Just When I Thought I Was Out…

In November of 2013 I attended a BarCamp Nashville session presented by Luke Stokes on Bitcoin. I’d certainly heard of Bitcoin at that point but really didn’t know much about it. I was intrigued as I left the session but didn’t follow up for several weeks. When Luke gave his presentation Bitcoin was trading at around $200. Three weeks later it was at $700. That may have had something to do with my sudden compulsion to learn more. In the meantime I made various tiny purchases over the next couple months to play with as I educated myself on how exactly Bitcoin, and cryptocurrency in general, worked.

I found Satoshi’s solution to the problem of tracking ownership of a digital asset, the blockchain, to be incredibly interesting. As I learned more I wanted some practical experience mining Bitcoin but even at that time it required specialized hardware to be viable so I turned my attention to Scrypt based currencies, like Litecoin, which could be mined using a reasonably current GPU. It was also around this time that Dogecoin made it’s debut. I loved it and the community which grew up around it and I even made a few submissions to the Dogecoin client.

I mined tiny amounts of assorted coins in the first half 2014. Mostly Dogecoin and Litecoin, which all got converted to Bitcoin and transferred to Coinbase. Once I clawed my way up to a single Bitcoin I stopped mining as my interest, and belief in crypto started to waver.

That’s not to say I didn’t believe in the blockchain as a concept, rather that the implementations, that I was aware of at the time, didn’t fill me with confidence. There are well known scalability issues such as a maximum transaction rate of something like 6 per second or the sheer size of the blockchain which is currently around 140GB. Sure there are existing or proposed work arounds for some of these issues but even beyond that I had a hard time envisioning “normal” people using Bitcoin or any other crypto as their day-to-day currency. Just walking them through turning $ into BTC, then the care that needs to be devoted to security, even simple things like addresses which look like 1LRA1f6wyLeYccMoopaYApM6Dca1RQkJP7. Yeah Dad send it to one, capital L capital R, Capital A, one, little F, no not S, F as in Frank… You know what, a check will be fine. It just doesn’t seem terribly practical to people that are used to paying for things with a swipe of a card. And if you lose your card you call the bank and get another one. Good luck if you lose your private keys.

In August of 2016 the price of Bitcoin had clawed it’s way back up to around $600 from $200 at the end of 2014 and I decided it was time to exit the market.

Whoops.

Ah well. As I’ve watched the current mania unfold I’ve been tempted to re-enter the market but I just can’t reconcile owning something I don’t believe in. But then a couple months back I was mulling another problem, namely, could the blockchain be of any use in combating fake news / identities? Real fake news, not fake fake news. This was back when Twitter finally suspended @TEN_GOP which was a Russian linked account claiming to be the official Twitter feed for the Republican party in Tennessee. It was at this point that I started looking more closely at Ethereum though I had only a vague notion of how it could be used to solve this particular problem.

In any case, Ethereum’s ability to run apps on the blockchain sounded pretty slick so I installed Geth and began reading up on Solidity while Geth started pulling down the blockchain. Repeatedly. I don’t know if I just wasn’t patient enough or what but I never could get it to finish and watching it fill up over 40GB of hard drive space helped remind me why I soured on all this business two years earlier. I bailed on Ethereum and my interest in some kind of blockchain based reputation thing. At the time (and this was just a couple months ago!) ETH was trading at about $275.

Whoops.

Whatever. I was resigned to watch everyone else become crypto-millionaires while I stuck with more traditional investments. Although, let’s be honest, for the people jumping on board right now crypto isn’t an investment. It’s a lottery ticket.

So I thought I was done. Fast forward to last week and I’m reading an article which mentions Stellar Lumens. Stellar… why does that sound familiar I wondered. Then I remembered that a friend tweeted about Stellar years ago. And that I had created an account. And they had given away coins. I was curious to know if they were worth anything so I logged into that old account and I was shocked. My balance was 6,000 Lumens.

My immediate reaction was to cash out but I’d have to first trade them for a currency that Coinbase handles (Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin, etc). Unfortunately given all the interest in cryptocurrency lately the most reputable exchanges were closed to new signups so I’d have to wait. In the meantime my curiosity was piqued so I started reading up on Stellar and I have to say I’m intrigued. It solves or provides the ability to solve many of the concerns I had in the past. And while it doesn’t include a Turing complete virtual machine like Ethereum, it does allow for arbitrary key/value pairs with ridiculously low transaction fees which could be leveraged to do all manner of things. There are several other concepts like the under utilized distributed exchange, inflation payments, easy token creation that I’m curious about as well. Also, while the current ecosystem is still a bit sparse their mission does seem to be a noble one. So, for the time being, Stellar has pulled me back in.