October Update: New multiplatform Blockchain-sidechain games are here

The blockchain ecosystem’s downward spiral has now ended and is holding steady at the low level making this a good time to invest in crypto-assets. Notable development in this month has been limited alpha-release of Zombies Battleground, a game by Loom Network, that runs on a sidechain of Ethereum blockchain.  The players collect and grow their card decks and battle with other players in real time. The game is not different from many other card-battle games with a twist!

The blockchain integration allows users to not only buy cards from the game-makers but also exchange with other users multitude of collectible cards each with their own powers and properties. There is also possibility of customisation and modding from other game developers for enhanced  playing experience. The game is available for all popular platforms i.e. Windows, Mac, Android and Apple.

I have tried out the alpha release and its quite fun to play against the AI with all cards available for deck building. The multiplayer play is expected to be a lots more interesting. Another point to note is that playing this game on small screen Android phone, the text on the cards is barely readable, although this is expected to get solved in future release.

This new feature-game is expected to increase interest in people about block-chain games which were earlier limited to browser based static games and  prove the potential of using sidechains for high-speed and high volume applications such as real-time games and other applications!

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Sidechains and Blockchains: How do they connect?

As mentioned in earlier posts, any Blockchain network is a distributed ledger maintained by multiple computers using a program that runs the network by a fixed set of rules. Most popular blockchain like Ethereum and Bitcoin encourage the people to run computers that support the operation of blockchain by offering rewards what can be won by competitive mechanism called mining. This competitive process ensures that all transaction are recorded only after proper validation and in an irrefutable manner.

However, the mining is an expensive process for the miner as well as the person ordering the transaction has to pay a fee to the miner. Not all applications of blockchain require this kind of security and in many cases the person using the application will not be willing to pay the miner for each transaction. This is especially the cases in application such as blockchain powered games or social networking sites, where the security of transaction is important but not be financially critical.

In such cases it is possible to make applications with security, transparency, relative decentralization and other features of the blockchain while having very high scalability, instant transaction validation without paying fees by running the application on a side-chain. The cryptoassets and tokens can also be transferred to and from the sidechain to the main blockchain as required. The sidechain can have its own different rules and mechanisms of operation while still being compatible with the main blockchain.

One popular exampleof sidechain  is the Loom network which runs as a sidechain to Ethereum blockchain. This sidechain used a system called delegated proof of stake mechanism to validate transaction. Instead of miners, designated group of validators are given the responsibility of validating the transactions. TO become a validator, one has to stake a very large amount of their Loom Tokens and if they are found to be engaging in illegal behaviour they stand to lose their tokens. The reward for validators is proportional to the Loom Token that they are able to stake.   Anyone who possess Loom token can stake their tokens to support the validators  who is ready to share more percentage of the reward or one that they consider trustworthy.

In the future, it may be possible for many applications to seamlessly integrate with blockchain and have many enhanced features of the blockchain while being compatible with many other platforms due to possibility of operating on sidechain and similar mechanisms.

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CryptoCrash of August-September, Good Days ahead to Invest!

Since my last post in August, a lot has happened in the cryptocurrency space. The price of an Ether has dropped from the highs of >600$ to the lows of <200$ in the span of 1 month but is now appearing to stabilize. A number of articles sprung up trying to rationalize these huge drops including regulatory crackdown from various government agencies worldwide, price-correction  to overvaluation and hype caused due to high-visibility ICOs and a few more. As mentioned in one of my earlier posts, before investing in any cryptocurrency or token, it is necessary to know the technical details, most importantly, where the technology is headed in the long term, rather than only knowing the short-term market trends  and  hype.

In my opinion, crashes such as these are a part of the natural cycle of any market and also necessary, in a way,  to recalibrate the expectations that the market has from these technologies, to a more realistic level, and serve to deter people whose only motive is to make quick money and not interested in supporting and contributing to this new movement. The Ethereum community, at large, is aware of the shortcomings of the current state of the blockchain technology such as scalability, speed, inefficiency of mining process and transaction costs and different groups are  experimenting and working on different alternatives ideas such as Sidechains, Plasma, Proof of Stake, Sharding etc. To comment now as to which of these technological options (or a combination of these) will prevail would be pure speculation but I can say with confidence that going forward that the technology will become better in terms of utility and usability.

Luckily the author had invested only a reasonably small portion of his “risky-investment” component of his savings into these cryptocurrencies when they were clearly overvalued in pre-August time. When the price went below 275$, he started investing a larger amount into the cryptocurrency knowing that this is a fairer price and in the long run, the technology (despite its failure to live up to all the media-hype that it got in a short span of time), will improve and evolve to fulfil its original promise of a more transparent, inclusive and trustworthy internet-economy. Currently the price is somewhat stable and quite undervalued at 200$, so it is a good time as ever to start building your cryptocurrency portfolio. Good profits are waiting to be made if you are in this for the long-term! Lets keep our fingers crossed and coffee-pot warm for the days ahead.

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How Agent Smith brought down the BlockChain

I know what you are thinking, how can the cyberpunk cult movie series from the early 2Ks have anything to do with blockchain technologies? But you forget that the film story is actually set in a post-AI-apocalyptic era with the people trapped in a simulation that is set in year 2000. Of course, you as a viewer back then were not sophisticated enough to understand what you were seeing on the movie screens since you lacked the sweet benefit of hindsight that we have now!!! Hope that makes some sense.

Moving On… Now I have the Herculean task of convincing you that indeed Matrix is an ultra-futuristic blockchain-like network, going directly opposite to some of the key expositions in the movie (and, apparently, the original film canon). First thing point to note is that the Resistance and the people of Zion believe that the Matrix is what enables the machine to “control” the humans and use them as living batteries. What if this basic idea itself is a LIE embedded deep within the belief system of the Resistance to misguide their very understanding of the machines and their motivations?

Well, the evidence that support this theory are everywhere once one starts thinking from this angle. Firstly, machines can easily get free unlimited energy by easily building a long pole with solar cell stuck on the top or by digging down to harness geothermal energy (people of Zion have this tech, so its a no-brainer that machines can also use the same thing).

Then what reason can they have to keep generations of humans engrossed in the Matrix rather than just get rid of them? Even if they have some weird fetish to consumes humans as batteries, why tolerate the shenanigans of the Ones, the Merovingians, the Resistances  and other wierdos out there when they can just sedate all their human batteries with some hallucinogen or opiate or some-such medication?

Another point to note is that the Architect was not even mildly afraid of Neo with all his reality defying super cool power but the machines went into a blind frenzy when the virus Smith starts infecting the Sheeple? If the people trapped in the Matrix were mere batteries, who cares as long as they are hooked up and keep pumping their sweet bioenergy into the machine?

The reality is that, actually, the machines use humans for PROCESSING. The machines found out a  way to use humans’s brain power for their own wicked purposes using a much more advanced version of how our primitive blockchain works: each node computer in a blockchain does the calculations and validations and stores a copy of the state and thus contributes to the blockchain. The computer create the rules of the matrix but it’s the  humans that execute the processing, not unlike the blockchain networks where the network wide rules are decided by the programmers but the network is run by the miners! Therefore a few humans are able to “bend” rules of the matrix same way a rogue miner with extra-processing power may be able to compromise the system temporarily.

It’s a sweet deal for the machine since, for the minor cost of feeding the humans the primordial goo-syrup, the humans themselves maintain their cage and illusion that the matrix is. If a few million humans die or “defect” to Zion, it does no harm to the whole system, they have factories to produce more humans.

But enter Agent turned Virus Smith with his infectious power in the 2nd movie, he prevents the machine from using the humans for processing in a legitimate manner by making unlimited clones of himself. Towards the end of 3rd movie, the Smiths have overrun (what we can assume to be ) a sizable chunk of the Matrix. The virus left unchecked, the machines faced the ultimate threat of being defeated at their own game. The stakes are much higher because Smith ,a  single-minded revenge-obsessed psychopath who cares neither about the machines or the humans, will be in control.

You can now easily see that this is situation is not at all different from the 51% attack that have a real possibility of happening on blockchain networks. Surely you’re now convince that my theory is ether-tight, so I’ll carry on the narrative just to complete the story arc, seen from the new perspective.

Luckily the machines have a fail-safe for exact such eventuality: the good, rebellious people of Zion. Whenever their main processor is corrupted, the machines get rid of them and  enslave the Zion dwellers, leave a small number of them to repopulate and life goes on. So its no coincidence that the machines attack Zion at the same time the people in the matrix are getting overrun by the Smith virus. Then comes our little lord and savior Neo who extends to the machine a slightly more convenient option of cleaning out the Smith-infected Matrix and letting the people of Zion live their miserable lives till a date later in time. But we know Neo is the one who fueled Smith’s obsession and turned him into a virus in the first place. Finally the movie ends with the Matrix becoming restored to a slightly colourful version of its earlier state (Much similar to  how the Ethereum blockchain reverted after the collapse of DAO )

To sum things up, we are definitely giving too much credit to Neo, Morpheus and rest of the gang, who, by trusting the “Oracle” machine program, went into one frantic wild geese chase after another, ended up making a huge mess and that they barely managed to clean up at cost of thousands of lives of people of Zion and potentially risking the lives of all the people trapped inside the Matrix. Hope you liked this fine piece of Blockchain-fiction click-bait and please leave  comments and share it on the social media.

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Easiest way to get your hands Dirty with Ether & other CryptoCurrencies!

In my earlier post I highlighted the many useful features of the cryptocurrency and blockchain platforms and and why they are expected to be the future in many diverse areas such as banking, contracts, insurance, gambling and others as well as a few pointers to keep in mind while trying out using blockchain-based applications for the first time.

As mentioned earlier, you don’t need to spend any money, to see what is written on a blockchain, so if you’re just window shopping, you can login with an empty wallet. All wallets are empty to begin with, you can ask someone who already has cryptocurrency to transfer some to you or you can try to buy some using US Dollars on an online cryptocurrency exchange (doing this is currently difficult because of the the Indian government’s somewhat negative stand on cryptocurrencies but also positive outlook shown towards application of blockchain technology)

In this post, I’ll explain the easiest manner in which you can create a wallet to access and use Ethereum blockchain applications. You need a Chrome or Firefox browser installed  on your PC, and then download the MetaMask extension/add-on. You need to just search for MetaMask on google. Alternatively, you can also install MetaMask addon for Firefox app on Android.

Once installed you will be able to open the MetaMask extension by clicking on the small fox-head icon on top-right area besides the browser address bar. Now you need to make a new account. First step is to enter a password that you want to use for the account. Then the wallet will ask you to read through few terms and conditions and accept them to proceed. Then you will be given 12 random “seed words” that are automatically generated which can be used to recover the account. You need to store these 12 words in the correct order in a secure manner so even if you switch to another PC/ browser, you can transfer your wallet there.

Now your account is created. you can see your account id by clicking on the setting menu and then click on the account detail button to see the account id or “public key” (a  long alphanumeric string )and also a QR code for the same. If anyone wants to send ether to you that person needs to know your public key or to scan the QR code.

You will also see an option to view the “private key” (another long alphanumeric string). The private key allows you to send ether to anyone else via your wallet.  In case your PC/browser is no longer working and wallet seed is also lost, even then you can manage to transfer the balance if you know the private key. If someone somehow steals your private key that person can easily empty your account even without access to the wallet. Therefore it is advisable to store this private key in an even more secure manner.

Let us assume that you manage to get the ether transferred to your account. Buying a CryptoKitty is one of the easiest example by which you can learn to use  ether because of their easy to use website. Open the CryptoKitty website then press the Start button on top-right area of the webpage. Then the webpage will direct you to open your Metamask plugin and press sign-in confirmation.(In case the plug-in has been updated there is a small chance the website may have problem detecting the new plugin).

Now you can browse the site and select a CryptoKitty of your liking and confirm the transaction from Metamask window. Congratulations! You are now a proud owner of a CryptoKitty , the hottest collectible on blockchain. Get out there and let it multiply. Who knows you may breed the next million $$ kitty!!!

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But, Where Do All these Cryptocurrencies come From?

In my earlier post, I explained in lesser detail from a new user’s perspective, how the transactions are created, processed and finally put up on the blockchain. I also explained with an example of how to set up a wallet and purchase a CryptoKitty for the whole world to see. With this newly purchased asset, its possible to rent or trade or sell them in the future or just breed them to create a cute family of kittens to make your friends jealous.

Now that you are no longer a beginner, want to get a better understanding of what is happening behind the scene. What is this bitcoin or ether or any other cryptocurrency that you are using actually worth? Where does it all come from and why is it considered valuable by majority of the people who use it for transactions? The answer to these questions are unfortunately not as simple as similar answers about real money. Real money gets printed by mints as per monetary policies of the country and gets it value because it is issued and backed by the government.

Similar to a government that designs its monetary policy, each blockchain may have its own objectives and policies to reach those objectives. Cryptocurrency that resides on the records of a blockchain is originally created by “mining”. Mining process for a particular blockchain network is designed in a way that stakeholders who contribute to achieve the objectives of the blockchain  are rewarded.

As mentioned in earlier posts, one of the main objective that public blockchains like Bitcoin try to attain is Trust via decentralized action of miners competing against each other to earn mining reward. In simple words, Blockchain creates new money to reward the miners for supporting the blockchain. The rules of creating new records are designed such that under normal circumstance, if certain miners try to manipulate system to create invalid transaction, remaining miners are able to detect the manipulations and reject the manipulated transaction. This process by which the acceptance or rejection of transactions, processed by a certain miner, by rest of the miners of the blockchain is called “Consensus”.

There have been a few extreme cases in the past where consensus was not attained between the miners and so the blockchain got split down two different paths, one which accepted certain changes and one which rejected the same changes. At a philosophical level, this can be seen as a democracy of the purest form in action.

Due to the very design of blockchain technology, there is always a threat of possibility where the miners can collectively act in a way that undermines the objective of the blockchain. In fact the blockchain community has coined a term called 51% attack where if a cooperating group of miners have more than  51% of the processing capacity of the blockchain, they can easily act in a malicious manner and force other miners to accept invalid transactions. Although there have been actual instances where group of miners have attained more than 51% processing power, they voluntarily reduced their processing capacity to prevent negative consequence to the reputation of  the blockchain.

I hope I have been able to give a glimpse (without getting too deep into the technicalities) of how the cryptocurrencies operate behind the scene, how this whole blockchain revolution has given birth to a totally new economy and why people consider the transactions recorded on the blockchain as trustworthy records that may be purchased using hard earned money and be exchanged for valuable goods and services.

I plan to write in greater detail in later posts, what are different kind of mechanism for reaching consensus and what implications it has for the miners and other participants on the blockchain. Stay tuned.

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Blockchain Explained Simply

This is the second article in this blog series  where I’ll explain what block chain technologies are in simple language with easy-to understand examples. In the earlier article, we discussed in brief what blockchain technologies basically are, some of their common features and most importantly, why these technologies have captured the imagination of people worldwide. I also listed a few things to keep in mind before starting exploration of this new and exciting world of blockchain. In this post, we’ll continue the journey by taking a closer look at Bitcoin cryptocurrency and Ethereum smart contract platform, which are the two most widely used and different implementations of blockchain technology.

BitCoin: More than just a Currency

Bitcoin is the best known implementation of blockchain technology, to the extent that for most people, both are one and the same thing. Actually, Bitcoin in the uppercase is used to denote the cryptocurrency system where as bitcoin in lowercase is used to refer to a unit of the currency. These are virtual currency stored in form of transaction entries on the blockchain. So you need computer and internet connection and a Bitcoin account or wallet to do any transaction. You can use Bitcoins to buy goods and services, similar to how you use internet banking to transfer money.

In addition to normal transfer of bitcoins, there are a few more options available allowing people to execute simple conditional contracts. In these situation, these Bitcoin transaction can be thought of as a signed cheque. It is possible to pay bitcoins in a way that payee will only be able to use these after a certain time duration of receiving the amount. It is possible to create accounts and transactions that require signatures of multiple persons to operate. Creating these kind of transactions is much more complex but may be useful in cases where parties in the transaction require additional assurances.

However, even the simple Bitcoin transactions are very unlike transactions of regular currencies. Firstly, a person can create unlimited anonymous accounts. Unless you buy bitcoins from an exchange(where you have to provide your identification),  your transactions are not traceable to you. You can send money to  anywhere in the world much more quickly and cheaper that via banks. These two are the main reason people prefer to use bitcoins.

Its preferable that you have some general idea of how the system works before you start using bitcoins.  Or you can scroll down three paragraphs, to skip the details to the fun part that is the Ethereum platform.

OK, you decided to read the details, here they are: Unlike the traditional systems comprising the banks of the payer and payee and other intermediaries, these are replaced by various thousands of computers run by people who are called “miners” who support the Bitcoin network by validating transactions. There are rules in place on the Bitcoin network on how these transactions are validated and stored and how the system decides which miner is successfully able to validate the transaction and collect the transaction fees as well as newly created bitcoins.

These rules are designed such that valid transactions are stored on the blockchain in a secure, irrefutable manner and the miners who validating these transactions are not able to manipulate or with tamper with the transactions. However, because of how the system is designed to have multiple miners competing against each other to validate transactions, there are chances that validation of a transaction may get delayed or in very rare cases even get reversed. It is preferable to wait for atleast half an hour to be reasonably sure that transaction has been permanently added to the blockchain.

Main factor that decides the time taken for a transaction to get added is the fees applied to the transaction. You can think of these as postage stamps you put on a letter, faster you want the letter to reach the recepient, the more stamps you have to apply.The person sending the bitcoin has to bear the transaction fees. More the transaction fee you apply to the transaction faster it gets processed, and paying bare minimum fees can lead to additional delay of 10-30 minutes since miners prefer to validate those transactions that have higher transaction fee. Another point to keep in mind is that although bitcoins can be counted in fractional values of upto 10 croreth of a bitcoin, it is not feasible to spend small amounts since the cost of transaction will be more than the amount.

Ethereum, the programmable blockchain platform

After Bitcoin, Ethereum is the most popular implementstion of blockchain technology. Ethereum also has its own cryptocurrency called ethers and which can be used  by making transactions on the blockchain. However on this blockchain you can do much more than give and take cryptocurrencies, you can write programs and store data on the blockchain, similar to how people make websites on  the internet and apps for smartphones. These programs on the blockchain, also called Decentralised Apps (DApps for short) or Smart Contracts, have immutablity and other features of the blockchain.

Users can interact with a Dapp by writing specific transactions allowed by the DApp, which are then validated and recorded on the blockchain. Any data or transaction written to this blockchain can be read by anyone with an internet connection but a transaction fee (called as “gas” on Ethereum platform, puchased using ether) needs to be paid to write data on the blockchain. Since the transactions can be much more complex than on Bitcoin blockchain, adequate gas has to be allocated for use by the transaction otherwise transaction will fail. Excess unused gas is returned to the user. Here one of the good points is that the network is designed to process a new batch of transactions every 10-15 seconds. So a few minutes  are sufficient to be assured that any transaction is permanently committed on the blockchain.

Each DApp has its code written on the blockchain that everyone can see and is almost impossible to modify once it is published. Each DApp also has its own Ether account so it can receive ethers from users and also it can automatically create its own transactions based on its own programming to interact with other DApps and users as dictated in the program . Additionally DApps can issue its own tokens to users that can be traded or used. DApps can also be programmed to use functionalities and tokens of other DApps.

Since the code and data stored on the blockchain is immutable, as long as the smartcontract written on the blockchain doesnot have any loopholes or vulnerabilities, it can be trusted to work as specified in the smartcontract without bias or unexpected result. This trust-assurance property of smartcontracts can be used to implement many kind of applications such as auctions, voting, escrow, data-archiving and notarizing,  insurance schemes, token trading games, lotteries, speculating, gambling, and many more.

Many people, companies and even governments, world over are excited by the potential application enabled by the flexibility of this blockchain. These are the early days and it will take a few years for these smart contract to become more mature, easily accessible and commonplace. So while you waiting for the world to be transformed into a more transparent and reliable place, you can maybe try out Ethereum for yourself by getting a CryptoKitty , issued by one of the most popular token trading application on Ethereum that has already taken the world by storm. Who knows, maybe you will be the one able to “breed” the next million dollar Kitty?

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How Blockchain (indirectly) Saved the MCU World

Do you remember the events in Avengers Age of Ultron where smartypants team of Tony, Bruce and Jarvis meddled around with alien artifact wanting to create a world-saving AI, but ended up cooking up Ultron whose understanding of peace and non-violence was somewhat flawed ? Shortly after its first Google search, Ultron took first baby-step toward its mission of world peace by completely gobbling up Jarvis, its older-brother-figure who was lacking in brute-AI-musclepower.

However the Avengers later figured out that Jarvis somehow survived the attack and even managed in its dormant state to foil Ultron’s nuclear-launch-code takeover plans . However the movie steers clear from the actual details of how exactly Ghost-Jarvis pulled off these feats even after being hunted and mauled repeated by Ultron.

This is where we step in with our genius-fanboy-conspiracy-theory that will tie up all imaginable loose ends by a generous application of sweet-blockchain magic technology.Just think, if you were a cutting-edge ultra-smart benevolent AI facing an existential threat, where would you hide in a way that no malicious threat could hurt you and at the same time be able to do all the necessary things to save the world from a maniacal Artificial Intelligence?

With benefit of hindsight the answer is obvious, I’d first commit all critical data and programs onto a block-chain, (I’d say Ethereum blockchain would be the obvious choice) so now no-one can touch me without taking down millions of computers across the world. Warning and convincing people across the world of the danger would be a lost cause since the threat of Ultron is both grave and immediate. So my next step would be to sharpen my digital pencil and start writing an ether-tight smart-contract that will deploy endless stream of viral messages over the wider internet infiltrating vulnerable computers with code that will strengthen the said vulnerability ( This idea is not very far fetched considering the neat Wifatch “virus” reported over here.) This way internet is safe and none the wiser of the how close the world came to a Nuclear Winter. I bet not even Loki with all his trickery can pull off a Jarvis like this one!

Although this blog will have mostly factual informative content, I’ll sprinkle short blockchain-based sci-fi pieces referencing popular movies, novels and more just to keep things from getting too monotonous. Do comment how you liked this one.

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