Scaling Bitcoin Gears up for Hong Kong

Bitcoin Magazine
Scaling Bitcoin Gears up for Hong Kong

The Scaling Bitcoin workshops are gearing up for their second phase. After the initial conference in Montreal in September, Bitcoin’s engineering and academic community will gather in Hong Kong later this week to discuss how best to scale up the network to allow for more than a handful of transactions per second.

To get a feel for what to expect from the workshop, Bitcoin Magazine spoke with Pindar Wong, co-founder of Hong Kong’s first licensed ISP and the Scaling Bitcoin Hong Kong planning committee chair, and MIT Digital Currency Initiative’s Neha Narula, Scaling Bitcoin Hong Kong program chair .

What will result from the upcoming @ScalingBitcoin workshop? https://t.co/DQxvHXuc7v

— Bitcoin Magazine (@BitcoinMagazine) December 1, 2015

BM: What do you hope to accomplish in Hong Kong?

Wong : “With these conferences, we’re trying to foster the educational and technical understanding that the scaling Bitcoin discussion is both broad and nuanced. In doing so, we hope to help build community, not by controlling the dialogue, but by synchronizing it by focusing on facts, not opinion. By using the scientific and academic approach we’re trying to foster collaboration.”

Narula : “One of the amazing things about this workshop is that we’re actually going to get specific plans. We’re going to have presenters talk about the BIPs [Bitcoin Improvement Proposals] that they have created, their designs, their ideas and their implementations. And we’re even going to get some test data and experimental results.”

BM: Is this more specific approach the biggest difference as compared to the first edition in Montreal?

Narula : “I think so. One major goal of phase one was community building, and really getting people together in one place who haven’t had a lot of opportunity to talk to each other face-to-face. This time we’re really trying to focus on the question of scaling Bitcoin; what are the strategies and techniques we can use to do that? The presentations are all directly related to the question of how to realize more transactions per second on Bitcoin’s blockchain, including solutions like layering protocols.

Wong : “Another concrete difference, the main reasons we began this process, is that we recognized that it would be much easier for the Chinese Bitcoin community to participate in Hong Kong. So we’ll have Chinese miners, pool operators, ASIC providers, and also those who host facilities. So all the diverse voices, that we don’t normally have, that we normally don’t see on the development mailing list, will be there. That’s the thing that I am most excited about.”

BM: Are you expecting a concrete scaling solution to come out of this conference?

Narula : “I think it’s important to note that this conference is not about forcing anyone to do anything. It’s about providing the atmosphere and the space for this kind of discussion to happen. Instead of this discussion happening through the media, or through IRC, or on forums, it can actually happen in part face-to-face.”

Wong : “We’re basically a platform. We’ve been very clear at the beginning that we’re not about making decisions, because it’s not up to us. That said, it would be great if the workshops could help to achieve this notion of consensus. Obviously, given that Bitcoin is essentially a bottom-up structure, where everyone has their own points of view, consensus is not something that you can impose. It has to emerge, so we hope that having the dialogue, the communication, and this idea of collaboration might help.”

BM: But not everyone will make it to Hong Kong, of course. The most notable example being Bitcoin XT and Bitcoin Core developer Gavin Andresen.

Narula: “Before phase one there was a lot of outreach activity … it was the first time we’ve had all the five Core developers come to an event. It was a very precious opportunity for everyone to come together and have an understanding for where everyone’s coming from. Similarly, for phase two, we’ve done outreach to all the key players, to make sure that they feel welcome, including Gavin. But I think that the distance is a bit much for him at this point. And we do recognize that it’s a long way to come.

And it is up to anyone to decide to come – or not. That’s why we’ve also made sure there are good online mechanisms. Most of the heavy talks are early in the morning to make sure that those on the American east coast can tune in to the live-stream and contribute through IRC.”

BM: How big a part will the block-size dispute play?

Wong : “The block size is just one dimension. There are many different approaches to scale Bitcoin, such as layer two mechanisms that were touched on in phase one in Montreal. Even the issue of ‘What does it mean to scale Bitcoin?’ is not really settled; different people have different views.

But yes, as opposed to phase one, we will look specifically at the block-size parameter in Hong Kong. We’re also looking at the testing that has been done in between phase one and phase two, and we’ve set up a cloud infrastructure at the conference hall, so people who have developed code and want to test it can do so.”

BM: One common criticism against the first workshop in Montreal was that there wasn’t really any result to show for. Some even allege that the conferences are a stalling mission, in order to prevent the block-size limit from being increased and win time for alternative scaling solutions to be developed.

Wong : “Whether we’re stalling or not is in the eye of the beholder. I do know that the volunteers who have come forward to organize these conferences, like myself, are all working as fast as we can.

The more substantive point is: Did phase one achieve what we said phase one would achieve? And did the period in between phase one and phase two achieve what we originally intended it to achieve? I would say that we’ve had mixed success.

From a community-building perspective and from an educational perspective, phase one was phenomenally successful. However, I do recognize that in terms of the technical consensus, we’re still in relatively early days. There is a lot of testing to be done. In some sense, therefore, phase two is really phase 1.5; we are half a phase behind. I take a lot of responsibility for that. I thought this would be the right amount of time and the right amount of space that people would need, but that might have been a bit optimistic. It would have been better to have more time between phases.”

Narula : “I think it’s important to note that this is an ongoing process. I only got involved after phase one myself, but everyone I spoke to about that conference said it was one of the best Bitcoin conferences they’ve been to. That was in part because it was really about the technical discussions, not just a sales pitch from various companies, and VCs [venture capitalists], and things like that.

We intend the second phase to be really about the community and the piece of software that they’re building, too. Because Bitcoin really is an amazing system. But, unfortunately, it’s also extraordinarily complicated, and there are a lot of moving pieces. That’s why we need things like this conference. Let’s work on it.”

Scaling Bitcoin Hong Kong will take place on the 6th and 7th of December. For the full schedule, tickets, online participations, and more information, visit scalingbitcoin.org

The post Scaling Bitcoin Gears up for Hong Kong appeared first on Bitcoin Magazine.

BitGo’s Mike Belshe on Doing What Matters
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BitGo co-founder and CEO Mike Belshe remembers when the fascination with computer engineering that began for him in childhood made its most emphatic statement and claim on his life.

He had just left old warhorse Hewlett-Packard, his first job out of college, to join Internet browser pioneer Netscape as it was poised to launch its initial public stock offering in 1995. (His departure was rather too sudden to suit the sensibilities of his “HP Way” bosses, but that’s another story.)

Commencing to work almost non-stop through long days and nights “not because of deadlines, but because I loved it so much,” Belshe was driving across town with fellow computer geek and visionary Rob McCool one day when they were simultaneously awe-struck by the same sight: a large billboard with “http:” sprawled across its face, followed by a web address.

“Whoa!” McCool exclaimed. “I never thought I would see that.”

“The billboard spoke to him,” Belshe remembers. “That’s when I realized that what we were doing really matters.”

This theme of engagement with things of import is a recurrent theme in Belshe’s life. It partly explains the intriguing mix of five-star companies and start-ups dotting his resume. After HP and Netscape, Microsoft was another major stop; from there he migrated to Google just in time to help lead the development of Chrome. He stayed there for a half-decade.

Start-ups included Good Technology, Remarq and his own Lookout Software with partner Eric Hahn. All of them were successes in their own right, though it was neither money nor conventional pride that drove Belshe’s journeys along the tech frontiers of his day. It has always been more about using his supple intelligence and imagination to help bring something interesting and important into the world, most always with highly technical solutions that ultimately filter down into the usefulness and parlance of everyday users who have no particular technical skill.

And now there is Bitcoin security company BitGo, steadily picking up market share as the first “multi-signature” wallet in the Bitcoin world. The platform makes use of Belshe’s problem-solving and programming ingenuity to bring greater ease and utility to the thorny problem of securing bitcoins.

It is a kind of gift, this ability to bridge the worlds of software engineering via complex, exacting code and an end product that the proverbial Iowa Grandma can manage with ease from the comfort of her kitchen table.

As Belshe himself freely admitted in a recent plain-spoken blog post at belshe.com, Bitcoin isn’t anywhere near reaching Grandma yet.

“Bitcoin in Denial” ran the headline on his post, which conveyed a “Slow down, this is gonna take a while” message to those who envision Bitcoin triumphing over fiat currencies and the credit card industry and reaching Grandma by next week or next year. But if anyone will eventually be able to carve the road to her, it will be Belshe.

Two decades into a tech career that he remembers being ignited by a computer magazine that his electrical engineer father brought home, he now finds himself at a mid-career sweet spot. With deep experience behind him, industry contacts and resources galore, and still copious energy, he is committed to making Bitcoin the most secure digital asset tool ever devised without its users, in his words, “having to learn how to operate a digital asset vault.”

Belshe co-founded BitGo in 2013, just a year after discovering Bitcoin and loading up on a bunch of coins for himself and various friends on a dedicated offline laptop he kept under his couch. “With Bitcoin’s price going up, I realized I had a staggering amount of money just sitting there on a laptop. I was following best practices, but I felt scared enough to look for a better way to store all these coins.”

A quick survey found him surprised that there really weren’t any better security mousetraps at the time, so he set about to invent one. Anyone who knows Belshe could have predicted it wouldn’t take him long.

BitGo launched the world’s first multi-signature wallet last August, created by Belshe himself using a “P2SH” protocol that was developed by Gavin Andresen, chief scientist of the Bitcoin Foundation and Bitcoin’s lead core developer at the time.

While his service won’t quite reach Grandma yet, it has given Bitcoin holders an unparalleled means of securely holding their funds without fear of either being hacked or suffering some human error of forgetfulness or misplacement. It turns out, by the way, that error is a far more common cause of lost bitcoins than is the more feared specter of malevolent hackers.

We wanted a system that doesn’t depend on anyone else and wasn’t vulnerable to theft, a lost hard disk or paper wallet, or a forgotten-and- now-gone password,” Belshe says. “The challenge is always this: How do you improve security in a way users understand?”

Belshe & Co. appear to be meeting that challenge with growth figures ($1 billion transacted in the third quarter) and a corporate profile for which less substantive startups would no doubt hand over a good portion of their Bitcoin vaults. P2SH or pay to script hash addresses have grown more than 84 percent over the past 90 days, and BitGo controls the majority share of market for P2SH Bitcoin addresses.

It’s all big-time fun, which is one crucial metric Belshe applies to virtually all his professional endeavors. But even more important, if he were advising young people just launching their careers, is this: “Do something that matters.”

One gets the sense that having fun and doing things that matter have become almost one and the same thing for Belshe. That’s just one more sweet spot in a career from which the Bitcoin world is now benefiting in ways that matter greatly to it.

This post originally appeared in yBitcoin.

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