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May 25, 2023

Squiggles Bring Out the Best in Web3 in Tribute to Hal Finney

As a special auction celebrates the early pioneer of Bitcoin, Snowfro shares what makes Chromie Squiggles special to him
Credit: Snowfro, Chromie Squiggle #0, 2020. Courtesy of the artist
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Squiggles Bring Out the Best in Web3 in Tribute to Hal Finney
We are pleased to announce that “Snowfro’s Squiggles: The Auction” has raised 149 ETH ($265,000) in support of The ALS Association.

After the success of Cure³ earlier this year in raising over $250,000 for Cure Parkinson’s through the sale of NFTs, we are pleased to announce that yesterday RCS repeated the feat, raising 149.04 ETH ($265,000) through a special charitable auction of ten unminted Chromie Squiggles in support of The ALS Association via The Giving Block. Together with our friends at VerticalCrypto Art and thanks to the generosity of the artist Snowfro, we are proud to continue supporting the cause of generative artists in fighting degenerative diseases. The ALS Association provides assistance for people with ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), coordinating multidisciplinary care, fostering government partnerships, and enhancing quality of life while aggressively searching for new treatments and a cure. 

Chromie Squiggles are a universal symbol of the inclusive power of Web3, which makes this auction of some of the last unminted Squiggles a fitting tribute to the towering legacy of Hal Finney, the pioneer of Bitcoin who sadly passed away in 2014 after being diagnosed with ALS. Hal’s wife Fran continues to raise funds to benefit those suffering from ALS via an annual half marathon, the Running Bitcoin Challenge, that pays tribute to Hal’s love of running as well as his most famous tweet.

A distinguished cryptographer and active member of the “obscure” yet legendary cypherpunks mailing list, Finney is widely known in Web3 as the recipient of the first ever Bitcoin transaction and the first person, after Satoshi Nakamoto, to run a Bitcoin node, mining blocks for the Bitcoin blockchain network. Speculation continues today that Finney and Satoshi Nakamoto are one and the same, with even Ethereum founder, Vitalik Buterin, stating that Finney may have been Bitcoin’s inventor. But beyond Finney’s own repeated denials, this notion has also been challenged.

Whatever the truth of the matter, Finney’s contribution to modern day cryptography and digital privacy is indisputable. As a volunteer and then employee of the PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) Corporation, working closely with its founder Philip Zimmermann he helped to develop what later became the most widely used software for email and file protection. Contributing to the growing body of research on proof of work (PoW) in the 1990s, in 2004, Finney developed a prototype for Reusable Proof of Work

In 2008, when Nakamoto first shared the Bitcoin white paper with the Cryptography Mailing List, he received “a skeptical reception at best.” Indeed, at the time, Finney was the only member to respond positively, describing Bitcoin as a “very promising and original idea.” In a subsequent email exchange, Finney provided feedback and bug reports that helped Nakamoto get Bitcoin off the ground.

A man goes in to see his doctor, and after some tests, the doctor says, “I'm sorry, but you have a fatal disease.”
Man: “That’s terrible! How long have I got?”
Doctor: “Ten.”
Man: “Ten? What kind of answer is that? Ten months? Ten years? Ten what?”
The doctor looks at his watch. “Nine.”

Hal Finney 

Hal and Fran Finney. Image courtesy of Cointelegraph

However, only months after he began his involvement with Bitcoin, Finney was sadly diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, a fatal degenerative disease with a life expectancy of under five years. As Finney explained in his blog post, “Dying Outside,” “ALS causes nerve damage, progressive muscle weakness and paralysis, and ultimately death,” with patients losing “the ability to talk, walk, move, eventually even to breathe.” Finney’s courage in facing ALS was remarkable. In his own words:

“Even as my body is dying outside, I will remain alive inside.” Just a year before his death, in 2013, with his health having severely deteriorated, Finney stated: “I’m pretty lucky overall. Even with the ALS, my life is very satisfying.” 

Following Finney’s ultimate passing, a Bitcoin Fund was promptly established to pool funds for the fight against ALS. Today, charitable giving is prevalent in Web3, while Finney’s wife Fran continues to lead the cause of finding a cure for ALS. Thanks to Snowfro’s generous donation, proceeds from ten of the last unminted Chromie Squiggles will now be used to do the same. Ahead of this special auction, RCS asked the artist to share what makes Squiggles special to him.

Snowfro on the Squiggle as a signature

I regard the Squiggle as my signature as an entrepreneur, both as a tech person and as an artist, because a lot had to happen for the Squiggle to exist today. Other people have also been using Squiggles as a signature, but Ryan Zurrer’s recent think piece has triggered many more to start adopting the Squiggle as a signature. I’ve been signing documents with a Squiggle, plus my name, for a while now because Squiggles embody entrepreneurship as well as individuality. 

Some people hide behind a PFP in order to behave in a way they wouldn’t in person — for example, by flipping in a way they wouldn’t in front of an artist. There are also people in the public space of Web3 who show greater kindness and compassion for other people than they might do in person. I see a relative correlation between the people acting in that way and those who are excited about Squiggles, even if they don’t necessarily have one themselves. 

I can’t quite put my finger on it but there does seem to be something about the Squiggle that almost normalizes kindness. That might be because the original intention of the Squiggle was to be an inclusive symbol that made people smile. But it’s also really neat to see even staunch business people using rainbows to sign their real estate deals. 

Snowfro on animating Squiggles

I love what Squiggles look like when animated because it takes me back to the days of playing with chromatic spectrums in Arduino. When LED bulbs first came out, people would get excited about cycling through all the colors, which was their way of exploring this new technology. But I always preferred to pick one color and stick with it, or else to pick a new color every day. 

The animated Squiggle was a little treat for people who wanted to see it moving. But ultimately, a Squiggle’s default state is static because if it is moving you don’t know what the first and last color is, so you lose the essentially deterministic nature of the Squiggle

That determinism ensures that your Squiggle is never going to look like a different Squiggle, while at Art Blocks we also make sure it looks exactly the same at different resolutions. That longevity is necessary to the value proposition. In fact, if you take a Fidenza (2021) and show it on a computer screen today, and then you show it on a 24K computer screen in 20 years, it will look identical. Many of the artworks that I was collecting back in 2017 are not scaling with today’s computer screen resolution unless I make them small or unless they’re upsampled. The principle of storing something on-chain is that the instructions dictate what happens on a screen, regardless of the resolution.

Snowfro, Chromie Squiggle #2477, 2020. Courtesy of Edward Taylor

Snowfro on the search for the grail

With Squiggles, I think it’s interesting that something so plain could also be so variable. Of course, if you’ve never seen Squiggles before you wouldn’t necessarily be able to distinguish between them, but if you know them well you will be able to identify a slinky, a fuzzy, and so forth. There’s a rabbit hole of understanding that comes with the on-chain determinism of Squiggles — once you’ve minted them they remain the same forever. But for someone to make that a demonstration of their individuality in the otherwise noisy space of Web3 is really interesting to me.

A lot of what we value about generative art, especially long-form generative art, is the vast diversity of outputs. But the Squiggle has a sweet spot similar to Apes, Punks, and the other massive 10,000-strong projects where you can still be an individual while clearly belonging to a larger family. 

The Squiggle has a level of balance where you know what you’re looking at but you can still differentiate one from another. To me, a successful long-form generative art piece is one that is curated in advance, without knowing what’s going to happen, that affords the opportunity for a seemingly unlimited number of outputs. But that also depends on the willingness of an artist to relinquish control. If you cede too much control, the project won’t meet your aesthetic expectations. But if you don’t relinquish enough control, there will be too much similarity between outputs. For me, parametric art is where the user — the one making the purchase — has control, while generative art relies on the injection of randomization. 

When we launched Art Blocks, I wasn’t expecting anything to be seen as a grail. Obviously, I had rare Punks and I understood what rare things were. But when I think of grails in the context of generative art, I think of them from a democratization perspective and the fact that everybody initially pays the same price and doesn’t know what they’re going to get. I wasn’t expecting the escalation of rarity that comes with Squiggles, which is part of the delight of experiencing something on demand and in the moment.

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Erick Calderon, better known as Snowfro, is an entrepreneur, artist, and technology enthusiast born in Mexico City and residing in Houston, Texas. He spent the first 18 years of his career operating a boutique ceramic tile company named La Nova Tile, working with high-end architecture and interior design projects across the United States. In his early 30s, he began developing artistic projects, creating works in multiple media including video projections, computer code, 3D printing, and sculpture. In 2020, he founded Art Blocks as a platform for on-demand generative art on the Ethereum blockchain. He released his own artwork, Chromie Squiggle — an algorithmic edition of 10,000 NFTs — as the first project on the Art Blocks platform. Calderon is a tireless advocate of NFTs as a technology, and is dedicated to elevating generative art as a medium of expression within the world of contemporary art.

Foteini Valeonti is the Lead Author of “Crypto Collectibles, Museum Funding and OpenGLAM: Challenges, Opportunities and the Potential of Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs),” one of the first in-depth studies of the NFT as it relates to the cultural heritage sector. Dr Valeonti is a Research Fellow at UCL and the Founder of USEUM Collectibles, a UCL spin-out company, providing research-driven consulting to cultural institutions on NFTs and Web3, whose clients include major institutions such as the Natural History Museum in London. She holds a BSc in Computer Science and a PhD in Digital Humanities. She is currently advising policymakers while helping major museums, companies, and smaller heritage institutions to leverage NFTs for public benefit.

Alex Estorick is Editor-in-Chief at Right Click Save.