Transcription Episode 15

Hello everyone and welcome to another episode of Living on Blockchain. Today we are speaking to Darren Tapp. He is a research assistant professor at the Arizona State Uni.

He has also helped them developing a blockchain course there. He has worked extensively with the Dash Core and now he’s part of their investment arm as well. This was a very interesting conversation, so let’s jump right in.

Hi Darren, thank you so much for taking out the time to speak to me. How are you doing today? I’m doing pretty well. Excellent, excellent.

Thank you so much for taking out the time. So could you tell our listeners a little about your background please? Yes, so I’m Darren Tapp. I’m a mathematician by training.

I spent a lot of time teaching math and in 2011 I found out about Bitcoin. I also had some experience at a startup and then in around 2014 or 2015 I decided to work for a Dash Core group and I did research for them and we were mainly researching how to scale Dash to how many transactions it could handle, under what conditions, how to efficiently use the bandwidth so that Dash could handle a couple more people using it. That research was in parallel with Arizona State University and I’ve been brought on as an assistant research professor there and right now in August I started at Dash Investment Foundation, which is more or less a venture capital arm of the DashDAO.

So the DashDAO, people like to get in and one project that’s being funded is this Dash Investment Foundation. Okay, wow, wonderful. So could you tell me a little more about this particular investment, Tom? So it’s like a venture, you know, it’s like a VC fund? It works that way, but basically this was the response to a perceived need and that was that basically there are proposals to the network that are for profit and in the past it hasn’t really gone that well.

Usually the parties, including meaning the DAO and the company, often they’ll part in ways that they’re not happy with. Either the company won’t get funded because the DAO doesn’t kind of really want to fund a company where the profits go into somebody’s pocket. Although, you know, with startups they often don’t work out so that if they do get funded there can be, if it doesn’t work out, it kind of feels like it was a bad deal.

But with venture capital it’s not necessarily a bad deal. But in a more traditional setting when somebody’s brought on as a partner there’s a lot of, like the angel investors will actually guide the startup, guide the new project through to fruition or provide resources and all that stuff. So the Dash Investment Foundation is set up so it can actually do that as well.

So not only can projects be funded that advance Dash and perhaps are for profit, the Dash Investment Foundation is established as a foundation which is a corporation so it can receive equity in exchange and we, the board of supervisors, can help develop those partnerships after an investment’s made. Wow, that’s excellent. So that is actually a very wonderful way of sort of helping out and supporting the ecosystem.

So what is the way of, you know, for perhaps a budding entrepreneur or budding startup to get into this space? Well, I think there’s a lot of room here. It helps if you have some kind of coding background or or your team that has some coding background depending on what you’re trying to do. Yeah, so specifically for this Dash program, like how would they, how can they apply for it? Well, usually what happens is people will kind of introduce opportunities to us.

Okay. So yeah, people in either Dash board group or other supervisors will go and find them. Sometimes people approach us and that’s how it’s been working.

Okay, okay, wonderful. So you basically, you know, perhaps need somebody to recommend you to the program. Yeah, that’s right now we’ve got more on our plate than we can or, you know, our plate gets full very fast.

So yeah, we’re mainly looking at things that come with the recommendation. Yeah. Okay, wonderful.

Okay, cool. So this is really interesting that, you know, you’re a mathematician and then you’ve kind of moved into, obviously, blockchain and maths would, you know, they are solely connected, but then now you’re taking care of investments as well. So what would you say perhaps is something that really excites you? Like which part of your work is exciting for you? I get excited about anything that can help regions that have a struggling currency, specifically, currently Venezuela has had a bout with hyperinflation and I don’t think that’s over yet.

I’ve been talking with Dash Nigeria and I’ve learned that there’s some capital controls on their currency there. So what I’m getting most excited about is how a peer-to-peer cash could bring freedom or more flexibility or more control over just general people’s wealth. That’s what I’m excited about.

So basically, like, you know, freedom of choice, giving back people the freedom of choice to what to do with their money, right? Right, right. This is most pronounced in regions where the currency doesn’t work perhaps as well as it could. Yeah, absolutely.

So, you know, just for me to understand what is Dash doing as, you know, as an individual entity to sort of solve this problem in because you’re talking about very specific countries. So do you have like a team of grassroots workers there who are kind of making sure or evangelists, if I may say, who are trying to? Well, there’s a Dash DAO which will fund projects and anybody can project. So a group of people in Venezuela that put forth a proposal that’s actually called Dash Mall and Parking.

Okay. And this was a very simple proposal where they would go like people in Venezuela would go and try to convince the parking lot at a mall to accept Dash. Now, this is where cryptocurrency can actually be a really useful solution because in the parking lots in Venezuela, there was a long queue, a long line.

And by adopting Dash, people could basically just pay from their car and wouldn’t have to be in a line. And what Dash Mall and Parking has found is that by first having the parking lot accept Dash, then the mall, like businesses in the mall, will accept Dash. And this is growing.

There’s a big fried chicken chain called Church’s Chicken in Venezuela, and they’re accepting Dash now. So I think we’re in the beginning of kind of a snowball effect that is happening. So that’s one thing outside Dash Mall and Parking.

Another project that’s funded by the DAO is Dash Nigeria, which is led by Nathaniel Luz in Nigeria. And he’s been working with bringing on partners. So basically, he’s working mainly on remittance.

So if people outside the country want to support their loved ones, they can do that with Dash. And so there’s a partnership where Dash can go directly into the bank account as the local currency. So that helps people use this.

And Nathaniel’s also identified purchasing outside the country. Dash can be very helpful with that, because only $20 worth of purchasing is allowed at the official exchange rate for purchasing out of the country. So with Dash, you don’t get the official exchange rate, you get the market rate, but there’s no, you know, your partner you’re trading with will accept the Dash and trade with you.

So this is really interesting that, you know, you guys are really getting into the very grassroot level and making sure there is greater adoption, because something like a parking lot, I think everybody would understand. Right? Yeah, absolutely. Yeah.

So yeah. And that shows kind of the real value of Dash. It’s saving people time and it’s saving people hassle.

So it just shows, it’s just kind of like a great use case. And it just expands from there. Wow.

No, this is wonderful. So, you know, just to, again, just for my curiosity, so this, you know, does Nigeria and places like Venezuela, I think Venezuela does, obviously, but does Nigeria also have like a framework for crypto? I’m working on it. I attended a conference in Africa, I attended it remotely.

And it seemed like it was pretty well attended, like there was at least 100 people attending it. You know, a lot of several local speakers about several different aspects. Nathaniel spoke about Dash and then some DeFi solutions.

One speaker was a little bit concerned about all the volatility. They think that the volatility of the price of like crypto, Bitcoin or Dash kind of actually discourages adoption as a currency. And that’s right.

So there’s a lot of things that are being thought about in Africa right now. Wow, interesting. So, you know, which country would you think is at the forefront of perhaps, you know, like in terms of policy and Africa in particular, you know, vis-a-vis crypto? Well, for policy, I would almost, I almost would go to the first world, to Wyoming, if I was going to start a company in crypto, there are certain advantages to being incorporated in Wyoming.

Caitlin Long has done as a lawyer, who’s done a lot of work to bring the laws around to be helpful for crypto with what’s being done in Venezuela and Nigeria is basically just building an infrastructure that makes Dash more useful to people there and encourages the adoption and use. Wow, interesting. Okay.

So what do you like about Wyoming so much? It’s doing differently. Well, they just announced their first crypto bank. I think Caitlin Long was a major proponent of that.

Maybe she’s the lead on it. But it’s actually 100% reserve bank, and they can provide custody for crypto. And so you can actually have a balance in Bitcoin.

My understanding is once this is all set up, you’ll be able to have a balance in this bank in Bitcoin. Wow, that’s wonderful. And they’ll be the legal custodian of it.

Okay. Yeah. Okay.

So, but then, you know, then again, some people will say, you know, if they’re not really in your custody, not your Bitcoin, but then, yeah. Yeah. So it depends on your application.

Yeah, that’s certainly true. Like an individual like myself, I like my private keys. But for some applications, legally, like if you’re holding Bitcoin for other people, you need to have it under custody.

So for some arrangements, it would make sense to have that. Yeah, yeah. So that is true.

But this is really interesting. This is quite insightful. So now just like kind of veering away to the course that you are, you know, a part of.

So what has been the kind of response on this particular blockchain course that, you know, you’ve collated? So we created, at ASU, we created a blockchain course, and we delivered it to grad students, ASU grad students, and it was delivered through Coursera. So the students seemed to like it. They were very motivated.

They wanted to learn a lot. It seemed like they, you know, people are very excited about blockchain space. I think it was a lot of fun to develop because, you know, there’s a lot of interesting topics and thinking about which ones are necessary to put in there.

For example, we put in Solidity contracts that were in there. Actually, one of our projects was using Hyperledger. So I talked about mission blockchains, and of course, we talked about unpermissioned blockchains.

We talked about Dash and the two-tier structure that, or at least in the nodes, there’s a regular, then there’s a master node. So we talked about that. We talked about, so and it was a lot of fun going through all the details.

I remember somebody’s like, you should put the checksum on the addresses and how that works out. So we did that. And there’s a lot of, some of the stuff we talked about how to hack it, mainly because you want to talk about, understand how it’s hard to hack it.

And, you know, so hash functions and birthday, birthday attack and all that type of stuff. So nice. So this sounds like, you know, it’s pretty intense.

So you said that, you know, it’s available on Coursera. So do you have people signing up from all over the world or is it? No, we hope to have a public course, but my understanding right now is it was, it’s only for AS students right now. Oh, okay.

Okay. Oh, lovely. I would love to take a look, it’s, you know, it’s brought in in the public domain.

Sounds really interesting. Very nice. Okay.

So, you know, now we’re veering off into another direction as well. So what is, you know, what is your outlook towards DeFi? Because people, you know, keep, there’s a lot of noise around DeFi nowadays, and I would love to get your thoughts on them. Um, I, my real thoughts is, I think it’s kind of complicated.

I get a little confused to think it through. I’ve heard people be critical of it. And I haven’t had time to go into it.

So I was like, I don’t know, but then some people I respect in my academic contact contacts are, are really into it, or it’s not really into it, but they, they like it and think there’s some value there that can be provided. One of my friends is using it. He was surprised to see a pretty severe fee, which on the Ethereum chain, so he didn’t pay that large fee.

And he could wait like 12 hours and basically the fee would subside. So, so that, that always makes me a little bit nervous. You know, not your keys, not your coins, but if the, if the fees go way up, you could have your coins effectively frozen until the fees go back down.

That’s true. You know, somebody, somebody that started in 2011, that’s like, what? Yeah. Yeah.

Yeah. That is not the reason why this is like there, right? That like the entire idea was to make it instantaneous and easy and inclusive. And you know, with such high fees, it kind of defeats the purpose on some level.

I guess that is why there are all of these, you know, layer two solutions that are coming in because Ethereum gas fees are crazy at the moment, I think. Right. Right.

And so, you know, so we’ve been looking at two DeFi projects at the diff and one actually seems interesting, but they’re not like explicit. They’re not only DeFi, that’s just kind of part of what they do. And, and I’m in mind.

Yeah. No, but it’s really, it’s, it’s really good that, you know, where you guys are looking in that direction as well. Obviously there is a lot of noise in this space.

You know, again, something about noise. There’s a lot of noise around NFTs as well. Do you have an opinion on NFTs and, you know, the sudden interest that people have in them nowadays? I think they’re interesting.

I mean, certainly they can serve a purpose. I, I don’t think they’re quite mainstream yet. But I, you know, as if crypto became, I think if crypto was in most households then an NFT would kind of mix.

But right now, like, like, so let’s say you had an NFT, which was kind of more or less proof of authenticity of a physical item. You know, you could sell the physical item and say, oh, let me transfer the token to you. And I, I think that, you know, 80% of people, probably over 80% of people wouldn’t know how to accept that token.

Right. I don’t even know if they would set up the wallet to take the token. So I kind of think it’s, you need infrastructure to be set up ahead of time.

And, and, and I’m not, I don’t think it would be easier to onboard somebody with the Ravencoin chain as opposed to the Ethereum chain because the way the fees are going now and Ravencoin can do NFTs. Interesting. Okay.

That’s cool. Yeah. So I, I think, you know, what you’re saying is very correct at the adoption level.

You know, I think adoption for crypto in general is increasing, but it isn’t, obviously it isn’t there yet. And for NFTs, you know, it’s, it’s pretty much a really small niche at the moment. So, yeah, I completely agree with you.

Yeah. People need to, I think people who are actually building on, you know, these, these technologies, they need to be working on, on awareness as a part of their roadmap. I think that that becomes important.

Right. Okay. So, yeah.

So then, you know, talking about adoption, what would your advice perhaps be for people who are like, you know, who want to get into blockchain and who want to perhaps develop and work in this space? Well, I, I’m a big fan of using what you’re, what you, what you’re developing. So if you, if you join a project that’s already there I would definitely use it and know how it works. You know, if you’re, if you’re new to the space, you know, don’t, don’t, don’t drop a lot of money on the table right away.

Get know how things work and all that. So slowly, maybe slowly pull in some money if you want. I, I first survey the landscape, see if it’s already been done and then maybe approach the team on how to help there.

There, there’s all types of opportunities. It’s, and not all of them are paid yet. Like, so, so, so, I mean, this is, it’s an open source community, so there’s plenty of work to do in open source, but there’s nobody paying you to do it.

So, yeah. You need to have some kind of follow yourself, right? Yeah. So, and yeah, it’s like me as a mathematician, I’m, I’m not really a coder, like there’s only so much, but I do pull request some of the action.

I wrote a little trading bot just for, for my use, but I did open source it, you know, with, with, with a little bit of Python. I have, have a little bit of fun with Python. You know, and I, I, it’s that I can actually do by myself, like the trading bot, and then just kind of build up from there.

I mean, so like if I did want, was pursuing a job, I can, I can cite that as something I did. I can cite, I just gave a talk on the consensus algorithm that Dash did. It’s called, let’s see, Consensus Among Computer Networks.

It just went on YouTube yesterday. Yeah. So, so, so I would just, you know, start producing whether that’s content that other people could find useful or if it’s code that people could find useful and, and then go from there.

So. Wow. Okay.

Yeah. I think that’s, that’s pretty good advice. So is there any particular project that you are, you know, rooting for right now? You know, I, I’m not asking you for any kind of financial advice, but any kind of project that you think, you know, has a lot of potential at the moment? I, I, I still like the currency application, which is the very first, you know, peer-to-peer cash, which was in the Bitcoin paper.

So I’m still a big fan of that. And, you know, with Bitcoin more or less retooling into a store value, Bitcoin cash having two or three minority forks off of the, the original Bitcoin cash that came out. And, and, and so I think that Dash is doing the best at providing people the use case of a currency.

So, so that, that’s the one I’m most excited about. But I mean, I mean, I see Ethereum, I think they’re an indirect competitor to a currency, you know, Cardano, same thing. You can just go down the list, Ripple.

It’s a different type of blockchain. It’s not the same consensus. It’s a, it’s a different consensus, you know? So, so you just go down the list and, you know, the original Bitcoin idea, I think Dash is doing the best towards that.

Okay. Okay, cool. I, I guess you’ll be a little biased, but you know, I do agree on some level that Dash is doing a really fab job there.

You know, it’s, it’s been there for a long time and you guys have a very, you know, very solid technology base. Also the community is great. So yeah, I think I agree with you quite there because I think, I do believe that, you know, a lot of part of the project, it kind of, you know, the community is a very important part.

And I think you guys have that in terms of developers as well as supporters. So yeah, you know, more power to you guys. Absolutely.

So now moving on to perhaps my penultimate question, you know, are there any particular thought leaders that you would recommend, you know, apart from yourself, that people should follow in this space to, you know, get more insights? I’m not sure if he’s that active anymore, but Andreessen, he, he, he published a lot, one of his papers on O1 block propagation, that’s on GitHub. I’m a co-author with, he started with, and that built out the O1 block propagation, brought out the idea of Graphene, which is a block propagation protocol. So, and then he’s working more for Zcash now, and I don’t know, I don’t think he’s more active, I don’t know how much of direct working he’s doing, but I always enjoy reading what he wrote.

But that’s more historical. Mike Herron left the space, but I think he’s worth reading. I’ve been, it depends on what, what kind of, yeah, what listeners want to dive into the technology.

I mean, I’ve enjoyed working with George and Brian out of UMass Amherst. So, that’s them. And then, would you recommend a book, you know, on the abstract and not everything? I’m sorry, I think I interrupted you.

But yeah, would you like to recommend a book? Yeah, what’s a book? Okay. I think, well, I like the white paper, Bitcoin law paper. Right.

Okay. It’s only nine pages. You probably read it three times, but yeah, that’s a good place to start.

Yeah, that’s a good, wonderful place to start. I think everybody should read the white paper to the space and understand why it’s so important, I think. Yeah.

I think you have to read between the lines to understand why it’s so important, but. It’s a good starting place. Yeah, absolutely.

Yes, exactly. Yeah. So, okay.

So, for my last question, this is something I ask everybody who comes in the podcast. So, you know, for somebody who’s peering in from the outside, how does one start living on blockchain? How does one, you know, if you’re not somebody who codes and as you said, you also don’t code, but how do you kind of free yourself from this, the whole that the traditional monetary system seems to have on people and move more towards decentralization? Well, here in New Hampshire, there’s people that are also like crypto. And so I found, you know, early on, actually trading with people was one way, was really what sounds the most freeing, you know, whether it’s, you know, even now I have, you know, somebody put up a fence and we say, I guess we’re having a little interest where actually do a trade, not, not, not use a local currency, just, you know, you want some good service, you get the good or service and you pay with crypto.

I think that’s kind of what feels the most freeing that thing you can do, especially, and then if you’re new to the space, you know, actually do the labor to bring in crypto. That’s, that’s, that’s a very freeing feeling. One reason I kind of got in the space is I like gold and silver.

And so it’s all been in been fun. But I can. So basically, I can combine two things that I like, you know, so that’s, that’s something to think about.

So, so, you know, no, I think that is like, you know, the stepping stone to get started in this space to perhaps trade or perhaps get some crypto. So yeah, that’s, that’s again, really good advice, I think, for somebody who’s just peering in. Yeah, I mean, and yeah, if you if you buy crypto at some price, let’s say it’s $70 and you bought it $70 and you see the price is $60, you feel bad and you see the price is $80, you feel good.

But if you worked for it, you know, you spent two hours and they gave you some amount of crypto, it’s it doesn’t feel bad, that bad good. It’s like, oh, I had a couple hours I helped up, I helped up my friend and I got a little something in return for it, you know, it just is a, it just feels a lot better. Yeah, I think it would be better to sort of think of it like gold and silver, like you said, you know, like you think of it like that price kind of keeps fluctuating, but you nevertheless, you’re holding on to an asset.

Yeah. And, and, yeah, so that’s, and then I remember doing trades, I think I, I took one and a half Bitcoin and I bought an ounce of gold and then back in the older days, and then the price goes up, a Bitcoin goes up and somebody, you know, and somebody or a price went down or something and somebody gave me two Bitcoin for that same ounce of gold. That was kind of fun.

Cool. Super nice. Very interesting.

Nice. So this has been a really wonderful, I am, you know, really happy you could take out the time and speak to us. Any parting thoughts? Just, yeah, so just keep, stick to the fundamentals, understand the technology before you get involved in it.

That’s a parting thought. Yeah, I think that’s very good advice for everybody, because right now, people tend to jump into, you know, they like jumping on the bandwagon just because there is a sense of FOMO, and they don’t really understand the fundamentals. And that is a very, very quick way of getting hurt in this space, because there can be a lot of scams, etc.

So yeah, I think that’s really good advice. Stick to the fundamentals. Thank you so much, Darren, for taking out the time.

Once again, it’s been a wonderful conversation. And I’m glad you could really take out this time for us. Oh, you’re welcome.

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