Educating the world on Cardano: initiatives and plans for 2020
Learn more about the education team's plans for the upcoming year
27 February 2020 Niamh Ahern 6 mins read
Education has always been a key part of IOHK’s strategy. Our mission is to grow our global community and business through the medium of education, and to share what we have learned. By claiming leadership in worldwide education on blockchain technology, we have the chance to shape the field for generations and to leave a lasting legacy.
A consistent theme from 2019 has been the demand for a broad range of educational content, as demonstrated by the feedback received about the Incentivized Testnet, as well as the steady flow of support requests to our helpdesk. A key focus in IOHK for 2020 is to develop and expand our education materials as we transition fully into the Shelley era and then to the Goguen era of Cardano.
The IOHK education team will be investing significant time and effort this year in broadening our range of materials. We aim to enhance understanding of our technologies using a variety of learning and training assets targeted at a wide range of stakeholder audiences, both internal and external. This will be vital as the use of IOHK technology moves into the mainstream. We also aim to provide knowledge and information to enterprise decision-makers so they know what business problems our technologies can solve. We have lots planned and many projects are underway as we grow Cardano into a global social and financial operating system.
What can you expect?
We started 2020 with lectures, by Dr Lars Brünjes, our director of education, at the University of Malta. The focus of these lectures was on Plutus and Marlowe, our programming languages for smart contracts. The fruits of these sessions will, in turn, form the foundation of some modular training materials that we plan to formalize and develop over the coming months.
Our free Udemy courses on Plutus and Marlowe by Alejandro Garcia have proven very popular, with over 5,000 students signed up. Feedback has been positive and, as a result of what we learned from our students, we’ve been making incremental improvements over the last year. We now want to take this to the next level and are planning to fully update both courses soon to bring them up to speed with the latest development changes and new features. We are also in the initial planning stages for a second edition of the ebook, Plutus: Writing reliable smart contracts by Lars Brünjes and Polina Vinogradova, which we will be publishing later this year. The writing team has started to identify improvements and we are also gathering feedback directly from readers. If you have suggestions, please raise a pull request in our Plutus ebook GitHub repository with your ideas.
An important step in bridging the gap between our academic papers and mainstream understanding of these concepts is to teach people about Ouroboros, the proof-of-stake protocol that powers Cardano and ada. In response to the valuable feedback we have received from running the Incentivized Testnet, we are planning to create varied educational content to help stake pool operators understand Ouroboros and how the protocol works on a practical level.
Broadening our reach
To broaden the reach of our training courses and content, we are also investigating a way to migrate our popular Haskell training course into a massive online course, or MOOC, while also making it more comprehensive with the inclusion of Plutus and Marlowe material. In this way, we hope our MOOC will make the course even more valuable, and provide access to the widest possible global community. In addition, we are planning a comprehensive classroom-based Haskell and Plutus course in Mongolia, details of which will be finalized soon. We plan to use the introductory part of the online Haskell course as a primer for this face-to-face training. This is an example of a core efficiency that we are embracing where we aim to reuse content on Haskell, Plutus, and Marlowe across a variety of stand-alone modular materials that we can use externally and within the company for developing our staff.
We appreciate the value of interactive and meaningful training workshops, so we intend to host many more this year in several locations around the world. These events are in the initial planning stages and the first in the series will take place in Quebec in the spring. We’ll announce more details through our official channels – Twitter, email, here – nearer the time. The IOHK education team are on hand to support and prepare the necessary learning tools for participants to use at these events.
Alongside these materials and courses, we are mentoring an undergraduate student at the International University of Management (ISM), with her thesis on the topic of the power of blockchain in emerging markets. Additionally, Dr Jamie Gabbay has been invited to contribute to the book 'Applications of new generation technology to cryptocurrencies, banking, and finance’ by Devraj Basu.
We are also working with our human resources team to build the IOHK Training Academy: a new learning portal for our internal teams to upskill and develop professionally. This new resource is part of our learning and development strategy that aims to improve employee engagement, satisfaction, and retention. We want to provide access to a library of assets so our staff can easily find exactly what they need. We will be developing tailored ‘learning journeys’ by function, ready-made content that will help people develop skills in new areas, as well as creating specific onboarding journeys for new starters. This is a vital resource for a fast-growing company with staff and contractors spread across 43 countries and will prove to be an important asset for all our people.
2020 is going to be a pivotal year for Cardano and we are looking forward to playing our part. It is our aim to teach both individuals and organizations how to use the protocol, and how it can help with their everyday lives. We have lots to do and we look forward to sharing all the educational content that we produce with our existing community, as well as those of you who are new to Cardano.
Community and stake pool reactions to the Shelley Incentivized Testnet
Two months after launch, we look at the reactions so far
20 February 2020 Anthony Quinn 7 mins read
The Incentivized Testnet (ITN) has been running since mid-December, and the results have produced some fascinating insights into stake pools and a steep learning curve for the blockchain engineers at IOHK, as well as the companies and individuals setting up stake pools, and ada owners. The strategy of using a fast development team writing in the Rust language to act as pathfinders for the heavyweight Haskell developers looks to be paying off. IOHK now has an enormous amount of information about the use — and misuse — of the protocol to take to the next stage: the Haskell testnet. Alongside that, the Cardano community has shown what it is capable of — supporting, experimenting, and providing solid feedback throughout.
Before the ITN went live on December 13, 158 stake pools had registered with the Cardano Foundation and were setting themselves up. Yet, within three days, the number of pools had shot up to 325. By the end of January, the total was well past the 600 mark. There had been some scepticism when IOHK chief Charles Hoskinson talked of 1,000 stake pools last year, but we’re well on the way to that total.
As Scott Darby’s world of stake pools animation shows, the nodes are spread from Brazil to South Africa and Australia; from Japan and China to San Francisco via Europe — and, with nodes in Bodø and Fauske in Norway, we’re even in the Arctic Circle.
Many from the crypto press remarked on the fast results: CryptoSlate pointed out that the testnet had 10 times more pools than Eos or Tron within a week. NewsBTC summed it up with the headline: ‘Cardano testnet success shows how decentralization should work.’ The headlines, of course, don’t tell the whole story, and there were plenty of bumps in the road. But it’s going well, and we’ve received positive feedback about the improvements made to date (with more to come). That said, the network’s success isn’t just about what we do: it’s about the work of stake pool operators. Here, we take a look at the stake pools bringing this decentralized network to life, and explore the business of running a stake pool.
Stake pool tools
Thanks to the efforts of the Cardano community, anyone can delve into the workings of the system and explore what is happening. AdaPools, run by the Cardanians group alongside its pool, has a dashboard based on data from IOHK’s GitHub registry with tools such as a mapping of decentralization, notifications of saturation, and a test for whether a pool is forked and off the main blockchain. Cardano Pool Tool run by StakeLove is based around a table that can rank staking providers by 16 measures, from pool name to ada staked to return on investment.
The information shown in these tools comes from the blockchain data. Beyond that, the decentralized nature of the blockchain means we cannot know the identity of stake pool operators until they reveal themselves through their pool’s website or social media. So, the biggest pool early on, with 737m ada staked — twice as much as any of the IOHK pools — had ZZZ as its ticker but, initially, its name was simply its identity extracted from the blockchain. ZZZ soon split itself into several pools and revealed its name as TripleZ, based in Japan.
People staking their ada may prefer to know more about who’s running their pool, but they might not. This is one of the things that IOHK — and ada holders because Cardano is going to become their network once it’s decentralized — will get a feel for from the ITN. There are various forums where all this is being discussed, such as on Telegram and the Cardano forums. It’s been fascinating to see the debate inspired by the testnet, much of which reflects debates within IOHK about how best to build a community-driven, decentralized network and the role that incentives should play. The balance between community contribution and personal profit motive has been discussed at length. So, too, has how much the community should police itself. This is new territory, and, through the community, we’re able to test our assumptions about how blockchain social dynamics play out, and to what extent the protocol should be responsible for preventing adversarial behavior.
Community and operator reactions
Alongside the technical learnings, gathering community feedback and input has been an essential part of the Incentivized Testnet, to help us on the journey to deploying Shelley on the mainnet. Even before stake pools had set up their nodes to join the testnet, users began to provide feedback and have their say. Max, a Cardano ambassador, ran three ‘What the pool?’ interviews in the run-up to the testnet launch on his Gerolamo blog, and has since added a fourth. The Cardano Effect also interviewed four operators. Another website, Stake Pool Showcase, asked five standard questions and encourages pool owners to sign up and make their case:
- Who operates the pool?
- What is your history with the Cardano project?
- What is the setup of your pool?
- What are your plans for the future of your pool?
- Why should people delegate to your pool?
The answers demonstrate a range of operators. In terms of size of stake, the nine listed by February ranged from 1 ada to 50 million ada. Eight of the pools were run by one or two people who worked in computing and most dated their involvement with Cardano back to 2017. Three did not give their names, one stating: ‘The pool is run in an anonymous fashion, in order to make it impossible to influence me. This is part of the security, to make it much harder to attack the pool.’ They were in places such as France, Honolulu, London, Manchester, and Norway.
As well as giving information about their experience, most listed their hardware set-up and seemed to know what to expect from a testnet: ‘Of course, within the testnet the pool can only run as stable as the software stability allows, but I will do my best — and, moving forward, code stability will improve for sure.’ Another said: ‘We have been tinkering with the settings all the time and have achieved very good uptime in the last few epochs — after a lot of lost sleep.’
One operator was sensitive to the power expenditure of running cryptocurrencies: ‘Overall, I am very pleased I still only draw 35-45 watts in day-to-day operations, so it's eco-friendly.’ A second was running a backup server on a Rock Pi single board computer, which uses as little as 10W, as demonstrated at last year’s IOHK Summit. Looking beyond the testnet, another pool operator raised the challenge of governance in the Voltaire era of development and saw smart contracts as the way forward: ‘We have Marlowe for a financial DSL [domain-specific language], why not a legal DSL to help with governance issues?’
The Cardano Shelley Testnet & StakePool Best Practice Workgroup on Telegram received several mentions as the place for operators to go for tips.
All in all, as Kyle Solomon at AdaFrog told this blog: ‘Being a stake pool operator has been both a highly challenging and amazingly fulfilling journey. The most important takeaways I’ve learned as a pool operator are: first, that the protocol is very close to a production quality that achieves IOHK’s original goals for Cardano; and second that the Cardano community is utterly and hands-down amazing. Even though we compete amongst each other, every pool operator is eager to help one another.’
The next post in this three-part series will delve deeper into the experiences of the stake pools and what’s been learnt.
As with everything IOHK does, we cannot give advice on how you use your ada and we’re not recommending any of these pools. As always, though, please keep getting in touch and let us know your thoughts.
New Cardano node, explorer backend, and web API released
We’ve refreshed Cardano’s architecture – with more yet to come
12 February 2020 Tim Harrison 4 mins read
Today marks the culmination of considerable effort by the Cardano team: the release of a new Cardano Haskell implementation. This implementation consists of two main components: the Cardano Node and the Cardano Explorer Backend and Web API. Over the past 18 months, we’ve been building a new architectural foundation that will not only prepare us for the upcoming releases for Shelley – and, thereafter, Goguen – but open the door to third-party developers and enterprise adoption.
The changes will begin with the Ouroboros update to Ouroboros BFT (Byzantine Fault Tolerance), which is tentatively scheduled for February 20. For now, Cardano’s blockchain production remains on the old implementation. After the update to Ouroboros BFT, we will be able to migrate the core nodes that create blocks, while Daedalus users will be able to upgrade later, once the compatible wallet backend is available.
The original implementation of the network node – launched in September 2017 – has taken us as far as it could. We’ve known for a long time that a new architecture is needed to achieve our roadmap, ready the system for Shelley, and provide a foundation for Goguen, as well as other future releases.
This update is about radically improving Cardano’s design, and is the first to take advantage of our work on formal methods. While the old node was monolithic – with components like the wallet backend and explorer built in – the new version is modular. This makes future integrations easier and allows the node to be more readily incorporated into other systems, such as those used by exchanges. In the new architecture, the node, wallet, and explorer exist as separate components (a new wallet backend will soon be released).
A significant achievement of this new implementation is the separation of the consensus layer and ledger rules. This decoupling means we are able to change the ledger rules without making changes to (or risk breaking) consensus. Following from this, when we transition into Shelley to Goguen, only the ledger rules will change. This will allow us to execute deployments more efficiently and add new features more frequently. We’ll have less to validate and test, while supporting more efficient development.
Some benefits will be immediate, and others will be realized over time. The direct benefits are that IOHK engineers will be able to innovate more easily and make changes to specific components without necessarily impacting others. The new implementation, coupled with the update to Ouroboros BFT, will also lead to significant TPS (transactions per second) performance improvements. For end-users, the benefits of this update will be cumulative, as the Cardano network profits from greater developmental support and system adaptability and portability.
This new implementation is the result of a lot of hard work. Now, we start to see the benefits of our commitment to formal methods, delivering a network that can not only scale, but remain stable while doing so. The new codebase has had substantial – and ongoing – testing, and we’ve been able to make a number of fundamental improvements without inheriting the shortcomings of the old codebase.
The new Cardano node also features an IPC interface that can be used by multiple client components, including wallets, explorers, CLI tools, and custom integration APIs and tools. This isn’t only about us being able to develop better-performing systems and applications, but others being able to as well.
Cardano Explorer Backend and Web API
The Cardano Explorer Backend and Web API is the new explorer backend and web API for the Cardano Node. It has been completely rewritten compared to the previous cardano-sl explorer. It has a new modular design and consists of the following components: Cardano Explorer Node, PostgreSQL database, and Cardano Explorer Web API.
- The cardano-explorer-node is a client of the Cardano node. It synchronizes Byron chain data into the PostgreSQL database. The PostgreSQL database schema is a stable public interface and can be used directly for queries.
- The cardano-explorer web API is a REST API server that reads data from the PostgreSQL database. It is compatible with the old cardano-sl explorer HTTP API and old web frontend.
For more information, see the release notes and documentation linked therein.
This release is about preparing Cardano for what’s to come, and ensuring we have the architecture and network apparatus in place to scale, remain agile, and allow for the necessary interoperability, interactivity, and ease-of-use that industry use-cases require.
For the latest Cardano updates, visit the Cardano forum or follow us on Twitter – and stay tuned for more information on the new wallet backend.
Shelley Incentivized Testnet: the story in numbers
We've compiled some Incentivized Testnet statistics. Check them out.
7 February 2020 Tim Harrison <1 min read
The Shelley Incentivized Testnet is proving to be an incredible journey. Originally, we hoped for around 100 pools. As of today, we've reached over 1,000 registered and more than 670 active pools. Over 11.5B ada is now being staked on the testnet. The many improvements to performance have resulted in an increase in uptime – but there's still a way to go. We are not resting on our laurels, even for a minute, and efforts to improve stability and performance are ongoing.
Still, the progress to date is a remarkable testament to the commitment of our incredible Cardano community, which grows in number and passion every day.
We’re started compiling some testnet statistics, a few of which we’ve captured here. Transparency is always our goal: we want the community to see what we see. To that end, here's a look at the Incentivized Testnet's story so far, along with a flavor of the community's reaction. We'll continue to gather community feedback and data, and we'll be sharing these as we go forward. So stay tuned as we continue to chart our journey.