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Colin Devroe

Photographer. Podcaster. Blogger. Reverse Engineer.

Libra (the new cryptocurrency) must-reads

So Facebook, among others, announced a new cryptocurrency and blockchain called Libra. You’ve likely already seen the headlines. But perhaps you’re wondering what it means, what makes Libra any different than, say, Bitcoin, or perhaps you have other questions.

I did too. So I’ve rounded up a few links that helped me gain some perspective on this announcement. As with all things crypto, it is fascinating to see all of this play out.

Libra White Paper:

We believe that collaborating and innovating with the financial sector, including regulators and experts across a variety of industries, is the only way to ensure that a sustainable, secure and trusted framework underpins this new system. And this approach can deliver a giant leap forward toward a lower-cost, more accessible, more connected global financial system.

This white paper lays out the problem, the proposed solution, and even a roadmap for the future of the currency/payments system. It reads well-enough and it a good place to start.

Wired’s article on this announcement:

The Libra Association will consist at first of up to 100 founding members including Facebook, each of which will invest at least $10 million to fund the association’s operations, and receive interest earned off the reserve. (Libra’s NGO members are exempted from the investment requirement.) Each member will be empowered to operate a node on the blockchain, and have a voice in determining changes to its code and managing the reserve.

As reporters are good at, the Wired piece distills the main points of the effort as well as provides context around the crypto-market in general. Adds some flavor to the entire thing.

Ben Thompson’s excellent take:

The best way to understand Libra, then, is as a sort of distributed ledger that is a compromise between a fully public blockchain and an internal database […] This means that the overall system is much more efficient than Bitcoin, while the necessary level of trust is spread out to multiple entities, not one single company…

At this point, I’d call Libra a pseudo-distributed blockchain backed cryptocoin. Rather than network nodes being managed by anyone they are managed by “qualified” entities. And so is the underlying software.

This is yet-another-option in the crypto-market. Something sort of like other coins but different enough that it deserves to exist. Hardliner crypto peeps may take offense to any amount of oversight on something like a cryptocoin but it is bound to occur. This won’t be the last cryptocoin/payments system you see created that has institutional backing and oversight. In fact, it isn’t the first. See JPM Coin from JP Morgan.

Again, I’m fascinated by this space and I will continue to watch as the markets, coins, payment systems, blockchains, and companies spearheading this new territory evolve.

My crypto and indie web goals for 2019

Steven Johnson, in Beyond the Bitcoin Bubble:

The true believers behind blockchain platforms like Ethereum argue that a network of distributed trust is one of those advances in software architecture that will prove, in the long run, to have historic significance.

I’m very late to the game in reading Johnson’s piece in the NYT. I’ve had it stored in Pocket for far too long. I’m glad I took the time this morning while drinking my coffee to read it. It is very good. It includes many things I think about most; the open web, how tech giants are so important in what the future will look like, and what we can do to mitigate the downsides of them owning the future.

Since 2011, I’ve been asked about Bitcoin and blockchain from time-to-time. My advice to people (including myself) is to recommend people do their own research.

I’ve been buying BTC lately. Partly because the price is rather low at the moment but also partly because I have a completely different goal in 2019. I’m not prospecting. If my wallet’s value appreciates, excellent. If it doesn’t, I don’t care. My goal in 2019 is to use crypto currency (likely Bitcoin or Ether?) to pay for some every day mundane things. My goal is to transact the equivalent of around $10,000 USD in some form of crypto during the course of the year. That could be accepting crypto or spending crypto. It is my hope that by not being a hodlr, and also not trying to get rich, that I will help the crypto financial ecosystem in some small way.

Going back to Johnson’s piece. He writes a lot about the open web and the open protocols that are in place and how on top of those certain companies own things like our identity. He doesn’t quite go so far as to mention the Building Blocks of the indie web but I wish he had. But I think we’re starting to see decentralization on many fronts happen. I think 2018 was a big year for this and I think the shift is only going go accelerate.

I’m not going to make any predictions specifically for 2019 since I believe it will take longer than that. However, with blogging being easier than ever, with Mastodon and indie web protocols, and Solid and many other projects happening – I think we’ll start to see the power of Facebook and Google splinter. Even if it only splinters a little it will be a good thing for the open web.

My indie web goal is to bring my personal site a little more inline with indie web principles. As you long time readers will know, supporting the indie web exhausted me. I gave up. It was too hard. But, the beginning of such things is hard and I should buck up and figure it out. If I do and somehow help make it easier for the next person the web will be a better place.

I recommend reading Johnson’s entire piece.

Understanding Ethereum Smart Contracts

Gjermund Bjaanes:

This post explains how smart contracts work on the Ethereum Blockchain.

Related to my last. This is a good overview of Smart Contracts. Fascinating stuff.

Please don’t try to explain Bitcoin at parties (unless you know what you’re talking about)

Unless you’re drinking your flat whites under a rock, you’re likely seeing a lot of news about Bitcoin, it’s current exchange rate against the US Dollar, blockchain and it’s various applications, etc. You might even be getting sick of hearing about it (or, perhaps you’re sitting there earning hundreds or thousands of dollars per day from it). Either way, I must make one request of you, dear reader…

Please do not spread misinformation about blockchain and cryptocurrency. If someone asks you about these things and you don’t know, say so. They won’t think less of you. Explain to them that you too are interested in these things but that you still need to do more research before you’re willing to explain it to them. They’ll even respect you for being honest. Don’t make it up based on a few headlines or tweets you’ve read. If you are going to try to explain these things to people, especially youth, please dive in and get a deep understanding of some of these more complex technologies before you begin explaining them.

I think I’ve caught myself a few times, in recent conversation, going just a little bit further than my own knowledge and regretting it. I feel I have a fair understanding but I’m nowhere near qualified to teach on the subject. Which is why I’m bringing it up here on my blog. Fortunately, most of the conversations I’ve had about these things are with people that are also devouring every bit of information they can about it – and so I don’t think I pointed them in an incorrect direction. But I think we (the nerds among us) can easily misinform others if we begin to describe blockchain and crypto at parties.

So don’t try. Unless you know what you’re talking about.

A technology predication time capsule

Readers of my blog will know that I occasionally attempt to predict when certain technologies that I write about will hit the mainstream. While I’m very passionate about a few technologies, I try to temper that excitement with the experiences I’ve had, the wisdom that comes with age, and other factors. Usually, things take a little longer to happen than we’d like for the things we want to see most. And sometimes, sometimes, the things we want most never materialize at all.

For the purposes of this post, mainstream doesn’t mean critical mass but rather mass market adoption. With 7B+ people on the planet reaching critical mass is far easier than reaching mass market saturation. In other words, a company, product, or technology can reach sustainability and never truly hit the mass market. Examples: Tesla can succeed, be profitable, and have happy customers without the world moving on from fossil fuels. A company focusing on AI can make great livings, do compelling and challenging work, without every family having their own personal C-3PO.

Here are some stake-in-the-ground predictions on some of the most talked about technologies of our day. We’ll see in the next few decades if I was even close.

  • Legal, fully autonomous driving with no human assistance: Mid-summer 2026 – Even 9 years out there will still only be a few select vehicles that will fit into this category. There will still be humans driving on the road. And, only the most expensive cars will have all of these features. But, it will exist, be available to anyone, and be legal in the US. And I also believe there will be small fleets running in select cities for Lyft, Uber, and I believe Tesla will have a ride-share platform by this point. Also, don’t be surprised if Apple does too.
  • Bitcoin, or some crypto-currency, being widely transacted at small retail stores in the US: 2027 – If Square, or some other platform with high market saturation, turns on crypto for retail SMBs then we can say they accept this form of tender. But, I believe it will be 10 years before we see a decent number of daily transactions by consumers. I know, “decent” is relative so I’ll give it a number: $100,000,000 US dollar equivalent in a single month. This is roughly 25% of US monthly retail revenue as of September 2017. Side note: By this time we’ll see talk of the US dollar being converted to an all digital currency and, perhaps, transacted on its own blockchain.
  • Mixed Reality experiences used in everyday work environments: 2027 – Today we share links to web sites, documents on Google Drive, and flat or animated graphics to design and develop both soft and physical products. By 2025 many of these every day things will be accessible and even better experience within MR. I believe most businesses with digital assets will have multiple pairs of “glasses” or “goggles” that will allow team members to view or collaborate on these types of data. In other words, by 2030 rather than sending a child a link to Wikipedia to learn about our Solar System I believe we’ll be sending them MR experiences that they will consume using an augmented reality experience on a device other than a flat panel display. This happens today. But no where near mass market. And this industry has a long way to go. Even further than I previously thought.
  • Wireless internet takes over all cable based internet: 2029 – Most people in the US will connect to the Internet via wireless across all devices. And there will be no limitation on bandwidth usage.
  • Fully autonomous fleets replace individual car ownership: 2037 – Today US cities are plagued by traffic jams comprised of single occupant vehicles. Mass transit softens this but doesn’t solve the issue due to the convenience of a car. Ride sharing services have softened this even more and car ownership in urban areas is on the decline. By 2037 we’ll see massive reduction in individual car ownership in cities but also in the hinterlands as fleets of fully autonomous vehicles, combined with better mass transit, can care for the majority of transportation needs. I believe, however, families with at least 2 children will still have a single family-owned vehicle of some sort. Again, I’d like to put a number on this. So I’d say 15-25% less car ownership/use for individuals and commuters nationwide.
  • Mixed Reality replacing many conventional meat space locations/activities: 2050 – By 2050 the majority of children in the US will have the option to attend school in VR ala Ready Player One. Virtual classrooms will no longer be limited by federal budgets but will be designed to appear like cathedrals of learning.
  • (Because, why not?) An off-planet human civilization: 2175 – Humans will walk on Mars in the 2020s. And, perhaps, a small moon or Mars base will exist in similar fashion to today’s ISS in the 2030s. But a civilization, where people live, work, play, have children, and die peacefully etc. won’t exist on any other planet or moon (likely the Moon will have an established civilization prior to Mars). The reason I put this far-reaching prediction on this list is because I believe the excitement around a human footprint on Mars will lead to speculation about off-planet civilizations. But, we must all remember, we put a footprint on the Moon many, many decades ago and then just never went back. I do think that we’ll be mining objects near Earth much, much sooner. Even the Moon. But we’ll do that with robots and minimal human intervention.
  • Tweet editing – Never.

Check back in a few decades to see if I was even close.

Attending October’s NEPA.js meet up

On Tuesday, October 10 I attended October’s NEPA.js meet up. John George of NEPA Web Solutions was this month’s presenter and his topic was Bitcoin and the Blockchain: Democratizing How We Exchange Value.

I believe all members of NEPA.js would agree, John’s presentation was arguably the best presentation the meet up group has had to-date. Though the Blockchain can seem a complex topic, John did an excellent job describing how it worked, where it is currently being used, and its future potential. Though the meet up was relatively well attended, I left wishing that so many more people had heard his presentation.

To further the lesson beyond the walls of the Scranton Enterprise Center, John also gave each attendee a gift in the form of a wallet containing a single bit of BTC. He also incentivized attendees to claim that bit for themselves by awarding the first few that did so with $50USD in BTC. Those that did it were rewarded indeed since the value of BTC has jumped to new record highs this month. Those that didn’t claim their bit may be kicking themselves for dragging their feet.

John will likely do this presentation again, in some form, under the NEPA Tech banner. Meet up’s like October’s are what is spurring the group to expand the group into a more general direction. This particular presentation had nothing to do with JavaScript – as the name NEPA.js would have you believe – and so we want to make sure each meet up is approachable by all that would be interested. You may remember me saying this over the last few months, and even in January I spelled it out specifically, but now there has been positive steps towards this happening. We’ll have more to announce in the near future.

Thanks to John for the amazing presentation, and for the bitcoin, and to the attendees for the active discussion.

Side note: My apologies for a terrible pano photo. I’ll try to do better next time.

What is Blockchain and Bitcoin?

Paul Bouchon at Site Pen:

Much like the term “cloud”, the term “blockchain” is heavily overloaded and oftentimes used incorrectly. Without delving into the historical origins behind the confusion around the term itself, let’s understand exactly what a blockchain is.

He goes on to clearly explain blockchain and Bitcoin. Be sure to read it if you’ve been fuzzy on the topic before reading further.

My take on this has been the same since I first heard about Bitcoin and blockchain and I’ve only touched on it lightly here on the blog. So perhaps this is a good a time as any to articulate my perspective on this.

I’m far more interested in blockchain technology and services than I am about Bitcoin. Think of Bitcoin as the US Dollar. Would you rather invest in the dollar itself or in technology and services around the dollar? The opportunity comparison isn’t very close at all. Now, imagine those same blockchain technologies and services could be used for other digital and crypto-currencies. Now imagine the myriad of other uses outside of finance there are for blockchain.

Bouchon appropriately points out that we’ll see a slew of misapplications of blockchain – likely the same way we saw the misapplications of web sites. The internet is awesome. But it will never solve every human problem. Blockchain is fantastic and has more applications than I can possibly list, but don’t be surprised if you see some dumb ideas that get funded and burn cash (or, Bitcoin).

When I’m speaking to someone about this I inevitably get the same question: “Yeah, but can’t you make money with Bitcoin?”. You can, yes. There are some that have made substantial amounts investing in Bitcoin itself. And there will continue to be some. But the number of people that will earn a return on Bitcoin itself compared to those that do on blockchain will be laughable in 20 years.

Or I could be wrong. 🙂

Bitcoin, Magical Thinking, and Political Ideology

A must-read from Alex Payne, Bitcoin, Magical Thinking, and Political Ideology. Here is what he says is the general view of Bitcoin among many (including me):

Most charitably, Bitcoin is regarded as a flawed but nonetheless worthwhile experiment, one that has unfortunately attracted outsized attention and investment before correcting any number of glaring security issues.

There is an awful lot of noise around Bitcoin primarily due to a few overnight windfalls and people trumpeting the currency every time its exchange rate spikes. The current exchange rate of Bitcoin has little to do with anything at all.

Payne waxes on about many of the misunderstood advantages and disadvantages to Bitcoin spurred on by Chris Dixon’s post regarding Andreesen Horowitz’s recent investment in Coinbase. I recommend giving Payne’s post a read if for no other reason than to read a not-so-glowing piece on Bitcoin.

I also liked this bit:

Working in technology has an element of pioneering, and with new frontiers come those would prefer to leave civilization behind. But in a time of growing inequality, we need technology that preserves and renews the civilization we already have. The first step in this direction is for technologists to engage with the experiences and struggles of those outside their industry and community. There’s a big, wide, increasingly poor world out there, and it doesn’t need 99% of what Silicon Valley is selling.

Sometimes we lose site of that. Making something fun, or even valuable to use, for those of us that are always online, always in front of a screen of some size, picky coffee drinkers is fun and all but really we need to keep the bigger picture in mind. Those in the tech sector working on large scale issues (such as currency and exchange) shouldn’t focus just on make something good for us, it should focus on making something good for everyone.

 

 

When will Bitcoin be valueable?

Bitcoin is going a little nuts this week. But the price at which a bitcoin exchanges at isn’t the only factor by which you should value the currency. Far, far from it.

As Fred Wilson puts it:

Everyone focuses on the price of Bitcoin these days and it is no wonder why. But for Bitcoin to be anything more than a store of value, we need to see a transactional ecosystem develop. When the citizens of the world will be able to buy and sell from each other and from retailers of all shapes and sizes via Bitcoin, then we will have truly realized the potential of a global digital currency.

The more transactions occur with Bitcoin, especially within very well established marketplaces, the more value a bitcoin can hold. Why? Because if the price of a single bitcoin is too volatile then the currency will never truly end up being a global alternative. No one can bank on it. (Pun intended.)

Bitcoins need to be saved and exchanged by entities that currently have real value and that have a real way of exchanging those bitcoins around the world. This currency can’t be reserved for the technophiles out there that are trying to simply by low and sell high. Imagine if, say, some of the largest corporations in the world began to accept this currency and had a few bitcoin in savings. This would help to both establish bitcoin in the marketplaces and stabilize it.

The real value will start to come in when a fair number of businesses accept bitcoin around the world for goods and services and people stop simply thinking about the current exchange rate.

We’re years away from seeing the true potential for and what will happen with P2P currencies. It will be exciting to watch.

Bitcoin is P2P Virtual Currency. I’m watching, closely.