Category Archives: Ethereum

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.

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Product Review: Azure Blockchain Workbench

So, until there’s a Kubernetes Operator for an Ethereum test chain (or something comparable where you click a button to get everything running and perfect), it seems like you’ll have to do things a little more manually when it comes to setting up an Ethereum development environment in the cloud. Why’s that? Because with a nascent tech like Ethereum, everything keeps changing rapidly, and a Docker image with an embedded Ethereum testchain and dev tools will be outdated in just a few months. So, in the end, you’d have to do the same thing anyway with just a basic Docker image: download the latest packages, make any needed adjustments to get a testchain working, and then refactor your code (Solidity, etc.) so that it’ll now compile without warnings or errors.

Sigh

So, when I heard that Microsoft had created a service that would wrap around Ethereum, my eyes started to sparkle. Finally, I wouldn’t have to worry about playing the role of admin or devops, so that I can just develop…

…but then I promptly stopped and thought “Wait a minute? Microsoft? Creating a PaaS with Ethereum? Hmmmm…I don’t know about that…” Still, though, I’m willing to try anything once, so I decided to give Blockchain Workbench a chance.

So, I tried out Workbench to get a quick impression, and after a few hours, I think that I have a fair assessment of it. Now, if you’re a beginner, I’d recommend it: it’s a good place for an Ethereum beginner with an Azure account. But (and I’m trying not to be too harsh here), I would say that’s where its potential would be maxed out. Beyond being interactive teaching software for enterprise officers to learn about blockchain, I doubt that it’s something Ethereum developers or proponents would ever use. Not only is the Ethereum node completely hidden and inaccessible, the Workbench is an abstract wrapper around the node, so abstract that it becomes an hindrance to even communicate with the node. In the end, it’s completely unfriendly to a developer, an opinion which seems to be shared by others.

However, I will agree with Dimitrios on a second point: Microsoft’s template for Ethereum PoA could be useful. After experimenting with that one for an hour, I could totally see a consortium opting to try it out as a shared Ethereum solution.

DevCon IV, The Resurrection: Part 4

The lectures were interesting, but let’s not forget one of the most important purposes of the conference: to reconnect with old friends (of which I spent most of my time towards the end). And connect with new ones! Speaking of which, it looks like Microsoft has decided to move into the neighborhood, complete with their spanking new workbench:

They did a good job trying to sell it, especially for Ethereum users. For the grizzled developers like me, I appreciate that they’re trying to entice more of the enterprise people (i.e., oldtimers) to Ethereum by integrating existing platforms (like BizTalk) with the blockchain. I’m still not sure about their approach with BizTalk, and I still prefer my solution to their solution…but who knows? Maybe it just needs some time to mature.

It seemed like only a few more minutes passed by, but when I looked up at the board, it was practically over!

I could hear the singing that signaled the unfortunate end of the 4-day event. I couldn’t say what was worse: it was already finished for this year, or somebody still thought that it was a good idea to close the show with a sing-a-long in the style of Ned Flanders at Bible Camp.

Minus the singing, I’m already looking forward to next year!

DevCon IV, The Resurrection: Part 3

Of course, there were some events that I should have attended but did not (like the Buterin talk), but I lost so much time in conversations with people. Eventually though, on another day of the conference, I decided to pry myself from talking and follow one crowd to a lecture, as everyone poured into one of the larger lecture rooms. I wondered what this talk would be about…and then out walked Emin Gün Sirer! I had heard of him, and I knew that he was doing some work on Serenity…but, ultimately, being the newb that I am, I didn’t actually know in detail. (I learned later that he assists Buterin and others with ideas regarding sharding.) As it turned out, though, this lecture was more of an argument for Avalanche instead of Casper. So, what exactly is Avalanche? Sirer eloquently and amusingly put an end to my ignorance, as he launched into an explanation.

Unbeknownst to me (since I am, in fact, a newb), Casper wasn’t the only popular proof-of-work algorithm that was out there. Where Casper relies on disincentives in its trustless model, Sirer explained that Avalanche relied more on statistics and random sampling. Since all memories of my S&P 101 class in college were now holes in my brain chewed out by chronomice, I’ll admit it: I didn’t understand it completely. But I was still dubious since mischievous behavior wasn’t taken into account. Like Casper’s Vlad Zamfir had said: “We don’t get to take a probabilistic model of the network for granted [in my opinion].” In any case, though, it was an interesting talk, and I appreciated his passion for his project. He was confident, enough so that he even wanted to create a platform and token based on his work:

It was an informative and entertaining presentation, and he probably won over some people. Personally, it gave me an appreciation of the thriving competition for passionate ideas in this nascent community. More importantly, it showed me that there was an open-minded attitude here not often found elsewhere. Given that Casper has been the picked implementation for the next version of Ethereum, the organizers of DevCon could have shut out any dissenting opinions. Instead, though, they had embraced this alternate idea and had given Sirer a platform to advocate it. I now appreciated this whole movement on a grander scale.

Let’s hope that it will stand the test of time.

DevCon IV, The Resurrection: Part 2

So, after wolfing down a lunch of Czech dumplings from the ample buffet and walking past the Giveth guy (who I didn’t know at the time and just thought was wearing a bad Halloween costume), I headed to the talk by Golem, out of curiosity since I had no idea who they were. Plus, since we were in Prague, it seemed appropriate. And after a few confused minutes, I finally got it. Wow.

Basically, Golem was offering a secure platform that decentralized the notion of buying and selling cycles of computing power. Instead of AWS EC2 and Azure VM, you could purchase your power from anonymous sources around the world. And on the other side of the coin, you could become an independent vendor, offering your computers as computing providers on the network. As a vendor, you’d just install their software on your machines. Of course, one would think of all the possible questions about trust on such a platform, but it seemed that Golem had those bases covered.

And how does Ethereum fit into all of this madness? It’s the transaction-based layer of the platform, of course! All agreements and purchases would occur within the Ethereum blockchain. How beautiful is that: one decentralized platform supporting another! After that lecture, I was hungry to discover what other projects were being developed with Ethereum in mind. So, where to next?!