Hackernoon logoLearning To Code — Gamified! Interview With Mathbot Founder JW by@piratebeachbum

Learning To Code — Gamified! Interview With Mathbot Founder JW

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Pirate Beachbum

Bitcoin Editor at Large

I met JW during the last year when I became interested in his startup Mathbot.com whose main goal is to make learning to program fun for kids. Teaching the next generation to code is something I hold dear to my heart. My friends and I have an ongoing joke when we hear someone’s youngster has a birthday coming up. The best gift to buy them is a book on programming.

JW also hosts a podcast that has featured crypto anarchist Cody Wilson as well as Ross Ulbricht’s mother Lyn Ubricht, along with many other interesting and credible people in the cryptosphere. JW never holds back any punches and is not afraid to challenge mainstream thinking or ruffle feathers.

I have even debated JW on subjects and gained a lot of respect for him even if we disagree on certain topics. With that said we tend to be on the same page on most subjects, and I appreciate his voice and experience in software development.

Mathbot.com is one of those projects that I have enjoyed watching evolve as well as getting to know JW and some of the Mathbot team. The world needs more projects focused on teaching our next generation how to program. All it takes is sparking one kids interest and passion and anything is possible.

Online Identity: @JWWeatherman_ ‏ on Twitter

RJ: Software Security Researcher and Startup Founder

Years in the $BTC game: About 9 months

How might people know you?

Probably from the bitcoin threat model at btcThreats.com or through the Bitcoin class I teach.

How can people follow you?

Twitter @JWWeatherman_ ‏ and you can find my YouTube and podcast at jwweatherman.com or just search for JW Weatherman Bitcoin.

What is your background, education or formal training?

I have about 20 years of experience working for fortune 500 software companies and my own startups. I also taught computer science for a university a long time ago.

When did you become interested in Bitcoin and crypto?

November of last year.

What is the single best experience you have had in this space?

Getting messages from people that said they sold their scam coins because I helped them understand the technology involved. I get those pretty regularly and it is really great knowing I saved someone from a scam.

Also getting messages from people that have decided to become software developers because of my content.

Tell us your biggest Bitcoin or crypto fail.

Some people would say buying in at the ATH, but I think I wasn’t shocked that it went down so that doesn’t really count.

Where do you personally get your Bitcoin or crypto news?

Twitter — though you gotta curate it and I’m not very good at that yet.

What is something people don’t know about you?

That I’m actually motivated ideologically. There is no way for anyone to really know that and my advice is to always assume everyone is not — because it’s correct 99.9% of the time. If you believe that I actually care about you I’m sure you will suffer more than if you assume I am a liar that is just trying to sell a product so do that. Fortunately my product is obviously legit, but don’t trust me more than you would trust anyone else whose business model is transparent.

Best tips you can give anyone new to the Bitcoin world?

Don’t invest in things you don’t understand. Unless you have a very decent grasp of the game that is being played — in this case an attempt to create a global money — stay out.

Where did you grow up?

Southern California

What kind of kid were you?

Pretty normal. Spent a lot of time swimming. Bodyboarding. Playing computer games.

What advice would you give your younger self?

These are not the best years of your life. Being young is tough and you are clueless, but it gets much better. Just try to minimize your stupid actions while you give yourself time to understand this very confusing universe.

Where is mathbot.com based out of?

We all work totally remote and I don’t think anyone is in the same state. Maybe that’s not true, but I guess I don’t even know the real names of many of the contributors — let alone where they live.

Explain what mathbot.com is?

It is a game that teaches math and programming as you make a robot solve puzzles. The game is free for everyone.

What made you want to launch a site like this?

My wife was helping out some kids with math — she was a math major and she’s a really good teacher — and she saw what government schools were doing to math. She told me about it at our anniversary dinner and we both spent the whole night pretty angry about what was being done to these kids. I would categorize it as state sponsored child abuse.

So from that night on I’ve been on a mission.

Who is it targeted toward?

Because our main focus is removing math from public schools — by making it so obvious that they don’t teach math and that they are long obsolete if they ever did — I guess I’d say 5 to 18, but we have a lot of adults that are using it as a first step to a career change or just for fun.

Why do you think parents should expose their kids to math and coding?

In 100 years math and coding skills will be as common as reading skills are today. 100 years ago you could get along just fine without being able to read. Today you can get along ok without knowing how to code — but even 100 years ago the people that mattered knew how to read — and it’s the same today with coding.

People without coding skills are less powerful every day and people with coding skills are more powerful every day. No one wants to raise kids that are irrelevant and blown around by everyone else. Powerless to navigate life.

Users complete levels while learning to code.

What are you doing on the site to make it fun for kids?

We have spent a lot of time getting the user experience just right. Using a space theme, paying top designers to come up with our color pallet. Kids are like adults in that they don’t like stuff that isn’t high quality. We are still in beta, but within 3 minutes on our site you know that this is a serious project with serious talent.

Does it cost anything?

Nope. It is totally free and always will be. We do plan to accept donations soon and have a premium experience where a grandparent or parent could pay to reward kids in bitcoin for mastering topics — we plan to hold back 10% to give to project contributors, but you will always be able to play all of the levels for free.

The gamified approach makes learning to program fun.

What is your long term goal with it?

In 5 years inoculate kids from feeling dumb in math class. In 15 eliminate math class and laugh at the unemployed “math teachers.”

How did you meet your Mathbot.com cofounder Nate Agapi?

Nate was on Twitter and he was very encouraging and very excited about the project. Social media is a bit of a nightmare for me — all of my previous work has been focused on selling to big companies — so Nate and the other guys that have come along to help have been invaluable.

Who else is involved?

Richard and Console are both amazing developers. Console is the brains behind some really crazy technology that we have developed around the programming language and compiler. And Richard has been working like a beast to build this for many months.

Then we have Anders, Daniel, Jordan and Burt. They are all really good guys that are willing to do pretty much anything to move the project forward.

You also do a podcast. What’s it about and why did you start it?

I started it because it seemed like a good way to get connected to people working in Bitcoin and understand who was who. Basically it was to get a free education and let other people listen in. Now it’s continuing because it’s a good way to get the word out about mathbot.

JW Weatherman Podcast

You like to take on the “establishment” per say of Crypto influencers. What has motivated you to speak out?

Bitcoin is pretty incredible, but it has invited a lot of people into the software security world that are very new. And it has invited a lot of people into economics that are new. Some of these guys think they are experts because they bought some pot with bitcoin 5 years ago — but to me they are new arrivals not the establishment. So when they say something like “every girl scout troop will have its own money” I can’t help but respond. Bitcoin can solve a lot of problems, but if people are clueless they and their families will get hurt if they try to invest based on ideas like that.

What do you have to say to those that are critical of your methods?

Nothing. Very few people that have ever built anything difficult are critical because they know how much flailing around is involved — that it is often a stamina game. And the guys that are critical are almost always kids (or old kids) that have never really done anything hard.

What do you think of Bitcoin Maximalism?

I wrote a doc called the bitcoin maximalist manifesto. I’m a fan because I think, even though the term is obnoxious, the idea is correct.

JW’s recent interview with Cody Wilson was removed from YouTube.

What is your definition of Crypto anarchy and why is it important?

I’m actually doing an ongoing series of interviews of cypherpunks and crypto anarchist that have included Tim May and Cody Wilson. These guys represent a movement that started 30 years ago that recognized that individual liberty was the solution to many of our problems and that it could only be improved by building tools. And that at this point in history the tools that had the most promise were based on software, networks and encryption.

What are your thoughts on Ethereum and Litecoin?

Both are cheap scams. Neither ever had a real problem to solve let alone a design to solve anything. Just a bunch of marketing and dumb money being sloshed around.

How do you feel about other alt-coins?

The same.

How do you define a scam?

Something that uses deception to take peoples money. I’ve had a lot of people push back on me and say things like “Vitalik isn’t a scammer because even if he is wrong he really believes what he is saying.” I don’t think that is true, but because I don’t have the ability to look into his soul I’ve coined the phrase functional scammer. If you persist in an economic or technical error, even after it has been clearly pointed out to you, and it just so happens that that error puts a lot of money in your pocket — you are a functional scammer even if you just won the “stupid lottery.”

Many people would love to see Bitcoin fail or be replaced.

What do you think is the biggest threat to Bitcoin?

I’d say insecure side chains or a proof of work change attack. I don’t think either will be very successful. But the owner of bitcoin.org and Luke Dash Jr. and some less prominent people have been trying to trick the community into running code with one of these flaws. If they were successful it could either set back bitcoin or destroy it.

How do you handle the “Will bitcoin be replaced by another Crypto” objection?

First, no other cryptocurrency has ever done anything useful. If it had the bitcoin contributors are not dumb, they would have copied that part of their work. To date this has never happened. Second, I think it’s just a misunderstanding of money. It must be a single thing or it is just called an asset and we are back to a barter economy — and no that would not be good. That’s why all the good developers are working on bitcoin — because they understand that money is like a language that is easily adopted. The best one will win so let’s just focus all our effort on that one.

With so many currencies struggling with hyperinflation, why hasn’t Bitcoin price taken off this year?

I don’t know anything about short time horizons. I don’t think anyone does. But before this year bitcoin wasn’t really ready to be used as money. Smart people that were investing in it were betting that it would be in the future because there were some good ideas to extend it. With lightning network (still very new technology — there is not even an iphone app for it yet) bitcoin is the first digital asset that works really well as money.

But new tools are not adopted the moment they are created. I think it’s always a good bet that humans will use the thing that works best, but it does take many years for the knowledge of something new to really move across the globe. I’d say if you have less than a 5 year time horizon on any investment that requires the adoption of new technology you are a bad investor.

Do you think any central banks have started to accumulate Bitcoin?

Probably not. But I’d be willing to bet many people that work at central banks have started to hold bitcoin. These are very corrupt institutions and insiders would have many months of buying before the central bank itself bought bitcoin and then it would probably be many months before they announced it.

Do you really believe banks will die. If so, why and when?

Yes. Coins were a result of a security flaw in gold — it was hard to verify it’s purity. Banks were a result of security flaws in gold too — it was hard to transport and subdivide. Central banks were a result of security flaws in storing all the gold in one building — thugs could easily force the banks to hand over the gold. But bitcoin doesn’t have those security flaws so banks have nothing to offer a holder of bitcoin.

Another way to say it is that if banks ever fix their problems with authentication they will require customers to hold private keys. If customers do that they might as well hold the private keys that give them full control and zero management fees and a lot less risk of theft.

The word Blockchain has become a silly buzzword.

What are your thoughts on everyone using Blockchain in their new startup?

It’s the same as AI or “the cloud” or “social network features.” Silicon valley picks up on anything that is new and interesting and pours buckets of nonsense all over it, but it remains interesting and eventually solves real problems.

You are fairly critical of technical analysis. Why?

If technical analysis is looking at price history to determine future prices it is absurd. Prices change because people buy and sell things to improve their lives. If they are buying and selling at different ratios than before (higher or lower prices) it is because they have learned something new about their environment. If you don’t know what this new information is, how can you possibly know how they will react? And the price history doesn’t contain any information about what people will learn in the future that will affect their buying and selling decisions.

You recently started a course for new Bitcoiners. Explain what it is and what you want to accomplish?

Basically I want to give everyone that takes the class a good foundation in the relevant economics and technology anyone should have before investing in bitcoin or any other cryptocurrency. I want to inoculate them to the scammers and help them see the opportunities.


Why do you feel you are qualified to teach such a course?

I’ve been working with cryptography and other software security issues for a long time and I’ve been a successful investor in solutions longer than bitcoin has existed.

What surprises you about cryptotwitter?

The number of people that are new to all of this, but consider themselves experts. And the number of those people that have never built anything remotely useful, but have incredible confidence in their assertions.

I’ve never been involved in a technology where so few of the other people involved are not experienced technologists.

This might not be unique to bitcoin, but there are lots of guys that spend a lot of time creating content that is useless, but is entertaining to the slow buss people. Like they are playing talk show host for a niche audience. They were very distracting to me because its pretty fascinating that they are such a big part of the community, but eventually I figured out a better signal to noise filter.

JW interviews Lyn Ulbricht, mother of Ross Ulbricht, who is in Federal prison for his involvement in Silk Road.

Where do you see Bitcoin in 5–10–20 years?

I think that within 15 years bitcoin will be adopted as global money and it will have a much bigger impact on our lives than the Internet itself.

What tips can you give for storing your bitcoin?

There are a lot of assumptions I need to make about the user before I give security advise, but as a security professional for a long time I’m comfortable doing that. So for between $2,000 and $50,000 I would recommend you generate your seed words using a hardware wallet and that no internet connected device ever touches those seed words. Write down your seed words on paper. After you send your bitcoin to that new seed erase the hardware wallet.

Now your bitcoin is safe as long as the seed words are safe. So we have traded a software security problem for a physical security problem and that is usually a great idea.

From there I’d copy your seed words so that you can reconstruct them as long as 2 of three of the copies are present. And then I’d put those 3 pieces of paper in 3 different safe locations.


More information on JW’s tips for securing your bitcoin and passphrase on github.

Name a few people you think people should pay attention to in the Bitcoin and crypto world?

Adam Back, Nick Szabo, Eric Lombrozo, Greg Maxwell, Saifedean Ammous, Elizabeth Stark, Andrew Poelstra and Tadge Dryja are all very smart.

Any tips for aspiring developers?

Yes, play all the levels in mathbot.com, complete the javascript, html and css courses on freecodecamp and then start working on open source projects like mathbot where more senior guys will mentor you for free if you do real work.

Scholars Edition .pdf

What advice do you have to other founders out there?

Just keep building. The silicon valley “make the world a better place” thing is only disgusting because few of the people that say it actually build anything that solves a real problem and makes people’s lives easier. Do that and don’t stop. Don’t get fooled into working for a non-profit or something else where you won’t have the same impact and you are not as well suited for it.

What books can you recommend?

Human Action by Mises is the best leadership, investing, management, parenting, bitcoin book you could ever read.

Any last words?

Yes, please checkout mathbot.com and consider working with us if you are a developer or designer and you like the idea of helping kids learn math and programming by exploring problems and puzzles rather than filling out paperwork at the DMV. We have some wacky stuff under the hood like an immutable compiler we built using Scala and a lot of good old CSS and javascript if that is more your speed. But we could really use the help — we only have a couple developers so you could make a big impact on a project that has a lot of momentum and very little fat.

If you like this interview, check out some of my other articles Hackernoon/@piratebeachbum or find me on twitter @piratebeachbum or 
@coin_strategy or coinstrategy.io


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