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Giulio Prisco (M, 57)
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    Bitcoin: a CryptoCurrency for a free Internet and a free society


    I have just seen this picture on Facebook. Today on the memorydealers.com website: "We are excited to announce that we now accept Bitcoin as payment! Learn more about Bitcoin, the new peer-to-peer digital currency. It's like cash — it's free to use and nobody will charge you any fees. The first Bitcoin Billboard in the world! View from the road!" Seeing Bitcoin billboards on the road may indicate that the Bitcoin wave is now unstoppable, and the world has to deal with it.

    Bitcoin is a peer-to-peer digital currency. Peer-to-peer (P2P) means that there is no central authority to issue new money or keep track of transactions. Instead, these tasks are managed collectively by the nodes of the network. Bitcoin has been created in 2009 by Satoshi Nakamoto as one of the first implementations of a concept called cryptocurrency, which was first described in 1998 by Wei Dai on the cypherpunks mailing list. See also the Bitcoin page on Wikipedia.

    I have been playing with Bitcoin for a couple of years. Initially, only for intellectual and political interest: I am an IT professional and a Pirate Party member, and I am very interested in cryptography technology and the social libertarian politics of cypherpunks and cryptoanarchists. Initially, my only transactions were small (and sometimes large) Bitcoin donations to get friends started in using the system.

    I will not go into technical details on how the Bitcoin system works, please take a look at the links if you are interested. It will be enough to say that you can generate Bitcoins by using the Bitcoin client to solve a complex computational problem which takes some time, and the difficulty of the task increases over time to keep the system stable. A couple of years ago you could generate Bitcoins fast enough on the home PC, but now it takes at least a personal supercomputing rig, perhaps built with GPGPUs (or you can pool resources with other users and generate Bitcoins together in a Bitcoin pool). This means that now the gold rush is over and the Bitcoin economy is based on trade and good business ideas.

    Only a few months ago I wrote: "[Bitcoin has] recently reached parity with the US dollar as reported by Slashdot." More recent articles on Slashdot have catchy and alarmist titles such as "BitCoin, the Most Dangerous Project Ever?" or "Bitcoin Used For the Narcotics Trade". And today (June 7, 2011) one Bitcoin is worth more than 18 USD and its value is going up very fast (you can track the value of Bitcoin at an exchange site like Mt. Gox). And this is not just theory: yesterday I needed some fast cash in my Paypal account to do something, and I easily sold a few Bitcoins at near market value on the Bitcoin forum. Of 4 buyers, 3 were honest and sent me the money, which is not that bad.

    When I wrote this blog post I had just made my first real purchase in Bitcoin, buying a one year subscription to a VPN. I paid 96 Bitcoins, which was a fair price at the time when one Bitcoin was worth about one USD. But now after four months the 96 Bitcoins that I paid are worth about 1.800 USD, so the good folks at the VPN have made a very, very good business. I hope this anecdote will encourage more sellers to accept Bitcoin for their products and services.

    A few months ago Bitcoin was covered by the popular show Security Now on the TWiT network: Security Now 287: BitCoin CryptoCurrency. I have posted to blip.tv an edited version of the video (the original has a CC license), with only the 45 min dedicated to Bitcoin. The video gives a simple and effective explanation, and the system has not changed much in the last few months. What has changed is the visibility and popularity of Bitcoin, which is now all over the press and the media.

    Rick Falkvinge, the founder and first party leader of the Swedish Pirate Party, says "I’m Putting All My Savings Into Bitcoin" and "Bitcoin is an amazing technology with an insane potential. But there are four things that must appear for that potential to materialize. This is the first in a series of four articles, where we address usability." I am reading the article now, and I look forward to reading the next three articles in the series.

    A recent Big Think article is titled "What happens when Anonymous gets a bank?" (found via K21ST) : "Yes, that's right, the hacktivists now have a virtual currency that's untraceable, unhackable, and completely Anonymous. And that's where things start to get interesting. Veteran tech guru Jason Calacanis recently called Bitcoin the most dangerous open source project he's ever seen. TIME suggested that Bitcoin might be able to bring national governments and global financial institutions to their knees. You see, Bitcoin is as much a political statement as it is a virtual currency." Read also Xeni Jardin and Cory Doctorow on Bitcoin at BB.

    I am not even going to try making a list of recent news coverage, because Bitcoin is all over the blogosphere and the press. Just google Bitcoin or search on Twitter, and you will be (I hope positively) amazed.

    So... I should write some conclusions. I am sure governments are taking a very unfriendly interest in Bitcoin, and they must be already thinking hard on how to stop the Bitcoin wave. A Bitcoin Technical Lead is going to brief the CIA (see also the discussion at the Bitcoin forum). I am sure they will try to stop Bitcoin, they will try to make it illegal, and they will fight very dirty.

    But the open, distributed, P2P nature of the Bitcoin wave makes it very difficult to stop. And here is where we, freedom-loving citizens, must play our role. WE MUST PROTECT OUR FREE INTERNET AT ALL TIMES, and we must protect (what is left of) our free society. I praise memorydealers.com, and I have just sent them a donation. If we start using Bitcoin and take it above critical mass, they will not be able to stop it. Support Bitcoin. Download it now. Start to play with it. Buy Bitcoins and use them. Support the vendors who accept payment in Bitcoin. Tell all your friends and give them some Bitcoins to start with. Write about Bitcoin on your blog, Twitter and Facebook. Join Diaspora (another aspect of the free Internet that we must protect) and promote Bitcoin there. Send Bitcoins to your grandmother, with instructions on how to buy nice things.

    I think Bitcoin is important. We must protect the Internet and the right to free speech, pseudonimity and anonimity online, and we need a untraceable anonymous currency. Of course I realize that Bitcoin can also be used by bad people to do bad things, but I am sure it will be mainly used by good people to do good things, and I think the benefits outweigh the dangers. All things considered, I prefer to live in a world with untraceable anonymous currency than in a world without.

    Tue, Jun 7, 2011  Permanent link

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    Wildcat     Tue, Jun 7, 2011  Permanent link
    Kevin Kelly has a completely different take see: The Stealthy Anonymart

    in which he also relates to a few very derogatory answers on Quora, which treat the Bitcoin issue as a scam: see Is the cryptocurrency Bitcoin a good idea?

    especially the first answer : "No. Bitcoin is a ludicrously bad idea. It is a scam. A Scam. It is not a currency. The economic assumptions underpinning the Bitcoin ecosystem are laughable, and ignore hundreds of years of accumulated understanding of how currencies work with each other. "..

    continues there, and I think worthwhile reading even if we do not agree with the basic premises.

    giulio     Tue, Jun 7, 2011  Permanent link
    Hi Wildcat, thanks. I had seen Kevin Kelly's article, not the discussion on Quora (I don't really use Quora much, perhaps I should).

    Of course Tor and Bitcoin are enablers for things like Silk Road. But (and I prefer not to elaborate on whether I think Silk Road is a good or a bad thing), one could say that the Internet is an enabler for things like Silk Road. Should we stop the Internet then? I don't think so.

    As I wrote in the last paragraph, of course I realize that Bitcoin can also be used by bad people to do bad things, but I am sure it will be mainly used by good people to do good things, and I think the benefits outweigh the dangers. All things considered, I prefer to live in a world with untraceable anonymous currency than in a world without.

    Concerning the scam aspect, I think our current financial system is a scam. A textbook typical Ponzi scheme protected and enforced by governments. Bitcoin may or may not be the answer, but sure as hell we need to find an answer fast.
    elysium     Tue, Jun 7, 2011  Permanent link
    Scam? I dunno, I've traded a good 400 dollars straight from BTC into $$$ now.

    So, as an early adopter, did I scam the guy who gave me the money for my bitcoins (Who was probably an even earlier adopter)? Is the scam on the guy who's handing out real money for this shit or what, I'm confused...

    "But Bitcoin is not designed to be a functioning currency, it's designed to enrich early adopters. Again, that is why it is a scam. Period." jeez, I suppose the same could be said for any other form of wealth that's ever emerged.

    "It is being marketed as a currency to appeal to people who are crazy, idealistic, or afraid, and it is a scam." seriously. I'm looking at FOUR HUNDRED US DOLLARS in my wallet from bitcoin funny money, it feels like I found that shit on the ground. If I'm crazy, idealistic, or afraid of that... lol what? This whole bitcoin thing is just a fart in the wind compared to the potential for this kind of technology, if you ask me. The guy who originally wrote bitcoin never intended things to get this big this fast - Consider this a bit of a test run, if you will. He left it when things did get too big. So as far as this guy's arguments go, yeah, bitcoin probably isn't a soundly sustainable system, but it's definitely not the be all end all of cryptocurrency. New systems will take place inevitably, and they will invoke even more fear, uncertainty, and doubt in those types of people who have so much vested interest in traditional economic systems.
    giulio     Tue, Jun 7, 2011  Permanent link
    Hi Elysium - of course the early adopters will become rich by selling all the BTC that they have generated in the early days with little efforts, and I think they deserve it for having played a key role in the development of Bitcoin. I have been playing with Bitcoin for a couple of years, and now I really wish I had dedicated much more time to generate BTC and much less time to other things, but I have not been so smart. I could have generated tens of thousands of BTC with my home PC then, and I could make a lot of money by selling them now. The early adopters have been smarter, and they deserve a reward.

    But early adopters becoming rich does not mean that something is a scam. Were it so, nearly everything is a scam. In real estate and in the stock market you make money by buying something where is very cheap (that is, when others have not noticed it yet) and selling it when it becomes expensive. Does this mean that real estate and the stock market are scams? Well, they are not usually considered scams, but perhaps they are scams after all (I often think so, sort of). In this case, I would say that Bitcoin is in good and respectable company;-)
    elysium     Tue, Jun 7, 2011  Permanent link
    http://blog.ezyang.com/2011/06/bitcoin-is-not-decentralized/ I just started reading this now but it seems like a more levelheaded technical analysis from someone who isn't throwing around heavy words that they gotta end up redacting after (Apparently that guy calling it a scam takes his word back on that, hahaha)
    Spaceweaver     Tue, Jun 7, 2011  Permanent link
    The arguments whether Bitcoin is a scam or not, or whether it is a viable alternative to regulated currency are missing the point. Bitcoin is primarily a potent catalyst of novelty in future economy and alternative monetary systems. It is one embodiment that can proliferate in many variations and trial and error experiments until a transformative solution will evolve. The fact that Bitcoin invites similar yet independent variations is a natural and powerful limiting mechanism against large scale exploitation and scamming. It is a good hint towards a futuristic monetary system as imperfect as it might be as of now.

    Regulation without a regulator is for me the most potent aspect that can drive a whole new free economy. (reminds me of the Taoist idea that the best governor is the one who needs do nothing).

    There are indeed profound ethical issues involved, but these must be addressed independently. The whole point about regulation and control is that a governing body exercises power in order to limit a use of a resource towards ends that this body deems 'just' and 'good' (and by that justify and reinforce its own powers). Freedom is a very different ball game we all need to learn how to play. The fact that freedom (in the form of anonymous currency for example) might be abused is a given. But it shouldn't be used as an argument against freedom.
    gamma     Tue, Jun 7, 2011  Permanent link
    I heard many years ago about the Buddhist invention - allegedly. It consists of a favor exchange market where favors are memorized, written, counted, dreamed... but in practice, it has a simple point. Everyone can invent and use their own money legally, as long as he takes records of who did what for whom. So, the favor exchange markets exist in many country today, and they mostly organize the poor people. Local clubs are employed for book keeping.

    I think that bitcoins are chaotic and that is a must. Money is also chaotic, but it cannot evolve freely.
    gamma     Wed, Jun 8, 2011  Permanent link
    Any trade can be established on top of the new money scheme. For example, I could be the first idiot to sell my old bike in bitcoins, and Wildcat could be the first respected person to buy it. It sounds silly, but if we look at the large scale the trade can continue between all individuals. Its rudimentary.
    gamma     Wed, Jun 8, 2011  Permanent link


    I find the disk usage by BitCoin client offensive! It is too big!

    It produced 100 000 "blocks" in an hour and a half approximately. The memory usage grew from 7 to 69 Mb. The cpu usage varied continuously from 2 to 15%. The disk usage did not stop for a second! It was connected to 18 other computers. The numbers in the photo show that the CPU usage was 3% at the lowest execution priority, and that it made staggering 40 000 000 disk writes! For example, my current Firefox session made 77 000 writes.

    That's not worth the 1. noise and 2. the oil from the Kuwait, god bless Kuwait we will never abandon you ever again.

    :-))
    giulio     Wed, Jun 8, 2011  Permanent link
    Spaceweaver: We must protect the Internet and the right to free speech, pseudonimity and anonimity online, and we need a untraceable anonymous currency. This was tried in the 90s by Digicash and others, and failed. Today, we see civil liberty eroded anywhere, which is a very slippery slope toward very bad outcomes, and we must resurrect the dreams of the 90s (and why not the 60s).

    Perhaps Bitcoin is the answer, and time will tell. Most likely it is not "The Answer" but an answer, part of an answer, or a useful step toward an answer. As you say, Iit can proliferate in many variations and trial and error experiments until a transformative solution will evolve. My main point is that using, promoting, supporting and experimenting with Bitcoin at this moment is useful to achieve the outcome we want.

    Elysium, could you elaborate on "The guy who originally wrote bitcoin never intended things to get this big this fast - Consider this a bit of a test run, if you will. He left it when things did get too big."? Do you have insider news on Satoshi (or by any chance are you Satoshi?;-)

    Gamma, I honestly don't understand what the oil from Kuwait has to do with this.
    syncopath     Wed, Jun 8, 2011  Permanent link
    Hi giulio, thanks 4 an interesting & provocative post .. -) the issue is complex no doubt, but one thing is clear (as you've mentioned) our current financial & monetary system is - a scam !!
    The main attraction in this topic of new currency, as a seed for a future possible transformation, i find in Spaceweaver's comment: Regulation without a regulator is the most potent aspect that can drive a whole new free economy. I am not sure yet how it may be-come. But may it be an upside-down vision of our old memory & habit of what it could be.
    {i}Pan~     Wed, Jun 8, 2011  Permanent link
    Looks like the goons noticed.

    Senators seek crackdown on "Bitcoin" currency

    ST. LOUIS (Thomson Reuters Accelus) - Two senators are pressing federal authorities to crack down on an online black market and "untraceable" digital currency known as Bitcoins after reports that they are used to buy illegal drugs anonymously.
    gamma     Wed, Jun 8, 2011  Permanent link
    I got myself an offshore wallet that won't bother my hard disk. You can open one for yourself automatically, as soon as you visit

    http://www.instawallet.org

    (I love you Kuwait.)
    elysium     Wed, Jun 8, 2011  Permanent link
    Giulio: http://bitcoinstats.com/irc/bitcoin-dev/logs/2011/04/26/5  if you ctrl+f satoshi on there you can find some sorta insider info.

    Gamma: Trying to mine coins on your home computer at this point is, well, pretty pointless. Shoulda caught on to it a while back if you hoped to get anything outta your computer's idle time... Mining is now dominated by people with crazy powerful systems. Examples in these videos:

    http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=bitcoin+mining

    Also, this guy.

    elysium     Wed, Jun 8, 2011  Permanent link
    Also, gamma, cool you mention that favour exchange thing. Immediately I thought how an online version of that would work out, completely free from archaic currency. There's http://www.favorville.com/  but it looks a bit dead... I'd be down to work on something like that in my free time someday when I'm not so busy :)
    giulio     Wed, Jun 8, 2011  Permanent link
    Thanks for the interesting link elysium.

    Re Senators seek crackdown on "Bitcoin" currency - I am assuming that Bitcoin will be made illegal everywhere, but I also think it will be very difficult to stop. By using Bitcoin smartly and ignoring the regulations, Bitcoin users will send out a powerful message through civil disobedience.

    Of course after Bitcoin is made illegal all traceable exchanges will be shut down. Some offshore exchange may survive. Also, users will have to refrain from trading BTC in open forums and use Tor or strong nyms behind VPNs.

    Re Silk Road: I don't disapprove of drugs, so I don't see its existence as a problem. At the same time there ARE things that I strongly disapprove of, and I realize that free untraceable communications and transactions will also be used for things that I hate.

    But I don't believe in banning useful technologies to block hateful activities: the bad buys will find ways to do their bad things anyways, and _only_ the rest of society will be punished. It would be like shutting out the phone system to prevent the bad guys from using it. I prefer having the phone system, accepting the risks with the benefits, and finding other ways to stop the bad guys.
    gamma     Thu, Jun 9, 2011  Permanent link
    Also, gamma, cool you mention that favour exchange thing. Immediately I thought how an online version of that would work out, completely free from archaic currency. There's http://www.favorville.com/  but it looks a bit dead... I'd be down to work on something like that in my free time someday when I'm not so busy :)


    There is a specific name for the favor exchange network, but I forgot what it is. It certainly exists...
    GOT IT!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Local_Exchange_Trading_Systems

    "Local Exchange Trading Systems (LETS) also known as LETSystems are locally initiated, democratically organised, not-for-profit community enterprises that provide a community information service and record transactions of members exchanging goods and services by using the currency of locally created LETS Credits.[1] In some places, e.g. Toronto, the scheme has been called the Local Employment and Trading System. In New South Wales, Australia, they were known as Local Energy Transfer Systems."

    giulio     Fri, Jun 10, 2011  Permanent link
    I think LETS are a great idea which should be encouraged (small is beautiful, and I am always in favor of local governance as opposed to centralized governance for local issues), but why not also GETS (Global Exchange Trading Systems) enabled by and embedded in social networks.
    gamma     Sat, Jun 11, 2011  Permanent link
    Maybe I was wrong about the chaos. If there is less to buy with the new money, that generates an imbalance (weight). If there is plenty to buy, nearly anything you can imagine, that's Kuwait.
    {i}Pan~     Fri, Jun 17, 2011  Permanent link
    I have to wonder, is this the NSA or CIA's doing?:

    http://www.newscientist.com/blogs/onepercent/2011/06/bitcoin-theft-attempts-are-on.html

    Fraudsters steal Bitcoins as currency's value rises

    Computer security firm Symantec reports that malware authors are targeting Bitcoin users with a Trojan called Infostealer.Coinbit. Once installed on a user's computer, the Trojan searches for their wallet.dat, the file where information about your Bitcoin balance is stored, and uploads it to the attacker.

    Anyone who loses their wallet.dat file has no way of recovering the Bitcoins it contains, since the currency has no central authority to appeal to. One Bitcoin early-adopter discovered just how painful this can be when they lost 25,000 Bitcoins to a hacking attack - worth around $500,000 at the time of the theft.
    giulio     Sat, Jun 18, 2011  Permanent link
    I don't think this is the NSA or CIA, just some teenagers out to make some fast and easy money. Now, if I had 25,000 Bitcoins, you can be sure I would take the necessary precautions to avoid theft. Leaving a full Bitcoin wallet accessible is like leaving a car open and with the keys inside and the engine on.
    {i}Pan~     Sat, Jun 18, 2011  Permanent link
    Yeah, I don't know Giulio.

    What makes me suspicious is the timing. Coming so close on the heels of the two senators who want to crack down on it raises my hackles. Makes me think it might be sabotage, to undermine trust in Bitcoins.

    On the other hand, if Bitcoins does have security flaws, then it's good to expose them so the system can evolve.
    BenRayfield     Wed, Jul 13, 2011  Permanent link
    I suggest everyone trade your dollars for bitcoins soon, since its on at least an exponential value increase, as you can see in these 2 graphs fromhttp://bitcoincharts.com/charts

    This one is price over time:


    This one is price over time on an exponential scale, and we see it either increasing linearly or more than that. This means the recent crash of half the Bitcoin economy is a continuation of the pattern of fluctuating up and down on this exponential scale, and after it drops some more it will continue increasing exponentially.


    One way to buy bitcoins is to transfer money from your bank to http://dwolla.com  and from there to http://mtgox.com  and from there to Bitcoin. The chain of banks is so long because the elite in power don't want Bitcoin to succeed.
    gamma     Mon, Dec 12, 2011  Permanent link
    Traditional banks have failed us. Will online peer-to-peer lending rescue our personal finances?
     http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21228421.300-bank-says-no-ditch-the-bank—borrow-from-the-crowd.html?full=true 
    gamma     Thu, Feb 16, 2012  Permanent link
    Cyclos is a project of the Dutch non profit organization STRO.
    Cyclos offers a complete on-line banking system with additional modules such as e-commerce and communication tools. Cyclos is currently available in ten languages and used worldwide by many organizations and communities. The Cyclos platform permits a de-centralization of banking services that can stimulate local trade and development. With the latest version it is possible to roll out mobile banking services using mobile channels such as SMS. Cyclos is published under the GPL (open source) license meaning that it can be downloaded for free and used at no cost.

    The objective of the project is to develop open source complementary currency software that is easy to use and maintain, flexible, secure, and highly customizable. The Cyclos structure is entirely dynamic. This means that it is possible to 'build' a monetary system from scratch. Organizations that want a standard system can use the default database that comes with basic configurations and can be easily enhanced. Cyclos is used for mutual credit systems like LETS, Barter systems, administration of Micro credits or remittances, Time banks and backed currency systems such as a C3 (consumer and commerce circuit). Cyclos just started to be used as a back-end for mobile banking services in Africa, and various Universities are studying the possibility to use Cyclos as a campus payment system.

     http://project.cyclos.org/ 
     
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