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Coordinating Protocol Upgrades in the Future

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Make no mistake. We are witnessing a high-stakes protocol standards battle play out in real time. And it is just as important as last century’s battle for the internet’s TCP standard. 

Current capacity constraints on the Bitcoin blockchain have brought us to this impasse.

The Bitcoin protocol, as the dominant value transfer “network effect” leader, battles against upstart cryptocurrency protocols like Ethereum and Monero. But it also battles with itself as divergent forces push for either on-chain scaling or off-chain scaling, hard fork or soft fork, SegWit transaction format or original transaction format.

The so-called nuclear option is a prolonged, contested hard fork of the Bitcoin blockchain because it risks splitting the network into two competing chains, which is to no one’s benefit. Therefore, it should be reserved as a planned formality or a last resort for extreme situations rather than a perpetual form of “live” dispute resolution.

With so much individual and institutional wealth essentially stored on the Bitcoin blockchain, it can be extremely disconcerting when others try to “fork” around with your money. Chronic forking is not synonymous with wealth management and prudent capital accumulation, which require stability and predictability. Importantly, smart contracts and non-monetary applications will also rely upon relative stability since the same native digital token also facilitates the proof-of-work security model.

This article will examine how open-source governance was designed to work within the Bitcoin protocol and how users, miners and developers are locked in a symbiotic dance when it comes to potential forks to the immutable consensus. Solutions will be proposed and analyzed that maintain the decentralized nature of the resulting code and the blockchain consensus, while still permitting sensible protocol upgrades. Governance is not only about the particular method of change-control management, but also about how the very method itself is subject to change.

mushroomcloud.original Coordinating Protocol Upgrades in the FutureLet’s not deploy the nuclear option for every protocol upgrade.

Open-Source Protocols and Bitcoin

Generally referred to as FOSS, or free and open-source software, this source code is openly shared so that people are encouraged to use the software and to voluntarily improve its design, resulting in decreasing software costs; increasing security and stability, and flexibility over hardware choice; and better privacy protection.

Open-source governance models, such as Linux and BitTorrent, are not new and they existed prior to the emergence of Bitcoin in early 2009; however, they have never before been so tightly intertwined with money itself. Indeed, as the largest distributed computing project in the world with self-adjusting computational power, Bitcoin may be the first crude instance of A.I. on the internet.

In “Who Controls the Blockchain?” Patrick Murck confirms that Bitcoin is functioning as designed:

As a blockchain community grows, it becomes increasingly more difficult for stakeholders to reach a consensus on changing network rules. This is by design, and reinforces the original principles of the blockchain’s creators. To change the rules is to split the network, creating a new blockchain and a new community. Blockchain networks resist political governance because they are governed by everyone who [participates] in them, and by no one in particular.

Murck continues:

Bitcoin’s ability to resist such populist campaigns demonstrates the success of the blockchain’s governance structure and shows that the ‘governance crisis’ is a false narrative.

Of course it’s a false narrative, and Murck is correct on this point. Bitcoin’s lack of political governance is Bitcoin’s governance model, and forking is a natural intended component of that. “Governance” may be the wrong word for it because we are actually talking about minimizing potential disruption.

Where Bitcoin differs from other open-source protocols is that two levels of forking exist. One level forks the open-source code (code fork), and another level forks the blockchain consensus (chain fork). Since there can only be one consensus per native digital token, chain splits are the natural result of this. The only way to avoid potential chain splits in the future is to restrict the change-control process to a single implementation, which is not very safe nor realistic.

“Collaborate or fork” has become the rallying cry for Bitcoin Core supporters. L.M. Goodman, author of “Tezos: A Self-Amending Crypto-Ledger Position Paper,” writes:

Core development teams are a potentially dangerous source of centralization.

When it comes to Bitcoin Core, the publicly shared code repository hosts the current reference implementation, and a small group of code committers (or maintainers) regulate any merges to the code. Even though other projects may be more open to criticism and newcomers, this general structure reminds me of a presiding council of elders.

Making hazy claims of a peer-review process or saying that committers are just passive maintainers merely creates the facade of decentralized code. The real peer-review process takes place on multiple community and technical forums, some of which are not even frequented by the developers and Bitcoin Core committers. 

The BIP (Bitcoin Improvement Proposal) process is sufficient and it’s working for those who choose to collaborate on Bitcoin Core. Similar to the RFC (Request for Comments) process at the IETF, BIP debates about a proposed implementation can provide technical documentation useful to developers. However, it is not working for many involved in Bitcoin protocol development due to the advantages of incumbency and the false appeal to authority with core developers. If Bitcoin Core no longer maintains the leading reference implementation for the Bitcoin protocol, it will be 100 percent due to this intransigence.

Sensitive to the criticisms of glorifying Bitcoin Core, Adam Back of Blockstream recently proposed an option to freeze the base-layer protocol, but at the moment that will only move all of the politics and game-playing to what exactly the base-layer freeze should look like. It is a nice idea for separating the protocol standard from a single reference implementation and for transitioning the Bitcoin protocol to an IETF-like structure, although it’s extremely premature for now. 

Therefore, by default, that leaves us with several alternative Bitcoin implementations in an environment of continual forking.

Even Satoshi Nakamoto was critical of multiple consensus implementations in 2010:

I don’t believe a second, compatible implementation of Bitcoin will ever be a good idea. So much of the design depends on all nodes getting exactly identical results in lockstep that a second implementation would be a menace to the network.

That prevailing standpoint, however, may be changing, which Aaron van Wirdum addresses in “The Long History and Disputed Desirability of Alternative Bitcoin Implementations.” Wirdum cites Eric Voskuil of libbitcoin, who argues that there should not be one particular implementation to define the Bitcoin protocol:

“All code that impacts consensus is part of consensus,” Voskuil told Bitcoin Magazine. “But when part of this code stops the network or does something not nice, it’s called a bug needing a fix, but that fix is a change to consensus. Since bugs are consensus, fixes are forks. As such, a single implementation gives far too much power to its developers. Shutting down the network while some star chamber works out a new consensus is downright authoritarian.”

Multiple alternative implementations of the Bitcoin protocol strengthen the network and help to prevent code centralization.

Politics of Blockchain Forking (or How UASF BIP 148 Will Fail)

Contentious hard forks and soft forks all come down to hashing power. You can phrase it differently and you can make believe that two-day zero-balance nodes have a fundamental say in the outcome, but you cannot alter that basic reality.

BIP 148 fork will undoubtedly need mining hash power to succeed or even to result in a minority chain. However, if Segregated Witness (SegWit) had sufficient miner support in the first place, the BIP 148 UASF itself would be unnecessary. So, in that respect, it will now proceed like a game of chicken waiting to see if miners support the fork attempt.

Mirroring aspects of mob rule, if the UASF approach works as a way to bring miners around to adopting SegWit, then the emboldened mob will deploy the tactic for numerous other protocol upgrades in the future. Consensus rules should not be easy to change and they should not be able to change through simple majority rule on nodes, economic or not. Eventually, these attempts will run headfirst into the wall of Nakamoto consensus

As far as the network is concerned, it’s like turning off the power to your node.

There is no room for majority rule in Bitcoin. Those who endorse the UASF approach and cleverly insert UASF tags in their social media handles are endorsing majority rule in Bitcoin. They are providing a stage for any random user group to push their warped agenda via tyranny of the nodes.

The prolific Jimmy Song says that having real skin in the game is what matters:

Bitcoin doesn’t care if you post arguments on Reddit. Bitcoin doesn’t care if you put something clever in your Twitter name. Bitcoin doesn’t care if you educate people, write articles, or make clever Twitter insults. Bitcoin doesn’t care about your wishes, your feelings or your arguments.

Let’s keep “majority rule” antics out of Bitcoin. There is no protocol condition that activates “if we are all united” and that is a good thing.

With enough hashing power, the mob-induced UASF BIP 148 will lead to a temporary chain split. However, the probability of a Bitcoin minority chain surviving for very long is extremely low due to the lengthy difficulty re-targeting period of 2,016 blocks. Unlike the Ethereum/Ethereum Classic fork, that is a long time for miners to invest in a chain of uncertainty.

Responding to a Reddit post for newbies who are scared of losing money around the 1st of August due to UASF, ArmchairCryptologist explains:

Your advice is sound, but realistically, the most likely scenario is that the UASF either wins or dies. If it gets less than ~12% of the hashrate, it will not be able to activate Segwit in time, and it will almost certainly die. If it gets less than ~20% I also wouldn’t be surprised to see active interference with orphaning to prevent transactions from being processed.

If on the other hand it gets more than ~40% of the hashrate, the chance for a reorg on the other chain is large enough that most miners will likely jump ship, and it will almost certainly win. At over ~20% block orphaning attacks won’t be effective, as it would split the majority chain hashrate and risk tipping the scale. Which means that the only situation where you will realistically have two working chains for an extended period is if you get between ~20% and ~40% of the hashrate for the UASF.

The collectivist UASF BIP 148 strategy will ultimately fail and that’s a good thing. It is driven primarily by those with very little at stake expecting the miners to stake everything by supporting a minority chain. Pretty soon, you run out of other people’s money. This commenter on Reddit understands:

The entire premise was that it was very cheap to switch, but very expensive to stay. That’s when I realized the folly of it all; [it’s] only cheap because they’re not staking anything. But someone has to stake something.

And that’s what is going to cause it to fail. That and the lack of replay protection. People like this guy flip it around and genuinely believe the mining problem will be solved by massively increased value. If they do somehow put enough pressure on exchanges that list UASF, despite the lack of replay protection, and if we take his logic a step further, UASFers are going to be pushing everyone to “buy, buy, buy” UASF and “sell, sell, sell” Legacy Coin. But without replay protection, they’re going to be obliterated by a few smart people who realize there are huge gains to be had.

Alphonse Pace has an excellent paper describing chain splits and their resolution. He walks us through compatible, incompatible and semi-compatible hard forks, arguing that users do have power if they truly reject a soft-fork rule change:

… users do have power — by invoking an incompatible hard fork. In this case, users will force the chain to split by introducing a new ruleset (which may include a proof-of-work change, but does not require one). This ensures users always have an escape from a miner-imposed ruleset that they reject. This way, if the economy and users truly reject a soft fork rule change, they always have the power to break away and reclaim the rules they wish. It may be inconvenient, but the same is true by any attack by the miners on users.

The Future of Coordinating Protocol Upgrades

What group determines the big decisions in Bitcoin’s direction? Ilogy doubts that it is the developers:

Theymos almost completely foresaw what is happening today. Why? Because Theymos has a deep understanding of Bitcoin and he was able to connect the dots and recognize that the logic of the system leads inevitably to this conclusion. Once we add to the equation the fact that restricting on-chain scaling was always going to be perceived by the ‘generators’ as something that ‘reduces profit,’ it should be clear that the logic of the system was intrinsically going to bring us to the point we find ourselves today.

Years later these two juggernauts of Bitcoin would find themselves on opposite ends of the debate. But what is interesting, what they both recognized, was that ultimately big decisions in Bitcoin’s direction would be determined by the powerful actors in the space, not by the average user and, more importantly, not by the developers. 

The developer role can be thought of as proposing a variety of software menu choices for the users, merchants and miners to accept and run. If a software upgrade or patch is deemed unacceptable, then developers must go back to work and adjust the BIP menu offering. Otherwise, mutiny becomes the only option for dissatisfied miners. 

In “Who Controls Bitcoin?” Daniel Krawisz says that the investors wield the most power, and because of that, miners follow investors. Therefore, the protocol upgrades likely to get adopted will be the ones that increase Bitcoin’s value as an investment, such as anonymity improvements being favored over attempts at making Bitcoin easier to regulate.

In the future, miner coordination via a Bitcoin DAO (decentralized autonomous organization) on the blockchain could be the key to smooth and uneventful forking. Self-governing ratification would allow diverse stakeholders to coordinate protocol upgrades on-chain, reducing the likelihood of software propagation battles that perpetually fork the codebase.

Attorney Adam Vaziri of Diacle supports a system of DAO voting by Bitcoin miners to remove the uncertainty around protocol upgrades. He readily admits that he has been inspired by Tezos and Decred.

Prediction markets have also been proposed as a method to gauge user and miner preferences through public forecasting, the theory being that these prediction markets would yield the fairest overall consensus for protocol upgrades prior to the actual fork.

The question remains: Is coin-based voting based on allocated hash power superior to the informal signaling method utilized today? Are prediction markets or futures markets a viable method to gauge consensus and determine critical protocol upgrades?

I’m not optimistic. On-chain voting and “intent” signaling are both non-binding expressions while prediction and futures markets can be easily gamed. Therefore, while Tezos and Decred represent admirable efforts in the quest for complete resilient decentralization, I do not think Bitcoin protocol upgrades of the future will be managed in this way.

The Bitcoin ecosystem doesn’t need to achieve a social consensus prior to making changes to the protocol. What has clearly emerged from the events of this summer is that Bitcoin has demonstrated an even stronger degree of immutability.

There is no failure of governance and there is no failure of the market. The non-authoritarian forces at play here are functioning exactly as they should. Protocol upgrades in a decentralized environment are an evolutionary process, and that process has matured to the current six stages of Bitcoin protocol upgrading, with some optional variances for BIP 91:

(a) BIP menu choices competing for mindshare, strategic appropriateness and technical rigor;

(b) Informal intent signaling based on miners inserting text into the coinbase for each block mined;

(c) Block signaling period where miners formally signal a designated “bit” trigger for BIP lock-in, based on “x” percent over a “y” number of blocks period;

(d) Block activation period after BIP lock-in, which sets a secondary period of “x” percent over a “y” number of blocks for activation;

(e) Primary difficulty adjustment period (2,016 blocks) where “x” percent of miners must signal for the upgrade to lock in;

(f) Secondary difficulty adjustment period (2,016 blocks) required for the protocol upgrade to activate on the network.

Conclusion

This would not be the first fork in Bitcoin and it won’t be the last. If we believe in the power of Nakamoto consensus and probabilistic security, then the secret to uneventful protocol upgrades is smoother and more reliable signaling by miners.

July has been a tough month for Bitcoin, but it has also been pivotal. Even though I doubt the probability of success for UASF BIP 148, some may say that the threat of the reckless UASF on August 1 played a role in the rapid timeline for SegWit2x/BIP 91, and I agree with that. Game theory is alive and well in Bitcoin.

The design of Nakamoto consensus provides the ultimate method for decentralized dispute resolution by placing that decision with the hashing power and the built-in incentives against 51 percent attacks. In fact, Tom Harding considers miners to be the only failsafe in Bitcoin:

Nakamoto consensus for the win. See you in November.

The views expressed in this op ed are those of its author, Jon Matonis, and do not necessarily reflect those of Bitcoin Magazine or BTC Media.



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Bitcoin Price Surges to One-Month High as Tech Outlook Improves

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After dropping to a low of $1,836 this weekend, the bitcoin price is once again climbing back toward all-time highs.

According to CoinDesk’s Bitcoin Price Index, the price of bitcoin rebounded to $2,730 today, the highest value observed on the BPI since June 23 and just $300 off its all-time high of $3,025, set on June 11.

So, what’s driving traders?

Overall, analysts are reporting that the recovery is largely due to the improving outlook for bitcoin’s technology roadmap, spurred by the expected ‘lock in’ of a code upgrade called BIP 91 today.

The piece of code that will set the stage for the first part of the Segwit2x scaling proposal, BIP 91 could upgrade the bitcoin blockchain to support Segregated Witness (SegWit), thereby increasing the network’s transaction capacity.

At time of publication, miners need to continue to signal for BIP 91 for roughly 20 additional blocks in order to lock in the upgrade. At this point, BIP 91 will enter a “grace period” of 336 blocks, before activation.

Complexities escalate from there, as it remains possible SegWit might not be activated under certain scenarios owing to how miners might run the code.

Speculator’s delight

Still, the positive sentiment offered a break from the doom and gloom of the debate that has shrouded the market for weeks.

With bitcoin rising, prices were up similarly across the cryptocurrency markets, with all of the top 30 by market capitalization posting gains today. But as traders have a long history of positioning investments in relation to bitcoin scaling proposals, the run-up in price was perhaps not surprising to many.

Iqbal Gandham, managing director at social trading firm eToro, noted that much of the activity is likely due to positive sentiment.

He also noted how it might be somewhat divorced from any strong conviction of what might or might not occur.

“Segwit, block size increases and the various mechanisms by which to deliver this have been difficult to understand for traders, and they are at the point where they just want clarity and a clear direction,” he said. “We may now have one.”

In this way, Kevin Zhou, a trader and market analyst with crypto trading fund Galois Capital, credited the advancement of BIP 91 with the run-up in price.

In particular, he said, traders are responding to the decreasing likelihood that bitcoin could split into two competing assets (though this is still possible later this year), and the increase in capacity SegWit would bring.

“It’s not just reduced uncertainty over whether there will be a chain split, but also less uncertainty over how exchanges will handle a chain split and the issues that come with it (e.g. replay attacks, reorg risk, margin positions, etc.),” he said.

Split spectre remains

Still, while less possible, tensions in the scaling debate could simply go into hibernation, only to reemerge later this year.

With major miners threatening to fork off onto a separate blockchain should the block size not be raised, it remains possible this debate will lie dormant until fall, at which point, tensions could reemerge.

Under the Segwit2x proposal, a large group of startups and miners agreed to a 2 MB hard fork that would occur three months after Segwit is enacted.

Developers have largely sought to downplay the idea as risky and dangerous.

Pasted image at 2017 07 17 04 05 PM Bitcoin Price Surges to One Month High as Tech Outlook Improves

 

 

 

How aware the market is of this reality remains to be seen, though some sought to stress the short-term positivity and its impact.

“We still have to worry about whether the market will accept the ‘2x’ half of Segwit2x, but at least there likely won’t be an initial split for the SegWit half,” Zhou remarked.

Likewise, Arthur Hayes, CEO of bitcoin leveraged trading firm BitMEX, went so far as to predict bitcoin could once again test all-time highs should the network enact SegWit in the coming days.

“The reason why we didn’t surpass $3,000 earlier this summer was the specter of UASF [and a bitcoin split]. With that roadblock removed and Segwit activated, money will pour into the system,” he said.

Hayes concluded:

“Those who sat on the sidelines due to reservations about how bitcoin would scale now will rush back in with a vengeance.”

Bitcoin image via Shutterstock

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is an independent media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. Have breaking news or a story tip to send to our journalists? Contact us at [email protected].



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Russia Prepares to Legalize ICOs

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shutterstock 492669142 1068x715 Russia Prepares to Legalize ICOs



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Russia is currently working on a regulatory framework to legalize Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs), local publications reported on Wednesday. This is in addition to a bill that is being finalized to recognize cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin and ether.

Also read: Russian President Vladimir Putin Discusses Using Ethereum with Vitalik Buterin

Amending Law to Recognize ICOs

duma 300x207 Russia Prepares to Legalize ICOsRussian lawmakers are working on amendments to the civil law aimed at legalizing ICOs, according to Vedomosti, one of Russia’s largest newspapers. Discussion of the amendments has already begun by an interdepartmental working group under the State Duma, which has been assessing the risks of cryptocurrency use in the nation.

An associate criminal law professor at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), Elina Sidorenko, heads the working group. “The group includes representatives from the Parliament, including the initiative’s originator Andrei Lugovoi. We also cooperate with other parliamentary committees,” she told Forklog in an interview published on Tuesday. “Aside from that, there are representatives from the central bank and the financial monitoring service.”

The Need to Regulate ICOs

According to Konstantin Vinogradov, Senior Associate at Runa Capital, there were more than 150 ICOs globally in the past year, which totaled more than $500 million.

Sidorenko explained that “legislative gaps exist which do not allow legal settlement of crowdfunding issues and ICO contracts,” according to Russian 360tv which also reported her saying:

The State Duma should undertake the development of legal mechanisms that would allow the verification of such contracts. They should also be designed to identify users and protect the rights of the holders of tokens to fulfill the obligations of issuing companies.

ICOs require investors to use certain cryptocurrencies, typically ether and bitcoin, in order to invest in their projects. The legalization of cryptocurrency in Russia can help large companies and small businesses that need investors, Vesti Finance reported market participants saying. “If the law is to allow the minimum cost of cryptocurrency transactions in Russia, this step will be the springboard for the takeoff of the Russian economy,” the publication wrote.

“Cryptocurrency Bill” Being Finalized

shutterstock 365875643 300x200 Russia Prepares to Legalize ICOsThe working group has also been working on a bill to provide a legal framework for cryptocurrencies including bitcoin and ether in Russia. “The bill’s text is currently being finalized. When it’s done, it will be submitted to all departments,” Sidorenko told Forklog.

Early this month, Russian politician and the Presidential Commissioner for Entrepreneurs’ Rights Boris Titov proposed for the country to follow Japan’s lead and legalize bitcoin. Sidorenko echoed this sentiment, telling the publication that “our task now is to give some confidence to the market players and take the Japanese path.” She then described:

The bill will be a framework. Therein, we define the nature of cryptocurrencies and their status, as well as basic principles for the cryptomarket operation. Other provisions will be mostly referential. We don’t try to create an enormous and viscous law that defines all parameters of a new market right away. Creating such a law would just hinder the market.

The topic of cryptocurrencies has frequently been in Russian media recently. In June, President Vladimir Putin met with Ethereum creator Vitalik Buterin. “The conversation was held following the President’s meeting with heads of major foreign companies and business associations,” Putin’s official website states, adding that “Mr. Buterin described the opportunities for using the technologies he developed in Russia.”

Do you think Russia will legalize ICOs? Let us know in the comments section below.


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The Bitcoin Block Clock Jr. Is Half Full Node, Half Work of Art

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Bitcoin is a decentralized system of digital cash in which users don’t need to trust anyone else with their money; however, the full benefits of this technology are only seen when users operate a full node on the network. The vast majority of Bitcoin users do not operate their own full nodes, but one man is trying to change that with a piece of hardware he calls the Bitcoin Block Clock Jr.

There are many good reasons for individual Bitcoiners to operate a full node. Full nodes are responsible for validating transactions and blocks on the Bitcoin network. Only by running full nodes can users know with full certainty that they received a valid payment. Additionally, the more users that run full nodes, the more decentralized the Bitcoin network is, making it harder to shut down or corrupt.

And as Sia Co-Founder David Vorick pointed out in a talk at this year’s MIT Bitcoin Expo, those who do not operate their own full nodes do not get a say in the matter when hard forks are deployed on the network. “If you’re not running a full node … your opinion on whether or not you like a hard fork is less relevant because, ultimately, if you’re not validating the rules and someone gives you a transaction following a different rule set, you don’t have a way to detect that,” he explained.

Running a full node, however, has been a rather expensive proposition. As a result, larger, economically invested entities that are better able to support full nodes have had more of a say.

According to Vorick, users can be dragged along with miners and large businesses if the cost of running a full node is too high: “If full nodes are expensive to run, only people who are capable of running nodes really have any say in what happens in a contentious upgrade.”

Matthew Zipkin is the man behind the Bitcoin Block Clock. A sound engineer by trade, he has been working in his spare time on creating full nodes that are both affordable and fun to use. During a recent discussion with Bitcoin Magazine, Zipkin revealed his desire to create a piece of hardware for operating a low-cost Bitcoin full node that isn’t boring.

A Bitcoin Full Node That Isn’t Boring

When commenting on his reasoning for creating the Bitcoin Block Clock, Zipkin pointed to the full node devices made by Bitnodes before they were acquired by 21.

“I always wanted one, but they disappeared when they got bought out, so I decided to build my own,” said Zipkin.

While there are other full node options out there, such as Bitseed, Zipkin wanted to make something that was more than a piece of computer hardware that would sit on the floor next to a router. Zipkin wanted to turn a Bitcoin full node into a work of art, and that’s exactly what he did.

Zipkin built the first version of the Bitcoin Block Clock last year, and it was on display at the SF Bitcoin Meetup’s “Proof of Art” event in May of 2016. After receiving positive feedback at the event and on Reddit, Zipkin decided to make a smaller version of the full node hardware to sell.

The Bitcoin Block Clock included a screen that displayed various live information about the Bitcoin network. Zipkin put the original version of the Bitcoin Block Clock for sale on OpenBazaar and Purse.io, but it hasn’t sold.

“I priced it pretty high because it’s art and I love it and kind of want to keep it,” explained Zipkin. “So of course it still has not sold.”

Creating the Bitcoin Block Clock Jr. With Bcoin

In an effort to create a version of the Bitcoin Block Clock that could be produced at a lower price, Zipkin turned to Raspberry Pi Zero and Bcoin, which is an implementation of the Bitcoin protocol written in Node.js.

“I discovered Bcoin was super easy to install and use, and the codebase was easier for me to review because it’s in Javascript instead of C++, and was built from scratch by a small group of developers (basically just two guys), so everything is really well labeled and consistent,” explained Zipkin.

Of course, the problem with using SPV mode is that it’s not a full node and the device won’t receive all of the information related to a new Bitcoin block as it’s mined on the network. Zipkin opted for the pruned full node option in Bcoin in an effort to lower the system resources required to operate the node on Raspberry Pi Zero.

“With pruning, I get all the fun block details I wanted to display,” said Zipkin. “I even submitted a pull request (which got merged!) to Bcoin to make my application work even easier.”

Zipkin described the LED displays on the Bitcoin Block Clock Jr. as follows:

“The Bitcoin Block Clock Jr. has two LED rings. The outer ring of 24 LEDs indicates recent blocks. Each LED represents 2 minutes, and they “tick” clockwise around the ring. The color of the LED is determined by the block’s version (BIP 9 version bits combined with keywords from the Coinbase scriptSig like “/EXTBLK” or “/EB1/AD6/”). The inner 16-LED ring indicates the progress of the current difficulty period (2,016 blocks, or about two weeks). It starts blue and gradually turns more and more red as the meter fills up. The tiny little display screen indicates some details about the latest block: height, size, version (and extra scriptSig version) and the adjustment period progress. I added a little web interface so I could turn the lights off at night without having to SSH into the Pi every time.”

node fr bk.original The Bitcoin Block Clock Jr. Is Half Full Node, Half Work of Art

An Economical Way to Contribute to the Network

While Zipkin noted that the original Bitcoin Block Clock displays much more information and also comes with full wallet functionality, he also pointed out that the latest model proves that Bitcoin users only need about $20 to run their own full nodes (at least in pruned mode).

Having said that, Zipkin admitted that the Bitcoin Block Clock Jr. can struggle to keep up with the network at times.

“Bcoin plus my Python script and all the GPIO display output just barely hangs in there on this tiny underpowered computer,” said Zipkin. “The Python script has a method to restart Bcoin when it crashes and monitor it as it catches up to the network.”

All of the technical details of the Bitcoin Block Clock Jr. are open source and can be found on GitHub.

Zipkin has now placed the Bitcoin Block Clock Jr. for sale on OpenBazaar and Purse.io.



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Crypto Market Crosses $80 Billion As Ether, Bitcoin Prices Gain

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The cryptocurrency market continued to rebound on Tuesday, crossing the $80 billion-mark after a weekend that saw steep declines across the asset class.

Overall, the market reached a high of $84.9 billion today, up nearly 40% from a low of $61 billion this weekend.

At press time, all of the top 30 cryptocurrencies had posted 24-hour gains, according to data provider Coinmarketcap.

Screen Shot 2017 07 18 at 12.34.07 PM Crypto Market Crosses $80 Billion As Ether, Bitcoin Prices Gain

Leading the recovery were the ecosystem’s three largest assets by market capitalization – bitcoin, ether and XRP, all of which were up more than 10% on the day’s trading.

After dropping to below $2,000 this weekend, the price of bitcoin is now trading above $2,300, while ether notably crossed $200 for the first time since July 14.

At press time, the total value of the market was down just over 25% from an all-time high of $115 billion set in mid-June.

Arcade claw image via Shutterstock

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