The Cost of Testing Ethereum’s Casper

ethereum casper-hybridEthereums’s Hybrid Casper FFG (Friendly Finality Gadget), the new consensus protocol, has received special attention at the Toronto Ethereum conference. According to Vitalik Butering, the creator of Ethereum, testing the protocol will require the submission of 1,500 Ether, minimum.

Friendly, but Costly
Casper FFG is, essentially, a hybrid POW / POS consensus protocol. The idea is to have the blocks mined via POW (Proof of Work), with every fiftieth block being a POS (Proof of Stake) checkpoint, at which a network of validators would assess the finality.

In the recent months, the community has seen a considerable progress in the development of Casper. In April 2018, the code for the protocol was announced to be ready for review. During the Toronto conference which took place at the beginning of May this year, Vitalik Buterin initiated the discussion of the new protocol. He would not announce any particular dates but said that his expectation was for the development to go quicker from now on.

During his talk, Butering described the Casper algorithm and outlined the way it would change the current state of things.

Proof of Stake is seen by many as a much more just way of ensuring the global synchronization. With POS, the users lock up a number of coins as stake. According to Buterin, an initial submission of 1,500 Ether (approximately $1 million) into the smart contract is going to be required to participate in Casper. That is, obviously, a lot of money, and Buterin accentuated that the nodes that do not have the necessary sum can pool their resources or work in a group and then share the profit.

Buterin seems to be very optimistic about Casper’s future. He said that it “will hopefully be one of the more joyous experiences in Ethereum in a fairly short time.”

It is the scaling challenges currently faced by Ethereum that are to be blamed for such a large sum of money required. The new consensus protocol can only support a particular number of nodes. On the bright side, Buterin expects the number to go down to about 32 Ether (around $25) after the implementation of the sharding solution that divides the blockchain into smaller bits.

Also, even those who do not have the sufficient crypto funds will have a chance to stake on the testnet that at the moment runs only a small number of nodes.

A Simple Process

Apart from startling the public with numbers, Buterin explained what steps need to be taken to set up the validator or the node that would take part in the Casper POS protocol.

According to Buterin, Casper FFG is highly customizable and allows a lot of freedom for the developers. For example, the nodes may introduce such features as extra security and multiple keys during the initial stage of the set-up process.

Of course, for those who are somewhat less familiar with software development, the process of setting up Casper may seem a difficult task, but, as Buterin said, it is, in fact, very simple: “The good news is … that in practice, you personally as a user probably don’t need to worry about which validation code you’re using. You as a user basically just click a button that says deposit.”

Once Casper has been set up, the user would need to select the wallet for the returns, but, again, Buterin promised that the client “will do all this magic” for the users. After that, the user needs to submit a deposit of at least 1,500 Ether and run the software. The size of the rewards is going to be proportional to the sum at stake. Voting on the potential blocks will occur automatically, so that the users don’t need to completely understand the intricate mechanics of the process – all they need to do is make sure the node stays online and watch the incoming returns. Buterin assured the audience that “as a regular user you just need to keep your node online, keep your node running, and your node will just do all this voting automatically.”

How Much does Casper Return?

There is still no final information on what returns are to be expected by the nodes. However, Buterin was able to give some approximate numbers. If the validators constantly stay online, a 10 million Ether deposit would, presumably, earn a regular return of around 0-5% annually. As Buterin optimistically stated, “Probably closer to five than to zero.”

The exact sum of the returns depends on the user’s activity in the system. Casper’s slasher concept goes beyond simply rewarding the users for good performance: it also punishes those who misbehave by curbing such actions as double-voting or forming large staking pools. The users caught in the act could lose 1-100% of the deposit, depending on the scale of the mischief.

The Friendly protocol is also going to penalize the users for inactivity, so that a node that mostly stays offline will eventually begin losing some of the deposit. Yet, staying online for a period between 2/3 and 1/2 of the time will still result in returns. Even if a user only has a laptop, it is fairly safe to become a validator, provided there is a guaranteed Internet connection.


Behold the Golem: New Ethereum App Released

Golem, and ambitious new project released on the 10th of April, 2018, allows the users to rent the CPU power that they are not using for creating digital imagery. Essentially, it’s a platform that lets others make use of the compute’s excess power.

A Market for Swapping Power
It took three years and fourteen implementations for the Golem project to go live. In 2016, the project rose 280 000 ETH (approximately, $340 million), and its GNT token was sold out in 20 minutes. There was a significant amount of interest on behalf of the investors since this ethereum app project was among the earliest generations of its kind.

The long delay in delivering the app, however, received some inevitable criticism. Golem’s founder, Julian Zawistowski, says it’s typical for the development of software, and, in particular, for blockchain, to underestimate the complexity of what needs to be done. Zawistowski says, “You always underestimate how difficult it is, and this was obviously the case with us.”

Golem has still not reached its final shape. However, the mainnet launch demonstrates that the app is, finally, very much alive. Currently, the CGI is created with the open-source software Blender that allows creating visual effects, animated films, interactive applications as well as video games. Golem exchanges the computational power for GNT via an interface that is directly connected to Blender.

The current release was named Golem Brass Beta. It aims at trying out the technology in the conditions of a real market, using the real money. As Zawistowski put it, “We have to see how it behaves in the wild,”

Piotr “Viggith” Janiuk, Golem’s co-founder and the CTO of the company, says “The release is there to prove to us and everyone that we can actually deliver something that can run on mainnet and that’s really usable. And, well, it is.”

From Brass to Machine Learning
Golem Brass Beta functions through a software client, connecting the “providers” (the ones that are selling the CPU power) and “requestors” (the ones who want to rent it) in the network.

Golem“Providers” receive small subtasks, which make a complete computational picture when put together. These subtasks are sent via the peer-to-peer network. After the users have computed their subtasks, they return the results which are molded together. The “Requestors” then pay for using other’s power. All of these interactions occur on the network between the nodes.

Golem is not actually built on the blockchain, but it uses Ethereum for GNT (its token), and for agreeing on the token transactions.

The app’s creators hope to see it develop “to a point where we have the Golem which is perfect and self-contained and modular”, so that the computations would be done “in a matter of seconds”.

In future, the company plans to build a dedicated Blender plugin to eliminate an extra step. An even bigger ambition is to let the network provide the resources for machine learning. AS Jainuk stated, “We definitely need to move in the direction of machine learning. This is something that is suited to Golem pretty well,”

Long Road to Perfection
The long time it took to release the Golem is explained y the difficulties in production that could not be entirely anticipated when the project was first conceived. The development team had to venture into the yet uncharted territories, and, of course, extra attention needed to be paid to security. As Jainuk put it, “There can be no holes because you’re risking someone else’s money.”

project golem, an ethereum appDividing the computational tasks into subtasks and reconnecting them later presented some of the greatest difficulties. Also, verifying the correctness of computation was particularly tricky to develop for certain kinds of computations, while with some cryptocurrencies it went easily.

The fact that platform apps cause Thereum transaction backlogs and the growth of the fees was not helping either. Vitalik Buterin, Ethereum’s creator, commented on the issue when speaking to an audience in South Korea, that the scaling challenges “screwed” the makers of the applications.

Jainuk also acknowledged the problem, saying that the decentralized solutions are still some steps away from even beginning to resemble the production-grade solutions. Zawinowski, in turn, compared the situation which we have regarding infrastructure and web development today is to what it was like in the nineties, noting that now there is a huge number of tools that the developers can choose from, while some decades ago people had no choice but to start from scratch.

However, sometimes starting from the very beginning is exactly what needs to be done. According to Zawinowski, often it is necessary to actually invent the wheel to solve the problems at hand.

Ether Goes Downhill

ethereum logo 1The start of 2018 has not been too good a time for Ether, to say the least. In the first three month of the new year, it went down as much as 47,5%, which is the steepest quarterly decline that has yet been recorded.

Granted, cryptocurrency rates in general have been going down the slope. However, Ether stand out among the other afflicted cryptos, and not in a good way, crashing down after it has gained a fantastic 9382% during 2017.

Ether’s previous “worst performance ever” record occurred at the end of the year 2016, when the cryptocurrency dropped by 39,6%, to $7.97 instead of $13.2. These numbers, however, do not look half as bad compared to the situation currently at hand.

Let’s look at the historical data to try to understand what exactly went wrong.

On the Rise in January
The beginning of 2018 was strong for Ether: on January 13, the rate was $1,432. This, however, got pushed under $1,000 towards the end of the month. January was closed with the more or less optimistic number of $1,118.

2017, 2018, crashing down ethereum, alternative cryptocurrencyAt that time, Ether was still considered a safe asset by the investors. Since most of the ICOs are built on top of Ethereum platform, the fees that the creators need to pay are in Ether, which keep the demand to the cryptocurrency stable. Steemit named Ethereum “the most reliable and widely used network in all of cryptocurrency”, and went on to explain: “It is used as the basis for hundreds of tokens and is the foundation for much of the cryptocurrency market. It isn’t going anywhere. It has steadily climbed in value, and when it has dropped in value, it has not been as dramatic of a drop as competing currencies such as Bitcoin”.

In the following months, however, this advantage proved to be not so great after all.

ICO Fraud Concerns in February
On the 6th of February, the prices dropped to approximately $650. That also was the day on which a U. S. Senate hearing took place. During this hearing, the Securities and Exchange Commission discussed the problems of ICO status and fraud. Jay Clayton, Securities and Exchange Commission chairman, very emphatically said that he wants “to go back to separating ICOs and cryptocurrencies. ICOs that are securities offerings, we should regulate them like we regulate securities offerings. End of story.”

This was when Ether started wavering: it dropped to $574, then began recovering, but stopped after reaching around $1,000, and, finally, finished the month at the $850 mark.

Investigations and Bans in March
On the 18th of March, after he Securities and Exchange Commission verified that multiple investigations of ICOs were under way, the price immediately fell under $500. co-director of the SEC’s Enforcement Division Stephanie Avakian confirmed that the agency was “seeing a lot in the crypto space.”

It also didn’t improve the situation that such titans as Facebook, Google, and Twitter, decided to altogether ban the cryptocurrency ads.

Thus, in March, Ether, afflicted by many sorrows, tanked 53% overall. However, it remains up more than 700% compared to the previous year, so, while caution is advised, it is probably far too early to give up on it.


Who’ll dethrone Bitcoin? The 3 best alternative coins

2017 has been the year of cryptocurrencies, with more people realizing their value and investing in them. Major corporates that initially had tried to stifle the growth of cryptocurrencies have jumped on the bandwagon and started utilizing the blockchain technology that is the basis of cryptocurrencies. Bitcoin was the first cryptocurrency and continues to dominate this field. It has gained worldwide attention this year, with its price rising from below $1,000 to over $20,000.

While most of the attention has been on Bitcoin, several other digital currencies known as alternative coins or altcoins have risen to challenge Bitcoin’s dominance and have quite a few cases even experienced higher growth in value compared to Bitcoin. The number of altcoins has however seen a tremendous rise with more than 1,300 altcoins currently being offered. While some have shown great promise and offered great value and features to their users, most of these altcoins have just perpetuated the features of other currencies and hence have found it difficult to rise in value.

The three most promising altcoins are:

1. Ethereum
Ethereum is a revolutionary cryptocurrency whose technology has been adopted by very many global organizations with great results. It was developed by the then 21-year-old programmer, Vitalik Buterin in 2015 and in two years, it has become Bitcoin’s biggest competitor. It currently has the second-highest market capitalization after Bitcoin with a market value of $90 billion. While most cryptocurrencies have focused on value transfer exclusively, Ethereum has set itself apart with its revolutionary smart contracts technology. These are self-executing contracts that contain agreements between two parties written in code and recorded on a decentralized ledger known as a blockchain. This technology has become widely integrated by many industries, with the major beneficiaries being supply chain management, logistics, law and insurance.
This has driven the price of Ether, Ethereum’s native cryptocurrency, through the roof and currently stands at $929 having begun the year 2017 at $8. This represents an unbelievable 10,000% price rise! With more industries adopting smart contracts, the value of Ethereum will keep rising.

2. Ripple
While Ethereum has set itself apart through smart contracts, Ripple has established itself as the currency of choice for money transfers. This sector has long been dominated by global financial institutions which were not only slow and inefficient but also very costly. A cross-border transfer used to take three days using the Swift protocol and would cost a significant amount of money, but this has all been changed by Ripplenet, Ripple’s blockchain-based transfer network. Using Ripplenet, these transfers only take seconds and their price has been reduced by close to 90%.
This has led many reputable financial institutions to adopt Ripple for transfers. These include JP Morgan, Bank of America, Santander, UBS, Barclays, Unicredit, American Express and Credit Suisse. This endorsement by these institutions has seen Ripple rise to become the fourth most valuable cryptocurrency worth over $43 billion. This cryptocurrency, whose native token is XRP, is making strategic partnerships that will see it become the default transfer medium and thus will keep its price soaring high.

IOTA has been grabbing the headlines of late thanks to its meteoric rise in value. This has resulted mainly from its recently launched data marketplace with the participation of the biggest tech companies including Cisco, Samsung, Fujitsu and Microsoft. This data marketplace will provide a decentralized and secure platform where users can sell data collected by various devices.
This is just one of the many strategic partnerships IOTA is taking to cement its place as the cryptocurrency of the future. IOTA is a cryptocurrency that focuses on the Internet of Things (IoT) and which seeks to provide secure machine-to-machine communication which will form the basis of the IoT revolution. The Internet of Things has grown rapidly over the past few years with over 20 billion devices currently interconnected. With this number expected to grow to 75 billion by 2025, IOTA will be the most important cryptocurrency in the near future. IOTA also provides many of the other features such as privacy, fast transactions, zero transaction fees and more but its focus on the IoT industry which is expected to be worth $100 billion by 2020 is what sets it apart from its peers.

While the number of altcoins is huge, these three are set to dominate 2018 with their unique products. They are the most likely to dethrone Bitcoin as the king of cryptocurrencies as the world focuses more on extra value of cryptocurrencies apart from what Bitcoin offers.