Ethan Lou is a reporter turned Bitcoin miner turned two-time author whose newest book, Once a Bitcoin Miner: Scandal and Turmoil in the Cryptocurrency Wild West, is a modern-day western recount a dismal millennial’s renewal in the wild west of crypto — total with fraudsters, celebration drugs and a North Korean crypto conference.
“Want to go to a crypto conference in North Korea in April?” is not a typical concern, however was asked of me by Lou in early 2019.
The Pyongyang Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference, participated in by about 100 individuals, is the huge tourist attraction in Lou’s book. This is due to the fact that 8 months after the occasion, in November 2019, Virgil Griffith, who dealt with the Ethereum Foundation and who was amongst the guests Lou got to understand, was apprehended by the FBI for breaking sanctions and unlawfully supplying “highly technical information” to the North Korean federal government.
With Lou viewing from the New York courtroom’s gallery on the very first day of the trial in September this year, a “quite emotional” Griffith pled guilty to a charge of conspiracy to break sanctions laws in a offer which might see him invest over 6 years in jail. This was a surprise to Lou, who keeps in mind that Griffith’s attorneys had actually asked for the judge to permit 2 fits “so that he can wear different outfits on different days,” recommending that they, too, had actually anticipated the trial to last longer than a day.
Lou, who thought about the conference a harmless chance to see North Korea, remembers how Griffith’s preliminary arrest was a shock to everybody who had actually participated in. He discusses that the occasion was marketed as a crypto conference and he “thought we were going to hear from the North Korean crypto people because North Korea has been accused of doing lots of shady stuff with crypto,” referring to allegations of state-sponsored hacking, to name a few.
But, there were no North Korean crypto individuals.
“It turns out we, the participants, were asked to be presenters.”
Though it appeared that a few of the guests, like Griffith, came ready to present, “most of us thought we were going to take information from the Koreans,” he states, including that he decreased to offer a discussion. As most discussions were prepared simply days in the past, the occasion’s material included just “surface level, Wikipedia-type information.” Lou keeps in mind that the occasion was arranged by “the cultural side,” of the DPRK administration and that their “crypto people” never ever made themselves recognized.
Still Day 6. At the conference. From inside the structure watching out. This monolith here is of a pen and then there’s an atom on top, signifying science and writing and things. 26/15 pic.twitter.com/iMDuwOG5Br
— Ethan Lou (@Ethan_Lou) October 27, 2021
“I don’t think Griffith had any intention of benefiting North Korea in any tangible way. I don’t think he brought North Korea any benefits and he didn’t derive any personal benefit — he paid quite a lot of money to be at the conference.”
What the group of merry conference-goers lost out on anticipated North Korean crypto insight, they got in relationships and fascinating stories — much of the time was invested visiting Pyongyang and getting “very drunk with our Korean minders.”
“It was a very interesting insight into North Korea for sure, but there wasn’t any crypto insight.”
Journalist in training
Lou, 31, was born in Harbin, a northern Chinese city near the Russian border. He quickly moved to Germany on account of his daddy doing Ph.D. work associated to engineering there. Growing up in Germany, he established a enthusiasm for reading and writing which motivated him to pursue the “very natural choice” of journalism for his bachelor’s degree at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada.
RSVP for the occasion: https://t.co/FmpyidjGD7
— School of Journalism (@JSchoolNow) November 12, 2021
Lou found Bitcoin around 2012 while checking out the dark web with his pals. This deceptive underbelly of the web which can just be accessed by the Tor internet browser when played host to the notorious Silk Road drug market where BTC worked as the payment technique. Its operator, Ross Ulbricht, was sentenced to life after his 2013 arrest which led to the United States federal government’s seizure and subsequent auction of 144,000 Bitcoin.
He re-encountered Bitcoin the list below year in New Brunswick, a Canadian province on the Atlantic where Lou was an intern for a regional paper when he spoke with Anthony Di Iorio, the creator of the Bitcoin Alliance of Canada.
Returning house to Toronto after his internship and otherwise working as a reporter for The Canadian Press and the Toronto Star, he acquainted himself with the blossoming regional Bitcoin scene where Di Iorio, who had actually moved to the city and co-founded Ethereum with Vitalik Buterin, was now active.
Another character who Lou’s book states a conference is Gerald Cotten, who, in 2013, established the QuadrigaCX exchange prior to passing away in India in 2018, taking the personal secrets to his 115,000 consumer’s Bitcoin to the tomb.
It was from Cotten’s exchange that Lou acquired his very first Bitcoin that year and immediately “ordered 10 hits of LSD for 0.412 Bitcoin on the dark web.” There was no going back on his trip into cryptocurrency.
After dealing with the Toronto Star paper from 2013 to 2015, Lou was worked with by Reuters which sent him to New York in early 2016, and later on that year to Calgary where he concentrated on reporting about the energy market. The province of Alberta, awash with oil and with Calgary as its biggest city, is to Canada what Texas is to the United States. With its pre-oil history of cowboys, Calgary has actually held happily to its western roots, and the oil boom of the previous years no doubt drew in a brand-new crop of bold travelers looking for fortune in the west.
It was here that Lou arranged a weekly Bitcoin meetup, where we fulfilled. Lou’s was not the only program in town, as Jan Cerato, a regional crypto hype-man who held a meetup at a close-by cowboy-themed saloon on a various day of the week, in some way started to see him as competitors. In Lou’s book, Cerato fills the function of comic relief by means of his different misadventures. “Moving in the same circles, I grew to respect Lou as a serious journalist — he once told me he would protect his sources even if it meant prison, a statement whose validity I never doubted.”
Lou had actually started mining Bitcoin a couple of months prior when, while trying to find his bike around the packing dock of the Reuters structure, he discovered a stash of treasure — 8 disposed of Dell Optiplex 780 computer systems.
“Each one could hold two GPUs, so it wasn’t a lot, but I ended up buying GPUs and using those to mine,” he remembers, including that he required to lease a vehicle for $15.63 — which frustrated him — to carry the computer systems to his apartment or condo a couple of blocks away.
“Eventually, it became a whole dedicated facility with ASICs.”
With the crypto market moving a mile a minute as Bitcoin forked, the booming market raved and his mines whirring in brand-new BTC as he worked his business task at the news desk. Lou remembers that “I didn’t really have the chance to stand back and assess everything.” That was till one day, being in his grey cubicle, he “suddenly realized, if I so fancied, I could pick up the phone and buy an elephant.” He was a crypto millionaire.
No elephant was acquired that day however its aroma was among experience, such which Lou felt ran out reach while living the 9-5 life. He resigned. “I had the feeling that I guess any typical millennial just entering the workforce feels — maybe they call this a quarter-life crisis. Am I in the right place? Am I doing what is meaningful to me? Since I have the means, why don’t I go on an adventure?” he states.
And experiences he went on. In addition to those in North Korea, his book information a time he and I invested in a “Thai island partying with members of a cryptocurrency incubator on a hillside resort.”
“The big boss who funded everything was an early Bitcoiner and had made a fortune. People came and went, staying for free, indulging in crazy merrymaking. At least once, they had allegedly brought over a shaman.” Lou composed in Chapter 16.
Another experience of his is a book of its own, Field Notes from a Pandemic: A Journey through a World Suspended, which was released in 2015. It states his journeys through Beijing, Singapore, Germany and back to Canada upon the cusp of the pandemic which appeared to follow him and, with flight all however closed down, left him safeguarding in my empty apartment or condo in the German town of Bayreuth for 6 weeks throughout the eye of the storm.
— Jeanne Kwong 鄺秋琳 (@Jeanne_August) October 29, 2021
A crypto western
It has actually long been stated, frequently by critics, that the cryptocurrency market looks like the Wild West. Lou concurs, though explaining that “I don’t consider that comparison an insult. I think that there are lots of cool things about the Wild West, at least the idea of it. That which attracted people to the west back then is what attracts people to crypto right now.”
Though the genuine wild west was mostly developed on “injustice, colonialism and brutality,” Lou states that the imagine the wild west lives within our minds.
“The wild west has a powerful draw largely because it’s a place where there’s lots of opportunity and wealth — it’s also spacious and it’s open to everyone and, most importantly, it’s free from the societal hierarchies back home.”
“You go to the west so you can you can discard your past, you can bury your name and you can be born anew,” he states, motivating concepts of bad European peasants moving to the wildlands of the Americas, or possibly Di Iorio who moved west to Toronto where he co-founded Ethereum.
The wild west’s frontier ultimately moved even more westward, and so it remains in crypto, according to Lou. While more recognized gamers like VISA and cities like Miami are going into the partly-tamed lands, a number of the early pioneers like Coinbase, which has worked to sterilize its optimistic early days, have actually updated their unethical gaming saloons into modern-day glass workplaces.
But, the Wild West heart of crypto is fighting back. Lou points to the example of Shapeshift, an old player in the industry whose CEO Erik Voorhees is transitioning the company from a “corporate structure to become a DAO, and the specific reason is that it wants to make it harder for regulators to rein it in. This is coming as the SEC is becoming increasingly hawkish,” Lou discusses.
“A lot of law is suddenly entering this space. At the same time, people are coming up with ways to flout the law.”
The Metaverse, Lou thinks, marks the next frontier.
“Our online lives are just as real as our lives offline now. Online, we have no rights — we are beholden unconditionally to the digital masters. I think we already live in a Metaverse.”
The fight for rights and flexibilities in the Metaverse will be a significant dispute of this brand-new frontier. According to Lou, this will include a fight in between central applications run by corporations and permissionless decentralized applications running on blockchains.
He utilizes the example of Facebook, now fittingly called Meta, whose Facebook Zero effort permits mobile users in particular establishing nations to gain access to “a form of limited internet curated by Facebook, but it’s free,” including that “big corporations are shaping the way we perceive reality,” as this will trigger lots of people’s whole experience of the web to include just Facebook.
“Decentralized applications are the key to preventing big tech dominance. The Metaverse is not only inevitable, but already here.”