Who is Jameson Lopp?

Cypherpunk: A person who uses encryption when accessing a computer network in order to ensure privacy, especially from government authorities.

– Oxford Dictionary

CRYPTO 101 recently sat down with Casa infrastructure engineer, Jameson Lopp. Yeah, that’s a pretty significant understatement. As you’ll hopefully read below, there is much more to discover about Jameson as a person and much to learn from the content-rich digital trail he has blazed for most of his professional life. The curious thing is though, that’s probably how Jameson would introduce himself to a stranger these days – “Just Jameson”. It sounds like an 80’s sitcom if you say it outloud. Let’s try to stay focused.

There’s quite a few resources and articles out there to help you follow Jameson’s trail. But while they tend to focus on shop talk and whatever the “crypto” issue was at the moment, CRYPTO 101 wanted to take a slightly different approach; to try and get a better feel for the man behind the public persona. What makes him tick and what does he really think…about the world, and about society. Where is he from and how did he get here? How has he changed along the way?

Hailing from North Carolina in the United States, Jameson is a well-known Bitcoin enthusiast and successful entrepreneur. He graduated from the University of North Carolina in 2007 with a degree in computer science and worked for Bronto Software as a software engineer until 2015. His affinity for cryptocurrency’s flagship protocol started in 2012 and he hasn’t taken his foot off the mental gas pedal since.

Jameson founded Bitcoin SIG in December of 2013, a central hub that functioned as both public access to a well-curated library of bitcoin-centric resources and a connection point for fellow certified MENSA members (with similar Bitcoin interests) via a private special interest group. Full disclosure: most of us are still “on the outside looking in” for that fellowship. Perhaps for the best, but it must be interesting to read through some of those posts. In the meantime, we’ll continue our studies and Jameson’s Bitcoin Resources is a great place to start.

And Mr. Lopp was just getting started, too. Further inspired to grow accessibility and overall  knowledge level of the Bitcoin network for both users and noobs alike, Jameson began asking himself in 2014 – how could he gain more insight into the internal operations of Bitcoin nodes? By June, he had his answer in Statoshi, an open source fork of Bitcoin Core that he created to log network metrics into a usable format. This gave Bitcoin node operators a mechanism by which they could measure their interactions with the greater network. As a follow-up, Jameson created a publicly accessible version of this platform at Statoshi.info. It translates the data into beautiful graphics via Grafana, an example of which can be seen in the image below.

Statoshi.info
An elegant, user-friendly look at how the Bitcoin sausage gets made (statoshi.info)

How does one size up this guy? Essentially, Jameson is an avid communicator when it comes to sharing his views on just about anything – but especially cryptocurrency, and specifically Bitcoin. Backed by his technical credentials, Jameson has established his public presence via podcasts, interviews, articles, and social media appearances. He is often armed with well crafted presentations and some thought leadership that makes no apologies to those on the opposite side of a debate.

Debates? He’s had a few of those, with some other well known personalities in the space. A quick search will turn them up and most of them are really entertaining. Or, for some folks – maddening. Case in point, he was a victim of swatting last year as the heated scaling debate surrounding Bitcoin reached critical mass prior to the SegWit2X hard fork’s ultimate cancellation. This type of prank is pretty dispicable. It’s dangerous for all involved and creates a safety risk for others by locking up valuable public resources. In news coverage of the event, Jameson came off as handling it with a very cool head. That actually seems very cypherpunk of him, but it must have denied somebody, somewhere, the result they were seeking.

Back to our regularly scheduled programming…

Jameson joined BitGo in 2015, a company that was founded in 2013 and is best known for their multi-signature bitcoin wallet. He played a key role in developing the company’s flexible model and could often be found spreading word of the company’s product(s) as a colorful ambassador. At this point, he was already deemed by most to be a knowledgable leader within an industry experiencing exponential growth. That’s a powerful combination, so it should not have been a total surprise when he recently announced his departure to join the team at Casa. As a new startup, Casa is only about seven months old, but boasts some impressive bench depth.They’re hoping to take the secure wallet game to the next level, in direct competition with storage options like Coinbase Custody.

But what about the man?

Jameson can trace both sides of his family lineage back to the late 1700’s, consisting of a rich tradition of rural farming and agriculture. He is the self-professed urban and “techie” prodigal son of his kin, having left the staunchly conservative environment of his youth to make his way into a more diversified world, via the contrasting lens of a liberal institution of higher learning. Jameson credits his “real world” experiences post-Chapel Hill with further molding his personal ethos as a libertarian before finally settling into his comfort zone as an anarcho-capitalist. Coupled with his field of study and professional path after college, an eventual intersection with the bubbling genesis of Satoshi Nakamoto’s brain child seemed quite the fait accompli.

NC Farm
Roots (note: not actually a Lopp family farm)

Throughout that journey, Jameson recalls that his growing attachment to and reliance upon such basic principles as the scientific method and logical reasoning continuously challenged his perception and put him at odds with many ideologies – like the religion from his past and the political or financial system(s) he had come to question as an adult. This is a personal journey that many of us are familiar with but Jameson’s unique approach begins to take shape when he refers to himself as an “equal opportunity offender” when it comes to his views these days.

Whether it is a topic like Bitcoin scalability or Second Amendment rights, Jameson knows exactly what he believes in and, perhaps most importantly, why. You might not agree with him, but you won’t have to deal with a changing baseline or vanilla talking points on loan from ‘the movement’. Jameson’s thoughts are his own and he has plenty of them; what his audience does after they hear them is up to them. He bases his ideologies upon the principle of non-aggression, which…to an extent, conflicts with the pervasive behavior model for most of the world’s nation states (particularly the powerful ones). On face value, this principle might even seem to be at odds with his belief in the right to bear arms. Does this expose Jameson as a confused or misguided imposter?

Not so fast. With regards to gun control, he is quick to admit that he would completely support the idea of removing guns in totality, for everyone. Since this is simply not possible, his support of the Second Amendment stems from a drive to see an even distribution and protection of all types of power among everyone. Financial power, political power, and yes, even power of deadly force. This is a very controversial topic and it should be emphasized that it is not the intent of this article to dwell on this issue as a primary focus or give the impression that this defines Jameson anymore than his other beliefs or causes. It is one of many, but one that simultaneously demonstrates his passion for the distribution of power while also providing some insight into how he views and thinks through complicated matters.

Speaking of views and topics filled with complicated matters, he sees digital currency as a means by which some of this aforementioned power can be retained by average citizens and inherently protected from institutional abuse without risk of harm. It is the relationship between these personal beliefs and his technical acumen that has fueled his participation and advocacy in the rise of Bitcoin and other blockchain applications.

Jameson Lopp
Jameson Lopp (via www.facebook.com/jameson.lopp)

“I am striving to bring crypto-anarchy to the world,” Jameson told CRYPTO 101. He hopes for that world and its population to enjoy the activities, freedoms, and fruits of commerce and communication without the threat of third-party oversight and its potential responses to those transactions. Not surprisingly, he views Bitcoin as both an inspiration for this pursuit and a tool with which to achieve the endgame. Since Bitcoin’s beginnings in 2008, a portion of the movement’s participants viewed the currency as a means to disrupt nation state-issued currencies. Along with many others, Jameson sees these currencies (and their abuse) as contributors towards the existence of welfare states and a harmful military industrial complex.

But if it is the use of debt, taxes, and central bank manipulation of currency that serves as a mechanism for nation-state power retention, how can blockchain technology possibly hope to have an impact on that scale? Jameson sees the key value-add residing in the removal of the proverbial middle man. Most present-day services and systems rely on the convenience provided by specialized third parties but usually have to sacrifice some degree of anonymity or sovereignty (or both) in return.

For example, a bank can safeguard some of your assets from cunning thieves in a cutting-edge vault. This is highly desirable but you may not have access to those assets on a Sunday afternoon or, if the asset is fiat in an interest-bearing account, the bank is obliged to report that interest to government regulators. An average person may not necessarily have a problem with those limitations, but would they feel the same way if they lived in a country with a more volatile currency or dictatorial government? One can’t help but acknowledge that Jameson has a good point in this regard, and at least recognize the potential for blockchain technology to fill the role of today’s third-party trust system.

self bank
Who do you trust? ( via unsplash.com / @sharonmccutheon )

The practice of personal data mining and its manipulation for profit by corporations is a very hot topic right now. When considering the potential role of digital currency and blockchain technology in solutions for returning that profit to the data generators themselves, Jameson takes a macro-view and practical approach. Embracing his roots as a programmer, he sees potential in the use of these advanced networks, algorithms, and protocol for the digitalization of skills and trades. What does that mean, though?

Building upon his example, think of your craft being turned into a matrix of inputs and outputs with some decisions along the way. Uber and Lyft are seen as modern, progressive companies on the cutting edge of technology, right? But what if things were taken a step further? What if the cars were driver-less and there wasn’t a requirement for centralized administration of the system – no single point failure that could take down the whole system?

An electric autonomous car company might take in blockchain-driven customer data and be better equipped to meet the client’s needs as a clean energy transportation solution while also improving the life of their passengers through safety and productivity. The interactions could be seamlessly integrated and fair through smart contract execution.

 

Despite these highbrow concepts and ideas, Jameson is quite humble when the subject of conversation turns to his social media popularity and overall impact. He has reached the 150,000 follower plateau on Twitter and has engaged in discussions and debates with other power players like Litecoin creator Charlie Lee and early Bitcoin investor Roger Ver. But his social journey in public forums hasn’t alway been so…rosy. Jameson readily admits that he was very angry and a bit extreme in his early days as an online personality in the space, but says that he now realizes this wasn’t at all productive. Yes, he was upset with the direction of Bitcoin. He was at odds with a faction of its community and some decisions that were being made regarding the future of the network. But he became aware of the echo-chamber that he was a part of and the “negativity cycle” that it created. He decided to abandon his early approach and try instead to focus on the positive, productive aspects of what he and his constituents hoped to accomplish – mostly through education and awareness. Again, with more than 150,000 followers on twitter, you could say that his awakening and new approach has enjoyed some success.

jlopp twitter avi
@lopp

Jameson drew an interesting parallel between modern political activism and similar upheaval in the online crypto community over the years. Both scenarios usually involve a lot of passion and are motivated in part by some altruistic intentions of very intelligent and generally nice people. Unfortunately, both scenarios also have very loud, angry mob components that may sometimes join in. These groups drown out the true stakeholders and are frequently clueless when it comes to the real issues being discussed. But in Jameson’s opinion, the similarities stop there.

yelling
Modern discourse (image courtesy of theverge.com)

While activism that relies on its volume can sway political actions based on voter accountability and a natural inclination for elected officials to stay in office, Jameson reminds us that Bitcoin and other crypto asset networks just don’t work like that. Their natural attributes of distribution and consensus not only ensure the preservation of accurate data in their blockchains, but they also provide a natural impediment to change that only solidifies under pressure from activism that does not involve diplomatic discourse. The SegWit2x campaign last fall was truly a high water mark for discord and debate within the community. Regardless of one’s own view on such topics, it should be reassuring that such sweeping change, though nearly initiated, was never an absolute  given. Checks and balances, if you will.

CRYPTO 101 is grateful that Jameson took the time to speak with us. While many may disagree with him on numerous issues, he justified his positions logically during the conversation and was always willing to continue a discussion on any topic. He seems to say the things he says because he truly believes in the personal creed that he has developed over many years while living in many different environments. It’s all too rare to encounter anyone these days who can explain their beliefs and actually adjust their positions as their understanding evolves. There is no sense of a “damn the torpedoes” mentality when you peel back the layers of this self-proclaimed cypherpunk, and that should be a pleasant surprise. Most importantly, a lot of his efforts center on education – something we can all agree on and recognize that this space needs now more than ever, and for many years to come.

You can follow Jameson on twitter, medium, and (for now) facebook     


Author

About the author: Ryan LaMonica is a management consultant and blockchain enthusiast with a background in engineering, energy, marketing, and risk management. The views reflected in this article are his own and do not reflect those of his employer. He currently resides outside of Atlanta, Georgia where he and his wife manage the energy and risk of their four amazing children.

You can follow Ryan on Twitter, @ryanlamonica.

 

 

 

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Blockchain and Crypto: Looking Forward

And you may ask yourself
Where does that highway go to?
And you may ask yourself
Am I right? Am I wrong?

– Talking Heads, Once in a Lifetime

That classically bizarre tune has become my personal soundtrack as of late. It seems like only yesterday that my vernacular didn’t include terms like ‘sharding’ and ‘soft forks’. Hashing? Ha! I had just gotten to the point where I was comfortable as a liberated hashtag artist within my own social media circles. But now, here we are. The crazy winter of crypto madness is thawing out and some short-term capital is already on its way out the door. A colleague recently asked me, “Should I still get into this crypto thing?” Without hesitation, I replied in the affirmative but attached a healthy dose of questions for her to consider. Primary among them was this: Why do you want to invest in crypto currencies?

Take some time to consider this question. If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance that your interest goes beyond the bumper sticker memes of  #LambosOnTheMoon. Which is good, because with only a few potential exceptions (#RrarisOnMars, anyone?), most of those Lambos have already left orbit. Let that sink in for a moment. If I told you that our coin stacks were not going to make us overnight millionaires, how would you feel about that? Are you still in?

Good. Me, too.

lamborghini-trapper-keeper
The Only Lambo I Ever Had (image courtesy of mentalfloss.com)

I am a blockchain enthusiast with a passion for supporting the technology’s mainstream adoption. Researching this stuff brings me joy, and I understand how completely insane that sounds. I just like to see things in this world work better and more efficiently…for all of mankind’s benefit. This sounds great, but where exactly are we headed and what awaits us when we get there? There’s been plenty of talk about what these mystical chains of digital Trapper Keepers will do for the world, but how close are we and is it really even feasible?

As I write this, the term blockchain quickly earns itself a bold red underline. Even my own damn computer is doubting me – “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” it seems to say, and it’s not alone. Investors and analysts, politicians and regulators? They’re doubting you and me, too. They’re shouting about the charlatans in this field that have no interest in doing things for the common good. They’re pointing at all the leveraged capital that’s being handed over so quickly and without centralized oversight – and not without some good reason. After all, nearly half of all ICO’s unleashed in 2017 have already failed and those investments have vanished. Are you sure you’re still in?

I was hoping you’d say that. Because when times are tough for the crypto market at large, it is easy to forget what all of this is about from a technology perspective. What this could all…be. For you and for me. For those that we love and everyone that comes after us. I find it comforting to periodically take a moment and reflect on that dream; to refresh the energy that fueled my excitement and hope (and partial terror) on Day 1 of my own crypto journey. Because otherwise, why are we doing any of this? I invite you to take a quick break with me now and look to the horizon of our brave new world.

Payments

“Abstract. A purely peer-to-peer version of electronic cash would allow online payments to be sent directly from one party to another without going through a financial institution.” – Satoshi Nakamoto, Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System

As far as blockchain applications go, the payment function will always hold pole position by virtue of its location in the opening sentence of Satoshi Nakamoto’s historic white paper. For crypto fundamentalists, the ability to conduct electronic financial transactions without third-party oversight is the critical answer to the question I posed above. And it’s important to celebrate the fact that this milestone’s first iteration is already in the history books.

Starting with Laszlo Henyecz’s pizzas in May of 2010, the purchasing power of digital currencies has commenced a rocky ascent that continues today. While the value is there (albeit highly volatile), the facilitation of crypto currency payments is where the true innovation is underway. Bitpay allows merchants to accept payment from customers who wish to pay with bitcoin, requiring a 1% service charge for conversion of BTC into the merchant’s local fiat of choice before issuing the direct deposit. This fee is less than the average fee for processing a credit card payment. But what if you want to HODL your bitcoin and pay with your Vertcoin, Dash, or Basic Attention Token? Coingate is similar to Bitpay and matches their 1% fee but can convert ether, litecoin and 50+ altcoins in addition to bitcoin by using Shapeshift’s ecosystem to quickly swap currencies.

Bitpay process
The Bitpay Model

TenX and their COMIT network are promising the seamless internet-of-things functionality of having a physical [debit-like] card and mobile application linked with the ability to securely scale off-chain. PumaPay promises to deliver a pull payment capability (think in terms of your monthly Netflix subscription) that is a far better experience than today’s standard set by credit cards. And while payment platform Stripe will step away from their bitcoin compatibility next month, crypto-fixture Coinbase will further establish their brand in the payments space with the launch of Coinbase Commerce, a tool that allows merchants to accept any of the exchange’s current currencies (bitcoin, ether, bitcoin cash, litecoin) directly into their own user-controlled wallet.

These are just a few examples of  the innovative technology and end-user benefits that projects are beginning to deliver with real world applications. While some form of fees and an element of third-party reliance persist in a majority of these scenarios, I believe there is a great deal of hope and tangible progress towards the realization of Satoshi’s opening statement.

Security

The continued rise of the internet and digital technologies has completely disrupted just about every industry involved in modern commerce. Energy companies are facing a future where distributed resources transact through full cycles – generation, transmission, distribution – without them. Meanwhile, manufacturers and retailers have gained easy access to their customers through omni-channel strategies. These include mobile e-commerce applications and fully digital user experiences that have undeniably captured market share for successful, early adopters. Interestingly, most merchants must still synchronize their digital efforts with brick-and-mortar facilities to suit all customer preferences.

dewey
Essays, Humor, and All of My Usernames

Not to be left behind, service industries have taken the same approach. Our medical records and health care programs are, at the very least, being digitally preserved – if not made fully accessible online with the option to communicate with specialists and customer care representatives at anytime, 24/7. We can pay our taxes online and manage our library accounts.

Speaking of accounts, am I the only person who cringes every time I am forced to endure the profile and access setup process? I literally need a Dewey Decimal System to organize all of my usernames and passwords. I know there are apps for that and this information is always recoverable. And I know this protection is highly important because ensuring cybersecurity is more challenging than ever. But is blockchain technology helping at all with any of this?

The answer right now is – probably. This is the very essence of a distributed ledger system; features such as consensus mechanisms, operational resilience, data encryption, audit-ability, transparency, and immutability are inherent in its design and function. Those are some big words that we discuss regularly here at Crypto101, but they all come down to the same thing: the accurate and safe preservation of accessible data. Blockchains provide no ‘hackable’ entrance or a central point of failure and this alone thrusts it ahead of database-driven transactional structures. Firms like REMME, Guardtime, and Obsidian are just a few examples that are deploying first generation blockchain security protocols right now. Most of them build upon the two principles of removing the weakest link (human factored authentication) and decentralization of the data, thereby dispersing the single “honey pot” of value for potential hackers.

Supply Chain Management (SCM)

Here’s another real-world application that is already underway – and moving quickly! Between September of last year and February, no less than Forbes had changed their “too much hype” appraisal of blockchain’s pending impact on supply chain management to a sincere admiration of its maturity and exciting potential. You really can’t blame them.

Three of the top players in the business application blockchain space are some names you may be familiar with: IBM, Oracle, and SAP. While official deployment of their respective supply chain solutions has yet to occur, most experts agree that 2018 will be the year when we see the transition, successful or not, to business implementation. For now, test cases are all but making promises for some incredible results ahead.

SCM Blockchain
(image courtesy of cryptoniam.com)

One scenario involved the challenge presented by compliance with the Drug Supply Chain Security Act passed in 2013. For the pharmaceutical industry, this legislation establishes a system for tracing products through their supply chain. It also sets a licensing standard for third-party logistics and wholesale distributors and establishes criteria for how stakeholders must handle suspect and illegitimate products. Tracing data is what blockchain technology does best, and the immutable linking of item-specific product information with the item as it makes its way through distribution, sale, and resale processes could have a significant impact on the industry from both a consumer safety and inventory preservation standpoint.

In addition to the solution-providers mentioned above, other global companies are already engaging in pilot programs as early adoption clients. Walmart is testing the ability of their employees to track products from origin through store display. International shipping company Maersk is using a blockchain application to track its cargo. In an early test of this application, multiple organizations from different countries were able to simultaneously access information on the ledger and confirm shipment details. UPS and Federal Express are looking into similar applications for their freight while British Airlines is utilizing a blockchain platform to collect and preserve flight data for performance analysis. The applications are logical and the test cases are returning favorable results – I think that Forbes is correct in their prediction that 2018 will be an exciting year for blockchain deployment in SCM.

Energy

It’s only fitting that blockchain technology and the energy industry should find themselves in collaboration. As two phenomena that are experiencing similar waves of significant and constant change, they are also inherently similar by virtue of their respective network structures. A utility can be defined by the physical journey of electric power as it makes its way from generation to transmission and finally to distribution for consumption by consumers. Likewise, conceptual analysis blockchain can trace the journey of bits of code as they make their way from an original point source outward, hitting the network’s nodes for consensus algorithms to either confirm or deny its validity in parallel with its fellow nodes. So, it is quite poetic that the digital distribution of code within a blockchain might be the very key that unlocks mainstream adoption and functionality of distributed energy resources in a new energy economy.

Distributed energy resources (DERs) such as privately owned solar panels have been around for some time. But DER owners and their local utilities are only just now beginning to hash out the details of how each will work together in the use and management of public energy grids. How DERs will be integrated into the system and then properly compensated for any energy output they might be able to contribute is a logistical challenge. Typically, the utility owns, maintains, and runs the grid from an operational perspective, so their interests are equally important in deciding how the two parties will work together to maintain a reliable and safe supply of energy for consumers.

energy blockchain
(image courtesy of the-blockchain.com)

Blockchain technology is a potential solution for this problem because the expedient, immutable nature of the ledger is ideal for tracking peer-to-peer and wholesale energy trading activities. As an example, let’s take a public grid scenario where you have both the utility and DERs (think privately owned solar panels) generating electricity and supplying that power to a common transmission and distribution system. At the same time, energy consumers are drawing from the same system to power their homes, machinery, or whatever else they wish. The grid operators maintain a continuous balance between supply and demand (a fundamental requirement for closed electrical systems), but the individual transactions are so frequent and variable that it becomes very difficult for either side to efficiently separate out and define who owes what to whom.

Current processes are cumbersome and involve multiple intermediaries that review distributed generation data after the fact. They often broker secondary energy swaps that quickly diminish distinction for renewable generation and may even charge additional fees for performing these tasks before any compensation makes its belated way back into the hands of the DER owner. The process is highly inefficient.

Numerous energy blockchain projects are hoping to flip this model on its head. By allowing the DERs to send their generation data directly onto a distributed ledger, the network’s computing power can be harnessed to match this supply with demand in real-time. The system can then calculate and authorize appropriate compensation without any third-party intervention, delays, or additional costs. This expedited process improves the financial calculus for current and future DER owners. And while this model is an easy win in closed or private grid ecosystems, it does represent a significant disruption to some aspects of legacy business models for utilities.

However, utilities are beginning to chart their own advantages for early involvement and adoption of energy blockchain applications. By leveraging their undisputed expertise and experience with generation, regulatory matters, and grid infrastructure, utilities are playing a key role in project development. Some are embracing the market potential for DERs by exploring new business models where they serve as suppliers and maintenance vendors for DER owners. This type of approach to cultivating new and stronger relationships can only help to enhance customer satisfaction and improve overall market efficiency.

Social Media and Music

Content is the key concept in this market sector and we haven’t seen such disruptive potential in the treatment of personal and artistic content, or the use of and difference between the two, since Napster invaded college dorm rooms circa 1997. Interestingly, the general issues remain the same: how compensation and credit is protected for content creators while at the same time preserving consumers’ rights to access, enjoy and share the content they have rightfully acquired.

Imogen Heap
Blockchain Pioneer Imogen Heap (via Man Alive on Flickr)

For several years, some enterprising artists have embraced the possibilities of blockchain and what it could do for their craft. In a well publicized example, musician Imogen Heap released a song in 2015 and made it available via the Ethereum-based blockchain company, Ujo Music. The UI was clunky at the time, but the principles were sound. Fans could use ether to pay for the song and the artist was rewarded with those royalties without the need for copyright application and payment or an expensive publisher to facilitate payments. Upon purchase, smart contract functionality (a distinct feature of platforms powered by Ethereum) automatically sent transferred the payment to Heap and even distributed it among contributing musicians according to terms previously set in place by the artists.

Social media’s grip on our daily lives grows stronger with each new day. Younger generations in particular are spending more and more of their time engaged with the technology (some estimates as high as nine hours per day, on average), and while there are many advantages to being so well connected and creatively empowered, there are also significant disadvantages. Personal content often becomes the property of the centralized platform owners and can be used for their own commercial advantage. For example, Facebook can employ an algorithm to purposefully drive other users towards that awesome cat meme you posted last night. This could be great news for your popularity but only Zuckerberg & Company will profit off of the ad revenue that is boosted by your meme’s spike in traffic.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe Facebook should profit off of this scenario and applaud social media companies for creating such a world-changing phenomena. They built the network, designed the protocol, and maintain an awe-inspiring global network of data management facilities to keep it all running. Advertisers aren’t being threatened to hand over their marketing funds and as I mentioned before, there is a lot of social good that comes out of social networks and their capability. But what if you could capture some of that compensation in return for your time, personal creativity, and cat-meme innovation?

That’s where blockchain presents itself yet again as a potential solution. We’ve already covered the technology’s ability to  secure data through encryption in conjunction with advances in privacy and user anonymity. These features are crucial for many social media participants who desire to be connected with their world and maintain control over their own content without the need for full disclosure. But blockchain-based social media can also deliver the promise of cryptocurrencies that can be used to buy content and pay for other services. Think of it as a crossroads for peer-to-peer commerce, marketing, socialization, public relations, and communication.

Numerous projects are already delivering platforms that want to set up shop in this area. Indorse is a professional networking application that is built on the Ethereum blockchain. Users can be compensated for their contributions but own all rights to their personal content.  Steemit maintains a “blockchain-based rewards platform for publishers to monetize content” and grow their community. It’s been operating since 2016 and has paid out more than $22M USD worth of rewards to its users.

Where Does This Highway Go?

These are just a few of the top news-makers in blockchain and crypto with current and/or pending real-world applications in everyday aspects of our lives. As the crypto market continues to bounce along in 2018, I am heartened by the tangible evidence of progress towards full deployment of the technology. There is a real potential for our lives to improve here, in my opinion, and for things around us to work better and work together.

Our personal portfolios may be suffering on any given day, but these stories give me confidence that there is a considerable chasm between serious projects and harmful actors. These crypto pretenders continue to circle our pioneering tribe with the goal of profiting off the excitement and the risk-taking spirit that fuels any innovation. There have been casualties and, unfortunately, there will continue to be victims of their deplorable tactics.

This is why enthusiast communities such as Crypto101 are so very important, in my humble opinion. Whether you are brand new to this space or a seasoned veteran from the ancient days of 2017…there is strength in our numbers and our unified quest to understand just what in the hell is going on. It speaks right to the very fundamental principles of Satoshi’s vision, doesn’t it? Strength in numbers. And it is this strength that leads me to believe that this is all a worthwhile venture, with long-term returns that aren’t entirely monetarily based. That future might not deliver a Lambo on the Moon, but I know that we will look back at our collective crypto journey as the right way, in the end.

 

 


Author

About the author: Ryan LaMonica is a management consultant and blockchain enthusiast with a background in engineering, energy, marketing and risk management. The views reflected in this article are his own and do not reflect those of his employer. He currently resides outside of Atlanta, Georgia where he and his wife manage the energy and risk of their four amazing children.

Ep. 84 – A Chat with Andy Tian, CEO of Uplive and GIFTO (GTO)

As the volatility continues for cryptocurrency market capitalization in 2018, the stakes for blockchain-based tokens and the visionary teams behind them continue to surge in only one direction – higher. After only two months, the number of Initial Coin Offerings (ICO’s) has reached 30% of last year’s record breaking benchmark of 885. And while total funding is even higher at 36% year-over-year, there are signs of easing as the figures are finalized for the month of February.

ICO Funding 2018
2018 ICO funding (https://www.icodata.io/stats/2018)

So what’s going on? Our latest guest provides some amazing insight into why it might have very little to do with the crypto investors behind almost half a trillion dollars in current capitalization and everything to do with average digital consumers around the globe. This guy knows a thing or two about commercial viability and consumer product life-cycles. Meet Andy Tian, CEO of Asia Innovations Group (AIG).

Andy Tian

Background

Andy graduated from MIT with a degree in Computer Science and began his career as a programmer in South Korea. He then commenced his mastering of Chinese market dynamics by co-launching two digital platforms, including one of the country’s earliest music-based community websites and an e-commerce services provider. Following a stop as a consultant for one of the world’s top management consulting firms, Andy joined the Google team in 2005. Capitalizing on his prior experience, he led the company’s mobile business and orchestrated Android technology’s introduction in China.

Never straying too far from his interest in the social and entertainment space, Andy co-founded a gaming company before selling it to Zynga where he stayed on to fine-tune his Chinese market acumen even further. Four years ago, he co-founded Asia Innovations and quickly built a live streaming app called Uplive that accounted for nearly 80% of AIG’s revenue in 2017. With the blockchain revolution upon us, Andy and his team are now beta-testing an exciting enhancement for their Uplive users, a platform-agnostic, decentralized, universal virtual gifting protocol called GIFTO.

Got all that? Let’s start with Uplive and the curious phenomena of live streaming in Asia.

 The “One to Many” Scenario

Most of us are already quite familiar with the concept of live streaming. It’s become commonplace on platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram and most users would consider it akin to another media channel vying for our attention. But Asian culture’s take on the practice is slightly different because the interaction has been monetized. Uplive members who live stream their daily activities are called broadcasters and these broadcasters compete for the attention (and lucrative affection) of other members.

It truly is a spectacle to behold, as the application’s user interface is just as glamorous as the extravagant virtual gifts that users can purchase for real money and then trade to others or bestow upon their favorite broadcasters. Imagine emoji’s on a cocktail of steroids and peyote, leaving jet streams of star dust as they zoom across a video-chat-gaming backdrop that would make any Vegas slot machine blush. It’s a sensory explosion and Uplive members can’t get enough of each other or the social interface platform that AIG facilitates.

UP Live screen cap
A Magic Unicorn. (http://up.live/#/home)

After 13 years in Asia, Andy realized and seized on the market’s desire for real-time, 24/7 business opportunities to build personal brands. Despite a similar willingness to share their lives with others, Western culture consumers prefer a more passive feedback loop when it comes to interactions with those on the other end of the live stream connection. They post their content, let others consume or react, and then weigh their options for further exchange. Not so for the legions of Uplive broadcasters. “All of their fans can respond and interact to their stream in real time, during the content sharing,” Andy explains excitedly. “It becomes a ‘one to many’ scenario and our broadcasters can then see real time comments and questions from everybody around the world.”

The Blockchain Connection

As indicated above, Uplive is doing quite well for itself and continues to expand into new countries and markets. But Andy and his team quickly realized they had magic in a bottle with their library of intricate, unique, and customizable virtual gifts. What if their catalog of animated goodies (ranging in value from ten cents to eight thousand dollars) could spread digital joy and appreciation beyond the borders of the Uplive ecosystem? And what if these transactions could maintain both integrity and value for both parties? AIG realized their solution resided within a blockchain.

GIFTO is the world’s first virtual gifting protocol. The immutable features of a distributed ledger can preserve the value (based on rarity and uniqueness) of a purchased gift as it is transferred securely between parties, regardless of platform – YouTube, Facebook, and the other usual suspects. That’s right, Andy figured out how to use simple web links as digital launch pads into the world’s most popular social networks and their limitless potential for a virtual gift bonanza.

GIFTO Unveiling
Andy Tian unveiling the GIFTO protocol with some Uplive broadcasters. (YouTube)

The true genius behind GIFTO is that AIG has accomplished what so many of us are coming to view as a mandate for blockchain-based crypto projects in 2018: use the technology in a real world application while simultaneously generating value (functionality) for customers and revenue for your company. Tian and company have not only figured out a way to accomplish this, but they have done so in a way that requires their customers to have no knowledge of the technology they’re embracing.

If you have concern that all of this relies upon a rampant surge in human vanity, I would understand your sentiment. But there is a strong altruistic side to all of this, as evidenced by the recent sale of the most expensive virtual gift in history – the Forever Rose. Artist Kevin Abosch (of “Potato #345” fame) created the piece of digital art, which ended up selling for $1,000,000 worth of cryptocurrency on, appropriately, Valentines Day. The team of winning bidders consisted of ten crypto market leaders and all proceeds will go to the CoderDojo Foundation, a non-profit global network of free computer programming clubs for young people. Crazy? Perhaps. But what if this is just the beginning of a new mechanism by which mankind can take care of its most under-served?

The Forever Rose
The Forever Rose (Kevin Abosch)

The Future

Andy is hoping to take the first iteration of the GIFTO protocol live in this first quarter of 2018, but he is thoughtful, reflective, and cautious when discussing his potential game-changing expansion:

“Commercial products take a lot of iterations to be correct. We must focus on the end-user, our customer…who we must assume has no experience with crypto and blockchain, and ensure that they can still use and enjoy the product right away. [Android] was a wonderful technology but it was a long process of refinement to get it to a point where it was usable by the average consumer.  It’s the same with blockchain. The technology can be great but if the UI, the work flow, the product flow doesn’t work right, no one will pick it up and use it. I view that as being much more important than technology.”

Well said, Andy.

 

For the latest information on Uplive, check out their presence on Facebook

For the latest information on GIFTO, check out their presence on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium

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Author

About the author: Ryan LaMonica is a management consultant and blockchain enthusiast with a background in engineering, energy, marketing and risk management. The views reflected in this article are his own and do not reflect those of his employer. He currently resides outside of Atlanta, Georgia where he and his wife manage the energy and risk of their four amazing children.

Ep. 68 – Zilliqa

Crypto101 recently had the privilege of sitting down with Dr. Xinshu Dong for a conversation regarding his company, Zilliqa and their efforts to deliver a solution that addresses the scaling challenge for blockchain technology. What is this scaling challenge, exactly? The use of blockchain networks has grown exponentially in recent months and the resulting high transaction volumes have exceeded the expected throughput capacity of those networks’ nodes. This has caused delays in the networks’ speeds, affecting their performance and end-user experience. But before we dive further into the issue, let’s find out a little more about Dr. Dong and how Zilliqa came to be.

Dr Xinshu Dong
Dr. Xinshu Dong, Zilliqa CEO

Background

Xinshu earned his PhD in Computer Science from the National University of Singapore with a focus on methods and techniques for improving the security for a wide spectrum of web systems. Building upon this foundation, he then joined research efforts at the Univeristy of Illionois’ Advanced Digital Sciences Center (ADSC) located at the Fusionopolis research facility in Singapore. As a part of the ADSC team, Xinshu worked on how to make the more vulnerable software components of Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS) more secure. You can probably see the trend here, so it is not surprising to learn that he began to study blockchain technology in his…free time?

Recognizing an opportunity for the application of his academic work and personal studies towards solutions for blockchain scalability and security, Dr. Dong founded Zilliqa last summer. The non-profit’s intent is to provide a platform that delivers higher throughput (transactions per second) without sacrificing the security and decentralization advantages that are a fundamental part of blockchain protocols. They considered starting with enhancement of existing chains, but soon realized that this would disrupt their compatibility with existing applications. So, they started from scratch with development of their own.

Start from Scratch

Public or Private Blockchain?

The Zilliqa team began its development work with a private blockchain in mind, but soon identified some unique aspects of privatized ecosystems that threatened full manifestation of their technology:

  • Private blockchain endeavors are typically aiming to maximize performance and privacy.
  • Security is not a high priority for these use cases, since private blockchains are utilized by a single organization or group of entities that have already made off-chain security arrangements to preserve the integrity of their network.
  • Since security is not within the private blockchain’s scope, a small amount of nodes (30 to 50 on average) are implemented in order to save network overhead costs. Nodes generally ensure the security or immutability of the chain’s data through their consensus algorithms.

The node reduction conflicted with Zilliqa’s strategy because their technology improves the speed of a blockchain (via a higher throughput) that relies upon a higher number of nodes; nodes that have scaled proportionally with the growth of the network. Basically, the more popular a blockchain-based application becomes, the more users will join the incentivized network, naturally boosting the node population. With more nodes on the network, the blockchain can now function at a higher throughput. Recognizing this, Zilliqa shifted course towards development of a public blockchain. But public blockchains come with their own kinds of concerns.

Public verus Private Blockchain

In a public ecosystem, developers must assume that any and every node could act maliciously to violate the security of the blockchain. Zilliqa has accepted this challenge, believing in the strength of numbers their technology will help to ensure. But if their strategy is based on growth, how will they address the same throughput challenges faced by blockchains today? Won’t more users and more nodes bombard the networks with more transactions, too? To deal with this, Zilliqa is implementing a node management technique known as sharding.

Sharding

Your typical blockchain is designed to require that the entire network of nodes “talk” among themselves to determine the rejection or acceptance of each transaction prior to recording their consensus into the applicable block. Having the entire network participate in this process is highly inefficient. Sharding divides the entire network of nodes into smaller groups and assigns a subset of transactions to each group. That smaller group vets its batch of transactions and produces its output for eventual aggregation with the output from the other groups to form the final block.

This parallel processing improves efficiency despite a larger node population overall. Zilliqa is streamlining even further by incorporating mechanisms to have a substantial number of nodes collectively decide nodal group assignments on a revolving basis, for both newcomers and existing participants. This reallocation maintains a healthy balance for group sizes but also strengthens the network’s security because network attackers can exploit a static node as a weakness.

Zilliqa Tx per Sec

The Future

Dr. Xinshu Dong and Zilliqa are well on their way to delivering a solution to one of the crypto world’s most pressing issues. As you can see above (at time of writing), their latest testnet trial run showed performance was just shy of 2,500 transaction per second (leveraging six shards and 3,600 individual nodes). For comparison, the holy grail benchmark for throughput is often seen as the estimated 8,000 transactions per second average of VISA and MasterCard networks. While the numbers and technical results are impressive, Dr. Dong believes that Zilliqa’s success will depend on their commitment to realizing the full potential of blockchain technology – thus enabling a more efficient and more secure global community.

For the latest information on Zilliqa and their work, you can find them on Medium, Twitter, Reddit, Slack or YouTube

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Author

About the author: Ryan LaMonica is a management consultant and blockchain enthusiast with a background in engineering, energy, marketing and risk management. The views reflected in this article are his own and do not reflect those of his employer. He currently resides outside of Atlanta, Georgia where he and his wife manage the energy and risk of their four amazing children.

 

 

Blockchain Applications: Facilitating Democracy in Brazil

The old adage warns us not to witness the production of two things in life: sausage and laws. I prefer bacon myself, but when it comes to the laws that govern our lives, citizens of all nations have an inherent interest in their creation and implementation – regardless of how much they might actually lay eyes upon. Unfortunately, many people don’t enjoy the privilege of civic mechanisms or legal recourse that facilitate the proposal and legislative consideration of ideas conceived by the general public. In the case of Brazil, even when such a mechanism is provided for in the constitution, logistical challenges and government corruption doom the majority of these public petitions before they begin.

Enter the possibilities of blockchain technology, where the fundamentals of a distributed ledger are being harnessed to overcome these hurdles of the past. Brazilians have a constitutional right to have their public petitions heard by Congress if they are endorsed by at least 1% of the electorate. In a diverse nation of 207 million with nearly 150 million voters and variable internet access, gathering and verifying the required signatures has been a monumental task. The results of successful petitions are even more discouraging, yielding the passage of only four laws. Without a modern method for verification, the petitioners rely upon individual legislators to adopt proposals as their own, a risky venture for both parties in a nation with a declining democratic environment. According to The Economist’s Intelligence Unit, Brazil’s democracy index score has fallen since 2014:

Brazil B

One of the primary computing platforms thriving in the current blockchain technology renaissance is Ethereum. Released in 2015, the Ethereum platform is open source, public and blockchain-based with high “smart contract” functionality that utilizes a global infrastructure network to thwart third party interference. Simply put, the Ethereum protocol presents itself as an ideal solution for Brazil’s need to record, preserve and independently verify data (signatures). Two innovative Brazilians recognized this potential and strengthened their collaboration and resolve during the Ethereum Foundation’s annual developers conference in Mexico last November.

Brazil A

Everton Fraga (left, Ethereum software engineer) and Ricardo Fernandes Paixao (right, Professor and Congressional economic advisor) view the use of blockchain technology as a way to finally implement the public petition provision within their nation’s constitution. A government-backed mobile application could transform the signature-gathering process from pickup trucks with crates of physical paper into a digital on-ramp into the Ethereum blockchain. Daily hashing could then attach batches of signatures to encrypted transactions with, perhaps most importantly, one-way capability for verification. At that point, the record of signatures has been permanently recorded on the distributed ledger without the need for third party verification.

The political landscape in Brazil is highly volatile amidst recent scandals that have entangled dozens of top government and business leaders. Leading up to national elections in October, many leaders are trying to establish a forward-looking agenda while considering all kinds of proposals for reform and beneficial progress, including this petition process enhancement. For now, Fraga, Paixao, and the countless Brazilians they represent must eagerly await their government’s decision and the potential impact of Ethereum blockchain technology on the democratic nature of their country.

 


 

Author

About the author: Ryan LaMonica is a management consultant and blockchain enthusiast with a background in engineering, energy, marketing and risk management. The views reflected in this article are his own and do not reflect those of his employer. He currently resides outside of Atlanta, Georgia where he and his wife manage the energy and risk of their four amazing children.

Sources:

  • The Economist: 

https://infographics.economist.com/2017/DemocracyIndex/

  • Bill Purcell Photography via Flikr:
© Bill Purcell Photographry
  • Quartz:

Brazil may write new laws with data stored on the ethereum blockchain

  • Cointelegraph:

https://cointelegraph.com/news/brazilian-government-plans-to-process-petitions-and-write-laws-on-ethereum

(header image: http://www.blockchaintechnologies.com)