About Ellery

Who is Ellery? http://awildduck.com/?p=1 Bitcoin & blockchain credentials: http://awildduck.com/interests Other Interests: http://awildduck.com/interests/blockchain_qualifications.htm

Trump: Lamenting lost opportunities…

Twice, this past year, I promised that a final missive about our president was my last word, in a blog that resolves to be apolitical. This was a supremely difficult promise to keep—I have clearly failed. I lose sleep over our shared unfortune. And so, here is one more parting thought on a matter that troubles me deeply.

During the winter holidays, I settled into Las Vegas for a few shows and some fun. (Thank you, Ryan, for loaning me a Pontiac sports car!). I shot this photo through my window from Highway 15 as I was approached my hotel on the Vegas Strip.

It is sad that this building still shows such a disgraced brand name. It is sad that our country still wallows in that disgrace. How so?…

It is not so much the lies, divisiveness, misogyny, xenophobia, abject ignorance or thin-skinned bullying that bothers me. It’s not the constant contempt for everything embraced by the past administration (it clearly consumes him). It’s not the blind allegiance to white supremacists (he doesn’t even realize that they are racist). It’s not his goofy battle with the 1st Amendment or his professed support of the 2nd Amendment. And it’s not even the ignorance on issues related to the environment and nuclear threats…

Rather, it is the lost opportunities during moments of crisis and everyday business in which perspective, rational leadership, and respect from peers could really make a profound and positive difference to the futures of people everywhere!

To my good friends Dania, Peter and my nephew, Nate: Note that I never mention the name of any politician or statesman in this post. The name on that building speaks for itself. I respect you, but I do not respect the individual whose name adorns this building. It gleams in the sunset, and towers over Las Vegas. But it shines with shame. It may be beautiful and well maintained, but it represents a crumbling America.

Would an ethical government surrender control of monetary policy?

Godfrey Bloom is a member of the British Parliament. His in-your-face style of educating and shocking his peers has made him a controversial politician. He has occasionally been escorted out of the assembled parliament because of his rowdy rhetoric.

Consider the video below. Bloom offers a critical, but simple and clear explanation of the Fractional Reserve banking system used in the US and Europe. This gets to the heart of the matter! [continue below video]…

Conclusion (mine, and not Mr. Bloom’s): It is in the interest of governments to use a form of money that they cannot manipulate, print, spend, hide or lend without first earning, taxing or legitimately borrowing — and then balancing the books, openly.

Bitcoin is such a currency. Any country that adopts an open source, permissionless, and completely transparent monetary instrument will demonstrate to citizens and taxpayers that they respect their constituents and that they commit to balance their books like any state, corporation, NGO or household.

Would an ethical government surrender control of its own monetary policy? H*ll, yes! This is how a government avoids rampant inflation and the burden of non-consensual debt to future generations. It is also how a government makes taxation, redistribution and spending transparent and accountable. It is how a government restores trust.

We have been raised with centuries of dogma that teach us to accept inflation, and a constantly escalating public debt. Sometimes, the path forward is not immediately obvious. But history doesn’t lie. When trusted nations with large economies manipulate interest rates, borrow without a lender, or inflate a nation out of a crisis (what the US calls “quantitative easing”), the long term effect is certain to be no different than Argentina, Zimbabwe, Venezuela or Germany between the wars. It is a recipe for disaster. It places every citizen and their future children into debt-bondage.

Moving away from the Gold Standard in the 1970s was a risky maneuver. The risk was not abandoning a precious metal with intrinsic value—but rather it placed the full faith and credit of our economy in the hands of transient politicians, rather than in a capped commodity with certain and immutable properties.

Bitcoin is the new gold. It is capped, transparent, open-source, vetted and without a mechanism for quick or covert manipulation (the US calls this “raising the debt ceiling” and they do it every few months!). We may not move to an economy based on Bitcoin today or tomorrow, but that day is coming. Thankfully, it’s coming!

Thoughts on a “Korea Krash”

If you are reading this on January 16, 2018, then you are aware that Bitcoin (and the exchange rate of most other coins) fell by 20% today. Whenever I encounter a panic sell-off, the first thing that I do is try to ascertain if the fear that sparked the drop is rational.

But what is rational fear? How can you tell if this is the beginning of the end, or simply a transient dip? In my book, rational fears are fundamental facts like these:

  • A new technical flaw is discovered in the math or mining
  • A very major hack or theft has undermined confidence
  • The potential for applications that are fast, fluid and ubiquitous
    has dropped, based on new information*

Conspicuously missing from this list is “government bans” or any regulation that is unenforceable, because it fails to account for the design of what it attempts to regulate. Taxes, accounting guidelines, reporting regulations are all fine! These can be enforced. But banning something that cannot be banned is not a valid reason for instilling fear in those who have a stake in a new product, process, or technology.

Ellery’s Rule of Acquisition #1:

Drops triggered by false fears present buying opportunities

At times like this, you must make a choice: If you can’t afford to stay in the market and risk a bigger drop, then cash out and live with it. But if you believe in crypto and the potential for a digital future that dis-intermediates your earning, spending and savings, then this drop in dollar value presents opportunity.

This downturn will pass, because the cryptocurrency fundamentals have not changed or been undermined by recent events. There is no new technical flaw or hack. The potential for cash transactions and future applications get rosier every day (let’s assume that Bitcoin will finally add Lightning Network and that miners will stop fighting with developers)*

The current 20% drop is not a big deal. It takes us back to an exchange rate that we saw just one month ago in early December. It was triggered by saber rattling in South Korea. But, let’s face it: Governments have as much influence over trading or spending cryptocurrency as they do over the mating of squirrels in your backyard. Do you think fewer squirrels would mate, if the government banned them from mating?

If you can answer that question—and if you can afford to stay in the game—then relax. 1 BTC has the same value today as it had yesterday and the day before. It is worth exactly one bitcoin. The current dip in exchange rate with other currencies was sparked by fear; and that fear is misguided or irrational.

[click below for perspective]…

* Bitcoin has a serious limitation in transaction throughput and transaction cost. The problem is serious and it frustrates users, developers, miners and vendors. But it is not new, and the consensus about its likelihood of being corrected has not suddenly changed. These limitations are unrelated to today’s large drop in exchange value.

Ellery Davies co-chairs CRYPSA, publishes A Wild Duck and hosts the New York Bitcoin Event. He is keynote speaker at the Cryptocurrency Expo in India this month. Click Here to inquire about a presentation or consulting engagement.

Proof-of-Work Alternatives: Massive electric consumption by cryptocurrency mining

Some blogs and news outlets eschew long titles. Publishers want readers to scan a list of topics that fit on one-line each. But, a better title for this article would be:

“Massive electric consumption by cryptocurrency mining:
An unfortunate environmental nightmare will soon pass!
… Proof-of-Work alternatives are on the horizon”

A considerable amount of electricity is used in the process of mining Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. Miners are effectively distributed bookkeepers, and this use of resources is part of a system called “proof-of-work”. It keeps the books fair, honest, and without an ability for the miners to collude (In other words, they cannot ‘cook the books’).

What makes the process unique and exciting is that this “distributed consensus” does not require a trusted authority, like a bank. In fact, the whole point of the blockchain revolution is that users trust a mechanism rather than a bank, government or even each other.

But, for any network that hopes to become part of the financial fabric, it must be ubiquitous and in constant motion. Proof-of-work just doesn’t make the grade, because it doesn’t scale. The need for miners to prove that they did something complex sucks up too much power. If Bitcoin or any proof-of-work currency were to be adopted for even a small fraction of commercial and personal transactions, it would overwhelm the world’s energy services.

One reader suggests the problem will be solved by the recent boom in shale fracking and renewable, non-polluting energy. He points out that crypto mining may even drive a market for distributed, clean electric production.

Unfortunately, clean and cheap power makes the problem worse. Even if electric capacity were to rise dramatically and experience a great cost reduction, cryptocurrency networks would automatically demand all the extra electricity. It is a no-win game, because mining incentives escalate with an increase in supply or drop in cost.

Will large-scale, blockchain-based networks fail, because of enormous electric demand? Fortunately, the future is not so bad, after all. Although networks, like Bitcoin, currently use proof-of-work to ensure honesty and fairness, it is only one of many possible measurement and enforcement mechanisms. Eventually, developers and miners will swap in another proof mechanism to keep the network humming—and without creating an environmental catastrophe.

Will Change in Proof Come in Time?

The political process for changing the fairness mechanism (“forking the code”) is complex and fraught with infighting, but the problem will eventually be addressed, and it will be solved before electric demand becomes a critical issue. Despite a messy voting process, the miners have too much at stake to ignore this problem much longer.

Various proof alternatives are already being used in altcoins. Since Bitcoin is perfectly free to steal these techniques (none can be protected by patent or trade secrecy), we can think of these other coins as beta-tests for Bitcoin. How so? As the first and biggest elephant in the room, Bitcoin will likely reign supreme, as long as it doesn’t wait too long before grabbing the best technology and tucking it into its quiver.

Proof-of-Work Alternatives

  • One method, already used by some altcoins, is called “proof-of-stake”. It’s a bit like getting voting rights based on how much land you own. This method does not demand lots of electricity—but some analysts feel that is not as fair, because it cedes network control to the wealthiest members.
  • Another method, called BFT Replication was developed by Marko Vukolić, at the IBM Blockchain Group in Zurich Switzerland. It might be exactly what we need.
  • Yet another method was proposed by C.V. Alkan, an amateur analyst with a passion to solve this problem. He calls it Distributed Objective Consensus.

These aren’t the only alternatives to proof-of-work. Ultimately, one or more of these fairness enforcement mechanisms will make its way into Bitcoin and other currencies and blockchain services. In my opinion, the electrical crisis is a genuine threat, but it is one with a solution that will be implemented soon—perhaps even this year.


Ellery Davies co-chairs CRYPSA, publishes A Wild Duck and hosts the New York Bitcoin Event. He is keynote speaker at the Cryptocurrency Expo in India this month. Click Here to inquire about a presentation or consulting engagement.

Is Cruptocurrency Good for Government?

Today, editors at Quora asked me to answer a seemingly simple question:

“Is cryptocurrency good for government?

This is a terrific question, and one that I write about frequently. The question gives me a chance to summarize the key facets of widely mistaken fears.

In the first phase of cryptocurrency adoption (we are in the midst of this now), there is an abundance of skepticism: Misunderstanding, mistrust, historical comparisons that aren’t comparable, government bans & regulatory proposals—and a lot of questions about intrinsic value, lack of a redemption guaranty, risky open source platforms, tax treatment, etc, etc.

Out of the gate, few individuals and governments paid attention to Bitcoin. That was when it traded under $100. It was complicated to understand, and it seemed to be nothing more than gaming money coveted by nerds and geeks. But with each wave of adoption, or the crash of a major exchange, or the shutdown of Silk Road, public interest has piqued. And, of course, the price of Bitcoin has shot up from nothing to almost $20,000 in the past few years.

It’s natural that governments watch developments closely, and sometimes weigh in with guidance, licensing or regulations. But consider the underlying concerns: Why should governments care about this activity? Is cryptocurrency good for government?

Very often, we hear of government restrictions or “bans” on trading bitcoin. The justification typically hinges on a belief that cryptocurrency leads to bad things:

  1. Leads to widespread tax evasion
  2. Facilitates criminal activity (because of anonymity)
  3. Causes citizens to lose faith in their own government
  4. Interferes with a nation’s ability to control its own monetary policy
  5. Reduces liquidity of (government-backed) national currency
  6. Causes a deflationary economy. People will delay spending and stop investing

The first three concerns are patently false and the last three concerns raise an interesting question: Might it benefit a government to surrender control over its own monetary policy? We’ll explore this, below…

Let’s look at each of these fears. I won’t try to analyze or defend each statement below. You can find the justifications throughout this blog.

1. Gradually, governments are coming to recognize that the first three concerns are false. If cryptocurrency gains widespread traction as a payment instrument—or even as cash itself—governments are not weakened in their ability to tax, spend, or enforce tax collection. This myth arises from a lack of education, experience and familiarity.

2. We have seen some spectacular news stories involving very serious criminal activity that accepts bitcoin. In each case, the bad guys were caught—and they were caught because they foolishly accepted bitcoin.

In fact, cash is a far better tool of crime than cryptocurrency. Pre-paid debit cards are even worse.

Bitcoin is not anonymous. It is what cryptographers call pseudo-anonymous. I call it “a fool’s anonymity”! Although Bitcoin allows users to create anonymous wallets, anyone selling drugs or committing a notorious deed can be tracked. A million armchair analysts (anyone who uses and follows Bitcoin), can follow the money trail—through VPNs and mixers—all the way until something is spent in the real world. At some point, someone buys a tennis ball or gets braces for their kid, or buys a book at Amazon. That’s when it all unwinds.

3. Far from cryptocurrency undermining trust in government, it does just the opposite. It demonstrates to citizens that the government shares an obligation to balance its books, just like every individual, corporation, NGO, city or state.

In effect, governments must raise the dollars that they intend to spend. In an emergency, they can borrow, of course, but only if they can find creditors that truly believe in their ability to repay the debt.

This trust yields phenomenal results:

  • Creditors no longer wonder if a nation will attempt to turn on the printing press (like Argentina, Venezuela, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Greece or Germany between the wars).
  • Citizens no longer fear that their transient elected officials will constantly raise the debt ceiling (This is a euphemism for “hoisting debt on future generations”, and destroying credibility with debtors at the same time).
  • Redistribution of wealth through wacky tax laws is still possible, but it is more likely to require the consent of taxpayers, because suddenly, governments can’t hide expenses behind the opaque barrier of a printing press, nor can they use inflation as a mechanism of social policy. Instead, they must create clear, 2-entry line items for each social welfare expense: Who gets the money? —and Where does it come from?

4, 5 and 6: Now, we arrive at the least understood concerns…

#4 and #5 are true. But as we discuss in #3, loss of control over monetary policy is a very different thing than losing control over fiscal policy.

It took decades to discover that decoupling a country from its delivery service and telephone companies resulted in a remarkable boost to industries, services and productivity. Likewise, decoupling a nation from its currency is a really, really good thing. No one can play games, trust is restored. Our kids aren’t born into debt of the nations that purchase our government bonds.

#6 is perhaps the most difficult to accept. Some economists still insist that a small amount of inflation is critical to getting people to spend and invest. But a growing number of experts are discovering that this just isn’t so. Deflation is often associated with unemployment, war, recession and a loss of liquidity and investment. In fact, deflation can be triggered by these things, but when it is the result of a trusted and capped-but-divisible money supply, it doesn’t lead to any of these things.

The concern about people not spending is a linguistic trick. Another way to say the same thing is that a capped money supply encourages people to save for big expenses and for retirement. Since when is that a bad thing?

I have been answering questions about Bitcoin and cryptocurrency since Satoshi was at the helm. Talk to me. Ask about it! Then, think for yourself. Stay engaged.

Ellery Davies co-chairs CRYPSA, publishes A Wild Duck and hosts the New York Bitcoin Event. He is keynote speaker at the Cryptocurrency Expo in India this month. Click Here to inquire about a presentation or consulting engagement.

Say it Again: “Bad News is Good News”

By now, every interested news-junkie is aware that Bitcoin plummeted from $15,000 to $13,000 (USD exchange rate) on January 11, 2018. This morning, every news outlet and armchair analyst attributes the drop to the Korean government signaling that it will ban Bitcoin trading among its citizens.

With Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un butting heads over nuclear missile tests and the upcoming Winter Olympics, you would think that South Korea has other priorities than banning Bitcoin.

As with all news—except accidents—the Korean plans were known by a few insiders (in this case, government bureaucrats), and so the influence on value was bigger than the drop that occurred after the news story. In the days before this “event”, it was probably responsible for a drop of about $4500 in exchange value.

Listen up Wild Ducks! We have heard this before. On Sept 11, China announced the exact same thing. I wrote about it in the most popular article of my 7 years as Blogger: Bad News is Good News for Bitcoin Investors.

As an investor, am I worried? Not on your sweet bippy. I am ecstatic! There are some things that governments cannot ban: the mating of feral cats; water from seeping into cellars; communications networks that are distributed and permissionless. Ineffective and unenforceable regulation always spells opportunity. When I hear of such “bans” (or learn about Jamie Dimon claiming that Bitcoin is a ‘pyramid scheme’ before having all the facts), I become confused and excited

Investors often fail to recognize the way in which toothless government edicts work. I am confused that anyone would act on such flawed information. I am excited that they do. Why?—Because each time Bitcoin makes a quick dive due to crazy or irrelevant news, it makes an even bigger upward jump within days. In this case, the reverse correction has already begun.

I created the chart, below, for my presentation at the Cryptocurrency Expo in Dubai during the last days of October. During this 3 day conference, Bitcoin jumped from $6000 to 6500 because these days followed a hard fork that scared analysts. Within 5 weeks of the conference, Bitcoin touched $20,000, depending on the exchange from which you get quotes. But here’s an odd thing (not so odd, to me): With sudden market accessibility in the past 30 days, why is Bitcoin falling? [continued below]…

In the past month (Dec 10 2017~Jan 10 2018), Bitcoin and Bitcoin futures are finally becoming accessible to traditional brokers using familiar investment instruments. As a result of market accessibility, everyone and his brother is getting into Bitcoin. Since it is still difficult to take a negative position, you might expect this fresh interest to drive up value. This expectation is reinforced by my own anecdotal observation: Based on the large number of old acquaintances asking me to help them buy Bitcoin, it certainly feels like the sentiment is bullish. But no! Existing stakeholders are dumping their positions!

It’s not just because of yesterday’s news. Rather, it’s because anyone who has seen Bitcoin triple in just 3 months, feels that their personal stake experienced a “lucky” gain. They want to turn that paper gain into a profit before it tanks.

But then, there are the cognoscenti. That’s us…We are the individuals who have a feel for the natural, intrinsic value of Bitcoin. We understand that value does not require a redemption guarantee from Caesar. We have a reasonable vision of currency, inflation, economics, history, the role of government—and especially, of distributed trust. Just as important, we understand why an altcoin is unlikely to replace Bitcoin—even if it solves some of Bitcoin’s frustrating technical and governance issues.

Governments tend to react to perceived threats before understanding opportunities, motives and that which is fait accompli. There is a role for government in all of this, but it is not to ban what cannot be banned. That is simply good news for us stakeholders.

Related Reading:

Ellery Davies co-chairs CRYPSA, publishes A Wild Duck and hosts the New York Bitcoin Event. He is keynote speaker at the Cryptocurrency Expo in India this month. Click Here to inquire about a presentation or consulting engagement.

What if you send Bitcoin to a non-existent address?

I get this question a lot. Today, I answered it at Quora.com. But, here at A Wild Duck, I have more bandwidth to elaborate.


What if I make a typo when sending Bitcoin. The recipient address may be invalid or it may belong to another individual. —But there is a third possibility. Couldn’t it be a valid address, but without any wallet that can receive it? I bet the blockchain catches these errors—Right? Will I always get my money back?

The short answer:Don’t worry, it cannot happen. That won’t happen either. Sure, it’s possible. That’s wrong, and You’re screwed!

But let’s look at this a bit closer. A little knowledge goes a long way!

Incidentally, this answer gets into some gritty, esoteric details. It may lead you to believe that cryptocurrency is complicated, risky or not worthwhile. But, it only seems this way. With any new technology, standards and practices gradually flow into gadgets, apps and services. Early televisions required an expert operator.  The next generation of owners dealt with vertical hold, contrast and antennae bolted onto the chimney. If your older than 55, you schlepped to a pharmacy with Dad to test a dozen or more vacuum tubes, just to find out if the circuitry was getting weak.

No one does these things anymore. TVs are flat and with a perfect picture. They are almost as easy to use as a toaster. (Except for the five remotes needed to choose a source and set up the sound! These ridiculous gadgets are only now being replaced with voice control and other smart technologies).

Back to square one: Can you send money to an invalid Bitcoin address due to a typing error? If you do, will you get it back?

It is not likely that you would do so in a hundred lifetimes. But if you succeed at creating what appears to be a valid address, you are screwed. Only a hundred million trillionths of valid addresses will ever have a wallet behind it. The blockchain does not record the creation of wallets. No one can know if there is anyone with the address and the keys to the apparently valid wallet address that you sent money into.

Addresses transfer things from one place to another. You enter a street address into your GPS expecting to be transported to a location. But, with everything else, an address moves value or sensitive information. So, let’s start with an absolute, inviolate rule: Never type an “address” into any system!

Instead, cut & paste the address from the source or—at least—from the message that delivered it. After all, you don’t want a note to your lover ending up on the mobile phone of your boss.

But you didn’t ask about best practices—you asked about checksums…

1. Invalid Address (No wallet could exist for what you typed)

Bitcoin addresses include a 32 bit checksum, which makes the possibility of typing a valid address by mistake about 1 in 4.3 billion. So don’t worry, a mistyped address will be caught by your own wallet or service, before anyone even peeks at the blockchain.

But what if—somehow—you manage to enter an address that seems valid (it passes the checksum test), but there is not yet a wallet created with that address?

2. Address Appears Valid (But there is no wallet, or they belong to the wrong person)

You might think that the transaction gets staged, but eventually fails, because the wallet address is unlikely to have ever been created. But there is a problem with that theory: Wallets can be created off-line and remain dormant for years. The block chain does not know which wallet addresses exist. It only knows which appear to be valid addresses.

For this reason, sending bitcoin to an address that is entered in proper form, but does not belong to anyone will result in permanent loss. Technically, the money exists, but no one has the private keys to spend it. Any effort to recover the loss would better be spent on a good therapist and searching for a job in the sunset years of your life.

It would be nice if you could create a wallet that matched the receiving address. Sadly, this is impossible, because wallets are created through a random one-way process.

This ends an answer to a straightforward question. But, now, let’s have some fun…

Let’s figure out what are the chances that someone actually does have a wallet that matches a valid address that you typed by accident. (After all, you already beat odds of 1-in-4.3 billion by typing an address that satisfied the checksum!)

A Bitcoin wallet address is a string of 34 characters (letters and numbers).* From the full set of 10 digits and of 52 upper/lower case western characters, four are excluded to reduce the chance of entry error (O, 0, I, L). This means that the number of possible wallet addresses is 5834 = 1060 *

The human brain has between 100 and 1000 trillion synapses. Yet, 1060 is:

  • More than the synapses in all brains of every animal that ever lived
  • More than every atom in our planet, solar system and galaxy
  • More than—Well, you get the point!

Even if everyone on earth creates a new Bitcoin wallet every single minute and all wallets are valid for life, the chances of accidentally typing the valid address of another user is very nearly zero.

* Interesting caveats and notes:

  1. Bitcoin addresses are currently generated via an algorithm called RIPE-MD160. This further limits the number of possible wallet addresses to 2160 = 1.4*1048). But this reduction is caught when sending, because the checksum uses the same algorithm to validate against a properly formed address.
  2. Checksums aren’t just for catching a typing error. In addition to 34-character addresses, Bitcoin supports 33 characters and even some 26 character addresses. The checksum ensures that shorter addresses are not actually longer addresses that with leading zeros (transcribed as blanks) or that have dropped a digit.

Ellery Davies co-chairs CRYPSA, publishes A Wild Duck and hosts the New York Bitcoin Event. He is keynote speaker at the Cryptocurrency Expo in India this month. Click Here to inquire about a presentation or consulting engagement