Blockchain Pixie Dust
...being a place I have put a few discussions, and/or links to
interesting articles and resources, about blockchains and what they
might or might not be good for.
[I'm Jonathan Poritz; if you care, there is a whole lot more
information about me on
my home page.]
First of all, I should say that while I am quite critical of many
proposed blockchain applications, I very much like the technology.
I've done research in related areas of computer science. I've taught
about blockchains from both a theoretical perspective on cryptography
and from a practical perspective as an intricate and fun programming
task. I would like nothing more than to teach about blockchains again
— and I heartily encourage computer science students to take the
class: it is full of useful and intricate ideas and practicalities
related to cryptogrphy, PKI, hash functions, networking, data
structures, distributed computation, consensus protocols, threat
models, ... the goodies go on and on.
Unfortunately, I just don't see how this marvelous piece of computer
science is at all the appropriate choice in most of the situations in
which it is offered as a transformational new technology.
But I am trying to have an open mind! Please, explain to me where I'm
wrong in my critique! Invite me to debate the topic! I promise I will
be respectful and consider your answers carefully and without
preconceptions (other than those coming from understanding the
technicalities rather well).
In the meantime, here are a few things which I think have something
important to teach us about blockchain applications:
Well, first of all there is an article I wrote for
Inside Higher Ed on the
topic of applications in higher education.
Here is a
page [on this site] which has the link to the IHE article as well as
a useful appendix which I wrote but that IHE didn't publish.
On the opposite end of the spectrum from the concrete, specific
objections I made in that IHE article,
here is a page
of metaphors which I sometimes use when talking about blockchains.
The idea is to give people some intuitive feelings for what blockchains
are, or are good for, to compensate for the image from enthusiasts who
claim blockchain "dices, slices, and mixes your favorite drinks!"
Anything Nicholas Weaver has written or said about blockchain and cryptocurrencies is well worth
your time. E.g., watch these videos:
Same goes for David Gerard, author of Attack of the 50 Foot Blockchain: Bitcoin, Blockchain, Ethereum & Smart Contracts. In particular, keep an eye on his blockchain blog, it's wonderful.
Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency Technologies is a wonderful book to learn about the computer science of
cryptocurrencies. It is, however, a technical book on that
subject: I've used it to teach advanced undergrand and masters computer
science students; it is absolutely not intended for the general public.
Bruce Schneier is one of the [very
few] great cryptographers today who also thinks about public policy
about IT and security — and writes clearly and understandibly
on the subject: he has written a series of books on these topics for
a general audience [at least one of which was a New York Times
best-seller!]. He wrote an interesting article for WIRED about
blockchains recently, being:
There's No Good Reason to Trust Blockchain Technology,
which only addresses a few of the problems with blockchains ... but with
...I'll keep adding to this list, as time permits and when I come across
something particularly good.
NOTE: The favicon for this website is a cropped version of a [public
domain] image of a beautiful flower by the Dutch painter Pieter van
Kouwenhoorn (1599-1654), found
at Wikimedia Commons.
Everything on blockchainpixiedust.com is by Jonathan A. Poritz and is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 license, unless otherwise specified.