S13 E3: Casey Rodarmor on Ordinals, Inscriptions & Bitcoin Culture

Ordinal inscriptions are all the rage. They obsoleted the concept of NFTs by offering artists a permanent way to display their finest works… on the Bitcoin blockchain. Casey Rodarmor, the self-proclaimed “disgraced Bitcoin Core developer” who previously worked at Chaincode Labs and also created a way to monetize file storage via Lightning (see the Agora project), is now in the spotlight for bringing a lot of action to Bitcoin.

Ordinals are essentially colored coins with an attached file that gets stored by every Bitcoin node. They’re a modern day adaptation and refinement of a concept that was first proposed on Bitcoin Talk in October 2012 by an user named jl2012. But the way in which Ordinals use Taproot and SegWit in order to insert files into the Bitcoin blockchain is truly unique. And while NFTs are mere tokens whose representation exists on a third party centralized server (as is the case with Counterparty assets), Ordinal inscriptions are hardcore and costly.

The brilliance of Casey Rodarmor’s design can be seen in the way that he designed the inscriptions: all transactions use Taproot and take advantage of the 75% SegWit discount. In order for users to start issuing Ordinals, they need to download and sync a Bitcoin Core node (only versions newer than 24 will work), use the command line Ord wallet, and also type in a series of inputs to instruct your node to send a certain type of transaction.

This might sound complicated, but lots of Bitcoin users seem to be inscribing memes, messages, trolling attempts, and all sorts of digital artefacts which turn Bitcoin into a time capsule for our times. When I set up the interview with Casey Rodarmor, there were fewer than 1000 inscriptions and the phenomenon was still small. By the time we livestreamed our chat, the number jumped to about 9000. And in only 6 days, we’re past the 58200 inscriptions mark. During my experimentation with Ordinals, I’ve managed to inscribe VLADHEAD (number 13494) and RODARMORHEAD (number 13284) – it wasn’t easy, but it was educational.

Inscription 13284

What’s really interesting about these Ordinals is that they attracted people who otherwise aren’t interested in Bitcoin. Plenty of Ethereum NFT folks decided to synchronize full nodes and pay high fees to the Bitcoin miners in order to immortalize their art on the network that will most likely outlive them. Consequently, miners started making more profits and the hashrate (as well as the difficulty) went up to record highs. It would be pretty ironic if this unpopular invention ended up providing a large chunk of Bitcoin’s security budget over the long term. Because, as the block subsidy gets halved every 210.000 blocks (~4 years), the BTC price needs to either double or else the fees need to get higher to compensate for the miners’ loss.

The Rust code for Ordinals, which took Casey Rodarmor about a year to write, was refined with a mindset of elegant minimalism. The instructions to build and run the Ord wallet can fit on a T-shirt. Ordinals make use of Bitcoin OP codes such as OP_PUSHNUM and OP_PUSHBYTES. And the so-called “files” or “jpegs” get stored as code which requires the proper software to decipher. The first such example is Casey’s own Ordinals.com website, which plays the role of both a blockchain explorer for Ordinal inscriptions and a guide for people who want to understand how everything works.

Naturally, in the context of a global permissionless computer network, this freedom to encode larger files via OP_RETURN has been abused by people who want to shock the world with their content. Some folks paid hundreds of dollars in transaction fees to make sure that everyone’s Bitcoin node is going to store some questionable adult content – which Casey promptly removed from his Ordinals explorer, to deter this type of behavior and also keep the image of the project clean.

But if you scroll through the almost 60.000 inscriptions registered at the time of this article, you’re going to notice that most images, audio files and text messages depict art collections, political satire, moments from history (Tiananmen Square, for example) and other types of items that Bitcoin wanted to stare in the eternal time capsule. For now, Ordinal inscriptions are controversial to the point of division between bitcoiners. Some developers created filters which prevent these particular transactions from entering the mempool of nodes, in hopes that they will be censored and stopped from entering blocks – though inscribers rely one full nodes to broadcast their transactions, so the attempt is futile. However, one can imagine how in a few decades there will be historians who search through these inscriptions to learn more about our culture.

Are Ordinal inscriptions just a fad that will go away as soon as transaction fees increase, or will they change the fate of Bitcoin? Is there room for artistic expression on the Bitcoin blockchain? Will Justin Wales’ vision of a Bitcoin network that’s protected by the US Constitution’s First Amendment come to fruition? Will regulators get confused about what Bitcoin is, now that monetary transactions are complemented to a large extent by art and speech? Will third world country node operators get phased out by the increasing storage costs and higher data requirements that come with larger blocks? And will all the angry Bitcoin developers (most of them associated with Blockstream, to some extent) come to terms that Bitcoin is so much more than a money network?

Well, there is only one way to find out. But if you’d like to learn more about Ordinal inscriptions to understand all sides of this debate, then you should definitely listen to S13 E3 of the Bitcoin Takeover podcast, a 3-hour marathon featuring Ordinals creator and Hell Money co-host Casey Rodarmor.

Listen to Casey Rodarmor talk about Ordinals on Apple Podcasts, Spotify & YouTube!

Originally, this episode was recorded during a YouTube livestream. So if you’d love to enjoy the raw and ad-free experience, then YouTube is the best way to go. On every other platform, you’re going to hear ads – but the audio quality has been improved with levelling, equalization and compression.

For the best audio experience and the highest amount of privacy, I recommend you to not use big tech platforms and go for this free player instead. But if you do use Spotify or Apple Podcasts, then please subscribe and leave ratings/feedback. Your contribution only takes a few seconds, but makes a huge difference in terms of discoverability. People searching for good Bitcoin content will get a suggestion to listen to Bitcoin Takeover podcast much sooner.

The NFTs on Ethereum (00:05:19) Casey Rodarmor discusses his initial interest in NFTs on Ethereum and the reasons why he ultimately decided to create a Bitcoin alternative.

Introducing Ordinals on Bitcoin (00:07:33) Casey Rodarmor explains the concept of Ordinals, a way of opting into a view of the Bitcoin layer one where each satoshi has a unique identity and can be tracked. He discusses the development of Ordinals and the creation of the Ordinals.com block explorer.

The Mainnet Release of Inscriptions (00:09:51) Casey Rodarmor talks about the release of inscriptions, a design that includes the inscription content in a Bitcoin transaction’s witness side. He shares the success and attention that followed the release and the challenges of dealing with the increased interest.

Comparison of privacy models in Counterparty and Ethereum (00:12:15) . Vlad and Casey discuss the privacy features of Counterparty, such as multiple nodes from the same wallet, and the lack of privacy in Ethereum.

Praising the design of ordinals and inscriptions. (00:14:15)

Vlad praises the design of ordinals and inscriptions, stating that it is a more elegant version of colored coins with taproot.

Discussion about data storage in the Bitcoin blockchain (00:18:25) . Vlad questions whether taproot transactions allow for inserting files of any size into the Bitcoin blockchain, and Casey Rodarmor explains that while taproot made it easier, it has always been possible to store data in Bitcoin transactions.

The NFT discussion (00:23:40) Vlad and Casey discuss the convenience and potential uses of NFTs, including a comparison to a butt plug and the benefits of different wallet options.

Bitcoin’s permissionless nature (00:24:16) Vlad and Casey talk about the misconception of Bitcoin being fully permissionless and how some people advocate for excluding certain users from the network.

The impact of witness pruning on running full nodes (00:26:06) They discuss how witness pruning can make it easier to run a full node in resource-constrained countries and the potential implications for transaction fees and the ability to sync the blockchain.

The Mutable Art Concept (00:34:37) Discussion about the concept of mutable art and the ability to change the image or representation of an NFT.

Importance of Immutable On-Chain Data (00:36:23) Exploration of the value of immutable on-chain data and how it is highly regarded by people, even if the image itself may not have the same level of value.

Bitcoin as a Venue for Political Speech (00:40:12) Conversation about using Bitcoin for political expression, including examples of political messages being sent through the blockchain and the potential for Bitcoin to be protected as free speech under the First Amendment.

Bitcoin businesses adding inscriptions to attract customers (00:46:08) Discussion about a potential business model for Bitcoin businesses to offer inscriptions as an add-on for Bitcoin customers.

Haters of inscriptions and advice for Bitcoin maxis (00:47:02) Discussion about the criticism and negativity towards inscriptions and advice for Bitcoin maximalists to not mention or blast inscriptions to their followers.

Comparison of different token types and their trade-offs (00:48:26) Explanation of the trade-offs and characteristics of different token types, including Counterparty, ERC-721 tokens on Ethereum, RGB, and Taro (Taproot Assets).

Concerns about blockchain size and storage capacity **00:57:19 – ** Vlad discusses the concerns about the increasing size of the blockchain and the potential impact on storage capacity for full nodes.

01:00:27 – Cryptosteel’s metal backup system Vlad talks about the Crypto Steel metal backup system and its features for securing wallet seed phrases.

01:02:07 – Shopping with Bitcoin on ShopInBit Vlad mentions ShopInBit, Europe’s biggest Bitcoin store, and highlights its wide range of products and services, including travel hacking.

The Future of Inscriptions in Bitcoin 01:10:08 – Discussion on the marginal consumer of block space, attention on inscriptions, and the value of small financial transactions.

Equilibrium of Inscriptions in Blocks 01:11:07 – Speculation on the proportion of inscriptions in blocks, the potential for small and amazing inscriptions, and the majority being financial transactions.

Existing Market for Inscriptions 01:12:50 – Exploration of the current market for inscriptions, over-the-counter peer-to-peer trades, and the potential for a decentralized marketplace.

The inscriptions as fees (01:21:07) Discussion about how inscriptions can be accidentally sent as fees and intentionally used to pay fees in other transactions.

Making inscriptions enter general circulation (01:21:55) Exploration of an art project involving sending inscriptions as fees to track their transfer in general circulation.

Destroying ordinals and the concept of Hell Money (01:23:39) Explanation of how ordinals can be destroyed and the concept of Hell Money as a form of offering to the underworld.

Drivechains and Sidechains (01:31:57) Discussion about the concept of Drivechain, its popularity, and Casey’s current opinion on it. Also, Casey expresses lack of interest in sidechains with different tokens.

Bridges and Security Risks (01:35:17) Speaker’s opinion on bridges between different chains, the potential security risks associated with them, and the preference for native Bitcoin and Lightning.

Feedback and Reactions to Ordinals (01:39:36) Casey Rodarmor’s experience with feedback from Bitcoin developers regarding the concept of ordinals, including positive and negative reactions, principled objections, and the small percentage of negative feedback received.

The Conversation about NFTs (01:42:54) Vlad & Casey discuss the criticism and potential ramifications of NFTs on the blockchain.

The Problem with Ordinals (01:43:59) Vlad expresses their personal opinion on the problem with ordinals and how it breaks the narrative of Bitcoin usage.

Bitcoin’s Use and Impact (01:45:48) Casey discusses the use of Bitcoin, its impact on the network, and the concern about third-world citizens’ ability to use it.

Bitcoin Maximalism and Self-Sovereignty (01:53:37) Discussion on the importance of running full nodes, holding Bitcoin securely, and promoting self-sovereignty.

Bitcoin Maximalism vs. BTC Maximalism (01:54:59) Differentiating between Bitcoin maximalism and BTC maximalism, and the desire to maximize Bitcoin’s market share.

Growing the Bitcoin and BTC Pie (01:57:46) Advocating for growing the Bitcoin network and BTC token without destroying other projects, promoting competition, and enabling more valuable use cases.

The Value of Intellectual Property (02:04:44) Discussion about the value of intellectual property and its role in protecting and creating value.

Monetizing with Lightning (02:06:32) Exploring potential ways to monetize a website, including the concept of paying to boost inscriptions in a gallery using Lightning.

Open Source Projects (02:07:28) Conversation about open source projects, including the open source BTCTKVR magazine and the development of an open source compiler called “Just.”

Becoming a spook and quitting (02:15:20) Vlad mentions Casey’s transition from his previous job into generative art and quitting to work at Chaincode Labs.

Working on Bitcoin Core and leaving Chaincode Labs (02:15:41) Speaker 2 talks about his involvement in Bitcoin Core development and his decision to leave Chaincode Labs due to his preference for Rust over C++.

Working at Facebook and quitting (02:17:34) Casey Rodarmor shares his experience working at Facebook’s Oculus and his decision to quit after feeling unmotivated and uninterested in VR technology.

The first sat (02:25:05) Explanation of different levels of rarity and inscriptions in NFTs, including common, rare, and legendary sets.

Do you lift weights? (02:26:17) Discussion about weightlifting and whether Casey lifts weights.

If we knew in 2021 and 2017… (02:27:17) Response to a comment about the potential impact of NFTs on the adoption of Taproot and SegWit in Bitcoin.

Legal Systems and Human Organization (02:36:23) Discussion about the fascination with legal systems and how they evolve to solve problems and avoid violence.

Bitcoin is for Enemies (02:40:06) Exploration of how Bitcoin can be used by individuals with bitter conflicts, contributing to the same economic system and avoiding violence.

The Direction of Bitcoin and Resistance to Control (02:45:03) Conversation about the design of Bitcoin to resist control and the potential dangers of Bitcoin becoming fully integrated into the legacy system.

Nation States and Bitcoin (02:48:21) Discussion on the lack of strong reaction from nation states towards Bitcoin and the potential reasons behind it.

Bitcoin as a Unit of Account (02:49:52) Exploration of the idea of Bitcoin becoming a unit of account and the potential indicators of winning in the Bitcoin space.

Nation States and Bitcoin’s Impact (02:50:38) Speculation on how Bitcoin’s influence could lead to nation states improving their monetary policies and reducing harmful practices.

The difference between Casey Rodarmor and Jeremy Rubin **03:00:16 – ** Vlad discusses the difference between Casey and Jeremy Rubin, highlighting the fact that Casey built something while Jeremy had to ask for permission.

03:02:48 – Casey’s view on guns and their importance Casey expresses his views on guns and their significance, discussing how access to firearms can level the playing field against a powerful nation-state.

03:06:52 – Americans as a hard-to-anticipate adversary Vlad and Casey discuss how Americans can be a difficult adversary to anticipate due to their unique characteristics and motivations.

Op_Vault and Ordinal Inscriptions

(03:11:26) Explanation of how the proposed opcode “op_vault” can be used with ordinals and inscriptions for cold storage and secure Bitcoin transactions.

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Vlad Costea

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