Questions for Blockchain Experts

Here are a sample of questions I’d ask any blockchain expert today…

A couple of weeks ago, I had a back-and-forth email exchange with one of my favorite podcasters (also Chicago-based!). They were going to interview the author of a recently-published book about blockchains and the potential of blockchains to change the way business records, transactions, votes and other interactions are executed and recorded, and this person requested my input on questions for the interviewee. Unfortunately, the questions I posed came just a tad too late. However, the few questions I wanted to ask this blockchain expert are currently relevant and worth asking of anyone who claims expertise in blockchains and cryptocurrencies, so I decided to share them here on this blog.

Here are a sample of questions I’d ask any blockchain expert today:

  • Bitcoin has been called “The Internet of Money” or “The Email of Money”. Well, both email and the Internet are basically just a collection of core protocols, just like Bitcoin. One could argue, correctly, that the core protocols of email and the Internet haven’t fundamentally changed since their creation, and that their relative stability has led them to become great platforms to build on. Is the rapidly-changing nature of blockchain tech, and strife over Bitcoin’s protocol design, hindering blockchains‘ broader and sustained adoption as another core protocol?
  • In your opinion, what are the relative merits and drawbacks of closed/private blockchains like Stellar or Ripple? Is there a use-case for them, or is he an advocate only for open blockchains like Bitcoin?
  • (Keeping in mind that open blockchains like Bitcoin are most secure and resilient when they’re decentralized…) To what extent does he think that Bitcoin is centralized? Are there any risks created by centralization in each of Bitcoin’s three core economic areas: mining, exchanges and financial services?
  • Investors like Marc Andreessen seem to be staunch believers that the potential of blockchain tech is inextricably linked to Bitcoin. This is to say, he’s a skeptic of blockchains that don’t build on top of Bitcoin in some way. Are startup investors right to be leery of companies that build on a blockchain and mining infrastructure other than Bitcoin’s?
  • What are his thoughts on Distributed Autonomous Corporations (DACs) and how should startup investors think about companies aiming to build them?

Continue reading “Questions for Blockchain Experts”

A Reading List for First-time & Aspiring Entrepreneurs

In the past few of months, I’ve really enjoyed having coffee with folks who are just starting to figure out what they want to do with their lives. (I am still very much in the same boat.) When I was eighteen or nineteen years old, I had no clue what I was doing, and although I was so lucky to surround myself with a group of people who were also excited about starting their own projects, most of them would admit that they didn’t really know what they were doing back then either. And that’s fine. People learn, they change, and they do their best in the moment, given their experience and understanding.

For many of my friends, that fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants approach worked out just fine; for others, including myself, well, that first project didn’t exactly work out, but others did or will. Nonetheless, one of the things that I noticed, in myself, my friends, and strangers whom I talk to about technology and starting things, is this voracious appetite for reading material. Especially when one is first getting started, a solid reading list is viewed as the best way to get up to speed with the culture, jargon and expectations of the field. (Although, ultimately, I think books about entrepreneurship are a lot like books about swimming. All might work well enough in theory, but putting those lessons into practice is the best way to learn something. At some point you’re going to have to jump into the pool.)

A sufficient number of people have asked me for reading suggestions that I wrote this post, which I hope will serve as a kind of reference I can share with people in the future. This is not 100% comprehensive. I’ve read (or at least thumbed-through) more articles and books than I accounted for here, but I’d consider this list a decent starting point. It’s the kind of list I wish someone gave me when I was 19 and clueless. It’s not perfect or complete, and it will be expanded over time. (Asterisks will precede the entry for those books that weren’t on the list when it was first published.) Continue reading “A Reading List for First-time & Aspiring Entrepreneurs”

2016: The Year of Better Time Wastage

I am going to be honest with myself here: I spend an unfathomable amount of time procrastinating important things. It was especially true this past year, during which I dropped back into college to finally finish. Although I did accomplish some legitimately good things as a result of procrastination – like downloading a small library of academic papers I’ve pulled from various databases and organizing it according to the Library of Congress’s classification system – but at the same time I spent truly ungodly amounts of time on reddit, Hacker News, Twitter, Facebook and lots of other places. Like, truly unfathomable amounts of time.

Retrospectively, it’s kind of horrifying, really. And to think that when I was just a few years younger I would spend lots of time reading and writing… Then, after a relatively brief but intense bout of depression, my procrastination habits changed. The endless, mindless, consumptive scrolling down auto-reloading streams of content to which I’d accustomed myself during this time in my life persisted, and became part of the fabric of my day-to-day existence. On the one hand, I consume far, far more content now than I ever have in the past, but that content is also unstructured. The content that is easiest to consume on a site like reddit is anecdotal, or commentary, at best a short narrative. Short, because, if it wasn’t it’d be “TL” such that most “DR”.

So, for 2016 I am not going to do anything too heroic. To say that I’d stop procrastinating is foolish, because everyone procrastinates in some way. To even set the goal of procrastinating less is probably not going to work either, because it’s not like I’ve quantified how much time I’ve wasted putting off doing necessary tasks. What I can do is make a promise to myself to make the things I do to procrastinate more mindful and active. For example, reading more books or academic journal articles about the things I’m already interested in or want to learn more about takes more cognitive effort, yes, but it also yields greater rewards. Like, rather than watching gifs or indulging a prurient appetite for bad news, about which I’ve already written, I could learn more about the world.

My goal for 2016 is to read forty books, roughly one every nine days. And, for an extra challenge, I want to read seventy-five academic journal articles as well. The challenge with the journal articles is that I also want to take some brief notes on each one: identifying the thesis statement, dependent and independent variables, and mechanisms of action where possible.

Why do this? First of all, my information diet heavily biases short-form content right now. I hope to be more regular with my own production of solid, high quality content if I have more informational “roughage” in my diet.  Second, since I started 2015 by “dropping in” to finish the last of my undergraduate degree in political science, and learning a lot of theory behind finance and venture capital – a field which interests me greatly – the menu of information I had to consume and digest was already set. In the last year, whatever time I spend binging on reddit or other sources of “informational junk food” felt justified because I had syllabus on syllabus of difficult readings to work through. Now that I’m basically done with undergrad studies, save for a final essay I’m currently writing, I feel the need to maintain a fairly regimented and rigorous load of reading such that I don’t succumb to an all-junk-food-all-the-time info diet.

You may have noticed that I used a lot of nutrition and diet-themed language in this post. It’s because I just started on Clay A. Johnson’s The Information Diet, a book I added to my “anti-library” (a concept from Umberto Eco I found by way of N.N. Taleb’s The Black Swan which you can read about on Brain Pickings) when it was first released. Now I’m actually committing it, as well as other books books in this anti-library to the positive one, and I’m looking forward to doing so.

China Journal, Entry 4. “Raid”

<< CHINA JOURNAL >> Dec 15, ’15, 2:45 AM

What. The. Fuck.

So our hotel has very thin walls. I was awoken out of a very sound sleep by some guy shouting in Mandarin at the next door over. The guy was forceful but calm at first. Then he barked again, louder and more angrily, with no response from inside the door. Then he shouted and broke down the door. A physical altercation ensued. There was shrieking. Continue reading “China Journal, Entry 4. “Raid””

China Trip Journal, Entries 1 & 2

Below are the first entries in a small journal I’m keeping to chronicle my first trip to China. I’m here on what may be the last school-organized trip I ever go on.

We’re currently in Beijing. I flew in this morning from Chicago by way of Seoul. We head to Shanghai in a few days.

The purpose of this trip is to expose students to the business climate and opportunities in China. I’ll keep notes about the meetings we go to off this blog, for the most part, but I’ll probably digest what I’ve learned into a post or two when I get home. But, before that happens, I’ll share journal entries here on my blog over the next week while we’re in situ.


<< CHINA JOURNAL >>

12/13/15 11:32 AM, Beijing

I just arrived in Beijing. I’m sitting on an express train to Dongzhimen, where our hotel is. Continue reading “China Trip Journal, Entries 1 & 2”

The Bitcoin Network is 11000x Faster than the Top 500 Supercomputers Combined

I had a meeting today with a TA about the thesis I’m writing. In it, I’ll be examining particular social structures found in the Bitcoin network. Although he’s curious about Bitcoin, my TA doesn’t know much about it beyond what he’s seen in the press. He asked, “So just how much compute power is on the network right now?” I know that for a long time, the total hashpower of the Bitcoin network is some multiple of the top-500 supercomputers combined, so I told him just that. But I wanted to know just how big that multiple was. The number I came up with totally boggles my mind. Continue reading “The Bitcoin Network is 11000x Faster than the Top 500 Supercomputers Combined”

Tragedy Porn

If it bleeds, it reads. That’s been the rule for a long time. It seems like the morbid appeal of tales of mishap and catastrophe is hardwired, just like interest in the erotic. In both cases, demand has been met by a supply historically constrained by the technological limitations of media and the speed of information. Blue film houses, adult bookstores, and the like peddled NSFW content to paying customers eager to blow off – ahem – some steam. Tawdry tales of disaster and malfeasance were hawked on street corners, tall letters boldly exclaiming the horrors of the previous day, though the news from correspondents further afield took a bit longer to arrive. The picture I’m trying to paint here may be an artificially quaint and sepia-toned conception of the past, a simpler time when mid-Atlantic-accented newsmen recounted events between strained pulls off the sponsoring brand of cigarette, but that quaintness feels alright. Nostalgia feels safe.

Things change, though, when this sought-after content becomes ubiquitous, freely accessible, delivered in high definition and impeccable fidelity, on the fly and always-on. It becomes more captivating, engrossing, and banal. Though the content might come harder and faster, and the reporter’s takes have become hotter and/or fresher, it’s still basically the same thing every time. Exciting and tantalizing as it may be, it also feels mechanical / rehearsed and often more than a little exploitative. Continue reading “Tragedy Porn”

Some Speculation on The Future of Payments in Virtual Reality

Update: Coincidentally, the day after I published this, London-based software engineer Julius Sweetland published Optikey, which uses iris tracking to let users type and use their computer’s “mouse” hands free. This could be great for those people who don’t have good dexterity. Check out the Optikey wiki on Github.

“The ideal payments experience would be an invisible one,” said a friend of mine while we were driving through the Tenderloin in San Francisco. We’d had a drink at a spot where to gain access you have to mention something about a library. Apart from the price (stratospheric, but passable because it was quite tasty, and in San Francisco) the process of cashing out was fraught with unnecessary friction which drew my attention. There was waiting for the bartender to print our tabs, still more waiting while he gathered our cards, or taking time to pay cash and get change, etc. In all, it took probably 4-5 minutes, a full 7% of our total time at the establishment.

This post is an exploration of payments, virtual reality, and the use of biometric data to make payments in a virtual reality environment. Not so much a technical paper as a meandering survey of various technologies and their intersection, this post can be broken into three parts: first, an overview of the payments space and investor interest in financial technology; second, analyzing the current trends in virtual reality headset technology; and finally, I hope to lay out a couple plausible paths toward building a seamless payment experience in immersive VR based on current hardware trends and industry forecasts.

Continue reading “Some Speculation on The Future of Payments in Virtual Reality”

Jack and Jill Went to Sand Hill…

Jack and Jill went to Sand Hill to raise their Series A

They went from Andreessen to Kleiner and Greylock and then to DFJ

Jill spoke of disruption

Old term sheets’ destruction

And when they will move to the Bay.

 

Jack said said to VCs

“Our app’s the bee’s knees”

“I see you have two Stanford degrees.”

“That’s right,” said Jack, “And the check, if you please?”

 

“Yeah, uh, sure. Okay.”