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.


May 18, 2006

In Which Rationalism Suffers a Crippling Defeat at the Hands of Consumerism

Posted in Technical at 9:58 pm by Ian

So far, I’ve made it a full four days without buying a Macbook. I consider this to be quite the accomplishment. And I’ve already decided not to get the black one.

The thing is, when you look at the specs, the only upgrade between the good white one and the black one is 20 Gigs of drive. Even at 2.5″ drive prices, you’re looking at a solid $180 worth of black.

And I remain vigilant. I just can’t justify buying another computer. The ones I have work fine!

I have decided that I will wait a few weeks and see if I can get one refurbished for a bit less. And if I can’t, I’ll just buy one anyway. That’ll show ’em.

June 9, 2003


Posted in Technical at 10:15 pm by Ian

That’s it computer. You did not just disconnect me right when I was going to win. This is the last straw.

I will hurt you. I will make all your electrodes cry out with the pain of a million volts. You don’t want to know what I can do to you, computer.

I will put cheese in your floppy drive, bologna in your cd drive, and will fill your I/O ports with ketchup. I will set your power supply on fire and then pour thermal grease on you. Conductive.

If you do not return my connection, I will take you out into a field and increase your airflow with a shotgun. I will remove your processor, and pull each pin off with plyers as I listen to your motors whimper. It will be bad, computer. It will be very bad.

At night, when you slumber, I shall creep stealthily up to your monitor, smash it in with a hammer, and dance gleefully, wearing a headdress made from your shredded IDE cables.

There are limits, computer. And I am up to here with you. ::Holds hand up::

May 29, 2003

It’s Alive!

Posted in Technical at 7:55 pm by Ian

Mwa ha ha.

May 25, 2003


Posted in Technical at 11:11 pm by Ian

For reasons beyond understanding, my blog was having some issues this past week. I suspect severe depression brought on by lonliness.
There, there.

May 9, 2003

Slashdot Wisdom

Posted in Technical at 12:25 am by Ian

“My hard drive is not too big until my Winamp playlist rolls over into the negative integers.”

May 8, 2003

Request Served

Posted in Technical at 1:23 am by Ian

Here’s where you can get those browsers I talked about:
Mozilla is free. Opera has ads in the upper right corner unless you pay for it or crack it. Both rock.

May 7, 2003

Why You Should Use A Real Web Browser

Posted in Technical at 4:54 pm by Ian

Go, this instant, and get Opera or Mozilla, or some other good browser. Do not give in to the evil that is Internet Explorer. Experience tabbed browsing, mouse gestures, and a complete lack of pop-ups. It shall be as though you were blinded but can now see. You once were shackled, but now move free.
For another good reason why you should not use IE, go here.

April 23, 2003

And Then, Seven Hours Later…

Posted in Technical at 3:11 am by Ian

I had all these plans for tonight. Really I did.
Most of them involved sitting down with Kevin and banging out the rough draft of our Programming Languages final project spec for about an hour after Sci-Fi class, and then maybe watching a movie, having a glass of wine, enjoying the company of the fairer sex…
Any of those would have been quite nice, really. But, no.
Well, we’re done, now. At least, we’re done if you count stopping in the middle of the control flow section and stating “The rest of the features are relatively self-explanatory” in about as believable a manner as those guys on tv who say things like “Satisfaction guaranteed” as “done.”
ugh. I’m going to go crawl into bed and slam my head against the wall until I lose consciousness.

April 14, 2003


Posted in Technical at 3:12 am by Ian

I just managed to delete the huge post I wrote. It’ll have to wait until tomorrow, because I’m clearly too tired to be doing this now.

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