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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.

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.

Hanging Out with the Chain Gang, Part 1

So, I got an opportunity to attend the Ethereal Summit this past week, and I’m glad that I did. It was my first time, and it was worth it. Why? For a number of reasons. Also, strangely, I found it interesting to see Joe Lubin casually walking down a street in Red Hook, especially when I remember how the ‘hood used to be when the movie Made was shot. In addition to surreal imagery, it was a pleasant experience for the exposure to all of the different projects. Plus, it didn’t hurt that The Red Hook Lobster Pound was just a few doors down.

On the first day, I attended a few workshops, but the one that especially caught my attention was an Ethereum-based platform for VPN called Orchid. Some people might chastise me for not knowing about it, saying that it’s been around for years. But I’m an old man who lives under a rock, so many “ancient” things are new to me. In any case, it was one of those ideas where you say “Oh, yeah, of course that makes sense! Why didn’t I think of that?” After listening to the presentation for only a few minutes, I was sold on the idea. I only wish that I had taken a better picture (which is the one shown below):

I listened to a few presentations from the main stage, but they seemed rather short and bit rapid in pace. Afterwards, I decided to visit the exhibition area with all of the vendor booths. (Which, I was told, had sadly shrunk to a fraction of its size from last year and its crypto “good times”). I walked past the free candy stand, drank my cucumber water with my pinkie out, and checked out the nearby booths. It was then that one booth and its XBox caught my eye:

The gentleman sitting down seemed oddly familiar to me, but I had a hard time placing where I had seen him before. Little did I know at that moment, he was more or less the guest of honor at this summit. Because this event was mostly about one major player who had now taken a profound liking to the Ethereum platform: Microsoft. As I would soon learn during the course of the next day.