Review: 4th International Blockchain Congress

On February 6, 2020, I attended the 4th International Blockchain Congress (Blockress) – a day’s long event comprising of keynotes, panels, discussion, and networking for blockchain, cryptocurrency, and everything in between hosted by the IDF and Microsoft.

What is Blockress?

Per their handout:

Global blockchain leaders, C-level executives, key influencers, founders, serial investors, and professional speakers from 5 continents and 20 countries will come together at the Congress in order to take part in keynotes, panel discussions, case studies, a blockchain workbench workshop, interactive Q&A, fireside chats, and lightning talks addressing intersections of blockchain with healthcare, insurance, AI, IOT, machine learning, fintech, energy, real estate, regulation, and policy.

Blockress, 2020

Event Logistics

Before I get into the specific talks, I’d like to take a moment to review the actual event operations.


To start, I had trouble actually finding where to go. There was little signage to point me in the right direction both outside of the convention hall and within it. Luckily, I’m very comfortable asking for directions and eventually found my way to the event.

Following some panels after lunch, we were directed to head to the second floor to breakout rooms, but had to stop for hall passes in order to access the second floor. No signage or people to guide us to the next area either.

Welcome Reception

By the time I arrived (9:30am) the event was 30m under way; not terribly late and certainly not alone, but there was no one at reception to greet us, sign us in, check tickets, provide handouts, or any other general welcome. Largely it seemed that they had left to go handle other business or watch the keynote. Not a huge issue for me, just an observation. Luckily there were plenty of refreshments waiting. 🙂

Time Management

Throughout the day, talks would continually go over their allotted time slots and bleed into the next. Between panel moderators and event staff, time management was lacking. Hopefully all scheduled speakers were able to present, but a few got squeezed for over half of their time slots.


Lunch was provides as boxed sandwiches and cookies that were actually pretty good, easily accessible, and on time. They even had vegetarian options which is good to see.

Around 5pm, they brought in some pizzas and had additional refreshments for a wine reception. Domino’s is always a win in my book!


Ultimately, it was a very well-rounded, educational, and networking-worthy affair and I hope to attend next year. The event operations could use some ironing out – additional event staff, signage, and an iron grip on the schedule would easily elevate this conference to the next level.

On to the content!


The keynotes presentations were a great way to lead the event. Single-presenter lectures are always a fascinating way to investigate a topic deeply.

SEC Commissioner Hester Peirce: “Token Safe Harbor Proposal”

Unfortunately, I missed most of the first keynote by SEC Commissioner Hester Peirce when she introduced her 3-year safe harbor plan for token projects.

Her conclusion largely focused on the SEC’s commitment towards modernizing their rules to make room for cryptocurrency projects.

Founder of Ambisafe, Andrii Zamovsky: “Financial Inclusion through Fractionalization”

When he was introduced as helping create 100+ tokens launched on Ethereum, I couldn’t help but wonder if this guy just created a bunch of shitcoins. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth.

Andrii’s company Ambisafe licenses software to companies that need to tokenize their business. For example, one client needed to fractionalize real estate ownership on the blockchain. This feeds directly into his awesome talk on financial inclusion.

Specifically, he illustrated that there is a huge proportion of global population that cannot purchase an average US stock simply because their monthly earning does not come close enough to buy it, let alone any savings.

When you combine the fractionalization of digital assets to extreme decimal denominations (like owning 1/100,000 of a penny) with low cost smart contract substitutes for business operations (like lawyers or financial traders), you open up new digital markets to this low income population: financial inclusion through fractionalization!


Hosted by moderators, the panels were a great way to pick the minds of a few industry experts on common topics – even allowing the experts to debate topics among themselves.

Law & Regulation: New Asset Classes & Investment Products

Wulf Kaal led an engaging discussion on the intersection of regulation and new digital assets.

From the continued lack of progress with crypto ETF’s to the expectations around China’s upcoming digital CBDC (Dimension’s Katt Gu expects launch this year), the conversation kicked off a common theme for the day: crypto is moving far faster than regulation and fear of regulator enforcement pulls the wind out of many sails.

CFTC regulator Elizabeth Pendleton and crypto lawyer Justin Steffen agreed that when working on a new crypto project, it’s best to get regulators involved early to establish a relationship, rather than to have the first impression be an investigation.

DeFi, FinTech & Open Finance Panel: Decentralized by Design

Plagued by KYC, transparency, audit-ability, and liquidity issues, the DeFi conversation was a lively discussion led by Etana’s Adrian Kortez about where DeFi is today versus where it needs to be in order to engage with institutional investors.

Koine’s Phil Mochan deeply outlined seemingly built-in DeFi issues (outlined above) while Linus‘ Matthew Nemer and GRIP Investment‘s Tony Pettipiece spoke to the progress in these areas. Largely, they all agreed that DeFi projects need to work toward compliance with regulation. Particularly, they all expressed that the current KYC processes and lack of international digital identity are fundamental issues that can’t be solved by DeFi tech alone and require political solutions as well.

Digital Asset Exchanges 2.0: The Democratization of Trading, DEXs, OTCs & Custody Services

From Exchangily’s Dora Tang positioning her non-custodial decentralized exchange (DEX) within the bounds of the law to (ex) Kraken‘s Allan Stevo lively debate with ConveX‘s Chris Williams of the role of government in dampening the entrepreneurial spirit of blockchain developers, we were left with one of the most memorable moments of the conference, centered around the key question: can we govern ourselves?

The Convergence Revolution: AI, IoT, ML, Supply Chain, Healthcare, Energy, and Real Estate

The panel was missing some folks unfortunately, but Milliman‘s Julia Kong and Althash‘s Brett had enough experience between them to speak on everything from blockchain’s impact on healthcare to the tokenization of real estate.

Lightning Talks

As mentioned above, the lightning talks suffered greatly from lack of time management. Some presenters were unable to present and many were cut short from what was already an only 10m allotment. They would have been a great way to highlight individual projects or topics rapidly; better luck next year!

Presenters included Shehan Chendrasakera from CoinTracker, Wulf Kaal of Kaal Consulting, and Suji Yan from Dimension.

Fireside Chats

Staged as short, moderator-less discussions, the fireside chats were a low-key discussion of the panelists expertise and foresight.

Many thanks to Blockress‘ own Amy Kabaria, Nicole Kalajian, Aaron Winkler, and Julian Russo!


After the Fireside chat’s, the conference migrated to Microsoft’s offices for breakouts. At this point, many attendees took some time to network and take a moment to digest (and even nap!) – myself included.

I unfortunately missed the breakouts, but they did seem interesting:

  • Smart Contracts & Tokenomics 2020: The Evolution of Fundraising, ICOs, STOs & Stablecoins
  • Blockchain Workbench Workshop: Designing Blockchain Apps in 2020
  • Strategic Roundtable (invite only)

Wine Reception & Networking

Though I didn’t have the opportunity to stay for long, networking between bites of pizza was a great way to wind down the evening.

I had a great chance to catch up with Matthew Nemer on his new DeFi product Linus, charge my phone (live tweeting kills battery, who knew), and spare a moment for an interview with Amy Lee & Rich Napoli from BlockChain Radio before grabbing some slices of pizza on my way home.


In short, Blockress was a well rounded and diversely attended blockchain conference that touched on practically every facet of blockchain and cryptocurrency.

From SEC Commissioner Hester Peirce’s unveiling of her Token Safe Harbor proposal to Suji Yan’s demo of Maskbook, Blockress catered to all types.

Though the logistics of the event left something to be desired, I look forward to reviewing the conference next year (and you should, too!)

Steemit: How Delegated Proof of State can go wrong

Steemit is an interesting blockchain project that rewards its users with the cryptocurrency STEEM for publishing and curating content.

Without going into the details, Steem’s Delegated Proof of State consensus was essentially hijacked by a consortium of exchanges in order to replace the validators of the network and “take over“.

Check it out:

How Delegated Proof of Stake (DPoS) works

Standard Proof of Stake (PoS) consensus algorithm allows individual users to lock up their coins in order to validate transactions and earn transaction fees (compared to miners competing for hashrate).

More importantly, PoS allows for vote signaling in these types of systems as well. Literally, your money = your votes (roughly).

However, in standard PoS, you yourself have to signal these votes and manage your own stake.

In Delegated PoS, you have the option to allow someone else to manage your stake. They can leverage your coins to participate in staking, get rewards (and distribute to you), and vote on your behalf.

Now, combine DPoS with centralized exchanges holding your coins for you.

Whether you opt-in to have your coins participate in staking through the exchange or simply the fact that, when your coins are in an exchange, the exchange owns the coins and can do whatever they want, the exchanges consolidate a vast amount of DPoS staking and voting power.

And then, they might use it to take over a blockchain.

Vote with your wallet

The classic adage is here to stay: not your keys, not your crypto.

If you leave your DPoS coins and tokens in your exchange, not only do you leave yourself liable for their theft/loss/hack etc, you are also enabling the exchanges to vote on your behalf.

If you don’t want exchanges to have this type of buying power, withdraw your tokens to a personal wallet.

I recommend the Ledger.

Why you should hire/befriend my wife Michelle

As part of a branding exercise, my wife Michelle asked me the following:

What would you say if you were trying to convince someone to work with me or to be my friend?

Michelle (colorized, February 2020)

Let me count the ways.

She will care about you more than you do.

Maybe it’s a commentary on self-love, but Michelle is genuinely the most thoughtful and caring person I have ever met.

At every moment of every day, she is evaluating what she can do, create, buy, or say to make everyone she loves happier.

Are you having a baby? She found this neat, handcrafted product on Etsy, thought of you, and shipped it to you with Grubhub gift card because you’ll need food those first few weeks and she knows it will be tough.

Did you start a new job? Instead of liking your status, she’ll call you and ask how it’s going. Having a tough time with the new coworkers? She’ll vow to slay them and their first borns if they ever hurt your feelings again.

Interested in anything at all? She’ll ask intelligent, engaging questions to allow you room to express your passion even if she doesn’t care about cryptocurrency flash minted tokens at all.

Did you mention off-hand that you enjoyed Bob’s Burgers? In eight months, you’ll be receiving a Bob’s Burgers recipe book for your birthday and handcrafted decorations that include Linda’s fucking face made of construction paper. You’re in her birthday calendar now, motherfucker!

She knows her shit.

It’s one thing to hire someone to complete a task for you.

It’s another to hire someone who will not only consider the larger picture that the task falls into, but also leverage that wider lens to advise on additional routes of attack.

Sure, she can assemble a go to market strategy for your product, but have you considered how this new products fits into your suite? Are you positioning it well for your current market? Have you considered how you could leverage it within your pitch decks? Are your sales teams prepped? Do they even know you’re about to roll it out?? Are you CRAZY?!

Sure, her wealth of experience is useful, but I argue that the mindset is far more valuable. Creative problem solving can extend itself to issues that have never come up. An average marketer can build you a textbook pitch deck based on experience; Michelle can build it for the business your business will become.

That’s the type of player you need on any squad.

She’s creative af.

It’s not enough that she’s smart and thoughtful, but she can take all that and package it up in a beautiful dress presentation.

Whether it be through sheer mastery of Powerpoint (no, like forreal mastery – not bullshit “put it on the resumé” mastery) or whipping up concept art in Indesign, she can take the info, make the words digestible for the audience, and then design the fuck out of it.

Honestly, it’s super annoying because I think I can pick out a decent Powerpoint theme and move things around and she puts me to utter shame like honestly it’s a real problem in our relationship.

Do it.

So, do you want a thoughtful, creative, intelligent, hella fine, masterful marketer to be your friend/contractor?

Make her tweet.

Handshake and Namebase: DNS meets Blockchain

I hate ICANN.

Though I agree that it’s a necessary evil, I can’t wait to be rid of centralized, backroom-dealing monopolies on the literal backbone of the internet.

I’ve written about all that before.

But today, I’d like to talk about another player in the space: Handshake.

What is Handshake (HNS)?

Much like ENS, Handshake is a decentralized ledger focused on providing an immutable record for domain names on the internet. HNS is the cryptocurrency of this network.

What this means is that anyone can register and manage TLDs (think .com or .org) instead of a single private company owning them all and leasing them to the rest of us.

As of today (Feb 14, 2020), Handshake has opened bidding on the first round of TLDs, excluding the top 100k domains and existing TLDs to avoid conflicts.

What is Namebase?

Namebase (a private company) is a product through which regular people can register and manage TLDs on Handshake (a public blockchain).

On Namebase, you can buy/sell/use the HNS coin, which is necessary to register TLDs like .poop or .coin.

User-friendly products like Namebase are critical tools for enabling easy management and transacting for regular users – though, you could alternatively use the Handshake CLI or other products as well.

How can we use Handshake TLDs?

Well, you can’t.


In order for Handshake TLDs to work, we all need to agree that we’ll use them.

Unless we all want to use them, browsers like Chrome, Firefox, and Brave won’t feel the need to add support for Handshake. And though there are ways to use it without browser support, the whole thing won’t really work out until they do.

And Handshake is up against the establishment, big time. ICANN will fight tooth and nail to retain power over controlling TLDs. Verisign wants to retain control over reselling .com etc. Companies like GoDaddy, Namecheap, and even Google Domains will need to consider switching business models and tech stacks.

It’s a whole thing.

But that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be worth it! There’s a long road ahead in terms of viability here and I would love to see the vision come to life.

How can we buy Handshake TLDs?

Well, you can’t outright buy them yet.

Just today, Namebase officially launched their very first auction.

The auction consists of an array of TLDs available for bidding, but doesn’t list them all. For the first year, Namebase will be releasing new batches of TLDs for auction every week to ensure that all the TLDs don’t get snatched up by early investors.

Each auction will close after a week and the new owner takes control. Other bids will all be returned to sender, so not a lot of risk in putting your money in (more or less).

Read more about how it all works.

Outstanding Questions

How will Handshake work with existing ENS?

I’m already a fan of ENS. Many thousands of domains have already been registered with ENS and they, too, plan to roll out additional TLDs.

Will Handshake fare well on it’s own Proof-of-Work blockchain?

Instead of building on top of interoperable Ethereum, Handshake is built on its own blockchain. With the fluidity of miners choosing the most profitable networks, PoW blockchains that can’t maintain high hashrate are prone to 51% attacks (not good for DNS…).

Will Brave adopt Handshake?

The only clue to Handshake being included with Brave (the browser with the best odds of giving Handshake its moment) is a single tweet. Browser adoption is key and without it – especially if Brave openly denies – Handshake could be DOA.

I will most likely be throwing my hat in the ring for an experiment with Handshake. Worst case scenario I lose some money on a worthless TLD. Best case, I run the entire internet from my basement.

What do you think?

Experimenting with DeFi: BlockFi and Smart Contract Lending

Heads up, I will be using affiliate links in the article. These do not impact my views on the company or products herein.

Close your eyes and picture a bank. It’s got columns, doesn’t it.

Now, let’s consider banks at a high level. Primarily, they store your currency and offer you a modest return on investment for the handful of products that store it (checking, savings, CD, etc).

Obviously, the bank has to be making money somehow in order to pay your interest rate. The simplest mechanism they have available to them is lending money and gaining interest on those loans.

Simple: Bank issues a loan with 10% interest, pays you 2% interest on your money, and keeps the rest for profit and expenses.

DeFi lending is the same pattern.

  1. You store your currency with an institution like BlockFi.
  2. BlockFi gives you an APY (interest rate) with monthly accruals.
  3. BlockFi uses your money to lend out to borrowers in order to gain interest on their loans.

It’s honestly as simple as that (but obviously, let’s get into the details).

I don’t trust it, but let’s experiment anyway

In all likelihood, if I send Bank of America $20, I can be pretty confident that they won’t lose it. Between institutional standards and the FDIC insurance, I have faith and trust in my account with them – despite absolute garbage savings account interest rates (literally, 0.03% interest – it should be illegal).

Now, if I send that same $20 to my BlockFi account, there’s a greater chance of that money vanishing at some point – whether through a hack, management theft, or general crypto fuckery. It is not FDIC insured, I do not own the keys, and crypto is an evolving industry.

So, the fundamental crypto strategy must be applied: only spend what you can lose!

$20, here we go!

How it actually works

After passing through standard account creation (username, password), I logged in to a completely disabled BlockFi dashboard that prompted me to continue account setup with identity verification.

See, despite how the media might portray crypto, most companies in the space try their best to abide by KYC/AML laws.

SSN, pictures of my ID, address, etc later, I had an activated account available for experimentation within 10 minutes of signup.

At this point, the only thing left to do was deposit some crypto. No application, no negotiation, no wait.

I clicked on “deposit” (one of three possible actions) and was prompted with a deposit address.

Feel free to deposit ETH into my BlockFi account I guess

From there, I sent $20 worth of ETH from one of my other accounts and 30 seconds later my balance was updated!

Protip: technically, that "wallet address" they prompted was actually a smart contract address that controls the account!
3.6% APY on its way!

Time will tell what the actual value of this changes to over time – and specifically what the accrual of eth looks like.

Though the UI showcases my account balance in USD, all payouts and APY are denominated in currency of the account. For example, 6% APY (hypothetical APY) on 10 ETH would yield 0.05 ETH after one month (10 ETH x 6% / 12 months), regardless of the USD:ETH price.

For this reason, we’ll be monitoring the actual ETH numbers for this experiment, not the USD value.

One more thing

BlockFi accepts other currencies beyond ether – and each currency has it’s own APY.

For instance, right now I am getting 3.6% on ETH, but I can get a whopping 8.6% on GUSD (I’m assuming stablecoins offer less risk for loans, so the share is greater)!

On top of that, you can actually trade and take out loans from the platform as well (more on this later).

Check back in later for updates on how this experiment went! Hopefully I’ll have time to monitor and keep track of my $20 🙂

Join BlockFi and try it yourself! Just remember, only use what you can lose.

Why I’m glad my D&D character died (and yours, too)

Last week, I joined my first in-person D&D 5e session at a local gaming store that hosts organized play events every Sunday.

Much like the taverns most parties quest from, the room was full of adventurers of all ages and skill levels; some starting out with me at level 1 at the tier 1 table.

In fact, only three of us comprised the party assembled to quest through the first parts of Descent to Avernus.

For some of you, that sentence alone tells you everything you need to know about why we were TPK’d in the first dungeon. We only made it to level 2.

Accepting death leads to better gameplay

Death is weird. Whether it’s someone we know or the thought of dying ourselves, death is this looming inevitability that our brains try to hide from us lest we succumb to nihilism.

And so, sensibly, the death of a D&D character whose backstory and kit were carefully crafted over hours and days is something we want to avoid. Nobody plans for their PC to die; well, nobody new.

So, I’m glad I’m dead because it rips that bandaid off. Death is a part of the game (and life) and coming to terms with that outcome enables us to pull our own fears out from the character so we can better play them as they would be played. Instead of drawing from the personal attachment to life, I can inject realistic flaws and behaviors that my character would do that would get them killed, rather than an ever-present desire to flee to save their life at all costs.

I am not my character; if my character dies, it’s okay.

In fact, some characters should die with the right circumstances. Think to yourself, “what would my character die for?” when building them. To protect the innocent? To save a companion? To complete an evil ritual?

Plan for their death – even with your DM – and embrace it when it comes.

Besides, your PC’s twin sibling can always show up at the dungeon entrance with the same stats 🙂