Crypto Veteran and Blockchain Engineer Helps You Understand Bitcoin Once and For All

From running his own crypto mining operation to building a Top 700 website in the US, Sam Kazemian knows a thing or two about what is at the cutting edge in tech. His current project, Everipedia, plans to decentralize knowledge by utilizing blockchain technology. After a lot of careful thinking, Sam was able to answer the important questions ranging from Bitcoin philosophy to his favorite alt coins in a manner that even the newest people in crypto could understand.

 

How did you get into Bitcoin? How has the field evolved since you joined?

I got into bitcoin in 2013 when I first started researching it in depth. I heard about it before in passing but it wasn’t until late 2013 I took a deep, technical look. I was a double major at UCLA and didn’t really have the time to go all in, but soon I started to get so interested in Bitcoin, mining, and altcoins that I started prioritizing it above studying. At the time it seemed irresponsible, but my parents can’t stop asking me about bitcoin now so they’re glad I was being delinquent back then.

 

Sam’s homemade mining rig

What was your mining operation like? What attention did it require and what did you learn from it?

In 2014ish, there were a lot of profitable altcoins to mine with GPUs and CPUs so I took a bunch of my old desktop comps at my house + some laptops and hacked together a GPU + CPU rig. I tried to get a lot of GPUs and use CPUs for Primecoin (and derivatives) mining. Dogecoin was my first true love since it was so dominant in those days. Bitcoin was difficult to mine without ASICs so I was pretty active on various multipools and wafflepool.

The entire setup looked ridiculous in my apartment and lots of people who came over complained that it looked sketchy. The maintenance guys always asked me if it was illegal.

 

In the debate of scaling bitcoin, are you in favor of Seg-Wit or bigger blocks? Why?

I actually think that both sides have pretty good points and anyone saying one faction is clearly superior is wrong (just like in most political disagreements). But with that said I’d consider myself more of a big blocker. Gavin was the main Bitcoin core dev while I was involved in the community and he is a big blocker today. Most of the old school people I know are big blockers. Bitcoin is supposed to be a peer-to-peer cash system (literally word for word from the original whitepaper) not peer-to-peer digital gold. So if we are trying to stay true to the vision, then it’s obvious Satoshi would be a Bitcoin Cash guy. However, the market mechanics of SegWit BTC are going to make it the higher priced coin, so some people think that gives it more credence to being correct (because it accrues and represents a store of value first and foremost). It’s basically a big nerdy cat fight!

 

How do you think Bitcoin and cryptocurrency can become more user-friendly? Will it ever get to that point and if it does, do you think it will be more centralized in structure?

There’s no real reason cryptocurrencies can’t become as easy to use and understand as normal cash. Institutions are finally intrigued by the technology and this is just the beginning, things will get much more interesting soon as large institutional players get into the game. The old days of a community mainly composed of ancaps and tech nerds is long gone (sometimes I miss those days).

 

Are you a Bitcoin Maximalist? What are your arguments for or against the concept?

I’m definitely not a Bitcoin maximalist. Most BTC maximalists I know of are just massive Bitcoin hodlers that missed out on huge breakthroughs like Ethereum. I don’t think one chain can or will necessarily rule all functions. If there’s one chain that is closest to taking over the world, it’s honestly Ethereum. Vlad Zamfir is the most talented theorist working on blockchain governance combined with Vitalik who needs no introduction. I still think ETH will overtake BTC in 2018. It didn’t happen this year, but it got close. 2018 is when Coinbase is going to go all in on ETH so it will be very interesting when non-technical consumers get access to ETH tokens.

The other blockchain I am extremely bullish on is EOS. What the block.one team is doing with EOS is so promising it could be one of the most breakthrough projects since Ethereum itself! I am already writing EOS code and the tech is very impressive.

 

What are some of the most promising projects out there now?

I’m closely watching EOS, OmiseGO, and IOTA. They all have their flaws and strengths, but their unique value propositions are too intriguing to ignore. We’ll see where they go in 2018. I have high hopes for them.

 

What is your favorite coin and why?

Dogecoin without doubt. I still wow to this day.

 

How is EOS different from Ethereum? Can they co-exist or will one have to be destroyed?

EOS is one of my favorite projects currently. I strongly believe that EOS will grow alongside Ethereum and overtake a lot of the consumer dapp market from other Turing complete blockchains. That’s why Everipedia is utilizing EOS technology since it has a lot of features that no other chain offers right now. In 2018, there will definitely be massive, huuuuuuge ETH and EOS growth, you can quote me on that.

 

A comparison you hear often is how the internet disrupted media and publishing is how cryptocurrency will disrupt finance and banking? What do you think of the comparison?

I think that’s a reasonable comparison. How I like to think about it is:

The first wave of the internet allowed for seamless communication of worldwide social data such as pictures, video, text, and VoIP between any two interconnected people around the world. This is what made social media, blogging, online news, and other applications possible. The second wave of the internet (the blockchain revolution) will allow for the seamless communication of worldwide economic data such as stores of value, cash, tokenized securities, bonds, debt, and scarce representable assets.

 

With the volatility in the cryptocurrency world, many people are looking for a stablecoin as a haven from massive fluctuations. In addition, a number of articles have come out raising suspicion about the most known stablecoin, Tether. How promising do you think stablecoins are and why? How do you envision stablecoins will work?

For anyone that doesn’t know, a stablecoin is a token that has very little, if any, direct price volatility, usually it is pegged to the price of 1 USD. Stablecoins are actually one of the most important parts of the crypto ecosystem if we are to ever have hope of people using crypto as actual currency. Let’s face it, no one uses crypto as actual cash (not even Bitcoin Cash). It’s because crypto doesn’t have attributes of fiat, floating point currency backed by standard monetary policy. Stablecoins allow for crypto to actually be used exactly the same as cash. My favorite stablecoin implementation is basecoin. Nader, who’s building it, is a brilliant theorist with a vision. I’m also working on a stablecoin as a side-hobby which is gonna be baller. Eventually, I think everyone will have some stablecoin cash lying around on their computer/USB.

 

Is there an easy way for new people to conceptualize Bitcoin? If so, how?

Bitcoin and all cryptocurrencies are just distributed databases that keep track of which addresses control what amount of coins. Ethereum is slightly more complicated since it does more than keep track of balances. I found this YouTube video to be the most helpful in onboarding new people, highly recommend people watch this simple 20 minute clip: https://youtu.be/bBC-nXj3Ng4

 

What advice would you give for people first starting off in Bitcoin?

Try to really get nerdy with it and get into it. You have to understand how things work by playing around with the technology. Most people just want to put money into something and watch it multiply, but they don’t realize that the people that got rich off of cryptocurrencies originally got into it for the technology and not just the profits. That’s why they were in it before any coins were worth much at all. If you want to “become rich” like those people, you have to find the “next Bitcoin” or “the next Ethereum.” That means you can’t just listen to your friend or invest in random cryptocurrencies, that means you have to become a part of the revolution and do your own research into what you think will shape the world in the coming months/years.

A Conversation with an Ethereum Smart Contract Developer, Kedar Iyer

Since graduating from UCLA  a few years ago, Kedar Iyer has been traveling all over the world “just to get another paycheck.” While the California native was living in New York City, he had heard about Ethereum and saw an opportunity to be a part of a growing industry. Kedar is a Solidity developer, which means he codes the smart contracts that take place on the Ethereum blockchain. Wanting to know more about not only his perspective about Ethereum and other cryptocurrencies but how he ended up in such a new and cutting-edge industry inspired me to pursue this interview.

Where did you grow up and go to college? Did you really almost got kicked out of school for starting a food delivery service?

I grew up in Santa Clara, which is in the heart of Silicon Valley about 40 miles south of San Francisco, so I’ve been exposed to technology from a young age. My first tech memories are of the dot-com boom and crash, so I’ve got a good grasp on how people act in bubbles.

I went to college at UCLA, and yes, State Assemblyman Mike Eng asked UCLA to expel me and my roommate for a food delivery service we ran called Ching Chong Ling Long Takeout. The name was a joke of a video that had gone viral around that time and apparently, his constituents were highly offended. Thankfully our chancellor Gene Block refused to expel us, and we quietly closed down the business.

You have had an interesting path since graduating school. How did you end up where you are today?

I have a bad habit of moving cities and jobs fairly quickly. I’ve worked in Los Angeles, the Bay Area, Chennai, Mumbai, Los Angeles again, and New York in the last 4 years on various software projects. The highlight in the middle of those years was starting a dating site in Bangalore called LetsChai. The demand for the service wasn’t nearly as high as anticipated, so we shuttered the site after a few months.

I landed in crypto when I was living in New York less than a year ago. I attended a small talk on crypto trading and got so into it I opened a Poloniex account that night. 3 months later, everything was going to the moon.

How did you get into programming and then Solidity?

I wrote my first C++ program when I was 13 and proceeded to not touch programming again outside of the occasional script until after college. I imagine my life would have been different if I’d kept pursuing the subject back then itself, but all I cared about then was playing sports.

Coming out of college, I wasn’t enamored by my Mechanical Engineering major and saw that software was the future, so I got into the field with a software internship as the first employee at a web startup. I’ve worked with web development, Linux systems, back-end software, robotics, and even as a bootcamp instructor so I’ve seen software from a lot of different angles.

I got into crypto trading before I got into Solidity. Once I read the Ethereum white paper, I thought it could be the next big tech wave, and decided to teach myself Solidity.

When did you first hear of Bitcoin?

Around 2011 or 2012. It blew my mind when I first read the white paper and I told everyone about it for the first couple weeks. The first time I saw Bitcoin it was trading at under $2 a coin. It was way harder to buy back then. You had to meet someone in person and swap coins. No one with coins lived within 10 miles of me and I didn’t have a car, so I never made a purchase. I didn’t buy my first small amount of bitcoin until exchanges became more prevalent in 2013.

What is Ethereum and why is it useful?

Ethereum is a trusted computing platform on a trustless network. That means you don’t have to trust the individual participants of the network to trust that the code on the network will execute as intended. If the code says only the person who owns the private key linked to an asset can transfer that asset, I can trust that will be true 100% of the time. If the code says only the person that wins the lottery will be able to access the winnings, I can trust that it will happen as written.

A conventional database always has admins that can modify any part of the database. There’s an IT guy at Bank of America who can freeze your account, a.k.a. not allow you to make any changes to your entry in their database. A gambling site can get raided by the FBI and seize all your winnings on their site.  With Ethereum, none of this is an issue. If you own the asset, nobody else can touch it without your key.

How would you explain a smart contract and could you give an example of it in use?

A smart contract is a block of trusted code on a blockchain. It is generally used to move assets around or perform money related computations. Who won the bet? How much of my ICO token should you get in exchange for your 10 ether?

Smart contracts are the building block of Ethereum. They can contain multiple functions. When you send a transaction in Ethereum you are executing the code in one of the functions of a smart contract. By examining the code beforehand, you can know exactly what will happen when you send your transaction.

As an example, let’s say I have 10 ether and I want to use it to buy 100 of your COIN token (made up name), but neither of us know each other and it’s the Internet so we definitely don’t trust each other. If I send you my 10 ether, I have no guarantee that you will send me your 100 COIN. But I can create a smart contract that works as follows: I send my ether to the contract, you send your COIN, and the contract only makes the exchange when both of us have sent our portions. If one of us fails to make the payment within a specified time frame, the smart contract returns our funds.

Ordinarily, this sort of escrow service would require a 3rd party. In fact, there’s a whole industry dedicated to providing escrow services. With Ethereum, the smart contract acts as the 3rd party and unlike a normal person or business it is automated and can be trusted to do what it says it will 100% of the time. These are the sort of businesses that are going to be disrupted by blockchains.

Do you ever see normal consumers interacting with blockchain technology? If so, how and when?

At the moment, no. The closest I think the normal consumer will get to it in the near future is for large or international payments. I’d say Bitcoin is currently the best way to send amounts greater than $1000 or send money internationally. Blockchain technology is going to transform the way a lot of businesses operate, but from the user’s perspective, they might not even notice the changes happening.

What do you think is necessary in order for a cryptocurrency to be successful?

I think Bitcoin already has everything it needs to be successful as a store of value. It can’t be seized by external authorities, and you can fit millions of dollars in your jacket pocket without the risk of losing it or having it stolen. Rich guys love Bitcoin. Don’t fool yourself into thinking Bitcoin adoption is going to fueled by the common man. Governments won’t ban Bitcoin; they’ll be the ones using it. It’s a millionaire’s dream asset.

For a true everyday use cryptocurrency, the main barrier is going to be transaction fees. No one wants to have to pay money to use their money. Unfortunately, transaction fees attract miners and miners secure the network. That riddle will have to be solved before we see mainstream currency adoption.

There’s one way to get rid of transaction fees, and that’s by centralizing the network. One or a series of central authorities are authorized to verify transactions, but users still control their own money through private keys. And who do we know that specializes in issuing centralized currencies? Central banks! I think we’ll see a central bank crypto sooner than we think in the next 3 years and they will be the ones that fuel mass adoption of crypto. They know there’s a seismic shift headed their way and they’re smarter than they look. They’ll be looking to get ahead of the game and maintain as much control over the system as they can.

How do you see blockchain technology such as cryptocurrency reshaping the structure of society if at all?

In the long term, I think all assets and deeds that can be digitized will be stored on a blockchain. Stock exchanges will use blockchains for inter-exchange clearing. Real estate deeds, gold certificates, birth certificates. It will be a slow march until central banks adopt the technology. Then someone will figure out how to link the central bank crypto to smart contracts on Ethereum and all hell will break loose.

We’ll all be carrying around hardware wallets with our personal assets and information on it. Think that sounds a bit far-fetched? I’m an Estonian e-resident and everyone in the system gets issued a USB key they can use to sign documents with their government-issued private keys. That’s exactly how a blockchain works. They already have the infrastructure in place, they just have to add a blockchain on top of it. Look to Estonia to be the first to issue a central bank crypto.

What is your advice to crypto-noobs out there?

You will never understand the true power of crypto until you hold your own private keys and watch a transaction you sent clear on the blockchain without anyone knowing it was you. Buying and trading on exchanges aren’t the same. Facebook and Google have all your personal data, your phone tracks your every movement, and credit card companies know about every purchase you make. Crypto is our generation’s last grasp at a semblance of personal liberty.

Bitcoin is the gateway drug of the crypto world. The best way to get hooked is to buy a cheap hardware wallet and walk around with $100 or $1000 in your pocket. For the 100% raw experience, convert all your money to crypto held on your own keys, don’t pay the fee on your next parking fee or car registration, and watch the DMV go mad as it tries to place a lien on all your conventional accounts. Or just buy Bitcoin. Whatever floats your boat.