Announcing the release of Symphony 2.0

Experience the blockchain like never before

5 July 2019 Scott Darby 5 mins read

Announcing the release of Symphony 2.0

The Symphony project began with a question: how do we represent blockchain technology in a way that is stimulating, entertaining, and audio-visually engaging for a wider audience, technical and non-technical. In other words, how do we explain the abstract and give form to the formless. It’s been over a year since we answered that question, and we’re still working to make Symphony the most interactive and immersive blockchain experience available. What began as a way to visualize the blockchain has evolved into a way to experience the blockchain: an immersive journey accessible through your device’s browser.

The result is Symphony 2.0: a 3D explorer through which anyone can traverse the topographic history of the Bitcoin blockchain, from the first transaction to the most recent. Compared with the first version, Symphony 2.0 goes deeper in every way. It drills down into transaction data to create a live soundscape – each block has its own unique audio signature – using data-driven sound synthesis. It looks like this:

How it Works

As you can imagine, giving feeling to data isn’t easy. Creating a sound for each block was how I wanted to represent the uniqueness and permanence of the blockchain: once added, a block is there forever, making that same sound, containing those same transactions.

I used a technique called additive synthesis to generate sound on the fly, and utilized the parallel nature of graphics cards to synthesize a unique sound for each of the thousands of transactions that can make up a block. The sound signature that plays when you visit a block consists of each transaction producing eight sine waves (a fundamental pitch and seven harmonics). The fundamental pitch is determined by the transaction value, and the amount of randomness added to the harmonics partials is controlled by the fee-to-value ratio of the transaction.

Symphony: The first block on the Bitcoin blockchain visually represented
Each block is connected to the blockchain by a Merkle tree

Design Philosophy

With Symphony 2.0, the blockchain’s mempool – which stores unconfirmed transactions – is visualized as a gravitational swell, around which confirmed transactions spiral in concentric rings. Think of Saturn’s rings but, instead of particles of ice and rock, we have transactions, continuously adding to the size of the rings as they extend outwards. Then, undergirding each block are Merkle trees represented, unsurprisingly, as trees.

Symphony: Each block is connected to the blockchain by a Merkle tree
The most recent block on the Bitcoin blockchain

On top of each block, confirmed transactions are visualized as 3D hexagons. Their height corresponds to the transaction volume, and their width (note the rotund individuals to the right of the image above) corresponds to the health of the block. The result is an unprecedented imagining of the blockchain, with its representative parts synced and manifest, explorable block-by-block or through a flight-simulator mode.

Ways to Experience Symphony

Symphony 2.0 is now live. It can be accessed using any modern web browser, but is best experienced in Google Chrome. For laptop and mobile device users, it’s advised to select the Medium quality option and, for those with high-performance devices or dedicated graphics support, the High quality option. Performance optimizations will continue into the future.

Together with our friends at Kuva, a Bristol-based creative agency, we’ve also grown the project to include events and exhibition pieces. These events – one of which was held this year in Bristol – have included a number of exhibitions that showcase different parts of the project, including virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR).

Using WebVR software, I built a VR experience based on the code for Symphony 2.0, which demonstrates the extensibility of the system. This will be exhibited at future events and, I hope, one day available for VR headsets at home.

What’s Next

We’re going on tour. We have the story, and now we need an audience. I’m also starting to build an Ethereum version using the same code base, which will feature explorable smart contracts, and, after that, Cardano. We know there are thousands of people out there who are only faintly familiar with blockchain technology and want to know more – and with Symphony 2.0, they’ll be able to cut through the confusion. A picture tells a thousand words, and an interactive audio-visual experience tells many more.

Symphony is a long-term project. It’s as much an adventure for us as our audience. We want to see how far we can take it – because blockchain technology is still developing, still growing, and the opportunity for education is only just beginning. The release of Symphony 2.0 marks a significant milestone for us, and we’re thrilled to be sharing it with you. There’s a lot of opportunity for Symphony, from optimizations and incorporation of other blockchains, to events and more ways to enjoy Symphony at home. So, stay tuned for more updates and, in the meantime, enjoy the world’s first interactive blockchain experience.

Experience Symphony 2.0

Join the roll out of the Cardano Shelley testnet

Take part in our testing program

19 June 2019 David Esser 6 mins read

Join the roll out of the Cardano Shelley testnet

Many of you will have seen us talk about our testnets, where we run the versions of Cardano and other testing simulators so we can test our products and get feedback from the community. Some of you have already been playing with the code from our GitHub repos. So as we move from the Byron to the Shelley era, we want to extend that collaboration and learn more from the great talent in our Cardano community.

With the Rust codebase for Shelley now nearing primetime, we’re asking the community to help us build out a testnet. The Shelley era is all about decentralization, so we’re taking a more decentralized approach to testing and documentation. It’s an important step in expanding the Cardano technical community and ultimately preparing everyone for the day when the community takes over the blockchain.

For some time, there has been a dedicated and vibrant best practice group on Telegram  – the Stake Pool Best Practices Telegram group (1,733 members). There’s clearly a lot of talent and interest out there. We recently pinned a survey in the channel to learn more about potential stake pool operators. We’ve had a really positive response, with over 150 full responses so far.

What’s the range of technical skills and knowledge in the community? What are people’s particular interests in staking? Are they keen hobbyists or entrepreneurs with plans to run a stake pool as a business? What equipment are they planning to use? Would marketing or other business support be useful? We asked lots of questions to learn as much as we could. Ultimately, our goal is to find out how we can support the community in implementing Shelley’s decentralized model in the most effective way we can. It is these people who’ll be helping to kick things off.

So, we’ve started harnessing the power of the Cardano community to roll out a staking testnet. We’ll be supporting this early group along the way in a number of ways.

There’s now a dedicated code repository and log to support the test program, all open. We will soon release new Shelley testnet webpages on our Cardano testnets website. We’ll publish instructions, videos, tutorials and so on explaining what to do and how to do it. We're writing a pretty good set of documentation for the Rust client. There will be instructional videos on how to install and operate the node as well as report bugs and log issues using GitHub.

A key part of the testing program will be working with people with mixed levels of technical experience, working across different platforms and configurations. The feedback from this group will ultimately make our technology easier to install, configure, and operate for everyone who follows.

The testnet will have a series of releases rolling out in three main phases.

Phase 1: The self node, aka ‘blockchain in a box’

The first stage is all about setting up and hosting a ‘self node’. You can think of a self node as ‘blockchain in a box’, a minimum viable product (MVP) for testing key capabilities. This is basically a set of tools and documentation to bootstrap your own genesis block and run a multi-node environment on your own machine, where you can see how stake pools actually operate. It’s like a complete network within a single instance.

We’ll provide instructions and invite people to run the node through various configurations and give us feedback on what they find.

But what about the network? Isn’t this supposed to be a decentralized solution we’re testing? Well, although we’re starting with the self node, we’ve coded things so you can implement more features against this self node down the line. So, as we add more functionality – namely the network and incentives components – the code developed against the self node won't have to change much or at all. That’s the plan!

So, the first phase is about establishing the basic configuration for your set-up that gives a sense of how well things are working locally. The early code will contain just the core functionality, designed to explore the fundamental capabilities. Across the stake pool task force, we’ll be learning about operating on different hardware, operating systems, cloud hosting environments, and technical skill levels. We'll get a much broader set of results data by collaborating with the task force.  

Phase 2: Connecting the network

Once we’re happy with phase 1, and have a robust set of self nodes up and running, we’ll start connecting them up. The goal will be to create a single, unified testnet and to add more nodes as we go, scaling the network step by step. So, instead of experimenting within your own instance, you’ll now be moving to a system where you’re talking to nodes across the internet. You're gossiping, you're downloading blocks from peers. And then we’ll be learning from a whole new set of behaviors and potential risk scenarios.

Phase 3: The incentives system

This is where we add in a networked incentive system. Moving blocks around is all very well. But Shelley’s true potential will be realized with staking. This is about demonstrating how staking rewards will go to the stake pools to encourage that.

So, at a high level, that's what you’ll see in the coming months. We'll also be working closely with the folks at EMURGO on this. They’ll be helping with testing and also ensuring that their Yoroi wallet has all this interoperability. Seiza, their new blockchain explorer, will be a great tool for visualizing a lot of the things that we do that are unique in our ecosystem.

This testing program is an experiment in community collaboration. There’ll be a lot of testing, re-coding, improving documentation and training materials, tweaking, and so on along the way. We’ll be checking the integrity of individual components as well as demonstrating that those components play with each other nicely. The objective is clear, but it’ll be interesting to see how we get there. We’re committed to it because it fits: a decentralized process to test a decentralized system. And a broad collaboration with the community to test a system that will be owned by the community.

We’ll keep you all posted. For those who choose to step up and work with us in the program, a sincere thanks in advance to you for your partnership.

IOHK announces partnership with Georgian government and universities

MoUs mean Cardano and Atala are up for use in education and beyond

18 June 2019 Daniel Friedman 3 mins read

I’m in the Georgian capital Tbilisi this week, enjoying the sights and sounds of one of the most innovative regions of the Caucasus. After nearly a year of groundwork, I’m here with IOHK CEO Charles Hoskinson to sign Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) partnerships with the government and two of Georgia's largest universities. The MoUs with the Ministry of Education, the Free University of Tbilisi, and the Business and Technology University of Tbilisi mark a commitment by the Georgian administration to work with IOHK and use Cardano to fuel innovation in the country. After signing the MoU, Mikheil Batiashvili, the Minister of Education, Science, Culture, and Sport, spoke of Georgia’s rapid development, and how he hoped that “leveraging IOHK’s world-leading expertise, particularly in third-generation blockchain technology, will help us to progress even further toward our goal of being the world’s leading country for secure, digitally-enabled international business”.

One of the core goals of the MoUs signed this week is to enable the use of Cardano-backed blockchain technology to store, track, and verify educational credentials such as degree certificates, removing the need for time-consuming and expensive manual verification. The system will be implemented in Georgia first, with a further goal of using distributed ledger technology to support the Europe-wide Bologna Process, an intergovernmental effort to improve the internationalization of higher education. IOHK has looked at a similar application of this technology already in Greece, where it worked with government education authorities to explore a pilot project to verify student qualifications on the blockchain.

It’s not just the education sector that stands to benefit from collaboration with IOHK. Charles also met with the Minister of Agriculture and the Georgian prime minister to discuss other applications of blockchain technology for the country, such as supporting new fintech businesses, supply chain implementations, and integrating smart contract functionality into government processes.

Georgian prime minister Mamuka Bakhtadze with Charles Hoskinson
Georgian prime minister Mamuka Bakhtadze
with Charles Hoskinson

“We are incredibly excited to be working with the Georgian government on a range of projects across business, education, and government services,” Charles said. “IOHK is pleased to be a part of the country’s journey and looks forward to developing the blockchain ecosystem in Georgia and helping its people to solve the challenges they face.”

IOHK has collaborated with Georgian institutions before. Research fellow Peter Gaži gave a lecture on Ouroboros, IOHK’s proof-of-stake protocol, at the Free University of Tbilisi. In January a Cardano meetup was sponsored by the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development of Georgia and the Georgian Innovation and Technology Agency, where Edsko de Vries, a Haskell consultant working on Cardano, gave a well-received talk.

This week’s agreements strengthen IOHK’s relationship with Georgia. The next steps will be to organize workshops, meetups, and forums to identify the most pressing challenges that can be tackled using Cardano, Atala, or a combination of both. IOHK and the Georgian government will work together to embed blockchain technology in systems across the country, proving just how valuable a digital, forward-thinking mindset can be.

Georgia MOU
MoU signing At Tbilisi Business and Technology University

Mongolia - great for Atala and Cardano pilots

Ministers and businesses are enthusiastic about blockchain

16 May 2019 Charles Hoskinson 5 mins read

Mongolia - great for Atala and Cardano pilots

Think about Mongolia and the image that’s likely to spring to mind is of sweeping grasslands, mountains, freezing winters and nomads. An unlikely place you might think for ground-breaking technology, but in fact it’s a great country to do blockchain pilots. The capital, Ulaanbaatar, has almost tripled in size since 1990 and now accounts for half of the country’s three million population. That growth has created problems, including what the World Health Organization has identified as some of the worst air pollution in the world.

In the winter, temperatures can drop to −40C and most people live in gers – round wood and canvas structures heated by fires. So, they turn to burning raw coal – and in some cases anything they can get their hands on, from dung to car tires – to stay warm.

I’ve just got back from Ulaanbaatar, where we’ve been working out the potential for an internet-of-things project to assess air quality. The idea is to put sensors in place and gather the measurements using IOHK’s Atala enterprise blockchain. Once in place, such a network could generate fraud-free, time-stamped data so the authorities know where the pollution is being generated and can focus on cleaning up the worst areas. Putting thousands of sensors in place is expensive but people could be encouraged to do so, and keep them working, by being paid using Cardano as the aggregated data comes through.

IOHK Mongolia
The away team assembled by Charles Hoskinson for Mongolia included Manmeet Singh,
information chief of Emurgo, and Lars Brünjes, IOHK’s director of education

The focus in our discussions with ministers in Ulaanbaatar was on solving these sorts of problems, which occur in all fast-growing countries. Another example is that 40% of medicines in rural areas are counterfeited or adulterated or expired; the figure is 18% even in urban areas. So, we want to put a traceability project together for that using Atala. Bringing accountability and transparency to medical supply chains can help protect people from dangerous or counterfeit drugs – and save lives.

Then, there is the fact that almost everyone has access to a mobile phone network – and 30% of the population receive government disbursements of some kind at an enormous cost. Linking those two together using our blockchain technology could save the government a lot of money and make things easier for the recipients, even villagers living on the peaks of Mongolia.

Other potential areas for Atala and Cardano include two very different sectors: the cashmere industry and university accreditation. They actually make about half of the world’s cashmere in Mongolia. The wool is very expensive in the boutiques of Tokyo and Paris, but goat herders here sell to China at a very bad price, there’s a potential to improve things there with better logistics and proof of sourcing. As for the universities, there are 65 of them in Mongolia, most of which are in Ulaanbaatar. We're really interested to see if we can put graduates’ diplomas up on a blockchain so people can prove they are qualified.

When it comes to attracting investment, the Asian Development Bank has put hundreds of millions of dollars in for various projects, but the audit trail is not so good here. We can tackle that.

Frontier Fintech summit in Ulaanbaatar
Tsogtbaatar Damdin, Mongolia's foreign affairs minister,
addresses the Frontier Fintech summit in Ulaanbaatar

These are real, complicated situations, and the blockchain comes in as part of these solutions. Atala can be used for processing and aggregating the data, which can then be fed through to Cardano to handle ada payments – so keeping huge volumes of data off the Cardano blockchain.

While we were in Mongolia, we attended the Frontier Fintech summit. It was there that we announced we had taken the first step of signing a memorandum of understanding with the Mongolian Blockchain Technology and Cryptocurrency Association, and the Mongolian Fintech Association to advise on potential blockchain projects and develop blockchain education, but it’s early days. Building relationships, identifying the right partners and developing the technology and infrastructure takes time, so we need to be patient – projects like these are likely to take between three and seven years. That’s why education is such a central part of our mission, training people on the ground to build solid foundations, as we’ve already done with our recent Haskell course in Ethiopia.

But providing solutions to these pressing problems is just the beginning. If we can get just one solution in place, we provide a gateway into the cryptocurrency ecosystem for hundreds of thousands of users. That expands the Cardano world, because these people will want insurance, bank transfers, and the other financial tools that we tend to take for granted in the developed world. And that creates business for the whole blockchain world.

Cardano 2020: delivering on the vision

New roadmap, product demos, and regular updates will highlight progress

7 May 2019 David Esser 4 mins read

Cardano 2020: delivering on the vision

Cardano is in an exciting transition stage. The project has long combined thoughtful product vision with research-driven specification and evidence-based development processes. Still committed to that rigor, we’re now making the jump to a new stage of development where first-ever-in-the-world new capabilities are delivered. The rubber is starting to hit the road. As we are making this transition we recognize that we need a better way to communicate how Cardano’s 2020 vision is being delivered, and that we should do a better job keeping the community informed about our status against those goals.

Here is what we are doing to accomplish those things.

We are working on a redesign of the Cardano roadmap website that will do a better job describing our upcoming release phases, with themes and detailed functional components for each. You can expect to see it live in 2-4 weeks, with more content added over time. Aligned with the keynote speech from CEO Charles Hoskinson at the recent IOHK Summit, the new roadmap site will provide a clear definition of delivery phases, how they fit together, and what we’ll deliver when.

Regarding delivery status, Cardano has had an ethos of openness and transparency since the beginning. We want to take that further. Here’s how.

We’ve recently improved our organisational processes to support this phase of development where long-promised functionality becomes reality. One aspect has been a focus on how we share progress against milestones inside the Cardano team, with weekly project updates, live progress demos, and soon a new Shelley testnet.

As a result we have greater visibility and accountability in our work. So as we enter the next stage of development, we need status reporting that properly reflects real progress, setting accurate expectations by showing exactly what we’re working on and highlighting real delivery.

Past versions of our roadmap had feature-level percentage complete indicators. We put a lot of effort into those, but even with all that work they fell victim to the same thing Tom Cargill at Bell Labs described in his famous-and-funny-but-a-bit-painful-if-you-build-software quote:

The first 90 percent of the code accounts for the first 90 percent of the development time. The remaining 10 percent of the code accounts for the other 90 percent of the development time.”

Sigh. But we don’t want to back off on communicating status. The best way to fulfill our ethos of transparency is to push it further and open up the process to you. We are going to record those internal development status demos, where our dev teams show their latest finished working components, and deliver them to the community. So you’ll have a real understanding of our development progress, because that last 10% that sometimes becomes another 90% has to be done, really done, in order to demonstrate working functionality.

At the same time we deliver the recorded progress demos, we will also deliver a status report summarizing the work completed, and I’ll do an Ask Me Anything (AMA) session where I’ll describe the latest results and answer questions from the community. This will happen every month or two based on progress milestones.

Often the news will be awesome with lots of progress, but sometimes you’ll see that there’s a problem we are working through. Because that’s the reality when implementing first-ever new functionality. Solving hard problems is hard. But now you’ll be able to see where we are and how it’s going.

You’ll still be able to access the information sources you had before. Our Githubs are open. We’ll keep sharing weekly technical reports on Cardano.org. Emurgo delivers monthly Cardano reports describing what we’ve been up to. The unstoppable Charles will keep doing his own AMAs. But we want to make it easy for the community to see what we’re delivering, so this is a major redesign of our roadmap and reporting process, starting from our internal processes and extending out to our partners and the community.

The first demos, status update and AMA will come later this month. I’ll be joining the guys from the Cardano Effect within the next few weeks to talk more about our new roadmap and reporting process, so keep an ear out for that. We’ve got lots of exciting stuff in the pipeline, and I’m looking forward to sharing it with you.

Artwork, Creative Commons Mike Beeple