Archive for April, 2011


Bitcoin and the NSA

Monday, April 25th, 2011

Bitcoin utilizes something called elliptical curve encryption in its processes. I remember back in the day, attending Bob Hettinga’s “Digital Commerce Society of Boston” meetings, and hearing this discussed then That was about 15 years ago now. I’m not a cryptographer, but from what I remember, elliptical curve encryption offered extraordinarily strong encryption without requiring an extraordinary amount of processing power. It was envisioned at the time that this method of encryption would be extremely useful in mobile devices.

My question is simple: Has the NSA broken elliptical curve encryption yet? And if they have, would they have it within their power to destroy Bitcoin?

If the NSA has broken elliptical curve encryption, they surely wouldn’t announce such a capability. But it does mean that if the US Federal Government wanted to, they could crush Bitcoin in seconds flat, inflating it beyond measure. By doing so, they would announce to the world that they can break elliptical curve encryption, but maybe that would be worth doing in certain circumstances.

But put aside the NSA for a moment. Theoretically, there is also what I would call the MC Frontalot problem as well. In his song, Secrets From The Future, he writes:

You can’t hide secrets from the future with math.
You can try, but I bet that in the future they laugh
at the half-assed schemes and algorithms amassed
to enforce cryptographs in the past.

The point being, that even the best cryptography today is likely to be broken, even by brute force, at some point in the future. So my question is, how is the Bitcoin development community planning to work around the MC Frontalot problem? Physical currency gets recalled and re-issued with new anti-counterfeiting measures added periodically, but what’s the equivalent for Bitcoin? I assume somebody has already asked this question, but I thought I’d ask it here in any event.

BTW, I have a new Bitcoin tip jar in the sidebar. Thanks in advance to anyone who hits it.


Happy Easter – Amazon And Adobe Air

Sunday, April 24th, 2011

Happy Easter everyone!

So it being Easter, I though I’d play Handel’s Messiah, only to find I didn’t in fact own it. So I went to to buy a copy, since they tend to be slightly cheaper than iTunes. So far so good, I bought the album, and I’m listening to it now.

After buying it, it encouraged me to load it onto Amazon’s new cloud music service. In also suggested loading my entire music library there with the use of an uploader tool. I thought that sounded like a fun experiment, so I proceeded to download and install the uploader. Upon watching it install, without permission, it began t install Adobe Air. Now maybe somewhere in the tiny terms of service it said that this was an Air app, but it certainly wasn’t billed as any such thing. I forced the installer to quit and deleted any files I could find from Adobe Air and the Amazon Uploader I could find.

If Amazon, a company which believes itself to be a software company, can’t be bothered to write native apps for one of the largest computing platforms out there, or even be bothered to notify users that the app they’re about to install isn’t native, then they really don’t deserve my business.

After I was done downloading Handel’s Messiah, the Amazon downloader app wanted me to download a new, upgraded version of the downloader. I declined. I declined because they lost my trust.

Try again Amazon. You can certainly do better than that.

BTW, I’m blogging this on my iPad using an app called Blogsy. It’s what the wordpress app should have been from the get go. I would highly recommend it to anyone who blogs with an iPad.


Atlas Shrugged Quick Review

Sunday, April 17th, 2011

So I saw Atlas Shrugged with my wife last night, and I had a few quick thoughts. First was that I was surprised how emotional seeing it on screen made me, especially the opening scenes. They do a great job of capturing the essence of the book. The actress who plays Dagny was superb, and really held the movie together. And while the movie had it’s issues, it isn’t nearly as bad as some Objectivist quarters would have you believe.

I did have a few specific issues with the movie however. The movie was only an hour and a half long, which makes some of the editorial decisions questionable. They left out Francisco’s money is the root of all evil speech, which seems puzzling. They totally screwed up the bracelet exchange with Dagny and Lillian. And the Hugh Akston character is all wrong. And they went with these dossier like breaks in the film whenever an executive disappears. And finally, the guy reading the lines for John Galt was terrible. In total, while I enjoyed the film, I do have to wonder about the ability of someone unfamiliar with the book to follow everything in the movie.

In any event, I should hope that enough people see it to be able to finance the remainder of the trilogy. At the theater I went to, it was about 3/4 filled. All told I’d recommend the movie and would encourage you to go see it.


Bitcoin and Amazon

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

So I’ve been giving a lot of thought to Bitcoin. I was introduced to it by listening to the EconTalk podcast on Bitcoins. Russ Roberts, the host, touched on many important issues regarding Bitcoins, but in my opinion, missed on some others. I want to think out loud on the blog about some of those issues today.

So for those who are unfamiliar, or too lazy to click the links above, Bitcoins are an alternate online currency, whose units are limited, and whose distribution is completely decentralized, unlike previous attempts at online currencies such as beenz or flooz. What this means in practicality is that nobody can inflate currency. Bitcoins are generated at a rate of 50 every ten minutes, and will stop being generated once there are 21 million Bitcoins in circulation, which are divisible down to 8 decimal places. By downloading the Bitcoin software and leaving it running on your machine, you enter into lottery to receive the 50 Bitcoins generated every ten minutes. So you can either get Bitcoins by waiting to win the lottery, or by trading goods or services for Bitcoins. By all accounts, the Bitcoin system is cryptographically sound and hacker proof.

So what’s the point?

Well, there are a few major points that hit me immediately. The first is that this is in essence, the world’s first fiat currency that literally cannot be inflated (Is it even appropriate to call this a fiat currency, since it’s not decreed by force? Can we even call it a paper currency?). This represents an enormous achievement. The second thing that hits me is that in a world of high inflation, this may prove to be a valuable currency worth using, a thought not lost on Russ Roberts or on the creators of the currency. The third thing that occurs to me, that was not at all touched on in the podcast, is that the existence of such a currency proves an enormous threat to Paypal, Visa, MasterCard, American Express, and every bank that makes money on ATM fees and checking accounts. It is, to put is mildly, completely insane that 17 years after the creation of the world wide web, we still pay fees to these types of companies to electronically move money around for us. Arguably, if we had a congress or federal government that did its job, they would have already developed a digital, cryptographically sound currency for us to be able to exchange electronically by now, but we don’t. Regardless, it is this last thought that really makes me think that Bitcoin may have legs.

When you go shopping at a retail establishment, you have likely noticed that many stores try to get you to use cash under a certain dollar amount. Moreover, most retail establishments, but particularly the ones that sell high-ticket items, really try to direct consumers to use their debit cards over their credit cards. This is solely because of the difference between the fees generates when using the debit network vs the credit card networks. Imagine if your will, how much money a company such as Amazon spends on credit card fees. Amazon could allocate a tiny portion of that to Bitcoin development, and the long term rewards would be enormous. Moreover, they could operate an exchange for Bitcoins to existing currencies, one that would be much cheaper and more easily accessible than the current solutions, which charge exorbitant fees or use existing systems such as Paypal to conduct the exchange. Amazon could simply enable merchants to accept Bitcoins, and offer dollar exchanges for flat fees, and potentially initiate a tidal wave.

So the Bitcoin thing has really got my wheels turning. You have a real online currency, with real incentive for major retailers to back it and get out from under the credit card companies. This thing potentially has legs. So i’m going to blog my thoughts about Bitcoins in a few blog posts. I’m sorry if this sort of thing bores you.


Trump And The Birthers

Sunday, April 10th, 2011

I’ve been giving some thought to Donald Trump. and his recent embrace of the birther hypothesis. Allow me to state the hypotheses and the evidence in favor of it as best I can in blockquote below:

Barack Obama was born in Kenya. His grandparents took measures during his life to cover up for that fact. The evidence is as follows:

  • Barack Obama’s grandmother is on record as saying that she witnessed his birth in Kenya.
  • Barack Obama has released a “certificate of live birth” which is an unsigned, unnumbered document, and quite distinct from a certified, signed and numbered birth certificate.
  • Barack Obama apparently has a Connecticut social security number. Barack Obama has never lived in the state of Connecticut.
  • No witnesses or hospital records can be found regarding his “Hawaiian” birth.
  • Barack Obama has apparently spent $2 million fighting inquiries into his birth records.

Trump probably has the deepest or second deepest pockets of all the potential Republican candidates running next winter. And he certainly appears to be the only candidate who is seriously interested in this issue. I suspect that the only way to resolve the issue with any degree of certainty is to produce flight records showing that his mother was overseas during the time of Obama’s birth. And it is not outside of Donald Trump’s means to find such records, should they exist.

What I wonder is, would Trump really want to discover that Obama is not a natural born American. Suppose it were proven that Barack Obama was not qualified to be President of the United States. What would happen? I suppose most people figure that Biden would assume the presidency and that would be that.

Ahh, but not so fast. Obama would never have had a legitimate place on the ballot. So arguably, Biden was not legitimately elected either. That could mean McCain is President, since his ticket was legitimately on the ballot. Or it may mean that the election gets turned back to the house to decide, and they may elect the third in line to the presidency, John Boehner. Were John Boehner the president, then the Republicans presumably would nominate him next year and he would be the candidate in 2012, not Donald Trump. Moreover, Obama’s two supreme court nominations would be invalidated, as would TARP, Obamacare and Frank Dodd. Come to think of it, I rather like how this scenario is playing out.

Maybe Trump should forget running and just put his efforts into finding those flight records of Anne Dunham.


It’s All In The Execution

Monday, April 4th, 2011