On Mon, Jan 29, 2018 at 9:40 PM, Tier Nolan via bitcoin-dev
<bitcoin-dev@lists.linuxfoundation.org> wrote:
> For check locktime, the median of the last 11 blocks is used as an improved
> indicator of what the actual real time is.  Again, it assumes that a
> majority of the miners are honest.

It would be more accurate to say that the median is not used for
improved accuracy but to mitigate a consensus incompatibility:

If the block's own timestamp were used for nlocktime and time based
nlocks were common on the network each miner would maximize their fee
income by setting the value as high as they could get away with.  What
concerned us wasn't so much that this would make the times less
accurate (though it would) but rather that it would create an
incentive for a runaway situation that could harm network stability
(e.g. with all miners cranking times against the 2hr window, then
creating pressure for miners to accept further and further in the
future; each responding to his own local incentives).

This incentive incompatibility could have been addressed e.g. by using
the prior block's time, but since the protocol doesn't require times
to be monotone (and for good reason!) the simple implementation of
that wouldn't have been a soft-fork.  The 11 block MTP worked out
nicely because the protocol already required new times to be larger
than that.

The timestamps in Bitcoin aren't intended to be particularly accurate.
They're used only for controlling the difficulty, and the adjustment
window is large enough that there isn't much distortion that can be
accomplished there.  It's not clear to me that much better can really
be done... if there were tighter time requirements in the protocol
miners would address them by running NTP which as an _astounding_ lack
of security in terms of how it is commonly deployed.  As far as I
know, I'm the only person whos ever mined blocks with their own
stratum 1 time source.

If times need to be accurate Bitcoin would need to use a rather
different design (e.g. each block would commit to the observation time
of the prior N blocks, and an iterative algorithm would solve for each
blocks time and each miners local offset).

IIRC open-timestamp calendar servers provide more precise
time-stamping under the assumption that the calendar server is
behaving correctly.
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