December 4, 2013

Thoughts on Bitcoin

Posted in Political, Recreational, Technical at 11:39 pm by Ian

I first heard about Bitcoin a few years ago. I was reading Hacker News, and there was a story about someone ordering a pizza with them. Over the next few months, there were many more stories, mostly about the rapidly rising value. I started to learn a little bit more about it, and found the entire concept fascinating.

Near the first price peak around $30/BTC, I remember reading an article written by a guy who had put his entire life savings into it. Wonder if he had the guts to hold all the way through.

When the price dropped down to a few dollars each, I decided to throw $20 at it.

At the time, there were a few ways to get bitcoins:

  • Mine them.
  • Find someone in person to give money to and have them transfer bitcoins to you.
  • Get some money onto an online exchange and buy them.

I didn’t want to deal with the (potential) technical complexity of setting up a mining rig for a short experiment, and even then, the days when a standard computer could generate any reasonable amount of them were waning.

In retrospect, finding someone in person would probably have been the simplest option, but at the time I didn’t really even know how to verify that things had worked and wanted to be able to comfortably nose around a website for a while without the social pressure of someone who probably just wanted to get my $20 and move on.

So I tried the online exchange method.

The process of buying them was complicated and required me to trust a variety of third parties that I had no real reason to trust.

At first, I tried going through an online virtual currency exchange that specialized in currencies from multiplayer video games. I Paypal’d some money over, then somehow managed to convert USD into Linden Dollars (the Second Life video game currency), but was unable to then convert to Bitcoin. I backed out and started over.

Then, I tried to use Mt Gox. I set up a Dwolla account, verified who I was, and waited. Then verified some more things. After a week or two, I was hitting the “buy” button. I downloaded a Bitcoin client on my computer generated a key and some addresses, and tried transferring some back and forth. The numbers decreased in one location and increased in another. Cool. I have successfully exchanged dollars for math.

At every step of the way I felt like I was on the verge of sending my money into a black hole. The addresses are meaningless strings of characters. The software was full of rough edges and The protocol is complicated and I had no real understanding of how the system worked or what I was doing.

And, for a time, they were forgotten.

Last week, the exchange rate broke $1000/BTC. And all of a sudden, they were remembered. All of a sudden, my $20 experiment was worth thousands of dollars.

I’m not sure how to feel about that. Clearly, I didn’t earn that money in any sense of the word.

If anyone tells you they can predict the future of Bitcoin, hold on to your wallet. It’s too different from anything that’s come before for existing economic models to have much predictive power. Is it currently in a bubble? Almost certainly. But that’s not the interesting question. The interesting question is what it means for the future of money. I won’t pretend to know. But I am fascinated by it. It’s an amazing and brilliant experiment at the intersection of technology and math and economics and I’m loving every wild moment of it.

I just reread Ender’s Game, and I was struck with the parallels between Satoshi Nakamoto, the pseudonymous creator of Bitcoin, and Locke and Demosthenes, the internet personalities created by the elder Wiggin children to influence public discourse on the internet. In the story, they leverage their fame and readership into political power. Nakamoto leveraged some clever math, a bit of code and some spare CPU cycles into a fortune of billions. This is what it looks like to have an idea so powerful that it changes the world.


September 8, 2005

The Will of the People

Posted in Political at 9:21 pm by Ian

You may have heard about the recent passage of a bill supporting same sex marriage by the California legislature. It looks now like it’s not going to become law, but it’s made me think a lot about how democracy ought to work when confronted with an important issue.

It’s no secret that I consider the anti-gay marriage position to be absurdly injust. Read Loving v. Virginia as analogous. Those on the wrong side of history always cling to tradition without reason.

But in the case of AB 849, things are more complicated.

Just five years ago, 61% of the voters of California approved Proposition 22, which added the following language to the California Family Code

308.5. Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.

The really interesting thing about this addition, legally, is that it’s added to the section describing the validity of marriages performed in other states. So, if AB 849 were passed, it might end up that California would recognize same sex marriages performed within its borders, but not those performed elsewhere. The end result of such an incongruity is far from certain, but it involves the Full Faith and Credit clause of the US Constitution, the Federal Defense of Marriage Act, and the California constitutional rules about the legislature not overriding initiatives.

But none of that matters right now; Arnie won’t sign it. He says that he won’t sign it because it clearly counteracts the will of the people, as shown by Prop 22. I can respect an elected offical not just punting responsibility for constitutional lawmaking to the courts, but I think he won’t sign it because he’s pandering to bigots. So he’s lost my vote. A lot can change in five years, especially on as visible an issue as this. Are we really sure what the will of the people is, anymore?

March 17, 2005

The Multinational Conglomerate Who Cares

Posted in Political at 7:35 pm by Ian

You know, credit card companies have gotten a bad rap lately, what with the recent vote on the bankruptcy bill that has caused some to characterized Senators as the “hired thugs” of the credit card companies. But, clearly, they’re not all bad. Senator Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), who was a major sponsor of the bill, came out in favor of the noble principle of separation of church and state. When asked how he, a good Christian, could condone such usurious practices when the Bible itself condemns it and requires that debt be forgiven after seven years, Grassley responded

I can’t listen to Christian lawyers because I would be imposing the Bible on a diverse population.

Grassley, for the record, is a supporter of the Federal Marriage Amendment.

But enough about all them. My credit card company has nothing but love for me. They sent me a lovely letter today.

Dear Holder of Account ending in xxxx

It seems that they’ve become with concerned with my potential ability to pay my credit cards if I or one of my dependents should become violently ill or unemployed. Because, after all, those percentages are tremendous. For just an absurd amount of money per $100 each month, I will be protected against the kinds of financial insolvency that I used to have governmental protection from. It’s really quite brilliant, you see. Buy the right to bankruptcy away from the Senate and then sell it back to your customers!

But wait. There’s more!

Credit Protector also cancels my minimum amount due for 1 month if I or anyone in my household experiences certain life events that impact my income, such as moving to a new residence, entering college, marriage, or birth or adoption of a child (1 life event per calender year)

I can see it now: “Sorry, dear, I’m afraid you’ll just have to wait until next year to get married. Your brother went to college this year, and we’re all out of life events credits.”

The best part, though, is that I can sign up by cashing the $10 check they sent me. And I get the first month free. And I can cancel at any time…

Thanks Citibank! Thanks a ten-spot!

February 25, 2005


Posted in Political at 3:03 pm by Ian

If you’ve been searching for that “special someone,” but just haven’t found the right mix of interest, spontaneity, and radical jingoistic conservatism that you need to forge a special connection, don’t despair! Sean Hannity is here for you. Experience the sparkle of new romance and discovery as you read all about your potential matches.

Krista, 36, writes:

I love this country and I support our president…

And if that’s not getting you hot and bothered, Kathy, 47, after mentioning which branch of the armed services her main male relatives were enlisted in (but not her ex-husband. He was probably a liberal coward) concludes with

I love my Lord, my family, my Country and the military.

I don’t know about you, but my heart certainly swells with pride and lust when someone mentions God and the Military in the same breath.

Also check out page 5, where Whitley laments that she has not found someone with “mutual respect, whit, adventure, intelligence…” and then goes on to misplace an apostrophe in the very next sentence! Just hold on a little longer, Whitley. You’re closer than ever to finding a suitable match with!

Like the rest of you, I’m going to leap at this opportunity. Here’s what I have so far. Let me know what you think

Ian, 23, CA.
I’m a white male (wow, there sure a lot of us on here!). I am physically fit and would like to meet a business minded conservative lady 20-30 who is also physically fit but most importantly NOT LIBERAL. It’s hard enough living in California where the liberal “majority” includes dead people voting, more votes than voters, etc. I don’t need that kind of thing in a relationship! I would like to find someone whose Conservative views, love of our country, and appreciation for our wonderful President and his fantastic administration are shared. I enjoy swing dancing, long walks on the beach, and proclaiming lawful dissent to be unpatriotic.

October 31, 2004

The Sad State of Education in California

Posted in Political at 8:29 pm by Ian

As Tip O’Neill said, “All politics is local.” So, for the next few days (in the spirit of the season), I’ll be focusing on issues local to California and even to Santa Barbara (if I can figure out what they are). The first to the block is education, in which, as many know, things are Not Going Well™. The Kindergarten Science Education standards for California, for one, are severely lacking. For example, in the Earth Sciences section, we learn that Kindergarteners are expected to know that

3. Earth is composed of land, air, and water. As a basis for understanding…

What a mockery of learning. How can our young students be expected to function in a modern society without a reasonable understanding of all the elements. Write your senators and demand that Fire be added to the Kindergarten curriculum.

Remember: children are our future.

October 29, 2004

Why You Should Vote For Bush

Posted in Political at 10:07 pm by Ian

What I am about to recommend may seem like a shock to you (coming from me), but I ask you to hear me through to the end. Though I would generally not advocate such behavior, desperate times call for desperate measures.

“But Ian,” say some, “Didn’t you already vote for Kerry and mail your absentee ballot weeks ago? Don’t you scoff with disgust at the tatters of traditional conservativism the modern Republican party has left behind, feel shame at the great distrust the rest of the world feels towards America, and believe in the ideals of progress and equality that liberals are known for? And haven’t you been drinking?”

These are all true.

Yet, there are many reasons to vote for Bush this Tuesday:

But if none of those are good enough for you, let me offer this in all sincerity: The Electoral College is an antiquated and unnecessary institution that inflates the votes of small states and leads to pork-barrel spending in swing states at the expense of the rest of us. The best thing that could happen in this election is for Bush to win the popular vote and Kerry the election. This could lead to truly bi-partisan support for abolishing the Electoral College (assuming the racists let it through this time). California’s going to Kerry; if you live here, vote Bush.

Or you could take the long view and want to see him continue to fuck up the mess he started.

May 2, 2004

500th Entry!

Posted in Political at 10:03 pm by Ian

Ok, that's not actually what I was going to write about. I was going to write about dance, and the concert, and how it's over now, and all that, but I'm tired, so that will have to wait for another day.

In the meantime, enjoy the church of the Invisible Pink Unicorn

The Invisible Pink Unicorn is a being of great spiritual power. We know this because she is capable of being invisible and pink at the same time. Like all religions, the Faith of the Invisible Pink Unicorn is based upon both logic and faith. We have faith that she is pink; we logically know that she is invisible because we can't see her.

March 22, 2004

We Want You!

Posted in Political at 9:47 am by Ian

You may remember, a while ago, when I mentioned the American Family Association‘s poll on gay marriage, which didn’t quite go as well as they had hoped.

Well, it seems that they didn’t really learn from their lesson. I just received an automated email from them telling me about another online poll, this time to predict the next President of the US. But, see, they sent this email to all the people who voted for gay marraige last time, thus again rendering their poll a humorous example of a skewed sample.

Either that, or with 89% of the conservative traditional-family crowd, Kerry’s going to win this thing in a walk.

March 11, 2004

Rock Your Own Damn Vote

Posted in Political at 5:15 pm by Ian

MTV’s rock the vote has a new tactic for getting the message out:

Rock the Mobile Vote will be calling participants with get-out-the-vote pleas recorded by rock stars.


Great. I’m sure that recordings of Britney Spears will save Democracy.

January 22, 2004

Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha

Posted in Political at 10:18 am by Ian

It seems that this poll on gay marriage by the American Family Association didn’t quite go as they had planned

It just so happens that homosexual activist groups around the country got a hold of the poll… [and turned] their organizations around the country (onto) the poll to try to cause it to represent something other than what we wanted it to. And so far, they succeeded with that.
(emphasis mine)

How dare they!

That poll was supposed to misrepresent America in the other direction!

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