Badgechain newsletter #15 – Cryptocurrency: unchecked, unregulated, un-understood

November 9th, 2017 | Carla Casilli

$7000. Bitcoin. Unprecedented. Unparalleled. Unimaginable. Fascinatingly, or perhaps terrifyingly, software professionals are not merely shaking their head at this valuation but at the construct of cryptocurrency itself.

I turned to Twitter to get a read on this recent development and it did not disappoint. @helenhousandi tweeted, “Kinda blows my mind that people who work on software and know it’s basically all duct taped together are willing to have software currency.”

Hooo boy, now that’s a conversation starter, right?

@BillStewart5 responded, “Most of the new software currencies are intended for sale to people who don’t understand that.” So, professional software folks believe that stooges are the primary cryptocurrency audience? Not a ringing endorsement. Still, @Rabbyte pushes back on this overwhelmingly pessimistic view with two tweets that reframe what cryptocurrency might be, “I don’t consider it currency anymore than I consider a webpage to be paper. 💁💸” She follows that up with, “it’s a metaphor that builds a sandbox for solving security issues to get to the next thing.” This seems like both logical and plausible reasoning. Maybe we’re just too locked into the idea of currency as something we know and understand. And yet…

There are legitimate big picture concerns: our current financial system relies on a strong but not always obvious social contract. @floatingatoll warns, “Not one I know pays taxes on the income earned, and they laugh at my concern that tax-dodging isn’t really a solid long-term plan.” And listen to @rnewman’s cryptocurrency issue, “I recently turned down a job in part because the implications of cryptocurrency comp (!) weren’t well thought through. #whatafuture”

This sort of conversation—where professionals who build software openly comment on the dependability of a world where software is currency—isn’t really happening anywhere in long form journalism, at least not with anywhere near the bite that it’s happening on Twitter. And it’s not just tech-savvy folks, but folks interested in the structure of our society. We have a long way to go if this is to be our future.

On the plus side, people are trying to make cryptocurrencies work. On the minus side, those cryptocurrencies appear to be drunkenly wandering back and forth across the line of sheer madness and dependable, social usefulness. So, while their valuations may be going through the roof, chances are folks are gonna feel perfectly fine when the sheer madness valuation bubble finally bursts. @evansolomon’s destabilizing warning, “The software is probably the least insane part of crypto” dovetails beautifully with @ipstenu’s, “Unchecked, unregulated, un-understood. That’s our universe!”

Maybe the software builders know a thing or two.

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Here are the Twitter links that inspired and informed this newsletter. We recommend them to you as interesting data points in your consideration of decentralized technologies, blockchain, and its impacts on finance and society.

@helenhousandi: https://twitter.com/helenhousandi/status/928267775625310208

@BillStewart5: https://twitter.com/billstewart415/status/928349473255833600

@rabbyte: https://twitter.com/rabbyte/status/928370138604171264

@rabbyte: https://twitter.com/rabbyte/status/928370224448946178

@floatingatoll: https://twitter.com/floatingatoll/status/928422502287544321

@rnewman: https://twitter.com/rnewman/status/928423517929873408

@evansolomon: https://twitter.com/evansolomon/status/928470758803759105

@ipstenu: https://twitter.com/ipstenu/status/928279924556709888

 

BadgeChain Newsletter #13 – ICOs and our imagined selves

October 12th, 2017 | Carla Casilli

If only you’d had the foresight to buy Ethereum during their ICO in 2014, the profits you could have made! Ah, the fabled Initial Coin Offering. So mysterious, so alluring. But really, what is an ICO and why are there so damn many of them all of a sudden?

An initial coin offering is really just a public offering of a cryptocurrency in the form of initially discounted coins or tokens. It’s a way for a public to fund—with real cash dollars or other cryptocurrencies like bitcoin—a new cryptocurrency. (Yes, one cryptocurrency exchanged for the possibility of another!) The sale of tokens may transfer rights of ownership or royalties to a project. Like stocks, the items that are purchased can grow in value if the cryptocurrency they represent takes off. But, surprise! They’re not nearly as regulated as stocks are. Well, at least not yet. Here in the US, the SEC is increasingly interested in them, and China has outlawed them entirely—for now. The dust hasn’t settled yet.

Where do these cryptocurrencies keep mushrooming up from? More than 50% of ICOs are based on blockchains built on top of Ethereum. Given their preponderance right now, it’s hard to believe that the first ICO took place only in 2013. Four short years have been enough to produce a few ICO unicorns already. So, with that kind of big money floating around, of course everybody wants in on these things.

The current herd mentality thinking in 4 steps:
Step 1: Create a cryptocurrency
Step 2: ICO
Step 3: ????
Step 4: PROFIT!!

We kid and yet… Certainly there are real, thoughtful and innovative products buried amidst the hype. However, while numerous ICOs can benefit small startups seeking quick crowdfunding for their ideas, the flip side is a bunch of duplicative and overlapping blockchains clogging up the field.

Is this the progress we imagined? Or is all of this merely more brute force capitalism, this time disguised as the decentralized and distributed hand of the market? Who knows. Our advice? Buy low, sell high.

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Here are the links that inspired and informed this newsletter. We recommend them to you as interesting data points in your consideration of decentralized technologies, blockchain, and is impacts on finance and society.

 

BadgeChain Newsletter #12 – Earning an A in bitcoin

August 24th, 2017 | Carla Casilli

Bitcoin and Bitcoin cash have sky-high valuations and as financial investments, they both appear to be unstoppable forces. But who’s using them as real money and for what? You’ll be surprised to find out.

Bitcoin, as first imagined, was created to circumvent established institutions like banks. In essence, removing middlemen in financial transactions and therefore encouraging and improving person-to-person commerce. It was considered extremely avant-garde and entirely non-conformist. How very far we’ve come. Now students can pay for their formal education with the cryptocurrency.

The University of Nicosia in Cyprus offers an MSc in Digital Currency that can be paid for using bitcoin. That’s downright poetic, right? For the folks recommending that students should look into bitcoin, this is the sort of platonic ideal of that suggestion. It represents a double win for students: they benefit from it both as a financial currency and as a learning tool. A double bonus also for the variety of institutions of higher learning that provide this opportunity: one for appearing up-to-date, and; two for sidestepping the not insignificant foreign currency issues for non-resident students. Because bitcoin is a truly universal currency, and actually does eliminate pesky middlemen, the special fees normally assessed against foreign transactions virtually disappear.

Given bitcoin’s increasing rate of acceptance, we have to wonder if this sort of quotidian use—college tuition payment—is truly avant-garde and non-conformist, or if it’s as far away from avant-garde and non-conformist as you can get. Maybe, in this instance, it’s both.

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Here are the articles that inspired and informed this newsletter. We recommend them to you as interesting data points in your consideration of education and decentralized technologies.

 

BadgeChain Newsletter #11 – Bitcoin cash: the fork in the road

August 10th, 2017 | Carla Casilli

We tried to avoid writing about it but we just couldn’t. When something as big as the most traded, loved, hated, discussed, envied, reviled alternative currency decides to do a hard fork, well, we just couldn’t avoid it. What does it mean to develop a cryptocurrency that is supposed to be based on rock-solid software and immutable structure only to have a group of your users / investors / miners / owners say this isn’t working as planned and we need to change it?

We’re talking about Bitcoin. What a complicated life it has led already in its relatively short time on earth. With its mysterious beginnings and now its astronomical valuation, Bitcoin is a true trailblazer in the world of cryptocurrencies. So, how do you get from there to Bitcoin cash, the newest iteration of Bitcoin? From one Bitcoin blockchain to two? In a word, scale. Or put more completely, the desire to tighten up the lags that have occurred with requests for processing and actual mining.

Feels like we might just be experiencing the Bitcoin equivalent of the New Coke vs. Coke Classic challenge. Except that Coke has never come near costing $3300+ a can. Sure Bitcoin cash currently trades at a valuation that’s several orders lower than Bitcoin, but for how long? If it lives up to its hopes, then speedier transactions may just prove far more compelling than its progenitor’s current process does. Also, the split meant that any Bitcoin owners received the same amount in Bitcoin cash, essentially doubling their holdings. A few cryptocurrency exchanges like Coinbase are not recognizing Bcash yet, so those unlucky holders lost out on the doubling effect. Still, this approach is a compelling strategy with few seeming downsides—for now. So, for those of us watching this event from the sidelines, it appears that the battle for Bitcoin supremacy is now on.

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Here are the articles that inspired and informed this newsletter. We recommend them to you as interesting data points in your consideration of education and decentralized technologies.

 

BadgeChain Newsletter #10 – Getting Acquainted with Encryption and Blockchain

July 27th, 2017 | Carla Casilli and Kerri Lemoie

The web is built on trust. We trust that our credit card numbers won’t get stolen when we buy things. We trust that the website or app where we enter personal data is what it claims to be. A site’s brand or reputation may create a sense of security but it’s actually a tool—encryption—that makes things safe.

Encryption is a type of cryptography that uses math to encode information. It is a highly useful and dynamic tool that ranges from limiting who has access to content to proving identity. When we see green padlocks on our browser address bar or https:// in the url, it demonstrates that a digital certificate has been installed proving that the website’s identity has been verified and also that the data is encrypted until that very website receives it. Nearly every website that collects data uses (or should use) encryption. But what does this have to do with blockchain and why does it matter that we understand it?

Encryption is often based on a system of public and private key pairs – also referred to as asymmetric keys. The keys are long alphanumeric strings that are mathematically related. Aptly named, the public key is available publicly, where the private key is intended to be kept confidential by its owner and entities the owner trusts. Since the public and private keys are related, if information is encrypted with the public key, its private key is the only one that can decrypt it.

Blockchains use encryption to prove the ownership of data. They can also use encryption to provide security and privacy. On public blockchains, like Bitcoin, encrypted data can be embedded as part of the transaction. As increasing numbers of blockchain based applications come to market, key management will become a critical aspect for adoption. Key owners are responsible for their secure storage because if a private key is lost, the proof of ownership and access to the related data is lost too.

Blockcerts.org is an example of an initiative that encrypts digital credentials and issues them as certificates on the Bitcoin blockchain. The recipient of the digital credential is provided a private key by the credential issuer. The key is necessary to decrypt the credential and share it with others. In an instance like this, a lost private key could mean lost access to the digital credential. In the world of fintech, the same principle works for Bitcoin, too, which are currently valued at 2577.80 USD. It’s painful to imagine the impact a lost hard drive could have on one’s wallet.

Happily, for those absent minded of us, application developers are working to create interfaces that assist with key management, and there are projects underway that may make it possible to recover lost keys. In the meantime, work on your memory palace and appreciate the value and impact of encryption because the future is looking increasingly blockchain-based.

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Here are the articles that inspired and informed this newsletter. We recommend them to you as interesting data points in your consideration of education and decentralized technologies.

 

BadgeChain Newsletter #9 – Education on Blockchain?

July 13th, 2017 | Carla Casilli

It had to happen, right? There’s so much hype around blockchain that colleges and universities have begun to take notice. Why? Well, historically, established educational institutions have been interested in teaching people (training them? Maybe that’s a discussion for another post…) about subjects organized by the institution’s vouched experts. Now, they are also interested in two other goals: remaining relevant in tremendously turbulent times and remaining solvent. Both of these last two goals are becoming increasingly important in a time of MOOCs, bootcamps, and the numerous, cheap or free learning experiences available on the web.

A quick review of post-secondary institutions now offering courses on blockchain reveals that a range of educational institutions worldwide are jumping into the game. Makes some sense given that certain aspects of blockchain are quite complex: some of the potentially related cryptography appears extremely daunting.

Does this education-related institutional focus point toward a sea change in software or even the web? As we have noted in previous newsletters, there are a number of individuals who have touted blockchain to be the new web. On the other hand, silos based on industry verticals have proven quite difficult to breech and disrupt—and that is almost exactly where blockchain technology appears to be finding its level. We’re still in early days.

All this said, huge organizations like IBM are in the midst of it: not only working on blockchain technologies, but also offering blockchain training, too. Relevance and money are not solely the provenance of the education industry. So, whether blockchain, in an ironic twist of fate, also ends up disrupting the traditional post-secondary education industry, too, is yet to be seen.

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Here are the articles that inspired and informed this newsletter. We recommend them to you as interesting data points in your consideration of education and decentralized technologies.