A ‘Curious Novice’ Explores the Blockchain…

Around the Block is a personal project to finally get to grips with blockchain technologies, smart contracts and cryptocurrencies. I’m going to throw myself fully into this world, embracing what it has to offer and exploring its possibilities from many angles, technical, commercial and societal.

I’ll be starting out from the perspective of a ‘curious novice’ and hope to develop sufficient knowledge and experience to proclaim myself as an authority on the subject in due course. The ‘curious novice’ guise hides certain reservations I have about publishing information and views online while knowing I’m no expert on the subject matter, however from the coverage I’ve seen to date, mainstream publications have no such reservations when portraying themselves as an ‘authority’ on a subject in which they are utterly naïve. I’ll therefore boldly publish my thoughts and learnings on various media, blogs, twitter and maybe even YouTube videos (admittedly out of my comfort zone), taking comfort that my efforts can’t be as awful as the misinformed vomit from mainstream sources.

I first encountered bitcoin its very early days in 2010 / 11 before it had even reached parity with the US dollar. At the time I was trying to launch a platform I named ‘favabank’ in the UK for peer to peer exchanges based on the idea of LETS (Local Exchange Trading Systems), promoting friendly bartering utilising a currency to tokenise favour exchange within communities. My project failed, I became depressed, and turned my back on the idea of alternative currencies as a result. Every time I thought about buying bitcoin I was reminded of my failed project and walked away.

Favabank was my own foray into alternative currencies — peer to peer favour exchange. It failed…

It wasn’t until 2014 that I finally got round to buying a few bitcoin. The price had peaked at over $1,200 and I bought in on the way down at around $800. It wasn’t long before my optimism about bitcoin was ‘proven’ to be false when the markets plunged for the next couple of years and bitcoin festered around £300. I kept an eye on the cryptocurrency world and became a little excited seeing the launch of Ethereum and thought about investing until the infamous DAO hack in 2016 revealed the underlying uncertainties. But like many, I was kicking myself in early 2017 when the price of Ether exploded. The accompanying bitcoin revival gave me some solace, if I could only find the keys to my wallet and recover my forgotten investment. Fortunately, I figured it out and celebrated my genius foresight. For the past couple of months I’ve had the bravery I wish I had years ago and invested a little more in various cryptos in the hope that we’re still in the very early days of something huge.

I want to know more, I want to really understand this subject, I want to re-ignite my interest in alternative currencies, the very thing that alerted me to bitcoin initially. My inner maverick prefers to take a broad approach to subjects, rather than being pigeon-holed as a specialist. I’ll be immersing myself in the blockchain by taking the following approach.

Understanding The Technology, the Concepts, the Ideas:
With new technology comes a whole range of new acronyms, concepts, and theories. They become common vernacular amongst the initiated but for people arriving in this field for the first time it is a confusing landscape of unnecessarily buzzwords, terminologies and difficult to grasp abstract ideas. There has been a blossoming of new cryptocurrencies with peculiar names. What is their purpose? How do I discern between them? I hope to wade through the technical detail and bring clarity in language that helps me to understand and communicate to the uninitiated.

Investigating Applications of the Blockchain:
There have been a staggering number of recent projects, businesses and organisations launching blockchain based initiatives. Cryptocurrencies aren’t just a get rich quick scheme, or for ransomware and drugs as anyone who takes the mainstream media seriously would be led to believe. I hope to understand the confusing plethora of emerging blockchain applications and follow their progress as they mature. I’ll signing up and using blockchain apps with an open mind. There are claims that blockchain could be hugely disruptive to companies and organisations operating with long standing, centralised, business models. I plan to explore the validity of these claims and follow different projects as they thrive or die.

Pondering Impacts on Society:
Between being laughed off as a valueless speculative hype and a technological revolution which will usher in the fall of governments and banks, there is a whole spectrum of opinion around the importance of this innovation and how it could change our lives.

Personally I am cynical towards centralised power, especially in the hands of coercive governments and other institutions. At the time of writing the UK national debt is an ever increasing £1.7 trillion costing around £1 billion a week in interest payments to maintain. Failing banks had government bailouts and 10 years of austerity has left public services on their knees. What will happen the next time there is a financial depression? What will happen if the Euro or Dollar fail, as some are speculating. Clearly our current way of doing things through centralised control is failing and our economic system is criticised for being corrupt, rigged, and unfair…

I’ve long been attracted to ideas of how complex societies could work in a decentralised way and have flirted with the ‘rules without rulers’ views of from proponents of anarchism / libertarianism. I’m keen to explore whether blockchain will change our thinking on ‘getting things done’ in society in a more efficient, fairer and transparent way.

Cryptocurrency Investing and Trading:
I’ve never really dabbled much in investing or trading. I had a bit of a gambling addiction (horse racing) in my youth and avoided getting involved in trading through fear of reigniting that side of me which gets hooked on the adrenaline of speculation. I’ve also found the technical analysis and charting a little intimidating. But like many crypto-enthusiasts, I’ve been attracted to the potential gains to be had from speculating in cryptocurrencies, both trading and holding for the future. I’ll attempt to overcome my fear of the charts and technical analysis and have a play in the crypto markets.

Creating a Blockchain Venture:
Whether a small niche idea or something more ambitious, the best way to learn the technology is to code with it and build something. I already have coding skills (PHP / JavaScript) and will be learning how work with blockchain technologies, tools and techniques to program a DApp (Distributed Application).

Working in the Blockchain Domain:
For work, I currently manage a team of developers in a leading digital retail promotions company providing a token based software service for ‘Money off Discounts’ and ‘Loyalty Schemes’. My aim will be to persuade my employer that everything we do can be done on the blockchain, and that we should researching the threats and opportunities it presents.

The blockchain domain will be burgeoning with opportunities over the next few years, so if I’m unable to pursue blockchain technologies with my current employer I should be in a good position to follow my interests elsewhere.

Helping Other People to Learn:
I’m doing this as an exercise in learning is as much as possible about a revolutionary collection of technologies at their early stages of adoption. If my attempts at making sense of this field is helpful to others coming into the field then I’m pleased to share my learnings. There is likely to be an awful lot of new people coming to the blockchain world over the next 10 years, they will be searching for clear and informative material from many different perspectives. I hope to be able to make a worthwhile contribution.

I’m open minded about where this could lead and will welcome feedback, advice and criticism along the way. To me it feels like we’re on the cusp of something huge and revolutionary, and I want to be riding the wave as it goes mainstream…

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