boutell: (shave)
OK, on a macro scale I'm not surprised at all, but on a micro scale I'm curious about the mechanics of this theft.

If I read this right, flexcoin's "hot wallet" just consisted of a big ol' pile of bitcoin that belonged, cryptographically speaking, to flexcoin itself. And a pile of user accounts, in a very conventional "this is a site with some accounts in a database" system, with balances. None of those people actually *had any bitcoins* in the sense that can be mathematically verified by a party outside flexcoin.

That enabled a pretty simple attack that worked because they were tracking their accounts with chewing gum and string - excuse me - using a database that wasn't transactional and couldn't guarantee that it wouldn't finish adding over here unless it also finished subtracting over here.

Am I right about that?

And why would anyone who thought bitcoin was worthwhile want to *not actually own* the bitcoins they "own", in the most cryptographically sound manner possible?

Could it be that *most people using bitcoin have zero comprehension of how it really works*? OK, yes, of course it's that.

But also, how crappy is my own crappy understanding of "owning bitcoins"? There is some sense in which the original miner signs them and stuff, right? And some sense in which if ownership is transferred, the new owner gets to sign them in that crazy "blockchain" thing? Except that doesn't happen in these "hot wallet" systems? Because... why???

Will bitcoin "exchanges" be replaced by a system in which the math of this craziness, however unproven, is at least applied to every transaction?
boutell: (shave)
At this point I'm no longer sure that Bitcoins are beanie babies. But the emerging alternatives to Bitcoin, like Litecoin, are definitely shitty knockoff beanie babies at the corner store. The whole point of Bitcoin is proven, permanent scarcity that means they could theoretically hold value. That only works once.

As for actual Bitcoins, they are now trading near the $1K mark, which is pretty jawdropping, and the price graph over the last couple years is remarkable. People are now selling dedicated mining rigs with custom chips ("ASICs") engineered solely for the purpose; it is no longer considered profitable to mine with an off the shelf PC, not even with software that takes advantage of the smarts in your graphics card.

There are now around 12 million bitcoins in circulation. At a valuation near $1k a pop, they are currently worth $12 billion. Of course, if everyone were to try to sell them tomorrow, they would be worth nothing tomorrow.

Am I going to start mining them? No. I do kinda wish I'd mined them three years ago, socked away 1K of them, and sold them off this summer. But only in the most cynical way, because I remain very skeptical that they will hold value. Sure, they are scarce, but only because people consent to view this particular algorithm as the magical one that "counts." It's not like gold, which has intrinsic value, or the dollar, which has... heh heh heh heh heh heh heh.
boutell: (Default)
"I don’t jive with the climate of blogging right now. When marketing moved in, I moved out. There’s been a shift in perception with the influx of money; smaller blogs get lost in the shuffle, and it’s a chorus of similar voices. What I loved about blogging was finding those marginal voices, connecting with people over this weird nerdy habit, pushing myself to be a better writer because so many others were already great. I don’t see a lot of that now – I don’t see writers writing for writing’s sake. That’s been replaced by twenty people talking about their awesome experience with Brand X paper towels because a company gave them a few bucks to do so. I tend towards the personal, the political and the analytical. Writing on my blog started to feel like screaming into a void, so I stopped."

- Danielle Henderson on why she gave up her blog, Knotty Yarn. Swiped from an interview in She Posts.

I recognize my own experience in this. The arrival of money, even a shitty trickle of it, really poisons an ecosystem based on joy and mutual amusement and mayyybe some tactful professional reputation-building.

I think it's possible for blogging (and tweeting, and increasingly, facebooking) to recover, just as open source recovered from the stock options given to people whose email addresses were found in code making up Red Hat Linux – an awesomely generous and savvy gesture that had the unfortunate side effect of making it hard to remember that in many cases we were in it for the fun of it, or because we believed in it, until the moment we either did or didn't get stock in some company. (*)

Eventually a new wave of enthusiasts will remind us that the Internet is fun, whether we're getting rich quick or not.

(*) I did manage to buy a small amount of Red Hat stock in that IPO.
boutell: (Default)
Hey guys,

I just did a forensic budget and while I was able to document the purpose of most of my spending, I'd like to try tracking all of it for at least a month. I just don't want to be driven insane by the process of doing so.

I could carry a little notebook, and in fact that's a leading candidate, because it's very convenient to input the data that way. However it's more tedious to do something with it afterwards, so if there's a great iPhone app I'd rather use that.

I'm thinking something that lets me add many expense categories and log amounts in a hurry, possibly with speedy ways to log $1 $2 $5 $10 $20, although I don't much mind putting in the exact amount.

Any suggestions?
boutell: (Default)
[ profile] solestria asks, "so what did you do last night?"

I picked up Eleanor from her after school activities a little early and brought her to the Rosin Box to purchase her first pair of jazz shoes. Eleanor already has ballet flats for her ballet class, but they are soft-soled, therefore not appropriate for her salsa class. According to the proprietor, the jazz shoes we purchased are Mike Andino's recommended practice shoe for salsa. and they are only $30. I could've purchased heels she'll outgrow in five minutes for $75, but I did not. I could have purchased an extremely handsome pair of English shoes for myself for $120, but I did not.

On the way east from there, we naturally passed Capogiro, and succumbed to the inevitable. O the pain. Half pumpkin, half dark chocolate for me. Eleanor had half chocolate, half vanilla. Total: $10.

We resumed our trek and soon passed Genji Sushi Express at 1720 Sansom Street. I'd already made dinner plans of my own with [ profile] nohx, but it was dinnertime for Eleanor, who promptly inhaled california and avocado rolls. I nibbled on edamame. $15.

We stumbled across an Obama volunteer office and picked up new buttons. Little 50-cent ones for both of us, and a $1 "Woman for Obama" pin for Eleanor.

There was no getting home without passing Borders! Restraint was shown: paperbacks only. Eleanor bought Flyte, the second book in the Septimus Heap series. I picked up Ilium, the first in a newer series by Dan Simmons, author of Hyperion. I recently reread part of the Hyperion series and was sad to finish Rise of Endymion. I... may have had something in my eye at the end. $12, all told. Eleanor also spent $6 of her own money on an Eleanor Roosevelt bookmark.

After dropping off Eleanor at her mother's I met [ profile] nohx for dinner at the Royal Tavern. It is good to have palz in one's own 'hood. I spent $10 (with tip) on the tempeh club sandwich, which is tasty. I avoided the temptation of more expensive fare... but mostly because the advertised pumpkin ale did not exist. Also, I am still a rueda newbie and I'm okay with that, but I don't like to screw up for reasons that are within my control. So drinking before class is not a great plan.

Around nine-thirty I hit rueda class at Estilo, which was even better than usual. The rueda actually flowed as it so rarely does when moves are being taught. $10 (which I forgot to pay... oops... I'll pay Saturday Mike!) I also met, or re-met, Julie of Salsa in the Suburbs, a great latin dance studio in Media, PA (suburban friends take note). This morning I sent her a login for the Salsadelphia back end; she's my guinea pig for Project Let Everybody List Their Own Stuff. I'm excited to see how it plays out.

Afterwards I felt pretty done in, but there's a new salsa night at Glam on 2nd street in Old City and I had to give it a shot, seeing as Joe Figueroa is involved. Also, I had the impression it was free.

So I went. And it was not free, it was $7. There were maybe twelve people in there, a good mix of men and women... all sitting down. That was a little odd, but I recognized some people so I made the decision to shell out a few bucks and head on in and scoop up a girl.

And boom: in this tiny little place, there were exactly enough men and women to go 'round; everyone could dance at least a little, some people could dance a whole lot better than me; everyone was incredibly nice. And we all rocked out until a little after midnight and decided to go home at pretty much the same time. Yes, separately.

A wonderful day. Also: a $96 day. This is why cash is never petty and it is why I don't indulge in "little, affordable" things every time I get the urge. It's also where all my damn money went in the nineties (well, the portion of it that isn't in my house). You gotta make choices. I don't regret indulging yesterday at all— I was overdue— but you can bet this is not how I roll on a daily basis.
boutell: (Default)
Here we go again: under Obama, Joe the Plumber (*) is going to pay a huge penalty for operating a successful business! Except he that he won't.

Obama wants to return the top tax brackets to where they were under Clinton. For individuals, the 33% bracket would become 36%. For couples, the 35% bracket would become 39.6%.

The lower of those two brackets kicks in when your income exceeds $195,851. And it kicks in on EVERY DOLLAR AFTER THAT.

If this guy is properly deducting his business expenses, he'll probably find his taxable income is lower than $195,850 anyway.

And if not— if his taxable income is really $250,000 a year— he'll pay no more in taxes on the first $195,850 of his income than anybody else. There is no mystical-magical "I earned one more dollar, now I owe $20,000! Obama hates babies" cutoff point. That is not how it works. Quit pretending otherwise or I will mock you soundly.

If he earns an extra $50,000, he'll pay an extra 3% of that extra $50,000. Which pencils out to $1,500.

If he has 800 dependents, his taxable income will be lower due to deductions. Etc.

Go play with the tax bracket calculator and you'll see what I'm sayin'.
boutell: (Default)

MSNBC's Rachel Maddow asks a guest expert, New York Times economist Paul Krugman, to "talk her down" from a high state of alarm about the economy. If you don't pay attention to one damn thing about economics or politics for the next month, at least watch this. Four minutes of your life that will definitely help you understand the seriousness of the current crisis.

Ganked from [ profile] rwx.
boutell: (Default)
In Europe, or more precisely the Euro Zone, inflation has hit 3.7%. While this is not terribly high compared to current American or Australian rates of inflation, Europeans are nevertheless concerned.

If I were them I'd be concerned too. High inflation was one thing back in the twenties, when a wheelbarrow-load of Deutschmarks would suffice to buy a loaf of bread. But today, Europe does not produce wheelbarrows domestically!

Fortunately, the increased value and fixed supply of wheelbarrows will soon lead to a swift resolution of Europe's inflationary crisis as the entire contintent switches over to a hard currency: the wheelbarrow itself. I look forward to seeing the Kaiser's face on the quarter-barrow note.
boutell: (Default)
A surprisingly difficult question:

How long until a check has irrevocably cleared?

Your bank might give you access to some of the money today and all of it tomorrow, but that doesn't mean that the check has really cleared. That money could come right back out of your account if the check-writer decides to put a stop payment order on it.

For how long is that true? When is it too late to put a stop order on a check? As the payee, how do you know when that threshold has been crossed? I've found conflicting information on that. Days? Weeks? A month? Who knows.

These are the reasons why I currently only accept wire transfers from parties I with whom I do not have a well-established relationship (unlike your mom).

They tend to hate this. In part because of the fees involved ($25 a pop).

Anyone knowledgeable on the subject?
boutell: (Default)
I've always been curious about hour-exchange systems. The basic ideas are:

1. Every "hour-dollar" is worth an hour of any participant's time. This is inevitably amended to allow for the fact that some professionals also require the time of assistants (i.e. dentists and doctors) and the fact that materials have to be paid for in U.S. dollars (a jeweler might accept a hour-dollar for his services, but you provide the supplies).

2. Even if all of the participants are flat broke in the U.S. dollar economy, nothing prevents them from printing up an initial supply of "hour-dollars" and sharing them out - the "hour-dollars" are backed by the participants' faith that other participants will accept them for some worthwhile service.

3. It's legal, to the best of my limited understanding. Legally you still need to pay U.S. dollar taxes on your hour-dollar income, based on a reasonable U.S. dollar equivalent.

At last night's derby bout, I noticed an invitation to join on the back of my ticket. appears to be an attempt to set up a national system. I love this stuff - I've participated in the past, and even set up an "hour exchange" on a chat server I used to run back in the day. So this afternoon I logged in to have a look around.

Unfortunately, so far there are no services of any sort on offer anywhere near Philadelphia. Also, attempts to view services by sub-category (for instance, "dance" rather than "music drama dance") produce unhappy-looking database error messages.

Has anyone else played with this site? Are there better implementations of the idea that I should be aware of? Does a national-scale hour-dollar system make any sense?

Incidentally the Philly Roller Girls are now using Brown Paper Tickets, "the first and only fair-trade ticketing service." Apparently they don't try to suck the lifeblood out of every team, band, act and venue they work with. So hooray for them. I'm guessing the invitation to join came about through them and not the rollergirls, but I could be mistaken.

There's a pretty good overview of the local currency movement on the timebucks site. is the web site for a famous and well-established system, worth checking out if you like this sort of thing. But there is drama: half of their home page is devoted to explaining that is not their home page and pleading with its webmaster, who no longer lives in Ithaca, to please go away and take his outdated website with him. That webmaster is Paul Glover, famous communitarian bigshot.

Yeah, people are a problem.
boutell: (Default)
Today a clearly confused person asked me where to find "web sites where I can post my loan request because I am in a bad debt."

While this person likely has issues I want no part of, and this isn't really what I do, I would like to point him to the British equivalent of the Consumer Credit Counseling Service here in the States. Unfortunately there are so very many bogus organizations that masquerade as CCCS (one appears first in Google, adds a final "S" to "Service" and is not a nonprofit organization; others are technically nonprofit but basically exist to fleece you).

For Americans, this article is sound advice on finding a legitimate credit counseling service. But for obvious reasons, I don't want to trust a search engine to give me the equivalent answer for Brits.

I'm considering at least a brief FAQ entry on this, in the spirit of can I get paid to take web surveys or read advertising emails. Because there really are people out there who think the web will magically make their financial problems go away. And the firm application of a clue-by-four is a mitzvah in these cases.

Any help from the folks across the pond? Thanks!

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