Ethereum inches towards a new frontier
Even a surprise Friday night snowstorm could not stop dozens of Ethereum fans from trekking out to the Brooklyn Desks coworkspace facility to attend the latest NYC Ethereum Enthusiasts Meetup event. Billed as the Ethereum Block Party and Demo Night, the session spoke about the upcoming release plans, demonstrated various applications actively being worked on by developers, and delved into some of the early mining tools and techniques.
First, Joe Lubin, the COO of Ethereum, walked the crowd through some basics of Ethereum by pointing out that Bitcoin is analogous to a shared ledger while Ethereum works more like a shared computer. Then, as the discussion turned to timetables, the group was reminded that Bitcoin had the advantage of enjoying development under several years of relative obscurity. During this time, various bugs and problems were discovered and worked out long before it drew the attention of more and more people. In contrast, Ethereum is under substantial scrutiny, with many now-cryptocurrency experts, fans, and speculators chomping at the bit to see if it can deliver on its ambitious promises. To avoid overreaching and to carefully satisfy expectations, the team plans to release and expand the network in stages.
The first release, called “Frontier”, is planned for only the boldest of experienced users who have a good idea as to what they are doing and can handle a very simple interface. They will mine at a reduced (10%) rate and work on a small-scale network where all the machines will run all programs (also known as Decentralized Applications, or DAPPs) on the network as a in-the-wild test of the robustness of the system. To avoid fears of losing assets to bugs or other issues, the Ethereum organizers have promised a 24-hour grace period within which if a systemic problem results in some out-of-bounds behavior to a user (be it losing their ether unfairly or stumbling across a bug giving them near-infinite amounts of either), they will examine the issue and may consider rolling back the blockchain to rectify the situation. After 2 weeks of no such rollbacks, presuming some stability, they then plan to move to the next phase of the rollout, called “Homestead”.
Homestead will be initiated after the core team first takes a complete snapshot of the Frontier system. Then they will deploy a “hyper-inflationary bomb” to flush out any ether actively powering DAPPs within the network (and not impacting, as it was made clear, the ether residing within people’s wallets) and establishing the resultant “clean slate” state as the Genesis Block for this new level of the Ethereum network. Functioning as a soft-launch, this state will continue until mid/late summer of 2015 where the final full launch, called “Metropolis” will take place with an accompanying large media push, tutorials, and other support content to formally present Ethereum onto the world stage.
The demonstrations were next, with different developers contributing their ideas and showing rough implementations of what they have been working on in anticipation of the upcoming launch. First up was a sketch of a triple-entry accounting system. Up next was a game called DAOwars, where players will write scripts to drive their pieces to exist, move, and battle those of others. Then a rough micropayment-driven version of Reddit was shown, which also led to a discussion about high-resource holders trying to game such networks in the future and the utility of having blockchain-established reputations on the Ethereum network to help establish an automated “No jerks!” weedout policy.
Finally, Meetup organizer Michael Wuehler led the group through a rough primer on how to set up an Ethereum mining operation using virtual machines rented on Amazon Web Services. By just setting up an AWS instance with Ubuntu 14.04 and using some instructions on Ethereum Github’s account, he was able to spin up a small-scale miner in short order.