Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

An explainer explained

As someone who has made a practice of arguing with documents (type “Okay, stop” into this website’s search bar if you require evidence), I was beyond delighted to discover that a group of around 15 “cryptocurrency researchers and critics” had recently ganged up on a 14,000-word New York Times cryptocurrency “mega-FAQ,” annotating tech reporter Kevin Roose’s work to within an inch of its life.

I discovered the existence of this document because the woman behind it — software engineer Molly White — has appeared recently on not one, not two but three podcasts I listen to regularly, a milestone duly noted on Twitter:

Reading an article that has been copiously annotated (I’m just eye-balling it, but it looks to me like the annotations could run even longer than the original section of the piece they’ve annotated) takes no small chunk of time, but it was absolutely worth it to me, because I am the kind of person who might have been sucked into Roose’s original “explainer,” thinking I was going to get a balanced introduction to the cryptocurrency world.

Encountering the piece through the annotated document — or, to be more accurate, encountering the piece through the annotated document after I’d heard White explaining the purpose and general gist of the annotations on three different podcasts — made for an entirely different and more informative reading experience. Roose isn’t an unbiased observer, he’s a booster who has been vocal about wanting reporters to be allowed to trade the currencies they report on, but I wouldn’t have known that were it not for the annotations.



Just to give one example of the value they add, Roose cites ads featuring big-name stars as proof that crypto is becoming “inescapable,” but White’s annotation reads:

Crypto skeptic Ben McKenzie has argued that this is a sign that the bubble has become precariously large, not that crypto has become ubiquitous: “The celebrities are a symptom of a much bigger problem… You’ve got all this money and you’re trying to get it out to more people and get more people to buy. And if one were to compare cryptocurrency to, say, an MLM or a ponzi, then you would need ever more people to come in to keep the thing going. Celebrities are sort of the natural endpoint for that. At its biggest, you need the biggest: you need Matt Damon and Larry David and sports stars to sell it.” (Crypto Critics’ Corner, episode 51)

The annotators are also really helpful on the other supposed uses for the “blockchain” technology that undergirds cryptocurrency. As White explains, “blockchain” is basically a solution in search of a problem and many of the uses proposed for it are actually kind of terrifying. I remember touching on this in an article I wrote about PowerSchool way back in 2017. I had watched a talk by Elana Zeide, an academic concerned about the uses and abuses of “big data” in education, who discussed:

…experiments with “blockchain” storage of student records — that is, using the technology behind the digital currency bitcoin to create “immutable” records or “an open-source permanent record of everything students have done,” something that might, she says, be great on an administrative level but is surely less so on a psychological, pedagogical or social level.

“Blockchain” became a buzzword tech startups of all descriptions tacked onto their business plans in hopes of winning VC funding. I give you Exhibit A:

Vijai Karthisgesu, 2018 BIG Festival

Source: Facebook

I checked out Swarmio’s website this morning and it seems to have been cleansed of all references to the “blockchain” (and to “AI” another hot tech term it was tossing around when I last checked in on it in 2020). Swarmio has found its purpose and it is helping telecoms and eSports organizations “capture” and “monetize” their users.

But while I was checking up on local tech startups on the receiving end of hundreds of thousands of public dollars — largely based on their claims to being “local” Cape Breton companies — I also looked in on Orenda Software Solutions (“an AI powered platform”) and I can sum up what I found in two photos. First, this one (which I swear I haven’t doctored, although if I were Orenda-founder Tanya Seajay I’d watch my back — someone in the ACOA web design department clearly has it in for her):

Tanya SeaJay, Orenda

And second, Seajay’s LinkedIn bio, captured this very morning:

The SIX Group, which operates Switzerland’s principal stock exchange, bought a majority stake in Orenda in 2021, explaining in a press release that Orenda was founded in 2015 and “operates out of Ontario.” There’s still an office in Membertou, but it seems to employ six people, as it did in 2018 when Orenda received $200,000 from ACOA, and Seajay told the Post that the company had six employees and planned to expand to 20. Orenda has hired more people but not, apparently, in Cape Breton.

By now you’re probably thinking I’ve strayed from my original topic even more than I usually do on Fridays and to be honest, I was about to admit that I had done just that when I clicked on the “Products” section of Orenda’s revamped website and saw this:

Orenda Cryptocurrency


I am now going to draw on what I learned from that annotated NYT piece to do some annotating of my own, bringing this item beautifully full circle:


Orenda provides the means for traders to capitalize on the cryptocurrency market. Real time delivery of data and deep insights into the top cryptocurrencies provides professional with a competitive edge. Orenda’s correlation with cryptocurrencies captures price performance with more certainty. Orenda is continuously focused on evolving Crypto language to accurately quantify market sentiment and to forecast price performance.


In other words, Orenda is trying to help you invest in cryptocurrencies without, apparently, doing any soul-searching into the advisability of doing so. Critics have raised lots of issues around cryptocurrencies — not least their environmental impacts — but Orenda bills itself as a software company, so a software engineer’s perspective might be helpful here. Grady Booch, a computer scientist and software engineer, is one of the annotators of the NYT piece and he says:

“…from the point of view of software and systems architecture, cryptocurrencies are computationally inefficient, fragile, demonstrably unable to scale to global levels, and — most damning — introduce an incredibly broad and dangerous attack surface. Whether or not you agree with the philosophy/economics behind cryptocurrencies, they are — simply put — a software architecture disaster in the making.”

Further to this, one of Molly White’s side projects is a website called “Web3 is going just great…and is definitely not an enormous grift that’s pouring lighter fluid on our already-smoldering planet.” She uses it to track stories about how web3 (a term White unpacks during the Tech Won’t Save Us interview I’ve linked to above) “isn’t actually going as well as its proponents might like you to believe.” The site features a timeline tracking “events in cryptocurrency and blockchain-based technologies, dating back to the beginning of 2021” and includes a “Grift Counter,” a “running total of the amount of money lost so far to grifts and scams,” mostly related to cryptocurrencies and non-fungible tokens (NFT). When I checked it this morning, the total was $9.2 billion.



Item 2

As you may have guessed, I put so much time and effort into Item 1 this week, there is no Item 2.