Every now and again I like to scan the headlines at Coindesk, to get a broad picture of what is going on with Bitcoin, Blockchain, and cryptocurrency communities.
Of course, there is a constant stream of reports about meaningless Bitcoin exchange rates, such as “Bitcoin Rebounds From Two-Month Low to Top $1,000.“  Last month, there was buzz even in mainstream media because Bitcoin exchange rate against the USD exceeded the exchange rate of an ounce of gold against the USD. The significance of this eludes me. An arbitrary unit of metal versus an arbitrary virtual token. How are they even comparable?
As I have noted, Bitcoin has been stuck in a bind, unable to make perfectly reasonable engineering changes due to its “decentralized” governance processes. With no solution in sight, there is increasing talk of a “fork”, which could split Bitcoin into two competing networks. Amy Castor offers an explainer, “A Short Guide to Bitcoin Forks” . <<link>>
Carter’s explainer is short and simple, and leaves out the underlying political issues that drive the factionalism.
Alyssa Hertig and Stan Higgins explain why you need to understand forks. After more than a year of impasse, the unthinkable is becoming increasingly likely: Bitcoin may “resolve” the scaling issue by splitting into two (or more) different systems, embodying alternative solutions.
Hertig and HIggns report on the “War of the Words: Who’s Said What About a Bitcoin Fork?” 
Some of the software already deals with many cryptocurrencies,so they can deal with as many variants of Bitcoin as the customers care about. But the big question is the psychological catastrophe that splitting Bitcoin would be. What has been touted as the “gold standard” for cryptocurrencies would now be two or more “gold-ish standard-like” systems. Not so good.
In this free market style technology, factionalism is not only rife, it is the whole idea. On another front, Noelle Acheson reports on “IBM vs Microsoft: Two Tech Giants, Two Blockchain Visions” . The basic story is that these large companies are solidly on the bandwagon for “blockchain” for business, wrapping it in their own cloud technology to create “Blockchain As A Service” (BAaS). This may or may not be a viable product, but it sure is pretty far from the Nakamotoan dream of reinventing the Internet.
Acheson reports that Microsoft works with various protocols, but mainly with Ethereum. IBM has its own private blockchain inside. This has several implications, though the most important is “governance”. As she points out, using the public blockchain means that problems and bug fixes will be more transparent, but possibly much slower. A private blockchain maintained by IBM and collaborators may be patched more quickly, but not necessarily visible to the users.
We shall see if either approach works out. In fact, the experiment is already under way. This week IBM and ING are launching blockchain based platforms for trading oil. [4, 7] The former uses the private blockchain technology, the latter uses Ethereum, a la Intel. I doubt the users will care, at least until the first really bad bug or security breach.
Other companies are still booting up supposedly new and revolutionary uses for Bitcoin technology. Corin Faife reports on NeuroMesh, who say they have and “unhackable botnet” that is the “Future of Secure IoT” . The idea is to use the Bitcoin blockchain (or any blockchain) as a command channel for security information. The example given is to send blacklisted addresses, so the IoT devices can avoid infections. Essentially, the blockchain is used as a secure channel, which is hard to attack because it isn’t tied to a specific server.
This is certainly a splashy idea, mashing up network security, IoT, and Bitcoin, into a triple flavor of the month. I’m not sure that this is a great use of a public blockchain, nor is a blockchain necessarily the best way to do it. I mean, do you really want to sift through zillions of messages to pick out the ones you care about? This seems like a lot of bandwidth for supposedly IoT devices to expend. In any case, it is certainly true that this system is no more secure that the end points of this channel—whatever software posts the messages, and whatever software reads them.
This is sort of interesting and possibly useful idea. Other proposals are positively awful.
Jonathan Keane reports on a new idea “‘Scam Free’ Gambling on Ethereum? Regulators Might Not Be Ready” . Apparently without irony, they call this “DAO.Casino”, and intend to use Ethereum “smart contracts” as the logic for the gambling.
Sigh. For “smart contracts”, it’s not so much that failure is not an option, so much as “we don’t even know what failure is”.
The idea is to have the logic the games more transparent, protecting from dishonest operations. That’s a good point, though it’s not clear just how big this problem may be.
Naturally, the powers that be, still be; and gambling is still regulated pretty much anywhere. And using a DAO could make it relatively easy to evade regulators, which I’m sure is part of the point.
This is an interesting case, though, because there is a large a vigorous gaming industry, and there is no evidence that they want to be “disrupted”. While official regulators may be quietly watching and waiting, other interests may not be so polite.
- Noelle Acheson, IBM vs Microsoft: Two Tech Giants, Two Blockchain Visions.2017, http://www.coindesk.com/ibm-vs-microsoft-two-tech-giants-two-blockchain-visions/
- Charles Bovaird, Bitcoin Rebounds From Two-Month Low to Top $1,000. Coindesk.March 28 2017, http://www.coindesk.com/bitcoin-rebounds-two-month-low-top-1000/
- Amy Castor, A Short Guide to Bitcoin Forks. Coindesk.March 27 2017, http://www.coindesk.com/short-guide-bitcoin-forks-explained/
- Michael del Castillo, More Banks to Sign Up for ING’s Ethereum Oil Trading Platform. Coindesk.March 28 2017, http://www.coindesk.com/more-banks-are-signing-up-for-ings-ethereum-oil-trading-test/
- Corin Faife, This Bitcoin Botnet is Vying to Be Future of Secure IoT. Coindesk.March 25 2017, http://www.coindesk.com/this-bitcoin-botnet-is-vying-to-be-future-of-secure-iot/
- Alyssa Hertig and Stan Higgins War of the Words: Who’s Said What About a Bitcoin Fork? Coindesk.March 28 2017, http://www.coindesk.com/war-words-whos-said-bitcoin-fork/
- Stan Higgins, IBM Unveils Blockchain Platform for Oil Trade Finance. Coindesk.March 28 2017, http://www.coindesk.com/ibm-blockchain-platform-oil-trade-finance/
- Jonathan Keane, ‘Scam Free’ Gambling on Ethereum? Regulators Might Not Be Ready. Coindesk.2017, http://www.coindesk.com/scam-free-gambling-ethereum-regulators-might-not-ready/