Week #34 (August 24th, 2014)

Argentina, Bitcoin paradise – or so I heard. This ought to be a good Bitcoin week, since I really wanted to repay my tort for infringing my oath having spent so many reais while in Rio !  This week, I really would try hard not to cheat.

First issue – as usual – transportation. As soon as I got off the plane and walked into the airport, all the airport staff I interacted with asked me if I wanted to change money at a better rate than the official exchange rate (the so-called black market). I did not want to get any Argentinian pesos, be it either on the black or white market, but it was pretty late at night and I had to take the bus to my friend’s house. Since I was not sure they would accept bitcoin on the bus – in fact, I was pretty sure they wouldn’t – and I was not willing to take the risk of being stuck at the airport for the night, I decided I would change the few reais I had left in my wallet (just a bit more than 10 euros worth) and that would be all I would be allowed to spend during my stay in Argentinia in terms of fiat money.

The bus system in Argentina is quite peculiar, since you can either pay with the bus card (which cannot be purchased at the airport) or with ‘moneta’ (i.e. coins, as opposed to bills) – although you have to pay twice as much in the latter case. I was not aware of that, so I jumped on the bus with my pesos bills, which I was not able to spend. Fortunately, the bus driver was really keen to let me ride the bus for free, and in fact most of the other passengers insisted to pay for me. Considering the price of a bus ticket (about 30 cents) that kindof made sense. So I made it home without spending any pesos, and thus even more motivated to succed in not infringing my oath for the whole period. Arrived at home, I met my new friends (i.e. the friends of a friend of a friend) who were having a little party that night, so I got the chance to meet a bunch of local while eating really nice local foods. I told them about my bitcoin diet, but they did not seem to understand how I would be able to survive, since – while it is true that Bitcoin is highly popular in Argentina – no one actually wants to spend them, so there are indeed very few merchants accepting Bitcoins. This was a little bit alarming, but that made sense indeed, as I could hardly imagine Argentinians spending bitcoin over pesos – after all, the weakest currency is always the one that goes out first.

Nonetheless, I kept a positive attitude and did not give up on the idea of not infringing my oath. The transporation problem had been resolved, as I discovered that it is really easy to travel for free on the Argentinian bus. As a foreigner, I could pretty much travel for free anywhere, as long as would only show them pesos bills. So I could travel everyday back and forth from my home to the Intercontinental Hotel (the venue for the conference I was attending) without spending pesos. In terms of food, I did not have any problems either. During the conference, I could also easily feed myself, since the conference was providing quite a large amount of food, including many delicious Argentinian sweets, even too sweet at times.

The main problem was the Internet, since the place I was staying at did not have an Internet connection. Usually, I would resolve this problem by asking the neighbors if they would like to share their Internet connection, in exchange of money (Bitcoin in that case) or a gift. This time, it was much more difficult, since – perhaps because of my bad spanish – everyone seemed really scared about me even knocking at their door, and they all claimed they had no wifi, even though of course I could see the lie. So, instead, I tried to walk around to find free wifi spots, but nothing seems to have decent wifi connection. Even macdonalds, which is usually my best bet for wifi had a really bad connection which was going up and down all the time. In desperation, I started approaching places which did not generally provide free wifi, and tried to corrupt them into letting me use their Internet connection, obviously by offering them to pay some Bitcoin. I eventually befriended the staff of La Brioche Doree, who actually knew and were generally interested in Bitcoin, so they gave me free access to their Internet, without even asking me to purchase anything from their store – since they were not able to accept Bitcoin. So this became my temporary office, where I would spend most of my time which I did not have to spend at the conference.

As the conference ended on Saturday, I started to be slightly concerned. I had managed to survive without spending any pesos thus far, but if I were to survive during the weekend, I would have to find some ways to spend my Bitcoins. That night, it was the birthday of another friend of a friend of a friend, who invited me to celebrate at his place, where he was gonna make an ‘asado’ (i.e. Argentinian bbq). I felt obliged to bring something, like wine or food, but there was actually nothing around where I would be able to buy anything in Bitcoin. The so-called Bitcoin paradise only goes one-way – it only works for those who want to sell pesos and purchase bitcoin, but not the other way round. I did not want to infringe my oath, but I also did not want to show up without anything for my friend’s birthday. So I transferred some Bitcoin into a new wallet, printed it out as a QRcode on a nice looking card, which would constitute the present I would offer to my new friend. Funnily enough, at that party there were a bunch of swedes that actually knew quite a lot about Bitcoin (more so than the standard Argentinians I had interacted with so far), and after a few hours we were chatting about Bitcoin and Ethereum, I realized that they already knew me, since they had seen my Berkman talk on youtube and they actually thought I was a big deal.. I have to admit, that was absolutely the first time that I ever felt – even if only slightly – “famous”  ;)

Week #33 (August 17th, 2014)

Back in Rio, life went pretty smoothly. After the Sao Paulo experience, it was a bit frustrating to be back in a city that did not understand Bitcoin. But this feeling did not last too long, as a wonderful encounter was awaiting me. Alexio from the ITS suggested to introduce me to a friend of his, Alexandre Linhares, a professor at FGV who is quite a Bitcoin enthusiast himself.  Alexandre is currently teaching a class on complex systems at FGV, and suggested I give a lecture there to explain Ethereum to some of his MBA students. I was a first concerned at first, since I was not sure I could explain Ethereum to anyone, and even less to MBA students – but, as they say, if you cannot explain something to your grandmother, you probably do not understand it yourself. I’m not sure whether the reverse holds true (i.e. if you can explain something to your grandmother, you probably understand it really well), but I seem to have acquired an inherent ability to explain Ethereum to people who never even heard of cryptocurrencies before.. so I decided to take the challenge.

I met with Alexandre one day before the class, for something that surely become one of my favorite evenings in Rio. We went to have dinner, with Alexio and two of his master students, in a really fancy all-you-can-eat restaurant in Rio – I don’t think the restaurant accepted Bitcoin per se, but I’m pretty sure the bill has been paid with Bitcoin money  ;)

In spite of the quality of the food, I was more interested in chatting with Alexandre and his crew about the various opportunities, challenges, and unforeseeable futures that Ethereum could bring. It was great to hear such a variety of diverse perspectives on Bitcoin and Ethereum. And even though the discussion often reached the verge of science-fiction, we all knew that the future is near, and that most of these things – albeit unforeseeable to the common layman – are eventually gonna happen, whether we want it or not. It was especially useful for me to discuss these issues with people with a different background, such as economics and complex system theory, who did not necessarily understand the underlying technical implementation of the technology, but perfectly understood the social and political impact it might bring along. And, of course, it is always a pleasure to meet other curious and passionate people interested in exploring the future of society, instead of just looking at the past  :)

The next day, I went to give my lecture to the class. I was afraid that most students would either not care, not understand, or simply think this is way too crazy to be relevant. Instead, I was surprised to see that the students were actually and genuinely interested in the topic. As opposed to most lawyers – who simply reject the technology to the extent that it does not fit within the traditional framework of law – most of them tried their best to understand how it could be potentially applied, by analogy, to the broader complex system that is modern society. Whether or not they understood the technical specifications, they definitely acquired a new source of curiosity, which hopefully will lead them to further explore this innovative technology, and perhaps contribute to apply it in their own field of research in the years to come.

Overall, I was quite satisfied with my Brazilian experience. Even though I had pathetically failed in my attempt at living off Bitcoin, I felt I had nonetheless contributed to the Bitcoin ecosystem, by introducing Bitcoin at the ITS workshop and Ethereum at the FGV class.

Week #32 (August 10th, 2014)

This week was pretty exciting as we were headed to Sao Paulo. I never been to Sao Paulo, but I had heard a lot of (mainly bad) things about it from all Cariocas of Rio. But that was not the reason I was excited. The exciting part was that we were going there to visit, inter alia, the people who run Mercado Bitcoin, the largest Bitcoin exchange in Brazil. After two weeks in Brazil, struggling to find ways to spend my Bitcoin, I was really eager to go to a city where there are, supposedly, over 100 brick & mortars that actually accept Bitcoin !

Somehow, I was expecting the people from Mercado Bitcoin to be some kind of money-seeking speculators (like most of the Bitcoin startups and investors I interact with in the US) that would be either angry or afraid on the potential regulatory approaches that the Brazilian government might take when it comes to regulating Bitcoin. But nothing could be further from the true. Indeed, most of the people I met there are passionate and enthusiast crypto-folks that truly believe in the future opportunities that Bitcoin will provide to Brazilian people and to the world in general.

I mentioned my fears about the BitLicense proposed by New York State, and asked them whether they thought there was a risk that a similar type of regulation would be implemented in Brazil. They did not seem worry at all. Their positive attitude was perhaps due to the fact they do not have a strong relationship with people from the US, or even Europe, and they are simply not aware of the direction regulation is going; but perhaps they just see the world in a more optimist manner and remain confident that, eventually, Bitcoin will succeed, because it is already too late to stop it.

Rodrigo, who is one of the director of Mercado Bitcoin, had a pretty interesting theory about the whole thing. He told me how history has shown that, every single time that the governments tried to regulate the usage of new technologies, they have failed. That happened to porn movies (every single 13 year old boy in the eighties watched them), mp3 and even electric cars (that don’t receive much love from governments at the moment) are slowly finding their way.

In his view, this type of disruption has always a pattern:

1 – A new technology is created to disrupt old ones

2 – Big companies/government star to fight

3 – Law enforcement chase the new technology users and companies

4 – Big companies embrace the innovation

5 – Yet another new technology is created, to disrupt the old one and take the power off the big companies  (and the cycle starts over..)

According to Rodrigo, Bitcoin is currently in the second stage. And if New York State were to approve the BitLicense regulation, they will only be accelerating steps 4 and 5.

Overall, everyone from Mercado Bitcoin seemed to share the vision that Bitcoin could not be stopped, that it was already out there and it was already affecting society in many subblets ways, and that, at the end everything is going to be different than it is today. There is no way back.

I was really happy to hear that, and it was actually very refreshing to meet people who maintained a good attitude about the Bitcoin universe, in contrast to the crew of disillusioned crypto-folks that I am surrounded by in Cambridge.

Week #31 (August 3rd, 2014)

In spite of the difficulties I encountered at first, most of my pessimism about living off Bitcoin in Rio disappeared as soon as I arrived at the ITS – the Rio Center for Internet & Society, where I would be a fellow for the next 3 weeks.  The ITS is a really great place, which is in many respect really similar to the Berkman Center: same atmosphere, same chocolates and candies available at all times, same research topics, same passionate people, except that the view is much better and that the people are much more laid back here. Everyone from the ITS staff is amazing, and the same could be said for all the other fellows – most of which are related to Berkman anyways.. I already felt a little bit at home   ;)

But the greatest discovery I made at the ITS – at least with regards to my Bitcoin diet – was Alexio, an amazing human who seemed to be at least as obsessed by Bitcoin as I am, but in the right way. Alexio is a hipster in the real sense of the world, he brew his own beer, he makes his own ice-cream, and – of course – he mines his own coins  :) I immediately knew we would be really good friends. Not because of the beer, but because of the ice-cream of course, and perhaps also because of the coins!

I told him about my Bitcoin diet, and he told me that there was, indeed, a way to pay rent with Bitcoin in Rio, since a friend of his was actually running that apartment-rental business in the city. Unfortunately, I had already committed for my 3 weeks rental in Rio, so I could no longer withdraw.. besides, these Bitcoin apartments are  fucking expensive !

He also told me, that as my research on Google had shown, there is actually no place in Rio that would accept Bitcoin as a form of payment for food.. No luck, although he seemed ok for me to use him as a Bitcoin wallet – but then again, that would just be cheating anyways because Alexio already has more than one Bitcoin wallet, so I couldn’t use him as my human-wallet without infringing my oath.

I probably could have gone through the struggle of getting the other fellows / staff of the ITS to become my human-wallets, but there were so few of them that did not yet have a bitcoin wallet, it would not have served me more than one week at the most. Unless I could convince people from the street, I was stuck with reais for the purpose of survival.

Instead, an opportunity came to at least contribute to spreading the Bitcoin economy in Rio. With other 2 fellows, we proposed to run a crypto-workshop, where we would explain to people how to communicate securely by using Tor and PGP, and I immediately jumped on the opportunity to integrate a crypto-ledger flavor to it, by introducing people to Bitcoin, Bitmessage, and Twister. They idea would be to explain that the blockchain is great to exchange money anonymously, but that it can also be used to communicate in a very private and pseudonymous (although not anonymous) way with other people, using the blockchain to ensure that the person they are talking with is, indeed, the person they think it is. With Alexio, we went even further and decided that during the workshop we would propose a Bitcoin-exchange opportunity, where people could purchase reais for Bitcoin, so that they could all come out of the workshop with some Bitcoins in their freshly opened wallet. That way, even if I could not contribute directly to the Bitcoin economy, I could at least contribute to expanding the range of people stuck in Rio with some Bitcoin and no way to spend them (except for renting expensive apartments). Hopefully *they* will  figure out a way to expand the Bitcoin ecosystem in their own city…

Week #30 (July 27th, 2014)

Brazil. Just as Uruguay, this was bound to be difficult. First problem was the rent. I had forgotten about it, since it had been really easy until now thanks to my great landlord in Cambridge, but paying rent in Bitcoin is not as easy as one might think. I have tried my best, through my poor portuguese, to google a place that would accept bitcoin in Rio de Janeiro, but with no luck. I also tried to contact a few couchsurfers to see whether I could “rent” their couch and pay them in Bitcoin, but mostly they thought it was weird, or they just told me that I could stay for free – although 3 weeks was definitely too long for all of them. I tried to contact friends of friends, and their friends, hoping that someone actually had a room to rent that I could pay for in Bitcoin. But again, no luck. I could probably have tried to get a bunch of couchsurfing experiences and keep moving around day after day or week after week, but I figured this would be extremely troublesome, especially considering I had never been to Brazil before, and I had no idea how to proceed with the whole thing. So the best thing I could do was simply to just admit failure and find a place I could rent with fiat money. (I actually found out later, that in fact one of the few places that accept Bitcoin in Rio is a guy who’s renting apartments, some kind of alternative AirBnb — which I was unfortunately not able to find on Google).

Transportation was the second problem. I had already tried to resolve the issue by finding a house that is actually close enough to the ITS office (the main reason is was going to Rio was to be part of the Global Internet Policy Fellowship organised by the ITS), so that I wouldn’t need to deal with the transportation issue. But of course, Rio is a big city, and the closest I could find was in Botafogo (about 3-4 km away from the ITS) which is okay to walk, but I would rather not. I was hoping I could find a bike, either buy one with bitcoin, or perhaps find someone who would kindly lend me one. Again, this was really difficult.. no one seems to own a bike in Rio, because they all get stolen. And those that get stolen are only available for purchases in some shady markets which obviously do not accept Bitcoin as a form of payment — funny, since it would seem like a perfect form of payment for stolen goods, but of course the Brazilian reals are just as efficient when it comes to anonymity. So I started exploring other possibilities.. cheating on the bus was absolutely impossible, as the bus companies in Rio are actually private companies, they pay quite a lot of attention to avoid any kind of free-riding. Besides, you don’t want to get into a fight with the Rio bus drivers, they can be quite aggressive.. So I figured out the best way to do it would be to use the public bike service offered by the city of Rio, actually a really nice deal since with only 10 reais (about 5 bucks) you can get a monthly pass that would let you ride a bike anywhere around the city.. I figured I could do that – yet another cheating, but a small one at least. Unfortunately, this was not as easy as it seemed. While it only costed 10 reais to get the bike pass, the only way to use that pass was to be connected to the Internet in order to load and unload the bikes from the stations. Of course, Rio is not like Cambridge with ubiquitous wifi connection almost everywhere, so I needed to purchase a data-plan for my phone.. Again, I went and researched the possibilities, hoping that there would be at least one phone operator accepting Bitcoin. Impossible to say the least. Not only there were no telecom operators willing to even consider a payment in bitcoin, but it was actually quite hard, as a foreigner, to get an actual sim-card.. if not for the exclusive pre-paid card that was designed especially for the foreigners coming for the world-cup. Reluctantly, realizing that this was the only alternative, I cheated once again upon my oath and purchased a sim card with a pre-paid data-connection monthly plan with fiat money.

I was not really proud of myself. All my attempts at spending Bitcoin in brazil were failing. And then it came to food. I did not want to fail on that one. So, again, I started googling around, hoping to find at least one restaurant, bar, cafe, or perhaps even a supermarket that would accept Bitcoin as a payment. I don’t know if my portuguese is just too bad, or whether I was just not looking for the right thing, but it just seemed that there was no place around that I could go and spend my Bitcoins at. I figured, perhaps, I could find some place with free food at least, but – of course – Rio is way different from Cambridge. Finding free food in a third world country is probably as hard as finding a bitcoin restaurant in Rio  ;(

Once again, I had to accept failure, and declare that Brazilian reals would not qualify against my oath..

Week #29 (July 20th, 2014)

Uruguay – my first interaction with South America. I had no expectations, actually I had no idea how it was gonna be. I was ready to fight to avoid infringing my oath, but I was also ready to fail – clearly, this would have been a really difficult battle.. I had brought a few dollar bills in my wallet, in case of emergency, since I had been told that exchanging dollars is the best way to get pesos in Uruguay. I did not really want pesos, but the world around me definitely did.

Transportation, as usual, was the main enemy to my oath. After spending almost 1 hour investigating the various possibilities to get out of the airport, I soon realized that there were no possibilities I could use bitcoin to pay either the taxi or the bus. So, unless I would find a human wallet, I was pretty much stuck. Finding a human wallet in an airport in a foreign country – whose language I do not master that well – is, however, a pretty challenging task. Considering I was already late for the reception, I decide to call it an emergency, and went to change my dollar bills into Uruguayan pesos, so that I could take the bus. Of course, i tried to spend my standard 10-15 minutes for explaining to the bus driver that it is important to accept bitcoin, but the driver simply could not care less about that, and just kept ignoring me, pretending he could not understand my language. This was unfortunate, but not too bad, considering I was really not in the mood of doing my customary bitcoin-missionary speech at that point.

Arrived at the conference venue, I was welcomed by delicious drinks and hors d’oeuvres – nothing better to remember that, if Bitcoin does not serve you well, the dollar (or pesos, in that case) are often just redundant in the modern academic society, characterized by abundance and sharing.

The reception went on for a few hours, till my Uruguayan host came to pick me up, to bring me to the house where I’d be staying during the week. Finding a place to stay had been quite a challenge in fact, considering that my university refused to pay for the accommodation expenses (I have no idea why), I could not rely on the notion that I was merely an intermediary between the hotel and my host institution – I had to find an alternative that would not involve spending dollars or pesos. The task was harder than expected. Airbnb was not a possibility because of not accepting bitcoins. So I tried with couchsurfing, but no one had positively replied to my request. Then I started harassing everyone I could think of that might have some kind of connection with anyone living in Montevideo and who could offer me a couch. Again, a much harder task that I would have expected, and I found myself just a few days before flying to Montevideo with no idea where I would be passing the night. But, as usual, things eventually turned out okay. Just one day before jumping on the plane, I got 3 positive answers from 3 different people offering me to stay at their place in Montevideo. So I ended up staying with a really cool person who lived right next to the conference venue (thus eliminating the need to spend pesos for transportation). It had been a really pleasing experience thus far, and I did not want to ruin it by annoying my host with my bitcoin restrictions, asking them to pay for my stuff whenever we’d go out (instead, I’d rather pay for theirs), so I made the rational decision that – while I would try and survive on bitcoin as much as I could whenever I am hanging out on my own – I would not let my oath ruin the relationship I had established with these great people from Montevideo. Just like I had formerly done in Europe with the euro bills, I declared the Uruguayan pesos to no longer count as a currency that would go against my oath. This was, I believe, a good decision, since Uruguay (like many other places on earth) is simply not ready (yet) for widespread Bitcoin adoption.

This did not prevent me from preaching the use of bitcoin to everyone I met though. In particular, as I met with the other people who had offered me a place to stay (in the “corporate suite” of Montevideo Neo’s office), I immediately understood that, even though they were not (yet) so knowledgeable about it, these people would definitely figure out the benefits of Bitcoin pretty soon. One of them was, in fact, in a band and interested in learning more about Creative Commons and the various business models that can be implemented around it. I told him that the best business model for online artists is Flattr, or the  standard donation button, which is often more effective as a bitcoin-donation button. Given his interest in the thing, I promise I would set him up a Bitcoin-wallet, and a website with a Bitcoin-donation QR-code on top of it — my weekly mission !

Week #28 (July 13th, 2014)

Paris! It’s always a pleasure to go back to Paris, not only because most of my friends are there, but also because I know I will not need to worry (too much) about bitcoin – perhaps exactly because all my good friends are there. Before leaving Italy, I had used one of my human-wallets to purchase some italian prelibacies (mainly cheese and prosciutto) to bring to the people that were hosting me, so that I could make them a proper italian dinner that would feed them (and myself) for about one week. Again, I was strongly committed to everything I could not to infringe upon my oath during this week in Paris. And, this time, the plan actually went extremely smoothly.. or even better than that !

It all began on Wednesday, as I went to have dinner at a friend’s house (for once, a friend that is considerate to my bitcoin diet) where I had the pleasure to meet two crazy greek anarchists – who actually hardly knew anything about the Internet, but who  had nonetheless really interesting insights about the more conceptual parts of the discussion. We talked until 5am about anarchism, decentralization, and – of course – about the decentralized social network idea that I had just been elaborating during my visit to Amsterdam. The discussion was really interesting, and to a large extent inspiring, as I began to realize that my research was about to take a new direction, focused less on the legal challenges of decentralized architectures and more on the opportunities of a decentralized society. As we were discussing the reasons that might have brought the cypherpunksvement to fail in its endeavor to establish a free and decentralized society (thanks to the new opportunities provided by the advent of Internet and digital technologies), thie strangest idea came to me, that it was -perhaps- time to create a new movement of people interested in exploring the possibility to turn the old cypherpunk utopia into an actual reality, thanks to the new opportunities provided by the blockchain and cryptography. The idea was born, now it was just a matter of finding the right people.

Well, in fact, these people came to me.. I came to Paris with one big expectation, which turned out to be actually much more successful than I could have ever expected. Few months ago, a friend of mine had put me in touch, through email, with a girl – Solene – who is making a documentary on Bitcoin, and who’s generally interested in everything that comes along it. I was really excited to see her, she seemed really cool via email, and I expected her to be even cooler in live. But as I went to meet her at her squat, she was not there. Instead, her friend was there – some guy sitting on the coach really concentrated in front of his laptop. It only took me a few seconds of confusion, to recognize him as the infamous Amir, the creator of DarkWallet. I had met the rest of the DarkWallet team when I had gone for a visit at Calafou in Spain, but I did not get the chance to meet with Amir, who was travelling around the world at that time. We started chatting about Bitcoin, the blockchain, and other cryptoledger-stuff, and -again- it was a pleasure to chat with someone that knew way more than I did about the topic (in fact, I soon realized I still know almost nothing about how bitcoin works). Amir explained me some of his new ideas, including a really interesting idea to fund the disclosure of digital document by relying exclusively on the blockchain – something that could be used, for instance, to set up a decentralized Wikileaks, and that would probably also make the Proof-of-Custody procedure on Ethereum rather redudant, if not meaningless. The discussion then shifted towards the importance of decentralization to protect privacy and autonomy, and then -somehow- we ended up talking about crypto-anarchism and cyber-capitalism.. until Solene showed up ! Solene is an incredibly cool girl that is just as passionate about Bitcoin as I am, although she approaches it from a much more societal perspective than I do (I actually still have no idea about what’s my perspective on Bitcoin). She met Amir in a squat in London, where she started making her documentary, and she now came back to Paris in order to further her studies and become a better filmmaker. I did not have the chance to see her Bitcoin documentary yet, but I’m sure it’s gonna be amazing. In just a few hours, Amir and Solene became my two best temporary friends, and I spent all the rest of my time in Paris with them, talking about Bitcoin and trying to figure out the yet unexplored opportunities of the blockchain. Not only did Solene know exactly where to go in order to spend Bitcoin in Paris, but she also introduced me to a whole new ‘squat scene’ where spending Bitcoin is unnecesary, since people there simply refuse the institution of money – be it fiat or not.

Week #27 (July 6th, 2014)

Then it was the turn of Amsterdam, where the Information Influx conference was taking place. A really interesting conference, with lots of really interesting people. After spending one year in the US, it was great to talk with european scholars, about a variety of issues ranging from privacy to net neutrality, from decentralized regulation to algorithmic governance, from Bitcoin to Ethereum..

But the really cool thing came on Friday, as I met with the local Bitcoin / Ethereum community, to get dinner with Jeff, Joris, Vlad Zamfir, Nick Savers, and the infamous Casey Kuhlman, whose work I had been following on github since a few weeks already. It was a really nice evening, it was a pleasure to meet like-minded individuals who actually know more about the underlying technology than I did. We chatted about many things, including Ethereum, and Eris of course, and I was happy to realize that I am not alone in this particular section of the crypto-verse. Before I went home, I agreed with Vlad that we would meet again the next day, and that we would think about Ethereum and company until I will leave on Sunday, some kind of Eth-athon ! And we did, in spite of the cold and the rain, and despite the fact that there are actually no all-night places to hang out in Amsterdam, we spent all night, moving from one coffee-shop to the other, from one bar to another, passing through one of the only places that actually accept Bitcoin in the center of Amsterdam (the so-called Bitcoin-straat is in fact only a legend, or a failed attempt at bringing Bitcoin-merchants together into one street) which makes one of the best cakes ever. In terms of the Eth-athon, we did not really ‘do’ anything, as most of the time was spent brainstorming about important topics such as:

  • Proof-of-Work and alternative mining algorithms. Vlad actually came up with a pretty funky idea for an ASIC-resistant mining algorithm, that basically require miners to perform a large number of CPU-intensive functions, which are pseudo-randomly generated by combining the nounce with the components of the previous block.

  • Proof-of-Custody and its applications for the deployment of decentralized dropbox systems, which users can pay to upload files onto, and later to have them uploaded back to them. Through Proof-of-Custody, it becomes possible to deploy distributed online applications that do not depend on any centralized entity paying for the bandwidth, but rely instead on a decentralized network of peers who are paying for the transmission of packets through automated self-clearing escrow contracts.

But the main goal of the evening was, in fact, to figure out how to best address the question of reputation, by elaborating a decentralized trust-based social network relying on reputation as the building block of an identity management system. The idea, in a nutshell, is that people constantly assess each other, as a result of either direct or indirect interactions. Such information is highly subjective in a sense, but it can be aggregated in order to produce a somewhat accurate description of people or things that can be found on the Internet. Information about others can be made public – so that anyone else can benefit from it – or be kept private, or semi-private to the extent that only those who belongs to a trusted network will be able to access it. Trust is dependent on different factors, anyone is free to assess how much they trust their neighbors or friends, but not how much they are in turn trusted by them. Trust is also transitive, in the sense that if A trusts B, and B trusts C, then A can inherent (some of) the trust from B to C. This allows for the establishment of a complex and dynamic network of trust-relationships, that will ultimately determine the amount of data that is being shared amongst community members. Granted, this has some issues with regard to the amount of privacy that people will be able to enforce in such system – where people might be disclosing things about others, without asking for their actual consent. Perhaps, in a blockchain-based society, transparency might eventually replace privacy..

Week #26 (June 29th, 2014)

And then it was time to fly back to Europe: Milano, my home. I don’t need to worry about survival here, because my parents generally take good care of me. Besides, I’m here for the working meeting of the European project I’m working on, which kindly funds all my travel and food costs. Everything should be okay.

But, this time, being okay is not enough, as I have decided to engage into a much larger challenge involving the need to find new ways to democratize bitcoin within the rest of the world.

I first thought about getting my parents to adhere to bitcoin, installing them a wallet and explaining them how to use it. But then I realized that it probably would not really contribute to any kind of democratization, because my parents would simply forget about it as soon as I leave, and never even try to make a bitcoin transaction for whatever purpose whatsoever. I needed to come up with a better idea, but I figured the idea would eventually just come to me.

And it did, in the midst of a taxi ride towards an occupied space in Milan, where we were supposed to meet some of the people from Unsystem (some of them I met last winter in Calafou) who have been working on the development of DarkWallet. We arrived at the space, at 1am, to find an amazing building, pretty much empty and under-exploited, but really great nonetheless. Two guys came to welcome us at the door, and kindly introduced us to the place, and showed us around. But as we started asking about the Unsystem team, we realized that they were long gone, and all was left from them where a bunch of great ideas and some knowledge about bitcoin and other cryptoledger-based applications. They showed us the hacklab: a relatively small room, fairly well equipped, but which obviously lacked the basic ingredients for a hacklab – the actual hackers. The guys were nonetheless knowledgeable enough to be able to talk about bitcoin and other interesting hacks the Unsystem team had taught them, so I figured I’d just give it a try, and propose them my new idea for democratizing bitcoin:

Bitcoin is created by mining, but mining requires highly sophisticated machines nowadays, most of which are not only expensive to buy, but also very expensive to run, in terms of electricity, at least. Because of the high electricity costs, it is nowadays extremely difficult to obtain a decent Return on Investment through mining, unless one invest into a large mining-pool which benefits from large economies of scale. Hence, for most people, mining is no longer a profitable option.

What struck me was that most of the occupied spaces (or squats) generally do not pay for the electricity they consume, since they merely grab it – illegitimaly – from the city cables. Regardless of my personal judgment on whether this is morally right or wrong, fact is that most squats can ultimately rely on a large amount of electricity, which they can exploit for free. Hence, why not use that free electricity for the purpose of mining, so as to eventually generate free money? This is the great democratizing idea of this month: convert squats into mining pools that operate in order to self-finance the squats’ activities.  By jumping around, from squat to squat, I could spread the word, and let them know that they no longer need to struggle, since bitcoin is here to help them. Of course, the initial investment (the costs of the miner) is quite prohibitive for many squaters, but this is gonna be less and less true, since the price of miners will drop as the ability to extract profits from them will decrease over time. Hence, squatters could just set up a deal, getting the miners for free in exchange of giving a percentage of the benefits to the actual owner of the miner, till they earn enough bitcoin to actually purchase one of their own. A genius idea, leading to a somewhat pareto-optimal situation, where everybody wins except for the city, whose electricity bills might raise by a few fractional numbers.

Week #25 (June 22th, 2014)

Good week on the Bitcoin front! I met with Elizabeth Stark and Michael Sofaer, who came for a conference at MIT, which gave the chance to talk about the blockchain once again, with new fresh meatly minds  J

Of course, considering my monotopic character concerning bitcoin and cryptocurrencies more generally, one might think that I will eventually just repeat myself all the time. This is very unlikely though, considering that the cryptoworld evolves so fast, and that my brain seems to have reprogrammed itself to keep producing new ideas all the time (whether realistic or not).

So as soon as I realized that Michael was involved with the development of Diaspora*, I couldn’t help myself but try and pitch him my idea about using the blockchain to enable some decentralized trust-based social network based on reputation/trust. Indeed, if it is true that we are shifting towards a decentralized society, then we should also decentralize the applications. Albeit more decentralized than a traditional server, any centralized DAO on the blockchain still mimic some of the characteristics of the former centralized paradigm. We want to think more organically, let’s forget about clients and servers, and just think in terms of objects or entities interacting with one another, according to some internal functions and parameters, something akin to an Object-Oriented society (OOS). Michael was not found of this idea, which he only could appreciate on its artistic dimension. Michael has a much more pragmatic approach to application development, which – according to him – should actually be able to satisfy actual users’ need, rather than just trying to innovate with a new technologies that does not actually provide any tangible advantages at the moment. In the end, we both agreed to disagree, and we move on to other interesting blockchain-topics.

One of them related to my oath, the Bitcoin diet, which started as a challenge to democratize the use of Bitcoin amongst common people, and ended up being a useless restriction on the type of activities I am actually able to realize in my life. I told him about my initial motivations, to figure out by myself how to survive into the harsh bitcoin world, so as to make it easier for fellow btc’es to live up to their expectations. And I told him how I eventually just ended up taking care of my own survival needs, and giving up on the rest. The discussion helped me realize that, if I were not to stop my oath, I should at least update it, so that I would give me – every week – a bitcoin challenge to fulfill, or a mission, to the least, that would help democratizing bitcoin. Michael also gave me a longer-term challenge: to deploy on the blockchain a mechanism (with pay-to-hash script, multisig or the like) allowing people to buy into ‘coupons’ and then redistribute the benefits to everyone involved – a difficult challenge actually, but I’m happy to take it on (btw, if anyone has any idea as to how to achieve this, please drop me a line  ;)

The weekly mission was a rather funny one: bitcoin basking. Actually, basking is probably not the right word, because basking involves asking for money – and, as we all know, bitcoin is not money (at least not according to the IRS). So, we merely went on the street, with a few instruments, and a sign (a QR-code representation of the bitcoin wallet of our newly created bitcoin band) with nothing more than one sentence saying “no US dollars accepted”. And so we played, with a lot of improvisation and good intentions, we played some covers of well-known songs, whose lyrics were reinterpreted on-the-fly to fit with the bitcoin theme of our band. No bitcoin received in the end, but a great success!