Proof of Work #74

Don't call it a comeback

Hi! Proof of Work is back!

We’ve been on hiatus for quite a while, while I learned how to juggle having an (extremely adorable) 6 month old baby with doing literally anything else at all. I feel very grateful to all the projects have been loyally updating every single week during this time, and have permanently decentralized PoW to eliminate myself as a SPoF.

There's a famous saying in property law that "possession is 9/10ths of the law.” Unfortunately in the (increasingly omnipresent) digital world there's no such thing as objectively verifiable possession—unlike in the physical world, where our eyes suffice to determine who is in possession of something. Instead ones "ownership" of a currency balance or digital object is granted purely at the pleasure of whoever is running the system; Blizzard, in World of Warcraft, or Paypal for eBay sellers. This form of "ownership" is far weaker than possession of a physical object, but until fairly recently there's been no way to establish a consensus that doesn't rely on a single trusted party to determine who possesses what. This lack of real possession puts a low ceiling on how valuable digital assets can be; their very existence depends on a centralized party that might misbehave, or more commonly, simply disappear.

Distributed consensus (which is what blockchains, Bitcoin etc. get us) create the possibility of possessing digital property in an objectively verifiable way. They create a set of rules that everyone in the system agrees on to determine who owns what, with no privileged “superuser” that can change that ledger and “repossess” assets without the consent of the owner. Indeed, saying that they grant us a kind of vision or new sense by which we can apprehend ownership in the digital realm is not at all off-base.

This kind of immutable, uncensorable, difficult-to-confiscate digital ownership is a huge enabler of individual liberty, because it allows an individual to own something without worrying that they will be judged unworthy of that privilege by some more powerful party. Individual liberty itself is something that I care about at an axiomatic level, but it's worth caring about even if you have more communitarian values because societal evolution is driven by small groups of enlightened individuals who work to push their thinking into the larger group. Moxie Marlinspike wrote brilliantly about why privacy is also a necessary enabler of this effect, and real ownership in the digital world is likewise necessary to enable individuals to resist the immense coercive power of the state.

I’ve touched before in this newsletter on why everyone should care about the individual’s ability to resist state power, but I’ll reiterate briefly for those who are just joining us. In a word, states have shown themselves to be extremely willing to use their power over the financial system (power which is increased to omnipotence in a centralized digital money world) to abuse individual rights. We see this recently with “civil forfeiture” law where local police departments steal (and it really is stealing, I’m unwilling to use any euphemism here) cash from people with no due process at all, and we saw it on a horrifying scale during the Holocaust, where the Austrian and German state apparatuses were mobilized to steal billions of dollars from Jews, before systematically exterminating them. The Holocaust itself was in fact very much a financially motivated event, and making it more difficult for states to take money from individuals is a useful tactic in the fight against future genocides.

In a world where we don’t have objectively verifiable digital possession via crypto, the move from a cash-based to a centralized digital-money based economy is a massive setback for individual freedom. Interestingly, a world in which we do have cryptocurrency is actually even more freedom-preserving than cash, since its a lot harder to take someone’s Bitcoin from them than it is to take their cash (indeed, harder to even prove they have any Bitcoin).

As the cryptocurrency space matures, we’ll have highly robust systems that can be used to quickly and at scale establish who is who, who owns what, and who wants to pay whom—that’s exactly what everyone featured in this newsletter is working on a piece of.

I don’t have space to go into each piece of this puzzle in detail right now (Substack is already helpfully telling me that it’s too long for most email clients) but over the next few issues I’ll be giving an overview of each project in the intro of the newsletter.

The first is Handshake, a project aiming to enable robust identity online by creating a decentralized alternative namespace for (primarily) domain names. Without going into excessive detail, the way the current domain name system works is appalling from both a governance and security standpoint—a single centralized entity (ICANN) decides what TLDs (.com, .org. etc) will be allowed to exist, and a large set of trusted (but in some cases VERY untrustworthy) certificate authorities manage the infrastructure that assures your browser that the website it is browsing is actually the real (e.g.) google.com. ICANN, despite token efforts to the contrary, is mostly captured by US interests, and domains which the USG doesn’t like have in the past been seized from their rightful owners via legal action against registrars.

What Handshake does is move the root of trust from ICANN to a blockchain (one which is very similar to Bitcoin in terms of its consensus rules), and uses an on-chain auction process to allow anyone to register a TLD that they wish to use. In practice this means that instead of me registering ericmeltzer.com (not actually mine, haha) and essentially having the right to rent “ericmeltzer” from Verisign in perpetuity, or until some random 3 letter agency decides they don’t like something I put up, I can register the .meltzer TLD on handshake, and direct a nameserver to point eric.meltzer to whatever site I choose. Put very simply, this brings Bitcoin’s “objectively verifiable possession” model to names! So now, instead of bouncing from registrar to registrar with the hellhounds of Elsevier hot on their heels, Scihub can simply register a domain on Handshake and have a permanently unseizable address for their service.

Why this is exciting from an “internet person” perspective should be obvious; unseizable domains, and also a massive opening-up of the namespace itself. I can’t wait to see who gets farts.poop first, and there are a couple of other goofy ones I won’t even mention here because I don’t want to get sniped. From an investor perspective my excitement mostly stems from the fact that domain names in aggregate are currently more valuable than all cryptocurrencies combined, so a more difficult to seize implementation of the naming system is very cool. Finally, with my crypto-person hat on, the Handshake system will also be very easy to use as a human-readable crypto addressing system! So if I register “eric/” on Handshake, I can then put a TXT record with my Bitcoin address, and people with compatible wallets can simply send Bitcoin to “eric” instead of a long human-unreadable address. This same logic can of course be followed for naming on any kind of system one might conceive of, from social networks to gaming. If this has piqued your interest and you’d like to read more about Handshake, there’s a fantastic article here.

More next week on Tuesday, and again after that. Thanks for reading! Please bear with me while we shake the dust off this puppy—some updates are a bit late, and other teams didn’t make it in this week. Things will be back to normal in an issue or two.

Bitcoin & Friends

Optech on Bitcoin [ed: sign up for their newsletter too! it’s great!]

  • If the first send of a transaction doesn’t result in reasonably fast confirmation, the wallet will rebroadcast the transaction to ensure it is relayed to miners. However, this is the only time full nodes do this, so spy nodes can assume any node rebroadcasting a transaction is operated by the user who created that transaction. Amiti Uttarwar’s proposed solution is having the node treat all transactions the same, rebroadcasting any of them when a heuristic indicates they should’ve been mined recently but weren’t. First PR from Uttarwar implementing this here.

  • Blockchain design patterns: Layers and scaling approaches by Andrew Poelstra and David Vorick briefly describes a long list of existing and proposed technologies for making effective use of a space-limited block chain. [ed: very much worth a read!]

  • Olympus: Lightning enabled fiat onramp. Very cool.

JZ from Decred

Decred is an autonomous digital currency with a hybrid consensus system. It is built to be a self-ruling currency where everyone can vote on the rules and project-level decision making proportionately to their stake.

James from Summa
Summa builds tools to exchange crypto in a convenient and trustless fashion.

  • We released v2.0.0 of bitcoin-spv, featuring a new interface, >30% gas savings, and a branch for a new experimental cross-chain relay :)

  • We're launching Cross-Chain Group with our friends at Keep to standardize developement and interoperability across chains. Get involved at https://crosschain.group/


Aviv from Spacemesh
Spacemesh is a programmable cryptocurrency powered by a novel proof-of-space-time consensus protocol.

  • Spacemesh Protocol Paper V1.0 released

  • Fixes and improvements in the desktop app (wallet + fullnode) after 2 rounds of reviews and QA, moving forward to full integration with node. Fixed bugs

  • Implemented a safe node shutdown in the Go fullnode implementation

  • Added fetch queue to avoid double requests on same data when syncing

  • Added some fixes and memory optimizations to the Hare Protocol (Merged issues)

  • We are continuing to stabilize the codebase for the Spacemesh Virtual Machine before moving towards the next milestone, which is a standalone smart contracts vm based on wasmer with fixed storage / no gas metering.

Izaak from Coda

Coda is the first cryptocurrency protocol with a constant-sized blockchain. Coda compresses the entire blockchain into a tiny snapshot the size of a few tweets using recursive zk-SNARKs.

  • Deepthi improved error handling for invalid blocks which were causing issues on our last testnet.

  • I (Izaak) made two PRs implementing the super-efficient Rescue hash function. Preliminary benchmarks show it should speed up one of our SNARKs by 8-10x.

  • Jiawei added profiling for bootstrapping and catching up after a reorg or long disconnect from the network.

Privacy coins

Daniel from Grin

Grin is a community-driven implementation of the Mimblewimble protocol that aims to be privacy preserving, scalable, fair, and minimal.

Beni from Beam

Beam is a confidential and scalable cryptocurrency based on Mimblewimble.

Arnaud from AZTEC Protocol

AZTEC Protocol is an efficient zero-knowledge protocol built on top of Ethereum, making plug-and-play value transmission and asset governance privacy tools for developers and companies. 

  • This week, optimisations, clean-up, and merging outstanding PRs. We’re adding the finishing touches before last audit, and MPC.

  • We’ve also been working on Huff recently, refactoring the compiler and adding better errors.

  • The team will be at ETHIndia (we’re sponsoring a prize if you want to get your hands dirty with AZTEC). Do say hi!

  • Last week we hosted ZK-LDN0x03, with a talk by Rami from Liquidity network, and Olivier from Hopper. The event was recorded and will be available on the ZK-LDN youtube channel.

  • We are always hiring for Solidity Engineers and Senior Engineers. You can apply here, or by emailing arnaud@aztecprotocol.com with the name of the role you see yourself filling as the subject.

Smart contracting platforms

Evan from Ethereum

Ethereum is a decentralized platform for applications that aims to resist fraud, censorship or third-party interference.

  • Interop week is over, but the results are spectacular: seven Eth2 clients talking to each other. This was the last major hurdle before clients focus on optimizations, auditing, and UX in preparation for launch.

Peter from NEAR

NEAR is a sharded proof-of-stake blockchain.

Topper from Quorum Control

Quorum Control makes Tupelo, a permissionless proof of stake DLT platform purpose-built to model individual objects that enables flexible public or private data models.

  • Major Release: Released a new web assembly sdk allowing developers to build applications that connect directly to the Tupelo network from multiple development platforms (like web pages) without needing to proxy through an rpc server or running a full node. Read the documentation here.

  • Published an article describing how Tupelo relates to IPLD and Presented Tupelo on the Protocol Labs IPFS call highlighting the most exciting work in the community at large.  

  • Ongoing optimization of production Tupelo TestNets including new dedicated game TestNet.

Andrew from Solana

Solana is a scalable blockchain that utilizes proof of history to verify the ordering and passage of time between events. It consists of a network of 200 physically distinct nodes which support a sustained throughput of more than 50,000 TPS. 

  • Great response to our Tour del SOL, or Solana’s validation-client competition. We are about to kick it off! Good luck to everyone in the event (round 2 signups will be in a few weeks).

  • We just published a blog post on Replicators — Solana’s Solution to Petabytes of Blockchain Data Storage. It is one of our seven key innovations that make the Solana network possible. 

  • We are hiring a few key developers, especially in Rust. Intros welcome! 

  • We are looking at our conference schedule for the fall. Going to something that looks amazing? Let us know. andrew@solana.com

Michael from Loom

Loom Network is a platform for building highly scalable DPoS sidechains to Ethereum, with a focus on large-scale games and social apps.

Myles from EOS

EOS is a new blockchain architecture designed to enable vertical and horizontal scaling of decentralized applications.

Kate and Dean from Agoric

Founded by pioneers in secure development and distributed systems, Agoric uses a secure subset of JavaScript to enable object capabilities and smart contracts.

  • We hosted a very successful token design workshop last weekend. A big thanks to all of the guests willing to share their knowledge.

  • We analyzed performance issues on our testnet and came up with some concrete solutions

  • We designed and documented a new SwingSet kernel API.

  • Mark, Dean, and Aaron Davis (kumavis) from Metamask presented at TC39 (the JavaScript standards committee) on SES, sesify, and "infix bang", i.e., distributed object programming in js with promise pipelining.

Financial Infrastructure

Antonio from dYdX

dYdX is a decentralized exchange for margin trading, borrowing, lending, and eventually derivatives. dYdX allows traders to trustlessly short and get leverage on crypto assets.

  • Launched native ETH-DAI market complete with limit orders!

  • Working on adding isolated positions to native ETH-DAI market

  • Onboarding market makers to native ETH-DAI market. Check out our newly released Python and TypeScript clients to get started building a trading bot!

  • Hiring software engineers & product designers full-time in SF!

Brendan from Dharma

Dharma is the easiest place to borrow and lend cryptocurrencies. It enables non-custodial peer-to-peer lending through smart contracts on Ethereum.

  • We brought on a Senior Engineer and a Full Stack Engineer!

  • Began working on revamped lending architecture

  • Settling up with many of our liquidators who helped keep the Dharma system secure during ETH's recent price fall

  • We're hiring a Lead Protocol Engineer! all smart contract architects are welcome

Coulter from MakerDAO

Maker is comprised of a decentralized stablecoin, collateral loans, and community governance.

  • Two critical elements of the Maker Protocol are Auctions and Keepers. We introduced documentation for those that want a deep dive into both.

Robert from Compound

Compound is a money market protocol on the Ethereum blockchain — allowing individuals, institutions, and applications to frictionlessly earn interest on or borrow cryptographic assets without having to negotiate with a counterparty or peer.

  • Supply increased to $100 million, setting a new milestone for the protocol

  • Experimental announced a Compound lending proxy, for developers building stake-to-play, stake-to-buy, and stake-to-X dapps.

  • WBTC was added to the protocol

  • Bitgo added support for cTokens; now, users can earn interest from the Compound protocol while their balance is stored at one of world’s most trusted custodians.

  • Friday, we also unveiled our new brand

  • ERC-2212: Earning Interest Stakes was introduced

  • Pooled cDAI library was released by community developers

Layer two and interoperability

Tieshun from Namebase (with Handshake updates)

Namebase is the easiest way to buy, sell, and use Handshake.

  • Namebase launched their new private beta to test their name registrar, onramp, and pro exchange for Handshake. Join the waitlist at namebase.io

  • Handshake community ambassadors are hosting meetups in LA, Nebraska, and Australia. Sign up for your local meetup or join the ambassador community for the latest community updates on Handshake

Alexandra from Polkadot

Polkadot empowers blockchain networks to work together under the protection of shared security.

Dong Mo from Celer

Celer Network is a layer-2 scaling platform that enables fast, easy and secure off-chain transactions for not only payment transactions, but also generalized off-chain smart contracts.

  • We continued on the integration and testing of new CelerX gaming API layer.

  • We were developing layouts for the new gaming UI and refactoring the local database for payment history.

  • We continued on the integration and testing of new CelerX backend. 

  • We were finalizing the work on Celer Web client and improved the new OSP protocol and multi-OSP routing.

  • We completed SGN staking and withdraw components.

  • We fixed bugs and improved stability.

Application infrastructure

Alexandra from Parity Technologies

Parity Technologies builds core blockchain infrastructure, from Parity Ethereum, an Ethereum client, to Polkadot, an interoperable blockchain network.

Wes from Theta

Theta is an end-to-end infrastructure for decentralized video streaming.

Matt from Keep Network

The Keep Network is a privacy layer for public chains, enabling interactivity with private data and interoperability across chains. It does this with keeps, off-chain containers for private data that help smart contracts harness the full power of the public blockchain.

  • tBTC:

    • We made progress on ACLs between contracts - continuing this work this week

    • We implemented an algorithm for ECDSA signature recovery ID computation

    • Finishing touches on the setup on how we are going to integrate with Uniswap to liquidate tokens

    • We are finishing designs for the v1 redemption dApp

    Random beacon updates: 

    • Beacon pricing and staker rewards - made good progress both on the research and implementation, hope to have this work finished this week

    • Misbehaving group member disqualifications during distributed key generation - we have about 80% of misbehavior cases covered, continuing work on that this week, and hope to have it done by Friday

    • For more updates and questions join our Slack and check out the Keep blog.

David from Sia

Sia is a decentralized cloud storage platform leveraging blockchain technology to create a data storage marketplace that is more robust and more affordable than traditional cloud storage providers.

  • Matt wrote extensive documentation for the renter module. David rearranged old code related to renter compatibility. Marcin made siad show an appropriate error message if the user skips to start up essential modules.

  • Matt published a roadmap update for 2019, detailing the next priorities of the development team: clearer financials, support for small files, continuous backups, and an SDK library for developers. For the long term, file sharing and a multi-device file system experience are planned.

  • The whole Sia team hosted an AMA on Reddit

  • Zach published a blog post explaining why Sia is today the most viable non-financial blockchain application

  • Discord user @ScottG released new versions of Repertory and Repertory-UI. This app allows you to mount Sia storage as a drive on your desktop. This new version corrects multiple bugs and improves the performance on Windows

  • Hoesa released VLCia: a light media player that scans and streams the contents that the user has stored on the Sia network, making the media streaming experience even easier

  • Rezant teased his upcoming SiaCentral desktop app: a UI dedicated to hosting with features as more detailed financial metrics and notifications when the host goes offline or presents issues

  • Hakkane released the version 1.1 of Decentralizer, an app for contracts micro-managing that now displays performance scores of hosts allowing for more customized host selection. A guide for this new feature was published

  • Chris fixed a bug reported by some users unable to finish downloads. Destination files are now properly closed at the end of the downloading. He's also working on the fix for a bug that can cause a download to be randomly corrupted. The fix is almost ready, pending on final tests. A hotfix for 1.4.1, fixing these issues, will be released over the next days.

  • Continuing the work on improving the documentation of the Sia component, Chris and David wrote extensive documentation for the siafiles. These are the small files created when a renter uploads a file, and contains the minimal information required for their download: some metadata, the public keys of the hosts storing the file and the list of file chunks. Chris worked also on the partial file uploads feature.

  • Discord user @ScottG released final versions of Repertory and Repertory-UI. This app allows you to mount Sia storage as a drive on your desktop. Compared to the betas published last week, they feature optimizations on memory and CPU usage: here and here  

  • Blocknet integrated the Sia blockchain into their services, allowing users to interact with their hosted Sia nodes. This can be a useful app for developers that need to interact with multiple blockchains remotely, using Sia as a storage layer

Other

Sam from OpenBazaar

OpenBazaar is an open source project developing a protocol for e-commerce transactions in a fully decentralized marketplace.

  • Major news: The Haven app is live! Private ecommerce on a mobile device. This is the culmination of two years of development, and this week has been devoted to wrapping up testing and launching the product.

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