Short Note on Educoin, Yet Another Cryptocurrency

In an earlier post, I noted yet another cryptocurrency with its own narrative, Educoin.  The technology is pretty much identical to many other cyptocurrencies, but what is the community and surrounding narrative?

“Education” is a broad topic, and it is not obvious how a dedicated cryptocurrency is relevant.

The main exhibit is their reddit stream.

I haven’t had time to go through it in detail, but here are a few quick notes.

First, it is clear that there are several themes, loosely connected via the general idea of “crowd funding” education.

Part of the narrative comes out of a desire for more access to education, and dissatisfaction with the US student loan racket.  In this story, there are students who are unable to finance their studies, and we aim to identify them and fund them person-to-person.  Logically, this doesn’t require cryptocurrency at all, though it is as good a way as any to do it.

Hidden in this is the underlying assumption that conventional institutions are inadequate, and also that random crowds of strangers are a good way to identify and foster talent.  Both these assumptions are shaky, to say the least.

I also don’t see how you can fund a multi-billion dollar sector of the economy on “tips”.  If you want to get into the game of fixing education funding, I’d suggest a broader analysis of where education funding comes from and goes to. (Hint: human teachers need a living wage, paid in useful currency.)

A second theme is to tie cryptocurrency to MOOCs.  This is an interesting combination, micropayment for microteaching!  Pay only a little, and get only a little.  Was this the innovation we were waiting for?

Definitely a step backwards for education funding, but it may be all we have in a few years.

A third theme is basically marketing to college students.  In this story, “College students paying for stuff with EDU“.  Again, cryptocurrency isn’t essential for this activity (it has been a booming business for decades), and you don’t need a dedicated coin to do it anyway–you probably want Bitcoin or Dogecoin or something generic.

I’m sure there are other concepts floating around in the loose community of Educoin (which does not seem to have a cuddly nick name or mascot yet).

The good news is that, to the degree that any of these ideas turn out to be viable, they will work as well or better with other cryptocurrencies.

So I say, “Let a thousand coins flower.”  The best stories can be grafted onto the best coins in the future.

Cray on “Virtual”

You can’t read much these days without hearing about “virtual” something.  Virtual Community. Virtual Organization. Best of all, Virtual Reality.

I’ve been using this coinage for decades now, I know where it comes from.  But I still take the term with a grain of salt.  And frankly, it is usually very, very useful to invert it, to discover important issues.  (E.g., if “virtual organizations” are a good idea, then ask, “what is special about physical organizations?”  A very important question.)

My guide star is, of course, the great sensei Seymour Cray.  His computers did not use Virtual Memory, and folklore has it that when asked why, he quipped, “You can’t fake what you don’t got.”

Now, as it happens, an early part of my career involved proving Cray to be wrong on this particular point [1] (is it really more than 25 years ago, now?).  You can fake it.  Pretty much everything has VM nowadays (at least, anything larger than a phone….)

But it is a great starting point for analysis.

“Virtual Community”?  You can’t fake what you don’t got. (!)

“Virtual Organization”?  Again.

“Virtual Museum”.  “Virtual Wallet”.  “Virtual Business”. “Virtual University”.  Etc.

Reference

  1. McGrath, Robert E. and Perry A. Emrath, Using memory in the Cedar system, in Supercomputing, E.N. Houstis, T.S. Papatheodorou, and C.D. Polychronopoulos, Editors. Springer Berlin Heidelberg, 1988, 43-67. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/3-540-18991-2_4

Biz Carson on Dogecoin’s “Validity”

In a piece titled “Such Dogecoin. Much Validity. How one altcoin may have turned into cryptocurrency’s best marketing tool”, Biz Carson writes about Dogecoin, and accurately notes the most notable and interesting facts:  the Dogecoin community (AKA Shibes), and the culture thereof.  (I have written much on this topic myself.)

He makes some interesting points. He poses the question “Can Dogecoin and bitcoin coexist?”  He seems to believe that competing narratives may be a problem, apparently viewing cryptocurrency use as a “market”, and currencies as mutually exclusive.  But he finds them to be separate “demographics”, and therefore complimentary.

For once, a Bitcoin enthusiast who has kind things to say about Dogecoin, and for not unreasonable reasons!

I note in passing the suggestive use of the word “validity” in his title.  “Validity” to him seems to mean “acceptance by commerce”, which is a very “bitcoin” concept.

The title also suggests an interesting angle on the “value” of Dogecoin and other cryptocurrencies: it is good “marketing” for Bitcoin (the only “real” cryptocurrency).   He quotes Jackson Palmer to say something similar to this.

Here we see one way forward, to a post there-is-only-Bitcoin future, where there can be lots of mutually exchangeable cryptocurrencies, each managed by and fostering their own communities.

We shall see.

The Key to Art Fraud: Social Engineering

I love Art Fraud.  Not least because I would never be harmed by it.  Who wants to buy expensive, useless stuff from strangers?  Strangers with social airs out the wazoo?

The gendarmes have been rounding up a small gang who sold tens of millions of dollars worth of forged art.  It is not clear that the faked artworks were especially clever (though the NYT suggests they are “world class“), but it appears that the “social engineering” (to use the term of art from computer security) was very effective.

Patricia Cohen reports in the NYT about the social network of gallery “professionals”, “experts”, and so on, who talk up art works but don’t do much actual checking on provenance or other crucial details, such as the actual identity of the parties involved.

This case is interesting because the made up works were attributed to twentieth century artists–not exactly the unknown past.  How could a large number of here-to-fore unknown works by extremely well known artists suddenly appear?  More to the point, why did anyone believe they were real?

To start with, there is plenty of financial skullduggery, hidden conflicts of interest, kickbacks, and general dishonesty.  (But they’re all fashionably attired and attend the right parties, so it’s all OK, right?)

These judgments are based on “expert” opinion, which, best case, is pretty iffy.  But when the right kind of people are confident about a judgement, and spin an exciting story, people will drop millions for something that “looks good”.

I note that in some cases, the story is even more exciting by adding in the mystery of secret, anonymous or unknown parties.  Even for legitimate transactions, there is a lot of secrecy, which is just so titillating.

The social engineering also employs the threat of lawsuits to suppress negative opinions.  When an “expert” might doubt the authenticity of a piece, he or she will likely be sued for saying so.  I guess the grounds must be something about slander or similar defamation. Sigh.

The problem here is that nobody actually has much evidence either way, it’s all just opinions, so how could you prove you are right?

The result in this case, as Cohen says, is that many people had doubts, but they didn’t know about each other.  This is ironic in the Internet age–in most other domains, we know far more than we want to, far sooner than we need.

Personally, I say, “just say ‘no'” to fine arts markets.

Bitcoin Brand: So Many Narratives

This week we see some tensions in the world of Bitcoin.  When you are a public brand, everyone can use your name for their own purposes.

The Bitcoin foundation is voting to replace two deposed members.  The first round failed to produce a result. I can’t pretend to have a horse in this race, though commentators note the preponderance of financially interested parties.  Clearly, the Bitcoin foundation is of the capitalists, by the capitalists, and for the capitalists.

Meanwhile, the narrative is getting away from the suits….

Apparently Senator Rand Paul is as clueless about cryptocurrencies as he is about everything else related to economics.  He imagines “backing” Bitcoin with commodities or stocks.  This is, of course, completely the wrong idea, demonstrating that he does not get Bitcoin at all.  (I could be snarky, and note that the Bitcoin blogosphere was quick to criticize his misunderstanding, though not with the personal vitriol served up to people (such a Paul Krugman or Warren Buffet) who slam Bitcoin. I didn’t see any headlines about “Ron Paul is an idiot.”)

This kind of attention from poorly educated Presidential Timbers doesn’t help Bitcoin’s cred much.

I note that Stephen Colbert snuck in a technically savvy jab at Bitcoin volatility–his writers apparently do have a clue.

Finally, everybody is abuzz with the splashy announcement of DarkWallet.  As Andy Greenberg makes clear in Wired, this is about nothing other than money laundering. the narrative is really really clear:  this is about drugs and guns and everything else illegitimate.  The video features pictures of a home made weapon, racist-tinged pictures of Obama.  These guys give quotes like:  “Liberty is a dangerous thing.”

I might note that the technical point of DarkWallet is to subvert aspects of the Bitcoin protocol, which is designed to provide complete transparency as one of its goals.  The protocol itself is an interesting attempt to combine the interests of anonymity and transparent accountability.  BlackWallet seeks to make it anonymous and unaccountable.

It will be interesting to see how this is treated by the growing number of reputable people who want to use Bitcoin for legitimate business.  Greenberg is sympathetic to the concept of anonymous transactions though he isn’t clear why this is important enough to balance the incredibly bad effects it will surely have.

It’s not that people will do bad things with Bitcoin.  This crew with its open defiance of law enforcement, is certain to sour the attitude of regulators with whom the grown ups have been trying to negotiate.  It can’t make potential users such as MIT feel very happy.  Any bank doing business in the US would have trouble using Bitcoin if it is connected with these people–which it certainly is now.

What will the Bitcoin foundation do? What will big investors like Andreesseen do?

 

Local Music: Amasong

A local ensemble Amasong is performing a spring show and CD launch this weekend.

This amateur group is familiar in the area for some two decades, and is famous for beautiful renditions of music from many cultures and times.

If you are in the area, consider attending (info at http://amasong.org/)

 

 

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