Mint Season 5 episode 11 welcomes Michael Blau, the magician, mentalist, web3 software creator and engineering partner at a16z. He breaks down his alter ego x0r, unveils smart contract illusions that normies fall trapped to in web3, and the art of magic.
In this episode, we discuss:
- 00:13 – Intro
- 12:36 – Working with David Blaine
- 17:11 – How To Build a Software Simulation
- 25:00 – Time Management: Creator, Investor and Software Developer
- 26:46 – The Origin Story of x0r
- 36:09 – How Creators Can Use Blockchain Data To Their Benefit
- 56:34 – The Future of x0r
- 01:01:56 – Outro
and so much more…
I hope you enjoy our conversation.
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Michael Blau X0r. Welcome to mint. Thank you for being on what’s going on.
Michael Blau: Thanks for having me, Adam. I’m very excited to join this podcast. So, this is gonna be great.
I’m thrilled to have you and for reasons being that will kind of like uncover into the conversation but first things first. I had so much fun preparing for the interview, because I’ve never had a magician or mentalist on, let alone I’ve never really had a conversation with a with a magician or Mentalist, I hope you don’t like playing like games on me, or like, locked me off somehow. But without further ado, I think the best place to start is always with an intro. Okay, Michael, who are you? What does the world need to know about you, but more specifically, take it from the point of view of how you got your start into crypto?
Michael Blau: Sure. So, I’ll do like the give a quick of everything. I was born in New York, I moved to Las Vegas when I was five, I grew up here. Throughout most of my younger years, I’m still young. But most of my younger years, I was a magician, which I know we’ll probably talk about more later, I studied finance and computer science at Washington University in St. Louis. And then I decided to go work at Blackrock for my first stint at a job. And then eventually ended up at A16z. And that has to do with how I got into crypto. And I primarily got into crypto through my brother. So, my brother has been into crypto for many, many, many years. I’ve always, you know, heard about it, you know, throughout around the house. And you know, he did a couple of projects back in 2017 and whatnot. So, I’ve always been, you know, hearing about it. But I think I really started at the beginning of last year, maybe the beginning of two years ago and end of 2020, 2021. Although you don’t, no that’s a lie. In the beginning of COVID when it was defi summer, I started to learn solidity a little bit. Because my brother was like, hey, we should build a yield farming bot. And I didn’t know that. I was like, okay, you know, I started a little bit to be honest, I wouldn’t even call myself an expert or anything. I really got into it at the beginning of last year, kind of the beginning of NFTs and stuff like that through my brother. And you know, I started to create my own NFTs and got into that realm. So that’s how I got into crypto. And that’s like the quick version of.
Quick, quick, so okay, but you’re also like a software developer as well, hence why you kind of like picked up solidity. So how, how long have you been developing software? Have you been programming?
Michael Blau: Yeah, not long actually. I started to learn in my sophomore year of college, I took a computer science class 101. The reason I took that class we’ll get into later when we talk about magic. But yeah, so I just maybe like, three, four years ago or something like that.
Okay. So, Michael, one thing that’s super cool about you is kind of like your career progression. So, you’ve been a magician and mentalist for what? Like nine years, ten years? Or something like that.
Michael Blau: Since maybe, since I was like 12 and I’m 23 now. So.
How did how did you get into the world of magic at 12 years old?
Michael Blau: Yeah, so actually, I was in the world of magic when I was one years old. And the reason is because my dad used to be a magician, way back when he was in his 20s. He’s not a magician now. But he used to be a magician and he would do like children’s shows. And he had like a box of old magic tricks and when we moved from New York to Las Vegas, I found that box in the move at a young age, and I was always drawn to it, right. So, whenever I’d come home from school, I’d go in the garage and go open the box. And I would just look at the interesting props and decks of cards and colorful items and all this stuff. And it’s always been a part of my life. You know, my dad would perform magic at my birthday parties, I would always go in the Las Vegas Strip. But I think when I was around, like in middle school, probably like, like 12 years old, I was kind of bitten by the bug. And I was like, I really want to learn how to do this stuff and I fell down that rabbit hole pretty, pretty hard. Very quickly and got into that. So that’s how I kind of was introduced to magic.
Do you remember the first trick you learnt?
Michael Blau: I think so. Well, I think, there’s like the real first trick. And then there’s like the first trick I would perform to other people.
Like the behind the ear kind of thing.
Michael Blau: Wasn’t actually, actually kind of a mortgage wreck. There’s a very, very, very famous illusion that a kid’s magician would perform, where they invite a kid on stage, and they put like this thing around their neck. And they basically put a sword through the neck. The illusion is called sword through neck. And it’s obviously at a kid’s birthday party. It’s great because all the kids are going crazy, right? They’re like, how is this happening? You’re putting this sword through my friend’s neck. How’s this even work? But yeah, so that was actually the first like illusion. It’s super simple and probably you could Google that online. But that was actually the first trick I learned. And then the first trick that I learned, when I would like to perform it to another person, it was a coin trick. However, it was not the coin behind the ear trick called scotch and soda is the name, look it up on that.
I know that trick. I don’t know. I’ve heard of it. But I don’t really remember it. But, you know, when like, when my brother had his bar mitzvah, we did it in Israel and we had like, one of the most famous magicians in Israel at the time, came to perform at his bar mitzvah. And I was like his test dummy. And he did the trick where he put me like in this box, and there were three sections to the box. And he basically moved every single section apparently, and then put a sword through it. And then I have to like to put my hand through like the bottom hole with like a red handkerchief and be like, I’m still alive. And then he like put all together and I come out, like one piece. And I remember, it was epic. I remember that’s like my earliest experience of magic, but also like you are mentalist as well. And I’m trying to understand the difference, right, between being a magician and mentalist? For those who don’t know, how do you kind of decipher between the two?
Michael Blau: Yeah, so I’m about to dive into like, as if I’m talking to magicians, like my major magics here. You know, from like, textbook definition. A magician is someone who does any magical illusion, the impossible, right? It’s kind of all encompassing, whereas mentalism is like a almost like a subset of that specifically related to mind reading, or, you know, mental gymnastics of some kind. You know, that might be you know, guessing a deck, you know, what card you picked or reading your mind of what word you’re thinking of, from a book, and stuff like that. So that’s like the difference. It’s mind reading, versus like, maybe more unexplainable, and possibilities is what magic is. Whereas mind reading is like, you create this illusion that, you know the solution, the solution is reading my mind. Of course, that’s not the case. But you know, that being said, the magic that I tend to do. And the way that I kind of think about it is, I try not to separate them in in my head, like when I perform, I perform what I would categorize as mental magic. So, it’s magic with like, a mental mind reading coincidence, like flavor to it. And the reason for that is actually kind of interesting. And I know Sorry, I’m diving like super deep.
No, go all the way into it all the way.
Michael Blau: But it’s because a lot of the times when you see a magician, and just like you just mentioned, you know, with the big box is that magic is colorful, and it’s visual. And it’s eye catching and what I have learned, or the way that I kind of started to perform myself was that the magic that I do should not be visual, I don’t want it to be visual at all, because the visual aspect of magic is distracting. It’s misdirection, right? It makes it seem like it’s almost too impossible, right? Whereas when you have a little bit of a mental flavor to magic that you’re performing, all of a sudden, the illusion is more like internal to you as a spectator, right? It’s not like something visual that you see that you can just write off a sleight of hand, right? Like, in my mind, if you told me that I’m good sleight of hand, I failed you. Right? Because that means that you know, I did something you just don’t know what I did. Whereas when you do something that’s mental magic, it feels a little bit more like, kind of in your head, like how the heck could you possibly know this? Or how could this coincidence have possibly happened? It’s a little bit more like, you know, interesting to me. So, I tend to stay away from like visual magic tricks that you might see on a stage with colors, and you know, things like that, and more related to like, you know, mental magic. Hopefully that makes sense. It’s kind of hard to.
No that makes a lot of sense. Because I think of Mind freak what’s his name? Chris?
Michael Blau: Chris Angel.
Chris Angel like, well, dude, me and my cousin’s, we grew up like hardcore, watching Chris Angel, like hardcore and I remember we used to watch, I used to even record the episodes and rewatch them. I was obsessed with them. And that’s more of like a traditional magician that does all the theatrics and everything. But what you’re referring to is more of these, like mind games kind of thing. And if you go on your website, which I’ll link in the show notes, you kind of see some of the, excuse me, some of the tricks that you kind of play. For example, I saw one where you kind of like you flush a deck of cards and a card appears in between someone’s hand, for example, right? So yeah, I find it incredibly fascinating specifically, also, how you kind of transitioned into now working well, not now previously working at BlackRock, right, and I’m trying to think about like, okay, being a magician and a mentalist, which is such a creative thing, like incredibly creative to then go into work at BlackRock, you know, and I’m trying to figure out like, how the hell did you make that switch? Who told you to stop being a magician and focus on I guess what you love and your creative passion? And then I guess more in the asset management space, and I could be getting wrong, but how do you make that switch?
Michael Blau: If there’s actually a good connection there? So, we just talked about mental magic, right? And a huge component of performing mental magic is psychology. Okay? So, it’s when I go to an audience member, there are things that I do, not necessarily misdirection, but like things that I’ll say or do to psychologically trick somebody, right? Or influence somebody to do something, right. It seemed like a free choice when it’s not a free choice. So, you know, things like that. And, you know, when I was performing magic, all I did all day was basically like, introduce myself to groups of people at like gigs when I perform. And I would, I want to say, influence them, but I would use these psychological tricks. And it was very human behavior driven, right, to get them to behave certain ways. And it fascinated me, like, it’s amazing, like, how the human mind can be tricked, or you know, presented an illusion. It’s amazing, right? So how does that have anything to do with finance? Well, the other side of magic, so there’s the psychology, but then there’s the method and how it works. And the way that these tricks work, oftentimes, and ask any magician, they’ll tell you this, the way it works is almost cooler than the trick itself. So, like, I know that sometimes shocking, but like the method is so intricate. And sometimes they’re technical, sometimes they’re more clever and psychological. And when I went to school, and I started to take some initial finance classes, I started to see how my love for both technically interesting things, but also psychological components fit actually directly into what finance is, right? Like finance is a market where you have behaviors and people behave based off of psychology. But you also have the other side of it, where whether you’re like in a quant or an asset management role, where you’re using technical skills, to make decisions or to influence other people’s decisions. And it seems like a stretch, but like these two passions of mine that I loved about magic kind of directly mapped over to finance, but also computer science, right? And coding, algorithms and things like that. So, my love for these two things did sort of map over. I guess, though, you know, I’ll be honest with you, when you go to university, like they kind of, you know, shove in your brain, like, the only thing you can do is like, go work in finance, or not, they don’t actively encourage being an artist. In the purest form. I guess. So.
Working with David Blaine
And at one point, you were also I saw on your experience, you worked with David Blaine to be one of the greatest magicians alive in our time. What was that like?
Michael Blau: That was awesome that that was that was in high school. It was my senior year of high school. I remember I got called. So, one of my mentors in magic is a man named Aussie wind. In my view he’s the best magician in the world. And he at the time, is kind of like, he’s like the mastermind behind David Blaine. That’s like what.
Michael Blau: Don’t get me wrong. David’s amazing. Yeah, yeah. Aussie is like one of one of David Blaine’s like primary magic consultants. So, when David Blaine was about to do this live touring show, they sort of like needed some helpers. And, you know, designing some of the illusions before the show actually went live. And I got a phone call during class. From my mentor Aussie, I pick up the phone. It wasn’t Aussie. It was an, I heard is this, Michael? And it was, of course, David. And I lost my mind, right? Because as a young magician, it’s like, David Blaine doesn’t just call you. Like, that just doesn’t happen. So, I lost my mind. And he said, you know, we’d love to, you know, have you and, you know, come help out with kind of building parts of the show. And I, of course, jumped at it. And I basically kind of took like, two months off of high school to go live in New York for two months and kind of work on the team. And it was probably one of the coolest experiences of my life. I mean, just born on.
Did he like, I’m trying to wrap my head around that, that’s like one of the top performers of our time. Let alone all the viral videos on YouTube that have him just like dead staring people in the face like, so many memories with this guy just pops to mind and the fact that you got to work with him for two months, setting up his entire experience. I mean, I feel like that’s, that’s priceless. Like, that’s absolutely priceless.
Michael Blau: Yeah, no words. It was a great experience overall, you know, I learned.
What are the few takeaways that you got from working with him, and like working alongside him and being able to watch him do his day to day?
Michael Blau: Oh, man, a lot. I think, you know, I think the biggest thing that I learned is, well, there are two components. So, one is how do you structure a show, right like David Blaine has primarily he did shows either, you know, close up, or he would do shows on television, right? He has all of his television specials, but this was a live show. This is a live touring show. So, you know, just how do you structure a performance that not only has magic, but also live stunts, like in the show, he would do like really death-defying things that were not illusions. They were real. So how do you like balance that, was just crazy. It was just crazy to witness. How you know, of course, there’s like the nitty gritty like, how do you structure illusions? You know, how do you make a trick, good moments and pauses, you know, to maximize the impact of something, I think we’re like the key takeaways.
When you got to BlackRock, and you spent what I think what it was a year that I remember reading correctly, or so.
Michael Blau: I was an intern for like three months or so during COVID times, but then I got the job offer to be full time. But I was only full time for four weeks.
Is the work life balance as brutal as it’s rumored to be?
Michael Blau: Actually, no, they actually do a pretty good job of like, well, to be fair, like, I guess I can’t really speak to it because I was an intern. And we all know that intern experience is different from full time. When I was full time, it was like my first two weeks were all training. I didn’t really get into it. So, I guess I can’t really tell you that. So, at the internship, it was it was fine.
So, yeah. So now A16z, Andreessen Horowitz, the top venture capital firm, if not one of the top in the world? What is your role over there? Like, what is your day to day look like?
Michael Blau: Yeah, so I’m an engineering partner on the team. And basically, I spent half of my time doing, you know, investing, as you’d expect to do an adventure and the other half of my time doing research, and, you know, working on building out interesting protocols, or tools or simulations, to, you know, hopefully contribute to helping our portfolio companies, but also just, you know, contributing open source to the, to the web through ecosystem.
How To Build a Software Simulation
Got it? What goes into building a simulation? What does that consist of?
Michael Blau: A lot of code.
Okay, okay. I mean, I guess like, in general, independently of like, A16z, in general, as a software developer, right, when you’re submitting smart contracts, I guess, on test net, right, when you’re building simulations on test net, and on main net, right? Yes. So, I’m not a developer. So, I’m asking this from like a really like dumbed down point of view. Because I remember even seeing one of your articles in the past, I think it was titled, it was talking about sleep printing, right? And I’m just trying to connect the dots here. So, would you run like a test simulation to kind of provably verify that sleep mint is actually like an actual hack kind of thing? And you can tell I’m not even using the right words here. Right. I don’t understand that world. So, like, I’m just trying to understand what does a simulation kind of entail? Is it you’re testing something or what goes into it?
Michael Blau: Yeah. So, essentially, in this situation for sleep minting, I knew about this cert. I guess you could say like series of events that might occur on the Ethereum blockchain, which would create this idea of sleep minting and sleep minting is essentially, you know, messing with the provenance of an NFT on chain to make it seem like a famous person or famous artists actually own this NFT. And then now is selling it right. And therefore, because they owned it, it’s like, oh, wow, you know, it must be, you know, more valuable. So how do you actually like fudge the provenance on chain to make it seem like that was the case, when in reality, this artist or this famous influencer, had never touched the NFT in the first place. And this is actually pretty relevant. Like you see this often happened, where, you know, NFT attacks where people will sleep mint like 1000s of NFTs to the biggest influencers in the space. And what most people will do is they’ll watch these big influencers wallets to see what they’re trading. And then they’ll say, oh, they bought this and, you know, NFTX or whatever. And now they’ll go and mint NFTX and NFTX is really a scan and a rug, right? So, it’s like a way to like, create this appearance to attract attention. And the way to identify it is by looking for a few specific characteristics on chain. And what I would do in order to like how I built this system was, I would go on like a test network like Rigby and I would essentially build, I would write a smart contract that had this capability, write a smart contract that had the ability for somebody to sleep meant an NFT and then claim it back. By the way, the kind of the quick description is sleep minting is when I send you an NFT Adam. So, I will send an NFT to your wallet. But the smart contract is written in such a way where I can reclaim it back out of your wallet without your permission. Right. So now if you were to look on chain providence, what it looks like is that you minted it, and then sent it to me. Right. So now if everyone’s watching Adam’s wallet, and everyone wants to buy what I was buying, it will appear as if you minted this NFT, when in reality, you had nothing to do with it. And you may have not even noticed it was in your wallet in the first place. So anyways, I would build a smart contract that can do this, that can essentially mint an NFT and then reclaim it back on a test network. And I wrote a small bot using Florida. So, Florida is a decentralized threat detection system in the space. And I used their, they have like an SDK and API that you can kind of build these bots. So, I would basically run I guess, you could say, tests and simulations on a test network to basically detect sleep minting as it occurred. And once I kind of got the bots to work, and it was working on the test network, we deployed it on the main network. And now the bot is live and running, and basically detecting sleep mint as they occur on main net. Actually, we just added this week to other EVM related chains. So, I think we did polygon and optimism as well.
Got it. Is there any way to simulate like human behavior and traffic online, for example, like what you’re explaining right now is very, like technical related simulations, right? Where if you run, if you run enough, you could find bugs and inconsistencies and errors right before you publish it on main net. But as a creator, I don’t have like a test net, right? I don’t develop. I’m continuously trying to create more content. I’m trying to create more funnels. I’m trying to capture more emails, trying to get more followers, like, I’m trying to think outside the box. And maybe I’m thinking about it incorrectly, let me know. But is there any way to create like some form of simulation for non-technical related things? My thinking about this, right? You know what I mean?
Michael Blau: Yeah, so like, these are like, I guess, if I’m interpreting what you’re saying correctly, it’s like an agent-based simulation, where you have these kind of agents or people who have been doing things that are not necessarily like, as simple as detecting a very niche mathematical property on chain, it’s more of like, should I bid this NFT or not? Or should I click the button? Or should I subscribe or not? Or do I follow you and if I follow you, how many images do I like, right? So, these are all very behavioral, you know, actions that you would have like some sort of simulation where you create these agents, which make decisions that map to this right, so do I mint your NFT? Do I follow you? Do I subscribe, all this stuff? And usually, you know, again, everyone does it differently. But you are kind of will assume that an agent like follows maybe some like probability distribution of how like, do I mint or not? What’s the probability of me doing those two things, right? And then now you kind of like, want to release these agents into the wild, and see how they behave, collect the data, and then gain insights from it. Unfortunately, though, is quite, you know, technical, like you, you know, you do usually need to know how to code with that said, you know, there are a lot of people I think, that are that are building pretty cool, like your eyes that anybody can kind of come into and use to build at least, like relatively simple simulations for exactly the kind of things that you’re describing, you know, or follows and whatnot.
Yeah, I guess like taking it even one step further. And just brainstorming here, if there was any way to simulate like human behavior, like if I could test publish a podcast episode, and see what a group of people would like, if they would enjoy it, like, just AI people, right, like AI based people, if they would enjoy it prior to me releasing, and then be able to generate feedback to improve the podcast episode prior to kind of submitting it out into the public, you know, what I’m now thinking to probably ahead of the game, but I don’t know.
Michael Blau: You could probably do something like, you’d have to like base, like model assumptions based on real world data first, like, we took all your podcasts and we put them through like a model, mapping, like, how many users are engaged on YouTube, or Spotify at certain times of the podcasts. And basically, map like the sound waves of the podcasts that how many people are listening at that time, and basically generate some assumed behavior on listeners. And as they come and drop off in a podcast, by the way, I am not making this up. magicians do this. And I know we’re tying back to magic; they’ll literally record their shows. Not visually, but like just like the audio, and then we’ll go back, and they’ll look at like audience reaction. And like the amplitude of audience reactions and how much an audience reacted to a certain trick, and basically be able to try and mathematically determine what tricks were better than others. That’s like, better than just me feeling it’s better, you know? So, like, when I tell you this whole sound wave thing and actually listen to looking at viewers, or reactions at certain sound wavelengths. I’m not kidding. It’s a real thing.
I wonder if that there’s like a consumer tool to be able to do that. I gotta look into it.
Michael Blau: That’d be pretty cool.
Time Management: Creator, Investor and Software Developer
That would be pretty cool. All right, we’ll do some research afterwards. Okay. Michael, what also love about you is that you’re a creator, right? And you actually started off your journey, I guess, in life, quote unquote, as a creative and then slowly transitioned more into like the professional institutional realm through BlackRock, A16z, and whatnot. But you’ve still kept true to your roots as a creator with like your somewhat pseudo anonymous identity online called XOR. Right. And I remember, was it about a year ago, when you did your first drop? It was I think it was on nifty gateway. I’m not mistaken. I remember that. Particularly because I remember seeing your brother promoted and coming across this, like, this numerical ish, pixelated type of art that I’d never really seen before. It really caught my attention. How do you find the time between creating and like being a DJ and a software developer and creating for the sake of creating to then kind of like pursuing more of your professional endeavors as they do at A16z and prior at BlackRock, etc?
Michael Blau: Yeah, I think, you know, very fortunate to say that I guess you could say, my work life and my Djing life are kind of overlapped, because it’s all crypto, right? And I love crypto. And I love to think about it all day. And, you know, so I basically think about crypto 24/7. It’s just like, what components of crypto do I think about? And so, balancing, I usually say, you know, an investor by day, you know, X0r or by night, that’s like, kind of what usually happens, I usually work on my personal projects at night where I, you know, do business as usual stuff during the day, but it’s all related. It’s really just crypto 24/7.
The Origin Story of X0r
Got it. So, when you’re creating a piece for XOR, or even before we even get into the actual development, how did you come up with the branding around X0r? Like, what is X0r really mean? I get the X0, like, I get that, right? That’s like an Ethereum address. But why just leave it with 0R, like, where does that?
Michael Blau: Great question. So XOR is a bitwise operation in computer science. But that means is, it’s a mathematical operation when you’re, you know, working with just like ones and zeros at the very low level of a computer. And the reason why, and there are a lot of these bitwise operations, right, so XO is one or just OR itself is one, and is another, their logical operations, right. And what’s so interesting about XOR, though, that’s different from all the other ones is that XOR I mean, listen, they’re all used like this, but specific XOR plays a critical role in cryptography, okay, a critical role. And it stems all the way back from like, the most basic like cryptographic ciphers that exist, I think that the first one is called the one-time pad. It’s like a very basic cycle, you will learn in like introduction to cryptography. And literally, the encryption mechanism of encrypting like a piece of data is applying the XOR operation to it. Okay, that’s like, so when I think about crypto, and I’m like, if I’m gonna be a crypto artist, what is a word or a name that I can use that is very native to the space XOR like it? I don’t know, I had like a few options. But like XOR it just stuck for me. So that’s where XOR comes from.
So, can you talk to me more about the style of art, like the theme of art in which you use these numbers to kind of display images and faces and why you ended up going with that direction? And even beyond that, the creative process of actually generating a single piece? Like what does that entail?
Michael Blau: For sure. So yeah, so at the high level, so basically, the art that I usually create is ASCII art. ASCII is, you know, an American Standard for mapping basically, also ones and zeros to letters. And it’s creating images based off of characters. So, A to Z, one zero, period, question mark, exclamation point. So, using all of these characters on a keyboard to create images, and it’s very relevant in the like, hacker community, right. So oftentimes, when you if you’ve ever seen, like in the movies, like people are typing on this, like terminal command line, and it looks like super complicated, and then it would like to print out stuff. You know, oftentimes, when you’re dealing with new software, as a software developer, you know, when you run the software for the first time, the software will like print their logo in ASCII, you know, in this ASCII art, right? So, it’s like, it’s like this kind of, like, low level thing and you know, in the hacker community, I guess. So that was like the style. And I had that honestly, my friend sent me this really crazy thing where you can like, pipe into this server, and it would then proceed to show you the entire Star Wars movie in ASCII. It’s like all the, all the characters were completely composed of one’s zeros and letters. Yeah. it around the screen, right? So, I saw this I’m like, wow, like, this is so cool. So, you know, for me that was like the style. And then the other side of it was, instead of just like, you know, creating images with like ones and zeros, what if those ones and zeros and letters actually meant something right? Like they had a real meaning. They weren’t just like random. Like if you go online to like an ASCII generator, and like drag and drop an image, it would like to spit out, you know, ASCII art or an ASCII version it.
But I didn’t like that I wanted to do it where it meant something. And the first piece I ever created to kind of experiment with this idea was called Merkle. And it’s basically a technical or visual representation of a Merkle tree. And a Merkle tree is a kind of a primitive, a cryptographic primitive used a lot like heavily in the Ethereum ecosystem and blockchains in general. And basically, if you were to go look at this image, you see this image of a tree, but within the roots of the tree numbers are moving. But those numbers are actually transaction hashes from a very specific block on the Ethereum blockchain. So, it’s real blockchain. And the reason why there are transaction hashes is because the way a Merkle tree works is, you know, it’s kind of outside the scope of the conversation but basically, when you have like a lot of transactions, and each transaction has a transaction hash, for people who are in this ecosystem, you are probably very familiar with that. Basically, it’s a way of taking all of those individual, sorry, taking all those individual transaction hashes, and combine them into one, you know, root hash, which is known as like, which contributes to a block hash. So, if you ever go to like a block on ether scan, and you see that, part of that calculation of that comes from the individual transactions, it’s kind of like a tree, right? You have all these individuals; I get sucked up to this route. Hash.
So, I wanted to visually create that, but I wanted to use real data. And that was Merkle tree. So that was the first example of how I you know, change these characters to mean something. And then after that, it kind of shifted more toward code. So now I would do you know, visual representations of some Ethereum tech, and but use the actual code, like the actual solidity code of that technology within the art. And the best example of that is I have one called 721, it just has the letters NFT. But the letters NFT are composed of the actual ERC seven to one standard implementation, so the actual solidity code is running through the art itself. So that’s why every time I would get inspired to create like a new piece, it was really a result of me just learning something new in the ecosystem. So, I’d learn some new technology. And then I would just take that technology and create a visual representation of it through ASCII code. And the reason why I did that was because I wanted, I think, you know, at least at the beginning of the time, when NFTs were starting, like, I felt like a lot of people really didn’t quite understand how NFTs worked under the hood, or different components of it, like it was kind of like this high-level concept like image on the block, what does that even mean? And this was like, by me creating these images, and releasing them to the world. And people would read the short descriptions of each piece of art, it was basically a way for me to sort of like educate or like, share some knowledge and a succinct and simple to understand way of how a critical technology actually works under the hood. And it’s important to me, because like, we use this stuff every day, like Believe it or not, XOR is used every time you sign a transaction sort of right, like, it’s just like, these are things that you use every day, but you’re just not necessarily familiar with how they work or that they’re even there. And that’s the point of me creating in this space is kind of peeling back that you know, the layers and kind of diving in.
You know, it’s interesting coming from your magician background, you’ve always performed for an audience, right. And now in web three, you kind of have like your virtual audience are collectors. Right. And one thing that I kind of talk a lot about on the podcast is understanding the difference between like a web two fan and like a traditional fan versus more of like a web three, native fan. How do you think about that? Because you you’ve managed to rack in 1000s of collectors around this art, which I find fascinating and even more, so you’ve performed for a ton of people as well. Right? How do you how do you kind of think about the two?
Michael Blau: Yeah, you know, I think like, the honest answer is you kind of have both, it’s kind of the same, like you have your superfans. And then you have your haters, right in magic, right? Like your super fans are gonna come see every show, and they love everything you do. And the haters are the one that they don’t really care about you they just wonder how the trick works, or they’re gonna let you know how they think the trick works and embarrass you in front of other people and reveal the secret if they know it and stuff like that. Right. So, like that’s like that world. You know, and like the same thing maps over to crypto. I think the difference though, is that and it’s very real. All the things that people talk about is when I would create magic online or on Instagram, or even in live shows I had like zero connection to those people after the fact, like, Sure, they could like DM me on Instagram or something. But like other than that I had no connection that they saw my show. Whereas in crypto when you give someone a token, all of a sudden, the creator does have ownership over their community and their fans. And now you get to do these really interesting things like you know, create discord, that’s token gated, where you can like talk with your friends and learn from them and, and kind of create this like little ecosystem and community, which is really cool. That just doesn’t exist, it just didn’t exist in the magic world. I think what’s different also about crypto communities and fans in general, is that they can meet each other, right? So, like in magic, if I have a magic fan, like in New York, or a magic fan in San Francisco, who they both love the tricks that I’m performing, they don’t know each other are they and they’ll probably never meet unless they’re each other in a future show. Whereas like in crypto, if I have two collectors of mine, they can meet very easily. And then they can, I don’t know, who knows, maybe whether that’s created derivative project or just like, you know, starting their own thing, and just like meeting through their common love of my artwork, that’s just a super powerful thing that just didn’t exist before. So that’s how I see the differences.
How Creators Can Use Blockchain Data To Their Benefit
Yeah, you know, one thing that also is interesting, you also in the A16z report, very statistics on the creator economy in web three, were quite fascinating the numbers that were presented. And you’re seeing a lot of like music artists sort of like break wind into the space issuing music NFTs, building a band of collectors, and kind of finding creative liberation and otherwise an industry that wouldn’t allow them to kind of see that financial success, for example, Spotify data, and like the streaming data, or just royalties, paper stream models don’t really represent in, I guess, benefit every other artist out there, right, there’s some like your brother who have done exceptionally well. And there’s, there’s a handful that have done well. But there’s even a bigger tale of artists and creators that don’t really benefit from these traditional systems. And you talked about like ownership, right? Owning your audience base, building it, being able to build a community, part of ownership comes with the data that you’re able to own, quote, unquote, right, or at least the data that lives transparently, online. And with your software background, and you seem very like data focused and very data centric. What sort of data points would be beneficial for a creator if they were to build a band of collectors online? Like how could they use blockchain data as a way to optimize a community and otherwise a world where they wouldn’t necessarily have access to more specific centralized data such as that Spotify presents or Apple Music present or Facebook presents, etc? How do you think about that?
Michael Blau: Yeah, I think the idea here is that when you have collectors on a blockchain, and you can know, for example, like if you release an NFT, you can go to that NFT smart contract and query all of the individual addresses that own one of your tokens, right. And just having that alone, you cannot do in other places, now sure, you know, there are web two platforms that maybe let you download an email list. But you know, like, email disappears one day, I don’t know, like, when you know, someone’s address, you can take that anywhere, you could take that to your own website, you can take that to another website, you know, and it becomes a token gating game, right? And that’s where, you know, when I think about how to creators leverage web three, and I think about this myself, like, how do I distill it down to like, the simplest, possible primitive. And it as of right now, it kind of has to do with like token gating, like assuming that you’re not technical at all, and you just want to use NFTs to you know, build your community? Well, once you have these NFTs on the blockchain, you know, you have to now validate that somebody owns that token, right? And after that, it’s whatever you want, right?
So, in my case, right, what do I do? Well, when someone owns one of my tokens, and they like come into my Discord, or my website, and they connect their wallet and see that they do indeed, actually own one of my tokens, right now, I give them access to all of this educational content that I’m creating, to kind of help them become more technical in the crypto industry, right, that’s like sort of like what I do. But in reality, you could do something where you know, it’s token gate and someone will come in connect their wallet, that you’ll see that on your token. And, you know, maybe they get to listen to an unreleased song, or get to, you know, really listen to a blog, or whatever that might be. And it’s just using this idea that you can token gate something and, but you can move that token gating from platform to platform. So for example, you can have it on Discord, or you could have on your website or have it in the link tree in your Twitter bio right now, which is crazy, right? So, you can take it you can take your fans across anywhere whereas like imagine for example, like I’ll use like, like if web three a discord, let’s use discord. Like let’s say the blockchain was built into discord, and therefore I you know, needed access to my community in discord, that’d be amazing. But now if I want to go build a website that you know gives them some other access to whatever it is that I want to do. Well, I can’t bring my fans. Yeah, It’s stuck in discord right? I can’t, there’s nothing I can do.
It’s the same problem creators face when they go and build a new audience on a new platform. For example, a lot of the Instagram artists or creators that did exceptionally well on Instagram built massive followings then slowly transitioned to Tik Tok and didn’t maybe necessarily see the same success. And there was now they have like the Tick Tock creators, right, versus which a lot of the ethos around like this web three social environment is like, you can take your followers anywhere, the platform is the play, and you own your audience. So, if a new platform pops up, and you create an account, and a lot of those existing users who own your collectibles, join that platform, essentially, you’d be able to kind of like, rejuvenate that following as you otherwise would have had on the other platform kind of thing. You know, another interesting concept that just diving more into the data that I find quite interesting. So, for me, specifically, every single season or nearly every single season, started on season two, I issue free NFTs to my listeners. And basically, if you listen, you have the optionality to claim a participation NFT. Right? And I’ve issued I think over like 8000, a little bit over 8000, free NFTs.
Michael Blau: Wow
And now I’m trying to think, okay, what do I do from there, right? So, back to your email analogy, because I’m also building like a newsletter list, right? For those who don’t understand the concept, imagine, like, okay, you have their email address. But imagine if you were able to see their entire inbox, and you’re able to get like an entire analysis and deep dive as to what they like, where they went, what they’ve like, communicated, etc. That’s like what the address represents, right? Just to kind of give more context. And I’m thinking from my point of view, Michael, I’m trying to think about like, okay, how many of my collectors also hold a board eight? How many of them have at least 0.1 Eth in their wallet? What other pull ups are they collected, which I can kind of maybe tell if their average conference goers, and all these interesting data points, and I can start building like a profile around these wallets themselves, right, in a very, I guess, like ethical, non-aggressive manner. Right. Are you thinking about it the same way? Have you done that with XOR? Walk me through that a little bit more? Because you have more? I feel like you have more experienced with this as a technical person than I do.
Michael Blau: Yeah, for sure. So, I’ll kind of explain what I’ve done with XOR. And my little experiment, and then how I feel about this concept in general, because I think it’s the coolest thing ever. So, in my like XOR community. It’s all about education. And I really, I stay by that mission, right? We do these, like weekly, or every two weeks we do these quests. These are on chain quests are like they’re on a test network, where people can go and experiment with smart contracts, kind of really getting in the weeds. They’re not like, it’s not like education, like, oh, here’s how to use uniswap. It’s like education, like, let’s actually go read an NFT. smart contract and determine if it’s sleep minting on ether scan, because like, we’re all looking at ether scan every day, at least I assume. Right? So, like, how do you make sense of all this crazy data that you’re getting thrown out? Right? So technical education is what I focus on. And as people complete these quests and do this stuff on chain, what’s really cool is people are doing this stuff on a test network. So, it’s totally free to participate.
Which is cool. I haven’t heard about, I mean, obviously, test net exists, but creating an entire experience on a test net, I’ve never heard like, you always think about people creating these experiences where you’re burning gas, and it cost the user something but it’s actually so smart to do a test net. Yeah, anyways, continue.
Michael Blau: by the way, the reason is, is really simple. It’s because, you know, when something is EVM compatible, like rank B, which is the rank B net that that I use, is more or less like the same exact code base and cryptography as Ethereum. So, you’re like address and private key on a theorem is the exact same as it is on the rank B test network. So basically, if I were to see who is participating on a test network for free, I can then retroactively go back and airdrop them something on the main network based on their address that they use on test network, now they what’s really cool about this is now I get to, I actually get to do risky things. I get to experiment with new contract ideas, smart contracts and have, you know, my collectors who are part of the community do interesting things. And if it’s, if there’s a bug, it’s not a big deal, because it’s on a test network, you’re not losing money. It’s all like three, right? However, if you’re successful in these quests, and you complete them, now what I do is I go Airdrop them a token on Polygon. Okay. However, this token is non-transferable. It’s a non-transferable token. So, it’s kinda like a pull up, although pull ups preference, but like it’s a non-transferable thought.
That’s what I do for the podcast, NFT’s too, by the way, but continue. Yeah, yeah.
Michael Blau: That’s awesome. Yeah. So, why is it so important? Well, because when you complete a quest, what that shows me or that you’d show somebody else is that you learn something, you spent hours trying to do something, and then you were successful in doing it, right? This is something that you should not be able to give to another human right? Like, you can’t give what you’ve learned, right? It’s not like I can get a degree in computer science, or, you know, biology and then just I sell you my degree in like magic, right? Like, that’s not a thing, right. So. So these are not transferable, because people who earn them, they’re not, knowledge is not transferable, in that sense, right? Or what you’ve learned is non-transferable. So that’s how I sort of experiment it. And now what’s really cool, is what I then do is now when you come to my Discord, when you connect your wallet, I can see who’s completed what quests, right, and then group them together. So, like, if you completed this first quest, you guys can be in a group chat and hang out. Or if you completed this quest, you can be in a group chat hang out, right, or, you know, like, I’ve used it for things like you know, a buddy of mine, also works in A16z, you know, he has a project coming out called rebels, and was gracious enough to give our community some whitelist bots. And, you know, what I did was, when I gave out these wireless bots, I was able to give them to people who completed the quests, because those were demonstrate, they demonstrated being active in the community, for the sake of learning, and they love the mission, right? And those are the people who should be rewarded. Right. So, you know, from that side of things, that’s how I’ve been using it. Now, how this other side, whether you’re talking about is creating a decentralized profile, with non-transferable tokens or even, you know, transferable tokens. To me. That’s where I believe this space is going to be in the next year or so. Because the reality is, right now, when you think about NFTs, like there’s a lot of speculative nature going on, right? Like we can’t pretend like it’s not all speculative, right? And if we’re thinking about a world where web three is really the next internet, right, like, web two is not speculative. Like we don’t go on Gmail, and say, thanks for sending my email. But like, what’s the utility Gmail? Like what do you give me? Right? Like, we use it, because it’s a great tool.
I do that, I don’t know about you.
Mind blown. So that’s so interesting.
Michael Blau: It’s really cool.
So, I haven’t thought about it like that. The fact that I would be able to connect my wallet, and then I have like predetermined settings as kind of preference by my taste, that’s kind of like coded into my wallet through an NFT right. And every time I go to the social platforms or any website for that matter, I can get a tailored experience to me personally as a user, It’s fascinating and powerful as hell, like, incredibly powerful. And I guess the point that I was thinking about it from is there’s so much data on chain that’s so, so accessible and a lot of collector creators are they’re building, they’re able to build at least profiles around their collectors, and be able to see and get, I guess, more, get deeper insights into how like what future drops should look and feel like, right, for example, something that they otherwise would have been able to do, I’d argue is, for example, let’s say, for everybody that’s collected one of my NFTs, if I want to do some type of like pay type of I don’t know, drop in the future, I can kind of see my closest supporters will obviously get the whitelist spot, no doubt about it, right. But even more than that, I would want to create a custom minting experience for my existing audience. So, I would want to know, what is the average like wallet hold terms of net worth, right? I don’t want to be charging one Eth. For something if I if I know my audience can’t afford one Eth for example, let alone if I know a lot of them have FWB maybe I should be doing curated experiences with FWB because our audience has overlap, and so on, and so on and so forth. Even more than that, which I don’t think we’ve kind of like scratched the surface is okay. There’s a lot of information out there. And there’s an argument that says even if you have all that information, you don’t know what to do with it. So having like some type of AI generated insights and be able to tell you, here’s what you can do, because X, Y, and Z kind of like fit this, this type of sentiment or whatever the statement, so shows you how early we are, I guess, into all of these things. You know, one thing I want to pivot to and kind of go back to this topic of magic and being a musician is where do you see the world of magic and web three kind of overlapping? And it’s such a general question, but I’m thinking about it from the point of view, Michael, it’s like, I feel like there’s a world where you can mix your love for magic and software development, and more of like an illusion-based experience. And I could be speaking out of my ass here. But I feel like there’s something to experiment between these two mediums that hasn’t been done before.
Michael Blau: Great, great topic. So actually, this is I don’t know if remember, I said in the beginning, why took computer science in the first place and everything that I learned of how to code was how do I build technological magic tricks? How do I leverage technology to create magic illusions, and, you know, that, you know, is across a variety of applications and spectrums? I actually released one application on the App Store, it’s free, you can go download it. It’s called the AR psychic. And it’s basically like an iPhone app that is augmented reality, and you show it to a spectator. And like, you know, it has these spirals that spin and then a little thought bubble that comes out of their head. And it tells them what number they’re thinking of right? And you can download the app and go perform it right. So, like, well, that’s what I mean by like technological illusions. Now, how does it relate to blockchain specifically, I think, in two ways. So one is, there’s this there’s this, there’s this quote and magic, and I am going to butcher it right now. It is actually not a quote from magic. It’s a quote by I think it’s Arthur C. Clarke. And it’s like any sufficiently advanced technology is no different from magic. It’s something like that I’m butchering the, quote, famous quote, but it’s something this idea that what is considered, you know, impressive 100 years ago is no longer considered impressive today, right? And the reason for that is technology changes, right? So, what if I were to do it, there are some tricks that I could do to you 10 years ago, but even today, you’d be like, oh, I know exactly how that works. Right?
So why is this interesting? Well, there’s like a whole side of magic now, where like, I’ll do tricks with your iPhone, like, I will take your phone, and you’ll go on Instagram, Facebook, phone, cell phone call, passcode, email, whatever. And I will do magic illusions, using your iPhone as a component of the trick, right? Not necessarily where like the actual, like code is involved, but just using this prop in an illusion. And the reason why that’s interesting is because people you know, our age and our generation, we understand how an iPhone works, right? So, if I can show you something amazing with an iPhone, it’s all almost more impressive to you than if I just did a card trick, right, because an iPhone is so engrained in our lives. So how can I create an illusion that uses the blockchain? Right now, I don’t think we’re at a stage where like the average audience they perform to is going to understand, like what a smart contract is, so maybe it’s not there yet. But one day, you might see you know, magicians using NFTs and a magic trick, or to the blockchain and a magic trick for whatever reason, like I don’t know, you know, I could predict what you’re thinking of, and instead of me just like opening up an envelope in my pocket that has your thinking have written on it. I could say go look in your wallet, and you go to your wallet address on the blockchain and there’s an NFT. And that NFT shows what you’re thinking of right, which is kind of interesting, right?
That’s so cool. Wait a minute.
Michael Blau: I did it already.
You Did it already. Yeah. Traditional magic is either one to one, one to a few, or one to many. And most of the time everybody experiences the same thing. Either you’re like your, what’s the word, you’re either watching the sidelines, right? Or you are kind of like experiencing it one to one. But now we’re talking about data profiles, right? And using these NFTs to kind of build an individual preference sheet of every single wallet, you could technically create custom allusions per wallet, right, like per user. So, everybody experiences your craft in their own unique way, shape and form, which is like we have yet to see that on television, for example, hit the main stage. Are you going to be the person who does it?
Michael Blau: Yes, that could be me. Yes, please. I have I have done one magic illusion before. Okay. It doesn’t it it’s called Hardeen. It’s like an NFT that reads your mind. It’s like a simple form of this. I have another one I’m working on that is going to come out soon, I think. But yes, I am working on it. I think about this a lot. And I want to be the person to do it. Because I like you said I want to combine both worlds. For it’s an interesting problem. And it’s really exciting. But yeah, I want to be the person.
There’s nothing like that out there. I can tell you right now, I think you and I both know, there’s nothing like that. There is no experience that really. Yeah, I’m like trying to think like, I’m trying to experience the same Aha, wow factor that comes from seeing and experiencing your magic trick. And then getting that in a more personalized level. In Web three. It doesn’t exist yet.
Michael Blau: One day.
The Future of x0r
One day. Let’s see what happens. Wow. Okay, so, what’s up next for XOR? Like, what’s going on in the community? What do you have planned for all the holders? Like what can we expect next?
Michael Blau: Yeah, for sure. So, actually just did something about a week ago, which is kind of like, been my dream to do in crypto since I started NFTs. And I, of course, built a community up into to a point where I was able to do it. And it was you know; I have this fascination with NFTs that are composable and fully on chain. Okay, now, what do I mean by that? So, like you can, another smart contract on Ethereum can determine very easily if you own a board ape or not. They know that very easily. What they can’t do is they can’t tell you, if your board ape has gone far right. Now, why does this matter? Well, the more granular data that you can get from an on chain, you know, asset in this case, an NFT, the more interesting things that you can do with it, right? So, I just want to create a composable NFT, which is what I did in my recent project called metvani. So even though the metvani images are stored on our leaf, the traits of each image are indeed on chain, and they’re fully composable. And people can query them. And smart contracts can plug into them. Like, well, you do this? Well, this new idea that I had was, I want people to come to a smart contract. And basically, when the smart contract sees their wallet, and it sees what tokens they own of this Mevani NFT. It’s going to take the traits of that NFT in my case, the Legion trait, okay, that’s one of the traits and I’m going to mint you another NFT based off of that trait, okay. And this NFT is in this case, it’s a Twitter banner, that’s like a visual logo for a legion. But this banner is fully on chain. It’s like an unchained ASCII generator. So, it looks just like all my other pieces, but there’s an interesting component of it, which is that there are six legions across metvani. And that means that, and I did it so that’s actually like completely equal distribution. So, you know, there’s the same percentage are in each Legion. So, what that means is when people come in mint this, they’re gonna be like, you know, what, like, 1500 people or so that meant, you know, a searcher Legion, right is what it’s called. And they’re gonna wonder people that own that NFT. But what I did is I made these NFTs community owned. And what that means is that if you own this, this banner, and you have the ability to change components of it, so you can change like the color of the ASCII text, like the color of the image, or you can change like the actual like, remember, we set out ASCII as numbers and letters, you can change the numbers and letters with inside the image. However, if you change it, it changes for everybody else who owns the NFT. So, it’s sort of like this community own thing where it doesn’t, you can change as many times as you want, but it’s very likely that if you go change it to blue, I can then go immediately change it to red, and your changes would be overwritten. And everybody’s wallet, everybody’s NFT would change.
So, this is the product that I recently did. And it’s you know, it’s kind of my experiment with composable NFTs, updatable NFTs and unchained NFTs. But what’s interesting about it’s sort of like now the beginning of this next phase of my like artistic journey, where I want to start experimenting more with these unchained NFT aspects and how do you make NFTs updatable and change dynamically without relying on a centralized server? Because most of the time, when NFTs do change dynamically, it’s because they’re relying on some centralized server. But if you’re, you know, there are a few fun tricks you can do to kind of get around that and make it, you know, decentralized, but also dynamic. So that’s one area that I’m kind of experimenting with right now. And the other thing that I’m experimenting with is also these magic illusions. I’m not gonna say much about that, because I want, you know, under wraps for now. And the third thing is, you know, continuing to build out, you know, this, this metvani extra community, where I continue to do these educational quests on chain and stuff like that. And I think the next version of that that’s kind of coming up in the next month or so is basically what you can do is because I know if you own an NFT on Main net, but I want to token gate something on test net, what I can do is I can basically just Airdrop you, your equivalent NFT on test net, and make it non-transferable. So now your ownership on a test network is locked in to one main net. And you can use your NFT on test network to do things. But it’s more like a representation of your ownership of being a part of this community rather than like actually owning the main asset on the test network. And now what I’m going to do with this is, essentially, we’re gonna do the scavenger hunt is like the first iteration. And basically, it’s like an on chain, token gated, scavenger hunt. So, you got to own these NFTs to be able to participate, or at least participate in some components. And it’s a, it’s kind of like this, all this knowledge that people have been learning throughout these quests of like, how to read ether scan, how to interact with contracts at a low level, you know, maybe how to even coat a little bit of solidity, all this stuff, they’re gonna use to create like a 15 to 20 Stage scavenger hunt, to you know, test out their knowledge on chain and of course, you know, get a non-transferable NFT for doing that and whatnot. So, basically, a way to test out your knowledge and other stuff.
That’s really cool.
Michael Blau: That I’m experimenting with, but you know, every day, I come up with new ideas, it’s, you know, a never-ending rabbit hole.
I love it, I, you’re the first person that’s come on and actually shared, like the experimentation that that one is doing, but focusing on test net, I didn’t, I really haven’t thought about that as like an option to kind of keeping the love on Eth without needing to like to be adding new add new networks or anything like that. But also, kind of being cognizant of your collectors and not having them spend and waste a ton of money for no reason. Not for no reason. But like, for the sake of just having fun if you could go through a request and experience on test net and then get the equivalent on Main net, you know, as the reward is the outcome, it’s actually really, really smart. This has been great. Michael, you’re so knowledgeable on the space and everything that’s happening before I let you go where can we find you? Where can we find XOR and kind of show it away?
Michael Blau: Sure. Yeah, so probably the best is on Twitter, I have two accounts. I have my personal account, which is Blau your mind, @Blau your mind on Twitter. And then I have my extra account which is @XOR arts but it’s with a 0, so X0arts and you know when you go there you can find like in my bio links to my website and my Discord and my collections and all that kind of stuff.
And I’ll put stuff in the show notes, what was the last thing?
Michael Blau I was gonna say like if you’re, for anyone out there listening who wants like a community and to learn more about like the technical aspects of crypto. My show is you know, come join the discord and you know, we’d love to have you.
Sick. This has been great Michael till next time. Thank you so much.
Michael Blau: Awesome. Thanks Adam, this was awesome.