All posts by hephaist0s

Selfies

In November 2013, Mike Caldwell stopped selling funded physical bitcoins after receiving a notice from FinCEN suggesting that his sale of such products to collectors might constitute an unlicensed money transmission business.

Asserting that selling novelty bitcoin wallets to collectors might be akin to money laundering is very silly, but whether you chalk it up to institutional incompetence or malicious machination, the result was the same: Caldwell stopped selling coins, and most others in the collectible physical bitcoin space shifted to the model of selling buyer-funded coins. What you buy is just the coin and sealed key,  and to some degree the reputation of the manufacturer, and then you fund it yourself.

Lealana finally released his brass .1 BTC design as a buyer-funded coin, and it was a great evolution of his existing artwork.  He also adapted his previous designs to the self-funded model, each now bearing a hologram declaring “Buyer funded.”

The Lealana brass .1 BTC.
The Lealana brass .1 BTC.
Lealana brass .1 BTC reverse.
Lealana brass .1 BTC reverse.
A Lealana 10 LTC piece, now with "BUYER FUNDED" designation on the hologram.
A Lealana 10 LTC piece, now with “BUYER FUNDED” designation on the hologram.

Nolacoin took a similar but more permanent tack, using his powerful laser to etch “SELF FUNDED” into the metal on the front.

Nolacoin .5 BTC piece, now designated "SELF FUNDED."
Nolacoin .5 BTC piece, now designated “SELF FUNDED.”

I was also lucky to recently acquire a couple Cryptovest physical litecoins, a CoinHoarder project, also to be self-funded.

Cryptovest 1 LTC piece.
Cryptovest 1 LTC piece.
Cryptovest 1 LTC piece, reverse.
Cryptovest 1 LTC piece, reverse.

The most fun of the lot, though, is a new .1 BTC piece from Cryptolator. While also available in copper (and in silver in a 1 BTC version), this is the “Merlin Gold” edition, a faux-gold metal which is just meant to be lovely, and it is. The pictures don’t capture the luxurious golden glow.

The design makes me giggle. Regardless of your politics, a design featuring people running out of a burning bank, dragging chains behind them has to make you smile. Are those stink lines around the edge? Maybe.

Cryptolator brings the fun.
Cryptolator brings the fun… and the fire.
Cryptolator "Merlin Gold" .1 BTC piece, reverse.
Cryptolator “Merlin Gold” .1 BTC piece, reverse. It’s much goldier in real life.

Self-funded coins aren’t entirely new, though, as Caldwell himself sold 5 BTC Casascius blanks in 2012. Unlike new coins, though, these didn’t come with key or hologram, but were simply bare nickel coins with a depression in the back.

It’s an illustration of how much things have changed, and how quickly. At 2014 rates which have, so far, hovered around $500/BTC throughout the year, a 5 BTC piece made in humble nickel and left for the buyer to assemble seems absurd, and certainly nothing that you could resell once funded. How could anyone trust that you didn’t keep a copy of the key, with so much value at stake?

Of course, 2012 started with rates around $3/BTC, so a DIY coin kit worth about $15 just seemed like good fun.

Here we are in 2014, though, so bitcointalk user OgNasty has stepped in to bridge that gap by keying, hologramming and slabbing some old Casascius 5 BTC pieces with his own holograms. It’s a hybrid solution, but since he both has experience making coins and an ironclad reputation within the community, he’s effectively putting his weight behind these coins. Should one choose to fund them, they ought to stand well beside at least the current generation of self-funded coins from reputable creators.

A Casascius 5 BTC piece from 2012, as slabbed by OgNasty.
A Casascius 5 BTC piece from 2012, as slabbed by OgNasty.
Don't let the name fool you:  Nasty = nice.
Don’t let the name fool you: Nasty = nice.

Standard disclaimer: It’s always, to some degree, a bad idea to let anyone else have access to a private key which controls any of your bitcoin wallets; in a sense, it goes counter to the bitcoin system itself. Once someone else has handled the key which controls your funds, you have to trust both that they exercised adequate security procedures while handling your key, and that they have not save copies of your key to exploit at some point in the unforeseen future. While some  (such as Mike Caldwell of Casascius) have established trusted reputations, newer operators can only prove their trustworthiness over time.

 

Gone to the Doges

I have to confess that Dogecoin used to aggravate me. It stressed me out.

My fuzzy thinking was that Bitcoin still faced a long road to acquiring public acceptance and to being taken seriously, and that a joke altcoin wasn’t helping. The sea of sketchy altcoins that existed was bad enough, but a coin that was deliberately silly was even worse.  And then instead of going away, Dogecoin became one of the most popular altcoins.

And, of course, there was the Dogecar.

But I was wrong. The genie of the blockchain-based cryptocurrency isn’t going back in the lamp, but it’s also unlikely (impossible?) that it will take just one form. Even if Bitcoin is still the primary coin in [insert time frame here] years, there will also be many others. The ideas will move and evolve under their own power, just like modern innovation in general. The future of cryptocurrency will surely be as diverse, messy and absurd as the web itself.

So, better to relax and enjoy it!

Crypto Imperator has made a 10,000 Dogecoin piece, big and heavy and made of glorious coated zinc, just as it should be.

Behold, the Crypto Imperator 10,000 DGC piece!
Behold, the Crypto Imperator 10,000 DGC piece!
10,000 DGC piece, reverse. To the moons!
10,000 DGC piece, reverse. To the moons!

The hologram on the back is great too, chock full of rockets clearly well on their way to the moon.

WOW!!

 

Safe and sound

Bitcoin has a bit of James Bond flair to it. Encryption, secret keys, anonymity and the ability to send money around the world instantly as part of a growing shadow economy is all good fun.

Detail of the encrypted key as graphed by the AndroSpectro app.
Detail of the encrypted key as graphed by the AndroSpectro app.

But Sound Wallet takes this latent spy esthetic to a delightfully extreme new level by taking a BIP38 encrypted key and converting it into a sound file which, to the casual listener, will just sound like static. Listen to that sound with an app called AndroSpectro (or Audacity with the right settings), though, and out of the static emerge the characters that comprise the encrypted key.

But that wasn’t extreme enough for bitcointalk user krach. Sure, you can have him email you the .wav file, or burn it onto a CD, but you can also have him cut it into a 7″ vinyl record.

And that is unbelievably groovy.

A picture of the shape of the sound of Bitcoin.
A picture of the shape of the sound of Bitcoin.

The resulting record is clear, with edges that are just a bit rough. The card that came with it explains:

“This record was hand shaped and individually cut in real time using a vintage 1940s Presto 75A recording lathe. It is a unique piece. It is not the same as a traditional pressed record. It was not made in a factory. It was hand carved from an 8ft sheet of polycarbonate plastic, shaped, sanded, waxed and cut in real time by one person.”

The burst of gentle static at the beginning of the record contains the key, but then the recording transitions smoothly into some harsh electronic music. This is a great touch, as anyone snooping through your record collection will think it’s just an obscure recording.

This is such a fun object. It would be a great way to hide a key in plain sight, certainly, but it’s also such an elaborately conceived and constructed wallet that it feels like a piece of art.

Cold Hard Storage

It’s almost surprising that it’s taken this long for someone to make a stainless steel BIP38 cold storage wallet, but CryoBit‘s offering is so polished and elegant that it’s been worth the wait.

It’s everything you’d want out of a stainless steel wallet card: credit card sized with a simple design, satisfyingly heavy and inflexible with a brushed-steel sheen that says sexy. It would also be great for shimmying open doors and any number of other prying, jabbing tasks.

The edge of the cutting edge of metal-card-based cold storage.
The edge of the cutting edge of metal-card-based cold storage.

According to their site, the card is made from AMS 5524 stainless steel which is proof against fire up to 2500° F. The QR codes and address are etched with a ceramic-glass which bonds with the metal underneath, so that even if you were to somehow get the material off, the odds are good that the metal would remain marked underneath. Make no mistake, this is meant to survive a house fire.

I’m not going to put it through the fire test, though others have.

a) Stainless steel should always be photographed against black leather. b) Yes, the key is encrypted, but I still don't want to show you, Internet!
a) Stainless steel should always be photographed against black leather. b) Yes, the key is encrypted, but I still don’t want to show you, Internet!

The only possible improvement I can imagine would be to include an alphanumeric version of the encrypted key on the back, in addition to the QR code, although I can’t think of a concrete use case where that would be necessary — sometimes more options are better, though.

This is about as simple and durable a cold storage solution as one can easily imagine. Whether you decide to tuck it in the back of a drawer, bury it in the back yard, or carry it in your wallet to impress your friends (“It’s better than a platinum card, it’s stainless steel!“, the Cryo Card is ready.

And it comes with a sleeve.
And it comes with a sleeve.

 

Extreme heat

After their great success with the Chili, MrTeal and ChipGeek came back with a bigger, faster, hotter and generally more ambitious board, the Habanero.

Based on Hashfast’s Golden Nonce chip, this is the second time they’ve worked this excellent trick: take a chip from an existing manufacturer who has fallen out of favor for being unable to deliver hardware on time combined with terrible communication, then design and build in just a few weeks a faster and more reliable machine based on the same raw chips, maintain clear communication with your customers throughout the process and then deliver an excellent product exactly on time.

Behold, the Habanero!
Behold, the Habanero!

This is exactly what they did with the Chili at the end of 2013, producing a fast, reliable board based on Butterfly Lab’s 65nm chip. The boards pulled 20-30% more performance out of the chips, and unlike BFL’s own convoluted 4-fan, multi-piece tubular frame and multi-panel case construction, the Chili was dead simple, just a one-piece board for the user to apply whatever cooling solution they liked, add power and go.

When HashFast announced their 28nm Golden Nonce chip in July 2013, they promised 400GH/s per chip and delivery starting in October 2013. They even promised refunds in BTC if they failed to meet their goals, and a Miner Protection Program to automatically add hashrate to orders in the event of any delays. In an all too familiar story, though, they missed all their deadlines, shipping didn’t get underway until 2014 and even then only proceeded at an agonizingly slow trickle.  As mining difficulty skyrocketed and their customers were faced with the prospect of massive losses, refunds and protection plans were not honored and communication from the company evaporated . They were granted Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on June 7, 2014.

Habanero_chip_closeup

But the chip was brilliant. Why let it go to waste? Capable of being run far above the target speeds and still being in the neighborhood of 1W/GH/s, MrTeal, ChipGeek and Gateway rolled out a new website at PepperMining.com, announced their Golden Nonce-based project as the Habanero in March, opened orders at the beginning of May and shipped by the end of the month.

These beasts are spectacular.  Mine run reliably at 850MHz which produces 630-640GH/s each, but others have clocked them higher and achieved speeds of 700GH/s+.

Moving 500+ watts of heat off a single chip begs for liquid cooling, something I’d never ventured into before. Figuring I’d err on the side of caution, I opted for a triple-wide radiator which fits three 120mm fans along its length. So far, the stock fans seem to be doing fine, keeping the boards at 87-91° C and still being nearly silent.

Attaching a triple-wide radiator.
Attaching a triple-wide radiator.
It lives!
It lives!

The backs of the boards come braced with an aluminum heatsink with prethreaded mounting holes, so the board is protected from flex as you torque down the screws of whichever water block you chose.

Handy backplate.
Handy backplate.

Pepper Mining has released their own program, as well, in order to display the temperatures, voltage and frequency on each of the four dies individually in so as to facilitate fine-tuning.

That’s a key part of the fun with these: they’re not just designed to be fast, they’re designed for us to play with them, to push and tweak and customize them depending on our gear, our ambition and our particular comfort with risk.

And that is just about everything fun about mining, cooked with spice into one project.

Habanero_logo

Habanero finds a mate, and they enjoy a romantic moment together venting heat out the window.
Habanero finds a mate, and they enjoy a romantic moment together venting heat out the window.

My Trezor

Originally slated for the end of 2013, the release of the Trezor hardware wallet has been postponed for several months. Delays like this are familiar in the Bitcoin world, but unlike preorders for mining equipment where delays destroy the profitability of the gear and leave customers feeling abused, waiting for the Trezors didn’t cost customers anything other than patience. If anything, it’s been reassuring to know how hard Stick and Slush have been working to refine the security of this first-of-its-kind device.

For me, the wait has been eight months. And it ended today.

Even the box is tiny.
Even the box is tiny.
It comes with stuff.
It comes with stuff.

The Trezor is a device which looks ahead and tries to solve a problem that casual bitcoin users may not even have realized yet. Sure, bitcoin is powerful and flexible and fast, and lets users maintain control of their own money to an unprecedented degree, but it is vulnerable to the kinds of things that personal computers are susceptible to: viruses and malware at the point of the end user. It doesn’t matter how secure and unbreakable the blockchain is if your roommate or your kid accidentally installs a keylogger on your computer. And unfortunately, unlike currencies supported by banks and credit cards, if a hacker vaccuums up your bitcoin there is no recourse, no one to complain to who can fix it for you. It’s just gone.

“Trezor” means “safe” or “vault” in Czech, and it’s designed to keep your private key safe on the device, and theoretically unhackable. When connected to a computer via USB it springs to life and is able to sign transactions initiated on the computer, but it does not share the key with the computer.  The idea is that one could use the Trezor on any computer, even an untrusted one — even an infected one — without compromising the user’s private key, or bitcoin.

The aluminum version is beautiful and feels like quality: solid, rigid and feather-light at the same time.  The manual gently informs us that it is not actually waterproof or indestructible, which is a great reminder to at least take prudent care since the little guy feels like he could take a hammer attack.

Trezor_front_detail

Trezor_back_03

After installing a browser plugin and connecting the device with the micro USB cable, the website MyTrezor.com leads the user through the simple setup process. The Trezor screen displays a 12 word seed one word at a time, prompting the user to write them down in the included booklet, then repeats the sequence again so you can double-check each word. This seed is your one and only “backup” from which your wallet can be reconstructed, either in a Trezor or another wallet which supports BIP32 deterministic wallets.

If you create a PIN, you get to use the Trezor’s nifty PIN system which displays a grid of nine numbers on the screen, the order of which changes with each use. The PIN is then entered on the computer screen onto a blank grid by clicking the button which corresponds to the number position displayed on the device, making the PIN immune to keyloggers, as well as invisible to people watching your computer screen — as long as you keep the tiny grid on the Trezor itself hidden.

Nifty!
Nifty!

Trezor_PIN

Once you’re set up and have loaded the Trezor with some bitcoin, sending is as easy as initiating the transaction on your computer, then confirming it on the Trezor by pressing one of the two buttons. The destination address pops up on the Trezor screen so you can verify that it’s going to the right place.

Inside this slim device and behind its simple interface is a lot of serious cryptographic voodoo.

The only minor disappointment is the device’s current reliance on the MyTrezor.com website. I believe the team originally hoped that the Trezor would launch with support from major bitcoin wallets, but when that didn’t materialize in time they came up with the solution of creating the MyTrezor web wallet. MyTrezor works well and has a clean design, it will just be nice if other platforms step up and offer support so there are more options.

I already love my Trezor, if only for its delightful bleeding-edge obscurity, a stunningly specialized piece of hardware that’s difficult to even explain to people who aren’t Bitcoin hardcore. It’s challenging to even show to your friends, since it has no battery and thus when it’s not connected to a computer its screen will always be stubbornly dark. You can’t show them your balance, or really do anything other than tell them that it really does work.

It’s so secure, it’s hard to even prove that it even exists.

Thin.
Thin.
Micro USB port.
Micro USB port.

Trezor_corner

Don't forget the lanyard!
Don’t forget the lanyard!

DIY

Silver Wallets aren’t the first physical bitcoin kits that have been made, but they are the most beautiful. One ounce of silver in coin form, the  front features an elegant Bitcoin “B” overlaying an image of the world.  It’s the reverse that really wins me over, though,  with the simple, bold, all-caps “Silver Wallets” in raised letters around where the hologram goes. It’s so simple, yet so satisfying.

Each coin comes with three holograms, so you could spend from one of these and then start over and re-assemble later, which is a nice touch. Since there is no denomination on the coin, it’s entirely a matter of personal preference,  and style. Generate a private key, print the QR code to fit the half-inch square on the back of the coin, then seal it in and set aside some long-term savings that happens to be great to look at.

Obverse: Bitcoin rampant over the continents of Earth and a digital sea.
Obverse: Bitcoin rampant over the continents of Earth and a digital sea.
Reverse: QR code in place, ready for hologram application.
Reverse: QR code in place (face-down), ready for hologram application.
QED DIY.
QED DIY.

A package from Mr. Gao

I received a sample set of Avalon generation-3 chips today, something which I felt both delighted and slightly guilty about. They were giving them away for free on the Avalon website, but obviously they were meant for developers. It’s hard to resist free, though.

They’re only 1/4-inch across,  20 tiny, feather-light chips in a little plastic box, bundled in bubble wrap, each one designated A3233-Q48 and capable of 7 GH/s each at 5.3 watts, according to the official specs.

But they needed a home, so I messaged marto74 of Technobit.eu to see how his new Avalon generation-3 board was coming along and if he’d take my chips. He said he hadn’t been able to test his design yet, as he hadn’t received his own sample chips yet, so my next stop was at the UPS store to arrange fast shipment to Bulgaria. Hopefully my chips will get there quickly and be of some use. I would be very glad to have helped in some small way with the development of a new mining board.

The A3233s, resting briefly in between Beijing and Sofia.
The A3233s, resting briefly in between Beijing and Sofia.

OneStringMagic

Amid the push for 3rd-generation ASIC bitcoin miners, intron and c-scape went back to BitFury’s gen-2 chips and designed a board that used those chips in a new configuration which is so energy efficient it might make them relevant even into gen-3.

The OneStringMiner boards use 15 BitFury chips to produce 30+ GH/s at right around 1W/GH/s. They run so cool that one doesn’t necessarily need a heatsink, although if you get the kit it includes both heatsink and fan.

Shipped from the Netherlands, the kit is delightful in its completeness and includes all the little things one needs such as standoffs, nuts, wires for powering multiple boards together, tiny zip ties and a USB cable.  Being spared the chore of hunting around for some trivial part is a welcome relief.

Excellent kit!
Excellent kit!

I don’t truly understand the voodoo by which gen-3 performance is casually produced from chips that came out last year, but according to a post by intron it’s made possible because BitFury built a “string” feature into the chips which allows them to be strung together in series which results in lower current usage. That’s fantastic, but it does make you wonder why no one took advantage of this before.

Mine runs smoothly on cgminer, red light blinking happily, and it’s as quiet as whatever airflow setup I choose.

OneStringMiner up and running.
OneStringMiner up and running.

Little devils

It was only last year that Casascius started making .5 BTC pieces in order to adjust for the skyrocketing exchange rate and still have a physical bitcoin that would be affordable. Then, just a few months later, Casascius, Lealana and bhCoins released .1 BTC denominations, but again, it made sense against the ever-increasing price of bitcoin.

Now MicroSoul has a .01 BTC coin. That’s one-one hundredth of a bitcoin, a bit-penny coin.  At first that seems like such a minor sum, but that’s only because my brain is inflexible and slow to adapt.  After all, at this moment a bit-penny is worth roughly 6 bucks, and if someone handed me a brand-new six dollar coin, I’d be delighted.

MicroSoul .01 BTC reverse.
MicroSoul .01 BTC reverse.

And, of course, I am.  While the design is straightforward and Casascius-esque, the gold plating makes the coins glow, and the small devil icon beside the “B” marks these as being extra-fun.

In terms of accountability and security, the creator (Matthew Rodbourne) has posted his identity online, states that the keys are generated by an offline Raspberry Pi and are only handled by either himself or his wife. They ship from France.

I opened one up, and the teeny-tiny key imported easily.

Key smudged out for your protection. It's actually quite legible.
Key smudged out for your protection. It’s actually quite legible.

Standard disclaimer: It’s always, to some degree, a bad idea to let anyone else have access to a private key which controls any of your bitcoin wallets; in a sense, it goes counter to the bitcoin system itself. Once someone else has handled the key which controls your funds, you have to trust both that they exercised adequate security procedures while handling your key, and that they have not save copies of your key to exploit at some point in the unforeseen future. While some  (such as Mike Caldwell of Casascius) have established trusted reputations, newer operators can only prove their trustworthiness over time.