Lights Out Bitcasa; Amazon “Unlimited Everything” arrives

bitcasa-sIt’s been a rocky 2 years with Bitcasa…like a very bad dream. The company still exists, but Infinite Drive was just a pipe dream. More than just poorly executed—It was a promise replaced by lies. Bait-and-switch, plain and simple.

For Bitcasa, a future filled with missteps and mistakes was foreshadowed when someone got the incredibly uninspired idea to give founder Tony Gauda the heave ho. He was replaced by Brian Tapitch, who promises to return calls, but has difficulty with that effort if the caller dares to mention Tony.

amazon-cloud-driveBut Infinite Storage fans have a new sun dawning. Amazon is entering the “infinite” game with a knockout price on Amazon Cloud Drive. Users can squirrel away unlimited photos and videos for an absurdly low $2/month, or pack rats like me can choose Unlimited Everything for just $5 a month. Think of it as Infinite Storage redoux! I signed up for a 3 month free trial and you should too.

When the trial ends, $60/year covers truly unlimited personal storage. This is not a kitchen sink approach. Amazon Cloud Drive doesn’t come with the collaborative features that form the backbone of Dropbox or Google Drive. They assume that you have your own apps and tools. Unlimited Everything is for users who want drive access from everywhere and rock solid data backup.

I had high hopes with Bitcasa, because their clever use of convergent encryption buttressed their radical business model. I got it wrong that first time, but a rudimentary understanding of economics and shareholder politics suggests that Amazon is less likely to deceive their users and more likely to test services constantly.

At just $5 per moth, Amazon’s infinite storage is almost as low as Bitcasa’s special to beta users and considerably less than what that they promised, but failed to deliver.

Whoops! Did I leave out the sordid details? Wild Ducks can catch up here:

Meeting Andreas Antonopoulos

This isn’t really a post, it’s more of a boast… If you don’t know the name Andreas M. Antonopoulos, you don’t know Bitcoin. Since Satoshi prefers to remain invisible,* Andreas is the defacto face of Bitcoin.

I had the good fortune to meet Andreas at the MIT Bitcoin Expo this month. That chance meeting in the outer lobby of building 26-100 led to his live Keynote address at The Bitcoin Event at LaGuardia, a workshop in New York organized by CRYPSA and CUNY (City University of New York).

Ellery & Andreas-02

The Bitcoin Event at LaGuardia

Ellery & Andreas-01

MIT Bitcoin Expo 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

* I was about to say that Satoshi prefers to remain underground, but that would imply that he is guilty of something or on the run. Far from it. He is a father of invention!

Booya! Hong Kong seeks Bitcoin ban

Hong Kong flagIn February, Hong Kong lawmakers called on authorities to ban Bitcoin after more than 25 investors were duped in a Bitcoin scam. Reuters reports that they may have been fleeced of [US] $387 million. That’s quite a scam—Bernie Madoff would be proud!

Coming from Hong Kong legislators, the request to ban a monetary instrument—rather than enhance security and education—is a bit surprising. After all, Hong Kong is a uniquely progressive society. Their dollar is not issued, printed or backed by the government (not the under the British mandate and not even under Chinese unification). Rather, it is issued and backed by 3 commercial banks, each one abiding by a strict reserve policy.

Ban, baby Ban

Effective tonight, stray cats may no longer mate without a permit from the population council

Stray cats must obtain a city permit before mating

I love government bans! —especially edicts that try to prevent feral cats from mating or water from seeking its own level! It arguably produces a best-case event for popularizing a new technology, film, web-site, trend or behavior.

Sure, Bitcoin will be exploited by criminals — perhaps even at 5% of the rate that crooks exploit cash, checks or credit cards. I wonder if Hong Kong has banned those instruments?

Bitcoin is based on an elegant technology that is sometimes difficult to explain. But the results are easily understood. Whether you believe Bitcoin to be a currency, a threat to national sovereignty or a tool for criminals, it is simply a very inexpensive, efficient, quick and secure method of moving value from one party to another. That’s really all there is to it.

Bitcoin-08Of course, Bitcoin is new and it is decentralized. This means that there are a few things to be learned before common practices (and banking-analogous practices) can be made simple and safe for everyone. The Cryptocurrency Standards Association is working on it and so are a great many other programmers & organizations. Don’t bet against it! Bitcoin and the blockchain are one of those new-paradigm technologies that adds value, spreads quickly and is resistant to edict. In the beginning, Ebay, Google AdWords and hyperlinks seemed too difficult to be useful to the masses. It’s no different with Bitcoin. Adoption, tools, safety protocols and utter simplicity will make it a no brainer.

More importantly, Bitcoin does not present a threat to governments or nations, even if it begins to replace currency. (Many scholars think that this won’t happen). Governments can still tax citizens, float bonds, audit transactions, wage war and arrest bad guys — just as they did before and during the era of treasuries and central banks.

A major benefit of Bitcoin (at the very least) will add TENS of Billions of dollars to the economy. And not just supply-side dollars, but real skills and labor. That’s because Bitcoin saves 2~4% on most financial transactions. No fee for credit cards, wire transfers, checks and even commercial letters of credit. That’s why SWIFT is evaluating a switch to Bitcoin and it is why IBM is exploring the blockchain to move commercial funds all over the globe.

It doesn’t stop there. As Bitcoin adoption grows (even if only for debit transactions), a series of reactions will gradually follow. Peek with me into the future landscape of Bitcoin adoption. It’s easy to imagine. The vision is positive…What do you think?

• Related: Ellery’s articles about Bitcoin
Ellery is a founding member of CRYPSA, the Cryptocurrency Standards Association

Stellar & Ripple: Pretender to Bitcoin throne?

You might know that I am a board member and co-chairperson of CRYPSA, the Cryptocurrency Standards Association. (I write this Blog under a pen name). The organization is brand neutral. That is, we don’t endorse or favor one particular coin over another. Think of CRYPSA standards as the security paper onto which money is printed. The paper can be used for Dollars, Yen and Zlotties. If it prevents counterfeiting then any currency can benefit. Like security paper, the standards we create and the safe practices we promote apply equally to all cryptocurrencies.

But, as with any user network, recognition, adoption and gravitas count! It’s no secret that Bitcoin is the elephant in the room. It is by far the biggest, baddest and most reported new age coin by any yardstick.

ripple_by_Mo

Dollars & cents? Ripple Labs unit = XRP

But Bitcoin has a problem—at least that’s what fifty start up companies want us to believe. The code that validates transactions (also used to mine coins) is transaction bound and hampered by original design. Moreover, alt coin entrepreneurs make a persuasive case for new features that more fully exploit the block chain potential.

Wild Ducks may know of Litecoin, Feathercoin, Dogecoin and Mastercoin, but there are even newer coins attracting the eyes of the crypto and investment community. If you have your ear to the ground, the smart money seems to be betting on digital currency coined by Stellar and by Ripple Labs. The rival companies share an eclectic and storied founder and they are both headquartered in San Francisco.

The New York Observer offers an illustrated history and analysis of the two pretenders in the novel-like style of Wired Magazine. They call it The Race to Replace Bitcoin.

Wow! In my humble opinion, this is a great article! I will assume that you have perused it. Very little recap here—just a Wild Duck commentary and analysis…

Ripple-1Ripple and Stellar co-founder Jed McCaleb has a history. He founded eDonkey, a Napster-like service of the early p2p era and Mt. Gox, the big Bitcoin exchange that collapsed in a spectacular and still-mysterious failure. Another co-founder, Sam Yagan also survived eDonkey and OK Cupid. He is now CEO of dating behemoth, Match.com.

Stelar-1aI know some of the other players, but hadn’t realized that Ripple Labs was making waves (pun intended). McCaleb’s newer venture, Stellar, claims to represent more than just a coin. It is a monetary ecosystem that inter-operates across currencies and boundaries. (Isn’t that what Bitcoin does? It seems that I have a lot to learn)…

I have less programming expertise than these geniuses, and possible less cryptography expertise. But I can outdistance their collective chops on macro economics.

Wild Duck Analysis

It is exceedingly unlikely that any venture will create the next cryptocurrency by design, unless the new coin is directly tied to and sanctioned by a believable and uncontested legacy of Bitcoin prime. In effect, a new coin must be a fork of the original code or at least a proper heir with blood lines and public trust.

Ripple Labs and Stellar have a very bright team. I don’t doubt the need to improve on the Bitcoin protocol, perhaps even with a wholly new technical approach. But the string of failures in McCaleb’s background, the mystery surrounding the first 1.5 billion STRs, and the daffy distribution scheme with Facebook are almost deal killers. This needn’t be an epitaph. There is a path to righteousness…

Cryptocurrency is already hard for the public to understand and harder to accept. For this reason, an heir to Bitcoin needs five things to succeed:

  1. Direct ties to the ownership of all original BTC
  2. Sanctioned by top Bitcoin developers AND blessed by Satoshi in a signed email
  3. The coin must be ZERO growth. It must never fall prey to inflationary economics. It accommodates a growing base and users and transactions by slicing the pie thinner (or ‘mining’ from a capped pool)—never by creating coins out of thin air.
  4. Source code that is transparent, open and without proprietary interests.
  5. A unshakeable commitment to continued decentralization and p2p operation with no mandatory reporting of anything (identities, or anything about transaction beyond date, pseudo-anonymous wallet ID and amount). In short, there must be no authority and no requisite bookkeeping beyond the open and distributed block chain.

There you have it: Our unofficial CRYPSA manifesto of what it takes to dethrone Bitcoin. In short, a successful replacement must be no less than Bitcoin 2. It elevates Bitcoin to the status of emeritus, because it respects the equity of early adopters (and without watering down with ‘newly created shares’)—and it must provably disavow any potential for inflation or manipulation.

Ellery Davies is a founder and board member of CRYPSA. He is also chief editor at AWildDuck.com.

Complicated tax return? Thank TurboTax

Actually, there are two ways in which TurboTax complicates the process of filing your taxes. One is downright nefarious—and the other, just plain stupid.   Continue below cartoon…

Tax Complexity-1

♦ The Nefarious

It’s one thing for a company that builds a business on tax simplification to make their own product more complex. (That’s the topic of the next section, below). But, it’s a completely different animal when a company that helps taxpayers to navigate an unnecessarily complex tax code fakes a grassroots letter writing campaign to covertly lobby that same government to maintain complexity, maintain fees for filing, and even disguises their lobbying as a grassroots effort of everyday citizens.

Read about and weep. It is nothing less than a mob-inspired, profit strategy. This is not a faux pas. It is a stick-it-in your eye, anti-consumer behavior without precedent! Intuit sought to preserve their niche of simplifying your life by secretly pushing government to keep it complex and to require a knight-in-shining armor to unwinding the complexity.

♦ The Stupid & Greedy

Tax Complexity-2aThis year, TurboTax has effectively blocked prospective customers  from figuring out which TurboTax product suits their tax situation. Intuit has not only stripped TurboTax Deluxe of important filing returns. Their flagship product can no longer be used to electronically file Schedule D, for capital gains and losses; Schedule E, for rental real estate, royalties and distributions from partnerships; Schedule C, for profit and loss from a sole proprietorship business; or Schedule F, for farm income. This year, those who need to file a Schedule D or E must trade up to TurboTax Premier, while a Schedule C or F requires the even more expensive TurboTax Home & Business.

But wait! The highest end product sells for more than a hundred dollars. It is more suited to corporations, trusts and foundations. Don’t think that you need the many features of TurboTax Home & Business? No problem. Now, you can choose from a dozen filing form combinations. This not-quite à la carte approach virtually ensures that you will have no way of knowing which products to buy until after you prepare your taxes.

That decision can be blamed by on simple greed in the boardroom and a phalanx of idiots in the marketing department. WildDucks can Infer the rest from my letter to Intuit General Manager, Sasan Goodarzi.


Greetings, Mr. Goodarzi,

I don’t earn a lot, but I have my fingers in different things: Self employment income, dividends, royalties, K-1 trust loss, rental property, and deductions carried forward from past partnerships and business ventures.
I have used TurboTax Dexuxe + State since 1993. I want very much to continue using that product, even if the cost rises…

I wish that I had received your latest offer before purchasing my 2014 tax software.

  • Earlier this week, I walked into my local OfficeMax and was confronted with your new hyper-bifurcated product lineup. (A complex array of options. At least 3 times as many products as on your revised web site today!!).
  • I immediately realized that you were asking prospective customers to make a very complex purchase decision. I had no idea which product to buy.
  • I checked the comparison check list on the product display and discovered that the only way to ensure that I was covering all of my bases would be to purchase your most premium home and business product.

TurboTax DeluxeFor loyal users of TurboTax Deluxe, the cost jump is from $39 (discount price for with 1-state) to over $120. In my view, that’s outrageous.

And so I purchased HR Block Tax Deluxe 2014 + State for $22.49 after promo discount at Newegg.com.

I considered your previous offer of a one-time $25 rebate. For me, it seemed insulting. You were asking me to either make a VERY complex decision (one that I could only evaluate AFTER completing my tax returns), or pay $90 more and apply for a $25 rebate. What kind of offer is that? Not one that I would jump at.

TurboTax was once a premium product in a small field of competitors. Your newest offer is reasonable, but it is simply too late! My advice for next time: Simply raise the price, if you feel that the competitive marketplace can sustain the cost bump. For the past 20 years, the discount retail cost of TT deluxe + state (after coupons and store promo) has drifted downward from about $60 to $39. Sometimes, I can even get it for $29. It is reasonable to adjust the discounted cost upward to $49 or even $59 (equivalent MSRP = $84).

But instead, you chose a complex marketing option that mirrors the current problem with our tax code.  To fan the fire, news services are reporting that your company has secretly lobbied to maintain a complex tax code.

You are entitled to a price increase.  But you botched the execution. You lost a long time customer (and one who has purchased TurboTax for employees and partners).

~Ellery Davies
  Formerly, a faithful TurboTax customer

ISIS burns Jordanian Pilot. To what end?

Moa’ath al-Kasasbeh-01aThree days ago, ISIS released a video in which the Jordanian Pilot, Lt. Moa’ath al-Kasasbeh, was burned alive in a cage. The result? A blitz against ISIS positions and logistics with the fury of an enraged leopardess. Jordan and the US led coalition is getting sympathy and support from near and far—even from prospective allies with no former stake in this war.

Why do people commit atrocities on a deeply personal and individual level? Think about it before reading further.

Since you’re still reading, you will obviously learn my opinion:Actually, I just can’t figure it out…

I ‘get’ that some people/groups/governments/rebels want land, power, money, sex—or simply revenge on those they feel have brought suffering or dishonor to their people, their cause or their prophet. I also get that they commit atrocities in an attempt to achieve their goals. But, I cannot fathom why the really bad guys inevitably do things that are so grotesquely evil, inhumane and appalling that they bring unity and resolve to their enemies!

Referring to ISIS actions and tweets: “It is a PR stunt”. But PR serves a purpose, even if it is a twisted purpose or one hell-bent on religious fervor. I doubt that decapitations, burning a man alive, and kidnapping a young, female aid worker help the cause of ISIS, even among the angry, dispossessed youth that they routinely recruit.

charlie-hebdo-cover-603x8002Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, fellow at the Middle East Forum and researcher at the IDC Herzliya academic institution, explains that the video is a “wholly new level of public advertisement of brutality” and that it is “designed to terrorize the outside world, especially the Arab states taking part in the US-led coalition.”

How can anyone be so distorted as to think that such disgraceful and abominable tactics achieve anything other than invigorating enemies and generating massive sympathy for the other side. More to the point, do they not realize that their families will be hunted down and killed, humiliated or otherwise brought to justice?

ISIS believes the US led coalition forces to be an infidel, a disciple of Satan or a rabid animal (metaphors that radical Islam invokes toward anyone who is free, living under democracy, has a brain or a conscience). But even if you believe these things, it makes no sense to back a dog (or Satan) into a corner and poke him with a stick—especially if your opponent has satellite reconnaissance, powerful weapons and growing community sympathy.

Related:

Piers Morgan describes his reaction to viewing the ISIS video of Jordanian Pilot, Moa’ath al-Kasasbeh, burned alive in a cage. He didn’t want to watch, but is glad that he did.

Canary Watch deduces federal gag orders

The US government and its courts routinely demand personal user information from email services, banks, phone companies and other online, telecommunications or financial services. These demands compel services to disclose details about email, phone calls and financial transactions. They also gain access to hordes of so called “metadata”, which can be just as personal as a user’s phone calls. It includes information about user relationships, locations, browser configuration and even search history. Many of these demands, such as the infamous National Security Letter stipulate that the service may not divulge that they were asked for the information in the first place. In fact, they can’t say anything about a de facto investigation!…

My friend, Michael, occasionally points out that skirting the law with Wink-Wink-Nod-Nod is still likely breaking the law. His point, of course, is that law is often based on intent. So with this in mind, what do you think about this clever reporting service?…

Canary WatchA service called, Canary Watch, lets online services like Verizon or Google send a continuous stream of data that repeatedly states “We are not currently compelled to turn over any data on our users”. Naturally, if the service suddenly refrains from sending the statement, a reasonable person can infer that the government is demanding personal information with the usual GAG order attached.

If you extrapolate this technique, a service like Verizon could continuously broadcast a massive list of usernames (or shorter hash codes representing individual users). These are the users who are not currently being investigated. Any change to the data stream would allow a 3rd party to infer and alert users who are the subject of an investigation.

With the launch of this service, Canary Watch wins the 2015 Wild Duck Privacy Award. This is the type of cleverness that we like! Why? Because it enhances transparency and helps everyone to control their own privacy, if they choose to do so.

Wild Duck Privacy Award

Further reading: Activists create website to track & reveal NSA, FBI info requests