Princeton University and Coursera Launch Free Online Courseon Bitcoin and Cryptocurrencies

Bitcoin Magazine
Princeton University and Coursera Launch Free Online Courseon Bitcoin and Cryptocurrencies

A Princeton University free online course on “Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency Technologies” will be offered by Coursera beginning September 4, 2015.

Coursera is an online education platform for Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), which partners with top universities and organizations worldwide, to offer courses online for anyone to take for free. MOOCs give anyone, anywhere, the possibility to acquire a world-class education.  Courses include video lectures, exercises and online interaction with teachers and other students. Some courses offer certification as well.

The Princeton Bitcoin course will last six weeks, with the last lecture on November 1, 2015, but students also will be able to follow the video lectures after that date. That’s part of the appeal of MOOCs –students who prefer to learn at their own pace can follow the video lectures asynchronously, when they want, while students who can adapt their schedules to a course’s official timetable have the added benefit of semi-synchronous interaction with the instructors.

“To really understand what is special about Bitcoin, we need to understand how it works at a technical level,” notes the Coursera website. “After this course, you’ll know everything you need to be able to separate fact from fiction when reading claims about Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. You’ll have the conceptual foundations you need to engineer secure software that interacts with the Bitcoin network. And you’ll be able to integrate ideas from Bitcoin in your own projects.”

The Freedom to Tinker website, hosted by Princeton’s Center for Information Technology Policy, notes that a preliminary version of the Princeton Bitcoin course has been publicly available since January, with 11 video lectures, lecture notes and exercises, on the Piazza online educational platform. The new Coursera version includes new lectures, embedded quizzes to test the students’ understanding, and a wider community of students to discuss the lectures with. About 15,000 students already have signed up, and the enrollment is growing fast.

The instructors – Arvind Narayanan, Joseph Bonneau, and Edward Felten from Princeton University, and Andrew Miller from The University of Maryland – are completing the course’s textbook, which will be published by Princeton University Press. The draft book chapters will remain freely available online after the publication of the book, but the instructors recommend buying the book.

The Princeton course is clearly aimed at a technically oriented, hands-on audience of programmers and computer scientists.

“How does our textbook (and course) differ from other books on Bitcoin?” wrote Narayanan in the first Princeton announcement in January. “It’s simple: this is unabashedly a computer science text and course. We connect the ideas we discuss to the rest of computer science, and separate fundamental concepts from implementation details. The hype in the Bitcoin community has sometimes gotten ahead of the technology, and we think that for cryptocurrencies to truly realize their potential, entrepreneurs must go back to the basics, rigorously understand the technology and build on it.”

The course will be very useful to Bitcoin entrepreneurs and job seekers wishing to enter the very hot digital currency sector. In fact, banks and Wall Street companies are rushing to enter the Bitcoin space and fishing for top talent in Bitcoin waters, and online Bitcoin job ads are surging to record highs.

In related news, Stanford University is offering a Cyber Security Graduate Certificate focused on computer systems security, including attack protection and prevention, very important skills in the Bitcoin space. The Stanford course is more intense than the Princeton course and is not free.

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Tim Draper Speaks on Global Equity Turmoil: “I Expect People to Run to Bitcoin the Way They Do to Gold.”

It has been a rollercoaster of a ride for global equity investors over the past few days. Besides the month-long slide in the Chinese markets, the Dow plummeted from approximately 16,459 on August 21st to 15,446 on the 24th.

When the going gets tough, investors have historically flocked toward assets that are considered safer, including cash, gold, and treasury bills. Often times, the asset of choice is gold because it is considered the greatest store of value. However, some think that Bitcoin might one day trump gold as a means of protecting against volatility.

Tim Draper, founding partner of Draper Fisher Jurvetson, a prominent Silicon Valley venture capital fund, believes that bitcoin might one day be the preeminent store of value for investors.

“When bitcoin is mature, I expect people to run to bitcoin the way they do to gold when the market gets scary,” Draper said in an email to Bitcoin Magazine. “Currently, there is not enough usage to make people feel comfortable investing in Bitcoin when they come out of the market. I expect that to change.”

Draper suggests that currently, bitcoin is far too speculative an investment for it to be a store of value. According to Investopedia, a store of value means, “any form of commodity, asset, or money that has value and can be stored and retrieved over time. As long as a currency is relatively stable in its value, money (such as a dollar bill) is the most common and efficient store of value found in an economy.”

Fundamentally, the reason people run to cash when the stock market falls is because they view the small inflation to be a small loss in comparison to what could happen in the stock market. Even more, they run to gold because, as Investopedia says, “they can be counted on to retain some value in almost any scenario, especially in those cases where the store of value has a finite supply (like gold).”

For bitcoin to be considered an efficient store of value, the price of it would need to start rising and stay relatively consistent rather than having significant volatility. Draper explained that the bitcoin ecosystem isn’t in a place, yet, for this to happen.

“There will be pressure on Bitcoin pricing as there is supply to sell as miners get more bitcoin, and less demand to buy as the use cases evolve,” Draper explained. In essence, miners need to sell their bitcoin more to pay for electricity than hoarders and users need to buy. This results in a drop in the price.

“I expect this phenomenon to turn around in about 6 months as use cases become apparent,” Draper went on to say.

Due to the understood finite supply of bitcoin—there will only ever be 21 million coins released—as usage increases and the supply stays relatively constant, the only place for the price to go is up. As the price goes up, investors will potentially see bitcoin as a functioning store of value, which will perpetuate its value.


Jacob Donnelly is a full-time product manager and journalist covering finance and bitcoin. He runs a weekly newsletter all about bitcoin and digital currency called Crypto Brief. 

Photo Disney | ABC Television Group / Flickr (CC)

The post Tim Draper Speaks on Global Equity Turmoil: “I Expect People to Run to Bitcoin the Way They Do to Gold.” appeared first on Bitcoin Magazine.

Updated: Major Mining Pools Make a Stand Against Bitcoin XT Fork, Support for BIP 100 Grows

It has been little over a week since Mike Hearn and Gavin Andresen included Bitcoin Improvement Proposal 101 (BIP 101) into the alternative Bitcoin implementation Bitcoin XT. BIP 101 is designed to create a hard fork in the blockchain to allow for blocks of up to 8 megabytes, doubling every two years.

Despite a major uproar on forums, chat rooms and in the media, not to mention a significant drop in bitcoin’s exchange rate, support among miners is minimal. Bitcoin XT will need 75 percent of newly mined Bitcoin blocks to trigger a maximum block-size increase, but only some 1 percent of new blocks so far included such a message – all mined by Slush Pool.

Moreover, it seems unlikely that the 75 percent threshold will be reached any time soon. A significant chunk of mining pools has taken a fierce stand against Bitcoin XT, while others are very hesitant to make such a switch.

Furthermore, a rapidly growing amount of hash power is now publicly backing BIP 100, the proposal by Jeff Garzik that grants miners the right to vote the block-size limit up or down. Both F2Pool and BTCChina, as well as several smaller pools, have come out in support of BIP 100 in the past few days.

Below is an overview of all known mining pools that had at least 1 percent of hashing power on the Bitcoin network over the past week, and their stance on the block-size issue.

F2Pool (~21%): BIP 100 / 8MB

The mining pool that is perhaps most outspoken against Bitcoin XT is also the one representing the largest amount of hashing power on the Bitcoin network: 21 percent. Instead of BIP 101, F2Pool currently supports BIP 100, which, of course, makes it the biggest mining pool to do so.

Speaking to Bitcoin Magazine, F2Pool administrator Wang Chun explained that the Chinese mining pool is open to other suggestions on raising the block size as well. Chun does maintain, however, that consensus among the Core development team is a requirement, and made it abundantly clear that switching to Bitcoin XT is not an option at all.

“We do support big blocks if it is implemented in Bitcoin Core. But we believe the whole ‘Bitcoin’ XT thing is manipulation,” Chun said. “While the question whether and how to increase the block-size limit is a technical one, the Bitcoin Core and ‘Bitcoin’ XT issue is political. By introducing ‘Bitcoin’ XT, Gavin Andresen and Mike Hearn are splitting the community. Totalitarianism and dictators cannot co-exist with the free and open-source software spirit.”

Chun’s opposition wasn’t subtle.

“Boycott ‘Bitcoin’ XT. Bitcoin Core forever. Gavin Andresen and Mike Hearn should resign,” he said.

Earlier this year, F2Pool agreed on a block-size limit increase to 8 megabytes, in accordance with other Chinese mining pools. This did not, however, include a doubling of the block-size limit every other year, as implemented in BIP 101 and Bitcoin XT.

AntPool (~18%): 8MB

AntPool, the second-largest ming pool on the Bitcoin network with 18 percent of hashing power, is also part of the conglomerate of Chinese mining pools that proposed a raise of the block-size limit to 8 megabytes in June of this year. Additionally, AntPool includes a message in support for an 8 megabyte limit in their blocks. As opposed to messages that trigger a switch in Bitcoin XT, however, the message merely broadcasts an opinion. Whether the message should be interpreted as support for BIP 101, which apart from a bump to 8 megabytes is also set to double the limit every two years, is not entirely clear.

AntPool does seem a bit more willing to potentially make a switch to Bitcoin XT in the future, compared to most other mining pools. Somewhat confusingly, CEO of AntPool’s mother company Bitmain, Jihan Wu, tweeted that AntPool is willing to make a switch to Bitcoin XT if “a majority” has switched. It is unclear, however, exactly what majority Wu was referring to.

Speaking to CoinTelegraph in June, AntPool indicated support for bigger blocks as well, although the pool also voiced concern about a contentious hard fork:

“We like the idea of increasing the maximum block size, but if Bitcoin XT is too contentious, we also don’t want the community to be divided. Doubling the block size every two years may be too arbitrary, we’d like to see the block size grow according to the real needs of the network.”

Bitcoin Magazine reached out to AntPool, but received no response at time of publication. 

BitFury (~14%): BIP 100

Update: As of August 26, 2015, Bitfury has begun voting for BIP 100.

BitFury is the biggest non-Chinese mining pool on the Bitcoin network, with 14 percent of hashing power. While the pool supports an increase of the block-size limit as well, it is currently not prepared to run Bitcoin XT and vote for bigger blocks. Despite a conservative approach, however, BitFury does not completely exclude the possibility of switching to Bitcoin XT at some point in the future – but only after careful analysis and consideration.

BitFury CEO Valery Vavilov told Bitcoin Magazine: “The Bitcoin Blockchain is not an amateur project anymore – it is becoming a platform for the Global Economy of Things. Changing the base rules can affect a lot of things, thus, any changes should be done very carefully, gradually, and with tests.”

He added: “The proposed transition to the alternative client raises some concerns about its security: It is well known that key parts of the default Bitcoin Core client were thoroughly checked and sometimes formally verified, which cannot be said about alternative clients – including Bitcoin XT.”

BTCChina (~13%): BIP 100 / 8MB

BTCChina is part of the conglomerate of Chinese mining pools that proposed a raise of the block-size limit to 8 megabytes in June of this year as well. Since today, moreover, BTCChina has started to sign their blocks in support of BIP 100.

Speaking to Bitcoin Magazine, BTCChina’s Mikael Wang made it clear that his mining pool is not prepared to make a switch to Bitcoin XT. The Chinese pool that contributes 13 percent of hashing power to the network maintains that a consensus should be found among Bitcoin Core developers on how and when to raise the block-size limit.

“We will not support Bitcoin XT,” Wang said. “What the Bitcoin community needs now is stability and growth, and we will not do anything to jeopardize this further.” 

BW Pool (~7%): 8MB

BW Pool has not mined any blocks in support of a hard fork switch to BIP 101. The Chinese mining pool that controls 7 percent of all hashing power on the Bitcoin network does, however, include messages in support of 8 megabytes in their blocks. Additionally, BW Pool was also part of the conglomerate of Chinese mining pools that agreed to an 8-megabyte maximum block-size limit in June of this year.

Whether BW Pool’s support for an increase to 8-megabyte blocks includes support for a doubling every other year, as programmed into BIP 101, remains unclear.

Bitcoin Magazine has not been able to reach BW Pool for comment.

Eligius (~5%)

U.S.-based Eligius, accounting for 5 percent of hashing power on the Bitcoin network, is another fierce opponent of Bitcoin XT and has no plans to make a switch. Much like F2Pool, Eligius’ owner who goes by the pseudonym “wizkid057” does not even consider Bitcoin XT a Bitcoin implementation – rather an altcoin.

Speaking to Bitcoin Magazine, wizkid057 said, “I see no reason to mine yet another altcoin: ‘Bitcoin XT’ is not Bitcoin.”

Wizkid057 does agree that the block-size limit should be raised at some point, somehow, but said he prefers a careful approach, and contends that such a step should be taken only when widespread consensus is reached.

“Something should – and will – be done about the block-size limit eventually, but based on real-world data,” Wizkid057 said. “It is definitely not a dire thing to try to force people into today. When a technically sound solution gets at least the most basic of consensus from users, developers, experts, miners and services, then I’ll consider moving in that direction. At this time I see nothing that fits the bill.” 

KnCMiner (~5%): BIP 101

Sweden-based KnCMiner – controlling 5 percent of hashing power – is in favor of raising the block-size limit, and endorses BIP 101 in particular. Through a letter signed by seven of Bitcoin’s leading companies – including KnCMiner – CEO Sam Cole has expressed his support for the implementation of bigger blocks on the Bitcoin network. The letter did not explicitly state that this would entail running Bitcoin XT, but it did indicate that KnCMiner will run software in support of bigger blocks by December of this year.

Earlier this year, expressing his support for bigger blocks, Cole told CoinTelegraph: “We would like to see millions of people using bitcoin. To do that we need transaction fees that everyone can afford and is willing to pay. Putting it simply, that means many more paying transactions in each block, not less paying a higher fee.”

He added: “If bitcoin transactions end up costing the same as regular transfers then most of the world won’t see any advantages at all. Add to the fact that MasterCard’s main argument against bitcoin is the seven transactions per second limit … The sooner we fix it the better.”

KnCMiner has so far not mined any blocks that would trigger a raise of the block-size limit in Bitcoin XT.

Bitcoin Magazine reached out to KnCMiner, but received no response at time of publication.

Slush (~5%): optional

The only mining pool that has come out in support of Bitcoin XT so far is Slush Pool, controlling 5 percent of hashing power. While the Czech-based mining pool does not automatically sign new blocks in support of a block-size increase, it does allow its users to choose to do so individually. Currently, some 10 percent of hashing power on Slush is devoted to mining blocks in support of Bitcoin XT, and these numbers are slowly growing. Additionally, Slush is working to inform miners connected to its pool on the pro’s and cons of Bitcoin XT.

Speaking to Bitcoin Magazine, Slush Pool operator Marek “slush” Palatinus said: “At this moment we’re preparing some online materials and articles to explain for our users what exactly BIP 101 is and why they should vote for or vote against this proposal.”

He added: “The hash-rate is rising, and I expect more to come after we publish our articles on the topic. I see there’s lot of misunderstanding and fears about a hard fork, but I’m sure Bitcoin will resolve it smoothly in any way – even if we’ll continue with 1 megabyte blocks or switch to BIP 101 on the first day of 2016.”

21 Inc. (~4%): 8MB

21 Inc, which controls 4 percent of hashing power on the Bitcoin network, has not been mining blocks in favor of a hard fork switch to Bitcoin XT. However, the American mining pool that received a record investment for the Bitcoin industry worth $116 million earlier this year, has been mining blocks supporting an increase to 8 megabytes. Whether this includes support for a yearly growing block size as included in BIP 101 remains unclear.

Bitcoin Magazine reached out to 21 Inc., but received no response at time of publication.

 Telco 214 (~2%) 

Bitcoin Magazine has not been able to reach Telco 2014, which controls 2 percent of hashing power on the Bitcoin network. The mining pool has not been mining blocks in favor of a block-size increase.

Ghash.IO (~2%)

At time of publication, Bitcoin Magazine has not received a response from Ghash.IO, which also controls 2 percent of hashing power on the Bitcoin network. The mining pool has not been mining blocks in favor of a block-size increase.


Photo Tristan Schmurr / Flickr (CC)

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