Best Bitcoin wallet: Hardware or hosted?

The question asked in the title has been edited from what was asked today at Quora, the Q&A forum at which I participate as expert columnist. The original question was a bit more ambiguous: “Which is better? — a digital bitcoin wallet or a physical one?”

I have included the original question, to better distinguish products and terms.

All bitcoin wallets are all digital—even a paper wallet, whether a character string or a QR code. Conversely, an exchange may use “physical” wallets to host client assets, individual application wallets, or they may simply keep records of client assets that are stored, collectively, in their own master wallet.

To complicate matters, Bitcoin is never really “stored” by you or an exchange service. It is stored on a public blockchain, where assets and transaction history can be traced through time by anyone. Therefore, all forms of user access are “digital”. What the reader really wants to know is “Which form of access control is better?  — custodial or personal?”

Type 1: Custodial Wallets are Managed by a Trusted Party
They hold your assets. You view a statement balance—just like a bank account.

The reader uses the term “digital wallet” to mean a hosted wallet in which a trusted 3rd party holds the private keys, or aggregates the assets of many customers and tracks their individual ownership in their own accounting system, like a traditional bank or broker. In this case, the 3rd party is trusted to maintain security, privacy, and constant, robust user access.

It is possible that the reader may have used the term “digital wallet” to additionally refer to PC and smartphone applications, such as Bitcoin Core, Armory or Electrum. But, these are really personal and private wallets — because they are created and configured by the owner, and only the owner has the private keys. And so, we classify device wallet applications as “personal/private” along with hardware or paper wallets.

Type 2: Personal Wallets are Private
—but with privacy comes risk!

Wallets are personal if the private keys are generated and stored by the user, either on paper, in their PC or smart phone, on a thumbdrive, in a hardware wallet, or even uploaded to cloud storage. As long as the asset owner holds the keys and securely encrypted any uploaded file that contains the keys, the assets are accessible only with his consent.

So, which wallet class is better for securing cryptocurrency access credentials? Custodial or Personal?

  • A hosted, custodial wallet or statement balance maintained by an exchange or trusted 3rd party. The wallet and keys are not and under your control.

—OR—

  • A personal wallet is completely controlled by you, and with the private keys in your head, a lock box or an encrypted file.

A crypto purist or Libertarian might insist on taking full control of the assets. That is, storing them locally and with only the owner having the private keys.

I am privacy zealot. And yet, to the dismay of some followers, I believe that—for most cryptocoin owners—a hosted, custodial wallet is better than taking possession of a hardware wallet, paper wallet or digital wallet (anything that the user personally stores in a PC, phone, on paper or in a personally encrypted cloud account).

To explain, I shall call out [1] a critical requirement, and [2] the deciding factor in determining this advice applies to you.

1. Critical Requirement

The host must have impeccable credentials, a solid and ongoing regimen of security reviews and unscheduled audits — and they must be sufficiently capitalized by large, respected organizations, such that widely recognized individuals and organizations are at substantial risk if anything were to go wrong.

Trust among strangers is easily scammed. So let me be clear. Regarding the investors, board, executives and security auditors of a custodial wallet service, both their reputations must be at risk as well as their worldwide assets across other business areas.

Coinbase in San Francisco is such an exchange and hosting service. Currently, there are only two others that meet this extreme level of vetting. If Fidelity Investments enters the market as a crypto-hosting service, they would likely meet this bar.

2. Deciding Factor

There are few individuals for whom direct and private ownership makes sense. In fact, until this month, it did not make sense for me. I am only now configuring my first hardware wallet. I still trust Coinbase to host and control most of my assets.

The reasons boil down to security, forgetfulness, errors, legacy ownership and instant access. The ONLY factor that is arguably better with personal custody & control is privacy.

Take me, as an example…

Due to a lack of education, standards, and definitive best practices, this option makes sense for fewer than 5% of Bitcoin owners. In fact, I have been involved with Bitcoin since the first years of its existence, and

I have been a Bitcoin educator since shortly after Satoshi’s original bombshell. Today, I am a keynote presenter at blockchain and cryptocurrency conferences. I teach blockchain seminars, design courseware for colleges, and am co-chair of the Cryptocurrency Standards Association and partner in Blockchain Research Council.

Yet, I am only now configuring my first hardware wallet. I still trust Coinbase to host and control most of my cryptocurrency.

How do I know if I am a candidate for full / private control?

Using an exchange hosted wallet service is best for most individuals. But, for some, it makes sense to maintain private, local control of blockchain assets. If all criteria in the bulleted list below applies to you, then local and private ownership might make sense. But if you fail even one criteria, then WAIT! Wait until multisig becomes uniform and ubiquitous — and wait until a larger fraction of society is comfortable with the concept and practice of managing private keys. These are gradually becoming new norms. But, it will take a few more years for the world to become comfortable with an unfamiliar concept: personal control of a decentralized asset.

If you plan to control and secure your own private keys, you should meet ALL of these conditions. The technical items below will not be requisite in the future. But they are necessary today, because the market currently lacks simple, standardized, widespread tools and uniform practices for safely securing, accessing and passing on these credentials to your heirs.

Do all of these criteria apply to you?

  • You have a comprehensive understanding of cryptography, including the principals of RSA public-key crypto.
  • You have practiced multisig decryption for at least a year. For now, you will need to roll-your-own multisig, to ensure that your heirs or executor can access your wealth in the event of death, forgetfulness or incapacitation.
  • You have experience and a clear, documented and standardized plan for separately encrypting and distributing your private keys.
  • You understand how to implement a hard fork and have the time to do it after any hard fork split.
  • You have an exceptional need for privacy or anonymity, and you feel that a custodian is more likely to “sing” in the event of an audit or court order.
  • You have a rehearsal plan for testing your multisig recovery and a willing group of trusted friends (most of them younger than you) who can combine their keys to access your wealth.
  • After ensuring that encrypted wallet works, is completely secure and is accessible to your heirs, you have replicated it in a sufficient number of places, that you are certain that your heirs will find it after you die, even if it is 90 years in the future.

    It must not only survive your lifetime, but the knowledge of where to look and *IF* to look, must be certain, even if your home burns down, your cloud accounts have been deleted and/or Google, Amazon, Microsoft & Apple are no longer in business.

If all conditions apply to you (and only if they apply), then you may be among the 5% of enthusiasts for whom a personal hardware wallet makes sense. At some time in the next few years, it will make sense for a far greater fraction of cryptocurrency holders, rather than just the most disciplined and knowledgeable Geek-enthusiasts.

Will we all be using a Blockchain currency some day?

At Quora.com, I respond to quetions on Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency. Today, a reader asked “Will we all be using a blockchain-based currency some day?”.

This is an easy question to answer, but not for usual Geeky reasons: A capped supply, redundant bookkeeping, privacy & liberty or blind passion. No, these are all tangential reasons. But first, let’s be clear about the answer:

Yes, Virginia. We are all destined  to move,
eventually, to a blockchain based currency.

I am confident of this because of one enormous benefit that trumps all other considerations. Also, because of flawed arguments behind perceived negatives.

Let’s start by considering the list of reasons why many analysists and individuals expect cryptocurrencies to fail widespread adoption—especially as a currency:

  • It lacks ‘intrinsic value’, government backing or a promise of redemption
  • It facilitates crime
  • Privacy options interfere with legitimate tax enforcement
  • It is susceptible to hacks, scams, forgery, etc
  • It is inherently deflationary, and thus retards economic growth
  • It subverts a government’s right to control its own monetary policy

All statements are untrue, except the last two. My thoughts on each point are explained and justified in other articles—but let’s look at the two points that are partially true:

  1. Indeed, a capped blockchain-based cryptocurrency is deflationary, but this will not necessarily inhibit economic growth. In fact, it will greatly spur commerce, jobs and international trade.
  2. Yes, widespread adoption of a permissionless, open source, p2p cryptocurrency (not just as a payment instrument, but as the money itself), will decouple a government from its money supply, interest rates, and more. This independence combined with immutable trust is a very good thing for everyone, especially for government.

How so?

Legislators, treasuries and reserve boards will lose their ability to manipulate the supply and demand of money. That’s because the biggest spender of all no longer gets to define “What is money?” Each dollar spent must be collected from taxpayers or borrowed from creditors who honestly believe in a nation’s ability to repay. Ultimately, Money out = Money in. This is what balancing the books requires in every organization.

This last point leads to certainty that we will all be using a blockchain based cryptocurrency—and not one that is issued by a government, nor one that is backed by gold, the dollar, a redemption promise—or some other thing of value.

Just like the dollar today, the value arises from trust and a robust two sided network. So, which of these things would you rather trust?

a) The honesty, fiscal restraint and transparency of transient politicians beholden to their political base?

b) The honesty, fiscal restraint and transparency of an asset which is capped, immutable, auditable? —One that has a robust two sided network and is not gated by any authority or sanctioned banking infrastructure

Today, with the exception of the United States Congress, everyone must ultimately balance their books: Individuals, households, corporations, NGOs, churches, charities, clubs, cities, states and even other national governments. Put another way: Only the United States can create money without a requirement to honor, repay or demonstrate equivalency. This remarkable exclusion was made possible by the post World War II evolution of the dollar as a “reserve currency” and the fractional reserve method by which US banks create money out of thin air and then lend it with the illusion of government insurance as backing. (A risky pyramid scheme that is gradually unravelling).

But, imagine a nation that agrees upon a form of cash that arises from a “perfect” and fair natural resource. Imagine a future where no one—not even governments—can game the system. Imagine a future where creditors know that a debtor cannot print paper currency to settle debts. Imagine what can be accomplished if citizens truly respect their government because the government lives by the same accounting rules as everyone else.

A fair cryptocurrency (based on Satoshi’s open-source code and free for anyone to use, mine, or trade) is gold for the modern age. But unlike gold, the total quantity is clearly understood. It is portable, electronically transmittable (instant settlement without a clearing house), immutable—and a precious substance needn’t be assayed in the field.

And the biggest benefit arises as a byproduct directly of these properties: Cryptocurrency (and Bitcoin in particular) is remarkably good for government. All it takes for eventual success is an understanding of the mechanism, incremental improvement to safety and security practices and widespread trust that others will continue to value/covet your coins in the future. These are all achievable waypoints along the way to universal adoption.


Ellery Davies co-chairs CRYPSA, hosts the New York Bitcoin Event and is keynote speaker at Cryptocurrency Conferences. He is Top Writer at Quora and sits on the New Money Systems board of Lifeboat Foundation. Book a presentation or consulting.

Ric Edelman: Bitcoin will become asset class

Kudos to WallStreet analyst and advisor, Ric Edelman. He drank the Kool-Aid, he understands a profound sea change, and he sees the ducks starting to line up.

Check out the clearly articulated interview, below, with Bob Pisani at the New York Stock Exchange and legendary Wall Street advisor, Ric Edelman, (Not my term…That’s what CNBC anchor, Melissa Lee, calls him). Read between the lines, especially the last words in the video, below.

Ric Edleman has just joined Bitwise as both investor and advisor. This lends credibility and gravitas to the organization that created the world’s first cryptocurrency index fund. Bitwise benefits from Edelman’s affiliation, because the US has been slow (some would say “cautious”) in recognizing the facts on the ground: Cryptocurrency is already an asset class.

Edelman fully embraces a strong future for Bitcoin—not just as a currency or payment instrument, but as a legal and recognized asset class; one that is at the starting line of a wide open racetrack. He explains that the SEC sets a high bar for offering a Bitcoin ETF, but that this will be  achieved. It will pave the way for large institutions, pension funds, etc to allocate a portion of money under management for blockchain products.

At timestamp 3:39, Melissa asks Edelman “Why wait for an ETF?” and “If you believe this strongly, why not advise clients to invest a portion of assets into Bitcoin right now?

Edelman’s response is stunning. He explains that he is frustrated, because this is what he wants to advise. But, his firm is bound by the Investment Act of 1940—and so, they cannot tell a client “Go to Coinbase” or “Invest in a private fund such as Bitwise—that I am such a big fan of. We don’t have that ability in our practice.” [i.e. until the SEC recognizes Bitcoin as an asset].

In my opinion (and in the opinion of Edleman), SEC recognition of Bitcoin as an asset can’t be far off…

  • It’s already happening in other countries. Reputable exchanges and index funds exist today.
  • Unlike a traveler’s check or Amazon gift card, it is inherently a store of value, whether or not you believe that its value is intrinsic;
  • The IRS already considers it an asset for tax purposes (What an odd schism in definition & treatment!)
  • It is legal to pay staff in Bitcoin and use it to settle debts, for any recipient that accepts it. For employees and consultants, it is a wage or stipend, just like FIAT. They can convert into cash immediately—or retain crypto it to pay their own bills)

It’s not difficult to read between the lines. Edleman makes a clear recommendation, although he can not yet advise this—certainly not on the record. His personal forecast for long term adoption and appreciation, especially of Bitcoin, matches my own analysis. His new affiliation with Bitwise (a pretty bold move) demonstrates certain commitment.

This ends my analysis of Edelman’s strong endorsement. But it raises another important question:

If large financial institutions are likely to offer Bitcoin products and services—and if credible analysts & advisors are chomping at the bit to recommend this new asset class—shouldn’t we invest in Bitcoin now?!

Ironically, I do not recommend hording or investing in cryptocurrency, even as a collectable. Why?! Because of the big “Investment Catch-22”. I don’t discourage investing in Bitcoin because I fear that its value will lessen. It is for a completely different reason. And so, my advice against investing is half-hearted.

Currently, Bitcoin and altcoins are widely misunderstood. Many people have these false impressions…

  • It is not backed by anything
  • It interferes with tax collection
  • Cryptocurrency facilitates crime
  • Governments will never allow it
  • They do not convey compelling benefits over government-issued currency
  • They water down the overall money supply
  • Their deflationary nature threatens economic growth
  • They are easier to lose and subject to scams & hacking
  • They do not facilitate refunds, rescission, recourse and customer claims
  • They interfere with a government’s ability to control its monetary supply

All of this is untrue, except the last item—and that one is a tremendous benefit.

Additionally, blockchain currencies fluctuate widely in real market purchasing power, many altcoins and all ICOs are scams, and acceptance is far from being ubiquitous. Clearly, widespread adoption requires stability, infrastructure, trust and ubiquity.

This cannot happen until two things occur:

  1. The fraction of transactions in normal business and retail commerce (purchases, salaries, debt payment and settlement) must significantly dwarf the fraction that is driven by investors, hoarders and speculators.
  2. A significant number of established brands, services or retailers must begin publishing prices in Bitcoin and honoring those prices throughout a defined sale period (e.g. until the next catalog is published or until the next production run).

Things are beginning to change, but for such a positive and transormative mechanism, that change is frustratingly gradual.

A series of falling dominos is already in process. But, the end game is retarded by those of us who invest in Bitcoin, because we are removing a limited resource from circulation and contributing to volatility. We do this, because we realize that—in the long run—Bitcoin can only go up in value. Yet, our investment at such an early stage (before consumer adoption) makes the infant sick.


Ellery Davies co-chairs CRYPSA, hosts the New York Bitcoin Event and is keynote speaker at Cryptocurrency Conferences. He advises The Disruption Experience in Singapore, sits on the New Money Systems board of Lifeboat Foundation and is a top Bitcoin writer at Quora. Book a presentation or consulting engagement/.

Still haven’t written for Medium? Be the content, instead!

Are you worried about Bitcoin dipping to within pennies of $6,000 today? That’s a magic buy alarm for me—and it looks like I may not be alone.

Perhaps it is no coincidence that a student intern (and budding author) from Portugal interviewed me today. He is quite knowledgeable about Bitcoin and the blockchain. I did not feed him the questions. It was a standard “Ask an expert” format, and I didn’t think much of the interview at first.

My interviewer, Diogo Fierreira, rolled out a phalynx of questions longer than my arm. They were sweeping and thorough; general and specific. Still, I wasn’t sure how much time I could afford to devote. In the end, I am glad that I stuck with the young columnist and remained cogent. I now realize that this fellah really knows how to market his interviews! By end of day, the entire interview was published at Medium.com.

I have never been published at Medium, but I certainly enjoy the quality and diversity of thought provoking content. Now my little pearls of wisdom are forever enshrined in stone, (Well—at least sandstone!)

Warning: Medium.com claims that this is a 12 minute read. At just over 3,000 words, it is a bit longer than most of my own articles.

What will it take for Bitcoin to be widely adopted?

Will governments ever approve of Cryptocurrency?

The question was asked of me as columnist at Quora.com: Will governments eventually ‘approve’ of cryptocurrency? First let’s agree on terminology…

  1. By “approve”, I assume that you are asking if governments will adopt or at least tolerate the use of crypto as legal tender in commerce. That is, not just as a payment instrument, but as the money itself—perhaps even accepting tax payments in cryptocurrency.
  2. The word “cryptocurrency” is sometimes applied to altcoins and even to ICOs. These are not the same. Many altcoins meet the criteria of the next paragraph, but none of the ICOs measure up (ICOs are scams). I assume that your question applies to Bitcoin or to a fair and transparent altcoin forked from the original code, such as Bitcoin Cash or Litecoin.

A blockchain-based cryptocurrency that is open source, permissionless, capped, fast, frictionless, with a transparent history—and without proprietary or licensing restrictions is good for everyone. It is good for consumers; good for business; and it is even good for government.

Of course, politicians around the world are not quick to realize this. It will take years of experience, education, and policy experimentation.

Many pundits and analysts have the impression that shifting to cryptocurrency—not just as a payment instrument, but as the money itself—will never be supported by national governments in spite of its popularity, the popularity that has led to software like Gunbot to be introduced to automate a person’s trading of cryptocurrency. A popular misconception suggests that a cryptocurrency based economy has these undesirable traits:

  • it is deflationary (i.e. that inflation is necessary to promote spending or to accommodate a growing economy)
  • it facilitates crime
  • it interferes with tax collection
  • It interferes with national sovereignty, which leads to “world government”
  • It is not backed by anything, or at least not by anything substantial, like the Dollar, Euro, Pound, Yuan or Yen
  • it interferes with a government’s ability to control its own monetary policy

Over time, perceptions will change, because only the last entry is true. Adoption of cryptocurrency puts trust into math rather than the whims of transient politicians. It helps governments avoid the trap of hoisting debt on future generations or making promises to creditors that they cannot keep—Yet, it does not lead to the maladies on this list.

But, what about that last item? Does an open source currency cause a nation to lose control over its own monetary policy? Yes! But it is not bad! Crypto cannot be printed, gamed or manipulated. Despite perception, it is remarkably resistant to loss or theft. Early hacks and fiascos were enabled by a lack of standards, tools and education. As with any new technology—especially one that changes practices or institutions—adoption of radical processes goes hand-in-hand with gradual understanding and acceptance of benefits.

How Does Crypto Help Governments?

Adopting/accepting a national (or international) cryptocurrency is a terrific way for governments to earn the respect and trust of citizens, businesses, consumers and especially creditors. There is no more reason for governments to control their money supply than there is for them to control communication networks, space travel or package delivery services.

You may not agree that cryptocurrency is good for government, and so I expand on the topic here. But your question doesn’t ask if it is good, it asks if governments are likely to approve.

Yes. Eventually…

First, a few forward thinking countries like Iceland, Japan or UAE will spearhead adoption of a true, permissionless cryptocurrency (or at least recognize it as legal tender) . Later, ‘stress-economies’ will join the party: These are countries that need to control either rampant inflation, a reluctance to tax citizens, treasury mismanagement or massive international debt. A solution to these problems requires restoration of public trust. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Greece, Zimbabwe, Venezuela or Argentina in the mix.*

Eventually, G7 countries will tread into a growing ocean. Not now; but in 5 or 8 years. The conditions are not yet right. It requires further vetting by early adopters, continued development, education and then popular consumer adoption. But all of these things are inevitable. Eventually, governments will recognize that a capped, trusted, transparent, math-based money is far better for all stakeholders than money based on intrinsic value, promise-of-redemption or force.


* We are not discussing countries that plan to create their own cryptocurrency. None of these plans involve a coin that is open source, permissionless, decentralized and capped. They are simply replacing paper with a national debit card. But it is not crypto.

Ellery Davies co-chairs CRYPSA, hosts the New York Bitcoin Event and is keynote speaker at Cryptocurrency Conferences. He sits on the New Money Systems board of Lifeboat Foundation. Book a presentation or consulting engagement.

Technical Analysis: Can it predict future asset value?

I love clearing the air with a single dismissive answer to a seemingly complex question. Short, dismissive retorts are definitive, but arrogant. It reminds readers that I am sometimes a smart a*ss.

Is technical analysis a reasoned approach for investors to predict future value of an asset?

In a word, the answer is “Hell No!”. (Actually, that’s two words. Feel free to drop the adjective). Although many technical analysts earnestly believe their craft, the approach has no value and does not hold up to a fundamental (aka: facts-based) approach.

One word arrogance comes with an obligation to substantiate—and, so, let’s begin with examples of each approach.


Investment advisors often classify their approach to studying an equity, instrument or market as either a fundamental or technical. For example…

  • Fundamental research of a corporate stock entails the analysis of the founders’ backgrounds, competitors, market analysis, regulatory environment, product potential and risks, patents (age and legal challenges), track record, and long term trends affecting supply and demand.A fundamental analysis may study the current share price, but only to ascertain the price-to-earnings ratio compared to long term prospects. That is, has the market bid the stock up to a price that lacks a basis for long term returns?
    .
  • On the other hand, a technical approach tries to divine trends from recent performance—typically charting statistics and pointing to various graph traits such as resistance, double shoulders, and number of reversals. The approach is more concerned with assumptions and expectations of investor behavior—or hypotheses and superstition related to numerology—than it is with customers, products, facts and market demand.

Do you see the difference? Fundamental analysis is rooted in SWOT: Study strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Technical analysis dismisses all of that. If technical jargon and approach sound a bit like a Gypsy fortune teller, that’s because it is exactly that! It is not rooted in revenue and market realities. Even if an analyst or advisor earnest, the approach is complete hokum.

I have researched, invested, consulted and been an economic columnist for years. I have also made my mark in the blockchain space. But until now, I have hesitated to call out technical charts and advisors for what they are…

Have you noticed that analysts who produce technical charts make their income by working for someone? Why don’t they make a living from their incredible ability to recognize patterns and extrapolate trends? This rhetorical question has a startlingly simple answer: Every random walk appears to have patterns. The wiring of our brain guarantees that anyone can find patterns in historical data. But the constant analysis of patterns by countless investors guarantees that the next pattern will be unrelated to the last ones. That’s why short term movement is called a “random walk”. Behaviorists and neuroscientists recognize that apparent relationships of past trends can only be correlated to future patterns in the context of historical analysis (i.e. after it has occurred)..

Decisions based on a technical analysis—instead of solid research into fundamentals—is the sign of an inexperienced or gullible investor. Some advisors who cite technical charts know this. Technicals have no correlation to long term appreciation, asset quality or risks. They only point to short term possibilities.

The problem with focusing on short-term movement is that you will certainly lose to insiders, lightning-fast program traders, built in arbitrage mechanisms and every unexpected good news/bad news bulletin.

If you seek to build a profit in the long run, then do your research up front, enter gradually, and hold for the long term. Of course, you should periodically reevaluate your positions and react to significant news events from trusted sources. But you should not anguish over your portfolio every day or even every month.

  • Know your objectives
  • Set realistic targets
  • Research by reading contrarians and skeptics (They help you to avoid confirmation bias)
  • Study comparables and reason through the likelihood that another technology or instrument poses a threat to the asset that interests you
  • Then, invest only what you can afford to lose and don’t second guess yourself frequently
  • Dollar-cost-average
  • Revaluate semi-annually or when meeting with direct sources of solid, fundamental information

Finally, if someone tries to dazzle you with charts of recent performance and talk of a “resistance level” or support trends, smile and nod in approval—but don’t dare fall for the Ouija board. Send them to me. I will straighten them out.

WTF?! Who says so? Does the author have credentials?

I originally wrote this article for another publication. Readers challenged my credentials by pointing out that I am not a academic economist, investment broker or financial advisor. That’s true…

I am not an academic economist, but I have certainly been recognized as a practical economist. Beyond investor, and business columnist, I have been keynote speaker at global economic summits. I am on the New Money Systems Board at Lifeboat Foundation, and my career is centered around research and public presentations about money supply, government policy and blockchain based currencies. I have advised members of president Obama’s council of economic advisors and I have recently been named Top Writer in Economics by Quora.com.

Does all of this qualify me to make dismissive conclusions about technical analysis? That’s up to you! Wild Duck is an opinion Blog. My opinion is dressed as authoritative fact, because I have been around this block many times. I know the score.

Related:


Ellery Davies co-chairs CRYPSA, hosts the New York Bitcoin Event and is keynote speaker at Cryptocurrency Conferences. He sits on the New Money Systems board of Lifeboat Foundation. Book a presentation or consulting engagement.

The USD is Tulip Mania—BTC is not

Please don’t pay any attention to this posting. It is not for you… *

This graph presents indisputable fact: It compares US dollar growth as reported by the US government and Bitcoin growth (for all time), extrapolated by pure math.

I wish that this would put to bed the fake news, conspiracy theories, and “nothing backs it” nonsense. Unfortunately, seismic shifts in architecture or process take time for society to understand and accept. Early adopters will be the fortunate buckos. Timid or clueless denizens will complain bitterly about the unfair advantage of those who wise up before it hits a 6 figure exchange rate. Eventually, comparisons with legacy currencies will be utterly meaningless. It will become the currency. It will be the gold-pressed latinum of universal recognition and intrinsic value.

15 years from now, some will look back on our era and claim that the Winkelvoss twins were lucky. Risk, patience and an understanding of economics is not ‘luck’. They have the gift of prescience.

Bitcoin cannot be manufactured. Despite it being open-source and easily copied, it is very unlikely to be displaced by an altcoin or ICO. The fact that there will never be more than 21 million original bitcoin presents incredible opportunity to the frugal and wise—for a short time.


* Hopefully, few people will heed the siren call. Investing is Bitcoin might be good for you, but it is bad for the community. How so?! The more that individuals or institutions hoard, speculate or invest in Bitcoin—as opposed to driving adoption by actually using it—the longer it will take to gain traction as a functional payment instrument, or as the money itself.

So, this article is not for you. Move along. These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.

Credit: (title & image): Peter Bergstrom
Did you catch the omage to both Star Trek and Star Wars? Look again

John Oliver explains Bitcoin, Blockchain & Crypto (with precision & clarity)!

John Oliver is a crossover who bridges the art of a comedian with the reporting and perspective of a liberal political pundit. Even detractors acknowledge that Oliver addresses serious issues with unusual wit and humor.

I never thought Oliver could (or would) tackle the topic of cryptocurrency—at least not with value to the viewer. It is too geeky, and too esoteric. (It also cuts into my mission of evangelism and education). 🙂

He did, and he sparkles! Feel free to jump past the fluff. The Bitcoin tutorial starts at 3:40. Of course, my friend, Shechter, in Long Island New York will bust a gut over what Oliver says at 9:40. It is not only clear and concise, it is accurate and terribly funny!

Whether you are a Bitcoin newbie or a seasoned blockchain coder, this is the video you have been looking for. This one is durable.

Related Videos:

Building a Bitcoin ATM is easy, but…

…But offering or operating them engulfs the assembler in a regulatory minefield!

A photo of various Bitcoin ATMs appears at the bottom of this article. My employer, Cryptocurrency Standards Association, shared start-up space at a New York incubator with the maker of a small, wall mounted ATM, like the models shown at top left.

What is Inside a Cryptocurrency ATM?

You could cobble together a Bitcoin ATM with just a cheap Android tablet, a camera, an internet connection, and [optional]: a secure cash drawer with a mechanism to count and dispense currency).* A receipt printer that can also generate a QR code is a nice touch, but you don’t really need one. You can use your screen for the coin transfer and email for a receipt.

Of course your programming and user interface will make all the difference in the world. Your ATM must interface with an exchange—your own or a 3rd party.

If your plan is to sell Bitcoin and not exchange it for cash, then you don’t need a currency dispensing component at all. You only need a credit card swipe-reader and an RFI tap reader. Some models are smaller than a cookie and sell for under $30. They can be attractively embedded into your machine. In fact, some bank card processors offer them without cost.

I Have Built a Prototype. Now What?

Desktop ATM. No cash dispensed

Once you have a working prototype, you will need to test it with focus groups (alpha test) and at prospective public sites (beta test). You must also harden the production model against tamper and theft and find paying businesses or property owners, so that you can achieve economies of scale. (A reasonable business model requires that you produce dozens of devices each month).

Parts Cost: Bill of Materials

At scale, you can achieve a unit production cost of less than $200. But that’s for a desktop unit that does not accept or dispense cash. A high-quality and attractive machine that accepts cash and is free standing or ready for outdoor installation into a building exterior might cost you $650. You could sell these for $2,500 plus recurring fees to the property owner, depending on venue, or you might simply lease them, just as Xerox did in the early days of office copiers. (In a hotly competitive market, such as Las Vegas, you may need to pay a portion of your profits to the site, rather than profiting from ‘renting’ the ATM).

A Threat to Your Business

But wait! Before you run off and create an ATM venture of your own, with visions of a 350% profit margin, all is not as easy as it seems!…

Cryptocurrency ATMs intersect with a minefield of regulatory licensing and compliance standards. In many regions, they are not even legal for placement in a public area.

In most countries (including all of USA), you must be a registered Money Transmitter. You will need separate state licensing and—since you are moving cash in or out of the banking system—you must be partnered with a federally chartered bank. You will also need to post a hefty insurance bond—perhaps even for each machine and each municipality in which it is placed! These laws convey liability to both your clinet (the property owner) and to you. Many courts will hold the manufacturer of financial or medical products accountable for ensuring that their customers are licensed and compliant with regulations. That is, you may not be able to legally sell your ATM to organizations that have not demonstrated that they qualify to operate one.

Why is There a Camera in my ATM?

In all cases, you must capture photographs of your user and their state-issued ID, because you are required to know your customer and adhere to a slew of anti-money laundering practices. For example, with transactions larger than $2,000 (from anyone who is not known to you and a regular client), you must generate a Suspicious Activity Report. For transactions larger than $10,000, you must comply with RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act). This requires a camera, interview, and reporting process. You will be generating forms with data supplied by your user and possibly even a real-time verification of the facts they provide.

If you wonder why you needn’t do these things this when buying or selling your own cryptocurrency, it is because: (a) You are trading your own assets and are not the custodian of customer accounts; and (b) You are a consumer. It is likely that the exchange is required to do all of these things.

With Regulations, Can Bitcoin ATMs Generate Profit?

For the reasons described above, the operational cost of deploying and operating an ATM network (or your equipment for sale or rent) is significantly higher than the up front hardware cost. When you add the need to protect your venture from legal claims arising from process glitches or users that claim they lost cash or Bitcoin, you may arrive at an operational cost that makes your business model unworkable.

Of course, Bitcoin ATMs are profitable in some cases. I have consulted with a few start ups that operate them successfully in Las Vegas casinos, a few airports and race tracks, and at large outdoor fairs. But, for everyday use, the heyday of ATMs is most likely 5 or 10 years off. Before this happens, we need a more uniform and functional regulatory & insurance framework, and a higher volume of users per ATM.

Check out various Bitcoin ATM models below. Few manufacturers turn a profit. In the end, it boils down to location (high volume sites with the right people) and location (legal jurisdiction).


* One ATM startup found inexpensive hardware for dispensing currency by recycling mechanisms from bill-change machines used in game arcades or in hotels next to vending machines. These machines are being discarded, because newer vending machines accept credit cards and smart phone payment. But again, if you only plan to accept a credit or debit instrument for Bitcoin, then you don’t need a cash counter or dispenser.


Ellery Davies co-chairs CRYPSA, hosts the New York Bitcoin Event and is keynote speaker at Cryptocurrency Conferences around the world. Book a presentation or consulting engagement.

Multisig Wallet: Protect Bitcoin in case of death or forgetfulness

UPDATE (April 2018): See footnote regarding Coinbase multisig vaults.* The feature will be retired this month, because it interferes with plans to improve support of Bitcoin forks.

Legacy Method of Inheriting Assets

Many Bitcoin owners choose to use a custodial account, in which the private keys to a wallet are generated and controlled by their exchange—or even a bank or stock broker. In this case, funds are passed to heirs in the usual way. It works like this…

An executor, probate attorney, or someone with a legal claim contacts the organization that controls the assets. They present a death certificate, medical proxy or power-of-attorney. Just as with your bank account or stocks and bonds, you have the option of listing next of kin and the proportion of your assets that should be distributed to each. These custodial services routinely ask you to list individuals younger than you and alternate heirs, along with their street addresses, in the event that someone you list has died before you.

Of course, Bitcoin purists and Libertarians point out that the legacy method contradicts the whole point of owning a cryptocurrency. Fair enough.

Multisig to the Rescue

Using multisig would be far easier, if wallet vendors would conform to standards for compatibility and embed technology into hardware and software products. Unfortunately, they have been slow to do so, and there are not yet widely recognized standards to assure users that an implementation is both effective and secure. But, there is some good news: It’s fairly easy to process your ordinary account passwords and even the security questions with a roll-your-own multisig process. I’ve done it using PGP and also using Veracrypt—two widely recognized, open source encryption platforms.

This short article is not intended as an implementation tutorial, but if the wallet vendors don’t jump up to home plate, I may release a commercial tool for users to more easily add multisig to their wallets. It really is safe, simple and effective. (If readers wish to partner with me on this? I estimate that it will take $260,000 and about six months).

What is Multisig and How Does it Protect your Wealth?

Multisig allows anyone with credentials to an account, wallet or even a locked safe to create their own set of rules concerning which combinations of friends and relatives can access their assets without the original owner. The owner sets conditions concerning who, when, how much and which accounts can be accessed — and the heirs simply offer passwords or proof of identity. If implemented properly, it doesn’t matter if some of the heirs have forgotten passwords or died before the original owner.

This can be illustrated in an example. I am intentionally describing a complex scenario, so that you consider a full-blown implementation. Although the ‘rules’ listed below appear to be complex, the process for creating the associated passwords is trivial.

The last 2 rules listed below do not use Multisig technology, but rather Smart Contracts. It enhances an owner’s ability to dictate terms. Here, then, is the scenario…

I want heirs to have access to my assets
at banks, brokers, exchanges or other ac-
counts–but only under certain conditions:

  • If any 4 of 11 trusted family and friends come together and combine their passwords (or an alternate proof-of-identity), they may access my wealth and transfer it to other accounts
    • But, if one is my husband, Fred, or my daughter, Sue, then only two trusted individuals are needed
    • —But not Fred and Sue together (At least one must be an outsider)
  • If any account has less than $2500, then it goes to my favorite charity, rather than the individuals I have listed
  • None of my accounts can be unlocked by my heirs, until I have not accessed them with my own password for 3 months. Prior to that, the Multisig will fail to gain access.

Again, the decedent’s wishes are complex, but executing and enforcing these rules is trivial. In my presentations, I describe the method on two simple PowerPoint slides. Even that short description is sufficient to show anyone who has used common cryptography apps to weave their own multisig add-on.

Of course, each individual will need to locate their own secret password, but a biometric or other conforming proof-of-identity can be substituted. Even if several survivors cannot recall their credentials, the multisig method allows other combinations of individuals to access the assets across all accounts.

This article may leave you wondering about the legal process—and this is where I agree with the Libertarian viewpoint: Sure! The courts have a process and heirs should document their access and decisions for tax purposes and to assure each other of fair play. But a key benefit of cryptocurrency and the disintermediation offered by the blockchain is the personal empowerment of access with impunity and without waiting for any legal process.

Let the courts to what they do, while you honor the wishes of your dearly departed.

If this article generates sufficient interest, I may prepare a short tutorial on how to split off your own Multisig passwords, regardless of which wallet or hosted services you use. It will work with any vendor, app or gadget —or— Perhaps, I will refine my homespun solution and offer it as an add-on app that can be used with any wallet, bank account or exchange. Simple, ubiquitous and effective multisig should have been available to even traditional banking customers years ago!


* History of Coinbase support for a multisig vault

Oct 29, 2014 — Coinbase adds Multisig Vault
                           Multisig rule: (3) private keys created. 2 are required to access coins:

  1. User Key
  2. Coinbase Key
  3. 2nd Coinbase Key but only user has passsword

Aug 31 2017 — No more NEW Multisig vaults

April 19 2018 — Sunset of Multisig vaults (and announced earlier, on Mar 20)

Sunset on Multisig vaults: They make it difficult to support forks. A new tool will still support withdrawls after multisig vaults are retired.


Ellery Davies co-chairs CRYPSAhosts the Bitcoin Event and presents at Crypto Conferences around the world. Book a presentation or consulting engagement.

Have there been successful Transaction Malleability attacks?

First, let’s get some basics out of the way…

What is Transaction Malleability?

Here are 2 explanations of transaction malleability: [Coindesk] [TechTalk]

In a nutshell, Transaction Malleability is a weakness in the original Bitcoin implementation that enables a bad actor to change the unique ID of a bitcoin transaction before it is confirmed on the Blockchain. Such a change makes it possible for someone to pretend that a transaction didn’t happen, if all necessary conditions are in place.

As the Coindesk article points out, a successful attack requires certain conditions that make a successful attack difficult or even unlikely. Many analysts referred to it as a bug that should eventually be fixed, rather than an urgent issue.

Was This Flaw Addressed

Transaction malleability was addressed (for Bitcoin) with the introduction of Segregated Witness (SegWit) in August 2017. 1, 2

But Was There a Successful Attack?
Attack? Yes. Successful? It’s doubtful…

In March 2017, five months before SegWit was implemented, a mining pool that administers 2% of worldwide activity launched a malleability attack. No one lost money – and some individuals believe that they did this to emphasize urgency and hasten the adoption of SegWit.

What About Lightning Network?

The Lightning Network is a ‘Level 2’ network overlay, currently being adopted by miners (depending on the service or exchange, it is being incrementally activated in the first months of 2018). To function properly, it requires that transaction malleability be solved. But, in the event that a miner is not SegWit compliant, it can resolve the malleability problem in other ways.

1 SegWit should not be confused with SegWit2x, an upgrade process that was cancelled a few months later in November. 2017

2 In the TechTalk article linked above, the author concludes:

“Transaction Malleability is fixed with Segregated Witness by no longer taking into account signatures when calculating the transaction’s fingerprint. Fixing Transaction Malleability means that the Lightning Network can work smoothly.”


Ellery Davies co-chairs CRYPSA, hosts the Bitcoin Event and presents at Crypto Conferences around the world. Book a presentation or consulting engagement.

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.

Is Cryptocurrency 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.

Should we ‘out’ Bitcoin creator, Satoshi?

Everyone likes a good mystery. After all, who isn’t fascinated with Sherlock Holmes or the Hardy Boys? The thirst to explore a mystery led us to the New World, to the ocean depths and into space.

One of the great mysteries of the past decade is the identity of Satoshi Nakamoto, the inventor of Bitcoin and the blockchain. Some have even stepped forward in an effort to usurp his identity for fame, infamy or fortune. But in this case, we have a mystery in which the subject does not wish to be fingered. He prefers anonymity.

This raises an interesting question. What could be achieved by discovering or revealing the identity of the illusive Satoshi Nakamoto?…

The blockchain and Bitcoin present radically transformative methodologies with far ranging, beneficial impact on business, transparency and social order.

How so? — The blockchain demonstrates that we can crowd-source trust, while Bitcoin is much more than a payment mechanism or even a reserve currency. It decouples governments from monetary policy. Ultimately, this will benefit consumers, businesses and even the governments that lose that control.

Why Has Satoshi Remained Anonymous?

I believe that Satoshi remains anonymous, because his identity, history, interests and politics would be a distraction to the fundamental gift that his research has bestowed. The world is still grappling with the challenge of education, adoption, scaling, governance, regulation and volatility.

Some people are still skeptical of Bitcoin’s potential or they fail to accept that it carries intrinsic value (far more than fiat currency, despite the absence of a redemption guaranty). Additionally, we are still witnessing hacks, failing exchanges and ICO scams. Ignorance is rampant. Some individuals wonder if Satoshi is an anarchist—or if his invention is criminal. (Of course, it is not!).

Outing him now is pointless. He is a bright inventor, but he is not the story. The concepts and coin that he gave us are still in their infancy. Our focus now must be to understand, scale and smooth out the kinks, so that adoption and utility can serve mankind.

Related Ruminations:


Ellery Davies co-chairs CRYPSA, publishes A Wild Duck, hosts the New York Bitcoin Event and kicked off the Cryptocurrency Expo in Dubai. Click Here to inquire about a live presentation or consulting engagement.

Is Bitcoin a store of value?

Bitcoin has many characteristics of a currency. It is portable, fungible, divisible, resistant to forgery, and it clearly has value. Today, that value came close to $20,000 per coin. Whether it has ‘intrinsic value’ is somewhat of a moot question, because the US dollar hasn’t exhibited this trait since 1972. Today, economists don’t even recognize the intrinsic value of gold—beyond a robust, international, supply-demand network.

Lately, Bitcoin is failing as a viable currency, at least for everyday consumer transactions. The settlement of each transaction is bogged down with long delays and a very high cost. The situation has become critical because of squabbling between miners, users and developers over how to offer speed transactions or lower the cost of settlement. Bitcoin forks and altcoins such as Dash and Bitcoin Cash demonstrate that these technical issues have solutions. Since Bitcoin is adaptable, I believe that these issues are temporary.

But an interesting question is not whether Bitcoin will eventually become a consumer currency. It is whether Bitcoin can distinguish itself as a store of value, rather than just an instrument for payment or debt settlement. After all, a Visa credit card, a traveler’s check and an Amazon gift card can all be used in retail payments, but none of them have value unless backed by someone or something. US Dollars on the other hand are perceived as inherently valuable. They carry the clout and gravitas of institutions and populations, without users questioning from where value arises. (This is changing, but bear with me)…

What about Bitcoin? Does owning some bitcoin represent a store of value? Yes: It absolutely does!

Bitcoin is a rapidly maturing two-sided network. Despite a meteoric rise in exchange value and wild fluctuations during the ride, it is the epitome of a stored value commodity. Regardless of government regulation, adoption as a consumer payment instrument, or the cost and speed of transactions, it has demonstrated stored value ever since May 22 2010, when Laszlo, a Bitcoin code developer, persuaded a restaurant to accept 10,000 BTC for 2 pizzas.

The “currency” accepted by the pizza parlor wasn’t a gift card. It was not backed by a government, a prior deposit, dollars, gold, the promise of redemption, or by threat of force or blackmail. When a large community of individuals value, exchange, and can easily authenticate something that has none of those underpinnings, that thing clearly has stored value.

In this case, value arises from its scarcity and a robust supply-demand-network. Because its value is not tied to a government or to other commodities, its exchange rate with other things will be bumpy, at first. But as it is recognized, traded and adopted as a stored value token, the wild spikes will smooth out.

A tipping point will precipitate rapid adoption when…

  • when some vendors begin to quote prices in Bitcoin (rather than national currency)
  • when some of these vendors retain a fraction of their bitcoin-revenue for future purchases, payments or debt settlements—rather than converting revenue to fiat/national currency with each sale

Bitcoin is clearly a store of value, and it is beginning to displace gold and the US dollar as the recognized reserve currency (it is gradually becoming the new gold standard). But before Bitcoin can serve as a widely adopted everyday currency (i.e. as a payment instrument—with or without the stored value of a currency unto itself), it must first incorporate technical improvements that speed transactions and lower cost.

This is taking longer than many enthusiasts would have liked. But, that’s OK with anyone who keeps their eye on the big picture. Democracy is sometimes very sloppy.


Ellery Davies co-chairs CRYPSA, publishes A Wild Duck and hosts the New York Bitcoin Event. Last month, he kicked off the Cryptocurrency Expo in Dubai. Click Here to inquire about a live presentation or consulting engagement.

Spell it Out: What, exactly, backs Bitcoin?

On August 1 2017, the value of a Bitcoin was at $2,750 US dollars. Today, just over one month later, it is poised to leap past $5,000 per unit. With this gain, many people are asking if Bitcoin has any genuine, inherent value. Is it a pyramid scheme? —Or is it simply a house of cards ready to collapse when the wind picks up?

In a past article, I explained that Bitcoin fundamentals ought to place its value in the vicinity of $10,000.* (At the time, it was less than $450, and had even fallen to $220 in the following year).

For many consumers viewing the rising interest in Bitcoin from the stands, there is great mystery surrounding the underlying value. What, if anything, stands behind it? This is a question with a clear and concise answer. In fact, it has a very definitive and believable answer—but it is easiest to understand with just a little bit of historical perspective.

At one time, G7 fiat currencies were backed by a reserve of physical Gold or the pooling or cross-ownership of other currencies that are backed by gold. That ended in 1971 when the Bretton Woods agreement was dissolved by president Richard Nixon in Ithaca NY.

Today, US currency is backed by “The good faith and credit of the American worker” (This is the government explanation of intrinsic value). But in truth its future value is loosely tied to one simple question: Does the typical vendor or consumer (for example, someone accepting a $20 bill in exchange for a movie ticket or 2 large pizzas) expect it to buy these same things in the next few months?

A considerable number of speculative components contribute to the answer. For example:

  • Debt: This is the elephant in the room. A house built on debt cannot thrive forever—without a fresh stream of exports and productivity. These are the measures of a nation’s income and its balance sheet. Here, then is the key question: Is new money being printed without a commensurate added value to GDP? After all, this is how a nation repays its debts.
  • Public Trust: Good faith goes beyond debt. Can consumers and creditors be certain that a change of government won’t cause rampant inflation or a willful failure to retire future debt? Can they be assured that their fellow workers will continue to produce and export manufactured goods in ever increasing quantity?
  • Guns & Tanks: Citizens are compelled by law to pay their taxes in official state currency. Even for those who attempt to fly under the wire or use alternate currencies during the tax year, this ultimately forces fiat currency to be recognized and honored.
  • Geopolitical Stability: The US has been a debtor nation for decades and it has significant political and economic disputes with its largest creditors (China and nations of oil-rich gulf states). What would be the effect of these trade partners (a) moving away from the dollar as their reserve currency, or (b) investing the trillions of dollars they have earned in some other country—or within their own borders?

This list is not exhaustive, but each constituent boils down to two fundamental concepts: Supply-and-demand –and– How long will demand last?

The dollar is an invention of a transient government. Even with a long history of stability and a complex banking framework, it is no more real than Bitcoin. Supply and demand for any commodity is based on popular recognition, anti-counterfeit features, innate desire and public goodwill. The real question is: What contributes to the desire to own or spend Bitcoin?

The answer is that Bitcoin is backed by something far more reliable and trustworthy than the transient whim of elected legislators. It is backed by something that carries more weight than the US government. What could possibly guaranty the value of a Bitcoin? After all, it does not convey ownership in gold, and it has no redemption guarantee. There is no picture of Caesar on the coin. (In fact, there is no coin at all!)…

Answer: Bitcoin is backed by math, a firm cap, a completely transparent set of books, and the critical mass of a two-sided network. Although it can be taxed (like any asset), it can be owned and transferred with impunity and without recourse. These may not seem like critical components of intrinsic value, but they are. In fact, they define intrinsic value in the modern era.

Related:


Ellery Davies co-chairs CRYPSA, produces The Bitcoin Event, edits A Wild Duck
and is keynote at this year’s Digital Currency Summit in Johannesburg.

Wallet Security: Cloud/Exchange Services

3½ years ago, I wrote a Bitcoin wallet safety primer for Naked Security, a newsletter by Sophos, the European antivirus lab. Articles are limited to just 500 hundred words, and so my primer barely conveyed a mindset—It outlined broad steps for protecting a Bitcoin wallet.

In retrospect, that article may have been a disservice to digital currency novices. For example, did you know that a mobile text message is not a good form of two-factor authentication? Relying on SMS can get your life savings wiped out. Who knew?!

With a tip of the hat to Cody Brown, here is an online wallet security narrative that beats my article by a mile. Actually, it is more of a warning than a tutorial. But, read it closely. Learn from Cody’s misfortune. Practice safe storage. If you glean anything from the article, at least do this:

  • Install Google Authenticator. Require it for any online account with stored value. If someone hijacks your phone account, they cannot authenticate an exchange or wallet transaction—even with Authenticator.
  • Many exchanges (like Coinbase) offer a “vault”. Sweep most of your savings into the vault instead of the daily-use wallet. This gives you time to detect a scam or intrusion and to halt withdrawals. What is a vault? In my opinion, it is better than a paper wallet! Like a bank account, it is a wallet administered by a trusted vendor, but with no internet connection and forced access delay.

Exchange and cloud users want instant response. They want to purchase things without delay and they want quick settlement of currency exchange. But online wallets come with great risk. They can be emptied in an instant. It is not as difficult to spoof your identity as you may think (Again: Read Cody’s article below!)

Some privacy and security advocates insist on taking possession and control of their wallet. They want wealth printed out and tucked under the mattress. Personally, I think this ‘total-control’ methodology yields greater risk than a trusted, audited custodial relationship with constant updates and best practice reviews.

In case you want just the basics, here is my original wallet security primer. It won’t give you everything that you need, but it sets a tone for discipline, safety and a healthy dollop of fear.


Ellery Davies co-chairs Crypsa & Bitcoin Event, columnist & board member at Lifeboat, editor
at WildDuck and will deliver the keynote address at Digital Currency Summit in Johannesburg.

Bitcoin closes in on (US) $2000; Why it matters

At the beginning of 2016, Bitcoin was fairly steady at $430. Richelle Ross predicted that it would finish the year at $650. She would have been right, if the year had ended in November. During 2016, Bitcoin’s US dollar exchange rose from $433 to $1000. In the past 2 months (March 24~May 20, 2017), Bitcoin has tacked on 114%, rising from $936 to $2000.  [continue below image]…

If this were stock in a corporation, I would recommend liquidating or cutting back on holdings. But the value of Bitcoin is not tied to the future earnings or property value of an organization. In this case, supply demand is fueled—in part—by speculation. Yes, of course. But, it is also fueled by a two-sided network built on the growing base of utilitarian adoption. And not just an adoption fad, but adoption that mirrors the shift in our very understanding of bookkeeping, trust and transparency.

Despite problems of growth, governance and regulation, Bitcoin is more clearly taking its place as the future of money. Even if it never becomes “legal tender” in any country—and is used only as a mechanism of payments and settlement, it is still woefully undervalued. $2000 is not an end-game. It is a beginning.

Ellery Davies co-chairs Crypsa & The Bitcoin Event. He is a columnist & board member at Lifeboat Foundation,
editor at WildDuck and is delivering the keynote address at the 2017 Digital Currency Summit in Johannesburg.