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Jimmy Song: an attack on the Bitcoin network will cost billions of dollars, but it will be useless



The name of the entrepreneur, developer and educator Jimmy Song is one of the most well-known in the Bitcoin community. In the past, the chief architect of the blockchain-company Paxos and the vice-president of the Bitcoin wallet provider Armory Technologies, today he heads the company Programming Blockchain, which offers training courses for developers, and is also a partner of the venture capital firm Blockchain Capital.

Frequent guest of various conferences where he appears in the same wide-brimmed hat, Jimmy Song is also the author of the popular blog on Medium and has over 130,000 followers on Twitter , where he shares his vision of the development of the cryptocurrency ecosystem. In addition, with significant programming experience, he makes a contribution to the development of the underlying Bitcoin protocol.

In an exclusive interview with BlockchainJournal, Jimmy Song talked about how he became involved in the cryptocurrency industry and the importance of his task in training new developers. In addition, he explained why Bitcoin is the safest existing cryptocurrency, and hard forks are meaningless in their essence, and also named the most important decisions that are needed to make the network better and safer.

Photo: Paralelni Polis / Pavel Sinagl

BlockchainJournal: Hi Jimmy! Tell a little about yourself and your developer path.

Jimmy Song: I have been programming for a very long time, probably since I was nine. I'm 42 now, so it's already 33 years old. Back in 1998, I started working with different startups. Then I just graduated from college, these were the early years of the Internet, and my first startup was called ATM Technologies. Today it no longer exists, but it was a website translation service for different languages. I also did many other things, such as health care startups, web hosting, coupon sites. I still remember the times when there were no Javascript frameworks and I had to encode everything with my own hands.

In 2011, I worked with another telephony startup when I learned about Bitcoin. It seemed to me really interesting, but then I, unfortunately, did not buy it, although it was worth about a dollar at that time. Only a few years later I acquired my first bitcoins. It was April 2013, the first bubble … of course, once I did it, how its price went down! Bitcoin eventually grew again, and by that time I had already started working on open source projects.

The first such project was colored coins. I was looking for a job offer on Reddit and met a message that requires a person with knowledge of Python. I knew how to work with him, and this guy turned out to be from Ukraine. He wanted me to work on this open source project and was willing to pay me an hourly wage in bitcoins.

At that time I was working on a coupon site, and it took me forty hours a week. It was not easy to combine all this, and at some point I had to make a choice: I left my job at the coupon site and began to devote more time to bitcoin.

This was my first acquaintance with Bitcoin as a programmer, and I didn’t know a lot. For example, Bitcoin uses a large number of RPC calls, and the employer wanted me to make the same RPC calls for colored coins. I said, "Well, I have no idea how this works, but I need to look and figure it all out."

I also worked on other similar projects, for example, then there was only a new standard called BIP-32 for HD-wallets, and I had to learn a lot myself. Often the best way to find out is when someone pays for it.

As a result, I came directly to the development of Bitcoin. For a while I worked at Monedas – this startup was based in Switzerland, then I took the position of vice president at Armory, and today I myself am engaged in teaching. Here is a brief story about how I ended up in the bitcoin industry.

BlockchainJournal: Today, your voice is one of the most prominent and authoritative on social networks, you also run your own blog on Medium and write for Bitcoin Tech Talk. Was it difficult to assert yourself, given the fact that the Bitcoin community is extremely critical in looking at many things?

Jimmy Song: It all started in the days when I worked in New York Paxos [former ItBit – BlockchainJournal]. They have their own stock exchange and many other products, and I worked there on corporate blockchains. One day my boss asked me to write an article for a blog they were about to launch. I wrote it, they liked it, and the article was published. After that, I was asked to write another article, and this time it came out for me not only longer, but also, as it turned out, “too deep” dedicated to Bitcoin. Something did not suit them, and they told me that this article would not be published.

I did not want to give up because I devoted a lot of time to this material. I applied to Satoshi Nakamoto Institute, but they refused to accept me there too, after which I decided to start a blog on Medium and publish it all there. I also wrote a little on Twitter, but there were not very many followers, probably less than three hundred people.

As a result, this article [ Why Bitcoin will scale without Segwit and large blocks – BlockchainJournal] was published, and so it all began. This was my first blogging experience, but different people quickly began to quote the article, for example, Jameson Lopp in his article in CoinDesk.

I saw that many liked what I was doing and decided to continue writing. I published several other materials, and they also received a good reception. At the same time, the number of my followers on Twitter grew, I was invited to go on the YouTube channel of the World Crypto Network , and this was already an explosive growth.

I think people like me to explain things rationally. This, of course, is interesting, because I have always earned my living as a coder, and getting recognized as a writer or celebrity on YouTube was something completely new for me. In the end, it began to occupy most of my life. I decided to leave Paxos and realized that I wanted to teach, because it is necessary today.

BlockchainJournal: Do you also have time to contribute to Bitcoin development at the same time?

Jimmy Song: By the time I started writing, I already took part in many open source projects, but in 2017 I realized that I wanted to participate in the development of Bitcoin Core. First of all, it was rational from the point of view of my investments. I started making some commits, I think, I have about 15 now. It’s not so much, but I wanted to learn more about the Bitcoin development process in order to be able to write about it.

Soon I wrote an article for Bitcoin Tech Talk titled “ Gentle introduction to Bitcoin Core development ”. This was my main motivation, because one of the main vulnerabilities in the Bitcoin ecosystem is precisely the insufficient number of developers.

That is why I started my online course: there are very few people who really understand the protocol. To engage in the actual development of Bitcoin, you must have a lot of fundamental knowledge. I also realized that I had the opportunity to use many skills that I did not use during the first fifteen or eighteen years of my career.

This is a two-day course (eight hours a day), during which I not only teach the material, but also force students to code real things. In fact, they have to create a bitcoin library from scratch and go all the way to network programming, as well as learn how to connect to nodes and translate transactions. This is a fundamental level, I want to teach all these basics so that all of my students can ultimately contribute to the development of Bitcoin.

BlockchainJournal: In September, a critical vulnerability was identified in the Bitcoin code, potentially threatening to launch a DOS attack on the network. This even led to the unplanned release of a new Bitcoin Core client. Many developers have already stated that there was no real danger, but questions remain. What do you think about this vulnerability and what other dangers are Bitcoin threatens?

Jimmy Song: First you need to understand that the software will always have bugs, and some of them may be unforeseen. There will also always be forces that try to make Bitcoin more centralized. However, Bitcoin has a more or less good immunity to attempts at centralization, and in this regard, I look at things rather optimistically. Therefore, the main vulnerabilities will remain exactly bugs at the program level.

BlockchainJournal: However, if we talk about a specific vulnerability, it should cause concern. As far as is known, its operation would not require too much money. If certain forces, for example, the state, wanted to damage the network, they would do it.

Jimmy Song: If we talk about a specific vulnerability, its operation would require a very large amount of equipment, which would be difficult for even the state to acquire. It would be possible to try to get hold of one or two percent of the hashrate, but at the output it would give a network disruption for 30 or 60 minutes. There are no options under which such an attack would last a long time. It would be detected and resolved very quickly.

The only way to maintain such an attack all the time is to have a huge amount of power. To really break the Bitcoin network, you need about 60% of the hashrate, and if you look at the current landscape of the mining industry, there are only a few places where the necessary chips can be purchased for relatively moderate money. To get such a number of capacities is very difficult.

I agree, in theory such a scenario is possible. If you have the desire to spend an unlimited amount of money, equipment can be purchased on the market. But as soon as you start buying it, prices will soar. It would literally be worth billions of dollars.

In addition, to organize such an attack is a risk in itself, even if it is undertaken by the state. It is necessary to have guarantees that such an undertaking will work. If this attempt fails, the Bitcoin network will become super-stable.

BlockchainJournal: In general, Bitcoin and without it is considered very resistant to attacks. Can you name any other cryptocurrencies that could compete with Bitcoin in terms of security?

Jimmy Song: No, Bitcoin is the most secure, primarily due to its decentralization. Many coins were created as a result of bitcoin hard forks, and hard forks are evidence of centralization. If you can tell users that they will be left without coins, if customers do not upgrade, this is centralization in its purest form, and this is not much different from the central bank.

BlockchainJournal: In recent months, such cryptocurrencies have appeared quite a lot. What future do you think awaits them?

Jimmy Song: They are all completely useless, even if thanks to these hard forks I was able to increase the number of bitcoins in my wallet (laughs). It's just some kind of stupidity and madness! Many of these coins appeared in January or February of this year and initially cost about one percent of Bitcoin. Since then, they have lost in the price of 90-95%. All this happens because they do not offer anything new and interesting and do not solve any problems. And frankly, the situation is the same with most other altcoins.

Photo: Paralelni Polis / Pavel Sinagl

BlockchainJournal: The discussion about Bitcoin scaling for a long time was one of the most pressing topics in the community. Many are convinced that 1Mb blocks offer a number of security benefits. But supporters of increasing the size of the block were convinced that this would help better scaling, and eventually went their own way. What is your position on this issue?

Jimmy Song: Not that I consider 1MB the optimal solution, but hardfork in this case was completely unnecessary. Hardfork is already by definition centralized, and this is a very bad trait. If you want to offer me scaling at the price of hard forks, I will never accept this. Decentralization is what makes Bitcoin interesting, but as soon as everything becomes centralized, any interest disappears.

Virtually any altcoin and everything that ever existed is either not digital or centralized. Gold is decentralized, but it is not digital. Ethereum is a number, but it is centralized. We need digital limitations, and this is exactly what Bitcoin provides. No other technical achievement, in my opinion, can compare with this.

BlockchainJournal: Not so long ago, during the September Blockchain Cruise, your debate about Bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash with Roger Wer made a lot of noise. He did not seem to want to hear your arguments at all, and at some point you left the stage, indignant that you were constantly interrupted. After that, the article “BCH is Fiat” appeared , in which you made another attempt to say everything you wanted. Do you think you have been heard?

Jimmy Song: I don't think so. During the debates, Roger did not give a single answer to the questions I asked him. I tried to raise the conversation to the level of ideas, not people, but he wanted to talk about someone's merit. I think this is a very low level of communication, because the discussion of celebrities interests me last.

Eleanor Roosevelt once said: "Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, and small minds – people." I wanted our conversation to be on the level of ideas, but this is not what Roger needed. He wanted to talk about people: Craig Wright, developers from Blockstream or Bitcoin Core and everything in that spirit. In my opinion, this person is not very well versed in technology and is only engaged in the promotion of his project, in this case Bitcoin Cash.

So I don't think he heard me. Moreover, I am sure that almost everyone in the Bitcoin Cash community only wants to talk about how ugly I acted towards Roger because I left the stage. This is all meaningless and has nothing to do with ideas. The funny thing is that I can’t imagine Bitcoin, but Roger just represents Bitcoin Cash. That makes all the difference.

BlockchainJournal: The recently announced initiative called The B Foundation has already been criticized, and they are reproached for this: no one can imagine Bitcoin and such ideas are inherently wrong. What do you think about it?

Jimmy Song: I am for any innovation, unless they are aimed at centralizing Bitcoin. Even if it is a bad idea, which is not destined to happen, we all take something new out of it. In any case, I know Alain Vranov and Giacomo Zucco well enough and I don’t think they will take the path of centralization. As far as I know, they have substantive knowledge about what needs to be done for the Bitcoin ecosystem.

It should also be noted that there are so many people who would like to provide financial support by certain efforts, but they do not know where this money can be donated. It is like comparing with a traditional charitable foundation, when people know that some organization is doing a useful job and its activities can be checked.

BlockchainJournal: Less than two years to the next halving, when the miners reward is halved. How does this event, according to your expectations, affect bitcoin in terms of security and price?

Jimmy Song: I'm not an expert on bitcoin prices, but in general, if you take long periods of time, it usually goes up, because there is a limited issue and increase in demand. Halving, on the other hand, is a kind of key moment, as a result of which inflation is reduced and miners no longer need to sell coins in the same quantities as before. Therefore, I can assume that the price will rise, although sometimes the market needs time for this.

If we talk about security, then everything first of all depends on the software. And it is constantly improving. I'm not sure that the halving will directly affect the increase in network security, but by the time I expect new solutions in this area.

BlockchainJournal: Which solutions, in your opinion, are now the most important for Bitcoin?

Jimmy Song: Just everything that is related to security, because Bitcoin is primarily a means of preserving values. In addition, innovation in payments is important – something that will make them faster. Also very important development makes, for example, Casa Hodl – hardware wallets with open source and other solutions for the storage of Bitcoin.

Interviewed by Andrew Asmakov

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