Beyond partisan politics in distributed systems

Devcon4 was a blast- at least, the bits I was well enough to attend. I've been fighting a pretty serious illness for some months (ticks are the worst), but my housemate has a diagnosis now so hopefully the end is in sight for me. It was less about attending the conference and more about catching up and swapping notes with people, anyway. I stayed with the Circles UBI team (who are all amazing) and managed to bump in to Frankie from MetaMask & the Scuttleverse again, and meet some members of the 'Dark Crystal' team (which is a super exciting project- stay tuned!)

I also managed to catch up with Vinay Gupta in the corridor after Stewart Brand's talk and had a nice little chat with him. It was really quite delightful and it seemed like we both got a lot out of it. Turns out we're all a lot more reasonable in real life... who knew? :p (more)

Breaking through the blockchain echo-chamber: what I learned from arguing with visionaries on the internet

It's been a harrowing and lengthy internal debate for me trying to decide whether to publish this post. On the one hand, I've annoyed somebody very influential and this is likely to be seen as "poking the bear". Or it could be viewed as the plaintive whining of a someone with a fragile emotional constitution. It might not be a great career move.

On the other hand, it's clear to me that something is very wrong with how things unfolded. There are aspects of power imbalance, racism, privilege, suppression and misinformation at play here. It's not ok. The world should not be like this. Innovators should be supporting innovation, not stifling it.

It's been said before that blockchain is a 1% conversation, but in my experience the percentage is even smaller. There are a lot of hidden interests in the space— particularly people with huge financial investments and a lot to lose who don't take kindly to being challenged on their versions of progress. Not even by those who travel in their circles. If I am being attacked and silenced - as a white male software engineer - then what hope is there for anyone in a marginalised group to be heard?

Maybe all that writing this will achieve is that I look a bit silly, make an enemy and my life gets slightly more difficult. Maybe I've already made an enemy and writing this will make no difference at all. Who knows. I'm sure all of us involved are already more than a little ashamed of some of the things we said. I can only hope the overall outcomes of this piece will be constructive rather than destructive.

Because in the end, I have to go with "fuck it". This article isn't for that person. When I sit back and ask myself, "why did it matter so much", there's only one way to go with this. This article is for others with big ideas and small voices who would let themselves be pushed out of the debate. So I'll try to leave emotion and names out of it, and discuss what happened in the abstract. These themes affect all of us. It's important. (more)

Building success on public blockchains: a strategic guide

With development of blockchain applications now booming there are many interesting things happening and a lot of reasons to be excited for 2018. Unfortunately, there are a lot of reasons to be pessimistic too. Many are approaching application development in the same ways they always have, which in an open global system runs at odds with the design and ethos of the very ground they're walking on.

Creating an open-source platform designed to work as part of a globally integrated system is a very different process than building a product or enterprise platform to be monetized through licensing and sales. In this article, I'll attempt to explain why this is the case and give some tangible rules to guide you on your journey to creating the next killer blockchain app. I'll focus on Ethereum, but the same ideas apply to any public global system. (more)

Co-ops and Cryptos, or Neo-Communitarianism and Techno-Utopianism – Where Next?

Recently I decided to fly halfway across the world to attend Open2017, a two-day conference on the emerging "Platform Cooperativism" movement. For those unfamiliar with the term, simply think 'online platforms + cooperatives'— or to put it another way, "what if Facebook was owned and goverened by the people who used it?".

My interest in platform co-ops came by way of my interest in crypto-economics, piqued specifically by Ethereum. Prior to that I had no real interest in economics or finance, but when confronted with a system which allowed value to be codified I was suddenly all ears. It seemed humanity had developed a system whereby values (as in real values; individual, social & community values rather than financial ones) could be encoded into economic systems. This could easily be a game-changer, I thought. The future seemed bright and interesting. (more)

Solidity Smart Contracts Primer

A couple of months ago I gave a technical talk about blockchains at a local Ethereum meetup. The presentation is essentially a knowledge remix of all the publicly available Solidity reference material with some software engineering concepts, architectural suggestions, challenges and detailed breakdown of the DAO hack thrown in for good measure.

You can view slides from the talk here or over on github. If you've ever wanted to get started writing software for Ethereum - or blockchains in general - then I highly recommend you take a look and save yourself some research! (more)

The DAO, and what it means for capitalism

About a month ago, I started idly looking through a piece of code called "The Standard DAO Framework". It's a weird piece of code-

  • It's written in a language not many people have heard of yet (github doesn't even have syntax highlighting, which makes it a bit annoying to read there).
  • The language only runs on a super-slow virtual computer about the speed of a 1998 cellphone.
  • The virtual computer is simulated by everyone together simultaneously, is everywhere and nowhere and is owned by no-one.

This article is about the piece of code, what it does and what it means. The short version is that a DAO represents a single collective entity - like a company, a government, a trust or a marriage. The "Standard DAO Framework" is a higher abstraction for society, if you will, created as software to simulate the way trust must work internally between all the individuals involved in these groups in order to achieve a fair and just shared outcome. It is not an AI - it has no will or direction of its own - it merely encodes the logic all parties have agreed must be adhered to into an incorruptible and deterministic process that no flawed human can subvert. (more)

Basket: Turning machines into text for fun and profit

Lately I've been rebuilding a lot of servers and workstations, and so one of the many things I've been trying to find the time to work on is basket.

Originally started as one of those random in-office projects, my coworkers and I have taken it upon ourselves to extend that flaky set of bash methods and maybe turn it into a useful set of low-level server administration utilities. It's difficult to say yet how much functionality we'll provide - the project is very much in its infancy - but it's starting to look like a sensible and robust enough idea that I'm posting about it here. From the readme:

It's a bash thoole ket, or bash toolkit if you're sober. Yeah, we tried. It's also a basket of bash functions so that kinda works.

Basket is like a basket because you can dump little scripts into it with no overhead other than storage. When sourced, only the main (small) basket of bash helper methods is loaded - special-purpose modules are brought in on demand and have a simple dependency management system. (So if basket ever gets too big, you can just blindly delete stuff you don't need out of the lib folder). (more)

Injustice, Ethereum and the information renaissance

Do you ever stop to think about the ways we communicate?

When you talk over the phone your call can easily be monitored or recorded. Your private life is potentially exposed, but just for a brief moment. No big deal, right? Nobody is going to be listening to you unless you're doing something wrong. But the call itself and the fact that it happened is retained for a few years by your phone company. Thus that window into your life is widened, just a little bit.

When you send someone a text message the person you're texting, your location and the message itself are also retained for a few years by your phone company. When you visit any website or use any app which requires an internet connection the same thing happens and could soon be mandatory. The window widens again.

When you chat on Facebook literally everything you're saying and in some cases what is going on in the room around you is recorded. Forever. If not by Facebook then by the governments tapped into the internet backbone. When you use Google Hangouts you record your face, what you're doing and the environment around you and hand that over forever too. It happened with Yahoo Chat, and it will happen again. When you sync your files to Drive or iCloud or OneDrive or Dropbox, you give away the very real and substantial value of the contents of your hard drive. When you sit in front of a Kinect, you invite Microsoft and probably the US government into your home to study you in intricate high-def three-dimensional detail. When you post and tag those photos of your night out on Facebook or Instagram you provide structured information to assist a powerful AI in enhancing its detailed 3D maps of you and your friend's faces and predictive models of your behaviour. And when we start wearing Google Glass around and buying devices like the Amazon Fire, we will be handing over the world around us in real-time.

Truly. Legitimately. Non-crazy like. As described in the NSA's own documents as “Collection directly from the servers of these U.S. Service Providers: Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple.” Petabytes of it every day. Handing over our data until, as Google's CEO said, “We don't need you to type at all. We know where you are. We know where you've been. We can more or less know what you're thinking about.”

It's as if we want to do away with the window completely. (more)

This is your government on metadata (with pictures!)

Data retention and warrantless government spying are starting to come out as two of the biggest issues of the century. And about time too - this is a war that has been going on for decades, hidden behind the screens of software developers, tech geeks and hacker kids where everything looks technical and boring to the outside observer and prevents anyone from really paying much attention to what's going on.

There is a lot being said about what our representatives are trying to legalise here, but what is already legal? What is already going on behind closed doors?

The issue has been raised in Europe - and rejected as a violation of basic human rights. It has been raised in England - and allowed to happen against the wishes of the people. It has been raised in America - brought to light after it surfaced that the American government has been secretly storing communications from the entire internet despite this obvious conflict with their constitution. Now the Australian Government is having its turn at the grab for more power. (more)

Terms & conditons, tracking and choices

It alarms me setting up a new phone.

Once you have linked your online accounts, whether they be @gmail.com or @mac.com or @live.com, you get to the annoying setup wizard that we all loathe and rush through. The screens wherein we mash 'next' impatiently so we can get to the end and start using it.

Nobody pays any attention to these things, everybody wants the convenience of knowing their online stuff 'just works' and that they won't lose their emails. But what is the real cost here? (more)