⭐ The many personalities of crypto // it’s April, crypto friends ⭐
The best crypto and blockchain coverage from March 2022
Another month of 2022 has gone back, and yet again, enough events to fill a year have happened.
The days when the Razzlekhan scandal was the talk of the crypto town are long gone (although we did include the Forbes investigation in this roundup below…). Instead, the top coverage of this month includes a deep dive into the colorful background of Tron’s Justin Sun, an insightful interview with Vitalik Buterin (haven’t seen one of those in a while) and the many important stories about how crypto has made a difference in the Ukrainian resistance.
As always, we hope that our newsletter highlights the very best crypto and blockchain research in the space, from the weird to the groundbreaking and everything in between.
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Top Crypto Journalism from March
“Ukraine Buys Military Gear With Donated Cryptocurrencies,” by Olga Kharif, Bloomberg
With all of the misinformation online about crypto and the war, this Bloomberg piece does a great job in laying out exactly what Ukraine has been able to buy so far with crypto donations (including one donated CryptoPunk).
“Ukrainian Refugee Flees to Poland With $2,000 in Bitcoin on a USB Drive,” by MacKenzie Sigalos
You’ve definitely read the stories about people losing their hard wallets worth millions, forgetting their cold wallet keys, or even the many op-eds on the theme of “not your keys, not your coins.” But it’s not every day that you get to hear firsthand how the ease of storing your crypto on a cold wallet could make the difference between fleeing a country as a refugee, and fleeing a country with a refugee with thousands of dollars in your pocket. MacKenzie’s piece does a fantastic job of putting the reader into a world where crypto’s many promises are put to the test.
“Reality Intrudes on a Utopian Crypto Vision,” by Eric Lipton and Ephrat Livni, The New York Times
These NYT writers delve into one of the main questions surrounding the recent influx of DAOs — ”Are these ventures simply vehicles to enrich insiders and exploit consumers, or early experiments in a new way of doing business?” The piece argues both sides, tracing the journey of some of the first DAOs alongside some corporate ventures (like JP Morgan) into the DAO space.
“‘HODL’: A Typo Takes Hold as a Sound Cryptocurrency Strategy,” by Andy Rosen of Nerdwallet, AP News
While most crypto insiders throw around terms like HODL without a second thought, Andy’s piece is a great intro for those new to crypto lingo. He goes deeper into the HODL mentality than just the history of how a typo created the term: the piece discusses how hodling is a real lifestyle and trading strategy, not just a meme.
“Biden Issues Long-Awaited US Executive Order on Crypto,” by Nikhilesh De, Coindesk
Nik — our favorite crypto policy expert — breaks down exactly what Biden’s executive order on crypto really means. Tldr; federal agencies should be thinking about crypto and working together on digital assets, but there’s no new specific regulation on the industry.
“The SEC’s Former Head of Internet Enforcement Fears How the Crypto Story Ends,” by Maxwell Strachan, Vice
Not your typical “Bitcoin is a Ponzi scheme” FUD piece, this interview with John Reed Stark goes into the many reasons that he believes the Web3 crypto world will end in disaster.
“The Man Behind Ethereum Is Worried About Crypto's Future,” Andrew R. Chow, Time
Vitalik Buterin is no stranger to giving interviews — he’s been a vocal figure in crypto ever since he began writing for Bitcoin Magazine ten years ago. But this interview with Time still manages to give us a new perspective on the Ethereum co-founder, particularly his thoughts on DeFi (and a great baby photo of him on a computer, as an extra treat).
“Razzlekhan: The Untold Story Of How A YouTube Rapper Became A Suspect In A $4 Billion Bitcoin Fraud,” by Cyrus Farivar, David Jeans and Thomas Brewster, Forbes
After the media frenzy into the married couple who controlled much of the stolen Bitfinex Bitcoin, this Forbes investigation gives us another, more personal side into the rapper/entrepreneur duo. If the competing Forbes and Netflix documentaries into this story are half as interesting as this investigation, we’ll definitely all be watching.
“The Many Escapes of Justin Sun,” by Christopher Harland-Dunaway, The Verge
Part Catch Me if you Can, part Walter Isaacson biography, Harland-Dunaway’s impressive expose of crypto’s favorite main character is as entertaining as it is informative. From his acquisitions of BitTorrent and Poloniex to his approach to regulatory and legal challenges behind the scenes, this piece paints a vivid picture of Justin Sun, the Tron founder turned Ambassador.
“A Wall Street Quant Turns His Crypto Firm Into a Unicorn,” Sonali Basak and Yueqi Yang, Bloomberg
If you’ve spent time on crypto Twitter, chances are high you’ve encountered Tarun Chitra and his PhD-level humor. In 2018, Tarun co-founded Gauntlet, a financial risk modeling platform for crypto lending protocols (like Compound and Aave). Gauntlet is the latest crypto analytics firm to raise significant funding.
Break out your ironic t-shirts, trucker caps, and cropped jackets, the early 2000’s are making a comeback in the form of the defunct file-sharing service LimeWire relaunching as an NFT marketplace (planned for May of this year). A pair of Austrian brothers, Julian and Paul Zehetmayr, bought the company and associated IP last year and have been working to bring it back online. The new marketplace aims to be more accessible to non-crypto native users, listing prices in USD and allowing purchases via credit card.
“Artist Blows Up Lamborghini to Make NFTs — in Protest Against Get-Rich-Quick Culture,” Tim Copeland, The Block
A talented artist and conceptual thinker, the swarm of pixels known as shl0ms recently blew up a Lamborghini Huracan in a beautiful explosion protesting the get rich quick culture pervading much of crypto. Tim’s piece on the artwork is thorough, giving the background and context of shl0ms’ latest project. Web3 developer Thorne also wrote a touching Ode to Shl0ms and their impact on NFT art.
And now, on to the research!
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Top Crypto Research from March
“Two Attacks On Proof-of-Stake GHOST/Ethereum” by Joachim Neu, Ertem Nusret Tas, David Tse
With Ethereum’s planned move to proof of stake later this year (The Merge), researchers are actively exploring the implications of this shift. This paper details two possible attack vectors the authors believe the PoS client is vulnerable to: balancing attacking the GHOST fork of the Ethereum PoS chain and variant attack that exploits LMD to overcome recent protocol additions.
“Coinbase ❤️ Mercado Bitcoin = Showdown with Binance in the Cards?” by Aaron Stanley
In a bid to take on Binance, the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange, Coinbase is in negotiations to acquire 2TM in a deal anticipated to close potentially as early as April of this year. The move comes after Coinbase’s announcement in February detailing its plans for global expansion and Binance’s increasing popularity in Brazil.
"The Latecomer's Guide to Crypto" by Kevin Roose
Technology writer Kevin Roose has been covering crypto for nearly ten years and distills lessons he’s learned and industry observations down into a no-frills guide looking at the pros, cons, and gray areas of the emerging technology. Kevin covers a wide range of topics, starting at the very beginning with what a blockchain actually is and giving high-level explainers for topics like regulation and environmental impact. Depending on your background, if you’ve been in the industry for a long time you might find his explanations somewhat reductive, but the core ideas are all sound and approachable for diverse audiences.
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Crypto featuring so prominently in the coverage of the war in Ukraine has activated many in the industry, leading to tens of millions of dollars in donations to Ukrainian government-controlled wallets and many crypto companies offering to sponsor work visas in nearby Poland and Germany. In addition to Ukrainian citizens, crypto has been a lifeline for the many Russians who have fled or remain trapped within Russia’s borders. Despite opposing Putin’s actions, these people suddenly find themselves cut off from the world’s financial infrastructure. This month’s Op Ed features an anonymous first-hand account of how economic sanctions are impacting the lives of Russians against the war.
Crypto…What Is It Good For?
I’ve been in crypto for five years, receiving entirely Bitcoin as a salary for most of them. This meant that I’ve lost and gained money every day along with the market, and also had to learn the best ways to quickly turn Bitcoin into a currency that would be accepted somewhere — I’ve been selling tiny bits of Bitcoin to pay rent, buy pizzas (ha!), travel and more for years and years and years.
This February, however, was the very first time that I had to use Bitcoin as the single solitary possible option to send money to my family. Not as an “investment vehicle,” not as a “speculative asset,” not as something “better at being gold than gold,” but as, quite literally, the only way that I am able to send money in and out of Russia.
The economic sanctions that have been dumped on Russians over the past few months have been particularly devastating to those that fled a regime that they opposed — my young, liberal Russian friends left in droves for Turkey, Armenia and Georgia, and when they got there, Visa and Mastercard announced they would be canceling all Russian-issued cards. The ones that are still there are more or less stuck for the foreseeable future — bank runs have left ATMs dry and any foreign currency savings they had are frozen by the banks, unable to be legally withdrawn in almost any amount.
In effect, this means that many Russians must begin their financial lives entirely from scratch in any way possible.
While this financial sanctions disaster is going on, keep in mind that besides the actual inability to get hands on any cash savings, the Russian ruble has lost more than 30% of its value already. And doubly keep in mind that the average salary for a Russian in Moscow or St. Petersburg is $20,000 a year, and that’s only for those with highly specialized positions. Russians that live outside of the two biggest cities will make only around $6,000 а year. So — if you’re a regular guy making $10,000 a year, how much did you have in savings before this war, really?
The incredibly low salaries in Russia meant that — even before the war began — crypto had occasionally been a life-changing way to make a living for Russians, a sort of “shortcut” that would raise your economic status up closer to that of Europeans or Americans. One friend was able to put enough down for a mortgage and redo his floors after making $3,000 flipping NBA Top Shots (he has no idea what the NBA is, really, or how basketball is played). Another was able to leave Russia two years ago by turning his 3D art into NFTs.
But this war has now widened the (already quite significant) economic gap between us and Russians, on top of the new physical barriers that prevent any money from going in or out.
This is where crypto is starting to come in.
As a crypto-savvy foreigner with an account at an American bank, these are just some of the requests that I’ve gotten from friends and family in Russia over the past few weeks:
A friend’s Russian company owed its freelancers money, but their internal account was blocked. I used my PayPal to pay the freelancers, and my Russian friend sent me DAI in exchange.
A friend overseas needed to pay rent for their Russian apartment. I sold some Bitcoin using LocalBitcoins to send their landlady rubles for them, and they Venmoed me in return.
A friend was unable to withdraw her life savings, in dollars, from her Russian bank. I helped her make a wire transfer to my American bank to hold them for her, in exchange giving her crypto via P2P to use in the interim. The bank transfer was eventually rejected.
A freelancer in my employ couldn’t receive dollars in her Russian bank account anymore, so we switched her payment method to USDT.
A friend asked how to send money to his family for personal needs, and I screen-recorded a video of how to use LocalBitcoins so he could send it to his non-tech-savvy relatives and they could learn too.
In my five years working in crypto and traveling the world, I have never, ever had so many requests for what amounts to crash courses in crypto education. I’ve had to look up so many words in Russian that I never thought I’d use, staking, mempools, stablecoin…the list goes on.
Do I think this is a good thing? Is this the “adoption” that will bring crypto more into the mainstream: desperate Russians looking for any way to earn and send and spend money like the rest of the world does?
In some ways, yes, yes, it is a good thing. To go back to the Russian NFT artist, the fact that he was a Russian national meant that the international 3D artwork sites he normally relies on sell his pieces to interior designers have now canceled his accounts, deleted his artwork and froze any money he had with them. As silly as it sounds, the “centralized” art world turned its back on him due to his nationality, while the “decentralized” NFT art world is still there for him to make his living.
On the other hand, crypto has long had a reputational problem. And Russians are not seen right now as the “good guys.” There’s one small-minded way of thinking out there already, that Russians deserve to suffer along with the rest of their government due to their alleged inaction during the whole of Putin’s regime. (But yet another thing to keep in mind is that people are being arrested now for protesting by merely holding up a blank piece of poster paper on the street. In Russia, it’s not fair to say that inaction is complicity when action always means jail time).
So to put it bluntly, in such a terrible, backwards situation, Russians will probably not be the first choice of a poster child for how great crypto is in action.
How we use crypto in the future due to this war is something that only time will show us. Putin’s actions have already created new economic realities, unthinkable a month ago, for hundreds of thousands of people — this war’s course is unpredictable to the extreme.
And while the rest of the world figures out what the hell it’s going to do next, I’ll carry on with my mini crypto 101 courses for any and all who need them. I’ll try my best not to give any financial advice or promise quick riches through complex DeFi schemes. And I’ll definitely stay away from proselytizing about the “future of crypto” — because I wasn’t so convinced even before the war that crypto had any real use. All I am convinced of now is that when people ask me, “What is crypto good for? Why have you been in this Ponzi scheme/bubble/scam/fake industry for five years?” I finally have a pretty good answer.
I am not going to address the suffering of the Ukrainian people in this small op-ed, but that does not mean that I’m elevating the importance of Russians’ economic suffering over theirs — this is a case of writing what I know. If you’d rather read more about the pain and destruction caused to Ukraine by the Russian government aggression and how crypto has both helped and hindered, you can see some fantastic writing on that in the best crypto reporting section of our newsletter.
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Meme courtesy of @alifarhat79
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