Category Archives: Items & Objects

Embracing entropy

Three green flashes means there isn’t enough entropy detected. Do you have a device which can tell you that?

The Mycelium Entropy device can. But no worries, if there isn’t enough entropy, just unplug it for a few seconds and try again. Or move away from strong magnetic fields. This is my new favorite error message on anything anywhere.

The name is hard to beat, too. When you think about how much trouble the Genesis device was in “Wrath of Khan”, then how much more devastating must the Entropy device be?

The Mycelium Entropy with case & instructions.
The Mycelium Entropy with case & instructions.
The Mycelium Entropy, front.
The Mycelium Entropy, front.
Entropy_button
Just one button.
The Mycelium Entropy, back.
The Mycelium Entropy, back.

The Mycelium Entropy is a tiny bitcoin paper wallet generator meant to be as simple, secure, and portable as possible. The size of a small thumb drive, it may be plugged directly into a USB-equipped printer in order to generate random, one-time paper wallets whose information isn’t saved anywhere other than the piece of paper which is printed out: the keys are not saved on the device, they’re not saved on the printer, and as long as the printer isn’t connected to a computer or the Internet, then they can’t be saved there, either.

It’s also dead easy to use. There is no software interface or driver download, just plug it into the printer and then print the wallet. This is possible because when you plug in the Entropy, it generates the new wallet in the form of a jpg, which is what the printer sees — a flash drive with a picture on it, which just happens to be a public address/private key pair.

This also means that you can print it from a USB port on a computer, too — just open the drive and print the jpg — but of course this is a bad idea since you’re negating some of the security precautions by doing so, and exposing your device to whatever nastiness is on your computer.

The green light of Entropy.
The green light of Entropy.

If you want another wallet, either unplug the Entropy device and then re-insert it, or just press the button on the end, the only control on the device. Presto, new key pair!

You can also print of a 2-of-3 split key wallet simply by  pressing the button immediately after inserting the device into the printer.

If you want to get complicated and enter the configuration mode, a host of other possibilities open up. Hierarchic deterministic wallets? Yup, it will generate a BIP-39 12-word seed phrase instead.  Other cryptocurrencies, such as litecoin? Sure!

It’s a solid little device, as well, with a metal shell and good build quality. It’s great when first-of-their kind devices are also built to last.

Greatest warning ever.
Greatest warning ever.
Why yes, you certainly may send bitcoin to this address!
Why yes, you certainly may send bitcoin to this address!

The Entropy device began as an Indiegogo project in 2014, and while its completion took longer than planned it seems to have been worth the wait. Created by the people behind the excellent Mycelium bitcoin wallet, the Entropy shows the same innovation and attention to detail as their wallet. The wallet has been my favorite smartphone wallet for a while now, full-featured and easy to use while also including forward-thinking gems like a decentralized exchange which lets you contact other bitcoin users in your geographic area to arrange direct purchases and sales.

Clearly the Entropy device only moves in one direction: the future.

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Shiny

The Argentina-based bhCoins  have come out with their first series of DIY coins.  Although they contain no precious metals, they are available in mirror and antique  finishes in both gold and silver.

I opted for the shiny gold and shiny silver, and they look fantastic. They have a nice weight to them, and a compact size at 28mm in diameter.

Each coin kit comes with 3 holograms for securing the key in the square hollow on the reverse of the coin, and also a hologram-sealed envelope containing a set of address/key pairs, the keys being printed at the right size to fold and place in the hollow on the coin. For added security, one could always generate and print their own keys.

Let's face it: DIY is fun.
Let’s face it: DIY is fun.
BHCoins DIY coins in silvery and golden, shiny and slanty.
BHCoins DIY coins in silvery and golden, shiny and slanty.

I am really fond of the bhCoins designs. They’re simple and elegant, but unique at the same time, not quite like anything else out there. These have a funky “B” all askew and slanted, sliding right off the surface of the coin, and the mirror finish is top-notch.

And they’re a bit on the obscure side, which is always exciting for a collector. For the curious, there is more information here.

 

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Ten thousand bits

After the success of their Dogecoin design, Crypto Imperator is back with another solid-feeling, zinc-plated coin, this time with less Comic Sans and more good old bitcoin.

It’s a 10,000 bit… coin.  There’s been a shift to move to bits as the common unit of bitcoin, the thinking being that once we make the shift we won’t have to adapt again. In case your conversion skills are rusty, there are 100 satoshis in a bit. From the other end, 10,000 bits equals .01 bitcoin.

The argument for shifting to smaller units is that if bitcoin reaches a high rate of exchange and stays there, using them will be psychologically cumbersome to people. We’re not used to calculating out to three or four decimal places in our transactions, but we’re quite used to thinking with more digits on the other side of the decimal point.

Regardless of its small/enormous denomination, the Crypto Imperator 10,000 bit piece is a handsome coin, even if it lacks the precious metal that some other coins boast. It’s smooth, professional finish and nice heft give it a professional air, and it has a strong simple design on the front of a breaking chain.

The Crypto Imperator 10,000 bit piece.
The Crypto Imperator 10,000 bit piece.

The hologram on the back features the delightful rockets-and-moons of the Dogecoin piece, which was well worth revisiting.

10,000 bit piece, reverse.
10,000 bit piece, reverse.
10,000 bit piece reverse, angled for more hologram glory.
10,000 bit piece reverse, angled for more hologram glory.

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.

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BitCentimental

There have been a number of one-tenth BTC pieces, but one of the first was the bhCoin “10 bitCent” brass piece in late 2013. I’ve had some series two bhCoins for a while, but only just recently tracked down one of the series one brass coins. It delights me.

The series two coins which came out a few months later are also great, nickel-plated to create a fine silvery shine, though mine did get gently scuffed during the no-doubt-tumultuous journey from Argentina.

A bhCoin series 2.
A bhCoin series 2.
bhCoin series 2 front & back.
bhCoin series 2 front & back.

Neither series has an especially bold design, but that’s part of their charm. They’re clean, straightforward coins produced by enthusiasts in very limited numbers, only about 100 of each run.

A series one bhCoin 10-bitcent brass piece.
A series one bhCoin 10-bitcent brass piece.
bhCoin series one reverse.
bhCoin series one reverse.

There are pictures of an opened bhCoin series one here.

The folks at bhCoin have since moved on to create a 2-factor coin, and we look forward to their next project.

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.

 

 

 

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Kialara

Sometimes someone takes an idea and refines it so far that it ends up feeling like something new entirely.

That’s the case with Kialara physical bitcoins, designed and produced by Maxfield Wyatt Mellenbruch.  On a fundamental level, these coins share a lineage with other physical bitcoins, since each is a cold storage wallet with the private key sealed inside.

In practice, though, these are extremely impressive art objects, each one containing 16 separate pieces held together by eight bolts. The coin in the center is beautiful on its own, a combination of gears, lions and dragons all bolted together as if a machine was dreaming about a coin. The coin itself is then encased in an equally elaborate bar-like object and safely bolted behind clear panes.

Angle view of a Kialara physical bitcoin.
Angle view of a Kialara physical bitcoin.
Kialara physical bitcoin.
Kialara physical bitcoin.

These are truly remarkable objects, beautiful to behold, complex and glittery and with a really satisfying feeling of quality to them. They seem more like a movie prop for some steampunk fantasy film than a cold storage wallet.

The artist’s brilliance extends through to the construction, however.  It would have been far easier to make something that looked complicated and evoked machinery rather than actually devise and execute an object with so many intricate parts that it does everything but move. Blink and it might start downloading the blockchain on its own.

Rendering of construction, courtesy http://www.maxfield.me/blog/
Rendering of construction, courtesy www.maxfield.me/blog/

Mellenbruch depicts the various layers and steps of construction here, including the application of red Loctite to the tiny screws, and the subsequent drilling out of the heads to further deter tampering.

Detail of reverse.
Detail of reverse.
Detail of front.
Detail of front.

The result is like a coin from the future that suffered a detour by way of the steam age, to be hoarded and stacked like bars of crypto-mechanical glory.

Whatever madness drove Mellenbruch to over-design his creation this way, it’s our kind of madness, and we hope he never comes to his senses.

So darn pretty.
So darn pretty.

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.

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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.

 

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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!!

 

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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.

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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.

 

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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!
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