The Simple Guide to Crypto Culture for Nocoiners Pt. IV: A Look Into the Forks and Fugazisby@abhijoysarkar
527 reads
527 reads

The Simple Guide to Crypto Culture for Nocoiners Pt. IV: A Look Into the Forks and Fugazis

by Abhijoy SarkarAugust 25th, 2023
Read on Terminal Reader
Read this story w/o Javascript

Too Long; Didn't Read

In this part we will talk about Satoshi Nakamoto, Bitcoin and their many dubious claimants and mimics
featured image - The Simple Guide to Crypto Culture for Nocoiners Pt. IV: A Look Into the Forks and Fugazis
Abhijoy Sarkar HackerNoon profile picture

Continued from

Part I – Bitcoin v/s Ethereum (and Other Crypto) Culture

Part II – Key Opinion Makers and Cultural Influencers

Part III – Lexicon and Memes

Part IV – Satoshi and the One True Bitcoin

One of the most enduring mysteries of crypto is the identity of Satoshi Nakamoto. A subject of intense debate, there are many theories about the creator of Bitcoin. Some of which inch towards gossip, conspiracy, and tin foil hat territory.

Whether Satoshi is a single person or a group. Whether they are alive or have passed away. Whether this persona is a creation of intelligence agencies like the CIA and the NSA. Whether it is a pseudonym for the companies behind Bitcoin. (Sa)msung, (Toshi)ba, (Naka)michi and (Moto)rola.

Countless manhours of research later, no one is closer to the truth.

Names that make the rounds are of well-known cypherpunks, cryptographers, and computer scientists:

(Image Source)

  • Adam Back. Inventor of Hashcash, a cryptographic Proof of Work (PoW) system to thwart spam. Not only are Adam Back and his invention mentioned in the Bitcoin whitepaper, but Hashcash is also used in Bitcoin’s mining function. Believed to be the first email correspondent with Satoshi, Back has not made his exchanges public to protect Satoshi from doxing. Currently, he serves as the CEO of Blockstream, a Bitcoin-focused company he co-founded. He denies being Satoshi.

  • Wei Dai. Proposer of b-money, a distributed money system that was one of the precursors to Bitcoin. On Adam Back’s recommendation, Satoshi reached out to Wei Dai to talk about b-money. The Bitcoin whitepaper mentions both Dai and b-money as references. The smallest unit of the Ethereum cryptocurrency is named after him. 1 Wei = 1/1,000,000,000,000,000,000 of an ETH. He denies being Satoshi.

(Image Source)

  • The late Hal Finney. Creator of Reusable Proof of Work (RPoW), a cryptographic proof system for digital payments. Described as the “world's first implemented cryptocurrency”, RPoW was another forerunner of Bitcoin. As one of the earliest supporters of Bitcoin, Finney collaborated (1, 2, 3) with Satoshi to make significant contributions at the time.

    He was the first person after Satoshi to run the software, receive a transaction, and mine a block. Thereby, establishing that Bitcoin worked. Hal Finney was cryopreserved after passing away from ALS in 2014. He denied being Satoshi.

(Image Source)

  • Nick Szabo. Pioneer of smart contracts and designer of Bit gold, one more Bitcoin predecessor. Originally not there, Szabo and Bit gold mentions were added to the Bitcoin website in early 2009. Satoshi has also separately acknowledged their influence in Bitcointalk. Szabo’s essay on money was an inspiration for Hal Finney’s RPoW. In contrast to the other three, there is no evidence or acknowledgment of communication between Szabo and Satoshi. He denies being Satoshi.

There are many similar writing and thought patterns between NS and SN like this

(Image Sources: 12)

Among other commonly debated possibilities are David Chaum (founder of DigiCash, creator of ecash), Phil Zimmermann (developer of PGP), Len Sassaman, one or more founders of the Cypherpunks mailing list (Eric Hughes, Tim May, John Gilmore), etc.

Despite all the cryptography-related possibilities above, the most familiar Satoshi face in media is an unlikely one. In March 2014, Newsweek published a report that they had found Satoshi. Dorian Prentice Satoshi Nakamoto, a retired contractual engineer living in California.

In a weird bit of coincidence, Hal Finney’s house was a few blocks away. Dorian denied (1, 2) being Satoshi.

He stressed that the investigating reporter had misunderstood him. A linguistic analysis confirmed the same.

But the resultant media frenzy had already disrupted his life. To apologize for the trouble, Andreas Antonopoulos arranged a fundraiser for him. Donations totaling ~USD 23k at the time (47.5 BTC) poured in. And as of today, the address has received a sum of 102 BTC. Presumably all from donors.

Satoshi is also supposed to have attempted to save Dorian from the media glare. This is disputed though (1, 2). Nonetheless, Dorian Nakamoto is now a permanent memetic fixture on BT and CT.

A puzzled Dorian Nakamoto addressing the press is a source of many Bitcoin memes

(Image Source)

As the search for Satoshi continues, a recurrent reminder is to not create a cult of personality. Or to abandon the quest altogether to protect Satoshi. With the possibility of the identity never coming to light, “We Are All Satoshi” is an oft-repeated phrase (1, 2).

Faketoshis and the Bizarre Claims of Craig Wright

And then there are the self-proclaimed Satoshis. Or Faketoshis. A pejorative for individuals whose claims of being Satoshi are viewed with skepticism. From Jörg Molt (1, 2) to Ronald Keala Kua Maria to Jurgen Debo to James Bilal Khalid Caan and more (1, 2, 3, 4).

The most notorious of them is Craig Steven Wright (CSW). Founder of Bitcoin Satoshi Vision (BSV), a forked version of Bitcoin.

Jimmy Wales, Edward Snowden, WikiLeaks, William Shatner, the late Dan Kaminsky, Tim Draper, Matthew Green, Andrew O'Hagan, Adam Back, Vitalik Buterin, CZ, Emin Gün Sirer, Zooko Wilcox-O'Hearn, Greg Maxwell, Jameson Lopp and many others from the tech and crypto community have denounced him.

Even the two publications that broke the stories that CSW was Satoshi retracted days later (1, 2). Both suspected that the “leaked” tip-off documents they had received were forgeries.

Nevertheless, CSW continues to be the most persistent Satoshi claimant. So much so that some Bitcoiners (1, 2) have made full-blown archives (1, 2, 3) of his inconsistencies. From his public statements (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13). His works (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7*). And legal disputes (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11).

*The r/bsv subreddit debunks CSW’s claims.

3 days after their scoop, Wired and Gizmodo alleged that they were possible targets of an elaborate hoax

(Image Sources: 12)

To deal with criticism, CSW has resorted to threats and numerous litigations (1, 2). Albeit unsuccessfully (1, 2). Tying up detractors for years. Often leveling libel charges (1, 2, 3) in UK courts among other known tactics (1, 2).

Cex’es which delist his coin, BSV, have lawsuits brought against them. Bitcoin developers have been dragged to court to coerce impossible confiscations for him. Also unsuccessfully. So far. More on that below.

Several platforms hosting the Bitcoin software and whitepaper have been forced to take them down in UK jurisdictions. Because of continuous hounding over copyright claims. To CSW’s annoyance, this has triggered more hostings to flip him off. Including from governments.

A conclusive proof by any claimant would be to sign a message or move funds using Satoshi’s known keys. For a brief while, one early Bitcoiner was led to believe CSW had them. Gavin Andresen was a contributor whom Satoshi had entrusted with maintaining the project.

After a now infamous private signing session in London, he was “convinced” of CSW. Some alleged foul play. Others felt Gavin was under duress from saying otherwise. Eventually, he opened up about his suspicions of being duped (1, 2). He said, “it was a mistake to trust Craig Wright.”

In February 2023, Gavin Andresen added this note to his CSW-is-Satoshi blogpost

(Image Source)

CSW now insists he has deliberately damaged the device that contained Satoshi’s keys. The only indisputable evidence that could have linked him to Satoshi. Even more peculiar is his reluctance to seek out Satoshi’s coins worth tens of billions.

He has instead spent considerable resources to confiscate various other wallets and funds. Some of those pursuits have backfired in spectacular fashion (1, 2, 3).

In spite of that, he has taken Bitcoin devs and maintainers to court over yet another set of addresses. CSW’s claim: Burglars stole (1, 2) private keys to “his” (1, 2) wallets containing >100k BTC (~USD 2.6 Bn today). And for some reason, they deleted his only copy of the keys.

Instead of just moving the Bitcoin elsewhere till date. The most bizarre twist, one of those wallets was once involved in a notorious heist (1, 2).

CSW’s demand: Bitcoin developers must make changes to the Bitcoin protocol somehow to give him access to those coins. Changes reminiscent of his blockchain, BSV (1, 2). Creating backdoors to recover private keys is not possible.

So he is trying to force a court-mandated rollback of a decentralized blockchain. A near improbable endeavour that goes against crypto ideals of immutability and censorship-resistance.

Not only is mutilating Bitcoin a no-no, but any retrospective change to the chain would be flat-out rejected by the network of nodes and forked off. Not to mention the disastrous implications for open-source development (1, 2).

These campaigns of intimidation have harassed developers and waylaid Bitcoiners. Earning CSW and his associates near-unanimous scorn across CT to the point of mockery (1, 2, 3, 4). Irrespective of tribalism (1, 2).

It has boiled over to a point where his partners have started to backpedal (1, 2). While disillusioned supporters turn on him over broken promises.

Bitcoin and Its Mimics

A Bitcoiner’s Reminder: there is only one true bitcoin i.e. $BTC held in self-custody

(Image Source)

Bitcoin is a fairly complicated topic because it serves many purposes:

  • The Bitcoin token (ticker: $BTC or the less popular, $XBT) serves as an asset for investment. As money for remittances. As a tradeable commodity for speculation.

  • The Bitcoin network serves as a payment system for merchants. As a communication grid. As a tool for political subversion.

  • The Bitcoin blockchain serves as an immutable database. As a distributed ledger.

  • The Bitcoin software serves as a protocol for other applications to be built on top.

And so on. This is why descriptions for Bitcoin have such variety – internet money, freedom money, gold 2.0, schmuck insurance, etc. Satoshi said, “Writing a description for this thing for general audiences is bloody hard. There's nothing to relate it to.”

There is no official body in charge of Bitcoin. There is no The Bitcoin Company that controls its means of production*. No The Bitcoin Association that represents it*1. No headquarters it operates out of. No spokesperson on its payroll. Anyone claiming otherwise may not have your best interest in mind.

* A “Bitcoin company” is just any business that deals in Bitcoin. To custody, transact, mine, run nodes, etc.

*1 There is a “Bitcoin Association” set up as a lobby/PR/advocacy group for one of Bitcoin’s forks. More on that below. It has nothing to do with Bitcoin though.

The website is maintained as an open-source project. Originally registered and managed by Satoshi and Martti Malmi, the first Bitcoin developer. It was later handed over to volunteers. Similarly, the Bitcoin software is free and open source.

Managed pro bono by volunteers again. Anyone can contribute to it. Bitcoin companies, NGOs, research organizations, etc. sponsor some of these developers and maintainers with donations and grants.

There have been 916 contributors to Bitcoin's code so far

(Image Source)

The rules of Bitcoin are enforced by the software’s code and verified by thousands of volunteer-run nodes worldwide. Anyone can set up a node and become part of the network. But no entity can change the rules and regulations unilaterally.

TLDR: Bitcoin has no rulers. No controlling interests. No gatekeepers. No copyright. No patent. A truly decentralized paradigm.

There is no one to complain to when Bitcoin price drops. Apt for “can devs do something” jokes

(Image Source)

As a result, many Bitcoin imitations crop up uninhibited. Coins and tokens that should not be mistaken for the real thing. Like memecoins that use “Bitcoin” as a joke (HarryPotterObamaSonic10Inu’s ticker is $BITCOIN). Or sketchy projects and scams that use misleading advertising to entrap the gullible.

“Better Bitcoin”, “Bitcoin, but different”, “Just like Bitcoin”, “Bitcoin of the East”, “Bitcoin for the travel industry”, etc.

Markets have not been kind to the countless Bitcoin mimics (Y-axis: price in $BTC)

And because there is no leader, factions attempt coups from time to time. To wrest control over Bitcoin itself. These vested interests try to force contentious changes. Pushing for changes in the software that are not backward-compatible and persuading nodes to support them.

The subset of nodes which agree to run the new code create a Bitcoin hard fork. By splitting away into a new network with a new chain and new coin.

Not all hard forks are contentious. On occasion, a majority of nodes can agree on necessary upgrades

(Image Source)

Bitcoin Cash (BCH) and BSV are the most well-known contentious forks. BCH forked from Bitcoin and BSV forked from BCH. The bone of contention for these splinter groups was the size of blocks in the chain. They wanted to increase the block size from the limit hardcoded by Satoshi.

With this in mind, Gavin Andresen and Mike Hearn, another early Bitcoin contributor, made the first notable fork called Bitcoin XT. Thus, igniting The Blocksize War.

Despite having powerful interests on their side, the “big blockers” could not get their way with Bitcoin. After a failure to reach middle ground (The New York Agreement^), BCH forked using Bitcoin XT as a template. Years later BSV, forked from BCH over further disagreements.

^ The Failure of NYA is seen as a victory of David over Goliath. It established that independent nodes held sway over the network. Contrary to the long held belief that Bitcoin companies and mining coalitions had controlling authority.

Contentious hard forks have a shared history with Bitcoin. Until the point of their split. Thereafter, they operate as separate projects. Some stray from dearly held principles. Yet continue to obscure their difference from Bitcoin.

For example, BSV marketeers (1, 2) have a reputation for blurring the lines. Through events. Lobbying efforts (1, 2). Publications. Setting up entities like the “Bitcoin Association.” As a subtle distinction, they will sometimes say “BitCoin” instead of “Bitcoin” to refer to BSV.

BSV’s "Bitcoin Association" is starting to abandon its “Bitcoin” branding tactic

(Image Sources: 12)

Non-Bitcoin endeavors get co-opted too. Case in point, Jack Dorsey-backed TBD‘s Web5 initiative. Launched in June ’22, Web5 is a non-blockchain implementation of a decentralized web experience. Discussed more in Part VII – Tribalism.

Months after TBD’s announcement, news of a “Web 5.0” conference came forth. “Web5” was being blockchain’ised at this event. The “Conference Visionary?” CSW.

On a similar note, when I first started reading about Bitcoin in earnest, puzzled me. Because it addressed BTC as “Bitcoin Core” while hinting that BCH was “Bitcoin.” It was only later that I realized the site was a for-profit (1, 2) owned by BCH affiliates.

If you are on Reddit, please note that the r/btc subreddit is also managed by BCH supporters. A result of blocksize politics. Even the @Bitcoin handle on X/Twitter was once owned by a BCH advocate.

Whether deliberate or not, obfuscations like these confuse the unaware, trouble the aware (1, 2), and lead to angry confrontations. Giving promoters of forks a dubious reputation in Bitcoin circles (1, 2). So, I hope this part will help you discern between forks, fugazis, and the real thing.

Plan for Part V: Centralisation v/s Decentralisation

NOTE: Also published here.

Disclaimer: None of the information mentioned above should be construed as financial advice.