A Defense of Having Fun (and maybe staying poor)

Day 17: Rubin's Bitcoin Advent Calendar

on December 14, 2021

This post is syndicated from rubin.io.

Welcome to day 17 of my Bitcoin Advent Calendar. You can see an index of all the posts here or subscribe at judica.org/join to get new posts in your inbox

A short story. I want to tell first. I recently made friends with Eugene, this really smart 19 year old Cal dropout, when I was visiting Miami for the NFT bachanal around Art Basel.

Eugene just dropped a project he’s been working on, and it’s really freakin' cool. He basically implemented a human v. chess engine in Solidity that mints beautiful interactive NFTs of representations of the contract’s internal states. You can play the game / mint one for like 0.1 ETH on his site here, and see a permanent record of my embarassingly bad move where I missed a mate-in-one here:

Definitely check out the site and read how it’s implemented. Eugene is very bright, and a talented hacker. The project? It’s not a get-rich-quick project, only cost is gas, so Eugene’s not raking it in (altho I think he should have, but he’ll have many more successes).

So what’s the moral of this story?

Why isn’t Eugene working on Bitcoin? People say that “eth is a scam” and that “everyone working on it are scammers”. But I don’t see that. I see people, like Eugene, wanting to build cool shit every day. And wanting to ship cool stuff. It’s fun. And I like to be friends with creative and curious people.

Working on Bitcoin is can be fun. But mostly it’s not. My post yesterday? The one describing new techniques to make Bitcoin more decentralized? I had a lot of fun writing it. And then someone claimed that my work is “very dangerous” to Bitcoin.

I get it, I truly do. Bitcoin is money for enemies. Don’t trust, verify. In the IRC channels, twitter spaces, and other forums we hear rants like the below all the time:

Working on Bitcoin isn’t just a stupid fucking game of chess you idiot, it’s solving literally every geoscale challenge humanity has ever faced and your work on that is a bajillion fold more worthwhile. You are an asshole thinking you deserve to have any fun in your life when you could be a miserable piece of shit with people shouting at you all the time about how you suck and struggling to ship small features and hoping how you might ship one bigger project this decade. Fun? Fun??? You fucking asshole. If I don’t kill you, someone else will.

But developers are people too, and good developers like to build cool shit. If you haven’t noticed, Bitcoin development has a bit of a burnout problem, with multiple contributors stepping down their engagement recently. A likely cause is the struggle it takes to ship even the smallest features, not to mention the monumental effort it takes to ship a single large project. But the death threats certainly don’t help either.

It doesn’t have to be this hard

It’s hard to tell people, especially younger folk just entering the space, to work on Bitcoin full-time. What I say is as follows:

If you have a strong ideological calling to the mission of Bitcoin and sound money, it’s absolutely the most meaningful project for you to work on. But if that’s not you, and you want to explore crypto, you should probably play around with Ethereum or something else. Bitcoin is really tough to get funded for and the community, while amazing, can be very hostile.

If I were more selfish about the mission, I’d glaze over these details. But I want folks to decide for themselves and find something that makes them truly happy. For most “at-heart” Bitcoiners that won’t be a disincentive to taking the orange-pill, but for some it might. Note: I’m Jewish, so that probably influence my views on converting people to things (Jews believe in discouraging converts to find the pure of heart).

Despite my best efforts to convince myself otherwise, I’ve been an audit-the-fed libertarian since elementary school or something and I have photos of myself with Ron Paul a decade apart. So I am one of those ideologically drawn to Bitcoin and not other projects with weaker foundations.

But it doesn’t mean I don’t turn an envious eye to the activity and research happening in other communities, or get excited about on-chain chess engines even if they’re impractical for now. And there’s also the magic of a supportive communtiy that doesn’t threaten to have you beaten up when they disagree with you about the minutae of a soft fork rollout.

Cool technologies attract nerds like moths to a lamp at night. Smart nerds trying to solve interesting problems create solutions. Experiments that strain the limits of a platform expose problems and create demand for solutions. These solutions often have major positive externalities.

I don’t think I’m going to convince you here to care about NFTs. But I am – hopefully – going to convince you to care about NFTs the phenomenon.

For example, scaling challenge in Ethereum have led to the development of Zero Knowledge Roll-Ups, privacy issues things like Tornado Cash, and more. While as a project Eth might be #ngmi, Bitcoiners have traditionally said that if anything is worth having we’ll just be able to implement it ourselves in Bitcoin. But there are certain things that have network effects where it will be hard for us to replicate. And by the time we do go to replicate, the tooling that’s been developed for doing these things on Eth might be like a decade ahead of what we’ve got for Bitcoin. And all of the smart kids are going to become adults who are bought in technically and socially on things other than Bitcoin. And that really freakin’ matters.

I’m not advocating that Bitcoiners should embrace full-blown degeneracy. But also it’s not in particular our job to prevent it technically. And the tools that are produced when people have fun can lead to major innvoations.

For example, right now I am working on a system for building NFTs for Bitcoin on Sapio.

Why? It’s fun. It touches on almost all of the infrastructure problems I’m working on for Sapio right now. And it is low enough risk – in terms of risk of losing Bitcoin – that I feel comfortable building and experimenting with these NFT test-subjects. Worst-come-to-worst, the artists can always re-issue anything corrupted via a software flaw. And then as the software matures with low-risk but still fun applications, we can apply those learnings to managing Bitcoin as well.

I also want to note that I really like artists. Artists as a community are incredible. Artists use NFTs, so I like NFTs. Artists are the voice of the people. Art can tear down the establishment. Art can change the world. And so for Bitcoin, whose use is an inherently political message, what better community to engage than the art world?

Bitcoiners are really fixated on the technical nonsense backing NFTs – yeah, it’s not ’literally’ the artwork. But then again, what literally is the artwork? If you want a photograph and you want to pay the photographer for it, do you? Do you get a receipt for it? Can you use that bill of sale to sell the photo later? NFTs are just a better that. And if you don’t like the art that’s sold as NFTs right now, why not find artists you do like? Why not get them onboarded onto Bitcoin and fully orange-pilled? Hint: the HRF has a whole Art in Protest section on their website. Bitcoin NFTs could enable Bitcoin holders to pay dissident artists for their art and avoid being shut down by authorities. Why not embrace that culturally? Isn’t that the group that Bitcoin is for? And if you don’t like that, maybe you just don’t like art. That’s ok, don’t buy it.

But NFTs are Stupid JPEGs Man

Ok sure. Whatever.

But there are all these contracts (as I showed you in previous posts) that Bitcoin would benefit from, like inheritence schemes, vaults, decentralized mining, payment pools, and more. Believe it or not, there tools needed to make NFTs work well are the exact same tools required to make these work seamlessly.

So why not have a little fun, let people experiment with new ideas, get excited, grow the community, and convert the big innovations into stable and mature tooling for the critical infrastructure applications? And maybe we’ll uncover some upside for brand new things that never occured possible to us before.

Throught the end of this series I’ll have some more posts detailing how to build NFTs, Derivatives, DAOs, and Bonded Oracles. I hope that you can view them with an open mind and appreciate how – even if you don’t think they are core to what Bitcoin has to do – these innovations will fuel development of tools to support the projects you do like without turning Bitcoin into a shitcoin. Who knows, maybe you’ll find a new application you like.

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