Response to 'Why Bitcoin is failing the Muggles'

I recently read an article by Florian Gamper about how he thinks blockchain and crypto currencies - Bitcoin in particular - are failing the “muggles” - a nice reference to the average Joe taken from Harry Potter. Even though he made some valid points, I feel the need to make some clarifications.

In his rant, Florian starts with a short introduction and continues by expressing major concerns about 1. the environment, 2. trust, 3. security and 4. privacy. Each of these building blocks gives the reader something to think about and I’m going to stick to the scheme and comment on them sequentially. So here we go..

Introduction

In this part the author provides some good references for beginners and distance his writing from the current hype which led to failed ICOs and share increases through company renaming. Furthermore, he claims that “the community” describes the technology as magic which leads me to believe that he either went to the wrong meetups or talked to the wrong people.

I do understand that for the bigger part of the society it’s incomprehensable how the tech works and yes most of them can’t tell the difference between bitcoin and blockchain. However, that doesn’t hold true for people familiar with the matter and most certainly nobody of us would call it “magic” by any means. I must agree with his statement on the inflationary expectations though, as also Gartner confirms it.

The Environment

I really do care about the environment and I totally agree with all that has been said in this part. Unfortunately, the author only talked about one very well-known consensus algorithm instead of providing the reader with sufficient information on alternatives. He didn’t mention Proof of Stake, a secure and way more environment-friendly protocol (most notably implemented in Ethereum’s Casper Protocol) which would completely undermine his argument. Also, he didn’t take improvements to the Bitcoin network through second-layer protocols such as the Lightening Network into account which would allow vastly more transactions without the need for additional hash power. If you think that’s just a glimpse in the future, you’re mistaken as both solutions are either already deployed on corresponding test networks or even had a first live debut.

Another issue with this part is the made-up number of 80% of nodes being in China and the false claims about where the electricity is coming from. I haven’t found any statistics on which node uses which source of energy, however, I found the acutal node distribution as of Feb, 12th 2018:

Source: Bitnodes

There is also a whole different type of blockchain which is mostly being adopted in enterprises which use different consensus mechanisms such as Proof of Elapsed Time (PoET) or Redundant Byzantine Fault Tolerance (RBFT) as described in the Hyperledger Architecture Overview. They all consume tremendously less energy than the Proof of Work mechanism mentioned by the author.

Trust

This was really the part when I decided to clarify things. In my opinion, the line of reasoning in this part is.. let’s put gently: questionable. Blockchain enables trustless computing through it’s various components with the ultimate goal of reaching consensus. The author argues that the trust isn’t actually trust but faith as an algorithm determines it. Even though, technically speaking he’s right, he didn’t describe what the algorithm actually does in order to reach consensus which would give the reader a chance to judge for himself how much trust vs. faith there is. I’m not going to elaborate in much detail on how the transactions are being validated either, but an integral part of it is to check all transactions that led to the sender being capable of sending a transaction at a certain point in time. In other words: Before a transaction can be made, the funds necessary for this transaction are being validated. A technical description can be found in the protocol rules of the Bitcoin Wiki. From my perspective, this has nothing to do with faith.

The next argument was “money -> nodes -> owning the chain” and a presumptious threat if China’s 4 pools would come to an agreement. Well first of all, the referenced article about mining pool distribution is 7 months old which means it’s very much outdated. Just 2 months later, exchanges and pools started to shut down or move to foreign shores due to potential regulation. Second and more importantly, the author puts too much emphasis on the possibility of a 51% attack which even though theoretically possible and technically feasible, the damage caused is in fact comparably small as described here. From an economic perspective this attack can be considered infeasable with just a small gain compared to the effort put into it and an expected sudden decline of the token value if the network is compromised.

In the last paragraph the author refers to “other chains” and an even bigger threat for them to be exposed to the aforementioned attack. Since he’s not stating any specific chain, I can only guess that he means any of the recent super ICO coins. In fact, many of the coins are based on the Ethereum network and are so-called ERC-20 tokens, which would be indeed backed up by the underlying network for the exact reason of not wanting to create a new network, gain traction, build up nodes, etc.

Anyway, on to the next topic..

Security

In this part the author describes the pitfalls of public key cryptography and how it’s always been a challenge to safely store the private key in order to prove ownership. I do agree a lot with what’s been said and yes, storing the key in a safe place is a non-trivial task for non-technical people but for this exact reason there are plenty of wallet types out there to increase usability without compromising security. The latest trend is the rise of so-called hardware wallets, such as Trezor or Ledger Nano S. As stated, it’s not a problem with the technology itself and at some point people need to adjust to these kinds of things in order to reach mainstream adoption. From my perspective, this is mostly the same reason why PGP didn’t reach mainstream adoption even though it should.

Privacy

Florian again only focusses on Bitcoin in this section but generalizes it by saying blockchain. There are alternatives to prevent the mentioned traceability (also called linkability of transactions), such as Monero. Also, off-chain transactions haven’t been considered even though they provide enhanced privacy as they happen in private.

Wrapping it up

In my opinion, the author failed to be concise enough to provide some well researched information on the topic but instead leaves the reader - me - with a lot of questionmarks and unfinished thoughts.

If you have any remarks, please feel free to reach out! :wave:

Tags: blockchain, crypto currency, bitcoin, ethereum, consensus mechanisms, security, trust, privacy, environment

DV lottery - What is that?, Part 1

Over the last couple of months I’ve been asked many times how I got the green card (formally kwown as Permanent Resident Card or Form I-551). So here’s my story..

As an undergraduate student in Germany I always wanted to study abroad which I eventually did for one quarter at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Prior to this lengthy stay, I had the pleasure to meet and visit friends all over the United States multiple times. This experience led me to believe that I wanted to move here permanently as I really had great experiences so far.

I started to explore all the options that’ll allow me to relocate eventually and I quickly stumbled upon what is called the DV lottery. And if you’re now confused by the word lottery, it is literally a lottery. So let me tell you how it works. Every year between Oct, 3rd and Nov, 2nd one who wish to participate is required to enter some basic information:

  • Full Name
  • Gender
  • Birthdate
  • City of birth
  • Country of birth
  • Country of eligibility for the DV program (usually the same as above)
  • Photograph (Must follow special guidelines)
  • Mailing address
  • Current country of residency
  • Phone number (optional)
  • E-mail address
  • Highest level of education
  • Current martial status
  • Number of children

After submitting the info, a confirmation number is issued. This confirmation number is crucial to note down as there’s no way to recover it and is the only way to access the application in case of winning.

Fast-forward to May the following year, the Department of State will send you an e-mail saying that you’re now able to see the result of the lottery drawing so whether you’ve been selected to move forward with the application or that it didn’t work out this time. In case of the former the real work begins…

Being selected doesn’t necessarily mean you’re able to continue with the application as it depends on your batch number and the amount of visa applications your local embassy can process. So if your batch number is i.e. 65000 it’s very unlikely you can move forward as the application needs to take place during a certain time period (referred to as fiscal year). If you’re unable to have everything processed by the end of the fiscal period, you’ll need to start over which means re-applying for the lottery as your lot is only valid for one fiscal year.

In case you were lucky to have a low lot number, you’ll need to submit a DS-260 form to provide more information on your background, your work experience, qualifications, etc. and again print the confirmation page as you’ll need it to bring to the interview at the embassy. After the Kentucky Consular Center (KCC) reviewed your application (which also includes at which embassy you’re planning to do the interview), the embassy will send you an appointment letter. As the interview preparation is a lengthy, I recommend starting as early as possible to collect all the documents needed. As the list varies depending on the embassy, you should check here.

In my particular case for Germany/Frankfurt, I needed to collect all school reports, police reports, birth certificates, proof of sufficient funds, my passport, a mailing address to send the passport back to and everything else that supports you’re being a solid candidate for becoming a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR). Some of the documents need to be sent in before the appointment and others are fine to bring to the interview (i.e. school reports). Again, this depends highgly on your local embassy, so please check with them if you’ve any doubts what to send in/bring in person. Another very important step is the so-called medical examination which evaluates your physical condition and your history of vaccinations. The thing with the medical exam is that you should take it as close as possible to the interview appointment as its validity is limited to 6 months and thus determines the latest possible entry date to the USA.

An obstacle with this special appointment is that it can only be conducted by certain (very few) doctors and it’s really hard to get an appointment. In Germany, there’re 6 doctors across the country who are certified to do the examination and only one of them allows you to walk in. Luckily, it’s the one in Frankfurt and close to the embassy so what I did was to go to the embassy without having the medical exam taken and thus my visa inquiry rejected (on purpose). The embassy will re-evaluate your endeavor once it has all the necessary documents so I went to the doctor’s office right after the appointment at the embassy and they sent in the results to the embassy so the process continued as usual. Of course I asked the embassy beforehand as my appointment was really early and there was no way I could’ve finished the doctor’s appointment prior to going to the embassy on the same day. Now I just needed to wait for my visa package to arrive and enter the USA prior to the expiration date of my visa stamp (printed in your passport). An important thing to note here is that you just need to hand over the package before the expiration and as soon as you did, the visa stamp serves as your temporary green card for up to 1 year (calculated from the date of arrival). You can immediately leave the country again if you’re not yet ready to move.

A quick note on the costs:

Even though the DV lottery itself is free of charge and please don’t use any of these scam services who charge you to participate on your behalf, the process of getting the visa and later the green card is quite costly (not including the flights).

  • Visa application fee: 330$
  • Medical examination: approx. 250$
  • Green card issuing fee: 165$
  • Misc. expenses (police records, etc.): 100$

I’ll continue in the next part to explain how I actually got the physical green card and what else there is to do after your first arrival such as opening a bank account, credit score, employment, travel, etc.

FYI: I applied 3 times until I was lucky. All in-depth information on the process is provided by the Department of State and can be accessed here.

Tags: diversity visa, green card, lottery, USA