November 22, 2018

RedCon 1 and Ethereum DevCon 4 World Report



Happy November, Red community! We’ve been very busy. Beginning in September, Nenad and Qingtian joined Gregg in Idaho for 6 weeks, in preparation for Ethereum DevCon 4, and to set some things in motion for a  possible U.S. Red presence. Challenges continued to appear at every turn, which kept us on our toes. By the end of October, we were ready to hit Prague for the DevCon, and to have our first Mini RedCon with some of the team. Here’s what happened.

Ethereum DevCon 4



It was a lot of work, leading up to Ethereum DevCon4, and we tried every avenue to sponsor and support the Ethereum community, including submission of possible presentations in every category. Unfortunately, we were not selected to present, as there were only about 50 presentation slots, and over 1000 submissions. Still, we did the best we could, and attended as many sessions as possible that we thought were valuable.
Some of those sessions were very good, some less so. The quality varied widely, as did the type of attendee. It was surprising to find that only a tiny percentage were actual developers, which is our target audience, considering this was advertised as a "Dev" Con, and 70% of the tickets were reserved for "BUIDLers". 1
We noticed a systemic issue at DevCon: There was a lot of hype surrounding many projects, but when it came to actual follow-through, it was hard to find programmers at the DevCon. The hardcore deep-devs on the EVM and language development side were the biggest "clusters" we found. Those writing smart contracts and building actual working project infrastructure were few and far between.2 Some commentary on that in our footnotes.
Nevertheless, we did find some key builders (real ones!) and creators who had valuable insights:
  • One of the people who takes this seriously, and seems to be carefully walking the line of professionalism and community culture, is Sid Coelho-Prabhu of CoinBase. His talk was professional, on-point, clearly stated some of the same problems we see, but also played well to the crypto- and Ethereum-culture crowd. He has a positive approach and is realistic, which was great to see. (Best in Show)
  • The DevEx Breakout EVM Panel consisted of a good cross section of EVM developers, some core, some higher-up, formalists, and others. It gave us a lot of insight into the history of the EVM, challenges it faces, and their thoughts on future ideas. 
  • Another highlight was our meeting with the Solidity and Vyper teams. While we have different goals, let it be known that we have the highest respect for their skills, and the kind of people they are. As outsiders, potentially competitors, they welcomed us, shared insights, and both challenged and supported ideas we shared about our goals and design elements of Red/C3. Our deepest thanks to Alex, Christian, Jacque, and Bryant for seeing us as walking the same road, sharing the goal of making it possible for people to use and experiment with Ethereum on the Distributed Executable Code (Smart Contract) side, which is separate from the EVM team(s). 
Secret Language Design Meeting

On a related note to DevCon, Prague is a beautiful city, and the Ethereum Foundation chose well in selecting it as the host. The Congress Center staff were efficient and professional, and the overall logistics were very well managed. A thank you to the organizers for all their hard work.

RedCon 1

The day after DevCon ended, we held our first RedCon in Prague, bringing together some of our core team, contractors, and new people who were interested in Red and Red/C3. 
We planned an informal event, and that's how it went. We rolled with questions, shifted the agenda as needed, and ate most of the snacks. @rebolek deserves a big round of applause (and leftover beer) for arranging the facility and much more. As is often the case, small groups clustered during breaks to talk about specific topics and get to know each other. 
We were able to answer questions some of the newcomers had, both verbally and in code. It's great to have someone ask "How hard would it be..." and be able to sit down and live code a demo. This is the power of Red.
As far as planned presentations, Nenad gave an overview of Red, and showed some C3 examples, which led to Q&A on more general blockchain aspects as well. It was a nice mix of people on the Red and blockchain sides, helping each other learn a bit about the other side. @rebolek demoed his `values` structured editing prototype, which was very cool. If you thought you needed fancy GUI editors to offer help and extra information to users, you haven't seen what can be done with unicode chars and a little (or a lot of) creativity. Gregg gave a very quick rundown of possible approaches we can take to offer a cron type system for C3. If you aren't into the blockchain side of things, you may not know that there is no internal cron, no way to run something on a schedule. All triggers must come from outside the blockchain, as there isn't even the concept of a clock or current time in the EVM. Those things are handled via "oracles", which is just a fancy term for a reference to some higher authority you trust, outside the blockchain.

Thanks to @endo64 for bringing a camera. As you know, getting a good video setup is a job unto itself, and we couldn't arrange for a separate person to do that this time, but with simple raw footage and some magic applied by @x8x, you can see much of what happened below. Some of the video is hard to read, but many of the graphics are available elsewhere, and we'll make slides available soon.


A few RedCon attendees

Red Foundation Meeting

Another highlight from the trip was a meeting with François Jouen and Azouz Guizani from the Red Foundation. It was a 5 1/2 hour meeting, though we were in Paris, so much of it occurred over a meal in a small cafe. That may sound appealing, but when you forget your notebook, the napkins fill up quickly.
François has been a strong advocate of REBOL and Red for many years. His teaching position and deep desire to help his PhD students led to development of a curriculum where Red is a requirement, not an option. Students have 8 3-hour sessions where they learn the fundamentals of the language, and how to apply it to their domain. These are not Computer Science PhD candidates, but art historians, literature majors, and cognitive scientists. They aren't taught Red in order to make them programmers, but to enable them to use the computer as another tool in their arsenal. 
The passion for his work, and the joy he clearly gets from using Red, are inspiring and infectious. François' combination of skills and talents aren't something we can clone, but seeing it first-hand led to discussion of what it might take to reproduce his approach in other places. You need a champion, and a mix of technical, leadership, and teaching skills; plus deep domain knowledge. François has ported almost half of the OpenCV computer vision library (~400 functions) to Red, as RedCV.

His demos cover a lot of ground, run fast, and demonstrate the value software can bring, if we make it more accessible to people. Some of his students have tried to program before, because they know that's the future in almost any science, but it's too painful and too far from what normal people can do. But when his short course shows them how to create a GUI with VID, they feel empowered. They can build simple tools and see results. With RedCV, an art historian can load an image of a painting, then create their own pipeline of filters and convolutions, to bring out hidden details that are invisible to the naked eye.
Flush with the excitement of seeing Red in use, in the real world, we walked to a small cafe nearby and spent the next 4 hours discussing goals for the Foundation, explaining more about the blockchain aspect and RED tokenomic possibilities to François and Azouz. We also talked about their specific uses cases and needs that might be solved with Red. There are so many things to do, and we sometimes feel overwhelmed, but when you sit down with other people who believe in what you're doing, and support you, it makes all the difference in the world. The next night Azouz joined us again, along with some old colleagues of Nenad's, and we talked more about the technical side.

Conclusion

The days were long, and the nights short. The exhilaration of collaboration gave way to exhaustion as we headed back to our hotels, finding it hard to stop talking and planning. It all came and went quickly, but we learned a lot.
While we hoped for a different experience at DevCon, we have to engage the community if we want to bring value to it. The high points of our meetings with other passionate teams and individuals made it worthwhile. Seeing old friends, and meeting new ones, a room full of Team Red, was great. The little time we had to see sights was invariably filled with tech chat. That all ended too soon and we jetted to our next locations. More plans are in the works, and we'll pick up speed again once the lag wears off.
Until then, Happy Reducing!


1 A comment on the "BUIDLer" term. The Ethereum community wants to grow, to gain adoption, to see their tool used in the real world. We have many thoughts on that, but if that's what they really want, the first thing many projects need is to take themselves seriously. That may sound harsh, and there are serious people doing real work, to be sure. But when billions of dollars are in the mix, and at risk (look how much has been lost this year alone, through hacks and mistakes), it is irresponsible not to take that seriously, and to use inside jokes and memes publicly and prominently. Adding a hashtag and memetic baggage to a powerfully simple concept such as “build” doesn’t mean doing anything actionable or making something real, other than smoke and mirrors. It also puts projects like ours in a difficult position. We are serious, and want to be viewed that way, but our choice to not bury our work in jargon sets us apart. They value inclusivity, so we hope they'll consider our approach and views as another type of diversity: one that evaluates the project on merit, not its use of trendy jargon or rave afterparties.

2 We see a widening gap in the field between those building the technology, and those on the speculation side, who don't know or care much about the technology. While this problem has become endemic to the blockchain, crypto, and distributed-ledger-technology world, it becomes ever more evident at each subsequent major industry event. The majority of attendees of late aren't business people, in the sense that we think of business, but they can throw buzzwords around like you wouldn't believe. We met CTOs who didn't seem to know much tech, and got vague descriptions of what people did. "We onboard people to the blockchain," or "our project decentralizes processes and devaluates [sic] intermediaries." When your own most basic introductory explanation of your business function itself needs a translation to plainspeak, you don’t actually have a job description; without clearly defined roles and results, your whole project is nebulous. If the Ethereum Foundation, project founders, and the community really want to see Ethereum succeed, they themselves need to “devalue intermediaries” spouting what sound like a hollow string of buzzwords with no connection to the real world.

Fork me on GitHub