Monthly Archives: April 2014

DML Research Hub Working Paper Series: “Crafting the Metagame: Connected Learning in the Starcraft II Community”

I am excited to announce the publication of our report that was long in the making. I have been working on StarCraft II research with Timothy Young since late 2011 to examine the players’ learning ethos and practices, and paid most attention to their experiences at home, in school, and in the community. In this working paper series, I also have the honor of working with Katie Salen Tekinbaş from the Institute of Play, who had obtained unprecedented access to interviewing Blizzard Entertainment designers and developers to understand their design perspectives. By analyzing both the players’ and developers’ perspectives, we described how these different kinds of localities–home, school, community, and work place–are playing complementary roles in cultivating technical skills, social ethics, learning attitudes, and social networks that are invaluable to these high achieving young geeks in their future careers.

 You can find the paper at: http://dmlhub.net/publications/crafting-metagame-connected-learning-starcraft-ii-community

Formalizing and Securing Relationships on Public Networks, by Nicholas Szabo

For anyone who is interested in the future of information and networked society, I found this paper, written by a very early proponent of digital money, Nick Szabo, to be quite relevant. Szabo is most famous for his articles and blogs, which covered a wide range of subjects from history, economics, to cryptography–which may have influenced the development of Bitcoin. But to my delight, I have also found a First Monday paper written by Szabo on the rationales and approaches to digitizing paper contracts using cryptography, and social issues that we have yet to resolve.

This paper addresses what Szabo called the “smart contracts.” To quote what he has described as a benefit of smart contracts:

Control protocols, and the professions of auditing and accounting based on them, play a critical but ill-analyzed role in our economy. … Controls allow a quarrelsome species ill-suited to organizations larger than small tribes to work together on vast projects like manufacturing jumbo jets and running hospitals. These control protocols are the result of many centuries of business experience and have a long future ahead of them, but the digital revolution will soon cause these paper-era techniques to be dramatically augmented by, and eventually integrate into, smart contracts.

According to Szabo, “The basic idea behind smart contracts is that many kinds of contractual clauses … can be embedded in the hardware and software we deal with.” For example, when ‘company A’ sends money to their ‘distributor B,’ this transaction can be recorded digitally on public networks, but encrypted in a way that its details are only accessible by authorized persons, e.g., shareholders and auditors. That is, the public will know that company A and company B signed a contract, but the details are kept secret, as per standard business practice. This reduces fraud and increases accountability of companies; auditors will not need to rely on uncooperative (perhaps incompetent or dishonest) accountants to provide figures and thus more likely to deliver more accurate judgments on corporate performances. There are also sections discussing other forms of transactions, e.g., reputation, credit, and content rights management.

The paper may not be written in the best language, but for its raw merits in describing something truly revolutionary, I believe it has contents that will benefit information scholars.

Bitcoin In-use #4: Buying lunch

A Hong Kong food outlet has been accepting bitcoin for a while now, and is becoming a favorite among some local bitcoiners. Mr Bing, a Chinese crepe chain store, sells delicious “Chinese crepe” with stuffed ingredients. And I enjoyed their crispy and spicy Peking Duck stuffing most. Only their store in Central, Hong Kong, accepts bitcoin.

Central is the financial district of Hong Kong, and also the location of Lan Kwai Fong. the famous expats’ hangouts for drinking and clubbing. There are usually numerous people here who dressed much better and prettier than how they were born. To avoid the crowd, I went there in a Tuesday noon. Mr Bing is just about a ten minutes walk from Central MTR (subway) station. The store is nicely tucked round the corner down a side street. It is, however, difficult to miss its bright orange color.

This picture shows the store’s exterior, with a Bitcoin Group HK sign sticking on the top right corner. Bitcoin Group HK is a company that has just started installing bitcoin ATMs locally. Mr Bing has few sitting space inside the shop. I reckoned that most customers would buy and go. The cashier girl seems a little reluctant, so I did not take many interior photos.

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I looked at the menu and ordered my usual Peking Duck Crepe. The cashier girl entered my order and after I had asked for bitcoin payment, she started entering some information onto an iPad. It does take a minute or two at this instance. She held out the iPad with a large and conspicuous QR code in front of me.

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I expertly took out my phone, started my Mycelium app, and scanned the QR code. The payment amount, 0.0139 BTC, appeared on my app. I clicked “Send,” and the payment went through. The cashier girl inspected her iPad, and in less than 3 seconds, told me, “OK.” I knew the payment went through. Figure below shows my app displaying a payment of about US$5.07 being sent through the network, and also my receipt that indicated HK$49 was accepted through the bitcoin payment processor, BItpay.

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While I was waiting, I could clearly see a bitcoin ATM installed by Bitcoin Group HK, sitting at a corner within the store’s confined space, calling to be used.

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I chatted a little with the cook, a friendly Chinese senior age lady, who saw me taking photographs. She asked if I love Mr Bing. I said I do. I wanted to tell her I love bitcoin too, but paused for a while wondering if she would understand. Before I realized it, my crepe was ready!

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I love bitcoin, and the crepe as well!

Bitcoin In-use #03: Buying bitcoin in a retail store

There is a bitcoin retail store in Hong Kong! The store, operated by ANX, is tucked away in Sheung Wan, in an old Hong Kong district where you can still find trolley buses and colonial houses. The store, almost a hole in a wall, occupies a shop in an inconspicuous mall where you can find tenants like travel agencies, family owned restaurants, and a jockey club outlet (one of the travel agency actually accepts bitcoins). It is not the most glamorous of places, but it is very exciting for me! Have you seen any other retail stores selling bitcoin?!

This is how the store front looks like.

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I am aware of ANX retail store through their publicity effort a while ago, which was circulating in the Hong Kong community. Quite impressive for the nascent and highly global community.

There are two front desk assistants in the store, and let me call them Freddy and Jenny. The store was new when I visited. And Freddy had only learned about bitcoin for five days. Naturally, I sensed hesitation when I said I wanted to try buying HK$100 worth of bitcoin. Buy Jenny, having about half a year experience with bitcoin, quickly come to the assist. I waited as Jenny helped Freddy through the steps of verifying my account information. I would have needed to register for an account with ANX, with my id and all, but I had already done that with them online before I came visit.

In not more than five minutes, Jenny showed me the numbers, and she smiled for the camera.

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That is, for HK$100, they could sell me 0.01778354 bitcoins. This moment felt like a typical moment at a money changer, but with just slightly more paper work.

Freddy and Jenny then get back to the computer to confirm the trade, and handed me the receipt.

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I had expected that I will receive the bitcoins in my wallet. But instead, it will be deposited into my web account. The whole process took about 10 minutes, but can possibly be completed in 5 by trained hands. There was more paperwork than I thought is reasonable, as money changers do not require IDs if the value of the exchange is below a threshold. But it is the first retail store of a highly scrutinized artifact–so kudos to the pioneers!