DevCon 5, Super Happy Blockchain Time: Part 3

So, after a casual but uneventful time that was the day before, I woke up with higher expectations, since I had been looking forward to a session of the following day. (Though my expectations for the venue’s WiFi were next to nothing, as much as I had wanted it to be different. Why is it that every tech conference ends up with the WiFi crashing and burning within the first few hours?) This time, it was a presentation about Nightfall, a project by Ernst & Young to help businesses operating within a private chain (i.e., a consortium) anonymize those private transactions when publishing them on the public chain. Since Ernst & Young has done significant Ethereum projects in the past (like the one for XBox publishers), it makes sense that they would pursue this one.

I love the idea of this project since 1.) it helps businesses embrace the idea of public blockchains while keeping their trade secrets hidden from competitors and 2.) it still ultimately leaves an auditing trail. Since most enterprises are still apprehensive about trying something new like a blockchain platform, these kinds of projects are necessary as the potential bread crumbs that will entice companies to follow. Of course, you don’t have to listen to me. Instead, you should listen to Paul Brody, the leader of the project who presented his team before they took over and helped explain the inner workings of Nightfall:

And if you want me to explain the zk-Snarks that enables Nightfall, to detail its mathematical complexity, then I would instead tell you that it’s magic born of fairy dust, because that sounds more comprehensible to me. In truth, I do understand it on a superficial level, but I lean heavily towards the theory of fairy dust. After the lecture, I did speak with a couple members of the Nightfall team, describing my own project to them. If you were to ask them about my project, they might also suggest a dust or powder inspired me to even build such a thing. All in all, though, it was one of my favorite presentations of the conference.

After that, I quickly made my way to the top via the elevator (since the conference essentially was split between the basement and the top floor), so that I could learn through an interactive session about a potentially useful tool. If you’ve ever deployed and tested Solidity contracts to a local Ethereum client, then you know how annoying it can be to restart the node, deploy the code, and reintroduce the lost state, every time that you need to make a correction to the code. Wouldn’t it be great to have hot swap capability, so that you can deploy and test the code without all that hassle? Well, that’s what OpenZeppelin’s Igor Yalovoy set to fix, as he described in his session:

I liked what I heard about the Solidity Loader. When I need to test the Wonka contract again, I might take that for a spin.

And just when I thought that something like zk-Snarks was complicated, I tried to test the boundaries of my mind and follow Karl Floersch’s lecture about the implementation for Plasma and Ethereum 2.0:

That proved to be a mistake, since my vision went kaleidoscopic at one point while trying to follow along. Though, I will give it to Karl: he did warn us at the beginning that none of us would follow it. I argue, though, that he should have warned us about the possibility of seizures or passing out.

And even though Mr. Floersch is obviously very bright and optimistic (of which the latter is alien to those of us with grey whiskers), he and 90% of the attendees have that rosy hue of youth, which is disheartening since it reminds me of my imminent death, hovering and chuckling over the nearby horizon. So it was nice to hear a lecture from someone even older than me, someone that I even read about it in college: David Chaum! Now, there’s a seminal OG in the realm of cryptography and computing in general! As the creator of DigiCash who also wrote about blockchains 35 years ago, he was truly a man before his time. So, it was cool to hear what he’s working on now, which turns out to be a cryptocurrency for his blockchain platform Elixxir that supports privacy-focused messaging, payments, etc.

If I even get to that age, I hope to still be going strong like that.

And I ended the day with a talk from the face and brains of Consensys, Joe Lubin:

For the most part, much like Buterin’s talk, it was a general update of the Ethereum ecosystem. But, more importantly, he ended his speech with a collective goal for the Ethereum community: to have a million developers working on Ethereum projects. A million! I mean, it’s possible…but…man. Well, I guess that I already have my New Year’s goal for 2020. Bad news for my friends, though: they’re gonna have to endure a verbose sales pitch, whether they like it or not.

DevCon 5, Super Happy Blockchain Time: Part 2

Who’s doesn’t love Taiko drums? Well, if you don’t, you need some sort of intervention, since you’re out of your mind. And since we were in Japan, it was the perfect choice for the opening ceremony of the conference and to kick off the second day:

Day 2 was a bit more subdued, in terms of interactive sessions that I wanted to attend. But there was one, from the guy who helped make tokens/ICOs become a thing and the author of Mist and Web3: Fabian Vogelsteller.

I mean, what would this guy know about decentralization and Ethereum, right? All kidding aside, he took this opportunity to talk about one of his ongoing projects: ERC-725, which is aimed at creating interfaces and implementations for decentralized IDs on Ethereum. It was interesting, especially when it came to terms of his proposed implementation regarding management of keys for a user pool. However, I knew a little about its competitor project uPort, so I wasn’t totally convinced that it was the way to go. But still, it was cool to hear from a seminal member of the community.

Aside from that, the lectures were the majority of the day for me. And to start off, you couldn’t attend DevCon and miss the father of Ethereum: Vitalik Buterin. Even though it was just a general overview of Ethereum’s past and present, it was still enjoyable.

And there were other presentations, like one about the philanthropic efforts of the Ethereum community (especially how UNICEF now receives/disperses funds through Ethereum) and one in which Maker announced the launch date of multi-collateral DAI tokens:

But all in all, I’d say that it was more of a relaxed day.

After all that and a MOS burger, I got the opportunity to meet someone who’s working on the TruSat project, which does sound amazingly ambitious and cool. After that high point, I decided to enjoy the tranquil, sunny day outside and to forget about the impending doom headed our way…when I was suddenly approached by a mysterious stranger. He introduced himself quickly and then proceeded to tell me that Mayan prophecies foretold the coming of a savior (pointing at cryptic icons on his shirt), who was none other than the Democrat party candidate Andrew Yang. “He is the chosen one described in ancient times.” And then he gave me a cap to remember the fateful day that will arrive soon:

Well, let it not be unsaid that you definitely meet interesting people at DevCon. Strange and perhaps out of their mind…but interesting.

DevCon 5, Super Happy Blockchain Time: Part 1

It was time again for Etherheads to convene, with DevCon 5 being in the land of the rising sun. In particular, where the red ball on Japan’s flag represents the tacoyaki of the nation’s best food destination: Osaka! (And if you’ve ever eaten fresh tacoyaki, it should be colored red since it always has the inside temperature of magma. Sweet, delicious magma.) After learning to navigate the city’s metro (which was much easier with the use of an IC card), we found our way to the ATC Hall along Osaka’s west coast. Though I’m still confused why it’s not APTC instead of ATC, but I digress…

Since the ATC is part of a larger complex that includes eateries and shops, it took a bit of navigation to find it, especially as different parts of the conference center were in different parts of the complex. It was an interesting venue, to be sure. Nestled between an active port for cruises and some industrial warehouses, it had the simultaneous feeling of being both welcoming and gritty. Which is, in some ways, how you could describe Osaka.

And we even had our own little outdoor park, which we was a nice change of pace.

But enough about that…on to the conference itself! Well, after getting the new wristband (that seemed to take the place of the lanyard), we snacked on some local favorites inside the main hall as we planned our first day:

First stop was a session on getting the Ethereum community to create a more open dialogue about creating standards for Ethereum usage, ones that could be embraced by the world at large. Granted, the focus of the conference was aimed at the talk about Ethereum 2.0, since the technical hurdles are the most important priority. However, this kind of discussion was also important, since we do need to think about what comes after the successful implementation of the platform’s next iteration. After all, getting Ethereum into the marketplace will require a lot of negotiating with the outside world, and it’s better to start that conversation now.

Next stop was a must for me, since it was a presentation about building rules engines within Ethereum. And I thought that my baby Wonka was the only game in town! So, with rapt attention, I listened to Michael Yuan and his team at Second State present their rules engine for Ethereum. Since it’s a subject dear to me, I was glad for their talk, and I felt more validated for even putting all the time and work into my own project.

But, in the end, I didn’t see their implementation as the viable one, especially with its variation of the Drools spec. In that scenario, you would use a Drools-like pidgin within a rules contract, which would then transpile your effective rules before eventually compiling the contract into EVM code. But in that case, why wouldn’t the writer of the contract just write Solidity/Vyper code instead? Plus, most Drools implementations use clever versions of the RETE algorithm, which could execute in an Ethereum environment unpredictably (depending on context) and could have immensely unforeseen gas costs with multiple iterations of rules. I still believe that rules engines should be for non technical people, and this way would alienate a lot of that crowd. In the end, though I’m probably incredibly biased, I still thought of my Wonka project as the better path. However, it was still cool to see someone thinking along the same lines, since even most developers have never heard of a rules engine.

And, even though I had already seen them in Brooklyn a few months ago, it was good to see Microsoft again, since it reconfirmed their dedication to the space. Cale Teeter and crew talked about the Azure Blockchain Workbench becoming more dynamic, with the ability to add nodes outside of Azure to their management console. Which is good, since I had been complaining about that for a while now. Plus, they showed off some new abilities with the Visual Studio Code IDE, and they even gave a shout-out to my Ethereum mentor Juan Blanco and the Nethereum team, since their Workbench tools rely on Nethereum for quite a bit.

After a busy day, why not enjoy some quality time with Kabo-chan, the seminal dog that’s the muse of memes and crypto around the globe! That should fun, right?

I love dogs, especially mine…but I’m not hanging around to meet a damn dog. He was too much of a celebrity for me, having to wait in a line to meet him. I instead decided to embrace the mediocrity of my existence and to skip my chance at rubbing elbows with fame. There was too much tacoyaki waiting for me back in the center of town.

So, I’m Not Alone

If you haven’t been fortunate enough to undergo corporate training about security, then you’ve missed the opportunity to be bombarded with outdated lessons about archaic technology and methodology. But aside from the irrelevant points about using Web Scarab on that hip new browser Firefox, you also haven’t been exposed to the plethora of ridiculous imagery that is supposed to illustrate the darker corners of the Internet. It’s comparable to images of the 1920s, where all bank robbers wore eye masks made from black cloth and carried money in bags with a huge dollar sign printed on the side.

But, thankfully, I’m not alone! Somebody has finally decided to do something about it. To that I say: huzzah! I wish them the best of luck.

Redis Day Comes Again

Well, it’s that time of year again, where Redis Day storms the ports of New York, brandishing corporate video that implies Redis is the only hope for humanity’s salvation. I don’t know if that’s necessarily true, but like last year, they do know how to pick a location. In any case, the first of the 2-day event was an introductory session to Redis, not really necessary for those already familiar with the platform. I opted to go out of curiosity, and I’m glad that I did.

Even though most of the day was a rehash of what I already knew, the intro did point out to me some features that had been added with the most recent version, like the UNLINK command. (I’m not known for always reading release notes.) I also learned that the “master-slave” terminology has now fallen under, as Jacobins would probably describe it, the guillotine of progress:

Actually, I’m not sure if the new “master-replica” terminology is a better set of terms. If you still use the term “master” in this scenario, doesn’t it imply that the other party is a slave? And when I think of replica in this situation, the term replicant comes to mind, and that doesn’t really sound all that much better. But I digress…

The second day of the event was more interesting. To a small extent, some of that could be attributed to the general speakers. We heard from a few people about certain business cases, as they described how Redis was used beneficially in their work. But for me, the best parts of the day were the beginning and end, when we got to hear from the brilliant creator of Redis: Salvatore Sanfilippo (a.k.a., Antirez).

Since most of the time was spent more towards the corporate pitch, it was refreshing to hear Antirez talk about all of the technical features in the newest version of Redis and how the need and implementation for these features came about. All of which was told using his interesting drawing style, which I had never seen a presenter do before. But I definitely appreciated it, since I tend to do the same thing whenever I describe anything with precision. (Even how to properly build a sandwich.) I also appreciated it since he and I probably have the same skill level of drawing:

Even though some people might tune out during these kinds of events (especially at the end, when people are looking to beat the crowd by leaving early), I enjoy the technical presentation as a breath of fresh air. Who knew that a detailed explanation on the evolution of the Redis EXPIRE command could wake me up from my imminent coma? I was just as surprised…almost as much as Antirez was when I approached him later, to thank him for leaving Sicily to speak and to ask him some questions. (Note to self: pay attention to your surroundings and never ask questions of someone when they’re waiting to use the bathroom, especially a database guru. You may not get the best answers, and you will feel a tad awkward when you realize your mistake.)

So, what did I take away from that day? Well, I could say that Redis is definitely growing its user base. Just from a glance and a shoddy memory, I’d say that the crowd was nearly double the size of last year’s event. Plus, I heard about a more diverse set of projects using Redis than ever before. From all that, I would say that it’s becoming a bigger fish in the DB sea.

So I guess the ultimate question is: who’s going to try and eat the growing fish before it gets too big? My money is on Oracle.

Hanging Out with the Chain Gang, Part 2

Because, as it turned out, the person sitting inside the Microsoft booth was York Rhodes, one of the top-level managers pushing the blockchain efforts at Microsoft. And, evident from the various workshops and talks that included Microsoft’s presence, it was the intention of Mr. Rhodes to use this occasion as an opportunity. For what? Namely to declare the love shared between Ethereum and Microsoft, using various examples like the Starbucks project that had been revealed a few days prior:

It was obvious that unlike some of their other projects, Microsoft had decided to seriously invest in blockchain going forward. (And, in the days that followed, they made similar announcements that emphasized this reconsideration.)
As yet further proof, there was also an interesting workshop by Microsoft to describe their efforts binding Azure with J.P. Morgan’s Quorum:

For some, this kind of event (along with the discontinued funding of many projects for social good) was somewhat a disappointment, representing a turning point for Consensys and Ethereum where the ideals of hot air were traded for a cool breeze. Personally, though, as someone who’s seen this kind of thing before in the DotCom era, it’s part of the growing pains of any nascent platform. I listened to Rhodes’ lecture with the appreciation that comes from knowing how time moves us all along.

But all good news doesn’t have to come from the corporate overlords. In fact, Gitcoin delivered some informative updates about their platform, especially in relation to their integration with Ethereum:

And it was amusing as well as informative, since Kevin Owocki acknowledged Microsoft’s presence by both congratulating their progress in the last few years and by reminding us how we used to think of them.

In the end, this summit was a good indicator of what was to come, of the maturity that must be embraced by the developers of a platform and by the platform itself. And we’ll be all the better for it. Both Gitcoin (which I wish had been around when I was young) and Microsoft are two side of the same “coin” (see what I did there?), showing how the same platform can advance in parallel with the right kind of collaboration and vision. I left the summit surprisingly a bit more optimistic than before, which I can say hardly happens these days.