The North American Bitcoin Conference 2016: Day 1
This piece was written by Ryan Strauss.
This weekend, I am in Miami for The North American Bitcoin Conference. This is the third Bitcoin Conference that I have ever attended; the first was in Chicago in June 2014, the second was in San Diego last month. I am incredibly excited to be here. Every Bitcoin conference or Meetup I have ever attended has been three things; informative, uplifting, and nerdy. There’s nothing better than being able to Nerd-Out with the other Bitcoiners present. As you likely know, it is very difficult to have deep conversations about Bitcoin usually!
Over the next two days, I’ll be providing an Hour-By-Hour look into the craziness that is a huge Bitcoin Conference. TNABC does a great job running these events, sourcing top quality speakers from around the industry, and getting the word out for the best and brightest to attend. This should provide some good insight into the current state of and trends within the Bitcoin Industry. So, here we go. Below is a running recap and summary of TNABC in Miami, January 21st-22nd, 2016.
[7:30 AM]: Wake up. Running on 2.5 hours of sleep from writing my blog on Medium late last night.
[8:34 AM]: Dropped off downtown by a good friend. Call Lyft, start heading towards the Miami Beach Convention Center.
[9:12 AM]: Get to Miami Beach Convention Center, realize that the conference isn’t actually here. It’s at the James L. Knight Convention Center in downtown Miami, not Miami Beach.
[9:46 AM]: Finally arrive at the right location. Pay in United States Dollars. Run into John Scianna, a bitcoin entrepreneur who I only knew through Facebook and by-name. Discuss our current work in-person for our first time.
[10:01 AM]: Arrive at check-in location for the conference. Said hi to Moe Levin, who I met in 2014 at TNABC in Chicago. Was informed that my name is not on the press pass list. Mention how Caleb Chen approved a press pass for me. Get into the conference for free.
[10:04 AM]: Bump into Caleb at the table for Ledger, “The Bitcoin Security Company,” as their slogan goes. Talked to the team for a bit. Learned that Ledger is creating hardware wallets which store your private keys in them. This is essentially a form of cold storage. Saw a demonstration of how one of these work. Ledger also had 4 blockchain-enabled debit cards on display. The wallet is paired with “companion apps,” which are a user-friendly interface for detailing the transactions. The intention behind these products is to give Bitcoin a physical element that people can relate to, similar to their house keys. Ledger sold their hardware wallets on site; planning to buy one with Bitcoin later today.
[10:05 AM]: See David Ripley of Glidera from afar. I first met David in late 2013 at a Bitcoin Meetup in Chicago when Glidera was just starting. David was deep in conversation with someone. It is amazing to see Glidera doing well.
[10:10 AM]: Talk to t0, a team lead by Patrick Byrne aiming to decrease settlement costs and inefficiencies. Was told that the team recently conducted the world’s first documented Bond transaction on a blockchain. Was told that the team is working closely with the SEC to enable trading of other securities on this platform, including the shorting of stocks.
[10:13 AM]: Actual-overheard the following comment while walking between booths, while overhearing a conversation about Bitcoin and its potential applications in the Marijuana industry: “But where do you get the cannabis?”
[10:14 AM]: Talk to the team at Block C, a mining services company for less experienced Bitcoin Miners as well as those looking for American based options. Was told that there has been concern recently in the Mining community about centralization of mining power and also about the over centralization on Chinese or Hong Kong based Mining operations. Block C provides the opportunity to run a Bitcoin miner for you in proportion to the amount you invest. Additionally, if you want them to run an old or new Bitcoin miner for you, you can drop it off at their offices and they will run it for you. They are not a mining pool, I was told, because they structure their mining investments in ways that aren’t pooled. Yes, they partner with other pools, but each miner at Block C is run individually. Seems to be a low barrier to entry here for anyone looking to get involved in mining; seems to be run by competent people.
[10:25 AM]: Spoke with the team at DASH. DASH is an impressive and ambitious endeavor, aimed at providing an alternative to Bitcoin with better incentive structures built in for the community. I was told that the Bitcoin network has ~200x more processing power now than Google, and that this infrastructure should be used for incentives “other than providing transactional security,” other than rewarding the coinbase to only miners. As their pamphlet reads, “Dash is an open-source project that delivers safe decentralized financial solutions.” DASH provides incentive structures which reward many parties involved for the coinbase component of a block-reward, not just the miners. We discussed how rewarding solely the miners encourages centralization of mining, and it doesn’t build in strong incentives to reward the rest of the community. I was told that the Bitcoin network only has 5800 full-nodes running at this point, while the DASH network has 4000 full-nodes running; through the unique incentives that Dash provides, the hope is that it will encourage a healthier network and more full-nodes on the DASH network than on Bitcoin in the long run. Additionally, DASH had a really sweet looking soda-vending machine that can be used for purchase with DASH (coins). Another unique feature of their network is InstantX, which provides instant transaction confirmations that supposedly confirm payments within 1-4 seconds!
[10:38 AM]: Run into John, who I met at the Bitcoin Conference in San Diego last month. He is still working on his Local Bitcoins business and also offers educational and consulting services. He spent so much time on his Bitcoin work last semester that it significantly hurt his grades.
[10:41 AM]: After a flurry of talks, was flustered. Run to the sign-in table asking where the actual talks and panels for the conference are. Ask where is a good place to work.
[10:42 AM]: Literally bump into Mate Tokay, CEO of Bitcoinist, who I had met originally at the Conference in San Diego last month, out of nowhere. Mate was in from Hungary and we talked briefly about what was up with our lives. Mate and Caleb saw the potential in me, believed in me, and helped give me this opportunity to write.
[10:44 AM]: Post up at the Bitcoinist table in the atrium next to the room where the conference is. Meet Scott, a.k.a. “Talon”, who I had been corresponding with over Telegram for the past month. Had a spirited, 20-minute conversation about Bitcoinist and the successes of the site recently.
[10:59 AM]: Finally downloaded the AirBitz app. This is the best iPhone Bitcoin wallet I have ever seen to-date. I am impressed by it’s simplicity.
[11:01 AM]: Mate pays me in Bitcoin for the commission I earned for my first sale for Bitcoinist, which was a $45 press release that I sold last week. We discussed how awesome it was that Bitcoinist pays employees in Bitcoin. Mate showed me the basics of how to use the AirBitz app.
[11:10 AM]: The Bitcoin transaction from Mate confirmed to the blockchain. 16,902.08 Bits, which equates to exactly $7.
[11:46 AM]: Moe Levin swings by the Bitcoinist table. He is looking for an additional speaker for the panel on Bitcoin in the media. Mate and Scott volunteer to speak on the panel as needed.
[11:48 AM]: All caught up, finally wrote everything up to this point.
[12:05 PM]: Tone Vays, Bitcoin technical trading expert, walks up to the Bitcoinist table. He recognized me from the conference in San Diego because I spoke with him briefly there and also asked questions during his talk. Tone described Bitcoin trading as “a sandbox of trading with random quicksand holes.” Tone also said that Bitcoin may be overpriced currently because we are still waiting for another wave of users to the like that we saw in 2013. Tone feels that 2013 was unprecedented in terms of the amount of new-users who joined the Bitcoin community that year.
[12:14 PM]: Random comment overheard among people leaving the talks and the panel: “they switched and started talking about the block-size debate.” Also, “even Factom started talking about the block-size debate.” In my opinion, these “debates” are actually healthy for the community, because they bring more people into the decision-making-discussion.
[12:23 PM]: Spoke with Joe Colangelo from Consumers’ Research (established in 1919). Joe informed me that tomorrow after his talk he is releasing a Whitepaper around mechanisms and processes for the insurance industry and legal community to follow when working-with Bitcoin or Blockchain companies. We spoke about how important it is for the Bitcoin community to work with regulators and the legal community, not “against” them. We spoke about how impactful blockchain technology will be in the years ahead. Joe said that he is involved in the space because he wants to tell his children he helped play a part in this-thing-that-changed-the-world, and that whether he was successful or not he wanted to be involved.
[12:31 PM]: Random, older gentleman walks up to the table. My intuition said that he was from here in Miami. He was wearing a pressed blazer, and had an immaculate watch on. Our table had caught his attention because it said “Bitcoin.com”. This gentleman asked us, “Where can I get some Bitcoin? I want some Bitcoin and I do not know much about it.” We explained to him how he was in the right place, a Bitcoin Conference, and that on Bitcoin.com he could find exchanges listed where he can obtain Bitcoin from.
[12:37 PM]: Lunch time… Chicken Fingers!!!!!
[12:45 PM]: Get yelled at for not realizing that the Chicken Fingers were $2 per finger.
[12:53 PM]: After waiting in line to pay, got to the front of the line. The credit card machine that the conference center was using did not work very well. It was taking a long time for people to pay. The woman working the cashier had to talk to two managers to figure out how to get the credit card machine to work. They tried to funnel everyone using cash to the front of the line. Being that this is at a Bitcoin Conference, it was truly hilarious to watch. Someone behind me in line said, “This is hilarious!” And ironic, too.
[1:04 PM]: An information systems professor from Florida International University comes over to the Bitcoinist booth. He starts talking about how he conducts a lot of his research around Bitcoin, and has analyzed price movements and potential of the Blockchain.
[1:06 PM]: Scott mentioned off-hand that he saw Nick Szabo speak at a conference in Las Vegas recently. He said that Nick was reserved and brilliant, and that his presentation was really cool.
[1:15 PM]: Heading into panel on Media in Bitcoin. Caleb and Mate participating in the panel along with Pete Rizzo of CoinDesk.
[1:19 PM]: Discussion around the centralization of Bitcoin mining. Discussion around the different large mining operations currently going on around the world.
[1:20 PM]: Pete discusses how CoinDesk wants to bridge the gap between “corporate”/”traditional” companies and the bitcoin community. And that everyone, even the leaders of more “traditional” companies, have important ideas to contribute to the larger Bitcoin discussion.
[1:21 PM]: Caleb says that the Bitcoin media sector has re-branded in the past 3 years, which I agree with. What previously was writing for just-bitcoiners, now is spanning towards a larger, tech-focused audience. Use of the term “Blockchain” is a means to make the FinTech community feel more welcomed.
[1:24 PM]: Pete: we (the Bitcoin media sector) need less news; we need to focus on providing better quality news. If the bitcoin community doesn’t spend enough time to teach mainstream audiences the basics of bitcoin technology, Pete says, then it will be harmful for bitcoin in the long run. This is why there is so much misinformation (labeling bitcoin as “a failure”) being written now about the block size debate.
[1:29 PM]: Mate makes point about how mainstream media still largely doesn’t understand Bitcoin. I agree with this, and feel that the entire community needs to continue to play a collective roll in educating people about bitcoin and blockchains. Mate’s example; “When there’s a server outage at a prominent site, it is not written that ‘the internet is dead’.”
[1:36 PM]: Pete: If you have something that’s an actual story, that’s creative and that goes beyond simply reporting, then this will be read. This is not “content.” This is a way to produce great and engaging ideas, ones that will build the brand of that website.
[1:38 PM]: Caleb: A lot of people in the media industry are hoping that micro-transactions and tipping will replace advertising. This, as Pete later pointed out, is a very difficult behavior to begin to induce in most people as they are then paying for something that they used to receive for free.
[1:42 PM]: Pete: the industry is still in its early stages. The fact that institutions like banks are testing out blockchain technology is a great sign, but also demonstrate how far we collectively have to go.
[1:44 PM]: Pete: it’s up to the leaders in the space to create new technologies, to create new news that is inherently story-worthy.
[1:46 PM]: Pete: the bitcoin media sector has been very active in reaching out to, educating, engaging, and answering questions for more “traditional” companies. Scott says that bitcoin media companies do indeed field requests for information about bitcoin from “mainstream” media companies and larger companies, and quite often, too.
[1:51 PM]: Mate: the primary goal of Bitcoin media companies is to provide a healthy forum for discussion, to enable people and ideas to meet one another.
[1:56 PM]: Person in audience suggests micro-tipping for commenting sections of the site. Crowd really likes this idea, because they collectively dislike “trolls” in the comments section. Caleb points out how ZapChain and CoinJournal are already trying this out.
[1:57 PM]: Person in audience explains how newer users to Bitcoin and newer people to the Bitcoin community are often turned away, because they do not understand the basics of Bitcoin. Most people, as he puts it, have not gotten to “Step 1” in understanding Bitcoin. He made a great point that for the other 7 billion people on earth, it’s really difficult to get and internalize this new technology. This received applause from the audience. This person ended on the question; “what’s the one message that you as bitcoin media companies would have for everyone?
[1:58 PM]: Mate says that he thinks it’s too difficult to distill this into one sentence; points out how Bitcoin.com recently posted a 50-reasons to use Bitcoin post. Furthermore, Pete says that he feels that it is dangerous to take any one position here; he feels that media companies have a responsibility to view technology agnostically. Lastly, Caleb says that “bitcoin will do for money what the internet did for knowledge.”
[2:26 PM]: Finally found a charger to plug in my laptop and phone. I’ve been juggling like 3 things at once. Been overhearing a conversation between an investor and an entrepreneur pitching to him at an isolated table in a conference room next to where my charger is. Investor at one point says “everyday our clients are dealing with law enforcement. Everyday. And it is a major question of how to take the risks within, how to approach the risks that they’re taking… I work with law enforcement all the time.”
[2:29 PM]: See a model posing in a bikini next to a bitcoin vending machine. She was out of place; a conference of nerds didn’t necessitate models. I felt bad for her; that someone was subjecting her to do this, at a bitcoin conference. Then someone from the conference center yelled at her to put her dress back on.
[2:40 PM]: Spoke to the team at Bitso, the largest Mexican bitcoin exchange. Learned that some of their users are freelancers, and that the CEO used to be a freelancer himself. Discussed the bitcoin community in Mexico; was told it is smaller than that in America, and about 1-2 years behind in terms of its size and momentum. But that it is indeed there and it is a community that’s growing. We also discussed bitcoin media aimed at serving the Spanish speaking bitcoin community, a likely-underserved demographic. The 3 publications that were mentioned around this were El Bitcoin, Sobre Bitcoin, and NotiBitcoins.
[2:51 PM]: Spoke to the team at Clef, an application for getting around having to remember your passwords. Clef provides an interface which allows users to login without a password. This is done by scanning a QR-like code and signing off on the login with the actual-user’s private key. The team at Clef is great; I genuinely got along with them. We discussed the theoretical possibilities of blockchains allowing for fully decentralized identity verification. We discussed the block size debate and how bitcoin is software. I took one of their “Fuck Passwords” stickers.
[3:18 PM]: Bumped into Edwin of the College Cryptocurrency Network, a friend of mine who I knew from the bitcoin community at the University of Michigan. We both talked to the team from Clef some more, then caught up off to the side. Edwin told me how CCN switched its name to BEN (Blockchain Education Network). I told Edwin that as a CS Major and college sophomore he should be hustling hard here, meeting people, promoting himself, and looking for new opportunities.
[3:31 PM]: Waited to speak to Patrick Byrne one-on-one. Patrick was very friendly, a great listener, and was respectful to what I had to say. Patrick gave good advice about how to push forward difficult ideas. He recommended working hand-in-hand with the legal community. He also spoke positively of the potential for smart contracts.
[3:53 PM]: Sitting in a separate room off to the side again, charging my computer. Patrick Byrne walks in with a group of entrepreneurs and sits down at the table next to me and starts talking as part of a podcast. Discusses the realities of fiat money with the entrepreneurs. Discusses China and negative interest rates. Discusses how transparency in the Federal Reserve through a blockchain can, theoretically, be a means towards creating a freer society. Discusses the benefits of being an entrepreneur. Be your own boss and self-actualize, Patrick says. “View yourself as mankind’s public servant,” he says. Off to a talk featuring Bobby Lee (CEO of BTC China) now. Podcast with Patrick is still going on next to me.
[4:12 PM]: Bobby Lee’s talk actually hasn’t started yet (schedule is 10 minutes behind). Now in main auditorium at talk by Ledger CEO Eric Larcheveque. Eric discusses the potential and power of open source software. He discusses the advantages of hardware wallets, and how they’re more secure and people can relate to them better than digital wallets.
[4:18 PM]: Bobby Lee, CEO of BTC China, enters the stage. His talk is about to be on the potential for Bitcoin to function as a (global) reserve currency. Makes analogy to currency being like a house.
[4:22 PM]: Bobby defines money as a “Store of Value” and also having qualities including “stable, recognizable, rare, hard to counterfeit, hard to obtain, and it has to have a stable supply.”
[4:23 PM]: Bobby defines what a currency is; simply a legal classification or definition. He details how many people in the media confuse references to “money” and “currency.” Speaks to how gold was originally not backed by anything, and that this was okay, because gold was essentially all they had once “currency” was first starting off.
[4:28 PM]: Reserve currency is needed to give people confidence, Bobby says. Bobby views the idea of a “reserve currency” as an anchor, one which helps people not be too concerned about the fact that we use fiat money. The reserve currency is a counter-weight. Bobby: “Today, Gold is still the Reserve Currency, but Central Banks won’t openly admit that.”
[4:30 PM]: Bobby says that Bitcoin “is real money.” And that “We have now invented a digital form of the perfect money. And now, because of that, it (Bitcoin) is suitable for the future world of digital reserve currencies.”
[4:36 PM]: Next up, Brennen Byrne, CEO of Clef, gives talk making analogy of a CIA classified document from the 1950’s to the Hackathon Hacker’s ethos of today.
[4:41 PM]: Brennen: “If you look carefully in your logs, you will see that basic attacks like this will happen all the time”. Discusses how hackers scan for opportunity and then look for justification later.
[4:44 PM]: Brennen: Botnets, SQLi, DDoS cannons, Phone calls and emails to support are all main forms of attacks.
[4:45 PM]: Security tips from Brennen: Do not reinvent the wheel! Follow industry best practices. Use concentric circles of defense.
[4:48 PM]: Brain is hurting. Feeling tired. Should probably get some water soon or take a nap. Brennan’s talk just ended. One talk to go.
[4:50 PM]: Final talk of the day, by Patrick Deegan, starts. Patrick is the CTO of Personal Blackbox, a company putting forth solutions for decentralized identity and trust.
[4:55 PM]: Patrick: Distributed ledger technology can serve as the DNA of our identity and being online. Blockchains allow for this all to happen in a decentralized manner.
[4:57 PM]: Patrick: We need to create something that makes it easy for our grandparents to use and manage private keys. This is key, Patrick says. I agree with this wholeheartedly.
[5:02 PM]: Really tired at this point. Getting sidetracked. See article on Facebook titled “Feminist Frequency takes on ‘strategic butt coverings’ in video games.”
[5:03 PM]: Slide during Patrick’s presentation catches my eye. It makes a point about Smart Contracts. It says; “Smart Contracts: autonomous and secure execution of governance, legally binding alternative dispute resolution, Rule of Law.”
[5:06 PM]: Patrick’s talk is over, going to get some water.
[5:14 PM]: Didn’t actually go to get water. Stayed to hear the Q&A with Patrick. Someone in audience asks about Homomorphic Encryption.
[5:18 PM]: Conference is declared officially over for the day by the host. Off to actually-get-that-water now.
I hope that everyone has enjoyed following along in today’s post. Bitcoin conferences, as you can see above, are fun, nerdy, and intertwined places for entrepreneurs to meet. They’re a great place to learn in general and also learn about new opportunities. I’d recommend going to one if you haven’t yet.
Be on the lookout for a day 2 recap tomorrow evening!