Melbourne’s first BitCoin conference was held at the exhibition centre, the very first event in 2014 hosted perhaps 100 people. Many of whom had been meeting up each month to keep the connection alive, and a handful of interstaters, plus a sprinkling of people from other countries. Sponsors, thinking they’d invested into a huge affair with their names all over the walls were just a tad disappointed to see us sharing the space with a busy 3D printing conference. Thankfully, otherwise the huge room would have looked very empty instead of half full.
I’d organised to interview people for #TheBitcoinDoco back-to-back, the whole day, every hour on the hour and spent most of my time chasing people up, directing them to the foyer, sitting them down and asking questions from my list. It was my very first attempt at creating a documentary and the plan was super simple, interview people, get material and somehow bring together a living story.
Torsten Hoffman on the other hand, a professional documentary maker was interviewing people in the room next door to my hallway setting, with a team of people he’d paid to set up a professional space with lighting, backdrops, multiple camera’s to capture different angles of his guests who would be complimenting an impressive list off all the big names in the industry. He had already interviewed the well known ‘experts’, like Andreas Antonopolous, Jon Matonis, Jeffrey Tucker, Vitalik Buterin, Roger Ver +++ all the big names, and, on that particular day, Torsten had organised for Melbourne’s infamous, mysterious Ryan Zhou of Zhoutong’d fame to finally talk about *that* unspeakable event.
Which explained why staff at CoinJar had a weird energy about them. Asher Tan co-founded what was then Australia’s most well known exchange with Ryan, and they were doing what they could to keep Ryan’s history a secret. It wouldn’t be good for people to know that a young Chinese hacker was looking after their funds – apparently Ryan was not allowed access to vaults or any matters involving customers’ private details. My experience in conversation with any of them was that whenever his name was mentioned there was silence and weird eye movements, digging into me, searching to know if I knew what they were talking about (I didn’t), followed by a “oh, it’s nothing” when asked. Over time the puzzle unravelled, by then I was bored to learn that Ryan was responsible for Bitcoinica, one of the very first Bitcoin hacks in the world:
The BitCoin scene was (and still is) quite weird, it attracts people of unusual character, many of us unwilling to share too much about our selves, introverted people hiding behind pseudonyms unsure of the impact our little hobby could make us one day millionaires… well….
At time of writing (2June2021), 46,703 BTC isworth $1,713,017,359.
That’s one billion, seven hundred and thirteen million, seventeen thousand, three hundred and fifty nine US dollars.
What is, and always has been, most important to me is the utility of bitcoin, whereas for most people in the scene price was the most interesting – how to accumulate the most coins and keep them to grow old and rich. Back then it was the only coin that existed in what is now known as the ‘crypto’ minefield of corruption. The very first workshop I facilitated saw me at the front of the room being challenged by technically minded people throwing curly questions about the system that I couldn’t answer… and had no hesitation in saying so. I could, however, use it. Prior to that conference BitCoin had afforded me a life-altering experience in Peru and I certainly knew how to use the system that paid my way. Those smarty pants in suits melted into pools of cuteness when at the end of the workshop I transferred $5 to their phones “wow, it really works!” they shrieked, one after the other and became adorable little puppy dogs.
At the 2014 Melbourne conference I was surrounded by wannabe millionaire boys in ill-fitted suits sitting around tables boasting of their riches. That first conference was a disappointment, hardly anybody knew of our genius find, and if they did they thought it was simply magic internet money. Although the crowd was small, that day was still hectic for me, wondering how I could scrounge up interesting material for my documentary. Then, I found myself sitting in front of another body, my fifth interview of the day with six more to go. Next door I could see Torsten ushering Ryan into his professional suite for that world shattering interview, and there I was, on the other side of that same wall sitting in front of Craig Steven Wright who was seated on a fold up chair in the foyer, wearing a three piece obviously tailored suit and outrageously coloured bright sox showing from custom made shoes. He had clearly prepared himself for the event and that impressed me.
His answer to my first question threw me a little, “there wasn’t a price”…. hhhmmm my mind churning… so he’s an early miner? Further into my questions he retorted “you’re thinking too small” which caught me off guard. “excuse me?” I laughed. In our weird little Melbourne circle I’d been harping on about making Melbourne the bitcoin capital of the world, and I’d bought one of the first Lamassu ATM’s in Australia. I asked him if he knew that and got a look of amusement… it was around about then that I started to ask myself…. “who IS this man?” His answers I found fascinating, he really knew what he was talking about, he had an air about him. I’d worked with enough people to separate lies from truth and I knew he was the author of what came out of his mouth. As well, he expanded how I thought BitCoin…. he had a smirk about him, like he knew something I didn’t, and he was testing whether or not to tell me.
Part of my repertoire was asking people how Melbourne/Australia fit into the BitCoin world, he sat quiet and looked at his wife wordlessly communicating “do I tell her?”. The answer was no, and to tell the truth if he’d said he was Satoshi Nakamoto at that point in time I know I probably would have been met with a fierce look of disbelief from the editor who thought Craig was a kook. I found out later many people shared that exact same sentiment.
His interview intrigued me enough to call him a few weeks afterwards “I’m not sure who you really are or what you do, I’d like to work with you. Do you have anything available?” He didn’t, instead over the next seventeen months I received cryptic messages via twitter from one account, then from another account when he hinted he’d be in touch again once the dust settled after the gizmodo incident. He’d prepared me for that with “What would you think if Satoshi were an Australian?” I walked for a few hours to absorb that information. OF. COURSE. I returned to read the next message “there will be an article coming out tomorrow”. I hadn’t released his three part interview by that stage, documents showing it was released in July are wrong, it was recorded in July, and released two days after the Gizmodo/Wired articles outted him as Satoshi Nakamoto. That day I called the doco editor and we quickly pulled out the files and released his interview on Vimeo. My thinking was that bitcoin, the system, would supercede youtube within a short time, so there was not point in publishing it there, besides, I’d been told that it was from free sites where content is easily stolen and I didn’t want that headache.
Between July 2014 and the release Craig and I were in regular communication, as he started to share the story of what was happening behind the scenes I was scouting for people to connect him with in the bitcoin world. It was not easy, as soon as I mentioned his name many scoffed. I looked for the people who could comprehend the documents he’d been sending, about maths, computer systems, law, economics, philosophy… which were all above my head yet I persevered with reading them to find clue as to who to connect him with. A young Australian blogger, Eli Afram stood out, he wrote from the logic of bitcoin the system, not social media hype. I connected him to Craig whilst being ignored by the bigger names I thought would at least listen. Small victories were few and far between.
My area of expertise is people, not tech, and the people in technology I found really frustrating to have a ‘normal’ conversation with, words kept getting twisted, what I tweeted taken out of context. It became very clear there was an army of people who did not like the fact that Craig *could* be Satoshi, there was no room to even propose the possibility that a geek from Australia was the man who’d started an economical revolution. Twitter became a nightmare as I worked my way through to find people willing to at least have a conversation rather than sling abuse. I started to lose respect for the ‘experts’, crossing them off my hero list and transferring them over to the ignorant fools column.
Conversations with Craig were frequent and very, very interesting, he started to share what had happened, with his invention, his baby. Hearing from his perspective I could comprehend his frustration, his anger… and his unrelenting will to correct what was happening. Developers had hijacked the code and were making the most of directing ridicule in association with his name wherever they could. Over time he explained how they’d hacked back doors into bitcoin’s open source code to use it for illegal purpose. One such detour was ‘Segregated Witness’ a fork being proposed by developers that was causing some controversy, and many were buying into it. Particularly the dude garnering worldwide attention as the bitcoin hero… self proclaimed expert, Andreas Antonopolous. He was shilling SegWit like there was no tomorrow, causing people to think it was the best thing for bitcoin. There was a small body of people opposing his insistence though and they were gathering momentum, as they started to making the most sense from a functional view.
In answer to my question “what is segwit?” he replied with “an abortion”… excuse me? “Andreas is pushing it though…”, “he’s wrong”, that was horrifying to hear, Andreas, wrong?? What I like about Craig is that despite what is happening, he still refrains from name calling. I learned about adhominem, to attack the argument rather than the person. “What is wrong with segwit” “it breaks the chain”. Bitcoin is something of a time machine, or, a timechain that connects signatures with transactions in sequence for all to see…. public scrutiny is what makes this system different from every other blockchain, and there are M A N Y types of blockchains. With Bitcoin, in its original form, every transaction verified by miners is made transparent for anybody to witness on a digital ledger… that way anomalies stick out like sore thumbs… some businesses follow large transactions to see if they can connect the dots to find out who sent what where, it’s how illegal activity is tracked.
I’ve learned this over time, and it has been quite a challenging learning experience because at that particular time, between bitcoin’s inception and mid 2017, other than the white paper, there were zero reputable resources to question. All that existed were older conversations between Craig as Satoshi Nakamoto and other developers on forums. The bitcoin wiki was bare, it had hardly any information to learn from. It’s difficult to get a sense of that world now that we have Craig as a resource to grow with, back in those days the information came from people who had nothing to do with the creation of bitcoin. The developers who took control of the code had not created bitcoin, they were simply contorting it into what they wanted… and what they wanted was a system to destroy governments and banks. The antithesis of what bitcoin really is.
Bitcoin works with the systems we already have in place, namely, the law. It’s with the law that bitcoin works most efficiently. That chain of pubic signatures serves to provide evidence in the event criminal activity takes place, much like what is happening right now in the ‘crypto’ scene, each week the system leads law enforcement to money launderers, drug traffickers and… ransomware, which is another reason developers wanted to tinker with the code.
My confusion at the time was real, here I had Craig in my ear contorting all I knew about bitcoin, he kept saying that what he’d invented was a system to replace banks and governments… conversations with him turned my thought process around. I too had been thinking it was to replace banks. He made it clear that bitcoin is to enhance the system we already have, not to destroy anything, it exists for people to build from. For me that was quite the head shift, and once I got my brain to navigate around that way of thinking, simultaneously I felt a huge wave of relief. The thought of living in a world where honesty is incentivised, it still blows my mind.
There was a lot of drama then, as there is now. Craig was blackmailed by a woman he’d confided in, she threatened to have sex with his at the time 16 year old son if he didn’t use his connections to get her brother out of jail. An assistant was running rogue in the forum we’d opened up using her permissions to close accounts, some people from the twitter army slandering him infiltrated and leaked information from the forum (this still happens), the ‘experts’ continued to spread lies about how Bitcoin worked, core devs were brainwashing people into thinking bitcoin was broken because “satoshi got it all wrong”, competing coins started to gain traction whilst causing deliberate mayhem. ‘Crypto’ media companies paid by people pumping their latest scam kept publishing false information (which they continue to this day). The crypto scene continues to be total mayhem… and Bitcoin is not a crypto currency by the way, it’s a peer to peer electronic cash system.
All I could do was support Craig and his invention where I could, share the information he was publishing, provoke questions, do what I could to get people to think about what he was saying, like he had done with me. In one of our conversations he said he had some documents to release and asked if I would I be interested in editing his wiki page “to see how long it lasts”? For sure, I was up for the challenge. It was easy enough to open his profile and start making changes, with html being unfamiliar territory it took me over an hour to get through all the information he was sending, I wrote about the experience here. My world, shattered again to learn that Wikipedia has also been corrupted and is not a reliable source of information.
When I woke the day after releasing that blog, Vlad had opened a bitpaste forum and Craig used my blog as proof of identify for the hoard of curious people drawn in thinking it an opportunity to attack him directly (using anonymous accounts), many were upset that he was opening a platform to discuss BitCoin. Vlad, myself and somebody else using the ‘Satoshi Nakamoto’ pseudonym on twitter had been in conversation with Craig for numerous months prior. We bombarded him with questions, he loaded us up with documents, homework, which fuelled further questions. We were his musketeers, he made rare requests of us, some I declined, others I accepted….. two of us became Adam Selene to post and edit Craig’s blogs on a Medium account.
Now he has a professional team to manage his material, assist him build his ideas, a huge team of people in his slack forum distributing information, a media company onside to publish up-to-date events and stay on top of the myriad of all the legal cases taking place, some of which Craig is involved in – and that, is a whole other story!