Monthly Archives: March 2016

Tech Giants See New Investment Opportunity

Remember the Bitcoin gold rush? That may be happening again, but this time there’s a new digital currency challenger on the block.

Called Ethereum, the alternative digital currency uses a similar blockchain system as its older and more successful counterpart, but has a slightly more sophisticated set of applications due to the smart payment system that can be written directly into its blockchain.

What does that mean? It means that with Ethereum, it’s possible to program binding agreements into the blockchain that enable people to, for example, place bets on a sports game and then set a mandatory pay out to whoever becomes the victor is before the results are known. The system is called a “smart contract” system and could be used for anything from gambling to online banking to Ponzi schemes.

italikThis capability was precisely what 21-year-old Russian-Canadian Vitalik Buterin had in mind when he dropped out of Waterloo University in Ontario to create the software in question. Ether has since become one of the only alt-coins to present serious competition to the Bitcoin; the price of Ether has risen from $1 to $12 over the course of the last three months and JPMorgan already has set up its own private Ethereum network and blockchain.

The total value of all Ether currency has been toggling back and forth across the $1 billion line, putting it at second place to Bitcoin’s $6 billion value.

Bitcoin has been perilously close to losing the momentum ever since a rift was created among users regarding certain software developments. The dispute has caused many foundational creators to wash their hands of what some of them call a “failed experiment,” and many potential investors and banks have developed an ear for other digital currency ¬†opportunities.

The Ethereum system can be described as a single shared computer that is run by a network of users and on which resources are parceled out and paid for by Ether. Similar to Bitcoin, Ethereum’s success can be largely attributed to its ability to attract a dedicated network of users who have supported the software in hopes that their efforts will increase the value of the Ether they purchased.

ethereum2Although Ethereum’s overall currency value may be well under that of Bitcoin’s, its network of supporters rivals that of Bitcoin by much closer margins. Last week it was recorded that just under 6,000 computers (called nodes in this context) are helping to support the Ethereum network. The Bitcion network has somewhere around 7,400 nodes.

One Ethereum co-founder, Joseph Lubin, is currently running a company called ConsenSys out of Brooklyn. ConsenSys has hired over 50 developers to aid in the construction of applications on and for the Ethereum system, one of which enables music distribution and another that makes it possible to perform a revolutionary kind of financial auditing. All of these efforts represent the rapid growth and hungry culture behind Ethereum, and perhaps explain its quick rise to 2nd place in the digital currency game.

“Bitcoin presented the broad strokes vision, and Ethereum presented the crystallization of how to deliver that vision,” said Lubin in explanation of his decision to throw himself into Ethereum’s development.

That said, computer science researcher at Stanford Joseph Bonneau has studied crypto-currencies for years and has stressed that Ethereum is far from a “sure thing.”

“Bitcion is still probably the safest bet, but Ethereum is certainly No. 2, and some folks will say it is more likely to be around in 10 years,” Bonneau stated. “It will depend if any real markets develop around it. If there is some actual application.”


The Volunteer Techies Behind Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders has amassed more individual contributions towards his campaign than any US Presidential hopeful in the history of American elections. However, his grassroots support is more multifaceted than monetary contributions; his unexpected and monumentally competitive campaign against Hillary Clinton owes a significant proportion of its success the work of volunteer coders from all around the country.

Take Jon Hughes, for example. Hughes is a 29-year-old father and computer programmer operating out of southern Oregon. He hadn’t been very impressed by the last few rounds of presidential candidates, but he saw Bernie Sanders as a beacon of hope long awaited in the depressing and corrupt American political system. Despite his lack of affiliation with the Sanders campaign, he built a webpage at the URL voteforbernie (.org) that performs a very simple very important service: when you click on your location, the website instructs you on where and when to vote in your Democratic primary or caucus.

techbernieThe site has amassed over 2 million unique views since its launch last June, and has earned for itself the title of top search hit not only for Sanders supporters, but for anyone interested in how to vote in the primaries. That means all across America, anyone interested in voting in their primary for the first time will be asked in large florid lettering, “Will you be able to¬†Vote for Bernie?”

Sanders has also likely become the biggest beneficiary of the rise in importance of apps in the 2016 election. His anti-establishment independent-turned-Democrat status appeals to the many young, code-savvy voters that he inspired to be come politically active for the first time. His volunteer coders tend to be under-30 political neophytes who first heard of him through his supporters’ Reddit page. The page has over 188,000 subscribers and the SandersForPresident subReddit has become more popular than a variety of big-name pages featuring cars, beer, and porn.

“It’s been a great resource for us,” stated Kenneth Pennington, the Sanders campaign’s digital director and one of many Sanders officials who regularly communicate with tech volunteers. “It speaks to the ethos of the entire campaign. The volunteers are running the ship here.”

An attendee holds a campaign sign of Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, not pictured, as he speaks at the Iowa State Fair Soapbox in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S., on Saturday, Aug. 15, 2015. The Iowa State Fair is expected to host 18 presidential candidates and runs until Aug. 23. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The breadth of Sanders-related apps is somewhat astounding- some are free and built for anyone with access to the Apple and Google Play stores. Others are made specifically as internal tools for Sanders’ campaign volunteers. For example, techie volunteers helped create an app called “Ground Control” that helps to organize volunteer phone-bank hosts and helps campaign staffers improve grass-roots events. Another app is called Bernie BNB and has about 1,000 Sanders-supporting members either seeking a place to spend the night or offering a free spare bed. There are websites that compile Sanders’ stances on a variety of policies, helping potential voters to see if they truly align with the candidate.

“I’ve heard of superPACs building crappier websites with full-time staff for $1 to $2 milllion,” said Daniela Perdomo, a tech volunteer who spearheaded the creation of the feelthebern (.org) website. She apparently spent more than five weeks of all-night shifts in her home in Brooklyn to create the url.