: Bitcoin … on verge of collapse In a stunning blow to a novel way to buy products and services, the world’s largest exchange for trading bitcoin currency shut down Tuesday, triggering a massive sell-off and sending many prospective investors away — perhaps for good. On the other hand, plenty of venture capitalists who have collectively poured tens of millions into bitcoin startups are busy saying that actually all these events are extremely positive, when correctly viewed. The Wild West should now be cleaned up, leaving bitcoins to flourish in a better, more regulated environment. One interesting feature about the whole episode is that alarming behaviour at MtGox is nothing new. There is a forum thread of about 5 pages here, recounting the last major alarm in April 2013. It is a classic high-quality internet forum, full of insight, nonsense and red herrings in equal measure (as opposed to a classic low-quality internet forum which is 100% dross). The upshot is that the guys at MtGox are (1) all geeks, (2) the wrong kind of geeks, and (3) too dumb to recognize their own shortcomings and get help when things went wrong in early 2013. They have no idea how to write trading software and have been totally incompetent over a period of years, despite apparently having ample business and cash flow to sort out the mess and establish a reliable exchange. [see Note at end] One major symptom has been serious delays in executing trades. The price can move as much as 30% during these delays, so there is clearly scope for the exchange or its close associates to capture substantial profits, which may be technically legal (since there is little law governing unregulated things like bitcoin) but would clearly be a scam. For example, if the price is 500$/BTC at 2pm and 600 $/BTC at 4pm, then pass the BTC from 3rd party sellers at 2pm to close associates, who sell at 4pm to 3rd parties. Then give the 3rd party sellers 500/BTC and charge the 3rd party buyers 600. If, however, the price went down at 4pm, then link the 2pm sellers direct to the 4pm buyers. It is also interesting that “transaction malleability” seems to be a well-known issue for exchanges, which all the other exchanges have apparently been able to cope with without loss. However, it is completely unclear whether MtGox have been honest but incompetent and naive, or competent at being dishonest. My guess is the former. But no one with any experience of finance who read those 5 pages of forum would deal with MtGox without substantial further enquiry (the only purpose of which would be to determine whether they represented a profitable market for consultancy/rescue services or were merely crooks). Of course, the public cannot be bothered to uncover and read such stuff, which took me maybe a couple of hours of googling to find and another 20 minutes to digest. Indeed, many of them would not really understand the implications of what they were reading even if they did read it. That is why we need high-quality regulation. It is not reasonable to expect Joe Public to do hours of high-powered research before embarking on simple everyday transactions. Interestingly the dollar value of bitcoins has not collapsed. When I last checked (10am London today) it was$565. This chart shows a substantial fall around 7 Feb but a steady price since 15 Feb. There are reports of people selling heavily discounted bitcoins stored at MtGox in other fora, but the panic does not seem to have spread to the other exchanges.

Of course, the UK and the US can hardly be said to have benefited from high-quality regulation of the banking sector in 2007 and 2008. Certainly the regulators and other authorities did a highly competent job of sorting out the mess and preventing total melt-down, but they did an incompetent job when it came to preventing it happening. Indeed, plenty of other regulators in the UK seem to be not particularly competent about protecting the consumer from abuse. The question of whether it is possible to do better, and if so how, is something to which I shall be returning.

Much of the critical information in those forum pages (esp about the guys at MtGox being the wrong kind of geeks) comes from Andreas Antonopoulos, who is currently chief security officer at Blockchain.info, which inter alia runs a bitcoin wallet. So one question is obviously whether he is simply badmouthing the competition. My view was not. This article gives more detail.

## Whate’ers begun in anger ends in shame

The Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE) lasted from 1974 to 1984. It was effectively a pro-paedophile lobbying group. In the 1970s the big issue was not child abuse but gay liberation. In that climate, the main struggle was to get a sexual interest in someone of the same sex seen as a lifestyle choice, rather then a mental illness, a genetic aberration, or the work of the devil. PIE was partly about campaigning against an age of consent: any sexual act should be legal if the two parties consented.

Of course, this kind of campaigning was not well received by many people. But equally some of its most vociferous opponents were clearly prejudiced diehards who were also opposed to gay sex between consenting adults. So it was easy for those campaigning for gay liberation to support PIE, or at least not to oppose it.

Or it put it differently, many people failed to be horrified by paedophilia in the 1970s, because the liberal fashion of the day was to seek more rights for those with unconventional sexual tastes, rather than to worry about children. So plenty of people failed to intervene on things they should have done. It was rather similar to the way that many people came to advocate eugenics in the first half of the twentieth century and many more, who should have opposed it fiercely, did nothing.

The National Council for Civil Liberties (NCCL, now usually known as “Liberty”) was set up in 1934. It campaigns on a fairly broad front for civil liberties and human rights.

Patricia Hewitt was its general secretary 1974-1983. She had been born in Australia and went to school there, but went to Cambridge for an MA (and then to Oxford for another!). At that point she was a Tory and married the son of a Tory MP in 1970, but moved to the left and after two years as press officer at Age Concern she moved to NCCL. She later moved into politics, just missing election as an MP in 1983. She then became press secretary to Neil Kinnock and later became a junior minister under Blair in 1998, quickly getting promoted to the Cabinet in 2001. In 2007 she got into serious difficulties as Health Secretary and resigned in 2007 when Brown became prime minister. She later got into difficulties in the Cash for Access affair in 2010.

Harriet Harman joined the NCCL as its legal officer (like her mother, she was a solicitor) in 1978, staying until 1982, when she became MP for Peckham. When Labour got into power in 1997 she joined the Cabinet and remained there until Labour lost the 2010 election. She became a QC in 2001 when she became Solicitor General. She became deputy leader of the Labour Party in 2007 (originally QCs had to be barristers, but the first solicitors were appointed in 1997 – the total number of solicitors who are QCs remains small). [Meaning that I cannot be bothered to search the web further for precise stats! You might start on qcappointments if you want to pursue the matter.]

In 1975 – three years before Harman arrived, but the year after Hewitt arrived – the NCCL gave PIE affiliate status. That lasted until PIE began to disintegrate in 1983.

I have not pinned down the precise timing, but at the end of last week the Mail began to criticise Harman for sitting at the NCCL for 4 years, doing nothing about PIE’s status as affiliate. Harman’s reaction was to refuse to apologise and to attack the Mail.

Matters came to a head when she appeared on Newsnight last night and repeatedly passed up the opportunity to apologise.

H: Well I think that on the basis that it has created somehow a sense that NCCL’s work was therefore tainted by them, yes, obviously that is a very unfortunate inference to happen. But it is not the case that my work, when I was at NCCL, was influenced by PIE, was apologising for paedophilia, or colluding with paedophilia. That is an unfair inference, and it’s a smear.

X: Why don’t you just say whether or not clearly it was a mistake? For there to be any affiliation. You could have sent back their membership fees. You could have thrown them out.

H: Well, you know, it was just not the sort of organization which actually people applied to, and were then vetted, you know, are you able to give your donation. More than a thousand organizations, you know, had all sorts of

X: [interrupting] But this was a notorious group that you were well aware of. Why won’t you, with the benefit of decades of hindsight, just say yes it was a mistake for there to be any connection at all

H: [interrupting] They were challenged and they were pushed aside from their views having any influence on NCCL. Your interpretation is

X: [interrupting] It’s ok for them to carry on

H: [interrupting] Your implication is that somehow by giving them money, NCCL was influenced. It wasn’t. I don’t even know how much they gave, probably possibly even £10 a year. I don’t even know

X: [interrupting] You were happy for your employer at the time for 4 years took membership money from a group that was overtly campaigning for the rights of paedophiles? That wasn’t a mistake. That’s what you are saying.

H: Well, I was content with the fact that, in the knowledge that, nothing that I did supported paedophilia in any way shape or form.

X: But you are happy for the NCCL to have taken money from a paedophile group?

H: I wasn’t even happy that the group existed. They shouldn’t have existed. They were obviously a front for very bad people, who, I think, many of them were then prosecuted.

By the time of the Today programme this morning, Harman was having second thoughts, but bizarrely still failed to apologise. Her spokesman told the BBC:

She regrets the existence of PIE and, of course, she regrets any organisation’s involvement with them, including NCCL, but they were immaterial to her work. She does not regret joining the NCCL. By the time she arrived, they were very much under the radar and her work focussed on other things, such as marches, apartheid and trade unions. (approx 8:22am)

The interview on Newsnight was completely stupid (for an experienced politician). All she had to do was to say she was sorry – she did not pay enough attention and she should have insisted that PIE be dropped. But she could not bring herself to do that because she was angry with the Mail, partly no doubt because it is a Tory paper and partly because of its attack in Sep 2013 on Ralph Miliband (Ed’s father) as “hating Britain”. But she has probably said just enough, just quickly enough, to escape serious damage.

So on this occasion Poor Richard’s Almanack 1734 was probably wrong.

## iCal syncing

iCal, or more formally Calendar v7.0, is Apple’s calendar app. There is a desktop version which runs under OS X, and a mobile version, which runs under iOS.

Syncing is a fairly obvious issue. Typing is faster on my desktop, so if I am sitting there I prefer to enter appointments onto the desktop version, but when I am away from my desk I use the version on my iPhone. How do I keep them synced?

There are some genuinely tricky issues. How do you decide which version to update when they differ: the iPhone or the desktop? But there is no time to go into those here. Most designers have settled on a few rules of thumb which deal with most situations and refer cases not covered by them to the user (a message pops up saying iPhone has this, desktop has that, which do you prefer). For me that works about 95% of the time, and the other 5% seem to be almost all the creation of duplicate entries, which is irritating but much less serious than dropped entries.

Well, my tenses have gone adrift there, because currently syncing is not working at all. A quick google reveals this as a fairly typical entry in the Apple forums:

The HIPP Act is a typical piece of internet nonsense, the kind of thing that shows the dangers of scanning facts (the text of a statute) with no knowledge of how the law works, and a firm determination to force the wording of the statute to mean what you would like it to mean.

Another forum speculates that it is an attempt to drive more use for iCloud, so that more people will pay to go above the 5GB free limit. That is also hard to believe. The amount of data involved in syncing iCal is peanuts (a few tens of kB maybe), and it is hard to see that being forced to use iCloud for that will make people rush to put up tens of GB of songs or videos.

So why on earth that Apple dropped USB syncing from Mavericks? It looks like either sloppy thinking or straight blunder.

However, the real issue is why it is also so hard to sync through iCloud. Eventually, I grasp that the problem is that iCal is aware of 6 calendars. Two are specialised. I can only guess where they sprung from: Birthdays and Contacts’ birthdays. The other four are: Calendar, Home and Work, which seem to be the default set of iCloud calendars, and the calendar associated with my main google email account. All six are ticked on my desktop, so presumably the displayed entries are those in any of the six calendars. Indeed unticking them one at a time for this week shows that the five calendar entries are all on the google calendar, whereas the other five calendars are all blank.

Bringing up the google calendar in a browser confirms that it also has these five entries. Similarly, bringing up the iCloud calendar in a browser shows the three calendars Calendar, Home and Work listed and ticked, with no entries for the week. My iPhone turns out (with a little more work finding the list of displayed calendars) to be displaying only Calendar, which is blank for the week.

So it looks as though syncing has in fact been working brilliantly without my realising it: the Calendar, Home and Work calendars have been kept perfectly in sync, with no errors, on desktop, iCloud and iPhone. The only snag is that they are all entirely empty and I never use them.

The obvious experiment is now to make a new entry on Calendar and see if it migrates to iCloud and my iPhone. If I untick all but Calendar on the destop and double-click tomorrow to create a new event, then the google Calendar immediately becomes ticked. So somehow I am defaulting onto the google calendar.

I look at iCal Preferences. Under the Accounts tab it shows two “Accounts” iCloud and Gmail, both enabled. Gmail is marked to refresh every 15 minutes and iCloud by “Push”. Then under the General tab, I find that the Default Calendar is the google calendar. There are also tick boxes for Birthdays and Holidays calendars. So the question is whether I can get the iPhone and iCloud to take the google calendar. Moving to iCloud in the browser, clicking the gear wheel at the bottom left and then selecting New Calendar, I am able to add the relevant email address. Clicking Edit and then the minus buttons I manage to delete Calendar and Home, but when I try to delete Work, I am told that I must retain one calendar that I “own”. But I am able to untick it. So that leaves me with only one ticked calendar, the google calendar.

Moving across to the iPhone, I find that the google calendar has now appeared as a ticked item. I untick Birthdays. Returning to the desktop iCal I find that I now have two unticked birthday calendars, one ticked gmail calendar under the Gmail heading and one unticked gmail calendar under the iCloud heading, and finally one unticked Work calendar under the iCloud heading. But the gmail calendar on iCloud is still empty for this week, I guess I have not waited 15 minutes yet.

So what do I conclude from all that? From one point of view it is my fault for not looking into it more carefully before. I did not even realize that I had a gmail calendar, let alone that it was the default for my iCal. Just conceivably, I set that default a year or two back, without giving it much thought, and certainly without realising that it impacted on the iCloud syncing. But then I had chosen to use USB syncing. It was only after Mavericks had been installed for a few weeks that I grasped I was failing to get any kind of syncing.

I give Apple rather less than top marks for choice of defaults. Normally the hallmark of Apple software is a careful choice of defaults, so that 90%+ get a seamless service without giving the matter any thought. But I give Apple low marks for a totally unannounced, and dumb, change. It will be interesting to see if they fix it by allowing USB syncing on the next update of iTunes.

Oh, and 25 minutes later, the google calendar entries have still not appeared anywhere except the desktop. Does that mean that only new entries are being synced? If so, how do I sync existing entries? Grrrr!

Update (24 Feb 14)

Well, I never found out. But I did find out how to get google to sync the google calendar with the iPhone and the desktop, so that more or less works now.

This morning I switched on to find that two-thirds of the Sidebar entries in Finder had vanished. The Sidebar is a fast way of accessing commonly used sub-sub…sub-directories. You drag them into the sidebar. Usually they stay there and then clicking on them instantly displays their contents. I look on the forums and find that this bug came in with Mavericks, which was released just over 4 months ago (22 Oct 13). Surely Apple can fix this kind of thing quicker …

## Protecting us from Armageddon

And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet. For they are the spirits of devils, working miracles, which go forth unto the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty. Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame. And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon. (Rev 16:13-16, KJV)

There is indeed a purely earthly approximation to such events: the use of nuclear weapons. Anyone who has seen the contemporaneous aerial footage of vast areas of Hiroshima flattened by Little Boy, a modestly sized (16 kiloton) uranium fission weapon, is appalled at the destructive power of such weapons. Of course, 69 years later, the state of the art is fusion weapons releasing around a thousand times more energy.

This is indeed a major security issue, which was substantially aggravated by the major foreign policy blunders of the US, which allowed Pakistan to develop fission technology and sell it to all comers. It is also one which attracts bizarrely little public debate. Somehow the journalists and the Great British Public seem to have convinced themselves that the problem went away with the collapse of the Soviet Union. To be fair, a good deal of work was done quietly on the safeguards issue in a little-heralded collaboration between the US and Russia, but the threat to humankind has not gone away.

In contrast, the “terrorist threat” as currently portrayed in the media is overblown nonsense, and the response to it is now substantially more threatening to Western democratic values than the problem. Entirely predictably, many unsavoury regimes around the world now proclaim legitimate political opponents to be terrorists and even seek the cooperation of the West in eliminating them. Whilst in the UK a trivial issue has resulted in a completely silly over-reaction.

There was an excellent article on the over-reaction in yesterday’s Standard by Simon Jenkins, brought on by the email leak published in the Times on Thursday last week. A policeman on duty at Downing Street had emailed his superiors at 0046hrs 19 Sep 2012 (early on the day of the Plebgate incident) to ask how to handle Mr Mitchell when he demanded, as was his wont, to be allowed to ride his bike through the main gate.

… [Mr Mitchell] went on to say ‘I am the Government Chief Whip and I will be leaving via these gates. I have been in and out of these gates three times today and I will be leaving this way, thank you.’ … This rule [to use the pedestrian side gate] was brought in for the safety of the cyclist, officers and tourist/visitors at the front of the street and presumably for the general security of The Street and people in it … Can you please confirm, as I’m sure this will keep happening unless people of much higher rank or of standing in the street/house/government than me have an input, how would you suggest we play this? Do we just stand our ground (but have the backing of yourself if something comes of it in the future!) as it was already explained to him that it was for his safety, and for the security of the street, but on this occasion it would most certainly have brought serious repercussions on the officers etc, who decided on this occasion to use their discretion, or do we allow him (only) to use the main gates for his arrivals and departures at all times, as he was adamant he WAS GOING THROUGH THOSE GATES and he’s the Government Chief Whip!

Jenkins’ article is a masterly blend of humour, common sense and nostalgia

I remember being able to drive foreign visitors down it to show them the front door of No. 10, guarded by just two unarmed policemen … Mitchell was clearly driven to say whatever he said not because of some innate loathing of authority. He lost his rag when confronted by the sheer bureaucratic idiocy of the “diplomatic protection group” festooned with protective gear and weaponry, cooling its heels in what must be the safest spot in town. Its only job, which could be done by any doorman, is to open and close a gate.

Nonetheless, I suspect he is missing the main point. Of course, GCHQ, MI5, SIS, CO19, the DPG et al have seized with both hands the role they have been handed of posing like heroes in front of the British Public to protect us all from devastating harm. Of course, their actual behaviour is bureaucratic and daft much of the time. But they were handed this opportunity because the public is scared.

Why is it scared? The obvious explanation is the wall-to-wall coverage on television of the terrible threat of terrorism. That must be part of it. It is a serious indictment of journalists as a group that their coverage of “terrorism” is so mindless. They whip up fear, when they should be damping it down by putting the threat into perspective.

At the same time, I cannot help feeling that we have become more easily scared as a society than I remember 50 years ago. The crazy panics over stranger paedophiles is another example.

In a slightly different context, there was an amusing article in today’s i reporting that Bret Ellis (49), Brat Pack author of Less than Zero and American Psycho, was complaining that young people were unable to handle criticism: “What we have is a generation who are super-confident and super-positive about things, but when the least bit of darkness enters their lives, they’re paralysed. In a way it’s down to the generation that raised them, who cocooned them in praise – four stars for showing up, you know? But eventually everyone has to hit the dark side; someone doesn’t like you … doesn’t like your work … doesn’t love you back …”

Yes emotion is wonderful, a critical part of our humanity, but we also have to learn a certain objectivity, an even more important part of our humanity.

## Spotlight

For the benefit of Windows users, I should explain that Spotlight is the Apple OS X indexing system. It sounds really neat: clever search, automatic creation of “smart folders” containing things like files created today, the possibility of creating custom-built smart folders, automatic (but customisable) search across a whole range of things. It was intended to be another example of Apple’s winning software strategy: reliability coupled with clever defaults which suit 99% of users.

Unfortunately, I often fall into the 1% who do not find the defaults quite meet my needs, but I have to admit that quite often the defaults are good enough, and it is usually not that difficult to figure out how to modify the defaults. Apple seems to have a clear policy on that: it gives you no help whatever. If you do not want “Time Machine” (a really neat automatic backup system) to give you hourly backups, then tough. But usually the defaults are neatly squirrelled away in text files and there seem to be plenty of geeks on the forums eager to point you to them. I guess if I had more time to fiddle, I could even figure them out for myself.

Some years ago, I decided that Spotlight was a total dog. In common with many others on the forums I found the damned thing spent too much of my CPU time indexing. Disabling it proved fairly tricky. There were umpteen suggestions on the forums, some better informed than others. Sadly OS X, or to be more precise all the stuff that Apple has heaped on top of the basic Unix, is showing clear signs of legacy software. There is rarely one text file relevant to a particular setting. Sometimes you have four or five, which, of course, the operating system consults in a particular order, so you sometimes have to fiddle with all the wretched things to get the behaviour you want. And if you are not extremely disciplined it is easy to leave hard-to-fix booby traps for later (which is no doubt why Apple do nothing to encourage such tinkering).

Anyway, I disabled Spotlight. I occasionally mused that it was a pity I could not have retained that “recent files” smart folder, but disabling was a big step forward in terms of removing aggravation.

Then a couple of years ago, I began to run into what I later diagnosed as hard disk failures. There were endless delays while the disk was (presumably) coping with bad sectors on the disk. I fixed that by migrating to an external drive (another bizarrely complicated process – there turned out to be subtleties about getting an iMac to boot of an external drive). Things improved for a year or so, but then the delays came back. I finally grasped that PCs are no longer designed to work for decades, they are designed to fall apart after 5 years or so, so I bought a new iMac. I love it, but after I while I began to wonder whether Spotlight might work better with my new faster processor.

Re-enabling the wretched thing has not proved straightforward. The only record I could find of how I had finally disabled it turned out to be a text file:

Trying the launchctl load command just gave an error message “Nothing to load”. A little googling showed that the command for Spotlight is mdutil. So I did the basic Unix trick of typing “man mdutil” onto the command line. It turned out that “mdutil -s” gives the status. That returned that Spotlight was indeed disabled. So I tried “mdutil -a -i on ” which is supposed to enable Spotlight on all drives. That returned:

Metadata.framework [Error]: mdsCopyStorePaths failed: (268435459) (ipc/send) invalid destination port
Spotlight server is disabled.

Of course, you can see how dumb I was being: that launchctl unload -w command had put Spotlight beyond the reach of turning on or off. So first I had to undo that. Indeed, the author of the image text above (gulp! was it me?) has put the two turn-on commands in the wrong order (as any mathematician ought to have grasped instantly – you would not expect them to commute).

So after a quick launchctl load -w followed by an mdutil -a -i on, I got this when I clicked Spotlight at the top right of the screen:

29 hours! This is not promising … Now 1pm, we will see.

Update. Just 8 minutes later the estimate is down to 9 hours. Of course, that bug (hopeless time estimates) is slightly tricky to fix, because you would have to add file sizes rather than just count the number of files. There can be tens of thousands of files or more, so to make that work, you need some slightly complicated mix of adding sizes for large files and counting the numbers of small ones. But it would be eminently doable …

Update. 7 minutes later it is showing 3 hours to go. Curiously, the blue line has only about doubled in length, so that visual indicator suggests the process is only 15% complete. Hmmm. Maybe it is more reliable than the text indicator – that implies about 80 mins to go.