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ETHChicago Monthly - Feb 2024

The best of web3 news and events in the Midwest

GM ETHChicagoans,

It's been an exciting start of the year for the Ethereum community. Farcaster, with its innovative Frames technology, is lighting up the web3 social scene. Eigenlayer and its over $4 billion in staked ETH is forging restaking as a top 2024 narrative in the ecosystem. And the Dencun upgrade, which will dramatically lower transaction fees across ETH L2s like Base, Optimism, and Arbitrum, is currently in testnet.

We here at ETHChicago are doubling down our efforts to be at the forefront of these innovations by engaging and educating the midwest through events such as the recent Cyberjam hackathon, chronicled in this issue's Q&A with our hackathon lead, Tippi Fifestarr. As the team gears up to travel to ETHDenver (Coming to Denver? Join our ETHDenver Telegram group!) to broaden our community and learn from the biggest crypto festival in the US, we welcome you to this month's digest.

Here are this month's headlines:

  1. Cyberjam Retrospective: Q&A with Tippi Fifestarr

  2. CFC's Fashion Week and Upcoming Events in the Community

  3. Notable Reads of the Month

Cyberjam Retrospective: Q&A with Tippi Fifestarr

In mid-November of last year, our hackathon lead, Tippi Fifestarr, in collaboration with imnotArt and dozens of volunteers, led a unique and ecclectic hackathon event called the CyberJam. The week-plus event featured a blend of crypto education, inspiring live music, in-house chef-cooked food, developer games, and a hybrid IRL/virtual hackathon. Check out the highlight reel below and get to learn more about Tippi and his journey in our exclusive interview below.

Video credit: William Ojeda (@WillCreatesArt) (read more about Will at the end of the newsletter)

Vlad: You have a fascinating personal journey. How did you end up living in China and how has that shaped your worldview?

Tippi: Our attitudes and experiences shape us all. Before I became a developer and discovered blockchain technology, I had just spent about a decade in China and East Asia traveling around, teaching, and studying. I had studied Psychology and Mandarin in college, and knew immersion was the best way to learn and teach. So after I graduated I grabbed my banjo, camera, laptop, and a big backpack diving in to the language and culture. I spent a couple months of intense one-on-one language learning in Tianjin and then backpacked with my buddy 石头 (his nickname was ”stone” because he didn’t like talking) for a couple months to decide where to settle down. I chose a city called Qingdao, known for emerald ocean and red roofs, mountains in and around the city, and fresh beer (thanks to the Germans for that!).

I learned to think in Chinese, bridging cultural gaps and transforming ideas into reality during my time there. As an expat, if we wanted awesome events in “our style”, we had to make them happen. So as a DJ and photographer, I would put on events with people and that helped me gain the superpower of wrangling cats together to make stuff happen, also known as Project Management.

My last job in China was in this role, although I insisted on the job title of “Gardener” at XMandarin Chinese. There, I was tasked to update their website and get it on page one of Google for “Study Chinese in Qingdao.” As a consulting project manager, I discovered the best way to do this with them was by taking over watering the plants they had in every classroom, and as I did, check in with the internal team members who I needed to coordinate to achieve the goal. By being there regularly to water the plants literally, I became aware of the needs and highlights of the environment, and could synergize with my teammates schedule and strengths. Most importantly, I decided to return to America and dive into tech.

Vlad: Let's talk about your crypto and blockchain journey. When did you get involved and how did it happen?

Tippi: I first heard about blockchain from my friends who knew I was a traveler and they said "you should really pay attention to this." I thought, "Are you just trying to get me involved in the Bitcoin Ponzi scheme? Nice try, guys." As a traveller, I often felt the pain of withdraw limits, difficulty accessing my funds, and bad exchange rates. For fun, after talking to an old friend again, I put a single dollar of my COVID stimulus check into Bitcoin via Cashapp, 9 months later, it was nine dollars and I was like "whoa."

So I realized I really did need to pay attention to it, and after working my way from web 1.0 to web 2.0 via tutorials for a year I finally discovered the Chainlink hackathon in the spring of 2021. And when I just started seeing how complex and multidisciplinary and interesting and world-changing this stuff was I just couldn't look back. Here I am ~15 hackathons later, smiling politely.

Vlad: (laughing) On the subject of hackathons, what inspired you to create the Cyberjam and what were your main goals for it?

Tippi: Well, first and foremost “Cyberjam” sounds way cooler than “hackathon”, and therefore is more inclusive by default.

Cyberjam was inspired by you, ETHChicago, and all those hackathon experiences. After putting on ETHChicago with you in September, I called up my mentor Klaus and we came up with a few “2x bets” about ways we could make the next one twice as good, and test it on a small scale. That’s what the 2023 Cyberjam was: an experiment and rehearsal for something bigger and better, made in 5 weeks by a team of volunteers. But before I tell you our main goals, what those bets were, let me take you into the world of the hackathon noob that became a hackathon head (that’s me).

Remember, after about a year of tutorials, I started doing hackathons in 2021 as a “hacker." Within a year of wins and losses, I had a whole list of pain points about hackathons (and myself) that I spent 2023 focused on solving. As a beginner I’d have teammates drop out, burn out, or overload on brainstorming. Sometimes I was the problem on the team, getting stuck on simple things or thinking up new features right before the deadline. Often we didn't have anybody that knew how to make a design. The way I grew was by working to find those teammates, or doing those tasks and thereby improving with practice. I realized I wanted make a better hackathon. In 2022, I was volunteering with Filecoin Orbit by running a series of monthly workshops called the Hackathon Workshop Workshops, trying to build a hackathon about hackathons. After about six months of doing that with industry professionals, I realized before I could do a hackathon about hackathons, I would have to help organize a “normal” hackathon... and then I saw the tweet from and I knew what I had to do.

I was like, "How do I get a hold of these guys?" I'm tweeting at them. I'm sending emails. I filled out the forms and I just couldn't find a way to volunteer. I was at imnotArt the same time as the two Andrews, Potato and Poterala, and I went up to Matt from imnotArt and I said, "I've been really trying to figure out how to help out with ETHChicago. Do you know any of the guys?" And he's like "Yeah, they're right there both of them, go talk to these guys."

So immediately we had a great conversation and when I heard what ETHChicago was really about I was all aboard and that's where I met you. So the inspiration for the Cyberjam really was a bunch of ideas that I had in the back of my mind going into ETHChicago and then the reality of running the hackathon with James, helping mentoring, watching teams form and not form, watching people miss out on the conference part of the event because they were so busy hacking, watching the amazing videos by Willcreatesart, and I knew we couldn’t wait another year to do something. I found the people from ETHChicago who want to keep the momentum going and said let this be a small scale experimental test run of some of these key ideas that made the imnotHackathon BETA (alpha) so great:

  • Full video coverage of the event, interviews, and Willcreatesart as director

  • Multidisciplinary team formation session: Artists, developers, and designers

  • Kickoff event, a week of async work, IRL feedback and two deadlines

  • Live streaming in the metaverse, and remote speakers

  • Cullah’s check in sessions

Not everything was perfect, but all of our hackers had a great time, we raised ~$9000 from 16 sponsors and gave away almost all of that to the participants for their prize money! Our anchor sponsors, Humancore & imnotArt, were really happy with the experience. You can see the results of our little experiment here:

Vlad: Looking forward, what are your goals for future Cyberjams, and how do you see it evolving?

Tippi: Yeah, our vision for this year is really about what Amy, our executive producer, wants to do. I was the visionary for the last one and had to do a lot of leadership. The future of this some is decentralization. I would love the organizational structure to be a DAO where different types of members would be recognized and tracks such as sponsors would be getting points in the DAO and the hackers would be getting points and the organizers would be earning points. Gotta get the points. And those would be different roles that would have different access control. The next Cyberjam, will continue being a merging of tech and art where we focus on bringing user experience design into the same room as our developers and artists. We are talking about fashion. We are talking about sculpture.

Vlad: Okay, that makes sense. How do you personally stay updated with all the advancements in these fields? And are there any resources or communities you'd recommend to people out there?

Tippi: I would say it's pretty much impossible to keep up with everything in technology and everything in crypto. So my solution is just to focus on what I'm interested in learning. Being really intentional about saying I need to know what's going on with x, y and z and learning about that and then as I build projects and hit a wall, that's where I go learning new stuff. So I try not to be too obsessed with all the latest news just because I only have so much bandwidth for that.

I think resources like the ETHChicago newsletter are great. I would recommend people find a community that you resonate with and join the people in that community. If you pay attention to them and listen to them, they will know what's up. I learn all kinds of stuff about what you're keeping track of right? So everybody has their own area of expertise as you build the depth of knowledge. When you talk to your friends, that's a great chance. I’ve learned so much just from chatting with you and James He (@jameshe_eth), for example. Come to an ETHChicago event. Join our next Twitter space!

Vlad: So in terms of you beyond your Cyberjam activities and other ETHChicago things, what's the next big project or challenge that you're tackling?

Tippi: I guess the biggest challenge that I'm looking forward to is as the Metasteward at the #BUIDLathon for ETHDenver. Working directly with the legendary Jason Lee, who invented their own term for hackathon (like we did with Cyberjams). BUIDL means education + community and that's the way that they structure ETHDenver. The first part of it is very education-focused, with workshops and talks. Then the end of it is community-focused, with the final presentation on the main stages. So, as a Metasteward, my job is to be learning everything Jason Lee knows and stepping in helping him out wherever he needs help. I’m even putting together chill playlists for a DJ set and off-hours light music on the main floor of the hackathon. It’s everything all at once and it's exciting. I've never even been to ETHDenver, so you jump in full, it's just the same way I learned about Chinese and Chinese culture. It was like, you could study this in books. You can read articles, or take a course, but at the end of immersing yourself in it where you eat sleep swim you come out strong AF.

Vlad: Ok, last question. Since you just sent me that Spotify playlist over chat, tell me more about what you're listening to right now.

Tippi: I don't know if you know but it is coming up on the tree probably by the time the newsletter goes out. It will be the Chinese our Lunar New Year. So, Happy Dragon Year! It's a big, lucky year for everybody. Especially Dragon people…

If you are a Dragonborn, you should contact me and come hang out. But yeah, it's this special time and I have so many friendships and relationships that I have been trying to keep alive. One person I contacted was Barry, who runs Downtown Bar, which has been this cool indie rock and roll DJ Club in the city that I lived in for 15 years. Barry is the owner of that bar and we've had many wonderful nights partying and dancing and drinking. So I reached out to him and I said, hey, man, I want to listen to some Chinese music! Give me your recommends that I can find on Spotify and he recommended five or six artists and they were all on Spotify and I just put together a huge playlist and I'm just rocking out.

Vlad: That's awesome, we'll make sure to post your tracks for the community! Thanks for your time today.

CFC Collaboration Update and Upcoming Events in the Community

This past month, we were proud to help facilitate technology showcases for Chicago Fashion Coalition and Chicago Symphony Orchestra's groundbreaking "Soundpost: Perception." CFC also held an amazing 3-day fashion retail pop-up at Wicker Park's Olio: Curated Event Space. With the help of imnotArt's Megan Troglio, we hosted a tech+fashion panel and AI art battle (pioneered by imnotArt) that was a smash with the audience. Check out community member Ann Marie's fantastic highlight reel below:

Here are this month's notable events:

Feb 11 - Farcaster Chicago Pizza Meet Up

Feb 13 - Career Connect: Cannabis and Web3 Networking

Feb 14 - ETHChicago Podcast: Exploring xSafe's Journey


Check out our new Luma events page and submit your event!

Notable Reads of the Month

Until next time,

The ETHChicago Core Team

Stay up to date with us on social:
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About William Ojeda:

William is a Mexican-American artist from Chicago,IL. William's work embodies concepts of oneself and the things around us that visualize conflict. Fueled by contemporary culture, his interdisciplinary practice is made up of paintings, sculptures, and experimental films. There are no borders between mediums, only human perceived borders.

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