A Brief History of Public Internet Access

Reader, Tamia Boyden asks this question:

In the 90s, how could we access the internet without WiFi?

This post began as an answer to subscriber question at Quora.com. In the process of answering, I compiled a short history of public and residential Internet access. Whether you lived through this fascinating period of social and technical upheaval or simply want to explore the roots of a booming social phenomenon, I hope that you find the timeline and evolution as interesting as I do.

I have included my answer to Tamia’s question, below. But first, let’s get a quick snapshot of the highlights. The short bullet-list focuses on technical milestones, but the history below, explains the context, social phenomenon and implications.

Short Version:

1965 Hypertext link described
1970s TCP/IP packet protocol
1983 TCP adopted by Arpanet
1989~91 Http protocol
1991 Public access begins
1995 Netscape Mozilla: 1st browser

Scroll below Q&A for context and commentary* —


Question: In the 90s, how could we access the internet without WiFi?

Answer:

We didn’t need WiFI in the 1990s and we don’t need it now. In both era’s, you can simply attach your PC to the internet with a network cable. If your PC does not have an Ethernet port, you can add a miniature USB-Ethernet adapter. They are inexpensive.

Likewise, before internet service was available to almost every home and business, you could access the internet via telephone modem, or by visiting a library, internet cafe or office that had a leased line for fast access.*

In each case, adoption goes hand in hand with infrastructure build-out, cost reduction and (in the case of WiFi), the desire to move about the home or community more freely.


* Ellery’s brief history of Public Internet Access

1965: The concept of “hypertext” and clickable “links”. But demonstrations were limited to a single computer or a local network. The first mouse was patented in 1967. But for the next 15 years, few people used a mouse or pointing device.

1970s: The Internet and its predecessor, the Arpanet, was a constellation of networked terminal access tools that connected universities and research labs. Finding material and accessing it required command line jargon that limited its use. You could access the web and most standards were in place—but there was no universal browser that incorporated hypertext links.

1983: Apple introduces the Lisa (predecessor to the Macintosh). It included a mouse, which most people had never used before. Not to be outdone, Microsoft offered an aftermarket Mouse for $195 which came bundled with Word and Notepad.

1991: The public gained access in 1991 after Tim Berners-Lee, posted a summary of the project and the http standard that he pioneered.

1995: Netscape introduces Mozilla (later renamed Netscape browser). It kicked off a gradual migration of data from FTP and Usenet servers to web pages (http protocol) and an explosion in services and subscribers.

Final Impediments to Adoption: Complexity & Connection infrastructure

In-home use still required special equipment (a telephone modem) and applications had to be installed from a CD or multiple floppy discs. These apps modified the operating system by adding a TCP stack and a Windows Socket API. Prior to these things being bundled into new PCs, the process was a daunting. And so, for the next 10 years, many people accessed the internet from Internet cafes, schools or libraries.

1999: The WiFi standard was introduced in 1997. But it had technical limitations that limited its appeal. In 1997, 802.11b, the first widely used and supported WiFi standard, brought the freedom of movement into homes. This occurred at around the same time that many people were moving from a desktop or tower computer to a laptop.

WiFi-b and later g and n helped to propel convenient Internet access from anywhere within a home. Over the next decade, consumers came to expect an available WiFi signal in offices, schools, restaurants, hotels and airports.

2003: Rise of Social Media

Myspace wasn’t the first social media platform. Friendster beat it out by almost a year. But Myspace was the first to go viral and nationwide among many demographics. Along with Facebook—which eclipsed Myspace in subscriber growth—social media platforms turned many infrequent users into constantly-connected consumers.

  • Friendster March 2002
  • MySpace August 2003
  • Facebook February 2004
  • Twitter March 2006

2007: Apple and AT&T introduced the iPhone in the summer. Prior to 2007, flip phones offered web access via a crude browser built into Symbian or Palm, the OS used by Nokia, Motorola Palm Pilot and others. But the iPhone kicked off the Smart Phone, a new category of must have consumer gadgets. It propelled ubiquitous, mobile internet access.

1995 ~ 2020

Gradually, the Internet become a mass market phenomenon. But slow connection speeds and the need to suspend telephone calls limited its use. Between 1978 and 1996, telephone modems gradually improved technology from 300 bps to 56,000 Baud (access at ~25 kbps).

After 1996, consumers gradually switched away from using their telephone lines to a dedicated internet service. Homes connect to an ISP (Internet Service Provider) via either existing phone wire (ISDN), TV cables, Fiberoptic or Wireless-to-home.

Today (2019), it is not uncommon to have residential internet access via a Gigabit fiberoptic connection.

— Image credit:  1) Malone Media Group   2) Chris Galloway

Was SHA-256 cracked? Don’t buy into the retraction!

SHA-256 is a one way hashing algorithm. Cracking it would have tectonic implications for consumers, business and all aspects of government including the military.
 
It’s not the purpose of this post to explain encryption, AES or SHA-256, but here is a brief description of SHA-256. Normally, I place reference links in-line or at the end of a post. But let’s get this out of the way up front:
 
One day after Treadwell Stanton DuPont claimed that a secret project cracked SHA-256 more than one year ago, they back-tracked. Rescinding the original claim, they announced that an equipment flaw caused them to incorrectly conclude that they had algorithmically cracked SHA-256.
 
“All sectors can still sleep quietly tonight,” said CEO Mike Wallace. “Preliminary results in this cryptanalytic research led us to believe we were successful, but this flaw finally proved otherwise.”
 
Yeah, sure! Why not sell me that bridge in Brooklyn while you backtrack.

The new claim makes no sense at all—a retraction of an earlier claim about a discovery by a crack team of research scientists (pun intended). The clues offered in the original claim, which was issued just one day earlier, cast suspicion on the retraction. Something fishy is going on here. Who pressured DuPont into making the retraction—and for what purpose? Something smells rotten in Denmark!
Let’s deconstruct this mess by reviewing the basic facts:

  • A wall street, financial services firm proudly announces the solution to a de facto contest in math and logic
  • They succeeded in this achievement a year ago, but kept it secret until this week
  • One day later (with no challenge by outsiders),* they announce a flaw in the year-old solution

Waitacottenpickensec, Mr. DuPont!! The flaw (an ‘equipment issue’) was discovered a year after this equipment was configured and used—but only one day after you finally decide to disclose the discovery? Poppycock!

I am not given to conspiracy theories (a faked moon landing, suppressing perpetual motion technology, autism & vaccinations, etc)—But I recognize government pressure when I see it! Someone with guns and persuasion convinced DuPont to rescind the claim and point to a silly experimental error.

Consider the fallout, if SHA-256 were to suddenly lose public confidence…

  • A broken SHA-256 would wreak havoc on an entrenched market. SHA-256 is a foundational element in the encryption used by consumers & business
  • But for government, disclosing a crack to a ubiquitous standard that they previously discovered (or designed) would destroy a covert surveillance mechanism—because the market would move quickly to replace the compromised methodology.
I understand why DuPont would boast of an impressive technical feat. Cracking AES, SSL or SHA-256 has become an international contest with bragging rights. But, I cannot imagine a reason to wait one year before disclosing the achievement. This, alone, does not create a conundrum. Perhaps DuPont was truly concerned that it would undermine trust in everyday communications, financial transactions and identity/access verification…
 
But retracting the claim immediately after disclosing it makes no sense at all. There is only one rational explanation. The original claim undermines the interests of some entity that has the power or influence to demand a retraction. It’s difficult to look at this any other way.
 
What about the everyday business of TS DuPont?
 
If the purpose of the original announcement was to generate press for DuPont’s financial services, then they have succeeded. An old axiom says that any press is good press. In this case, I don’t think so! Despite the potential for increased name recognition (Who knew that any DuPont was into brokerage & financial services?) I am not likely to think positively of TS DuPont for my investment needs.
 

* The cryptographic community could not challenge DuPont’s original claim, because it was not accompanied by any explanation of tools, experimental technique or mathematical methodology. Recognizing that SHA-256 is baked into the global infrastructure: banking, commerce and communications, their opaque announcement was designed to protect the economy. Thank you, Mr. DuPont, for being so noble! 

Spending Bitcoin in Person is Easy (What happens in background is elegant)

Today, I was co-host of an online cryptocurrency symposium—taking questions from hundreds of visitors. A common question goes something like this:

Can Bitcoin be used in person—or is it just for internet commerce?

Our panel had a moderator, and also an off-screen video director. As I cleared my throat in preparation to offer a response, a voice in my ear reminded me that it was not my turn. The director explained that another panelist would reply. It was a highly regarded analyst and educator in Australia. Realizing that that she was calling the shots, I deferred.

I was shocked as I listened to this far off colleague suggest that Bitcoin is not useful for in-person payments. I wonder how he explains this to the grocers, tailors, lawyers, theme parks and thousands of retailers who save millions of dollars each year by accepting bitcoin—all without risk of volatility and even if they demand to instantly convert sales revenue into Fiat currency.*

Of course it can be used in person, Numb-nut!
(I kept this thought to myself. I know better than
to criticize another panelist).

An in-person transaction, such as paying for a meal after consumption, is an ideal use scenario. It benefits everyone: The seller captures greater value and the buyer is unlikely to need bank-brokered arbitration. He only needs a receipt. He will never demand a 90-day return warranty, claim that he was shipped an empty box, nor complain about the amount charged.†

But this isn’t about my clueless colleague. It is about the ease of using Bitcoin in person and the interesting stuff that happens in the background. Let’s look at a simple purchase scenario — and then we’ll dig in to marvel at the settlement process. This is a true story, told in 7 bullets. It occurred in the summer of 2015—just 5 years after the very first use of bitcoin to purchase anything (Bitcoin Pizza Day was May 22, 2010).

  • It’s 2 AM on a moonlit Sunday morning. Driving from Boston to New York, I rehearse the Bitcoin presentation that I will deliver at a startup clinic hosted by LaGuardia Community College and the Cryptocurrency Standards Association. Wracked by hunger, I pull off the last exit in Connecticut and find the Darien Diner. Great food! My meal costs $12.
  • As I take one last bite of midnight quiche, I realize that I forgot my wallet! No cash; no driver’s license. Although I have a smartphone, it is brand new. I have not yet loaded it with credit cards. But I can access to my passwords and accounts.
  • I scope my surroundings. The waiter is the only one on the main floor. He is also the cashier. Seeing no other customers or staff, I figure that the owner or cook is in the kitchen; probably the only other person on site. I approach the cash register, hoping that the waiter will accept my apology—and trust that I will pay on my return trip in a few days. Before I launch into a poor-man’s excuse, I spot a placard shown below. Bitcoin is among the diner’s accepted payment methods. Pretty neat for 2015!
  • Bitcoin accepted hereI ask the cashier how I can pay with Bitcoin. His response catches me off-guard: “I have no ideaThey told me that you would know.” What?! Does this guy recognize me? Does he know that I am on my way to give a Bitcoin lecture? This seems very unlikely. Gradually, I understand what he means, and I know what to do…
  • I point my smartphone at the QR code (It’s taped to the cash register next to the words: “We accept Bitcoin”). In fact, this restaurant is fully on board. I am amazed to see that a display on the register offers a custom code that is encoded with the exact meal cost. That’s really cool! So, I shift my camera to that code.
  • Immediately, my wallet asks if I would like to add a tip. (It’s hosted by an online exchange, but an application wallet will also work). I add $3 and press SEND.
  • A thermal printer next to the till spits out a narrow receipt. At the very bottom, where it would typically say “Paid with MasterCard ending in −3862”, it says “Paid with Bitcoin”. The buzzing sound of that receipt printer tells the cashier that I am good to go. Good food in the tummy and a bill has been paid. Case closed; Return to car; Drive to New York. Note to self: Find other Bitcoin vendors on trip.

What Really Happened?

In the seconds between authorization and a printed receipt, fascinating things occurred around the world. Seriously Fascinating—just like magic! It is transforming the way payments work and—eventually—the way we view, understand and manage cash. ‡

  • When I clicked SEND, a limited subset of Bitcoin credentials was presented to a massively distributed, worldwide network of miners. In effect, I informed the bookkeepers that I wish to have $15 transferred to the restaurant’s public address.
  • Seconds later, my original credentials are voided (this solves the ‘double spend problem’) and a transaction is added to a public ledger called the blockchain. My stake in that ledger now reflects slightly reduced wealth—all without a bank, government, repository, treasurer or monetary policy. In fact, there is no authority at all, except fair and transparent rules of math; something we all agree upon.

But wait! It gets even more fascinating…

The “miners” that settled the transaction and provided the new Bitcoin credentials needn’t have any awareness that they just facilitated payment for a meal at a diner in Connecticut. From their perspective, these individuals and large server farms in Iceland, China, Israel, and South Africa—and in college dorms spread across the world—are engaged in a massively distributed gaming competition. They are competing for rewards based on solving a math problem.

As you review that last paragraph, imagine the elegance of the global network. Imagine the power, robust nature, and benefit that comes from it’s redundant and decentralized architecture. Imagine the brilliance of an anonymous genius who goes by the name “Satoshi”. Imagine the incentive for disparate bookkeepers to play a critical role in balancing a world-wide ledger. Imagine that authorities cannot shut down the network or even slow down adoption or the pace of transactions. Imagine the trust that individuals, businesses, NGOs, banks and governments no longer need to can put in a monetary supply and mechanisms of accounting. (Never again must we trust institutions to record our transactions or protect our wealth). Imagine a world where this trust benefits everyone uniformly, fairly, and without a path to graft or inflation.

Bitcoin and the blockchain—introduced together—are not minor, incremental contributions to economics, bookkeeping, trust or commerce. They are overwhelmingly significant to the future of human society and every institution and inhabitant.


Notes / Caveats / Clarifications

† You may have heard that bitcoin transactions are immutable. This is a simplification. The public ledger is immutable, but transactions are reversible, if terms are clear to both parties. Just as with Ethereum, smart contracts are built into the technology. So are hooks to centralized mediation, if that’s what the agreement calls for. Charge-backs, refunds, warranty demands and other arbitration are all possible. These features are built into Bitcoin, but rarely used in this early era.

Most Bitcoin transactions today are payments; they are not charges. Although they do not typically accommodate bank-brokered returns, rescission and charge-backs, these are all possible, and often without requiring an authority to broker the dispute. But these traditional safeties or mitigation must be agreed upon in advance. No longer does the seller have all the power, or the buyer need to run to a credit card processor to complain. Sales are either immutable or brokered by a 2-party contract.

This is not your grand-daddy’s payment mechanism. It is so much more evolved!

‡ In 2017, Bitcoin went through a period of intense growing pain. Transactions became so slow and costly, that in person transactions became impossible, especially for any amount less than $500. If you needed a transaction to complete in less than an hour, you would need to enlist in a bidding contest. A quick confirmation could cost upwards of $30 US.

The restaurant payment related above was an on-chain transaction. Today, transactions that use the Lightning Network overlay may occur within a private channel apart from the blockchain. But ultimately, every change in bitcoin ownership results in an individual or aggregated entry onto the blockchain.

* Crisis in late 2017 and 2018

Sadly, in researching this article, I learned that the Darien Diner no longer accepts Bitcoin. Problems with transaction cost and delays in late 2017 and early 2018 discouraged a great many retailers. No one purchasing a $12 meal will pay $30 in fees, and a cashier is not going to wait 2 hours to validate payment from a customer who has already eaten a meal and wants to hit the road.

That glitch sparked a terrible flight from retail adoption. Even now (Q3 of 2019), retail penetration is sharply off its peak. We are barely clawing our way back to the early adoption rate. Vendors lost faith, and many don’t yet realize that their POS investment can now be safely be reactivated. Lightning Network to the rescue!

The Next Crisis

Another crisis is looming, but it too will be solved.

Although the Bitcoin network is fast and inexpensive, the proof-of-work method used by miners to arrive at a distributed consensus consumes far too much power to scale. Mass adoption would consume more power than the world currently generates.

And here’s the kicker: The mining incentive ensures that any new, inexpensive energy that might be discovered in the future would be gobbled up by miners with no additional benefits to society (or even to the Bitcoin network). All the new, free (or cheap) power would be diverted away from homes, businesses, manufacturing and public works. The incentive for grabbing every cheap watt is very much like a cancerous growth.

Clearly, this is not sustainable. Bitcoin mining already uses more power than all of Argentina. But great minds are working on the problem and alternative methods of guaranteeing a fair, crowd-sourced accounting consensus are being tested, analyzed and debated. We will get through this complex problem, and hopefully—this time—without demoralizing a key factor in the tetrad: Consumers, developers, vendors & miners.

Should you toss out that dial-up modem?

Today, a reader asked me: “Is there any justification for keeping an external modem?

Of course, the word modem applies to current technologies, such as cable modems and ONT (the modem that connects a home or office to FIOS). But, I am pretty sure that this reader is asking about a POTS dial-up modem (POTS = Plain Old Telephone Service).*

Answer: It is safe to toss out this antique, save it for a museum, or let your 9 year old bring it to Show-&-Tell:

“My daddy used a Moh-dum. It’s how pre-historic humans got online in the Stone Age!! They called it America Online”.

Sometimes, a common tool passes into the realm of anachronism while it still sits in your tool box on your workbench. My daughter is already 18. Yet, she has never wound a watch, dialed a telephone (with a spring-loaded reciprocating dial), or tuned in a car radio. If it weren’t for an eclectic interest in the movie iRobot (Will Smith orders a pair of classic shoes from his grandfather’s era), I doubt that she would have ever experienced tying shoe laces.

But wait! Could a dial-up modem be useful when your lose Internet service—for example, during a storm or other service blackout? Not really. Who ya gonna call?!

If you have an urgent need to get online while your primary service is interrupted, you can create cell phone hotspot or ask a neighbor for temporary access to his WiFi signal. Holding onto your dial-up model is as useful as holding onto two tin cans connected by string. In most countries, you would have a hard time finding a modem that could answer your call at the other end!

If you are older than 35, then here is a friendly sound from your past (click YouTube image below). It is the sound of a dial-up modem connecting to a bulletin board or an internet gateway. If you used this type of modem, then you temporarily without phone service (unless you had an extra line of phone service). You even had to disable call waiting, so that the data connection was not interrupted.

* Incidentally, POTS is, itself, an extinct technology. Even if you have a twisted pair of copper wires entering your home and telephone jacks with red & green wires coming up from the cellar, it is very unlikely that this wire pair goes far beyond the phone pole outside your house. Your analog phone signal was converted from digital data far upstream and multiplexed with many of your neighbors into a high-speed data stream or onto a broadband carrier signal for distribution within your neighborhood and for long distance.

Instead of circuit switching your voice with the person you are talking to, telcos often use intranets and even the public internet, just like individual users with a VoIP SIP.


Modem Trivia

  • Dennis Hayes invented the PC modem. Hayes introduced a 300 bit per second modem in 1977 for $280. By the time that modems were being replaced by ASDL and direct connect cable services, the fastest 56,000 bps modems were often available for free after store rebate.
  • In the mid 1980s, new consumer modems bumped up data speed from 1200 bps to 2400 bps. Around that time, Hayes aired the first TV commercial for a computer component—rather than the computer itself (the Hayes modem). It was years before a 1991 TV commercial that promoted the brand and logo of an internal part (“Intel Inside”), rather than the product being advertised. Nutrasweet attempted the same ingredient branding at around the same time. Still later, in 1993, Intel introduced the Pentium CPU.

Hub, switch or router: Which do you need?

This article was originally an answer to a member of Quora, the Q&A site at which I am a columnist. I am active in bitcoin and computer networks.

The question:

I have a 2nd computer in a room with one network outlet. I prefer to use a network cable and not WiFi. I think that I need a“splitter”.

I realize that each device gets unique data. So it’s not as simple as adding a power strip with extra sockets. I have heard of hubs, switches and routers, but don’t know the difference. Which do I need. Will it cost an arm and a leg?

Answer

All you need is a very inexpensive switch. In fact, the best consumer model discounts for less than $15. I recommend one at the end of this answer, which also addresses your more general question.

So, what is the difference between a hub, switch and router? Let’s dig in…

1. Hub

A “hub” is a relic from the 1990s. Someone using that term today is probably referring to a switch.

In past decades, it was cheaper to use a single communications amplifier without dedicated circuit paths for each internal and external connection.

For example, if your maximum Ethernet speed is 100 Mbps, than this is all that is available to ALL conversations. So, even if someone wanted to backup to a local network device or stream from a disk drive attached to the router, they would be slowing down everyone — even the devices that are accessing the Internet.

2. Switch

But a switch is much better. It supports the maximum negotiated speed of each 2-way connection without slowing down any other connection. So, for example, if port 5 is connected to port 2, it does not impact port 7 which is connected to the WAN/Internet port.

Large models, like the 48-port unit shown here are typically managed switches and support Power-over-Ethernet. These costly enterprise features are not needed in a home or small office. In my opinion, the more important operational features have all become inexpensive and mainstream: auto-sense, auto negotiate, auto-fall back, jumbo frame, power save, and more.

3. Router

A “router” refers to the function that keeps track of packets entering and leaving your home or office. It ensures that returning packets get to the proper device. Some routers have only one WAN/Internet port and one LAN (local port). If the router has 4 or 8 ports, then it is really a router with an integrated switch.

If you have just one computer in your home and no wireless devices, the router connects directly between your cable modem (or fiber ONT) and the PC. If you have more than one computer, then you must either (a) have a switch (built-into the router or connected to the one LAN port), or (b) use the WiFi feature or add a Wireless Access Point (WAP).

Bonus Term: WAP

A WAP (wireless access point) is simply a WiFi radio. It’s just like an extra broadcast tower in your home. But, because it is wired directly to your router, it is *much* better than adding a WiFi or powerline repeater. It is also very inexpensive…

Popular consumer brands, like Linksys, D-Link, Netgear, Asus, TP-Link and Belkin, have all but abandoned this product segment. That’s because you can easily turn any old WiFi router into a WAP by turning off the DHCP feature. This allows the ‘main’ router to assign local IP addresses and handle packet routing. The 2nd router simply adds another radio spot to your home or office. Since the router function is much less expensive than the WiFi function, using a router does not add to the cost.

About Speed

In the early 1980s, there was a market war between various network standards and topologies. Most buyers realized that the once mighty Arcnet (created by Datapoint Corporation) was dying and that the winner would be either Token Ring (IBM) or Ethernet (created by Intel, Xerox & Digital Equipment).

Ethernet won that war with its hub-and-spoke topology and a speed of 10 Mbps.

It wan’t long until the speed was bumped up to 100 Mbps (called Fast Ethernet or “100base T”. Today, the sweet spot of price and performance is 1 Gbps. It’s 100 times faster than the original! There are still faster implementations at 10 or 100 Gbps, but these require professional cable installation, expensive gear and some very strict configuration requirements.

If your network might ever be used by multiple users or for video streaming (especially at 4K), be sure that you don’t accidentally purchase the older Fast Ethernet switch or router (or—heaven forbid—an old fashioned hub!). Just 3 or 4 years ago, you might have saved cash on the slower standard, but today, you can find gigabit switches and routers without paying a significant premium. In fact, reputable companies are not making 100 Mbps switches today. That would be like selling a 512 GB USB drive with USB 1 or 2. It just doesn’t make sense.


Now you know the difference between all three terms: Router, Hub (outdated) and Switch (often included with a router). And just for fun, you even know about another related device: WAP.

Incidentally, even if your router already has a 4 or 8-port switch, you may still need an additional switch. Consider these scenarios:

  • You have more than 4 wired devices
  • One of your cables goes from the cellar to an upstairs office. But, you have a few devices in that office. You can simply add a tiny switch. This is exactly what you need as your ‘splitter’.*
  • You wish to create a subnet to isolates your network devices and activities from another segment. This requires 2nd router instead of just a switch. Not to worry. Decent 4-port routers are available for under $30. In this case, you may not even care about the WiFi feature, which is the most expensive component of routers costing above $50.
* Switch Cost & Reputation

« I just purchased this Netgear GS305 for just $12.50. It’s a gigabit 5-port switch with terrific specs and reliability wrapped into a solid metal box. It sips very little electricity and the footprint is smaller than a slice of bread. I often see larger 8-port switches by Netgear and TP-Link discounted to $17. These are both very good consumer brands.

Is there an upper limit to future WiFi speed?

As with many recent posts, this was originally a reply to a member of Quora. I am a frequent columnist at this popular Q&A forum.

Is there a theoretical speed limit to
WiFi devices over the next 10 years?

Because of four recent practices,* it is difficult to predict an upper limit for future overall throughput:

  1. Channel bonding
  2. Beam steering (MIMO shaping and directing the antenna pattern)
  3. Mesh Networking (i.e. subdividing a service area into micro-cells). Residential examples: Google WiFi, Netgear Orbi or TP-Link Deco
  4. Ultra wideband or Ultra-high frequency: In 2017, both Netgear and Asus introduced routers with 802.11ad WiFi (‘WiFi AD’). Although it still not widely adopted, it adds a 60 GHz radio to the existing 2.4 and 5 GHz radios, supporting 7 Gbps network speed).

Note that none of these techniques demands a high output power per channel. They all use ‘tricks’ to achieve higher speeds. But the tricks are scaleable. There really is no upper limit to any of these techniques.

Mesh networks don’t increase overall bandwidth, but by reducing the signal power and service area (and having many more access points), there is more bandwidth available for each device.

The 60 GHz used by WiFi AD is so high, that it cannot pass through walls in a typical home—just within a room. On the other hand ultra-wideband transmission has been demonstrated and recently blessed by the FCC, but it is not yet a WiFi standard. With this method, it will be possible to send insanely high-speed, low power signals through walls to cover small areas.

How fast are ultra-wideband radios? How about terabytes per second, depending on distance? It’s difficult to imagine future applications that may need that speed. It dwarfs the real world data input capacity of our senses. Perhaps, someday, you will need to transfer the entire literature of all known civilizations into your brain under under 2 milliseconds. I suppose that it would be good for that purpose.


* I called these technologies “recent developments”. But actually, three of four practices have a long history in military, commercial and industrial applications.

a) Beam steering

Focusing an antenna pattern has been around for more than 75 years. Yagi TV antennas (popular in 1960s and 70s) are highly directional. Some TV broadcast towers are situated near the edge of a service area. They split their broadcast signal, through a phase delay and deliver the waveforms to an array of antenna. This allows them to steer the signal without any mechanical movement. Directional lasers or infrared beams are often used for communications.

b) Channel bonding (or reverse multiplexing)

I had an exceptional router in the 1990s that could combine backhaul services (not just switch from one to the other in case of a drop out). It boosted speed by distributing internet packets over three separate networks):2 separate cable services and an early cell phone modem.

c) Mesh/Cellular coverage

The ‘full-blown’ implementation was developed by Motorola in the 1980s to accommodate growth in the mobile telephone market. I am not aware of an earlier implementations that included graceful, real-time hand-off of a device in motion. Of course, hotels and large convention centers have used mesh networking for more than a decade.

Update: Building (and placing!) a Bitcoin ATM

A new section about Bitcoin ATM business models
has been added. Jump to “UPDATE – July 2019

The good news is that building a Bitcoin ATM is easy and less expensive than you might expect. But, offering or operating them engulfs the assembler in a regulatory minefield! It might just be worth sticking to selling bitcoin on PayPal (visit this website for more information on that). You might also wish to rethink your business model —especially user-demand scenarios. See our 2019 update at the bottom of this article.

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 makes all the difference in the world. And your ATM must interface with an exchange—yours or a 3rd party exchange.

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).

Regulations: 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 client (a 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.

_____________

UPDATE – July 2019: ATM Business Model Requires Urgency

The economics of Bitcoin ATMs is thoroughly uncompelling, unless you own or administer a public area with high foot traffic. Even with lots of traffic, the business model has a problem…

Bitcoin is easily acquired and exchanged online—both legally and illegally. Often, I urgently need to find a bank ATM, especially when travelling. But, despite being an avid proponent and adopter of cryptocurrency, I can’t imagine needing a crypto ATM. Needing virtual exchange is rarely urgent, and there are better alternatives than standing in front of a machine. After all, we each have a better machine in our pockets.

Online trading is easier and safer than via ATM. Even user anonymity is better online than standing in a public place and using a kiosk equipped with a camera.

Therefore, the business model of placing equipment requires scenarios in which the needs of prospective clients have urgency. Urgency adds significant value to local service. But again, there is a problem…

The problem with using urgency to build a local delivery model for ATMs, is that Bitcoin is a virtual product. Even a seller or exchange in China can deliver an online money exchange instantly.

Consider this reverse analogy…

Suppose that you are responsible for setting up a video projector in a hotel ball-room. The conference is already in progress and hundreds of people are looking toward a blank movie screen. You suddenly discover that your video cable is defective and wireless options will not work . You need an HDMI cable and a thunderbolt adapter immediately. It must be at least 18 feet long and be a recent model to support the audio channels and resolution of your presentation.

QUICK—Find me an exact match!

The local Best Buy store has the cable in stock. It’s $89.99 and the store can have it at the front desk in the next 10 minutes. Your frugal partner finds the same cable online for $29.99 (2-day delivery) or $9.50 shipped from China (about 2 weeks).

Which do you choose? Is it just a cable that you need? No! The value that you require is a compatible cable in your hands within minutes — preferably from a local and experienced vendor, in case there is an installation or application problem.

In almost any scenario—even catering to impulse buyers—a Bitcoin ATM can’t match the value of someone delivering a compatible cable instantly. If it is a commodity that you are selling (Bitcoin is a commodity), then a profitable business model requires that you sell speed, convenience or privacy. Cryptocurrency ATMs lose on all three fronts.

That last paragraph above is my freebie to the next ATM vendor who seeks my consulting services. Test your model, before seeking help in penetrating a market that is tough to define and defend.


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.

 

Conference speakers: Get paid–or pay up!

This week I received an offer to speak at a big, blockchain expo in Switzerland. That’s what I do in a mid-life career transition—or at least, it’s what I aspire to do. Last year, I presented at conferences, workshops, corporate retreats and trade shows on four continents. It’s not yet a full time career. Often, I cannot find paid opportunities to present—and so I teach, write, consult or refine my presentation to keep it relevant.

I hate marketing my presentation, but I’ve done a pretty good job of creating an industry reputation. And so, most of these presentation gigs begin with an offer from the host or producer. But like most presentation offers, this one came with strings attached. (More accurately, a ball, chain and an anchor ware attached!). Below, I have pasted the original invitation that I received—and the conversation that is still in process today.

Surprise! — “Offers” to speak at conferences and expos are not offers at all. Sure, the show needs talented presenters. But their outreach is just a sales pitch. Rather than paying for talent, the owner or producer wants their talent to pay them.

And so, responding to such offers is a carefully crafted form of triage; it’s a bit like trying to revive a gunshot victim who has entered the emergency room without a heartbeat. My ability to earn money as a speaker is on life support, even before receiving an “offer”. Why is this?! Let’s dig in…


Do Conferences Pay for Speakers?

There are two types of speakers: Headliners and techies. But, sometimes the headliner is one of the techies. I prefer to classify speakers as Celebrity or Expert.

Celebrity speakers are bought to create buzz. They deliver the keynote address and they get big fees. But many conferences have no big celebrity. They are typically found at prominent trade shows or events that cater to a television audience. Think of Billy Crystal or Whoopi Goldberg at the Academy Awards – or Mikhail Gorbachev at a corporate or non-profit.

Celebrity speakers get big bucks. Hillary Clinton was never president, yet she pulls in $400,000 to appear at an industry event.

But, what about speakers who bring critical content? These individuals are the meat-and-potatoes of any conference. Along with customer prospects, this is what visitors pay for. If you compare a trade conference to a restaurant, expert speakers are both the chefs and the food itself. They prepare, refine, package and deliver a consumable. But, do they get paid for their work?

To understand the expert speaker, let’s go back to the celebrity speaker for just a moment. These well-compensated speakers are typically an athlete, entertainer, comedian or former politician. Often, their presentation is unrelated to the conference or show venue. Their presence is primarily to create buzz, entertain or ensure eyeballs. The hosts see value because the celebrity fills seats or increases TV audience. This brings in advertising dollars. Of course, having a former president or movie star launch your agriculture expo creates lasting memories which raises awareness of future events. Their value is clear. That is why you should check out the portfolio of clients found at the Sports Speakers 360 website.

But you are not an athlete, comedian or former president. If you are an astronomer, you are probably not Carl Sagan (he’s dead) or Neil deGrasse Tyson. You’re just a darn good expert with wit, charm and an ability to excite a tough audience and help them leave with new ideas.

If you have tried to market your charm and your live presentation, then you have probably come up against the ‘reverse-value’ gambit. It’s like getting punched in the face 3 times:

  1. Most conferences and shows do not pay their speakers
  2. Often, they do not cover the cost of travel or a hotel. But, it gets worse…
  3. They want each speaker to pay big money to appear on stage. I am routinely asked to pay $5000 or $10,000 for the privilege of exposure!

But wait! Aren’t industry experts and pundits the main entrée? After all, we develop and deliver the information that attendees consume. Some–like me–make a living from live presentations. We travel abroad in the hope of making a career from our nuggets of wisdom. We are the raw material of conferences, clinics, expos and trade shows. Why no respect?!

Show producers want the prospective speaker to believe that the show offers visibility and a chance to hawk a related organization, product, service—or a special interest, such as a new standard, perspective or political agenda. At the very least, they want you to accept that it gooses up your career résumé.

Can expert speakers get paid for preparation, packaging and pizazz? Do credentials and communication skills bring credibility to an event? Are we not a critical component of the draw? It certainly isn’t easy. So let’s explore the reason for this difficulty—and the method that I use to overcome it.

Here’s a quick Q&A related to the difficulty in marketing an expert, live presentation as a fair consulting relationship:

Can a non-celebrity academic or industry expert get
paid for expertise, preparation and delivery?
Answer: It’s damn hard!
Do credentials & credibility help to draw an audience? Yes, absolutely!
Do producers recognize content value? Do any start negotiations by offering payment? Rarely. They argue that a stage or audience represents bigger value than your expertise
How can the speaker get a conference to value experience, preparation, travel and presentation? Substantiate & defend the expert value; Participate in promotion

Each time that you solicit a conference or respond to outreach, be prepared for the reverse value gambit. The host or producer positions their stage as a product. No compensation for you. They hope that each speaker will view himself as a client, rather as an asset that produces and delivers expert content.

Solution: Don’t be discouraged. It is not a job offer, just a starting point—just a slick sales pitch. Your goal is to move the value exchange from below the water line to top-of-hill. You can do this, because without you, they do not have a product to offer their real clients.

The value exchange must be flipped and justified. As an expert speaker, you must turn the equation around by marketing your exceptional value to the producer.

MIT Bitcoin Expo with Andreas Antonopoulos

The conference producer has not factored in all that you do. Point out that your value is a critical component to success. Enumerate the things you bring to the table:

  • Expert content
  • Engaging & entertaining delivery
  • Availability to participate in market media interviews and guerrilla marketing
  • Increased likelihood to capture additional sponsors
  • Availability to participate in VIP mixers

All of these things counter a reverse-value proposition. Prepare to argue all of these points eloquently, with the very first hint of reverse value. It won’t work every time, but eventually, you will find producers that value talent and know how to leverage your expert presentation, your reputation and the value of putting you in contact with journalists, TV anchors, sponsors and VIP attendees.

So what about the negotiation that started in the Linked-In messages shown below? Will I present in Switzerland in March? I don’t yet know. That dialog has just begun. Sometimes, I am successful at reversing the value proposition and sometimes I am not. Last year, I was fairly compensated for presentations in South Africa, India, Canada and Dubai, where I gave the keynote speech. But for a larger fraction of opportunities, either my fee proposal is rejected, or the offer fails to meet my minimum requirement.

For now, I don’t get frustrated about accepting a low fraction of speaking gigs. Interest in Bitcoin, altcoins and especially the blockchain is growing rapidly. Although I can only flip a fraction of show producers, there are four or five big shows in my field—somewhere in world—every week. For now, I am happy to land just a few.

Of course, one can organize and host their own show. My business partner Manny and I produced, publicized and hosted The Bitcoin Event in New York. We formed the Cryptocurrency Standards Association, partnered with a university network, recruited our own speakers, and promoted the affair with incentives and office space from the New York state.

That was fun, but I prefer to deliver content and excite an audience from the stage, rather than organize, produce and host a conference. At this stage of my career, I want the certainty of a presentation gig that comes with an airline ticket and a hotel reservation.


Host: [Seeks to have me talk at his conference. But there’s a catch!]

Hello Ellery, Finance World Expo will take place in Zug, Switzerland on 6-7 of March 2019.

Our expo strives to bring you, C-level executives, Founders, and Advisers from the leading companies in the industry, as well as promising and innovative start-ups.

A wide range of speaking opportunities and round panels enable our Sponsor’s to predict and shape the future of Finance. Being a part of our Expo offers a great chance to present your ideas to the wide community and get worldwide brand exposure. Awards are given to the best projects in the categories will enable the Winners to flash in the Finance Sector.

Finally, our beautiful location with facilities and high-level services ensure a perfect atmosphere for networking.

Can I send you some more information?
Use this code for a -20% ticket discount: FWxxxxx

regards, ?ukasz Paszkiewicz
Co-Founder of Finance World Expo

_____________________________________

Me: [This is where I hint that the value exchange must be reveresed]

Hi ?ukasz,

I am available during March. I would be honored if you consider me a prospective speaker. I charge a fee for speaking at economics conferences, and am qualified to be a keynote. I can bring cryptocurrency and blockchain expertise to your conference in a way that your audience and other speakers will fully understand and many will embrace

~Ellery Davies, bitcoinreferee.com ? qualifications

_____________________________________

Host: [A horse trade begins. I must convince him that expertise has value. it is an asset—rather than a sales opportunity]

Ellery, Normally we charge for speaking. Here are our packages for presenters: https://financeworldexpo.com/sponsorship/ We can offer you 25% discount. Additionally if you can introduce us some partners we can offer you free seminar or place in a panel.

Best regards, ?ukasz, financeworldexpo.com
Next Step: Review your
Sponsorship Opportunity ? Subtle! It means he wants money

_____________________________________

Me: [Get host to request a quote] …

Yes, ?ukasz. I certainly understand that you normally charge your speakers. This is because your speakers seek value in promoting their product, company, ICO or consulting service.

On the other hand, I am more accurately your show talent. I will visit with local news and media before the show to help fill walk-in seats. I will give the audience something that excites them and makes them believe that the show was productive for both their employers and their personal careers. I will give a positive and long-lasting impression of Finance World Expo. In turn, it gives you something that you can take to the bank.

With other speakers (especially at a trade show, clinic or non-academic conference), visitors sometimes feel that they have paid money to be pitched. They can get a pitch at Amazon or Walmart — but at your expo, value comes from being enlightened. Value comes from getting up on their toes and passionately participating with the presenter.

I can do this. I can partner and create value, excitement and a strong impression that your expo exceeded expectations. My role at the event differs from other speakers. For example:

  • I am not selling anything. I will appear at your expo for the sole purpose of exciting and enlightening guests. That’s what I do.
  • I am a versatile speaker on blockchain, Bitcoin adoption, scaling, regulation, economics, banking and government. I motivate audiences.
  • Bitcoin/Blockchain credentials ? Do you stack up? Experts must invite comparison!
  • I have hosted and presented Bitcoin conferences, including The New York Bitcoin Event
  • In the past year, I was keynote or headliner at conferences on 4 continents.
  • I am moderator at the world’s largest Bitcoin community: 50,000 members at LinkedIN
  • As columnist & editor, I fill seats with press coverage: local TV interviews before your event

That’s my pitch. If you consider our exchange from this perspective, you may come to value your speaker as key content, a pull through tool, and a significant revenue opportunity. To add additional value, I will help you work with existing sponsors to cover my stipend. I can wear their shirt, hand out their bling, and talk to visitors about the value that they bring.

~Ellery

Learn the basics of a steering differential

If you have ever owned a matchbook car, you know that each pair of wheels are connected by an axle. In small toys, the axle is often a steel wire about the diameter of a paper clip.

But in a road car, connecting the wheels with a straight, rigid axle yields a terrible driving experience. Here is a fascinating video on the design and evolution of a steering differential. That’s the gear system that connects a drive shaft from the transmission to a split axle—allowing powered wheels to rotate at different speeds. This is necessary to accommodate turns and uneven terrain.

Without a differential, your tires won’t last long on dry pavement and they will wobble and feather during sharp turns. After all, the outside wheel is cornering a larger radius and so, it wants to turn at a higher speed.

With the exception of 3-wheelers, like the Polaris Slingshot) or the Campagna T-Rex (photo), differentials have been used on internal combustion autos, even in the 19th century. The mechanism was known to the ancient Greeks, and patented for use in steam-powered cars in 1827—long before gasoline engines. Even the Ford Model T had a differential gearbox. But not every 4-wheeled vehicle has a differential…

One Wheel and Rear-Wheel Drive

So, how do go karts, motorized toys and some very cheap cars deal with the need for opposing wheels to spin at different speeds? Answer: The engine is shunted to just one rear wheel, often using a chain drive. This leaves the other wheel free to spin at whatever speed is necessary. It also leaves the front wheels free to navigate turns without the complicated task of sending power through a steering linkage. Because the front wheels were not powered, they simply rotate freely on independent roller bearings at the end of a straight axle.

But one-wheel power lacks traction and skid control. And it becomes dangerous whenever one wheel has less grip on the terrain. That’s where a differential comes into play. Furthermore, rear-wheel drive tends to shove a vehicle into each bump and hill rather than pulling it up and over obstacles. In the past 40 years, most cars have been redesigned to power the front wheels rather than the rear wheels. This not only improves handling, it helps in snow and on uneven terrain.

Differential Design: Simple, elegant & efficient

This video was filmed in the 1937, as evidenced by a vintage, pre-war Chevy sedan. Although this educational film it was made more than 100 years after the differential was invented, I wonder how many additional innovations have been added since?

This video explains a differential. Set time to far left to add
3 minute preface explaining the problem with straight axles.

I’m not in the business of teaching auto mechanics. But if you have caught the bug, check out these additional drive train principles —

Disruption Experience Nails It

The Disruption Experience this Friday in Singapore is a blockchain event with a difference. With apologies to the Buick commercial, this is not your grandfather’s conference

I know a few things about blockchain conferences. I produced and hosted the first Bitcoin Event in New York. My organization develops cryptocurrency standards and practices. We help banks and governments create policy and services. And as public speaker for a standards organization, I have delivered keynote presentations at conferences and Expos in Dubai, Gujarat India, Montreal and Tampa, New York and Boston.

Many individuals don’t yet realize that both Bitcoin and the blockchain are as significant as the automobile, the transistor and the Internet. I was fortunate to grasp Bitcoin and the blockchain early in its history. It is never boring to help others understand the blockchain.

And so, I am an evangelist for both a radically improved monetary system and a transformative tool. During the past eight years, I have honed the skill of converting even the most profound skeptic. Give me 45 minutes in front of any audience—technical, skeptical or even without any prior knowledge—and I will win them over. It’s what I do.

An Atypical Conference Venue

As Bitcoin and altcoins begin the process of education, adoption and normalization, the big expos and conference events have begun to splinter and specialize. Today, most blockchain events market their venue to specific market sectors or interests:

For me, Smart Contracts are one of the most exciting and potentially explosive opportunities. As a groupie and cheerleader, I am not alone. Catering to the Smart Contract community is rapidly becoming a big business. Until this week, I thought it was the conference venue that yielded the biggest thrills. That is, until I learned about the Disruption Experience…

Few widely promoted, well-funded events address the 600 pound elephant in the room: What’s the real potential of blockchain trust, blockchain economy or blockchain AI? Take me beyond tokens and currency (please!). How can an international event help us to realize the potential of a radical new approach to accounting, trust and arbitration? Let’s stop arguing about Bitcoin, Ethereum or ICOs…

How can we unleash the gorilla—and grease—
a fundamental change that benefits mankind,
while providing leapfrog technologies for us?

—At least, that’s my spin on the potential of an unusually practical venue.

That question is slated to be answered on Friday at a big event in Singapore. And get this—It is modestly called a “Sneak Peak”. This is what I have been waiting for. The Disruption Experience premiers on September 28 at the V Hotel Lavender in Singapore. But don’t show up at the door. This event requires advance registration. (I do not offer a web link, because I hate being a conference huckster. If you plan to be in the area at the end of this week, then Google the event yourself).

What’s the big deal?

The Disruption Experience team is populated by blockchain developers, educators and trainers who take issue with existing events that focus on monetization. The purity of intention was overrun by greed. And so, they set out to form an event with a more altruistic purpose: Build technology, relationships, mechanisms and educational tools that better mankind. The focus at this event and the conferences that follow is to educate, expose and innovate. The focus is squarely on disruptive technology.

With their team of blockchain innovators focused on benefits and progress, I suspect that attendees will get what we have been searching for: Education, investment opportunities, an edge on new technologies and job opportunities.

Cusp of a Breakout Year

As an analogy, consider the race to understand Bitcoin and consider the engines & motors.

Bitcoin and the blockchain were introduced simultaneously in a 2009 whitepaper. It’s a bit like explaining the engine and the automobile together—for the very first time. One is a technology with a myriad of applications and the potential to drive innovation. The other is an app. Sure, it’s useful and important, but it’s just an app.

For 8 years, Bitcoin was a radical and contentious concept. Of course, there was the mystery of Satoshi and an effort to pinpoint his or her identity. And, a great debate raged about the legitimacy and value of decentralized, ethereal money. But, the interest was reflected primarily on the pages of Wired Magazine or at Geek-fests. Bitcoin was complex and costly to incorporate into everyday purchases and there were questions and gross misconceptions about hacking, regulation, taxes, criminal activity. The combined audience of adopters, academics, miners and geeks was limited.

That changed last year. With serious talk of exchange traded funds, a futures and derivatives market began to take shape. A critical operational bottleneck was addressed. Ultimately, 2017 was a breakout year for Bitcoin. You may not be using it today, but the smart money is betting that it will enhance your life tomorrow—at least behind the scenes.

Likewise, 2019 is likely to be the breakout year for blockchain applications, careers, products and—perhaps most importantly—public awareness, understanding and appreciation. Just as motors and engines are not limited to automobiles, the blockchain has far more potential than serving as an engine for decentralized cash. It is too important to be just a footnote to disruptive economics. It will disrupt everything. And we are the beneficiaries.

What is Interesting at The Disruption Experience?

The Friday event in Singapore covers many things. The presentations and tutorials that quicken my pulse relate to:

  • AI
  • Smart Contracts
  • Serious insight into blockchain mechanics, applications, adoption, scalability and politics
  • There’s even an exciting development in ICOs…

If you read my columns or follow my blog, then you know I am not keen on initial coin offerings (ICOs). That’s putting it mildly. They are almost all scams. But a rare exception is the Tempow ecosystem which encompasses three functional tokens. Stop by their exhibit and meet the officers of a sound economic mechanism that facilitates decentralized trading while overcoming the efficiency paradox.

What can I do at Disruption Experience?

The September 28 event is a preview for January’s Inaugural Event.

  • Listen and learn what Disruption is all about
  • Experience the first Virtual Reality Expo
  • Get to know the speakers and founders of Disruption
  • Hear about the Disruption Utility Token (DSRPT Token)
  • Meet the Disruption Team
  • See Disruption Expos

… and much, much more.

If you get to the big event, be sure to find the organizer and host, Coach Mark Davis. Tell him that I sent you. His passion and boundless enthusiasm for the blockchain and especially for transformative disruption is quite infectious.

Related reading:


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 and is a top Bitcoin writer at Quora. Book a presentation or consulting engagement. He is also an unpaid advisor to The Disruption Experience.

Drone Assassination Attempt Foreshadows Future Events

Until this past year, consumer drones carried tiny ultralight cameras, but they just didn’t have the energy or the reserve to carry much else. They certainly could not deliver much of a product or payload. They flew for  15 minutes, lacked the capacity to carry excess weight, and had short range.

But market demand sparks innovation. Amazon and Domino’s Pizza are experimenting with drone delivery. The improvements needed to serve these needs are quickly bubbling down to unlicensed weekend pilots. Hexacopters with 4K cameras, gimbals and retracting landing gear are available for under $400. Tiny foldable drones with 720p cameras are available for $35. Some models don’t even need a pilot on a joystick. You can preprogram the flight path to reach any target using GPS, or you can guide them by making gestures with your hand. The drone actually looks back over its shoulder and responds to your hand-waving commands.

Lance Ulanoff is a cartoonist and robotics fantech expert. But he shares a lot in common with Wild Ducks. He is an eclectic journalist and social media commentator.

This month he began publishing at Medium.com, and I’m glad he did! Lance has a knack for going beyond the Who, What, Why. Even in a short article, he explains the social implications. He provokes us to recognize why it matters.

Lance breaks down the recent attempt to assassinate Venezuela’s president with a drone delivered explosive and raises our social antennae. This news event ushers in a grim technology era. Ulanoff points out that in a short time, it has become inexpensive and fairly easy to send an explosive directly into a national monument like the Statue of Liberty.

Photos: Venezuela President, Nicolás Maduro, reacts to incoming drone. Although the assassination attempt failed, others on the ground were injured.

Uber & Lyft fight drivers over caps NYC

New York legislators are close to deciding an issue driven by Uber and Lyft drivers. They are demonstrating in the streets and demanding a cap on the number of authorized ride-share vehicles.

Mainstream media began covering this dust storm two weeks ago, but the pending decision is putting international attention on the issue of licensing a sector that was credited with eliminating nanny-state legislation. After all, licensing should be confined to the singular issues of transportation safety and not overall commerce.

A cap? What is a cap?! Does this mean that a person with a clean car, a good driving record and no criminal complaints will need a special license or medallion to participate in a ride sharing service? How ironic! Don’t glance in your rear-view mirror, because that is exactly what we used to grant taxi services until…Well, until sometime next year. It’s an old school, anti-free-market concept that we surmounted 10 years ago!

Legacy drivers claim that we need a cap of 80,000 entrepreneur-drivers, ostensibly for two reasons:

  1. They want economic protection. (Duhh!). Drivers who were early to the party are cruising the streets in cars that are empty 42% of the time. They are waiting for their next guest. This quite ironic, because these are the same drivers that disrupted the protections afforded to taxi companies.
  2. They claim that capping ride-share cars will reduce congestion on crowded Manhattan streets, along with pollution and commuter frustration.

But the ride share companies are not backing their drivers. They are lobbying anyone who will listen that we must avoid legislative restrictions.

A Wild Duck Opinion…

Uber and Lyft are absolutely right in championing the fight against a legislative cap and thereby removing free-market economics from the transportation sector. These drivers are owner-operators. There is already effective vetting of safety and criminal records. They are not employees of a municpal service. They are entrepreneurs exploiting a smart-phone app to sell their own services. It is no different than programmer who uses an app to write and distribute his own software.

Putting legislative caps on the number of participants in a new-era, free enterprise service, or limiting hours of operation is antithetical to a democratic and empowered free market constituency. It smacks of a Communist mind set. The armchair economics of protestors (drivers who feel threatened by newer drivers) and even well-researched data of credentialed economists) plays no role in an organic, facts-on-the ground growth industry.

I am not suggesting that an unlicensed or criminal driver should get away without vetting. But attempting to impose restrictions that are unrelated to health, safety or the environment will have unintended consequences, such as:

  • Underground apps that do the same thing with even less restrictions
  • Pushing innovation and profits off shore — or —
  • Ceding the market to foreign countries

Licensing has always been intended to serve the public good and not thwart innovation, growth and individual entrepreneurs. Unfortunately, it is often used to protect early entrepreneurs and exclude newcomers. That’s not how it should work—certainly not in a free country.

If you can’t take the heat of fair market competition, then innovate.

 

Online Privacy: Learn Tor, VPN, VeraCrypt, LasPass

I have a special request. Actually, this is a personal plea to my readers…

Next month, I host two evening privacy workshops near Boston. I could use a teaching assistant to run around and help newbies install software as I present to the class. But what I really need help with—is getting the word out. Please help…

This time, it’s not about Bitcoin or the blockchain. It’s about taking control of your online identity and browsing activities. It’s about privacy and anonymity. It’s about your communications, your personal data and your disk or cloud storage.

All that data belongs to you and not to your ISP, employer, a hacker, the government, or marketers. And it is surprisingly easy to cover your tracks. In fact, with the proper tools, taking control of your identity and privacy is safe, simple and transparent.

In just 3 hours, attendees will learn install and use TOR, VPN, VeraCrypt and LastPass. They will also get an excellent feel for the function and benefits of a virtual machine.

Anyone attending can choose either Aug 8 (Marlboro) or Aug 22 (Natick). Renting a presentation room in the Natick Library is expensive.

Please help me promote an effective and exciting evening of learning. Get the word out. Check out these announcements: [Sign-up page]   [Meetup page]

Bonus Points: Do you recognize the photo on the left? Be the first to leave a comment with the name of the plastic privacy bubble and the 1960s TV series that featured it. The winner gets two free passes to our privacy workshop that can be transferred to anyone.

Building a Bitcoin ATM is easy, but…

…But offering or operating them engulfs the assembler in a regulatory minefield! It might just be worth sticking to selling bitcoin on PayPal (visit this website for more information on that).

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 portable printer that can produce receipts with 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 makes all the difference in the world. And your ATM must interface with an exchange—yours or a 3rd party exchange.

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 client (a 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. It’s worth contacting estate planning lawyers austin to help you with these tasks (also, you should probably find one familiar with cryptocurrency). 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 CRYPSA, hosts the Bitcoin Event and presents at Crypto Conferences around the world. Book a presentation or consulting engagement.

Are Online File-Conversion Services Safe?

At Quora, I occasionally play, “Ask the expert”. Hundreds of my Quora answers are linked at the top right. Today, I was asked if it is safe to use free, online services that convert between file formats. For example, many web services allows you to upload a JPEG image and get back a PNG file. Others convert between DOC and PDF, or between popular video or audio formats.

Some of these services include additional processing. For example, stringing separate images together into a single animated GIF file—or rotating pages and adding a password within a PDF file. If you don’t have a locally installed program that does these things, is it safe to use these free, online services?

And what about apps that you download and install? These present separate risks. But, with a little common sense, you can figure out which ones you can trust…


The short answer: It depends on the file type. A JPEG file that is processed via an online service is safe. SVG is not.[1]

A More Complete Answer…

There are three factors that relate to the safety of free online file converters:

  1. Is the target file type passive? That is, is it a data-only file that you will open with your own application. But watch out! Most—but not all—media formats (files that store pictures, music or video), cannot contain malicious code, unless you are tricked into opening them with the wrong program. Most of these formats simply direct your application to present pictures to your screen or audio signals to the speakers, without launching other apps or executing code that reads or writes to your device. But there are exceptions. Some popular formats support scripts, which are a form of program instructions. And, rarely, you may even be susceptible to execution of a data only file.[1]

     

    Additionally, you might be fooled by a clever screen image that appears to be created by your browser or operating system. It’s just a picture, but it sure looks like a user window with instructions.

    In my opinion, JPEG files are safe (including .jpg and .jiff file extensions). So are bmp, gif, mp3, avi, and mp4 files. But svg, doc and pdf files are not necessarily safe! These file formats permit javascript or other code which can be activated when you attempt to open the file. Therefore, if you use a service to create SVG, DOC or these other file types, be sure that you use your own applications to open it, and that you have configured your application to restrict execution on files that are downloaded from the Internet.

  2. Is there anything sensitive in your source material? (i.e. is your file confidential or embarrassing?). If so, it will be in the hands of strangers for all time. Do not use an online service to convert or store the file, unless it is first encrypted on your own device.
  3. Is there possibility of misdirection or error during the process? That is, could you be tricked into uploading the wrong file or revealing more information than you intended? For example, with deceptive tactics, a web service might slip you a routine that fools with your file associations. Now, a file ending with .JPG is no longer interpreted as an image, but contains an active and malicious threat.

Most Important

Often, a web site will offer to speed up or aggregate downloads by directing you to install a “download manager” or accelerator. It might be an .exe (program file), javascript, browser plug-in or “assistant”. The web page will ask you to click past the UAC warning issued by your browser, antivirus software or OS. It goes something like this: “When you see this, click Yes, Approve or Execute”).

Don’t be fooled by this chicanery! Your browser is the only trusted way to download a data file. It has the most advanced and up-to-date tools to achieve this simple task. With few exceptions, download managers or installers that run outside of the normal process contain malware that threatens your data and your entire network.[2]

Disambiguation: That last warning is about apps installed on your device, rather than online services. But, how can a non-techie be secure in their decision to download or install an app? Here is way to think about your options and safety: The maker of your app should fall into one of these two categories:

  • The vendor has a lot to lose if they fail to fully vet the context and security of an executable. This is typically true of large, audited, publicly funded companies like Adobe, Amazon, Citrix or Google. (Being big does not inherently make them trustworthy, but it makes them careful to verify claims against internal practices).
  • —OR— The executable is offered via a reputable open source community with a broad base of technical and critical developers. It helps if developers are rewarded for finding and reporting bugs.

Online file conversion services fail these tests—But they are not locally installed apps. Remember, these last two tests are intended for apps that you plan to install, whereas online file-conversion services simply process data and return it to you. So to protect yourself from file-conversion programs that you download and install, you must ensure that they don’t install or interact with your other applications and data.

One way of ensuring this is to run in a sandbox or protected environment (as if you maintained a separate PC for use only with file conversions). The more practical way is to educate yourself on the vendor’s practices, reputation and history. A dedicated file conversion utility should interact only with files you select—and only to generate passive content that you open with your own applications.


[1] Even data-only files can be exploited. For example, malware can use a “buffer overrun” weakness to treat some of the music or photo data in your files as executable program code. But don’t worry. Although this might seem impossible to defend, such opportunistic exploits are unlikely if you have good antivirus protection, and if allow your trusted applications to update regularly.

[2] In very limited circumstances (i.e. adding an authorized music player that assists iTunes or Amazon) might be part of the providers ecosystem. But just as with any program that you obtain from a retailer, they should only be installed from rock-solid sources, such as the maker of your operating system or browser (Apple, Microsoft, Google) or from highly reputable, open-source projects.

Additional reading about SVG file format:

United Air: Public relations nightmare

Check out the last minute of this Jimmy Kimmel video. It is a spoofed TV commercial for United Airlines. Based on recent events, it seems pretty authentic. Kimmel’s monologue is pretty funny too!

I have heard from a few people who defend United—offering an explanation of overbooking policy—or the rude defiance of the Asian doctor that was dragged out of the plane bloodied and on his back (and apparently, with a broken jaw). But, no matter how you spin this, United was incredibly foolish to issue a patently offensive statement about how clients were unfortunately “reaccommodated”.
Yeah! I’ll agree that it was certainly unfortunate. But, I am not too sure about this being an example of airline accommodation. Check out the Twitter reaction.
Typically, these things blow over and the public searches for the next low fare—even if it is lower by only one dollar. But this time, I think that United may feel the pain. Their methods and the ensuing arrogance of CEO, Oscar Munoz, are tantamount to flipping a middle finger at paying passengers.
Good luck with that, United Airlines!

Blockchain can dramatically reduce pollution, traffic jams

The World Economic Forum has posted an article that hints at something that I have also suggested. (I am not taking credit. Others have suggested the idea too…But advancing tech and credible, continued visibility helps the idea to be taken seriously!)

I am not referring to purchasing and retiring carbon credits. I like that idea too. But here is an idea that can enable fleets of autonomous, shared, electric vehicles. Benefits to individuals and to society are numerous. And the blockchain makes it possible early in the next decade. It is not science fiction.

The future is just around the corner. Non-coin applications of the blockchain will support great things. Goodbye car ownership. Hello clean air! The future of personal transportation is closer than you think.

Read about it at the World Economic Forum.


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.

 

Getting your first Bitcoin; Choosing a wallet

There are at least four ways to acquire Bitcoin and three ways to store it…


Acquire Bitcoin: You can trade Bitcoin in person, accept it as a vendor, mine it, or buy on an exchange.

Store Bitcoin: You can keep your Bitcoin in an online/cloud service (typically, one that is connected to your exchange account), keep it on your own PC or phone, or even print it out and store it on a piece of paper. Like a physical coin, the piece of paper has value. It can be placed in your lock box or under your mattress.

Let’s look at the market for Bitcoin Wallets (all of these are free), and then we shall talk about Bitcoin exchange services. This includes my personal recommendation for the typical consumer or coin enthusiast…

1. Choosing a Wallet

You can start your search for a wallet on this page at Bitcoin.org. Use the drop down tabs to refine your search by platform: Mobile, Desktop, Hardware gadget or Web. Don’t overlook the web option. For many users, the wallet (and VAULT) included with an online exchange account is all you need.

Each wallet platform is further distinguished by operating system. For example, you can find a smartphone wallet for Android, Apple, Windows Mobile or Blackberry. Some popular apps are listed under more than one OS or platform.

When you click on any of the app logos, you will see a checklist of five key traits, according to reviewers at the Bitcoin Foundation:

  • Control over your money
  • Simplified validation
  • Basic transparency
  • Secure environment
  • Weak privacy

These are not necessarily critical traits/features. It depends on your needs and preferences. For example, everyone wants good privacy and security. But not everyone wants to control their private keys. That places the risk of loss, backup and/or the burden of inheritance issues on you, rather than a standardized recovery process. The feature comparison simply helps you to begin your own comparison and evaluation.

For Android users, my personal recommendation is Bitcoin Wallet by Andreas Schildbach (the logo is a tilted orange ‘B’). It is simple, secure, well maintained and very popular. (iPhone users: See my my suggestion in the recommendations, below).

2. Portable –vs– Online

Despite the simplicity and low cost of spending or sending Bitcoin between individuals and vendors, getting your first Bitcoin can be confusing, complex and even risky. For this reason, I suggest that Newbies open an account at a very established and trustworthy exchange.

In the near future, this will include most big banks. But for now, the safest and most reputable exchange is Coinbase in San Francisco. They are also the one with the highest level of regulatory compliance. Bitstamp of Slovenia and Great Britain is a close second. In my opinion, using either of these organizations as a currency exchange or a secure place to park your digital currency is a safe bet.

Both of these exchanges include a cloud wallet service that—when used properly—is safe and secure. But, because Bitcoin is still in its infancy, you will need to learn about sweeping funds into a ‘vault’ (to better protect against hacking) and you should also learn about portable backups and multi-sig (to protect your assets, in the event of forgetfulness, death or incapacitation).

With either type of wallet—device storage or online with an exchange—I recommend that you install and play with a portable wallet on your phone, just to get the hang of a few basic functions: Display wallet address for incoming money, Send money, Request money (i.e. send an invoice), and Pay with the QR-camera feature. All wallets serve these basic and critical needs.

Recommendations:

  • Coinbase is a most reputable exchange for buying/selling & storing Bitcoin
  • Bitcoin Wallet by Andreas Schildbach is an excellent choice for portable, secure storage. This app is available for Android phones only. Apple iPhone users may wish to try Bitcoin Wallet by Blockchain. I have not reviewed it. It has a slightly less friendly user interface but it is stable and very popular.

Related Reading:

Ellery Davies co-chairs Cryptocurrency Standards Association. He produces The Bitcoin Event, is board mem-
ber at Lifeboat Foundation and will deliver the Keynote Address at Digital Currency Summit in Johannesburg.

Is it Too Late to Get into Bitcoin and Blockchain?

At Quora, I occasionally play, “Ask the expert”. Several hundred of my Quora answers are linked at the top right. Today, I was asked “Is it too late to get into Bitcoin and the Blockchain”.

A few other Bitcoin enthusiasts interpreted the question to mean “Is it too late to invest in Bitcoin”. But, I took to to mean “Is it too late to develop the next big application—or create a successful startup?”. This is my answer. [co-published at Quora]…


The question is a lot like asking if it is too late to get into the television craze—back in the early 1930s. My dad played a small role in this saga. He was an apprentice to Vladamir Zworykin, inventor of the cathode ray tube oscilloscope. (From 1940 until the early 2000s, televisions and computer monitors were based on the oscilloscope). So—for me—there is fun in this very accurate analogy…

John Logie Baird demonstrated his crude mechanical Televisor in 1926. For the next 8 years, hobbyist TV sets were mechanical. Viewers peeked through slots on a spinning cylinder or at an image created from edge-lit spinning platters. The legendary Howdy Doody, Lucille Ball and Ed Sullivan were still decades away.

The Baird Televisor, c.1936

But the Televisor was not quite a TV. Like the oscilloscope and the zoetrope, it was a technology precursor. Philo T. Farnsworth is the Satoshi Nakamoto of television. He is credited with inventing TV [photo below]. Yet, he did not demonstrate the modern ‘cathode ray’ television until 1934.

Farnsworth demonstrates TV

The first broadcast by NBC was in July 1936, ten years years after the original Baird invention. (Compare this to Bitcoin and the blockchain, which are only 7 years old).

Most early TV set brands died during the first 10 years of production: Who recalls Dumont, Andrea and Cossor? Those pioneering brands are a faint footnote to history! Bear in mind that this was all before anyone had heard of Lucille Ball, The Tonight Show or the Honeymooners. In the late 1950s, Rod Serling formed Cayuga Productions to film the Twilight Zone in New York. Hollywood had few studios for dramatic television production, and the west coast lacked an infrastructure for weekly episode distribution.

Through the 1950s (25 years after TV was demonstrated), there was no DVR, DVD or even video tape. Viewers at home watched live broadcasts at the same time as the studio audience.

The short answer to your question: No! It’s not too late to get into Bitcoin and the blockchain. In fact, we are in the very early era. The ship is just pulling into the dock and seats are mostly empty. The big beneficiaries of blockchain technology (application, consulting, investing or savings) have not yet formed their first ventures. Many of the big players of tomorrow have not yet been born.

At this early stage, the only risk of missing the Bitcoin boat is to assume that it is a house of cards—or passing fad. It is not! It is more real than the California gold rush. But in this case, prospectors are subject to far less risk and chance.


Ellery Davies is co-chair of Cryptocurrency Standards Association. He is also a frequent contributor to Quora and editor at A Wild Duck.