Charity hack fixes your crypto CGT bill: Endaoment

Robbie Heeger’s Endaoment has facilitated the donation of over $30 million of cryptocurrency to 243 different charities. These donations come from altruistic cryptocurrency investors who are also partly motivated by reducing their tax burdens to Uncle Sam and keeping more of their profits.

Born in Silicon Valley, Heeger, now in his early 30’s, was exposed to entrepreneurship from a young age. Though he initially worked in big tech, he soon became so enthralled with blockchain that he dropped everything to pursue his new passion in 2018. This led him to create Endaoment, which he calls the first regulatory-compliant nonprofit built entirely on the Ethereum blockchain. The project allows anyone to donate one of over 150 cryptocurrencies to a charity of their choice and, in doing so, reduce their tax liabilities.

Endaoment represents the latest generation of blockchain giving — but it is not the first. In 2017, a mysterious figure calling themselves Pine anonymously donated 5057 Bitcoin, worth $55 million at the time, to a collection of over 60 charities.

These donations not only encouraged major charities to accept cryptocurrency contributions for the first time but also served to counteract the perception of Bitcoin being primarily used in dishonest or criminal activities. While the Pineapple Fund helped legitimize cryptocurrency as a medium of charity, it was by no means the first. As early as 2011, Bruno Kučinskasin created Bitcoin 100, an initiative to donate Bitcoin to charities that would openly accept BTC.

Despite many charities‘ early exposure to cryptocurrency, few have continued to receive substantial donations on the blockchain and many even removed such donation options from their websites. The reason was simple on one level and yet complex by nature — taxes.

Robbie Heeger
Heeger has worked out how to make more money and make the world a better place too.


Upon graduating from university in 2012, Heeger accepted a full-time position with Apple where he first worked as a content publishing quality assurance engineer before becoming a manager of production operations. As his career progressed, his fascination with blockchain technology grew and in 2018, he “left Apple with this understanding that crypto was not just something that I could be tangentially interested in anymore — it was consuming.” Despite his experience at a major tech company, he saw himself as technically weak and took boot camp-style classes in solidity coding and blockchain web development.

“I started brainstorming ways that I could take this new skill set and try and build something that would funnel crypto capital into non-profit organizations that otherwise would have had very little exposure to crypto,” Heeger recounts of his early days. One of his initial ideas was to create a “media chain” by which to verify news content and make it resistant to censorship.

The brainstorming paid off, as he recalled how he had made it a habit to give away a portion of his Apple stock to a donor-advised fund each year because he “had stock that had tax obligations on it and I wanted to give that stock away without having to sell it first.” Charity can, of course, be more than simply selfless giving, as strategic donations can often allow for both individuals and businesses to reduce their tax burdens. While selling AAPL stock before donating it would have incurred additional capital gains taxes, giving the stock to a donor-advised fund allowed him to receive tax benefits for the entire value of the stock without incurring capital gains taxes, as charitable donor-advised funds are not liable to tax.

“I had crypto that had appreciated significantly and I didn‘t want to sell it first in order to donate it. I thought ‘wouldn‘t it be cool if there was a donor-advised fund that took crypto’ and that was the seed that became Endaoment.”

Heeger, now in his early 30’s, founded Endaoment in March 2019. Its core function is to provide a tax receipt in exchange for a donation of cryptocurrency. As a donor-advised fund, those making donations receive “advisory privileges” which means that they can suggest where they would like the proceeds of their cryptocurrency to be donated. In practice, this means that 99% of the time, funds go to the donor’s desired U.S. charity of which Heeger says there are about 2.5 million. The 1% of times when the funds do not reach the donor’s first choice of destination include situations where the grant recommendation “is to a hate group or an organization that‘s not in good standing with the Internal Revenue Service, or one that presents some conflict of interest for the organization,” Heeger explains.

“Give us your crypto and we will give you a tax receipt that says you donated it to a 501C3 tax-exempt non-profit public benefit corporation called Endaoment,” he clarifies regarding the business model.

Here’s how it works in numbers

Suppose Fred bought 1000 ETH at $3 for $3,000. At $3,000 per ETH, he now has $3 million worth. Presuming a 33.33% capital gains tax, he would owe the government about $1 million upon sale, being left with $2 million for himself. Alternatively, he could choose to donate 250 ETH to Endaoment, which would issue him a tax receipt for the equivalent of the $750,000 donation — which would count against and fully cancel out his $750,000 tax liability when selling the remaining 750 ETH, meaning he would be left with $2.25 million, with $750,000 sent to the charity of his choice and zero going to the IRS. 

The talk of the IRS reveals a bottleneck: In order to maintain its status as a U.S. tax-exempt public interest corporation, Endaoment can only issue grants to 501C3 charities registered with U.S. authorities. This means that while many local charities outside the U.S. would not be valid recipients of donations, various international causes can still be targeted as many of the charities act globally.

Endaoment offers ready-made advised funds that anyone can donate to. Source: Endaoment

“We‘ve done a lot of work in Sub-Saharan Africa and Afghan refugee relief, and donations to organizations that do work in Europe and all over the world that just have US 501C3 entities that they use as fundraising vehicles for donors in the U.S.,” Heeger clarifies.

Though Heeger notes that he “cannot solicit services to people outside of the U.S.,” people outside the United States have used the Endaoment software to make crypto donations for which they receive U.S. tax receipts just as any American would. Success in getting tax deductions in such international cases is far from guaranteed, and Heeger notes that not all countries issue tax deductions on the basis of charitable giving. Many users have asked about the possibility of creating tax receipts that meet the requirements of various governments, as the tax systems of many countries consider self-directed donations as societally desirable and therefore encourage them by granting tax reductions based on registered donations.

“We‘ve seen people in Japan, in Australia, in the U.K. and in France come and use the site in order to effect impact — They have taken on the burden of figuring out how they prove the deductibility with their local regulators themselves.”

Heeger sees many opportunities for future expansion including to charities in other countries which he believes would upgrade the number of options from 2.5 to over 7 million charitable organizations. It is clear that his mind has never left Silicon Valley, as he characterizes the project as a “minimum viable product that supports straightforward crypto giving of any crypto asset to any U.S. nonprofit as dollars.” 

The Endaoment model is fairly simple, for now. Source: Endaoment

Born in Silicon Valley

Heeger grew up in California’s Palo Alto in the early 2000s, which he describes as an intense and highly competitive environment where various parents of his classmates would “show up on keynotes for the iPhone or some Google service.” The setting made for an environment with lots of access to and encouragement to use and experiment with new technologies, with tech companies often using the schools he went to as testing grounds for new products.

Driven by a passion for storytelling, in 2008, Heeger began studies in broadcast and digital journalism at the University of Southern California. He specialized in publishing technology, inspired by what he saw as a “disruption of the legacy media institutions by the internet” causing a change in the way people got information. He also grew interested in ethics such as the need to balance profitability and the journalistic duty of honest reporting. Soon, he found himself running iTunes’ social media channels as an Apple intern.

“I really loved the triangle of business, technology and ethics, and having to try and find balance between those three key drivers — journalism had that in spades.”

Throughout his studies, he worked for the campus TV news station, where he eventually oversaw 25 reporters and other staff as a multimedia director. In 2010, Heeger had “a real eye-opener” when he traveled to Tanzania to volunteer as an English teacher at a rural town on the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro through an organization called Cross-Cultural Solutions. Though he looked for teaching methods that would help the children gear up for their future in a competitive world, he saw that providing a Palo Alto-style education was a “challenge when you‘re trying to do work in a space that‘s chronically underfunded.”

Anonymous donors

One case in which Endaoment is unable to issue tax receipts is when the donor is fully anonymous. Though anonymous donations can be accepted and Heeger notes that many “religions will say that the anonymous giver is the most righteous kind of giver because they don‘t expect anything in return,” only a very small percentage of donors fit that category. 

Heeger explains that there are various degrees of anonymity when it comes to donating such as whether the donor wants to be unknown to only the receiving charity or to Endaoment as well. When sending crypto from an address with an ENS name, for example, it may be easy for anyone tracking transactions to deduce who the donor is, though the receiving charity itself will not see such information. If funds are routed directly from an exchange, Heeger says that not even Endaoment has any way to figure out the identity of the donor. In such cases, he often checks with the organization to ensure that they are comfortable receiving anonymous money.

In one example of semi-anonymous giving, the developers of SushiSwap donated $1 million SUSHI, with each donation being labeled as being from the SushiSwap core developers rather than from any particular individual.

Journey to DAO

In the future, he says Endaoment will support complex investment strategies and international giving. These strategies would include the gauntlet of crypto-assets like NFT’s, vote-locked tokens and interest-bearing tokens. “You should be able to give whatever it is that you want to give and direct those proceeds to an issue that you care about,” he emphasizes.

What Endaoment is not yet, despite the name, is a DAO. That is meant to change soon, however, as Heeger’s plan is that “people who are actively advancing the mission of Endoament are rewarded with tokens that give them membership, interest and oversight power over the nonprofit entity itself.” This would make EnDAOment a decentralized autonomous organization, which comes with the Web3 dream of leveraging a community to make happen what no small centralized team could ever do.

Soon, Heeger imagines that it will be easy for anyone to become the next Pine, even on a much smaller budget, and create a fund through which they and others use to distribute their crypto wealth to charities around the world.

“We want to democratize those philontrophic tools and make them as easy as interacting with a DeFi Protocol or as easy as transacting using MetaMask.”


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Astrology charts beat technical analysis: Maren Altman is a star

Are future prices written in the stars? Meet Maren Altman, presciently named for cryptocurrency, who combines astrology and day trading crypto into a winning blend.

In 1973, Princeton University professor Burton Malkiel published his book A Random Walk Down Wall Street, in which he famously states that a “blindfolded monkey throwing darts at a newspaper’s financial pages could select a portfolio that would do just as well as one carefully selected by experts.”

Fast forward to 2013, and Rob Arnott, CEO of Research Affiliates, conducted research mimicking monkeys using AI and actually discovered the monkeys had done a much better job than both the experts and the stock market. Closer examination proved the success was a result of the random selection of companies by the “monkey approach,” optimizing their success. However, it is a sobering thought that not only machines but possibly primates can outperform humans in stock picking.

It’s a small step, perhaps, to look at the potential of astrology to determine the future price of Bitcoin. Unlike a  stock, whose performance is dictated by both the business performance of a company and the sector in which it operates, technical analysts’ predictions for Bitcoin price movements depend on reviewing charts and patterns — similar to that performed by astrologists.

Maren Altman
Maren Altman reads the charts and predicts the future of crypto.

In the gutter, looking at the stars

So, how do you predict the price of Bitcoin with astrology? Enter Maren Altman, who calls herself “your personal poet to the stars, especially on TikTok,” and has made a name for herself over the last two years by using astrology to predict price — but not without attracting some controversy.

“I was always the weird girl who asked people about their star signs. In college, I used to earn pocket money by doing people’s charts at parties. I have always been fascinated by astrology.”

It was a natural fit for Altman to run Bitcoin through the charts, using the genesis block as the birth date — after all, anything with a birth date can be plugged into the astrology charts. Altman bought some Bitcoin back in 2017 but had largely forgotten about it until she became interested again in March 2020 when she was studying philosophy at NYU, along with the rest of the student population — nothing like a good pandemic and soaring price to grab interest.

“I grew up with astrology where patterns and cycles are tracked. I was also familiar with financial astrology, so it just made sense to apply it to cryptocurrency,” says Altman.

That’s a big call

One of her first notable calls was in January 2021, where she observed that the new moon in Capricorn, on Jan. 13, looked big for Bitcoin. She went on to predict a dip followed by a bull run. Her call was prescient, with Bitcoin continuing to double in price before April. To counter that, she predicted all-time highs in May, with largely unremarkable success, and Bitcoin floundering instead in its first notable dip of 2021.

Becoming a day trader proved profitable for Altman, but it was not without its stresses.

“It was not enough to call the price; I had to be able to execute,” she says. “And, some days, I made mistakes and lost money, but it was not the fault of the charts but my errors.”

She sees astrology as a giant mirror where certain signifiers of planetary alignments represent themes such as world growth, or even world aggression or peace. By reading those patterns and overplaying them on what has already happened, she can trace future movements or, in the case of cryptocurrency, prices.

Maren Altman
Maren offers fans astrology and silliness.

Altman acknowledges that it can be hard to read the charts — there is a system of patterns but also multiple cycles that can result in misreading. Having said that, she is still ahead of the game.

“Either way, I am 100% transparent with my trades. I share everything,” she says.

She began trading and posting on social media in earnest in the summer of 2020, and today, she has more than a million followers on TikTok and more than 2 million combined on all her socials.

“It just blew up over the summer of 2020,” Altman explains.

When asked why she gained such traction, Altman shrugs her shoulders.

“I am a bit of a character. I’m young, I’m a woman and I wear mostly red. But, I am also serious, I don’t dumb myself down and I make my living though crypto. I guess it just blew up in a perfect storm of weirdness.”

Did she predict Jan. 6, or did she just read the newspapers?

It might also be down to her humor and calling both the Biden presidential win and the Jan. 6, 2021 uprising, although political majors might have achieved similar success through reading the papers.

She also picked up a number of high-profile features in tier-one publications such as The Washington Post, Reuters and The New Yorker — not magazines that frequently publicize highly improbable predictions.

Scrolling through her popular TikToks at one point when talking about flipping NFTs, she explains that she put a down payment on an apartment in Dubai by flipping one NFT. It’s pretty inspirational.

Mostly, though, her income is through her trading, and she is reluctant to do much monetization of her socials.

Maren, feeling a little bearish. Source: Twitter

“I’ve been hesitant to partner with paid sponsors because everyone in crypto hates people that monetize their socials. It’s just not done,” she explains.

She has written several articles for crypto traders and for market analyst Mati Greenspan on his Quantum Economics platform, but she is not directly employed by him.

In other interviews, she points to her Astrology Academy, where she offers astrology training to paying clients. There are about 150 paying clients. She says that she has 1,000 people in her membership community paying between $7 and $50 a month for her teachings.

Charting a course through the storm

At this point, I ask if she has had much pushback. Yes, she has, to the point of having to flee the country because of death threats.

“New York was no longer safe for me, and so I went to friends in Dubai,” she says.

Altman is back in New York when we speak, but she references the trolling campaign spearheaded by a 2021 article in Rolling Stone where she was called a white supremacist, a racist, homophobic and transphobic, among other things. Worryingly, given her following, it accused her of plagiarism.

Rolling Stone
Altman was criticized by Rolling Stone.

There is a lot to unpack in the series of tweets and articles written around this time. BIPOC astrologers in the same field, such as AstroDim, said that Altman had, at first, dissed their commentary that President Biden would die in office but then reposted similar predictions later on.

In other social media flareups, Altman, a vegan, has used inflammatory images and texts in support of her dietary choices. Again, it has caused some backlash.

The BIPOC astrologers in the same article also maintained that there is a general bias against BIPOC people across social media platforms, targeting TikTok in particular.

The biggest complaint made against Altman by the BIPOC astrologers in that 2021 Rolling Stone article is that when Altman talks about the same topics as they do, she gets more views. That might say more about America than astrology.

Altman apologized in a number of videos about her comments and videos on gender fluidity, trans people and animal/meat eaters before going offline during the Mercury retrograde when she went to Dubai.

According to Altman, she was not trolled by crypto heads but rather “spiritual crazies” who invented a lot of their claims.

She certainly does attract a lot of attention — good and bad — and there is even a Twitter account presenting an archive of her more standout tweets where she claims, among other things, that artificial insemination for dairy cows is a form of sexual assault.

Altman says she went to the police when the threats escalated and now has security.

What we know for certain if you believe in the charts, however, is that she is assured of more success in her future.

“Not famous, as that is a very loaded word, but I always knew I would be successful. Funnily enough, my own astrology charts are entirely focused on finance, and it never made sense to me until now.”

“In time, I’ll move away from day trading and into angel investing, but I need to build my capital first.”


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QuickSwap founder: L2s are the path to mass adoption

As Ethereum gas prices rise, the chain that inspired Web3 is becoming gentrified, with high transaction costs pushing less wealthy users onto competing blockchains or scaling solutions.

This means that many use cases are becoming unfeasible in the proverbial layer-one downtown, and suburban neighborhoods are being developed to allow for a cost-effective layer-two blockchain experience. 

Since getting acquainted with Polygon around the time of its launch in late 2019, Sameep Singhania has been an avid supporter of projects built on the protocol. In 2021, he created QuickSwap, a decentralized exchange (DEX) serving the needs of the budding Polygon ecosystem.

Singhania left a promising career as a software developer in 2017 to work as a freelance developer, only to find himself writing code for an array of blockchain projects in the DeFi and layer-two sector. Among the many projects he worked on, he spent 18 months with blockchain e-commerce site OpenBazaar, and served as lead developer for DeFi exchange ParaSwap.

Polygon is one layer-two solution built on Ethereum, and it offers users lower fees when transacting on-chain. QuickSwap is Polygon’s primary DEX and functions as a heart of the network. 

A DEX for Polygon

After working on perhaps dozens of projects on Polygon from 2019 onward, Singhania “realized that to grow the Polygon ecosystem, we need a DEX.” 

This was because while “99% of blockchain projects have a token,” listings on popular exchanges are not easy to arrange, and many users are not willing to create an account at an obscure exchange just to trade a particular token that is not listed elsewhere. A DEX can function as the central market square of a blockchain network, giving its users access to everything they need without having to venture to another chain.

Singhania recalls being encouraged to create a DEX by Polygon’s co-founder, Sandeep Nailwal, who put him in touch with Roc Zacharias, a marketer with Lunar Digital Assets. “That’s how we set up a team — we had developers, we had a marketing team, a perfect mix, and we launched the app,” he explains.

The QuickSwap interface. Source: QuickSwap

Polygon — previously called Matic Network, with MATIC remaining its ticker — is a layer-two blockchain. That means it’s a blockchain built on top of an existing chain. Whereas Lighting is an example of a layer-two, or L2, built on Bitcoin, Polygon is built upon Ethereum. As a result, Polygon-based tokens can be sent to Ethereum addresses, whose users can retrieve them simply by switching to the Polygon network on a DApp such as MetaMask.

The oft-stated advantage of L2 solutions is that they are more nimble than their behemoth parents, allowing for faster and cheaper transactions. With Bitcoin transactions costing over $10 and taking approximately 10 minutes for the first of six confirmations, it is clear that transacting on the parent chain is not practical for everyday transactions in El Salvador, for example, where laborers can earn as little as $100 per month. Instead, Salvadorans use Bitcoin Lighting, whose transactions cost as little as 1 satoshi.

Sameep Singhania
Sameep Singhania wants to scale up crypto’s potential.

The transaction costs on the Ethereum network are much higher, making it “unusable by the small users” who are effectively priced out of using DeFi solutions or decentralized exchanges like Uniswap. In January 2021, a “normal Ethereum transaction on Uniswap cost around $100,” Singhania recalls.

“If I’m a normal user and I want to do a small trade, I cannot do it on Ethereum — the average transaction size on Uniswap is somewhere around $50,000.”

“Polygon is there to scale Ethereum,” Singhania says, which has its pros and cons. He further explains that while “Ethereum is the most secure solution out there,” it comes at the cost of high gas fees and relatively slow transaction times.

That’s not exactly desirable for an economy — smaller denominations of currency exist because not everything can be done with $100 bills. L2s are the answer for allowing smaller transactions on existing networks like Bitcoin and Ethereum. On Polygon, users can exchange Ethereum-based tokens, NFTs, and interact with smart contracts cheaply. 

The pressing need for L2s is relatively new, because transaction costs have risen significantly in the past two years along with the blockchain user base. On QuickSwap, transactions between the over 23,000 available pairs cost only a few cents. “You can basically use QuickSwap to trade any ERC-20 token which has liquidity and exists on the Polygon network,” Singhania says. Fees are naturally paid in MATIC.

Considering the savings, switching digital assets from Ethereum to Polygon seems like an obvious solution for many users. However, some activities, like the trading of six-figure NFTs, remain decisively away from the Polygonian suburb. Similarly, Singhania acknowledges that those making million-dollar trades have less to gain from Polygon. 

There are two primary ways to move assets to Polygon, according to Singhania: exchange withdrawals and bridges. “A lot of big exchanges like Binance support deposits and withdrawals on the Polygon network,” which means that the Ethereum network can potentially be avoided entirely. As for assets already on Ethereum instead of on a centralized exchange, they can be bridged, which is effectively an inter-blockchain transfer.

“Both L1 and L2 applications have their own pros and cons and they both have their use cases — now it’s up to the user to choose which platform better suits their needs”

Learning the ropes

Singhania, 31, grew up in India’s capital, New Delhi. He had an early passion for coding since high school, describing the process of coding “like magic happening,” whereby “wonderful stuff” could be created with just a few lines of code. He followed his passion in 2008 to JSS Academy of Technical Education, on the outskirts of the capital, where he completed a bachelor in computer science and served as a campus IBM Ambassador.

Graduating in 2013, he began his career in software testing and automation at Dell, but soon realized that he wanted to “focus more on development” instead of remaining a software tester, a role with less opportunities for creative input, for the remainder of his career. He made the switch to software developer in 2015 at Drishti-soft Solutions, where he worked on customer service software and organized web development training sessions.

Still not quite settled in the role and in search of “something where I don’t get bored,” Singhania switched over to software freelancing in 2017. “When you do freelancing, you get to know a lot of people and learn about a lot of new industries and domains,” he recalls, noting that he was finally interested in his work. One of these new industries was blockchain, which he had previously heard about while working as a developer. 

“I again came across this blockchain and Bitcoin stuff while searching for a project, so I decided to give it some more time and do some more research — to figure out ‘what is this Bitcoin? What is this blockchain?’”

By mid-2018, Singhania was a full-time blockchain engineer for a number of projects, including Akila Labs, Bitgrit, and Toptal, where he developed ERC-20 tokens and smart contracts for things like airdrops, token vesting and crowdsales. Notable among this was 18 months spent working with the decentralized marketplace startup OpenBazaar, “which was trying to build something very similar to Amazon — but on blockchain” using the peer-to-peer InterPlanetary File System (IPFS), Singhania recalls with excitement.

Compounding knowledge

“When DeFi was just starting” in 2018, Singhania worked as the lead developer and first employee of ParaSwap, an aggregator DApp which brings together multiple DEXs so that users can seamlessly trade cryptocurrency pairs which do not exist together on any exchange. All of this trading is done through Singhania’s smart contracts, which “handle millions of dollars everyday,” he says proudly, adding that the platform saw 3.3 billion dollars in volume in the past month.

“That project allowed me to make an entry into DeFi — it basically introduced me to everything out there like Uniswap, Bancor, Kyber Network, because to build ParaSwap we needed to learn everything about DeFi.”

With DeFi under his belt, Singhania encountered layer-two blockchain solutions while working on a dice game for one of his clients, a blockchain casino.

He soon realized that “it was too expensive to do it on Ethereum” — even though 2019 gas fees were a fraction of what they are today. Something new was needed, and Singhania “started exploring for layer-two solutions,” he recounts. He first built his dice game on the now defunct layer-one Loom Network which shut down shortly thereafter, Singhania scouted out Matic Network, which was in late 2019 “very new and their mainnet was not launched.” Working with the Matic Network team, now called Polygon, Singhania got the dice game up and running, becoming acquainted with the Polygon network in the process.

Ethereum dice games are not the first to suffer from scaling issues. Erik Voorhees’ SatoshiDICE, for example, was launched in 2012 and soon accounted for over half of Bitcoin transactions. With transaction prices increasing, making small on-chain bets on Bitcoin’s main layer has since become impractical.

Onboarding the next generation

Now that Polygon is a low-cost option to L1 and has a reliable DEX, Singhania believes that the next step in scaling the layer is to improve the user experience in order to make it user-friendly for millions of people who are new to cryptocurrency. As QuickSwap is a central point of the Polygon ecosystem, much of the responsibility falls to his shoulders.

“The way that things are designed right now, it’s not for a novice —  it’s for a well-trained crypto user.”

In Singhania’s view, the price of MATIC can be expected to follow the adoption of the Polygon layer. If the team continues to execute, “it is just a matter of time” as to when prices might begin a steady climb. One thing is clear: Singhania is no longer bored with his work and is “not doing any kind of freelancing because I don’t have time.”


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Concerts in the Metaverse could lead to a new wave of adoption

Colin Fitzpatrick is a Dubliner based in Dubai who turned a bad time during quarantine into a business that promises to bring your favorite artists to a metaverse near you. His company Animal Concerts, which launches in January, is in the process of signing world-class artists to perform in the decentralized worlds of the Metaverse.

Among the first to get the Animal Concerts treatment was Grammy-winning rapper Future, who performed at an in-person Animal Concerts-themed Halloween party in Miami, which was filmed in such a way that it can later be broadcast in the Metaverse. In this startling new land, there are no COVID restrictions nor travel bans, and artists can sell NFT memorabilia to fans with little overhead, investment or middlemen. 

Virtual concerts have already begun to appear, most notably Ariana Grande’s October 2021 performance in Fortnite. Around 78 million Fortnite users attended Grande’s show, with some commentators speculating that she was set to earn over $20 million from the virtual gig.

Travis Scott pulled in $20 million for a Fortnite performance in 2020, and Ed Sheeran similarly took to the virtual stage of Pokemon Go in November 2021. When Swedish star Zara Larsson held a concert on Roblox, she earned seven figures for sales of “in-game items like hats, backpacks and sunglasses” which started at just $1.

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Fitzpatrick says that he is in the last stages of signing a concert with a top-100 Grammy-winning artist who I agree not to name. In preparing for the concert, she would “go into a green screen studio where she does our performance, and we record it and then we can essentially turn her into an avatar where she is properly in one of the decentralized blockchain-run worlds,” he explains, regarding the process of concert digitalization.

Holding concerts in the Metaverse comes with a slew of advantages for artists, according to Fitzpatrick. Whereas streaming services like Spotify are reducing music revenues, Animal Concerts allows performers to earn 50% of the revenue from both ticket and NFT sales. With celebrities benefiting directly, they have a big incentive to entice their fans into the Metaverse, where many of them will encounter blockchain for the first time.

FUTURE performing at MAXIM’s Halloween party in Miami in collaboration with Animal Concerts

A former DJ who has been passionate about music from a young age, Fitzpatrick points to a cupboard behind him where he keeps a box with “ticket stubs and flyers from gigs that I went to when I was in my youth.” For him, they are priceless mementos of his formative experiences.

A changing industry

Just as the idea of a Metaverse powered by virtual reality (VR) was gaining steam along with the explosion of NFTs earlier this year, Fitzpatrick realized the two could be combined to offer solutions to a struggling music industry, which he says has seen declining revenues with countless concert tours canceled since the beginning of the pandemic. 

The platform will soon allow people at home to stream VR-augmented concerts live and experience them as an interactive event rather than as one-sided TV broadcasts. NFTs can be given out as Metaverse-age equivalents of the ticket stubs in Fitzpatrick’s memory box. 

Colin Fitzpatrick
Colin Fitzpatrick sees the Metaverse as the ultimate touring destination.

“With 360-degree cameras on stage, you can use a VR headset to get an immersive experience — like you are dancing on stage with your favorite bands, from your living room anywhere in the world. We want to enable you to enjoy the concert with friends by seeing their avatars,” he explains. The goal is to become the “Netflix of live streaming concerts.”

“There’s been a lot of very high profile concerts already in various different Metaverses”. 

Fitzpatrick explains that virtual concerts are desirable from the artist’s perspective because they do not require travel and the number of viewers is not limited by venue size. There is naturally also an economic driver, as virtual venues do not demand the same amount of stagehands, security or other costly infrastructure, and also because the number of middlemen is reduced. 

With the view that different scheduled events are happening in various virtual worlds, the idea of the Metaverse as a reality consisting of numerous intertwined virtual worlds is becoming increasingly current.

What these metaverses have in common, whether games like Roblox or blockchain worlds like Decentraland, is that “they have a huge user base and they’re going to be selling digital assets in one way or another,” Fitzpatrick says. While most centralized worlds will require a user account, decentralized worlds allow access via wallet software, such as MetaMask. The major difference between centralized and decentralized worlds is their interoperability — items purchased in Pokemon Go cannot be transferred to Roblox, whereas NFTs can be displayed in a large number of different decentralized virtual worlds.

“Today’s kids are used to purchasing skins — digital assets in games. It’s a very simple step for them to look to purchase NFTs released by their favorite musicians,” Fitzpatrick says.

The need for a wallet can be a barrier for those who are new to crypto, Fitzpatrick admits. Similar to Beeple, who wanted to make sure his NFTs can be purchased by credit card, Fitzpatrick sees a future where virtual concert-goers have the option to “go to a website, putting in the credit card details and purchasing tickets and then purchase an NFT without worrying about a cryptocurrency.”

In many cases, these NFTs could be combined with physical memorabilia, such as an NFT and a physical copy of handwritten lyrics by the artist. They might also be combined with virtual meet and greets — specifics are largely up to the artists.

Dublin to Dubai

Fitzpatrick, 41, began on his path in 1999 when he began studying business management at Portobello Institute in his native Ireland. He immediately began doing freelance web design work, soon expanding to DJing and working as a nightclub organizer.  “I used to organize club nights and do festivals,” he recounts of his younger days.

He chose the corporate path upon graduation, joining Dell as a relationship manager in 2002, and in 2006 took an enterprise sales job with Oracle where he spent five years until 2011. After about two years with Salesforce and HubSpot, Fitzpatrick returned to Oracle for seven years, which saw him rise through the ranks from a sales strategy manager to a leadership position in the “Multi-Cloud Ecosystem” unit, with the latter promotion taking him from Dublin to Dubai “to build new business here for them” in late 2018.

Fitzpatrick discovered Bitcoin at around $100 in 2013, but he was “sadly persuaded out of it by a friend,” he recalls. He got back in the game in late 2016, however, becoming “a full convert” when the concept of blockchain clicked for him. Soon enough, he started chatting with another employee at Oracle who was interested in crypto, and “then we found someone else,” and it started to “spread like wildfire,” he recounts with a laugh.

“Fast forward a couple of months — halfway through 2017, there was more cryptocurrency trading being done in the office than there was selling Oracle software!”

Spending much of his time researching cryptocurrencies, he “wanted to go work for a blockchain company, but there was nothing in Dublin,” and “virtual jobs” were not as common as they are post-COVID, he explains. 

COVID wreaked havoc on Oracle. The company, despite having recently moved Fitzpatrick, an employee of 13 years, to a new country, “made me redundant smack bang in the middle of COVID, which absolutely sucked — it was just when the lockdown started,” he recalls with a hint of shade. “I was in big trouble” as almost no companies were hiring at the time, but Fitzpatrick managed to find work as a director of business development with Eastnets, “a local company who do payments and software compliance.”

A year in, however, he quit. It was time to strike his own path as an entrepreneur. 

Fan tokens for music

Fitzpatrick says that the average Animal Concert will cost between $10 and $30 to attend, with tickets available on sites like Ticketmaster as if for any event taking place in the “meatspace,” as some Metaverse proponents humorously like to call the physical world. Those purchasing tickets with Animal’s native token will receive discounts, “so if you want to buy with our token, it will be cheaper, so that’s an incentive to use our native token,” he adds. 

There’s always a token, of course, and the Animal token will also function as a governance token, allowing fans and artists to engage in interesting new ways, such as by “voting on which songs artists will play or what outfit they will wear.” Fitzpatrick believes that a highly engaged fan base is “sticky,” and will attend numerous concerts while purchasing artists’ NFTs. Those staking the token will be eligible for “first access to the hottest NFT drops, or you get free tickets to future concerts,” he adds.

This model can be compared to the fan token phenomenon, of which Socios is the market leader. Socios has a tradeable native token which comes with various utility functions, and the fan tokens created by the firm for different sports teams gather more chatter from fans who seem to view them as akin to investments in their favorite teams. Such tokens can also provide sports clubs with massive liquidity, as they can slowly release them as fans open their wallets. 

Could Animal become the Socios of music?

“We have a plan to create a token for each artist,” Fitzpatrick responds, explaining that each artist has a group of very loyal fans who would be sure to be interested in holding tokens based on their idol. Looking through the lens of NFTs, which are non-fungible tokens that cannot be subdivided, a fungible token can be imagined as a single, fractionalized NFT which represents the name, idea, or concept it pertains to. 

As such, “Ariana Grande Token” could quite possibly be expected to rise in value in relation to her star power, and investing in the coin of an emerging artist could prove fruitful. Just as with Socios-created sports tokens, music fan tokens could, in the future, function as a sort of quasi-share of the artist.

Star power is sure to have a big impact on any future tokens, as Fitzpatrick agrees that fans “won’t necessarily care about the Animal Token, but they would care about the Ariana Grande Token.”


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Acid, Bitcoin mining and a bad trip to North Korea

Ethan Lou is a journalist turned Bitcoin miner turned two-time author whose latest book, Once a Bitcoin Miner: Scandal and Turmoil in the Cryptocurrency Wild West, is a modern western recount a gloomy millennial’s rebirth in the wild west of crypto — complete with scammers, party drugs and a North Korean crypto conference.

“Want to go to a crypto conference in North Korea in April?” is not a common question, but was asked of me by Lou in early 2019.

The Pyongyang Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference, attended by about 100 people, is the big attraction in Lou’s book. This is because eight months after the event, in November 2019, Virgil Griffith, who worked with the Ethereum Foundation and who was among the attendees Lou got to know, was arrested by the FBI for breaking sanctions and illegally providing “highly technical information” to the North Korean government.

With Lou watching from the New York courtroom’s gallery on the first day of the trial in September this year, a “quite emotional” Griffith pled guilty to a charge of conspiracy to violate sanctions laws in a deal which may see him spend over six years in prison. This was a surprise to Lou, who notes that Griffith’s lawyers had requested the judge to allow for two suits “so that he can wear different outfits on different days,” suggesting that they, too, had expected the trial to last longer than a day.

Day 3. The room in which Virgil Griffith spoke to the North Koreans. (Source: Twitter)

Lou, who considered the conference an innocuous opportunity to see North Korea, recalls how Griffith’s initial arrest was a shock to everyone who had attended. He explains that the event was advertised as a crypto conference and he “thought we were going to hear from the North Korean crypto people because North Korea has been accused of doing lots of shady stuff with crypto,” referring to accusations of state-sponsored hacking, among others.

But, there were no North Korean crypto people.

“It turns out we, the participants, were asked to be presenters.”

Though it appeared that some of the attendees, like Griffith, came prepared to present, “most of us thought we were going to take information from the Koreans,” he says, adding that he declined to give a presentation. As most presentations were prepared just days before, the event’s content consisted of only “surface level, Wikipedia-type information.” Lou notes that the event was organized by “the cultural side,” of the DPRK administration and that their “crypto people” never made themselves known. 

“I don’t think Griffith had any intention of benefiting North Korea in any tangible way. I don’t think he brought North Korea any benefits and he didn’t derive any personal benefit — he paid quite a lot of money to be at the conference.”

What the group of merry conference-goers missed out on expected North Korean crypto insight, they gained in friendships and interesting stories — much of the time was spent touring Pyongyang and getting “very drunk with our Korean minders.”

“It was a very interesting insight into North Korea for sure, but there wasn’t any crypto insight.”

Journalist in training

Lou, 31, was born in Harbin, a northern Chinese city near the Russian border. He soon moved to Germany on account of his father doing Ph.D. work related to engineering there. Growing up in Germany, he developed a passion for reading and writing which inspired him to pursue the “very natural choice” of journalism for his undergraduate degree at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada.

Lou discovered Bitcoin around 2012 while exploring the dark web with his friends. This secretive underbelly of the internet which can only be accessed by the Tor browser once played host to the infamous Silk Road drug marketplace where BTC functioned as the payment method. Its operator, Ross Ulbricht, was sentenced to life after his 2013 arrest which resulted in the United States government’s seizure and subsequent auction of 144,000 Bitcoin.

He re-encountered Bitcoin the following year in New Brunswick, a Canadian province on the Atlantic where Lou was an intern for a local newspaper when he interviewed Anthony Di Iorio, the founder of the Bitcoin Alliance of Canada.

Returning home to Toronto after his internship and variously working as a journalist for The Canadian Press and the Toronto Star, he familiarized himself with the burgeoning local Bitcoin scene where Di Iorio, who had relocated to the city and co-founded Ethereum with Vitalik Buterin, was now active. 

One of Lou’s many pictures from the DPRK (Source: Twitter)

Another character who Lou’s book recounts a meeting is Gerald Cotten, who, in 2013, founded the QuadrigaCX exchange before dying in India in 2018, taking the private keys to his 115,000 customer’s Bitcoin to the grave. 

It was from Cotten’s exchange that Lou purchased his first Bitcoin that year and promptly “ordered 10 hits of LSD for 0.412 Bitcoin on the dark web.” There was no going back on his trip into cryptocurrency.

Crypto cowboys

After working with the Toronto Star newspaper from 2013 to 2015, Lou was hired by Reuters which sent him to New York in early 2016, and later that year to Calgary where he focused on reporting about the energy industry. The province of Alberta, awash with oil and with Calgary as its largest city, is to Canada what Texas is to the United States. With its pre-oil history of cowboys, Calgary has held proudly to its western roots, and the oil boom of the previous decades no doubt attracted a new crop of daring adventurers seeking fortune in the west.

It was here that Lou organized a weekly Bitcoin meetup, where we met. Lou’s was not the only show in town, as Jan Cerato, a local crypto hype-man who held a meetup at a nearby cowboy-themed saloon on a different day of the week, somehow began to see him as competition. In Lou’s book, Cerato fills the role of comic relief via his various misadventures. “Moving in the same circles, I grew to respect Lou as a serious journalist — he once told me he would protect his sources even if it meant prison, a statement whose validity I never doubted.”

Lou had begun mining Bitcoin a few months prior when, while looking for his bike around the loading dock of the Reuters building, he happened upon a stash of treasure — eight discarded Dell Optiplex 780 computers.

“Each one could hold two GPUs, so it wasn’t a lot, but I ended up buying GPUs and using those to mine,” he recalls, adding that he needed to rent a car for $15.63 — which annoyed him — to lug the computers to his apartment a few blocks away.

“Eventually, it became a whole dedicated facility with ASICs.”

With the crypto industry moving a mile a minute as Bitcoin forked, the bull markets raged and his mines whirring in new BTC as he worked his corporate job at the news desk. Lou recalls that “I didn’t really have the chance to stand back and assess everything.” That was until one day, sitting in his grey cubicle, he “suddenly realized, if I so fancied, I could pick up the phone and buy an elephant.” He was a crypto millionaire.

No elephant was purchased that day but its scent was one of adventure, such which Lou felt was out of reach while living the 9-5 life. He resigned. “I had the feeling that I guess any typical millennial just entering the workforce feels — maybe they call this a quarter-life crisis. Am I in the right place? Am I doing what is meaningful to me? Since I have the means, why don’t I go on an adventure?” he recounts.

And adventures he went on. In addition to those in North Korea, his book details a time he and I spent on a “Thai island partying with members of a cryptocurrency incubator on a hillside resort.”

“The big boss who funded everything was an early Bitcoiner and had made a fortune. People came and went, staying for free, indulging in crazy merrymaking. At least once, they had allegedly brought over a shaman.” Lou wrote in Chapter 16.

Another adventure of his is a book of its own, Field Notes from a Pandemic: A Journey through a World Suspended, which was published last year. It recounts his travels through Beijing, Singapore, Germany and back to Canada upon the cusp of the pandemic which seemed to follow him and, with air travel all but shut down, left him sheltering in my empty apartment in the German town of Bayreuth for six weeks during the eye of the storm.

A crypto western

It has long been said, often by critics, that the cryptocurrency industry resembles the Wild West. Lou agrees, though making clear that “I don’t consider that comparison an insult. I think that there are lots of cool things about the Wild West, at least the idea of it. That which attracted people to the west back then is what attracts people to crypto right now.” 

Though the real wild west was largely built on “injustice, colonialism and brutality,” Lou says that the dream of the wild west lives within our minds.

“The wild west has a powerful draw largely because it’s a place where there’s lots of opportunity and wealth — it’s also spacious and it’s open to everyone and, most importantly, it’s free from the societal hierarchies back home.”

“You go to the west so you can you can discard your past, you can bury your name and you can be born anew,” he says, inspiring ideas of poor European peasants moving to the wildlands of the Americas, or perhaps Di Iorio who moved west to Toronto where he co-founded Ethereum. 

The wild west’s frontier eventually moved even further westward, and so it is in crypto, according to Lou. While more established players like VISA and cities like Miami are entering the partly-tamed lands, many of the early trailblazers like Coinbase, which has worked to sanitize its idealistic early days, have upgraded their disreputable gambling saloons into modern glass offices.

Day 4. The view from a tower block. Virgil called North Korea a “Wes Anderson movie. (Source: Twitter)

But, the Wild West heart of crypto is fighting back. Lou points to the example of Shapeshift, an old player in the industry whose CEO Erik Voorhees is transitioning the company from a “corporate structure to become a DAO, and the specific reason is that it wants to make it harder for regulators to rein it in. This is coming as the SEC is becoming increasingly hawkish,” Lou explains.

“A lot of law is suddenly entering this space. At the same time, people are coming up with ways to flout the law.”

The Metaverse, Lou believes, marks the next frontier.

“Our online lives are just as real as our lives offline now. Online, we have no rights — we are beholden unconditionally to the digital masters. I think we already live in a Metaverse.”

The battle for rights and freedoms in the Metaverse will be a major conflict of this new frontier. According to Lou, this will consist of a battle between centralized applications run by corporations and permissionless decentralized applications operating on blockchains. 

He uses the example of Facebook, now fittingly called Meta, whose Facebook Zero initiative allows for mobile users in certain developing countries to access “a form of limited internet curated by Facebook, but it’s free,” adding that “big corporations are shaping the way we perceive reality,” as this will cause many people’s entire experience of the internet to consist of only Facebook.

“Decentralized applications are the key to preventing big tech dominance. The Metaverse is not only inevitable, but already here.”


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Futurist film maker Ian Khan on tomorrow’s AI and blockchain

Ian Khan is a futurist who expects that blockchain, artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things will merge together to create an entirely new type of world. 

He’s the inventor of the Future Readiness Score, the author of eight books and the chairperson of the Money 20/20 fintech conference.

His first film, Blockchain City, is far from an underground production. The 42-minute film, which is available on Youtube and Amazon Prime, is a businessy, optimistic and somewhat sanitized take on the industry. It focuses decisively on piercing the nebulous concept of “blockchain technology” while largely dodging the sometimes controversial phenomenon of cryptocurrency, promoting blockchain as an efficient tracking mechanism furthering the interests of “the establishment.”

Khan’s positioning in the industry is therefore very much in contrast to the cypherpunk movement — the old guard of the blockchain revolution.

These original torchbearers of the industry were not eager to see the technology used to improve governance systems but to circumvent and effectively overthrow them by turning their outdated systems and processes against them. Such an imagined technological overthrow is, however, unlikely to succeed with the likes of Khan advising governments on how to prevent disruption by way of future readiness.

At a fundamental level, Khan considers blockchain-based systems as “a way to do things in a better way.” The main reasons for this are the efficiency benefits derived from a network that confirms its own accuracy, and the trust that no unauthorized user has been able to manipulate records. 

Notably, he does not give central praise to commonly lauded themes like decentralization [away from governments] or the perceived benefits of online anonymity. Instead, he emphasizes how blockchains can be used by governments to better secure private information and prevent things like identity theft.

When it comes to “the last 100 years off, how we’ve been doing business,” for Khan, blockchain is “something that does things better in 1,000 different ways.” On the part of improving government processes, “the efficiency part will come up as a result of the exchange of data between government entities — incredible government services will happen as a result of that.”

Back to the Futuracy

This talk of efficiency and the future does not come from a vacuum, as Khan runs a Toronto-based company future-readiness business called Futuracy, which he describes as “an emerging technology educator” that has worked with corporations and governments around the world. The prolific author is also a key figure in the Dubai GITEX technology conference — such a key figure, that he was serving as the stage manager as I arrived to deliver a keynote on the history of the blockchain movement at the event in mid-October. While I was looking to the past, his head was (and is) firmly in the future.

A still from the film Blockchain City

The firm creates a Future Readiness Strategy for each client. These strategies are tailored based on the answers to 200 questions put to the clients which are designed to reveal weak systems and processes which may be disrupted by advancing technology. Depending on the scale of the organization, minor weaknesses can have outsize impacts.

“If there’s an inefficiency in government, common people will suffer,” he explains, noting the need for future-readiness analysis in preventing disruptions to important functions such as medical care and education — both of which have been impacted by the pandemic.

Khan is also looking at other phenomena that promises to shape the future of his clients, namely the Future of Work and Artificial Intelligence The Next Frontier, both of them also titles of his two upcoming films. For him, ideas such as digitization, the Internet of Things, blockchain and artificial intelligence are not standalone innovations. Instead, they are connected and it is only a matter of time until they combine and integrate to form an entirely new tomorrow for the way governments, companies and institutions function. 

“It’s very easy to paint the picture where we can talk about the world that is powered by AI that has blockchain in it,” Khan mentions casually as if the idea is in no way terrifying. It’s about efficiency, as AI-blockchain integration will be “saving lots of time, energy and effort,” and information will be less likely to be stolen, according to Khan.

Thoughts from the future

Much of Khan’s recent work has been in Dubai, a city he says “is always trying to do things in a different way.” An early patron of the blockchain movement, “Dubai was one of the first countries with a blockchain strategy at the government level,” Khan says.

Khan believes that the best way for governments, large companies and institutions to ease into the blockchain age is for them to provide all employees with an understanding of the technology “whether they are decision makers or not,” because if an organization is to survive in a changing environment, it has to “become a learning entity.” 

The effective way to learn about new paradigm-shifting technologies like blockchain, according to Khan, is to start with examples of successful technical implementation with the goal to “massively simplify the understanding of these big giant buzzwords, so that people can relate” to what the technology is actually capable of and useful for. In practice, this could mean investing in education courses — perhaps beginning with watching his film. 

Despite his emphasis on learning the basics, Khan concedes there is no need for everyone to have more than a surface-level knowledge. After all, blockchains are horribly complex, but the way we interact with them could be made a lot simpler. Just as not all car users need to understand exactly how a combustion or electric engine works, in the future it will be the “blockchain that is taking care of things underneath the hood,” he says.

“Everybody needs to be at the basic minimum level of understanding of technology — it doesn’t matter if they don’t work in the same department. I think education of basic technology concepts and the value it creates is important.”

Another way in which organizations, especially governments, can harness the benefits of blockchain is to open up the ideation process by giving as much creative freedom to their people as possible, in order “to come up with ideas that can really change the way they do things.”

On this virtue, Khan gives special praise to Estonia, a small European country of only 1.3 million, where he says “there’s a lot of freedom to express” one’s ideas to the highest levels of decision making. As a small country with a huge emphasis on technology, as evidenced by the eResidency program making it easy for digital nomads to operate businesses from the country, Estonia has forged a reputation as a digital hub.

The third way, Khan says, is for organizations to continuously run small experiments and pilot projects “that prove a point,” even if there is no obvious short-term benefit or return on investment. As a prime example, Khan brings up Zug, a Swiss city of 30,000 which in 2016, adopted Bitcoin as an option for paying city permits. Due to the success of the experiment, Zug soon became known as “crypto valley” as blockchain companies from around the world opened offices there.

Blockchain City

Kashmir to Canada

Instead of being a blockchain native, Khan is future-native. “I just love learning these things and understanding them and helping others understand them,” he proclaims.

He was born on the Indian side of Kashmir, a region whose other half lies in Pakistan. There, Khan recalls that he became interested in emerging technology at the age of six when he saw a computer at school. “It was a BBC Micro hooked on to a black and white screen that had Pac Man on, and my mind was completely blown,” he recalls.

He studied engineering at Kuvempu University in southern India between 1995 and 1999, obtaining a diploma in software at the same time. Soon after graduation, he moved to Bahrain where he worked in a sales and marketing role in the energy industry, while also working towards a diploma in journalism from the London School of Journalism which he received in 2003. In 2007, Khan moved to Canada, where he lives today.

In Canada, Khan tried his hand at a number of side hustles, upon which he founded Agnitio Solutions. He tried his hand at numerous projects and startups over four years, until “I got into the publishing industry and started a healthcare magazine,” he recalls. In his free time, he continued to study, earning a project management professional certificate from Humber College in 2009 and a certificate in public relations from the University of Toronto the following year.

Blockchain documentary

Khan had the idea to make a documentary about the blockchain revolution in 2018, around the time that he attended the first Future Blockchain Summit in Dubai, part of the larger GITEX technology convention for which Khan serves as Smart Cities Conference Chair. He saw that, in addition to blockchain being incredibly confusing to most people, “there’s lots of hype around it and there’s lots of misinformation around it,” he notes.

“The story needs to be told that clarifies things, brings some light to the situation and helps business decision makers, governments leaders and individuals understand this technology better”

Blockchain City – The Future of Cities Driven by Blockchain tells a “story of cities around the world and their shift towards being technologically powered through Blockchain.” In the 2019 film, he interviews representatives of various governments who speak on the wonders of blockchain technology and the opportunities it holds for making societal functions more efficient. 

The opening credits of Blockchain City

In line with his mantra of teaching from real-life cases, blockchain use cases that were brought up include preventing over-fishing and child trafficking. These examples of the next level of the digitization of governance infrastructure can help global institutions “join hands and take the next steps together.”

While Blockchain Cities largely avoids cryptocurrency, he has made a separate documentary titled The Bitcoin Dilemma on that subject. It is technologically agnostic and neutral of any politics or ideology, which is known to permeate the cryptocurrency industry.


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Metamask founder Joel Dietz is a true Renaissance man

Joel Dietz, founder of Metamask and founding team member of Ethereum, is a romantic at heart. He creates art as ‌“Cryptoapollo” that reflects the intersection between traditional art and technology.

“I have a very classical romantic temperament, which can be hard to bring into the modern world since romantically inclined people can be suppressed in the modern economy, but I also love the cutting edge of technology as it applies to art in architecture and sculpture,” explains Dietz.

“And like any technological enthusiast, I always try and explore the latest tech such as VR. Mostly my art is digital, although I have played around with physical pieces,” he declares.

He is a polymath and a Renaissance man whose passions include the arts, poetry and cryptography. He wears his heart on his sleeve, gets bored easily and is constantly learning.

Dietz’s art projects. Source:

Kindergarten programmer

When he first attended kindergarten as a child, Dietz immediately informed his mother that he wanted to be homeschooled instead. She agreed, and this decision was quickly vindicated.

Dietz started programming computers at age six, won a scholarship to Arcadia University at age 13 to study computer science, and thereafter collected prizes for his programming from Salesforce, Google and Topcoder.

Joey Dietz. Source:

After a brief academic career studying comparative poetry and mythology, Dietz joined the Ethereum team on day one, including creating the first educational channel for smart contracts (EtherCasts), writing the first Ethereum DEVGrant and starting Metamask at Devcon 0 — which was already his third cryptocurrency-related browser extension.

Dietz was also very interested in the evolution of governance and law with respect to cryptocurrencies. He did the first academic work on “crypto economics” at the University of Notre Dame in 2014, ran the first on-chain nonprofit election for the Bitcoin Foundation, created several governance-related protocols that culminated in Swarm Markets — the first regulated DeFi exchange in Germany — and co-organized the first conferences on law and cryptocurrency at Harvard and MIT.  He is currently a Connection Science fellow at MIT and an industry adviser at Notre Dame.

His latest projects include a recently launched layer-two solution for the NFT industry called ArtWallet, which currently trades with a $600-million market cap. He is also working on a platform for building metaverses called the Meta Metaverse — which he started before Facebook rebranded to Meta.

His academic research interests focus on the confluence of blockchain network topologies and swarm intelligence (self-organizing systems), especially how the principles underlying decentralized organizations can be used to fuel global innovation. He also works on holonic philosophy (how biological and social systems cohere), the evolution of jurisprudence (history of law), data-driven approaches to innovation, and smart city data architecture.

Model sculptor

Dietz dated a sculptor, Marianna Costi, which influenced his appreciation of physical art. He also became a model for her fresco painting, akin to Archangel Michael in Florence, which remains to this day on a wall in an unnamed church in Italy.

“I brought this appreciation of sculpture in 2014 to a Burning Man festival, where I designed and commissioned and created a giant metal sculpture, like a Spartan warrior mask, for my first large steel installation art,” he recalls.

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His own life intersects with art too. A dalliance with erotic photography led him to host an erotic-themed opera with other like-minded people for his birthday. The operatic genre was chosen based on his admiration of Philip Glass’ Egyptian opera, “Akhnaten.”

“Philip Glass had, in turn, been inspired by the Egyptian Book of the Dead, and I am not alone in being interested to see how we can connect to ancient Egypt and its teachings,” he says.

Dietz has dabbled in poetry too, producing a book called Monkey Love in a tribute to a woman he was wooing at the time.

“It was, in the end, a failed romance, but the poetry reflects the free-spirited nature of my paramour. I think poetry is a way to delve into the details of feelings.”

Holistic view

And so, on to holon systems, which can be likened to the human body — where different, autonomous organs act together as a whole. Dietz uses it to describe elegant organizational design. His research culminated in an academic book, which is free to download from Academic.

“How we make decisions, even at the cellular level, is complex,” he says. “Philosophically, we may think of ourselves as autonomous individuals, but we also exist as part of larger social organizations, from family groups to towns to nations. I see it as a series of nested systems that each have their own degree of complexity.”

As a logical extension, Dietz sees the libertarian movement not rejecting overarching authorities — such as the Catholic church, for example — but rather asking people to look at how they participate, either consciously or unconsciously, in different organizations.

Dietz reckons that John Locke, the Enlightenment philosopher commonly known as the “Father of Liberalism,” was indeed hostile to totalitarian mechanisms that forced people to act without self-reflection on their activities.

“Self-reflection is key to understanding how we act and how we can optimize our participation for the best good of ourselves.”

The self-reflection is even better described in Dr. Seuss’ lesser-known, frequently banned book The Butter Battle Book.

The Butter Battle Book by Dr. Seuss (Publisher: Random House)

“It’s an anti-war allegory where two people live on either side of a wall and butter their bread on the opposite side of a slice of bread to their neighbor. The argument escalates into a feud from cross words to stick and stones, to bigger and bigger weapons,” Dietz explains.

“The pointless escalation of aggression can be tempered if we can step away from those pointless violent tendencies which have not been great for the evolution of this planet — and reflect on our participation.”


Like most of Dietz’s passions, his interest in cryptocurrency was fostered by another distinct love: his interest in the history of ciphers.  He explains that the founding director of the National Security Agency formalized the study of ciphers during the Second World War and into the Cold War. But Dietz, in turn, was influenced by the American author Edgar Allen Poe and, in particular, by his short story “The Gold Bug,” which features hidden treasure and clues.

“The history of hidden messages is much broader than the formal science of cryptography. Cryptography as a mathematical discipline is a subset of how to relay hidden messages, and much of the basis of this science is not actually based on mathematical systems.”

“In fact, the concept of number theory, upon which modern cryptographic systems are based, is totally unproven. The random idea in number theory that states that prime numbers do not have patterns is not proven — it’s a working hypothesis at best.”

Working on unproven mathematics leads to applications that may also be unproven, according to Dietz.

Bitcoin didn’t buzz him initially

For all his ability to see around corners, Dietz was initially skeptical about Bitcoin. When he read the first technical papers, he felt it was going to remain a nerd currency and not have mass application.

As he saw more and more projects fighting to survive, especially other forms of digital currency, he gradually saw that the new enemy was regulation — for anyone trying to transfer money.

He sees the fight as being between old money and old people and new money and young people.

“Kids are going to build cool things. They are going to build increasingly sophisticated platforms and applications. Now, I don’t expect it to be all plain sailing — quite the opposite. It’s going to have issues on steroids because everything is moving so fast.”

Dietz is now well embedded with NFTs and has an agency, 1ofONE, that represents a bunch of celebrities. Recently, he managed the Mike Tyson drop, which proved very successful, and he is excited about the speed of development.

This white-glove service was run on OpenSea, with Tyson collaborating with well-known digital artist Cory Van Lew. Dubbed “The Baddest NFT Collection on the Planet,” it captured some of Tyson’s most formidable moments in the ring. Eleven unique one-of-one NFTs were minted alongside six regular NFTs, with mints ranging from 50 to 250. Launched at the beginning of September, the one-of-ones sold out in an hour at not less than 5 ETH each, and Tyson promises “bigger and badder” drops to come.

“It’s largely a speculative art frenzy, but it is raising awareness,” says Dietz. “Over time we’re going to bring in many more layers. including economic models, insurance, bankable assets — basically, second-generation versions of this tech.”

“To my mind, the next step is to open up the infrastructure and to allow easy access to traditional media and the entertainment industry.”

“Cappadocian Revelations” by Joel Dietz. Source:

Wherefore art thou wallet?

Dietz is often described as someone who provides a bridge between seemingly disparate elements. In his new layer-two project, ArtWallet, he pairs physical items with NFTs. One such interpretation planned is a car wrapped by an artist twinned with an NFT. The ArtWallet project currently has a $600-million market cap, and he is also working on his metaverse-building Meta Metaverse platform.

As always, there are about 50 business plans on his desk waiting for his attention. He sees his value as sprinkling fairy dust on projects, and he only gets interested in projects with serious CEOs and teams.

“I can really only scale up one project at a time. I am also happy being a little bit dark too. Like when I was building Metamask, we didn’t need to be in the public eye.”

Like most serial entrepreneurs and cyberfuturists, Dietz has so much waiting for his attention. Once, in a bid to beat the clock, he tried to do without sleep, staying awake for two days in a row — but that played havoc with his health. Now, he keeps on his game through diet and exercise.

“I am very competitive, but I like to go at a measured pace, like a metronome. If you were to put a term on me using musical composition, I’d be the allegro section.”


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Famed Brit photographer Platon’s NFTs have stars in their eyes

Platon, the British photographer famous for his close-up portraits of world leaders, is using NFT photos of the human iris to show how humans can be reduced to a unique but unrecognizable image. He even did one self-portrait of his own iris — but, if placed in an iris lineup, he could not tell his own from anyone else’s.

Platon only uses one name – like Prince, he says.

His first human portrait reduction took place in June 2021, when he auctioned 12 anonymous irises as NFTs, each one priced at $111 on the marketplace. People bidding for the NFTs, each a single mint, did not know whose iris NFT they were buying.

They were in for a pleasant surprise: It turns out they were bidding to purchase NFTs depicting the irises of Kobe Bryant, Harry Styles, Harvey Weinstein, James Comey, George Clooney, Donald Trump, Cara Delevingne, Bill Clinton, Caitlyn Jenner, Alicia Keys, Spike Lee, and Maria Masha Alyokhina. They all sold out but have remained static on the secondary market, as the holders appear to want hodl the strange art pieces.

Eye Love You, Eye Hate You II
Images from Eye Love You, Eye Hate You II (Source: LGND)

Photographer to the stars

In a career littered with outstanding celebrity portraits, Platon is now consumed with human rights causes and is more concerned with and fulfilled by capturing the faces of activists. In 2008, he spent a year documenting civil rights leaders across America as part of a project commissioned by The New Yorker.

But, while his mission is now virtuous, his world leader and celebrity shoots are legendary; he used the camera to tell stories, posing often provocative or eclectic questions — that is his superpower.

For Platon, moving into NFTs was logical. “Photographers, artists, often innovate and seek out new technologies. We like to move into new space and experiment,” he says.

He now revels in his work documenting human rights, working on projects with the U.N. He has set up his own foundation, The People’s Portfolio, which amplifies the voices of the ignored. Important people don’t scare him — he doesn’t scare easily. He quotes Martin Luther King, who said beware the illusion of supremacy. The funds raised from these recent NFT drops go straight to this foundation.

Muhammad Ali
Platon’s portrait of Muhammad Ali (Supplied)

Platon treats everyone the same. He doesn’t care if they are a human rights defender, an activist, a former political prisoner, or a head of state.

“They’re all people. Be nice. Be curious,” he says.

“My job is to be a cultural provocateur. When I saw NFTs, I understood this was a way for me, as an artist, to gain control over my work. To feel a sense of empowerment – there is a long history of artists losing control over their creative output through history. With NFTs, I could see we were cutting out the middlemen — we artists were going straight to the collectors. I got that.

“I also understood that, with NFTs, I wanted to put storytelling back into this new, exciting technology. It’s more than tech; it’s an opportunity to talk about the big issues we face in society — issues such as human rights, climate change, poverty, women’s rights, social inclusion, racial equality.

“When I saw the buzz about NFTs, I wondered if I could hijack some of that excitement and draw it towards important social issues.”

Platon’s first NFT was a portrait of Edward Snowden. He admits the vagaries of the world move in mysterious ways. In April, an auction of the Snowden NFT raised $5.5 million for the Freedom of the Press Foundation, and then $5,000 for his own foundation.

Edward Snowden: Platon
Edward Snowden as captured by Platon (Supplied)

Back to the beginning

Born in 1968, Platon studied at Saint Martin’s School of Art and the Royal College of Art. He began working in London, earning his stripes as a photographer. Soon, he was accumulating portraits in his arresting style, which could be both authentic and dramatic, earning himself a name at British Vogue.

He did not realize it, but John F. Kennedy Jr. was scouting for a photographer to launch his new George magazine in New York. Kennedy picked out multiple of Platon’s portrait photographs in magazines and told his aides he wanted that photographer, without even knowing his name at that stage. Kennedy just knew he wanted a photographer to shoot people in a way that felt real. He had grown up inside the inner circle, but wanted to present people – politicians and celebrities – as real people. So, Platon was found and invited to New York based on his work.

It was 1995. The magazine’s tagline was Not Just Politics As Usual and neither were the images. Platon says:

“John told me we were working on a secret new project. He wanted to humanize the world’s most powerful people. He gave me access, he said I must always be respectful but he wanted me to produce real photography.”

When Kennedy was tragically killed in 1999, Platon was doing a cover story for him the same day. Platon had just landed in Hollywood when the FBI met him at the airport to tell him the news.

“I was by then rooted in the States but I had to continue without my mentor,” he says.

Presidential, suite

It’s 2000. President Bill Clinton is in the White House. Platon is commissioned by Esquire Magazine to do a formal shoot. Platon figures this might be the one and only time he shoots a living president (actually, he goes on to shoot six in his illustrious 30-year career).

Camera dangling from his hands like a James Dean cigarette, he asks, “Will you show me the love?”

The Bill Clinton cover was so iconic that Esquire recreated it in 2008 with Halle Berry. (Source: Esquire)

Instant concern within the White House team — the impeachment trial over the Monica Lewinsky affair had concluded the year earlier. A hush descends, everyone looks aghast at Platon while an aide leans over and says, none too quietly, in Clinton’s ear, “That is not advisable, Mr. President. We’ve had enough love in this administration.” Instead, Clinton brushes him aside and says in his distinctive drawl, Shut up, shut up, I know what he wants.

The result is the famous crotch shot with Clinton sitting, hands on knees, legs akimbo, and oozing charisma and power. People said afterwards the tie was an arrow pointing to the seat of power.

Putin on the Beatles

Cut to President Vladimir Putin in Russia in 2007. He’s Time Magazine’s Person of the Year. Platon is taking pictures. He thinks: What to ask this powerful man? So, he asked him about The Beatles. Turns out Putin really likes the Beatles, and Paul McCartney is his favorite member of the seminal band. Look at the resulting portrait of Putin and see him humming Yesterday. Not Back in the U.S.S.R., laughs Platon.

It’s not just questions – it’s storytelling and a way of relating to his subjects. Platon has a son called Jude and a dog called Sgt. Pepper. Platon clearly likes The Beatles too.

Time Magazine Putin
Time’s 2007 Person of the Year cover as shot by Platon (Source:

A lifetime of photography has allowed Platon to tap into the authentic and look inside the heads of his subjects. Sometimes these subjects are the most powerful people in the world, sometimes people whose power has been taken from them, and sometimes people who are just ignored.

It’s the ignored who he obsesses over now. “It’s not that they don’t have a voice, it’s just that people are not listening,” he says.

In all Platon’s portraits, he is in them too. With Putin, he got so close he could feel Putin’s breath on his hands as he held the camera inches from his face.

“All my photography is 50% subject and 50% me,” he says.

He is dismissive of the constant taking of photographs and sharing on social media.

“That’s not photography, there is no connection. It’s just mechanical. We’ve been robbed of our connection and COVID has clearly highlighted that.”

Pussy Riot NFT

Putin famously hated the feminist punk band Pussy Riot and defended their imprisonment on the grounds that they threatened the moral foundations of Russia.

Platon first met Nadya Tolokonnikova from Pussy Riot after her release from prison. Ten years ago, he photographed her in his studio. They messed about, fashioned homemade masks from rubbish in his studio. He photographed her in the masks and not. As we speak, he quotes from her speech on the dock prior to being sentenced to two years’ incarceration in a penal colony.

She said: “It’s not us three women from a punk rock group that’s on trial here. It’s you, the Russian Federation. it’s not for you to judge us. It’s for history to judge us all. And history will be the ultimate judge as to whether our values are right or wrong.”

He knew he wanted to combine this powerful speech with her iris in an NFT to celebrate her bravery.

Platon took her iris and coupled it with her reading her statement of reconciliation to create a unique NFT. The auction ran for seven days in September but, owing to the aforementioned vagaries of this world, this NFT did not sell. It’s not stopping Platon, though. He has many more irises and causes to celebrate and he’s planning multiple iris NFT drops in the future.

The trouble with Harvey

At the core of these drops is a story. Each iris tells a story. Each story asks a question.

Included in the first drop was filmmaker Harvey Weinstein, prior to the #MeToo movement.

“At the time the portrait was themed ‘bad boy Hollywood’. Now we know him to be a modern-day monster.

“What if I took away 90%, 95% of the picture. Just reduced it to the eye, the window to the soul, and even further reduced it to the iris. What can we see then? Can we even judge?”

Which brings us to the title of the drop – Eye Love You, Eye Hate You II.

“The eye is the most intimate part of the body; when we are in love, we look deeply into our partner’s eyes,” says Platon.

“If I strip away everything except the iris – can we love, can we hate? And if all our irises are indistinguishable, then who can judge?”


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Slow and steady is path to crypto riches says YouTube star

When Nicholas Merten saw a video explaining Bitcoin in November 2011, he brushed it off, later lamenting that “I unfortunately did not do the right thing.” It’s hard to blame him, after all, he was only 13. 

Now 23, he runs DataDash, a YouTube channel with over 470,000 subscribers, making it among the largest focused on the cryptocurrency industry. There, he shares tips about trading and makes thoughtful, balanced, and interesting commentary on various relevant topics along with occasional speculation. What is notable about his channel is that it is almost entirely absent of hype, preferring calculated and tempered analysis. 

Merten is also the CEO of Digifox, a DeFi startup that aims to act as a one-stop shop for new cryptocurrency investors, soon allowing them to automatically deposit portions of their paychecks into crypto by way of dollar-cost averaging.

Drop-out entrepreneur

Merten got started with investing at 13, though “even before that I was doing research,” he adds, leaving one to wonder whether his first words were stock tickers. He was quickly bitten by the entrepreneurial bug, and by 17 he was experimenting with a clothing company of his own making, and separately “tried to make relaxation beverages” by formulating recipes with a partner company.

“It was a nice head start to understand a lot of the emotional nature of markets and market cycles.”

It was due to this “intimate interest” in entrepreneurship that Merten, who grew up in Virginia, chose to study business administration and finance at Virginia Commonwealth University. He quickly dropped out, however, opting instead for alternative education through Praxis, which matches accepted students with six-month internships for on-the-job learning after a three-month training period. Often, these internships convert into full-time positions, and Merten “was really hungry to get my first job.”

That first job as a sales data management intern came at age 18, located “six blocks down from where Steve Jobs used to live” in San Francisco, Merten recalls. This was followed by six months as a content manager at ClickUp, a project management software company that is “like a billion dollar unicorn now,” he says, emphasizing the learning opportunities that come with working at such a high-growth firm.

While working at ClickUp, Merten created his YouTube channel called DataDash, which he originally envisioned as dealing with data science and data analytics. Soon, DataDash became a cryptocurrency channel after Merten made a few videos on the subject. “I got a couple hundred views, and I was like ‘you know what, I’ll keep going’,” he recalled.

With the 2017 bull market in full swing, Merten decided to leave his job at ClickUp in order to devote his full-time efforts towards his crypto craft. 

Don’t trade, DCA

In 2019, he expanded by founding Digifox, “which I originally started building back in 2013.” The startup consists of a smartphone wallet app that allows users to trade and earn interest on their cryptocurrency deposits via a plug-in to Celsius.

In the weeks ahead, Digifox will come out with a “get paid in crypto” feature, which will help people to receive a portion of their salary in cryptocurrency, received right in the app. Initially available in the USA and later the EU and UK, workers earning a salary will be able to simply request their human resources departments to direct a portion of their paychecks to a bank account owned by Digifox. ”Your employer doesn’t even have to know your earning crypto,” Merten clarifies, adding that the app charges a 1% flat fee.

Source: Digifox

“Buying crypto but in the US, I know that a lot of banks, they’ll freeze transactions on debit cards or bank accounts — we think of this as the ultimate crypto on-ramp.”

This method of regularly buying into a cryptocurrency is called dollar-cost averaging, or DCA, and is a common concept from the old world of traditional investing. Merten says that many new investors ask him “if it is a good time to buy, price-wise,” to which he recommends DCA as a way to spread out risk. 

This is because the average buyer may have no way of knowing whether they are buying into a temporary peak. If we were to imagine a continuously rising asset, an investor who does not previously have a large amount of investment capital for immediate allocation would be better off to invest $1,000 per month for 12 months, rather than to save up for a year in order to invest $12,000 at the end. That’s why I get paid in Ethereum — an arrangement that has treated me well. 

“It’s a great strategy. In this case, for someone to passively invest and not have to stress about the market,” Merten confirms. Another useful factor in the dollar-cost-averaging method is that its systematic nature tends to mitigate against the oft-dreaded “panic selling” which many new investors succumb to after seeing their investment drop in value.

Unlike many other channels, Merten’s DataDash does not encourage its followers to over-trade or enter leveraged positions despite the potential rewards. “The first principle I say is ‘do not day trade’,” he emphasizes, saying that passive investors are 95% more likely to end up in profit. But there’s something potentially even more dangerous than day trading — doing it on leverage.

According to Merten, leveraged trading is the biggest danger faced by crypto investors today. It is enticing, with a single correct call “easily” netting huge returns in a short timeframe — but at great risk. Despite his warnings, leverage is seen as an intrinsic part of crypto-investing by many, with a large number of influencers referring to leveraged trades as “positions” to differentiate them from mere “spot” holdings which are 1:1. 

“It’s really bad that a lot of people are getting into leverage trading — you know they’re getting into trading on derivatives platforms, and it’s generally a losing game for most people.

Time to DeFi

With margin trading off the table, Merten encourages users to put their cryptocurrency to work using decentralized finance, or DeFi solutions. Merten believes that the app’s DeFi-like functionality is important, because high gas costs on Ethereum make on-chain transactions expensive for retail investors even if they know exactly what they are doing. “A small investor, like a $1,000 investor, they’re going to have a difficult time because there’s an immediate 5-10 percent fee on their trade,” he says, his example very likely an understatement.

Gas fees rack up quickly when trading tokens or adding liquidity pairs to decentralized exchanges like Uniswap or SushiSwap. “As great as it is for someone who might be trading thousands, hundreds of hundreds of thousands of dollars, it doesn’t make sense for our everyday users,” Merten claims. Recently, NFT minting has been blamed as a cause for spikes in gas prices.

Source: Digifox

Once the crypto hits the Digifox wallet, users can choose to deposit it into a yield account, where it “can earn up to 5%” in interest denominated in the same currency. This is done through a direct plug-in to the external Celsius platform. Similar to traditional banking, earnings of depositors ultimately come from other users who elect to borrow from Celsius using cryptocurrency as collateral. “We try to say it’s like a kind of savings account,” Merten explains.

“I think that this is one of the few major opportunities we have in our lives in the 21st century — where you can invest in something and really make a sizable return

Though, “Celsius doesn’t have a major insurance policy” for the user’s cryptocurrency they hold in custody while paying interest, Merten says he chose the platform after researching the security protocols of its competitors including BlockFi and NEXO. In the future, he expects that the company will allow users to earn a lower amount of interest, also known as yield, in an insured pool where “some of the yields that they’re giving up goes into an insurance fund” to compensate for potential losses. 

He admits that it “provides some peace of mind” that Celsius has $20 billion under management, which makes Digifox a very minor player at around $10 million.

Expert outlook

Merten believes that we are now halfway through the cryptocurrency market cycle — not in a period of fear or doubt, but neither yet at peak optimism, which he sets at Bitcoin approaching $200,000 and Ethereum trading between $15,000 and $20,000. He says this would bring the crypto market to a total value of $10 trillion, a far cry from the current $2 trillion market valuation.

“Different from most people, I don’t think the cycle is going to end this year, and I don’t think it’s going to end in early 2022 — I think it will be late 2022 or early 2023,” he says, referring to the many industry pundits who are calling for a peak around the upcoming new year.

Instead of relying on times of the year, Merten believes in “expanding cycles,” where the market cycles expand by “11 to 13 months from previous cycles.” He explains that in his view, the first Bitcoin market cycle was 11 months, followed by the second which lasted 24. As the cycle ending in 2018 took 35 months, he anticipates the 2022 bull market to last about 47 months.

“If history repeats, it would be December 2018 for the start and November 2022 for the cycle end,” he says referring to Bitcoin, adding that altcoins are likely to top “soon after.”

A 2018 chart by Dave The Wave demonstrating the thesis of expanding cycles. Source: Twitter @davethewave

Despite his tendency to make predictions, he admits that he was entirely blindsided by this year’s NFT boom “I thought CryptoKitties was kind of the end of it in 2017, and I did not see it coming back with such a vengeance,” he recounts with a sense of bewilderment, referring to the cat-breeding NFT project which clogged up the Ethereum network in 2017. Merten says he is keeping an open mind despite fraud and “over-hype” in the sector.

With 10 years of investing experience, Merten considers a long-term outlook as a key virtue for those looking to make long-term profits. 

“I like to make a few simple coordinated investments for trades — over a one to two year timeframe. I like to get into the maximum point of fear and doubt in the market when prices are at historic discounts, and I like to ride the wave.”


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Cool green mayor giving a grand in Bitcoin to each resident

Cool Valley, Missouri, a small town of about 1,500 in the St. Louis County area, found itself the subject of international attention recently after its mayor, Jayson Stewart, announced that he planned to give each resident up to $1,000 in Bitcoin. 

Stewart, a passionate environmentalist who spent years cleaning up the world’s oceans and ran on a platform of correcting old mistakes, believes Bitcoin education holds keys to growing the prosperity, well-being and sustainability of his town. Just as he dreams of a world without the environmental damage caused by irresponsible litterers, he imagines a future where Bitcoin cleans up many of the ills of the financial system.

Hoping to soon see a Bitcoin-friendly bank in town, Stewart sees Bitcoin as an avenue that can lift the town’s fortunes by way of increased wealth and business opportunities like mining facilities, and even Bitcoin events.

“A lot of it is about fixing the wrongs of the past financial system. In the past, we didn’t have access to this amazing technology that we have today when it comes to our financial system and storing our value.”


Stewart’s plan to dole out Bitcoin to the people of Cool Valley is already fully funded. He explains the plan is being paid for by private donors, with the aim of spreading adoption and educating users. “As of right now, the project is fully funded for $1,000 per household,” he confirmed, adding that the town has received further donations because “the story got so popular in a way that I never anticipated.” 

Though Stewart believes it would be “very wise for a town to hold parts of its treasury in cryptocurrencies,” he explains that “there are legal obstacles to doing that, many of which are laid out in the state constitution in regards to towns and cities investing in assets.” He makes it clear that he is first and foremost interested in seeing regular people, rather than government entities, benefit from Bitcoin. The more people that hold a stake in the Bitcoin network, the more powerful it can become.

“What really excites me, and what I’m working on, is getting regular people to hold Bitcoin, and for them to really benefit from the appreciation of holding an asset like that.”

Stewart has encountered a mixed set of reactions from the town’s residents, from excitement and curiosity to confusion, with the latter being common among older members of the community. “They have a lot of questions about ‘what is it?,’ ‘how do I store it?,’ ‘how do I get access to it?’” he lists.

The distribution procedure is not yet finalized, but education is among the project’s key goals because, in order to get their BTC, residents need to understand what it is they are receiving. For this, there are plans to organize workshops or similar learning opportunities. “We’re going to get people storing their own Bitcoin as quickly as possible,” the mayor declares.

Cool Valley is home to people from a variety of economic circumstances, so “$1,000 looks like different things to different people.” The desire is, however, for residents to hold their coins for some time instead of selling immediately, in part due to Stewart’s transparent belief that they will rise in value over time. Patience is a virtue, after all. In order to encourage this patience, there are plans to offer residents an option of a larger payout if they agree to hold their coins for a set amount of time, with a smaller amount given to those who want to sell. 

“We really just want them to be able to understand the asset and become self sovereign with their storage understanding how to hold their own keys”

In addition to learning about Bitcoin, Stewart’s initiative is likely to inspire other indirect benefits to the community. For one, it is likely to introduce many residents to investing in general, which may bring many benefits in the future. Computer literacy is another area that is likely to see improvement on account of the Bitcoin incentive, and the new users are likely to begin learning about other cryptocurrencies and blockchain applications as well. As such, it is likely that the move will ultimately inspire some residents to seek careers in the blockchain industry.

Cleaning others’ messes

In his early 30’s, Stewart first interacted with Bitcoin in 2015 while working as an assistant for Magic, a San Francisco based company that often saw “very, very wealthy clients” send Bitcoin to the company’s wallets, which Stewart would then convert into fiat in order to purchase various goods. Though he did not have much in-depth understanding of the cryptocurrency, “I thought it was cool internet money,” he recalls.

When he was a child, Stewart dreamed of being a nature photographer and owning a wildlife sanctuary. That’s why later in 2015, he left his job at Magic to pursue a lifelong passion for environmental restoration and wildlife rehabilitation through his new company, PL28, which he operated from Cool Valley. PL28’s mission was to clean up the oceans, a calling that was “the focus of my life” for the next several years until Stewart ran for mayor in 2019.

“Right up until I decided to run, I was just pulling plastic from oceans, rivers and different waterways — to try to make the wildlife habitat for marine life a little bit better.”

Through PL28, Stewart has helped with ocean cleanup in places including the Philippines, Haiti, the Bahamas, Los Angeles and Singapore. He explains that the cleanup process is different according to the type of ecosystem at hand. “Out at sea, you’re usually going to get mostly abandoned fishing nets” which continuously trap and kill wildlife, whereas in a river environment like that of St. Louis, “you collect a lot of plastic bottles like milk jugs,” he says. 

A map showing water clean-up efforts he organized around the world. source: LinkedIn

Though he loves to spend time with marine wildlife, he regrets that the work of ocean cleanup was “a lot more logistics” such as coordinating volunteers, as opposed to direct work in the field on his part. All told, Stewart “worked with people in 47 different countries to pick plastic from the ocean,” with that plastic usually processed into usable plastic and made into premium goods made of the reclaimed material.

Today, Stewart has moved on from active ocean cleanup, but his adventurous spirit of cleaning up the messes and mistakes of the past continues to drive him.

Small town mayor

After high school, Stewart studied psychology at the University of Miami from 2008 to 2012. During his studies in 2011, he founded a record production company Pink Fader with his freshman-year roommate. The duo saw some apparent success because an act under their label “ended up getting Grammy-nominated, which is cool, and we had a couple of songs go into the top 50 on the charts,” Stewart recalls with a hint of pride.

For Stewart, who moved around a lot first with his family and later due to his entrepreneurship activities, Cool Valley “has been the most consistent place” through various parts of his life. Young and armed with fresh ideas, he decided to run for mayor in hopes of improving the services and revitalizing a suffering business district. 

“I was going to create more of a haven where humans and wildlife could live and interact together, safely, for both parties.”

Being mayor is a great honor, because “this little town that I grew up in wants me to be their representative and to be their leader.” He describes the job as having a particularly broad scope of responsibility far beyond his previous work, feeling a strong sense of responsibility for the well-being of the townspeople. He even has the ability to grant pardons for certain offenses, which he announced for “every person convicted of nonviolent offenses involving cannabis and/or psilocybin mushrooms” last year in a move that earned him commendations for “groundbreaking work to fix the harms of the War on Drugs.”

On the other end of the spectrum from big picture ideals, “there are always little things that we would talk about as well, like a pothole on the street or whatever,” he says of the things that keep him busy.

Bitcoin valley

Though there is not yet a petition to rename the town, it is quite conceivable that the Bitcoin effect will touch Cool Valley in concrete ways. While the town already has a Bitcoin ATM, there are many more opportunities to consider. “We’ve had some people reach out about opening a mining facility,” Stewart beams, adding that “I’m trying to get a Bitcoin-friendly bank over here.”

As luck would have it, Stewart has just joined the Advisory Board for the Midwest BankCenter, which is a locally owned bank with nearly $2 billion in assets. “They’ve been meeting for 100 years, but I just had my first board meeting with them like three days ago,” he laughs. Asked if they knew him as the ‘Bitcoin guy,’ Stewart proudly stated that “they do now!”

From his perspective, Stewart senses “a cautious sort of optimism” in the local banking sector. While it’s clear that they want to avoid risks, “they also enjoy the potential opportunity for big upsides in their investments.”

Considering the number of donors, it looks like there will be money left over after the distributions to residents. With these funds, one idea Stewart is exploring is solar lighting and other energy efficiency initiatives in Cool Valley. “There’s a lot of fear, uncertainty and doubt when it comes to the environmental effects of Bitcoin,” he admits, adding that he wants to set a positive example of the good that Bitcoin can bring.

With the University of Missouri-St. Louis campus bordering Cool Valley to the South, the town might be a great place to host a Bitcoin conference, or even a technology hub of sorts one day. Mayor Stewart agrees, saying “I think that could be a pretty nice outcome — that’d be super cool.”


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