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The Real “Flippening”

Published August 10, 2017

Cryptoasset investing is vitriolic at the best of times. Factions have spawned from ideology and greed. Lay people comment on the technical merit of their blockchain of choice – opinions governed by their own misguided dreams of 5,000 per cent returns – whilst developers denounce the opinions of others and pigheadishly push forward with their own technical ideologies. Communities are divided and an age old “us and them” mentality runs riot. Business leaders, exchanges and mining corporations are accused of the wildest conspiracies and entrenched investors have become incapable of seeing the bigger picture.

“The Flippening”, as so many call it, refers to a point at which the critical mass of one coin suddenly and dramatically takes the lead over another. Ethereum came close to doing this in May of this year, when its market cap exploded to near-parity with that of Bitcoin’s. Those owning Ethereum Classic talk of such a flippening with Ethereum, and Bitcoin Cash evangelists speak of a day when their coin topples Bitcoin. The obsession over a single coin’s dominance is understandable – some individuals have literally remortgaged their homes in the hope that their horse wins the race – but whilst crypto-enthusiasts are at each other’s throats and doing their level best to recruit new investors, the real flippening is well underway.

What happens when cryptocurrencies replace fiat; when money is controlled by the laws of mathematics and not by the laws of men? The real flippening – one that so many in this market fail to see – is not between Ethereum and Bitcoin, but between cryptocurrencies and fiat. The desire for a deflationary currency with a guaranteed supply is very real, and has rapidly been increasing since Bitcoin’s inception 9 years ago. In the near future, Ethereum (or similar) will be essential for machines and humans to transact value autonomously with one another. US dollars and fiat currency simply will not meet the requirements needed to interact in a world based on “Internet of Things” devices. In such a fiat economy, moving value between machines would require several middlemen, each with vested interests, each taking a cut as the value moves. Ethereum can do all of this for a negligible cost with no delays; exchanging “hands” autonomously based on the code by which its movements are determined.

The real flippening is an inevitability of our digital evolution. But in the existing world of debt-based economies, highly leveraged consumerism and fractional reserve banking, a move to Ethereum would be catastrophic. When employees begin demanding wages in Ether and banks are forced to conduct more business in these cryptoassets, governments and central banks begin to lose monetary control. The US dollar is no longer worth what it was for no other reason than its incompatibility with modern technology. Ether suddenly becomes more expensive, and banks – who now require these cryptocurrencies – begin losing money. In the inevitable economic cycle of boom and bust, the bust hits even harder. In an economy dominated by cryptocurrencies, the once heroic printing press of 2007 has lost all viability. Governments awaken to the fact that they cannot mine Ether like they can print new bank notes. At this point, the economy crashes into a deep depression. Those lucky enough to hold cryptoassets are now extremely wealthy, and these individuals, institutions and savvy governments take the lead in rebuilding a digitized economy capable of far greater things than can be imagined today.

Despite this, our attention – sadly – is directed towards the cannibalistic crypto-flippenings that are so widely discussed today. The tribalism and infighting which stems from short term greed and ideology is serving as distraction; drawing time and energy away from a much more powerful movement that is already in play.

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Ethereum Classic and August 1st “Bitcoin Cash”

Published July 28, 2017

Cryptocurrencies are open source and anyone with an internet connection is capable of creating a fork. Many forks of Ethereum exist today, however only one has any market value (Ethereum Classic). The success of a fork of any cryptoasset: Ethereum, Bitcoin or otherwise is reliant on the uptake of the new version of the software by miners and nodes (securing the network) and users (using the network). It is therefore extremely difficult to successfully fork a blockchain as it requires miners, nodes and users to move away from existing their system. For such a fork to be successful, it needs to satisfy a strong demand that the existing version of the code doesn’t.

In the case of Ethereum, the fork of July 2016 – which resulted in Ethereum Classic (ETC) – satisfied a demand for a version of Ethereum which was not “rolled back” to retrieve funds from an exploit in the software weeks earlier. ETC appealed to blockchain idealists who believed that every transaction should be immutable regardless of any community consensus to undo those malicious transactions. There were many other reasons as to why ETC remained popular, many of which related to the opportunity to generate personal wealth – often thinly veiled with the aforementioned idealism.

The same is now happening to Bitcoin. Whilst the initial fork fears were abated last week, a new fork of Bitcoin is due to launch on August 1st called “Bitcoin Cash” (BCC). This new coin appeals to those who believe Bitcoin should be scaled by increasing the block size (currently limited to 1mb, and increasing to 8mb in the BCC proposal). These users do not want to see the “off-chain scaling” solutions that BTC enables, and instead want to scale transactions by updating the Bitcoin protocol itself. BCC has now gained enough media attention, and has enough of a demand that it is likely to hold value once it launches on August 1st. It will no doubt continue to exist in some capacity for the foreseeable future. Despite this sounding damaging to the ecosystem, Bitcoin holders have two reasons to be very happy:

1. Bitcoin’s future will no longer be split between two groups. Those who want bigger blocks can now move to BCC, without interfering with the progression of Bitcoin.

2. Bitcoin holders will – once the fork occurs – have access to the same number of BCC coins as they have in Bitcoin today. If you have 0.5BTC, then you will have 0.5BCC post-fork.

Bitcoin’s volatility has clearly had an impact on the price of Ethereum over recent months. But with the scaling debate out of the way (at least for the time being), uncertainty over the future of Bitcoin will subside and we may see a crypto market bullrun in the lead up to 2018 – particularly with planned Ethereum network upgrades due in the months ahead.

The BCC futures market on has a price of 0.112BTC (roughly $310). Expect enormous volatility in the price of BCC in the coming days.

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Bitcoin Fork Avoided

Published July 21, 2017

The last few days have been an intense ride for cryptoasset holders.

The Enterprise Ethereum Alliance announced on Tuesday that MasterCard and Cisco were joining their group to help develop the standard for Ethereum-based enterprise. Whilst these companies are working mostly on private versions of Ethereum, the goal is to make them interoperable with the ever-growing public chain (the Ethereum that we know).

The Ethereum client Parity, which is used by many thousands to interact and write code for the Ethereum blockchain was exploited. Some poorly written/audited code allowed anyone to reassign ownership of its multi-signature wallets (don’t worry, if you’re new to Ethereum and don’t follow the above then your funds are safe). $30M was stolen as a result, however the damage could have been far worse – Ethereum’s “White Hat Group” who helped to secure funds during the DAO debacle of last year, were also able to secure $100M+ of ETH using the same exploit found in Parity. Prices crashed briefly but soon recovered.

The biggest news of all has been today’s “lock in” of the SegWit2x proposal (also known as the New York Agreement). Enough miners (94.4% in the last 24 hours) have signalled support for the change, meaning that – assuming nodes also support SegWit2x – SegWit will be introduced on the Bitcoin blockchain before August 1st. What all this means is that there will not be a hard fork on August 1st and that the Bitcoin network will allow for far greater transaction throughput (nowhere near enough to compete with VISA and co, but a giant step in the right direction).

The User Activated Soft Fork (UASF) that threatened to split Bitcoin in two on August 1st has played a critical role in forcing the hand of those powerful miners. It has shown that despite miners having enormous control over the network, their power can be influenced by “grass roots” code changes from users.

Overall, the last week has been turbulent for cryptoasset prices across the board. The outcome is now an extremely positive one, and the future is looking very bright indeed.

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Putting A Value On Ether

Published July 11, 2017

With the recent wholesale crash of the cryptocurrency market, many investors will be reevaluating their positions and considering the true value of Ether. Why is each Ethereum token worth $200, or for that matter – why was it worth $400, and how could it possibly be worth over $1,000 as so many were claiming during the frenzied hysteria of May and June. This brief piece will look at some of the fundamental considerations of the Ethereum blockchain, which may go some way to helping you to decide on whether Ether is priced fairly, or whether it is still sitting within a giant cryptocurrency bubble.

What is the supply of Ether?

The current circulating supply of Ether at the time of publication is ~94 million. 5 Ether is “minted” roughly every 15 seconds (mining). However, an “ice age” is coming, whereby mining will become so difficult that it is no longer feasible, and Ether issuance through mining will fall to zero. Instead of mining, users will commit to “staking” instead (discussed further below). The Ether payout for this new consensus mechanism will have a much smaller payout, as the costs of staking are negligible compared to the costs of mining (electricity). As a result, it has been estimated that the inflation rate of Ether will be in the region of 0-3% when this new consensus mechanism – called Proof of Stake – comes into play in early 2018. Inflation may even be negative.

Why is there demand for Ether today?

When discussing demand, we are looking at clear reasons as to why an individual or institution would buy and hold Ether. Someone may wish to purchase Ether to participate in an ICO, but demand such as this is largely irrelevant as a significant proportion of Ether raised during an ICO will be sold off to pay for operating costs. The same applies to remittance markets, where the demand for Ether is quickly offset by its subsequent sale. Why would someone choose to buy and hold Ether today?

  • Untethering from fiat systems
  • Ethereum is a volatile currency, however it does not experience volatility for the same reasons that the US Dollar or Euro might. By untethering from the fiat system, individuals and businesses are able to sidestep fiat currency risks whilst taking sovereignty (and privacy) over their own wealth.

  • Buying Ether to hold
  • Speculation is by far the biggest driver of demand today. Investors will purchase Ether to buy and hold over the long term, believing that in the years to come, there will be an overwhelming demand for Ether and the need to interact with the Ethereum blockchain.

Why will there be demand for Ether in the future?

The use cases for Ethereum are fairly limited in today’s terms, however there is an enormous amount of development underway which could see this blockchain reach billions of people much like the internet does today.

  • Regularly interacting with smart contracts and IoT
  • In the not too distant future, IoT devices will need to transact value autonomously. Using smart, rapid and cheap microtransactions will be essential, and Ethereum provides the most secure blockchain for making such transactions. Smart contracts will also be an essential application for many different industries, reducing operational costs for those in insurance, gambling and logistics among many others.

  • Staking Ether in validating contracts
  • Following the “ice age” and a move to Proof of Stake consensus as a means to secure the Ethereum blockchain, it will be possible for Ether holders to stake coins in specialized smart contracts. These contracts will reward the staker with “interest” paid in Ether, but will require that the amount staked (the deposit) is time locked for a minimum length (likely to be months). Once Proof of Stake is introduced, the circulating supply is expected to drop significantly as millions of Ether get time locked in these staking contracts. Demand may too increase as investors look to earn passive income through these interest payments.

  • Interacting with an enterprise framework being developed by the EEA
  • The Enterprise Ethereum Alliance is a collection of Fortune 500 companies as well as startups and individuals who are working together to produce the industry standard for building businesses on Ethereum. These companies include BP, Microsoft, BNY Mellon, JP Morgan, ING, Deloitte and dozens of others. If the time and cost saving impact of technologies like JP Morgan’s Quorum are to be believed, then future demand for Ethereum tokens by large corporations could be huge.

Smart contracts stand to improve the lives of billions of people through their transparent and trustless nature. These same smart contracts could connect billions more devices, making the need to hold Ether (human or machine) a necessity. With an effective supply cap estimated to be roughly 100m, Ether could become a highly demanded and scarce resource whose price has no upper bound. The only question that remains is whether these smart contracts can deliver on a massive scale.

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An Age of Ransomware & Crypto-Criminals

Published June 29, 2017

Ransomware is an unfortunate inevitability of an increasingly digital society, and it will only become more prevalent as more assets are stored in 1s and 0s. The price of Ethereum and others have so far been resilient in the face of this new form of digital theft – hardly shifting following WannaCry and now Petya (although the latter may have had a slightly different agenda). And as cryptocurrencies implement features which allow for greater anonymity (Ethereum intends to do just this following the release of Metropolis), the incentive to conduct further ransomware attacks will only strengthen. Despite the relatively tiny amounts stolen by these ransomware attacks (tens of thousands, as opposed to millions), the mere existence of such a sinister term goes a long way to supporting a mainstream narrative that “cryptocurrencies enable criminals”.

There are two major risks that Ethereum and the price of Ether faces today, many of which – if realized at a large scale – could be catastrophic for investors. These are:

  • Platform risk – exploitable software bugs or major unforeseen roadblocks for scaling/development
  • Regulatory risk – government interference and overreach

Of these two major risks, the latter seems to be most likely – at least in the short term – and one that ransomware plays into the hands of.

There will be calls to ban encryption

UK prime minister Theresa May notoriously called for a ban on “end-to-end encryption” following a spate of extremist violence. While there was no plan for exactly how to achieve such a ban, it somewhat cemented the idea that there would be government push back in the fight for individual sovereignty/privacy. Unfortunately for May’s supporters, encryption is based on mathematical truths which follow the fundamental laws of the universe. Anyone can anonymously encrypt a message or a digital asset if they are provided the right tools.

One day, it is likely that crypoassets like Ether will replace the US Dollar as the currency of choice for terrorists and criminals. As that day nears, a governmental attack on encryption may well begin brewing, justified by a mainstream misunderstanding of the value of digitized, fungible and private cash. Whilst it seems unlikely that such a ban would ever see the light of day, it is not impossible to imagine a short period in our history where which cryptocurrencies are pushed underground, generating further problems and justifying even heavier handed policies.

An alternative outlook on ransomware

Despite the emotive and destructive nature of ransomware, there is a positive outcome from its use. For many individuals and organisations, there is an irrational bias towards physical security over that of their digital assets. If a door to an office is left open, or valuable items are left on the backseat of a car, then “clearly” there’s a risk of theft. However, running a 15 year old operating system or using 8 lowercase characters as the password to your email is – to some – not clearly a risk at all. Ransomware is the “bug bounty” of hacking. Individuals are unwittingly rewarding those who discover holes in their digital security. It is ransomware that will force users to look at digital security in a new light, pushing forward what is a natural and necessary evolution of a digital society.

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