Big Crypto Mines are like Scalpers

In Canada, where I live, electricity is cheap and abundant. In fact there are routinely surpluses that governments are happy to sell for cheap to power-hungry “industries” like Bitcoin mining. Governments at all levels, once convinced that these mines are a valid industry and that the taxes, jobs and abandoned industrial buildings renovated are a great windfall, will practically bend over to welcome them in their area.

Of course the only real winners in this system are the big farms who enjoy lower electricity rates and help programs. In the long run, everybody else loses; even the electricity producers that were happy to sell their surpluses could have sold that electricity to home miners at a higher price if they had not killed the goose that lays the golden egg by helping big farms grow into something home miners can’t compete with.

I can’t blame the big farms for acting greedily; that’s their only reason for being. I think the real problem is government officials not being educated properly, being convinced that a surplus of hash power is actually a valid industry, and not understanding the process in general. I thought I would help out by comparing Big Farm mining to something that is eerily similar but easier to understand; ticket scalpers.

Imagine the world’s biggest Bingo! game:

  • There are as many ticket booths as people need where people can buy a game card.
  • They pay for a card and the attendant walks to the printer, prints a card with random letters on it, walks back and hand it to the buyer.
  • People buy as many cards from as many booths as they want until someone buys a winning card and shows it to the booth attendant.
  • Then the game starts over. [The number of cards you can buy in a second is what’s called Hash Power in crypto-speak]
  • The lucky card has bingo! randomly written on it, but it can be another, longer word the more there are ticket booths.
  • A longer word means it becomes more difficult to generate the lucky card. This way the average win time stays around 10 minutes.

Normal players use one or two booths, buying a few tickets to win the prize, maybe a ticket to a Céline Dion concert or a lifetime supply of couture diapers. But Big Miners have splurged on roller skates for themselves and the booth employees so the buying process goes much faster and they can start buying before everybody else. [Ultrafast Internet is a very rewarding expense for Big Miners, being able to act first can compensate for weak hash power] They also buy many more tickets from many more booths than individuals. Generally, as soon as they win the prize they sell it to cover their expenses, to buy more tickets and to access more booths.

Because they can buy first and buy a lot more tickets than normal users, Big Miners behave exactly like ticket scalpers. They increase costs and block access to tickets for normal users and sell the prizes at a higher value than its actual worth. They generate no products, add no value and are basically just extra tickets to the game. This is exactly the same for real mining where Big Miners are simply generating a surplus of unnecessary hash power and denying the average user the chance to mine at home. Electricity can be sold to home miners at a better price than “industrial” rates, and millions of people could make a tiny profit instead of only 2-3 big mine owners.

Big Mining isn’t an industry, it’s a scam that only benefits the few lobbyists that have had the brilliant idea of sticking the “industry” label on it for politicians to salivate over.

Bitcoin is Digital Bronze

When bankers and the media try to describe Bitcoin, they often try to debate or deny that Bitcoin is “digital gold”; that only real gold has intrinsic value.  Most Coiners will reply that Bitcoin is a store of value and that they don’t actually have any real use for gold – any perceived value is over-inflated and the fact that gold is rare doesn’t compensate for the reality that the gold reserves are orders of magnitude larger than what is currently needed in manufacturing & health industries.

The reality is that the comparison to gold is entirely unfair to Bitcoin.  There are many characteristics that make Bitcoin and other blockchains closer to more useful metals and alloys than pure gold.  Yes, gold has some uses in industry, but its scarcity make it impractical for general use; it can’t support industries or economies precisely because its scarcity makes it too valuable.

Bitcoin, on the other hand, while artificially scarce (by being limited to 21M units), doesn’t suffer from functional scarcity;  all functions of Bitcoin are implemented in transactions, outside of the actual value of the bitcoin or fraction of a bitcoin used.  In fact the more Bitcoin is spread around, the more there are functions and uses for it.  In this way Bitcoin, while scarce, has a value tied to its utility and can support entirely new economies, tools and trades across the world, exactly like bronze did during the Bronze Age.

The one major difference between bronze and Bitcoin is that the production of bronze was somewhat centralized because tin is not generally mined in the same areas as copper. Bronze works would required extensive trade networks to produce goods & tools; when those few centers were attacked, looted or had their trade networks disrupted, the economic consequences were so extensive that it caused the Bronze Age to crash and destroyed the Bronze Age civilizations so thoroughly that they seem almost like myths to us.

Bitcoin, on the other hand, CAN be produced anywhere on the planet where there’s electricity and telecommunications and in theory should avoid the danger of over-centralization.  It used to be mined by anyone with a simple computer.  But computer manufacturing technology and energy costs are not spread equally across the globe; which is currently leading to over-centralization again; the very people trying to protect the Bitcoin network are weakening it every time they grow their monolithic mines.

In the end, Bronze, like Bitcoin, was used equally as a tool, a luxury and a currency.  And it was replaced by iron and gold not because those metals were any more useful or desirable but because of the way it was mined and produced.  Are big miners like modern-day Midas rushing to turn everything to gold, blindly unaware of the real riches they are destroying?

Get your friends and family on Bitcoin

2017 was the year of the ICO Fear of Missing Out.  So many Ethereums changed hands to get into the diverse token offerings that the amounts collected for some valueless startups can shock the rational mind into a gibbering twit.  On the positive side, most of this FOMO was experienced by investors already in cryptos who possibly only wanted to diversify what can sometimes feel like easy winnings.

2018 will probably be different; ICOs will die out for the most part, to be replaced by a multitude of Bitcoin forks, not all of them nefarious.  With proper replay protection and actual use-cases some of these forks might even succeed in gaining traction and could make it worthwhile to hold some Bitcoin in your wallet for the longer term.  Instead of ICO FOMO, 2018 will be the year of the Bitcoin Branches FOMO, and the people most desperate to invest will be the ones who don’t currently own any Bitcoins.  And these people, your friends and family, will look to you to find them some cheap Bitcoins to invest in.

Here’s my approach to getting Canadians some magical Internet money as quickly and cheaply as possible without using localbitcoins (because I’m lazy and don’t own a car).  There’s really only two steps that matter; buying the coin and storing it, and knowing what to expect from the wallet in case of a fork.  But first be sure they understand that they don’t have to buy round units of Bitcoin, but that buying 0.5 or 0.01 is fine too.  It’s nice to be asked how to buy “I don’t know, a couple of hundred bitcoins?” but people tend to back away when you start talking about anything less than 1 and down to 8 decimals, as if it’s not “worth” a dollar anymore…

The quick plan:

Perfect for getting others to obtain coins on their own and not being responsible for their investment becoming worthless, their accounts being hacked or filling their taxes.

If you set up automatic payments on your credit card so you don’t pay monthly charges; the easiest thing to do is to use Coinbase‘s  instant credit card purchases (thank you for using my referral link!).  The 4% fees might seem very high at first, but because the Bitcoin spot price on Coinbase is generally fairly low compared to other exchanges, it’s often close to being the cheapest option. Most other “instant purchase” sites seem to have vanished, in any case. Purchases are instant with your credit card once it is validated – your first purchase is likely to be cancelled by your credit card’s fraud department.  Just give them a call and you can start buying 100$ of Bitcoin weekly.  You can increase that limit with additional paperwork. One important caveat however; the “instant purchase” price seems to be 1% above the “going rate” displayed on the dashboard, with the result that you’re actually buying at 5% fees instead of 4%.  I find that pretty deceptive on Coinbase’s part; make sure you check the average elsewhere before you buy!  (Bittybot is one site that displays bitcoin’s average price)

Coinbase is one of the oldest services in Bitcoin’s history and is considered a fairly safe place to store your small amount of Bitcoin for the short or medium term. It would be reasonable for most people to go do something else and come back to learning more about Bitcoin in a week or a month at this point, the hard work of buying in is done. You will probably want to use this money at a gas station or restaurant, I recommend you install an Android Bitcoin wallet.  I recommend that one simply because I know the code fairly well, but there are other excellent options. Make sure you back up the wallet file in case you lose the phone!

When Bitcoin forks, it’s uncertain what Coinbase will do with the new coins; basically exchanges own the private keys to the wallet your bitcoins are stored on, therefore they have no real obligation to issue coins spawned from any number of branches.  Don’t expect to get any bonus from anyone; the only foolproof way for you to obtain and sell your altbitcoins is to own the private key.  A backup of your android wallet will let you do it, but not without a lot of work or knowledge of the tools necessary to split the coins.  So this is definitely a plan for people who want to get into Bitcoins quickly and will get into long-term investing later.

The Long-term plan:

Some people will see Bitcoin as an investment vehicle for the longer term.  It is not difficult to believe that it can easily double in value every few years, never mind doing x20 in 6 months!  Of course it could also be replaced by some new technology or currency in the future (I would expect magical love potions to be more valuable than gold if they actually worked!) and become worthless, so make sure your friend is aware of the possibility.

This approach is of interest for people who want to be more hands-off with the investment, don’t really want to get involved with the technology and simply want to maximize their return.

The first step is obtaining Bitcoin at the best rate possible; this generally means calling on some exchange’s Over-The-Counter services.  Once again buying directly from people using localbitcoin or other peer to peer platform would be cheaper, but I don’t like the idea of walking around with thousands of dollars in cash.  You can access OTC services by calling the exchange directly and negociating rates.  But most people will probably prefer to simply transfer cash to an exchange using Interac or EFT and pay the higher fee for the convenience.

Currently the cheapest exchange I’ve dealt with is because of their low trading (1%) and transfer fees. And if you’re not in too much of a hurry, Coinbase’s daily recurring buy tool isn’t that much more expensive (as long as you pay your credit card bill asap!).  There are other good exchanges, but the coins seem to trade at a significant premium; resulting in fees almost twice as Coinbase if you’re not careful!  If banks worked at the speed of Bitcoin this would result in interesting arbitrage opportunities but they don’t and an unexpected two-week delay can wipe out your profits easily!

The biggest hurdle here is that to use this convenience, you have to have your identity verified to conform with anti-money laundering laws.  For a once-in-a-lifetime or once-a-year purchase, this seems a bit onerous and I certainly expect that it will lead to identity theft in some cases.  Until our regulations join us in the Blockchain century, this is the part where it makes sense for you, the bitcoin trader, to act as a proxy for someone else that trusts you.  This can be a bit touchy legally and you have to thread carefully; are you sure they aren’t trying to launder dirty money with you as the patsy? If they are rewarding you for this service with a share of coins, will you declare them as revenue?  Does that make you a professional trader? If so, it’s probably not worth doing the trade in the first place because of the tax implications.

To avoid problems, what I plan on doing is to have people fund my account directly, perform the trade and then transfer the bitcoin into a wallet or account where they remain in control and therefore retain ownership. It’s unclear to me at this point if an exchange would refuse funds from a third party into a verified account without a few days of holding; after all the KYC hurdle is there for a reason, but it’s worth investigating. You can the transfer the Bitcoin to a cold wallet, give it to your buyer on a USB key, printed on paper in a coffer and just wait for a few years with no additional risk. (apart from Bitcoin itself dying of course)

HODLing for years on a cold wallet is fine, but you’re also leaving money on the table.  If you have the collateral to prove you can cover your buyer’s investment, why not put it someplace where it might earn interest and earn some reward for managing this fund?  If you can prove you have the collateral (with a wallet address on the blockchain for example) and have an understanding (or contract) with the buyer that you retain all (or most) of earnings from interests and forks, you can earn a little bit of extra coin. Another reason to put the money in a hot wallet or an exchange is if there’s a crash or a bug is found, you will want to liquidate the coin as fast as possible; this possibiliy should also be mentioned in the contract.

Regarding forks, if someone is off-hands enough to let someone else manage their coin, they will certainly not want to deal with forks themselves.  You should specify how you plan to hodl or dump forked coins and how you will decide which branch the buyer’s bitcoin will follow or remain on.



These are just a few of my thoughts on onboarding your friends and family; I’m still experimenting and learning new things daily and hopefully not making too many mistakes. I (clearly!) am not an investment banker, lawyer or financial expert, so I hope I don’t get anyone in trouble.  But as far as I can tell them real barrier to entry right now are almost entirely caused by the old banking system and not at all by the technology – even if most wallets are extremely confusing at first.  If you can show your friends how easy and quick it is to buy a small amount of Bitcoin and transfer it to their smart phone, you’ll have done everyone a huge favour!

Selecting good ICOs

ICOs are awesome in their potential for profit and loss, but their main product is FOMO.  It’s easy to get carried away and invest in a little bit of everything when you’re afraid of missing out on a great deal.  Unfortunately without research it’s almost impossible to expect a return on a random ICO out of the thousands available.  We could really use a sieve to filter out the ones not worth spending any time on.

First the obligatory warnings; I don’t know anything about finances or investments. But one thing should be obvious from the start; no ICO is safe.  By definition this is an unregulated market that offers no guarantees, so you are implicitly accepting all the risks and have no clear recourse in case of problems.  Even if there were government regulations controlling ICO issuance, you should still take on all the risks, because why should others have to pay for your stupidity?

That’s why the first step is to figure out what legal framework the ICO will be operating under.

  1. The legal status of the enterprise you invest in can protect you against lawsuits (Limited Liability Companies, etc.).   Not so with ICOs, their legal status is so vague, until there is an actual lawsuit against an ICO the only thing protecting you is anonymity.  But then if you invest in something anonymously, how can you claim your shares?
  2. One exception is “Legal ICOs” in Québec, where they are experimenting with letting people invest in an “ICO”, as long as all the local rules for angel investing are applied; they seem to assume that if one is savvy enough to use cryptos, that person is qualified to invest in ICOs. Unfortunately so far none of the “legal ICOs” are actual ICOs at all because to respect the rules, they have to retain total centralized control of the blockchain.  No decentralized blockchain, no crypto-coin, so no ICO.  Just put your money somewhere else with better marketing bullshit.
  3. Where is the ICO team based; is it somewhere where you could have legal recourse if people simply vanish with your money?  Do you even understand the language they would use in their local court of law?

If it seems like you’re throwing your money into a legal black hole, then you probably are. Most scammers hope it’s not worth the terrible hassle of you trying to get your money back.  So it is worth taking the risk?

  1. Unless an ICO or ITO has a unique value or property – something that can’t be done without a blockchain or that no one else has done before – then you’re giving your money to a latecomer who doesn’t understand the competition and will give up as soon as the ICO is over.
  2. There have been several generations of “ICOs” or investments in blockchain startups now; with different names and attributes. The first was share purchases starting around 21012 on centralized exchanges like Crypto-stocks, Havelock, BTCTC, LTCstocks, etc.  Of the several hundreds of those, I personally only know of only three of them still running and trying to pay dividends on those original shares, which is quite a let-down. There are still people using that model today but because the size of investments doesn’t even compare (severeal tens of thousands of dollars back then compared to tens of millions in ICOs), it’s not very popular anymore.  Then came “colored coins” ICOs like BitShares offering.  I haven’t heard of anyone still getting dividends on any of those; they might exist but they don’t make the news anymore.  Then finally came Ethereum ICOs with their gigantic amounts of money but the only profit so far in any of them has been with quick pumps and dumps. The biggest difference with Eth ICOs is how easy it is to automate the scam; install the WordPress ICO theme, the Solidity ICO scripts, buy a white paper and you’re in business.  How many will sitll be around in a year; 1/100?  1/1000?  One? The upside is huge, and the odds seem better than playing the lottery, but just like gambling the only way to make sure you have money in the end is to avoid playing.
  3. Who wrote the white paper?  A member of an actual organization with provable credentials, or a professional white paper writer who came up with some superficial but very marketable technical plan in exchange for bitcoins?  Have you read it and understood it?  Reading, understanding and laughing out loud at white papers is a time-consuming business so I always keep this step for last.  Usually I find something so ridiculous in there that I waste a lot of time commenting and joking about it on troll boxes, so even if I don’t invest in a scam ICO it still ends up being a terrible waste of money and time.
  4. Run the numbers on the funding versus the plan and the deadlines.  I don’t know any software dev who can really deliver good code when he’s busy picking the leather design in his 2nd private jet.

So a quick checklist to decide to go skip or study an ICO:

  1. Where is the team?  Other side of the world? Skip it.
  2. Who are they, are they incorporated, do they seem to know anything about running a company?  No lawyer, no power. Skip it. (Note that so many crypto scams have been run by lawyers that they’re almost a guarantee of loss.  But totally ignoring legal responsibility is just as bad.)
  3. Is an ICO necessary for this business or is it just a marketing buzzword?  Cash grab, skip it.
  4. Is the technology or business model unique at first glance?  If not, skip it.
  5. Is the white paper legible?  Does the business model really make sense?  Does the technology really make sense, how far along is it?
  6. Is the money raised proportional to the business requirements?  Ridiculous numbers? Skip it.

That’s just a few of the reasons to reject an ICO; if you think that means rejecting 99% offhand, you’re right. Real investment funds spend most of their time analyzing investment opportunities and rejecting most of them; ICOs don’t make this process easier, they make it riskier; the average shmuck isn’t going to win at this any more than professionals just because they think they’re brilliant early investors!

In the end, holding the “mother” token on which the ITO is run is a lot like being at the top of a pyramid scheme.  If you own Bitcoins or Ethereum then you can profit from the demand for these coins from ICOs while taking on almost none of the risks; at least you shouldn’t lose your coins from a bug even if a smart contract scheme goes awry.  Want to invest in all ICOs?  Buy and hold real cryptocoins.  That’s how I know I haven’t lost any money to ICOs since The Dao!


Careful when using Cross-Platform cryptocurrency code!

Using the same wallet on your all your devices sounds brilliant, doesn’t it? Not having to wonder how a software wallet differs from what you’re used to or if it’s safe and does what you want is a good way to simplify your life. Also converting a stranger to Bitcoin or other cryptocoins is much more likely to happen by showing off a mobile wallet than from sitting the person in front of a PC for minutes. Not only are you likely to have your phone on you when ranting about Bitcoin, but there’s also the convenience of always-synced SPV wallets that hides the terrible weight of downloading the blockchain when booting your core wallet. So should you work out a way to use the same wallet on your mobile and your PC?

The first problem is that there’s actually very few cross-platform wallets; because there are few cross-platform technologies that work well for this kind of software; any sort of middleware to make the user interface work on all platforms without re-coding anything probably doesn’t work well at all if you code to PC first and then try to cram the UI on a tiny smart phone screen.

So let’s assume you choose a wallet that was coded first for your mobile phone; then running it on Windows should at least get you a workable experience since since the screen and mouse can replace the touchscreen.  That means your wallet was coded with the few cross-platform technologies that are workable right now, for example Java, JavaScript or some other virtual-machine based system.

There are platforms like Meteor to do this, which basically wraps up and packages a web app inside a bundle compiled for the target platform.  It might work, but how much of the security model is respected while using something as kludgy as node.js and lots of glue on your cell phone?  How much of the same standard code is being reused on both machines? I don’t really know, but I think the only reason we don’t hear about hacks on this stuff is because they’re not yet practical enough to be in widespread use.

There are no guarantees a specific JavaScript engine will respect all the math functions a wallet requires. Unless the engine or the wallet itself have been thoroughly tested and certified to run flawlessly on both engines you’re using then a single difference in a floating-point operation could “corrupt” your wallet.  So although you CAN pick a cross-platform wallet and there are a few notables that have spent a lot of time and effort making sure they work correctly, it’s simpler to use a technology that has standard maths in the first place, for instance using the same standard Virtual Machine on both platforms or VM Containers to ensure there really is no difference in what code you are running. For all practical purposes, right now this comes down to either using Java technology or a Docker or similar Container.

After you’ve spent ours searching for options, gave up and decided to use an Android wallet in a virtual machine like BlueStacks with a Java Core that can be run in a standard Java VM for more serious server applications, you will probably want to export/import the private wallet key to all those platforms to have instant access to the same wallet on all your machines.  And guess what, it works!  But only if you’re using a certified VM/language and the wallets use HD ecdsa keys (Core 0.10+).  Otherwise when you generate a new receiving address on one of the wallets,  you won’t have it available on any other platforms.  Meaning you will lose money if it’s sent to an address you can’t reproduce.  You should test beforehand to see if you the public/private subkey generators work in the same way on all your machines and how well you can import/export them before using them for any amount of money. You’ll be glad you tried it before putting too much money on the line.


What happened to Worldcoin HD Android wallet

One problem when working with coins that are out of ICO is that it’s difficult to stay motivated and developing for very little reward or investing time and money without any kind of support from the community. TLDR; that’s what happened to the Worldcoin HD wallet.

In 2013 we released the first full Worldcoin wallet on Google’s Play store.  It was based off the very popular Bitcoin android wallet by Andreas Schildbach and associates, with the Scrypt hashing code reused from another Scrypt wallet. This was a major step forward for Worldcoin because there were few cryptocoin developers with Android experience at the time.

The app worked very well and we had very few problems with it. Meanwhile the Bitcoin wallet received important updates to security and features, including things like highly-deterministic addresses, support for multi-signature and pay-to-script-hash transactions and the serious denial-of-service bugs from versions previous to 0.8.3.  This all sounded like great ways to improve Worldcoin so a new wallet version was made that included all the updates and more.  Sadly because of an incompatibility between Java’s and Android’s keystore tools, the old wallet couldn’t be updated directly.  A new app was created instead called Worldcoin HD and the old wallet was labelled obsolete in the store.

The HD wallet had features that were not even officially supported by the Worldcoin Core yet. so we also updated Worldcoin Core to 0.10+ with all the DOS issues fixed, but that was never officially released.  While we were working on getting support for an official Core release, we discovered that new seed nodes lists were needed in all wallets and that a net split had gone unnoticed for a while. Updating the seed nodes should have been trivial but we discovered that the 0.10 Core wallet would no longer validate the whole blockchain after fork was resolved.

Someone had used the net split to poison the blockchain with some of those DOS issues that were going to be fixed in the 0.10 Core.  Since only one pool was using the 0.10 Core with the stricter validation code, these DOS-causing transactions had made it through for weeks after the code update was available. For example one bad block has so many tx-out that even with a large amount of RAM and a SDD, the 0.10 Core takes forever to validate.  The old Worldcoin Core just ignores the problem and muddles on through.

With no one asking for the 0.10 update and a fork that couldn’t be rolled back, all work on 0.10 and HD wallets was simply abandoned.  The Worldcoin HD code probably still works and Core could be upgraded to 0.10+ with enough miner support in the future but we haven’t done any of the work or expenses necessary to even keep the app listed on the Play store. If anyone would like to simply add new seed nodes and upload the code to a new app entry on the Play store, the code is still available on the.Worldcoin github.

I think it’s safe to say that the real value of a cryptocoin isn’t in the technology or the economic wizardry, but in how strong a community can be built around it.