PZ 68: Tokens, Tools, and Fools, with Alvin Lau

Poker, crypto, and the Non-Fungible Token craze are all well-met bedfellows: exciting, profitable, and a little grimey. Overnight Monster and Bluff Barbarian creator Alvin Lau took a flyer on a new NFT project this year, Hungry Ghosts, and this is his story. Listen to him on today’s Zoo describe many of the truths of NFT projects and the interesting culture that drives them.

Alvin is a professional poker player and coach, and consistent guest on the Zoo. Here are some links relevant to the conversation:

Twitter back and forths between the Hungry Ghost team and Print My Mint

Alvin’s statement on Medium

Twitter takes up the Trosley Hustler drawings.

Statement from Trosley/Jungle Freaks.

In February 2021, a 10-second video by an artist named Beeple sold online for $6.6 million. Around the same time, Christie’s announced that it would be selling a collage of 5,000 “all-digital” works by the Wisconsin-based artist, whose real name is Mike Winkelmann. It was put on a virtual auction block with a starting price of $100 — and on March 11 it sold for a staggering $69 million.

Beyond the high prices, there was one other fact that observers found fascinating. In exchange for their money, collectors who buy Beeples don’t receive any physical manifestation of the artwork. Not even a framed print. What they do get is an increasingly popular kind of cryptoasset called an NFT — short for non-fungible token.

— from Coinbase

Not everyone is as enthusiastic:

No matter their original intent, it’s abundantly clear that in 2021 NFTs are not about supporting art or artists. NFT minting sites charge massive fees that often outstrip returns on the sale. No governing body exists to enforce resale commissions when an NFT changes hands. Little to no protections exist for buyers. Purchased NFTs still “live” in the purchaser’s “wallet” on the company’s server, and many have already disappeared without any recourse for the owners.

Even if NFTs were somehow benefitting artists or museums, there is no justifying the massive environmental impacts of minting a single NFT (or a blockchain itself) on an already urgent climate crisis. And before you think it, here’s the article to send to people when they ask if the environmental issues with cryptoart might soon be solved (spoiler: it won’t, with offsets or otherwise).

imagine if keeping your car idling 24/7 produced solved Sudokus that could verify you paid $1,000 for a PNG file — Senior Data Masseuse (@ryxcommar) March 16, 2021

— Eric Longo from the MCN Blog

Let’s conclude with a balanced conversation on NFTs led by cultural commentator Sonny Bunch.

7 thoughts on “PZ 68: Tokens, Tools, and Fools, with Alvin Lau

  1. Well, this one wins the title as the oddest of podcasts in this series. Yet, I listened through it all, if only to learn more about a domain I knew so little about. I am “invested” in crypto, in the sense of putting some poker-related earnings into an asset class that is growing faster than the traditional ones, and will probably continue to do so. But NFTs as a manifestation of digital art and pop culture, seemed to me – on the surface – to be more of a fad than a true product. While this discussion did little to change my mind in that respect, I learned that:

    – Intelligent developers and entrepreneurs like Alvin are engaged in the space.

    – There seems to be a general interest in “owning” bespoke art, even as a purely digital product (I’d probably want some sort of print to hang on my wall, if I liked the art)

    – As expected, there’s a high level of scamming involved for any honest startup to cope with.

    – Jonathan Little took photos of homeless people and tried to upsell them as “art”. That last point beats them all.

    1. Yeah Alvin is honestly the most unpleasant person to deal with I ran across in a 15 year poker career and I guess he rug pulled this thing or something? There’s nothing about hungry ghosts on the internet at all anymore.

      1. I don’t know how you’d describe all the different ways these projects cease (most of them will go belly up for one reason or another, more from stupidity than malice, I’d say) but this one appears over. One tracking site suggests Opensea stopped selling them around March 2022.

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