All posts by hephaist0s

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.

 

 

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.

 

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

With the power of aluminum

These arrived from crypto-cards.com yesterday, and they’re fairly delightful: metal cold-storage wallets with the address and encrypted key laser-etched into the anodized surface.

They’re light, sized like business cards and easy to tuck into a wallet, or hide away somewhere. They’re not going to burn and they’re not going to rust, so it seems like they’d last just about forever.

What makes them brilliant, though, is the use of BIP38-encrypted private keys. This is great in several ways:

It’s ok that a third party is manufacturing your wallet for you, because they never handle your actual keys, only your encrypted key.  You generate it yourself using something like this, then just send the already-encrypted key and corresponding address to the manufacturer

You can carry it around with you, and not worry about someone accidentally photographing the key (or stealing it) because, again — encrypted. Then you can use something like Mycelium to spend from cold storage and decrypt on the fly.

As a bonus, if you do lose it, you’ve already created a backup just through the process of ordering, assuming you save the encrypted key somewhere at that point. So, worst case scenario, you can recover the funds that way.

When you think about how complicated a secure wallet project  could be,  it’s hard not to be impressed with what an elegant and inexpensive solution these metal cards represent.

Now I want a blue one.

 

Water-resistant to a depth of infinity.
Water-resistant to a depth of infinity.

The AntMiner cometh

Some great designs sneak up on you. At first glance, the Bitmain AntMiner S1 might seem unfinished, all rough and caseless with its insides on the outside.

But the AntMiner doesn’t try to be anything that it isn’t. It has no case, since it’s not a consumer product and it’s not meant for the general public. Since it needs to be attached to an external power supply, why pretend that it’s self contained?

Instead of being bolted to a case or frame and hoping they don’t break loose in shipping, the heavy heatsinks are the frame, and the blades and endpieces bolt to them instead. This simplicity earns the AntMiner a gold star for economy of parts: 2 heatsinks with blades bolted to them, 2 endpieces holding them together, 1 fan, 1 TP-Link TL-WR743N.  The result is sturdy and downright elegant.

What's in the box?
What’s in the box?
The heatsinks are part of the frame.
The heatsinks are part of the frame.

For comparison, a  Butterfly Labs Bitforce SC Single is roughly the same size but has 4 fans,  a 4-piece case, and an interior armature with a whole array of tubes and screws to hold the boards, case, heatsinks and fans all in place.  The airflow is byzantine, it sounds like a jet engine and it sill needs to be connected to another computer to run. The AntMiner is almost silent and, at 180GH/s, it’s also 3 times the speed.

It has its own version of OpenWRT with CGMiner built in, much like an Avalon, and connects right to the internet through an ethernet jack. It also has an attachment for a wifi antenna.

The lights are fantastic. On each side, facing outward, is one green LED which pulses at high speed, giving the whole thing the frantic energy of a firing laser cannon.

It makes a plaintive beeping when it can’t connect to the internet, which is a handy notification, but when it wakes me up in the middle of the night I feel like I’ve acquired another needy pet. Most of the time, though, it just purrs warmly.

AntMiner_side

AntMiner_top

Delicious Bit-Cards

I received a set of Bit-Cards in the mail today, which I’d eagerly ordered last week. They look like credit cards, but work like somewhat like Casascius coins or another single-use paper wallet, with a hologram hiding the key, and they come in all sorts of denominations.

This is a very polished design, and they’re a pleasure simply to hold.  You can scan the address directly with one QR code, and you can visit a link to their site with information about your particular card with the other.

They profess to generate the keys and subsequently the cards on an off-line computer running custom software, and that they do not save the keys anywhere other than on the cards. Security features include the tamper-evident hologram as well as the multi-layer manufacturing of the card itself, so it is resistant to invasive scanning.

A black layer in the middle of the card makes it harder to discern the key without removing the hologram.
A black layer in the middle of the card makes it harder to discern the key without removing the hologram.

Bit-Card_hologram

Scratch off the hologram, and the key is readily available to either scan, or type in manually.

This one's all done.
This one’s all done.

The cards are shipped unfunded, and activated manually by the recipient through their online system upon receipt.  The web site is as polished as the cards, from ordering through activation.

The non-denominated wallet-cards are intriguing, but you just have to keep coming back to the question: Why would I trust anyone else with my private key? In the case of a shiny collectible coin, it might seem worth some risk, but for a plastic card that’s a tougher sell, no matter how pretty the card.

Of what practical utility is a premade card with a set denomination of BTC on it, or an offline wallet the key to which has already been handled by someone else? That’s not entirely clear, but Bit-Card.de is at least establishing themselves in this space, and doing so with considerable style.

Non-denominated wallet-cards. (Address obscured.)
Non-denominated wallet-cards. (Address obscured.)

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.

 

 

Treasure

I received two separate treasures in the mail today: my first Cascascius coin, and a set of two Lealana 10 Litecoin pieces.

Mike Caldwell has been making physical bitcoins since 2011, and he’s made them many different ways — brass and silver and gold plate, coins and bars (mostly, though, he’s made them from brass). Each coin has a tamper-evident hologram sticker applied to the back, and beneath it is the key that controls the amount of bitcoin denominated on the front, a one-use-only kind of thing. It’s a coin, but it’s also a sort of cannister for the key, and a very elegant sort of cold storage.

halfbitcoin_02_obsc

When I first heard about them I though it was a bit odd, and seemed counter to the idea of bitcoin. Why take a perfectly good digital currency and turn it right back into a coinlike object? Over time, though, I really warmed to the idea. They’re fun, they’re beautiful, they’re a handy way to publicize bitcoin or give it as a gift, and Caldwell himself has been such a vocal and stalwart supporter of bitcoin and member of the community that he practically imbues them with authenticity by sheer force of will.

In light of the skyrocketing value of bitcoin in 2013, he’s introduced a .5 BTC piece, and also seems to have focused his efforts on the .999 silver coins (there’s a 1 BTC denomination as well), which suits me fine since the silver makes for a very pretty coin.

My second treasure is even more eccentric. Physical bitcoins have at least been around for a couple years, but today I also received a set of two 10 litecoin pieces, from Noah Luis in Hawaii and branded under the musical name “Lealana.” They’re the first physical litecoins made en masse and they follow the same general model as the Casascius coins, stamped with a denomination which is only given meaning by the key beneath the hologram. They’re a fun and fringe-y sort of object: will the value of litecoins skyrocket, or will they just go away at some point? Whether they become more valuable or just turn into a good story, these still seem pretty darn collectible to me.

They’re silver, too, but that just seems right for a litecoin coin, since we all know litecoins are silvery.

Lovely Lealana litecoins.
Lovely Lealana litecoins.