A smattering of opinions on technology, books, business, and culture. Now in its 4th technology iteration.
07 September 2021
I went down the NFT rabbit hole this week a little. The whole NFT thing seems nutty to me, but there is a good chance that I am just old and my brain is inflexible. So I decided to force myself to dip in. I tried to buy an NFT.
TLDR: A confusing welter of accounts and companies I had to deal with, a blizzard of expensive fees, my ETH ended up getting fractured across multiple wallets and intermediate locations, and i lost all my auctions to people who were willing to spend large amounts of ETH for ephemeral goods. I am not much smarter about NFTs.
The first challenge: decide what NFT to buy. NFTs cover nearly the entire gamut of human expression. Opensea.io at the moment has 19M+ listed and that is only one marketplace. Much of the activity is collectibles with designed scarcity. I declined to chase these, I went after NFTs for more traditional art. My thinking is that NFTs don’t really change human behaviour and human interests, and the same kind of things that have been deemed valuable and collectible for the past 1000 years will continue to be the things we value and collect. All the regenerative collectibles seem a little risky to me, I can’t imagine that anyone will care about these in 15 years, just like no one really cares about beanie babies any more. There are some categories of collectibles that have retained value — baseball cards, comics — I would imagine that NFT-based sports and comic collectables may also have some value, collectables that appeal to a large interest community existing outside the crypto space may be a smart play. But I will stick to the more traditional arts for the moment. I could be way off.
I also wanted a bit of a personal connection to the item. We moved to Seattle at the beginning of the grunge wave, so I settled on this photo sheet from the early days of Nirvana. It was being offered on Opensea which seems to be the largest and most established market. I had never heard of Opensea before this adventure, but they are backed by big names so presumably someone has done some due diligence.
Now to make a bid, I needed to have a crypto wallet, I don’t have one. I do have some ETH held up at Coinbase, but that is not a wallet. Opensea suggests a bunch of wallets from unknown organizations, I went with their recommended default of Fortmatic, a second company. Fortmatic is backed by lesser names and with lesser dollars so no idea if I should really trust them, but damn it, I am going down this rabbit hole.
Now in possession of a wallet, I need to get some crypto currency in it. A bunch of new terms and organizations — I can provide WETH, DAI, or USDC. DAI and USDC hold out the promise of just using a credit card to add some dollars, so I tried those to start. I am handed off to Moonpay for payment processing, a company that I have never heard of, that there is little info about, and is based outside the US. I have one sketchy LinkedIn connection to someone at Moonpay, I am not feeling great about this. And I am blocked because they demand a residential billing address and not a PO Box, and all my credit cards go to a PO box.
I work around this, and then Moonpay wants me to send them an image of my driver’s license so they can verify my identity. I just want to buy a picture, guys. I can buy real physical art with far less trouble. I declined to go any further down the Moonpay path.
So I went back to the WETH option. I don’t have any WETH, I have ETH at Coinbase. WETH is some wrapping of ETH because ETH isn’t compatible with some standard. So I decide i will transfer some ETH over to my Fortmatic wallet to be converted to WETH. Except my Coinbase account isn’t enabled for transfers yet, and now Coinbase wants my driver’s license. I crossed that bridge a long time ago, Coinbase needed my driver’s license at account opening time. Why they need it again I don’t know, but what the hell.
OK so now that my Coinbase account is working, i transfer some ETH to my Fortmatic wallet. A blizzard of confirmations and fees and charges to move the ETH and to convert to WETH. No idea what all this is, but it is not cheap. Along the way i get introduced to Uniswap and Etherscan, there sure are a lot of organizations riding on my transaction, grabbing their piece of the flow. Each of these has slimmer backing in turn, and seems more risky – apparently I am now trusting part of my transaction to a company in Kuala Lumpur. Nothing against Kuala Lumpur, it just seems like an incredibly convoluted chain.
Finally I complete my bid. And now I wait. The original creator minted 10, 9 have sold already, I have the high outstanding bid, I have no idea what happens now. In the time it took me to set up all the above accounts and linkages, several of the items were sold, so I may have missed out. In the meantime I downloaded the JPG of the image.
Update: I got outbid on that first piece, and so I have moved onto another piece. and somehow i have two identical bids on this new piece, super strange, the Opensea/Fortmatic experience seems buggy. Oh and every bid or cancelled bid requires a crazy expensive fee. What a twisty mess.
Update II. Outbid again. For a crazy price on a simple photo. There are people who are far freer with their money than I am. I could buy a nice large format physical print for less than these prices.
Update III. And Opensea now reports that the 2nd item I bid on, actually sold two days earlier for a price below my bid and a number of other bids greater than mine. WTF, this sale transaction did not appear when I was bidding. This whole process seems mysterious and arbitrary.
The entire process has been very unsatisfying. I don’t have the thing I want. I am not even sure what I get if I win. A lot of people took a bite of my transaction, and I bet that I get none of that back if I don’t win. I am not even sure how I get my ETH back if I don’t win, it is now WETH in a fortmatic wallet. I have had to trust a basket full of unknown organizations. I have a whole bag of numbers now — wallets, transaction IDs, etc — that I feel like I need to hang onto.
Maybe I should focus on generating some NFT-able content instead. Great list of generative art and assistive art tools here. In case you want to start making NFTs, or just dabble in creative arts. Some of these are dead already but lots to explore.
Visionist is a fun app for monkeying with photos. Silk 2 is fun for creating generative art. Humbeatz seems like it might have been fun but I am wary of an app that has not been updated in 3 years.
For far less money than an ephemeral NFT, we purchased a great porcelain piece from Marianna Haniger and a stone piece from Bruce Richardson at the Lopez Island Artist’s Studio Tour this weekend. Beautiful pieces, we supported local artists, some of their proceeds they are donating to local charities. So much more satisfying than an NFT. The Studio Tour is a great annual event.
Re NFTs, this tweet captures how I currently feel.
The contacts app is my least used and least favorite of the standard iOS apps. It solves very few problems i have with people. Out of my thousands of contacts, there are at most a couple hundred that are super important, and contacts does nothing to help me nurture and build those relationships.
When I was last managing a team, the contacts app wasn’t relevant at all. It did nothing to keep me in touch with people on the team.
All my communications tools are message- or thread- or folder-or channel-centric, none of them are really people-centric, but that is what I want. ios Messages does the best job, but only for message content — i can’t see the last 7 emails i sent to a contact, or add notes, or schedule a meeting, or see the last 3 times we met, …
clay.earth seems interesting. I really love the idea of a contact-centric app, where i can actively think about and monitor my engagement with people.
Untools is a repository of frameworks for helping you think about problems. Super handy. I kind of wish this was embodied in a “problem” app or “decision” app that would let you keep track of all the problems you are wrestling with, and let you easily try different frameworks out. You can buy templates that you stick into Notion, a step towards an app.
I am not sure how I missed Platform.io. I have largely given up on arduino-class devices because the toolchain is terrible. This seems to address most of the terribleness, and expand to other devices. I have thrown away most of my arduino-class hardware but maybe I need to retry.
Apparently our tolerance for risk changes in a very predictable way during the week. Decisions on mondays and fridays may be more fraught. If you know this, how do you change your week’s schedule and pace? Are there a class of decisions for which you want to encourage greater risk taking, and a class for which you want to discourage risk taking? Almost certainly so.
A good list of history books. Many of these are quite broad in scale, I also like histories that bear down on a development — The Strange Death of Liberal England and Hitler’s Thirty Days to Power are two of my favorites.