April 4, 2014

Embedding Posts from Bitcoin Megaphone

I just added a cool new feature to Bitcoin Megaphone. Now, each post’s permalink has an “embed” button, which lets you embed that post anywhere on the web.

This opens up the content to anyone who wants to categorize it or share it in new and creative ways. Enjoy!

While we’re on the topic, here are some of my favorite posts so far.

March 19, 2014

Bitcoin Megaphone

Last week I had a crazy idea for a website. This week I’m proud to announce BitcoinMegaphone.com. Let me explain the idea and why I’m so excited about it.

The website is based on two basic rules: Anyone can post, and anyone can profit.

Rule 1: Anyone can post

In this regard it’s like Twitter, but instead of being limited to 140 characters, you’re charged per character. So the only limit to the size of a post is the size of your wallet.

If you wanted to post a message the length of a tweet (140 characters), it would cost around $0.08 (based on the current Bitcoin/USD exchange). Posting just a bit.ly URL costs around a penny. If you want to stand out and post a chunk of text, the price (along with the post’s visibility) goes up.

So that’s the first part of the website. It’s got kind of a “Million Dollar Homepage” vibe to it. Ok, so far so good.

Rule 2: Anyone can profit

This is where things get interesting.

Every time someone creates a post, a “virtual tipjar” is automatically generated for that post. Each post has its own unique tip jar, and it’s baked right into each post’s URL. And here’s the kicker – only the original creator of the post is given the keys to the tip jar. This is possible thanks to the ingenious system of public/private key generation that’s a part of the Bitcoin system. So any time you see a post on Bitcoin Megaphone, you can send money to it and the author gets 100%.

This lets people get a return on their investment, and offers incentive to post and share funny, engaging, or timely content. Getting social currency in actual money is much more enticing than the meaningless Retweets and Likes we’re all so obsessed with.

There’s already a post that cost $15 where someone jokingly referenced the infamous Nigerian Prince scam email. It hasn’t gotten any tips yet, but I applaud the author’s balls:
http://bitcoinmegaphone.com/1FMiqFSdHwAZF9SKi8DVLUGfghEeAyWwSZ/

On the opposite end of the spectrum, here’s a post where the author only spent $0.08, but has already made $0.40 in tips, making about 4x his/her investment. (It’s a cute emoticon, by the way):
http://bitcoinmegaphone.com/14XMmrqXiUcpPHySzj4SXSPyxLPiVVgoiX/

Why I’m Stoked

Before Bitcoin, it would have been impossible to create a website like this. There are no credit cards to hook up, no user accounts to create and spam with marketing emails; no annoying ads that disrupt the experience of exploration and discovery; no annoying comments to moderate. It’s just content and micropayments.

There are a lot of smart and talented people looking at micropayments as the future of online publishing. Personally, I have no idea how things will shake out, but I’m excited to keep watching this living breathing ecosystem evolve.

In Summary

Right now on the internet, text is a commodity (think of those walls of text on your crazy friend’s Facebook page). Bitcoin Megaphone transforms strings of text from a commodity to a unique store of value. And that’s some pretty interesting shit.

PS – I was considering posting this entire post on Bitcoin Megaphone for $21.30, but decided it would be weird on launch day :-p

March 13, 2014

Getting to know Bitcoin

I just dropped some serious Bitcoin blog action. My goal was to write the missing manual I would have liked when researching Bitcoin myself. It's in no way comprehensive, but if you're curious about Bitcoin but overwhelmed by its huge barrier to entry, you might find this useful.

The main topics I cover are:
- Getting started with Bitcoin
- Using the Electrum Bitcoin wallet
- Creating a Bitcoin paper wallet for cold/offline storage
- Importing Bitcoin from a paper wallet into Electrum

Hopefully you’ll become more fluent in Bitcoin, and get one step closer to becoming the nerd you were born to be.

And while you’re at it, why not consider throwing me a tip? My address is 1NbjcmjS9DF1Ebp8CBAPdVU1Foqtp5r1BV and I think you’re cool.

March 12, 2014

Importing Bitcoin from a paper wallet into Electrum

Sending money to a paper wallet is the easy part. Getting it out is a little more complicated. So here’s a step-by-step guide.

Below is a paper wallet containing 0.36477 BTC (at the time of this writing). The paper wallet was made with bitaddress.org, using BIP38 encryption for the private key. (To see more about creating paper wallets, read my previous post called "Creating a Bitcoin paper wallet for cold storage.")

paper-wallet

I'm confidant the paper wallet contains the funds because I pasted that 12WwoV… address into blockchain.info, and can see the "Final Balance" – see below.

blockchain-dot-info

The overall process is to import the private key into Electrum, then send the complete contents of the paper wallet to another address in my wallet. This is super important: Any time you take funds from a paper wallet, you have to take out all the money. The reason has to do with change addresses and you can read more about it here. The bottom line, remove everything from a paper wallet when you want to retrieve its funds.

Decrypt the Private Key

Before I import my private key into Electrum, I need to decrypt it. For this, I use bit2factor.org. (If you're paranoid you can run it from a local copy you can download from its GitHub page.) Enter your BIP38 Passphrase (the one you used when creating the paper wallet with bitaddress.org) and paste your encrypted private key, then press the blue button.

bit2factor

If your passphrase is correct, the Address and Private Key fields will automatically get filled in. Notice that 12WwoV… address? That's the same address as the paper wallet – and it was able to figure that out from only the passphrase and encrypted private key. Cool! Copy the private key to your clipboard and go to Electrum.

Import Private Key into Electrum

electrum-empty

In the screenshot above, notice how my balance is still 0 BTC. That's going to change when you import your private key and the paper wallet's funds get associated with your wallet.

Go to Wallet > Private keys > Import and click Yes on the message below.

electrum-imported-keys-not-recoverable

Paste your private key into the field and press Import.

electrum-import-private-key

electrum-imported-key

Nice! Now you can see in the screenshot above that the 12WwoV address is now in my Electrum wallet in a newly-created "Imported" section, and my bitcoin balance is now 0.36477. That's another cool thing about private keys; they contain the public key embedded within them. Ain't math cool?

Transfer the funds

Now here's something important to remember. Even though I control the addresses's private key and hence the full balance of the paper wallet, that doesn't mean it's "mine" yet. (In fact, if I visited blockchain.info and searched for the 12WwoV address, nothing will have looked different from the screenshot at the top of this article.) Your goal now is to transfer the funds to one of your Electrum wallet addresses so that it's actually "yours". Also, since you'll be transferring it to one of your Electrum addresses, it will be recoverable using your wallet generation seed. Sweet.

So first, control-click on one of your Electrum receiving addresses to copy it to your clipboard.

electrum-copy-to-clipboard

Then right-click on the imported address and choose "Send From."

electrum-send-from

Now, paste your receiving address in the "Pay to" field, and enter a description.

electrum-send

For the Amount, enter the entire contents of the paper wallet, minus a .0002 BTC transaction fee. You have to manually do this math, which is a little annoying.

electrum-send-amount

Press Send, and you're all set! Now when you click on the Receive tab in Electrum, you'll see the full balance in your address, minus the .0002 mining fee.

electrum-imported

So that's my process. There's plenty of room for improvement in terms of security (such as using Armory to sign transactions with a dedicated offline computer), but this works for me and is relatively secure assuming someone isn't hacked into my computer. (Wouldn't that be fucked up, by the way?)

Creating a bitcoin paper wallet for cold storage

Using Electrum and other Bitcoin wallets is pretty safe (assuming your computer isn't hacked). But if you're serious about security or want to keep some funds portable, you can use a "paper wallet." The security benefit here is that your private key isn't connected to the internet, so no hacker can get to it. When a private key is stored offline (either on paper or in a non-connected computer), it's considered "cold storage."

A paper wallet is just a public and private key printed out. That's it. All those companies that offer you pretty green fancy-looking paper wallets with holograms are silly – all you need is the public and private key. (It's best practice to encrypt your private key as an added layer of security. We'll get to this below, so be patient. Jeez, why are you so pushy?)

The cool thing is that you don't need to be online to generate a public and private key. In fact, doing it offline is the safest way to generate your keys and be sure nobody's snooping on you. This brings us to an amazing little tool called bitaddress.org. You can actually download the entire site as a single .html file, which you can run in a web browser while disconnected from the web. To download it, visit bitaddress.org, click the GitHub link on the bottom, and click the "Download ZIP" button on the bottom right.

bitaddress-github

As a sidenote, you should be skeptical about trusting the author of this tool (or any tool that generates keys for you), since the author could theoretically generate tainted public/private key pairs they could steal from you in the future. I researched this tool a lot, and apparently enough security people have examined the code and nothing looks nefarious. Also, I found the original thread where the developers are talking about it here . Pretty cool.

Ok, so once you've downloaded the bitaddress html file, open it in a browser. You'll see you have to move your mouse around to generate true random numbers. This is pretty badass.

bitaddress-random

After you've moved your cursor around like an idiot for a few moments, the page will load. Click on "Paper Wallet."

bitaddress-paper-wallet

By default, you see those stupid-looking faux-currency bills. Fuck that. They take up too much space on your printout and are a distraction. Select "Hide Art" and generate 7 Addresses using BIP38 encryption, like this:

bitaddress-bip38

Then, in addition to printing this page, I like to make a PDF and keep it handy. Since I'm still learning/practicing with Bitcoin, it's much easier to copy/paste the addresses from a PDF than it is to scan the QR code and email it to myself.

So now you're free to send BTC to any of the newly-created Bitcoin addresses in the left-hand column. And you can monitor the Address's balance by searching for it on blockchain.info.

To learn how to retrieve the funds in a paper wallet, check out my next post appropriately called "Importing Bitcoin from a paper wallet into Electrum."

Using the Electrum Bitcoin wallet

Ok, so at this point you probably have an account at Coinbase or LocalBitcoins.com. Cool. Maybe you even have some money in there. Even cooler. Now it’s time to pick some wallet software.

Choosing a Bitcoin wallet

There are a few reputable software wallets out there, but I settled on Electrum for the Mac. It's not particularly intuitive or amazing, but enough people in the forums were using it, so I thought what the hell.

(I've also heard good things about Armory, which is constantly raising the bar in terms of security. I heard a podcast with Armory's inventor and he seems like a real honest security buff. There's also Multibit, which I've tried, but the interface seemed a little too complicated for me as a beginner.)

So the overall concept is that you keep your wallet on your computer so that your private keys are safe on your hard drive and not "in the cloooooud" somewhere.

Now of course, you could still be shit out of luck if a) your computer crashes, or b) your computer is hacked. So as a best practice you should create encrypted backups of your wallet and store them somewhere off your computer (this is easily Googleable so I'll leave that in your capable hands). You should also be familiar with creating an offline wallet or paper wallet, which is known as "cold storage." (I’ll get to that in my next post.)

Setting up the Electrum wallet software

So, back to using Electrum. When you launch it, you’ll want to “Create a new wallet.” Then it’ll present you with a bunch of random words.

electrum-seed

This is your “seed” and you can use it to recover your wallet if it becomes lost or damaged. The math that’s doing this behind the scenes is nuts.

electrum-wallet-password

You’ll then be asked to create a password for your wallet. This is to prevent someone with access to your computer from taking your wallet file and stealing your keys. You can leave it blank if you just want to get started. (But don’t forget to add a password if/when you start accumulating some serious money.)

electrum-auto-connect

All this flew over my head, so I just left the default “Auto connect” checked.

electrum-blank-history

Ok! So above you can see your empty Electrum wallet. The default “History” view isn’t particularly helpful, so click over to the “Receive” tab.

electrum-blank-copy

Here, you’ll see a list of addresses. These are yours, so you can start sending money to any of these. Just right-click and choose “Copy to clipboard” to make it easier.

Getting money into your wallet

This is actually pretty easy. Coinbase and LocalBitcoins both have online wallets where it’s easy to send money from. Just use any of your Electrum addresses as the “to” address and you’re all set.

So that’s it. The more you play with sending and receiving money from Electrum, the more familiar you’ll get.

In my next post, I’m going to show you how to make a paper wallet for cold storage.

Getting started with Bitcoin

Getting started with Bitcoin is a huge pain in the ass. There's so much information out there it's hard to know what's trustworthy and what's a scam. And there are lots of scams.

But I was determined to figure this thing out, so I rolled up my sleeves and spent the last 2 weeks researching Bitcoin, mostly on reddit.com/r/bitcoin and bitcointalk.org.

So here's some information on getting and using Bitcoin. By the way, it goes without saying, but please proceed carefully. I can't guarantee my techniques are 100% foolproof (although they've been working fine for me), so I don't want to be blamed if you lose money. Ok, now that I've covered my ass let's proceed.

Buying Bitcoins

In terms of purchasing Bitcoins with US dollars, Coinbase is the best option. At first I felt a little uncomfortable hooking up my bank account info, but the more I read about Coinbase and its staff the better I felt. There's a lot of venture capital invested in this company and they intend to grow exponentially, so they're doing everything right.

The only downside to Coinbase is it takes about a week for your purchased Bitcoins to show up in your account. (From what I understand, this is because they follow banking regulations and only keep enough cash and Bitcoins on hand to cover all their customers – in other words, to guarantee they can never be insolvent.)

Then there's LocalBitcoins.com, where you can get Bitcoins right away. Honestly, this website scares the crap out of me. The idea of meeting total strangers and exchanging envelopes full of cash sounds absolutely horrifying. Luckily, I found a way to use the site that I'm comfortable with, and is decidedly less sketchy.

First, find a seller with a perfect rating (ie, 100+ transactions and 100% positive feedback. Just like eBay.) Then make sure the payment method is "Cash deposit" in a major bank with a location close to you. When you initiate a transaction with the seller, the seller places your bitcoins in escrow and provides you with a bank account number. Then you head to the bank and make a cash deposit into that account with a teller. You'll get a receipt, which you then photograph and upload to LocalBitcoins as proof you deposited the money. Then the seller releases the Bitcoins from escrow, and the funds show up in your account. Nice.

Securing Your Bitcoins

You've probably heard of the concept of a "Bitcoin Wallet." A wallet is just a collection of bitcoin addresses and the secret keys that enable you to send from those addresses. Sites like Coinbase and Localbitcoins automatically create wallets for you when you sign up, and they're pretty easy to use since everything happens behind the scenes.

But if you're paranoid about security (or to put it another way, smart), you shouldn't keep large amounts of money in those online wallets because you're not in control of them. If those sites have a security breach or shut down, you're shit out of luck (like the people who had money at Mt Gox).

So to secure your Bitcoins you need to take matters into your own hands and download some wallet software for your computer.

To learn more about using and transferring money into a Bitcoin wallet on your computer, check out my next article, Using the Electrum Bitcoin wallet.

March 6, 2014

Is that a MacBook charger on the top of the World Trade Center?

While browsing the fantastic GigaPan image in Time.com’s amazing story about the new World Trade Center, I zoomed into the junk at the top of the spire and discovered what looks like a MacBook charger! Maybe they’re using some Apple hardware to control the lights? Or maybe it’s just a similar looking cable… Can anyone confirm this?

Here are some screenshots, followed by what the actual charger looks like.

mac-charger-wtc-1

mac-charger-wtc-2

mac-charger-wtc-3

mac-charger-wtc-4

HT1630_11

March 1, 2014

How Bitcoin Works Under the Hood

I’ve been fascinated with bitcoin lately, and this video is the best overview I’ve seen yet. Fascinating stuff.

February 20, 2014

The Cool To Do Drugs Pencil

This is an old story, but it still cracks me up. A classic tale of fail.

DSC_4961_1500-640x424