Preview: Bitcoin Authenticator

My Apologies for the dearth of posts on this blog. It’s been quite a while and I see my traffic has dropped off a cliff. But I’ve been busy! I’ve spent the last couple months developing a two-factor authentication app for Bitcoin wallets called… Bitcoin Authenticator. I’m actually really excited with how this is turning out. Check out the preview video below!

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Feminist Brutalism

A couple weeks ago Jeff Tucker wrote a great (and controversial) article about Libertarian Brutalism. In architecture brutalism was:

An affectation, one that emerged from a theory robbed of context. It was a style adopted with conscious precision. It believed it was forcing us to look at unadorned realities, an apparatus barren of distractions, in order to make a didactic point.

Of course today brutalist buildings are nothing but eyesores.

In the same vein, libertarian brutalism:

Strips down the theory to its rawest and most fundamental parts and pushes the application of those parts to the foreground. It tests the limits of the idea by tossing out the finesse, the refinements, the grace, the decency, the accoutrements. It cares nothing for the larger cause of civility and the beauty of results. It is only interested in the pure functionality of the parts. It dares anyone to question the overall look and feel of the ideological apparatus, and shouts down people who do so as being insufficiently devoted to the core of the theory, which itself is asserted without context or regard for aesthetics.

We seen this is works like Defending the Undefendable. It’s sort of a celebration of the worst things one could do with their freedom.

I bring this up because I see a strong brustalist streak among modern feminists, especially in the libertarian movement.

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Beginners’ Guide To Off-the-Record Messaging

OTR

This is a sequel to my earlier post Beginners’ Guide to PGP which was the first in a series of posts aimed at introducing new bitcoiners to various encryption technologies. In this post we’re going to teach you how to use Off-the-Record messaging (OTR).

So what is OTR? Like PGP, it’s a cryptographic protocol designed to provide strong encryption of your communications. However, it shouldn’t be considered a competitor or replacement for PGP, more like a welcomed complement. Where PGP is often used to encrypt emails, files, and authenticate messages with digital signatures, OTR is an encryption protocol for real time chat. And unlike PGP, which can be a little daunting to learn and use securely, OTR is quite easy to setup and use and provides a pretty good user experience.

Under The Hood

Before showing you how to use it, let’s take a look under the hood. If you recall from the last post, PGP uses public-key cryptography. That is, one key (a public key) is used to encrypt a message and a separate key (the private key) is used to decrypt it.

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Some Thoughts On “Ban Bossy”

Watching this video really makes me feel sheltered. I almost never hear women called bossy. And I’ve never heard it used as a sexist/derogatory adjective for an ambitious woman.

There is no shortage of exposure to feminism in the libertarian movement. I have to admit that I often struggle to relate. Most of the time I just chalk it up to being a man. I think, “maybe being a man has insulated me from these issues”. So I usually don’t say anything and accept that the women are probably in a better position judge this stuff than me.

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This is What Most Likely Happened to MtGox

There has been a ton of speculation as to what happened in the catastrophic failure of MtGox. The only thing we know for sure is that it somehow “lost” upwards of 750,000 of customer BTC, valued around $450 million. A number of theories have been circulating on the internet. Here I’m going to talk about the one that seems the most plausible to me. H/t to /u/PuffyHerb on Reddit for most of this.

The theory is essentially that the U.S. Government seized MtGox’s cold storage wallet and Karpeles can’t disclose that information due to a gag order.

Before getting into that let’s recap the “official” story of what is believed to have happened.

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Arizona SB1062 and the Freedom of Association

There’s a big stink lately over a bill in Arizona that would allow businesses to discriminate against homosexuals. Many gay rights activists are comparing the legislation to the discrimination against African Americans throughout the civil rights era. The supporters on the Right are framing this as an issue of religious freedom. Indeed the proposed bill is an amendment to the existing “Religious Freedom Restoration Act”, and would allow business owners to deny service to gay and lesbian customers so long as the business owner was “acting solely on their religious beliefs.”

Now of course I’m not going to defend discrimination here. I personally wouldn’t patron a business that discriminates against customers on the basis of skin color, race, gender, sexual orientation, national original or what have you. Businesses that do so are rightfully condemned. But what always goes missing in these discussions is any acknowledgement of the freedom of association. This isn’t about religious liberty at all. In fact, religious liberty is just an outgrowth of the freedom of association. One either has the right to associate (or not associate) with whomever they want, or they don’t.

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Liberty Forum

Liberty Forum Recap

I got to spend the last few days with a bunch of great liberty loving anarchists at the 2014 NH Liberty Forum. There’s a lot I could write about, but here I’ll just provide a quick rundown of the highlights.

  1. There seems to be a concerted effort on the part of the liberty community to reach out to non-libertarian, yet libertarian leaning individuals, give them a warm welcome and try to draw them in. I have to say, I LOVE that strategy. Not only does it give us the potential to convert influential people to libertarianism, but short of that it builds strong alliances and good will. It’s much better than just speaking to the echo chamber. The keynote speakers were Naomi Wolf on Friday night and on Saturday night a panel including whistleblower Thomas Drake, attorney Jesselyn Radack, and Trevor Timm of the Freedom of the Press Foundation moderated by Devon Chaffee of the NH ACLU.
  2. I got to speak to Naomi Wolf about Bitcoin! She seemed fascinated with the idea and asked me a bunch of questions. I was gonna try to get her to set up a wallet and send her some bitcoins but I didn’t have the opportunity to speak with her again after that. Although Alyson from Blockchain also had a conversation with her about it. I’ll probably send her a follow up email.
  3. I met Ladar Levison from Lavabit ― the email provider that shut down rather than let the NSA spy on them. He provided us with an update on the Dark Mail protocol he’s working on with Silent Circle. I wrote more about this over at Bitcoin Not Bombs.
  4. The FSP community in Manchester has built a couple makeshift night clubs. Not the most impressive party spots but pretty cool nonetheless. They sort of have a speakeasy feel. Very nondescript exterior, you’d never know there’s an anarchist hangout on the inside. And paying for drinks with Bitcoin really added to the underground feel.
  5. I got to meet Kash Hill from Forbes. She’s the writer who lived entirely on Bitcoin for a week last year. She told me she’s going to do it again at the one year anniversary. Should be pretty cool to compare it to last year and see how adoption in San Francisco has progressed.

Overall the conference probably exceeded my expectations. I’m glad my snowboarding plans fell through so I had an opportunity to go. I definitely plan to return next year.

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Reinventing Email: Update on the Dark Mail Project

Dark Mail AllianceI just got back from the 2014 New Hampshire Liberty Forum where I got to attend a number of great talks on privacy and security. One of the cooler parts for me was meeting Ladar Levison. Even though he wasn’t a speaker, he still took time out to speak with a number of us. For those who don’t know who Ladar is, he’s the founder of Lavabit, Edward Snowden’s email provider.

Lavabit made national headlines last year when it became the first technology firm to completely shut down rather than allow the NSA to spy on its customers. At Liberty Forum Ladar provided a little more insight into what the NSA wanted. Basically, they wanted his SSL private key so they could perform a man-in-the-middle attack on his servers. All traffic to the server would be intercepted by the NSA, downloaded, then forwarded along to the destination (with the potential for the NSA to manipulate data in the process). Of course this wouldn’t have just affected Edward Snowden, but all of Lavabit’s customers. Lavabit offered to comply with the order by giving them special access just to Snowden’s emails, but naturally that wasn’t good enough for the NSA as they wanted to spy on everyone. So Ladar made the heroic decision to shut down rather than allow his customer’s rights to be violated.

Now you can pretty much guarantee that if the NSA was demanding MITM access to Lavabit, they basically have that access for nearly all other services.

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MtGox Problems and Transaction Malleability

mtgox-bitcoinWatching the drama surround MtGox in recent days has been like watching a slow motion train wreck. It’s put a lot of strain on the community and has been causing the Bitcoin price to tank. If you’re not up to date on this story, basically MtGox has been experiencing severe Bitcoin withdraw issues with numerous customers claiming they never received their bitcoins. Apparently upwards of $38 million worth of bitcoin withdrawals have gone unfulfilled causing MtGox to freeze withdrawals altogether.

You can add this to the long list of problems MtGox has had over the last couple years. A trading platform that couldn’t handle high volume trades, operating without a license in the US and having a large amount of customer funds stolen by the US government, USD withdrawals taking months to clear, and strong suspicion it’s operating on fractional reserves.

Now this morning MtGox comes out and announces its problems aren’t its fault, but rather a bug in Bitcoin itself! News of this potentially catastrophic bug has sent the markets into a tizzy.

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Bitcoin Explained Like You’re Five: Part 5 – Macroeconomics

Wrapping your head around Bitcoin can be a pretty monumental task. I’ve tried to simplify some of the technical aspects in the first four parts of this series. Often new Bitcoiners find themselves not only trying to learn some basic cryptography but also economics and monetary theory as well! Given the complexity of the subject and all the information (and disinformation) out there, it can be extremely difficult to find clarity. In this post I’m going to provide a brief introduction to macroeconomics as it relates to Bitcoin. Obviously, I can’t condense an entire textbook into a short blog post, so I’m going to make a lot of generalizations, but hopefully you’ll still come away with the main points.

Let me state up front that there isn’t anywhere close to a consensus among macro-economists as to what constitutes correct theory. Anyone who tries to convince you otherwise is being disingenuous. Most critics stress that widespread use of Bitcoin would certainly cause economic calamity. Maybe it will, maybe it wont, but it’s foolish to speak with such certainty when the economics is far from settled. I tend to believe that the critics are wrong, but I’ll at least give you a fair overview of both sides.

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