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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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.

 

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Mr. Pig

Where Bitcoin meets art, there’s Matthew Groves of California.  Paper wallets made from artisan papers by skilled hands, the black magic of BIP38 makes it possible: you don’t have to entrust him with your key, just your encrypted key.

There be dragons here.
There be dragons here.

His dragon paper wallet is fairly stunning, but the intricately folded origami pig (with the key folded into the inside) makes me giggle every time I look at him.

Just think of it. It’s a piggy bank which is nothing like a piggy bank, yet works exactly like a piggy bank. It’s not ceramic, it doesn’t hold pieces of metal inside, you don’t have to break it; and yet, it is a darling pig, it does hold coins inside, and you do have to unfold it to redeem it. It’s cute, it’s a great piece of origami, and it’s conceptually brilliant.

That makes it art.

And again, since you generated your own BIP38 encrypted key, the trust required is near zero; if you saved a copy of your encrypted key (as you should), then there is no reason at all not to enjoy this piece of pig-bitcoin-art.

 

He's a good pig.
He’s a good pig.
There also be an elk here.
There also be an elk here.

 

 

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Made with lasers

I just received these half-bitcoin and one-bitcoin physical pieces from NolaCoin in Louisiana, and they are beautiful.

They’re brass at heart, plated into different colors with a striking mirror finish. The half-bitcoin piece is a delicate rose gold/coppery color, and the one-bitcoin piece is nickel-plated to a lustrous silver. But beyond their beauty, they have several innovations over other physical bitcoin designs.

While most other designs hide the private key on an insert which is held behind a hologram sticker on the back of the coin, these have both the public address and private key etched into the metal of the coin with a 10 watt laser (according to the creator’s post here). The public address is readily visible on the front, and the private key is hidden on the back.

One-bitcoin piece, obverse.
One-bitcoin piece, obverse.
Half-bitcoin piece, reverse.
Half-bitcoin piece, reverse.

This is great not only because it makes the public address readily available for verifying the balance, but also because of the relative indelibility of the etching; if a more traditional key-printed-on-insert physical bitcoin gets caught in a fire or other calamity, it’s only as tough as whatever material the key is printed on, but with these the key is as tough as the metal of the coin.

It’s even greater that the hidden private key is not just presented as an alphanumeric string, but also as a QR code which is likewise etched into the metal and entirely scannable. Typing in letters and numbers is for suckers!

Because someone had to do it, I opened one up to see how it worked.  There are essentially three parts to the security over the key: a plastic film, a scratch-off hologram, and a gold ring sticker around the edge.

The gold ring overlaps the scratch-off hologram, making it more difficult to tamper with the hologram in the center. Once you’ve scratched off the hologram, you can make out the characters of the key, but there is an additional layer of plastic film still over the metal. Upon removing that, there was a fair amount of sticky residue which kept the QR code from scanning in, but a little rubbing with soap and warm water got the surface cleared away down to the mirror finish, and at that point I scanned the key into Mycelium easily.

This is a great design, and I look forward to seeing what he comes up with next.

Opening the coin.
Opening the coin.
Leftovers.
Leftovers.
Residue makes it difficult to read the key at first.
Residue makes it difficult to read the key at first.
Cleans up beautifully and scans easily.
Cleans up beautifully and scans easily.

 Update: Arash Dini, the coins’ creator, explained to me that contrast on the QR-code etching on the nickel-plated coins is sharper and more likely to scan first-time, and though I haven’t opened one of those up yet, that certainly makes sense, as you can see the difference in the lettering on the front. He also said that if you leave the flash on your smartphone on, the reflection will help the scanning. In other words, it should be possible to scan the QR code just by scratching off the hologram, but without the (very minor) hassle of removing the final layer of plastic film and cleaning residue off the coin.

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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From Shenzhen with love

The BTMiner is a rough machine, and it’s already had a rough life. Forged in the backrooms of Shenzhen and then slung around the world in 4 days to reach me, it arrived with three big, fat screws just rolling around loose in the box.

All the screws holding the blades in place had been working their way loose and the blades were barely attached, knocking against each other as they tried to break free.

When I started it up, it made a horrific sound, like a machine gunner being electrocuted, but it was just the end of a zip tie turturing one of the turbine-strength fans.

Screws tightened and zip tie trimmed,  it started right up and configured in seconds, and was soon hammering away somewhere around ~215Gh/s.

Shiny enough to see your reflection.
Shiny enough to see your reflection.
The most horrible sound in the world.
The most horrible sound in the world.
BTMiner_ui_cropped
Success!

BTMiner_endview_on

The interface is the same as a first generation 110nm Avalon, but with an “Avalon Chip” field under “Cgminer Configuration” preselected to the new 55nm size. The whole machine is  a direct descendent of a 110nm Avalon: a TP-Link running things with OpenWRT, horizontal blades with hefty heatsinks, fans pushing the air over them in a big aluminum box. This was made easier when Avalon designed their second generation chips to be essentially backwards-compatible, so the same designs could be used over.

After the delays with their later batches and subsequent outrage from those who ordered, it’s understandable why Avalon wanted to get out of the hardware business and hand the messy details of power supplies, cases, assembly and deliver off to others. The BTMiner suffers a bit in translation, though. The case is a thinner aluminum,  and the screws feel on the verge of stripping after taking the side off just once. The dual power supply design (one for each blade) is unusual and results in cords coming out both ends, but it’s handy for distributing the power across different household circuits if you find yourself tripping breakers. The whole thing feels hastily banged together,  but as long as it works, that’s just fine.

Roughly the size of a 4-blade Avalon, the design is closer to an Avalon Mini, two blades with heatsinks facing each other to make a sort of wind tunnel. There are just two fans, one at either end of the tunnel, pushing the air through with a  vengeance and a fierce whine.

BTMine took a few orders in December and once those were confirmed to have arrived in people’s hands, they took more orders. The units weren’t in-stock as they said, and mine took about a week to get manufactured and out the door, and in the process the design changed from what they had shipped in December,  getting a little more compact and growing longer, more aggressive heatsink fins.

BTMiner_vertical

Inside.
Inside.
Aggressive fins.
Aggressive fins.

Those are welcome changes, but it makes me wonder what it’s like over there in Shenzhen. I haven’t heard of this company before, and it’s clear they’re making this up on the fly, custom-manufacturing small runs of these units. It’s strange to think of companies popping up and assembling hardware which is probably only saleable for a very short time frame, measurable in weeks, mayflies of manufacturing.

Shenzhen seems like a magical place.

Inside BTMine: I grabbed this picture from a post on bitcointalk.org. Who are these guys? Whoever you are -- thanks! More manufacturing pictures here: http://imgur.com/a/vkEPu
Inside BTMine: I grabbed this picture from a post on bitcointalk.org. Who are these guys? Whoever you are — thanks! More manufacturing pictures here: http://imgur.com/a/vkEPu
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