tlrobinson

by Tom Robinson

Hacker, Engineer, Entrepreneur. Founder of 280 North.

Read this first

Bitcoin is a Level of Indirection

There’s a classic computer science aphorism by David Wheeler that goes like this:

All problems in computer science can be solved by another level of indirection.

In computer science, “indirection is the ability to reference something using a name, reference, or container instead of the value itself”. “Pointers” are the classic example of indirection in programming. In a sense, Bitcoin is a new level of indirection for payments on the Internet.

Obviously we can’t send physical cash over the Internet, so if someone in Azerbaijan wants to send money to someone in Zimbabwe they each need to have accounts with institutions that have compatible systems, whether that’s PayPal, credit cards, ACH, or some form of wire transfer. Hopefully there is some overlap of these institutions serving their respective countries, otherwise they simply can’t transact.

Bitcoin is a better means of...

Continue reading →


GoxCoin Thought Experiment

After Mt. Gox halted withdrawals of both fiat currency and bitcoins the joke was they were an exchange for trading GoxCoins and GoxDollars. Here’s a crazy idea: Mt. Gox could create an actual “GoxCoin” (GOX) cryptocurrency/cryptoequity to attempt to make some sort of restitution to their customers.

Let me preface this by saying I am not generally a fan of “altcoins” that offer little or no technical advantages over Bitcoin. This is mostly a thought experiment. Also, I lost no money in Mt. Gox.

I’ve seen suggestions that the Bitcoin community could essentially bail out Mt. Gox by issuing replacement coins for the ones that were lost. If this were possible it would undermine one of the core principles of Bitcoin: the rules for issuing new coins have been set and can’t be broken or bent, not even just this once.

On the other hand, Mt. Gox is free to create their own cryptocurrency. That...

Continue reading →


That which does not kill Bitcoin makes Bitcoin stronger

The Mt. Gox situation finally came to a head last night with a mysterious “crisis strategy” document surfacing, a number of prominent exchanges and wallet services releasing a joint statement, and finally Mt. Gox halting trading and releasing a non-statement this morning.

Only Mt. Gox really knows the extent of their losses yet, but if the rumors are true, 744,408 bitcoins, representing 6% of all issued bitcoins, may have been stolen. This could have a significant impact on the adoption and regulation of Bitcoin. The “crisis strategy” document (of unknown authorship) states:

With Bitcoin/crypto just recently gaining acceptance in the public eye, the likely damage in public perception to this class of technology could put it back 5-10 years, and cause governments to react swiftly and harshly. At the risk of appearing hyperbolic, this could be the end of Bitcoin, at least for most of...

Continue reading →


The Internet of Internets

It’s currently fashionable to apply the “Internet of Things” to things other than “Things”, notably Bitcoin as the “Internet of Money” (also here).

While there’s an element of marketing-speak to this, I think it’s instructive to try to apply the idea of “Internet of [whatever]” retroactively. The internet originally was essentially the “Internet of Communication” (email) and “Internet of Information” (FTP, then HTTP). Advancements in technology enable new use-cases over time.

  • Internet of Commerce: mainstream adoption of the internet
  • Internet of Entertainment: broadband internet
  • Internet of Things: ubiquitous network-enabled electronics, with size and cost reductions driven by the smartphone revolution
  • Internet of Money: Bitcoin

A corollary to “Software is Eating the World” could be “The Internet is Eating the World”. Any technology that enables one of these new “Internets” should be...

Continue reading →


Bitcoin “Transaction Malleability” Explained Like You’re 5

Think of a Bitcoin transaction as a check.

Every check has the sender’s checking account number (input Bitcoins), the recipient’s name (output Bitcoin address), the amount, and a signature. If any of these are tampered with then attempting to redeem the check is illegal and will hopefully be rejected by the bank. With Bitcoin it’s always, 100%, guaranteed enforced by the software running the Bitcoin network. Nothing in Bitcoin is broken in this respect.

Now, there’s one other field on every check: the memo. For our purposes let’s assume it’s not illegal to tamper with the memo field (in reality it varies by jurisdiction). This is the “malleability” in question: until a transaction is included in the blockchain it’s possible to change the transaction hash by modifying minor parts of the transaction slightly while keeping the transaction valid.

Say a sender uses an identifier they wrote...

Continue reading →


Bitcoin is a Startup

Bitcoin has been called many flattering and less-than-flattering things; but to me, Bitcoin is essentially a startup – a wonderfully fascinating, exciting, crowdsourced, decentralized, risky startup.

Bitcoin’s developers and entrepreneurs are its founders, its users are its evangelists, and its exchange rate is its stock price. People invest their time and money into Bitcoin in the hopes of changing the world, or merely for financial gain. Bitcoin faces competition from existing banking systems and regulation from governments that would make most entrepreneurs curl up and cry.

Since there is a finite supply of bitcoins, the exchange rate is effectively its stock price. As demand increases due to more users or increased speculation, the price increases. If demand drops or a piece of discouraging news is released, the price drops. This isn’t necessarily a good thing. Imagine if every...

Continue reading →


Hello World

Welcome to my new blog! I hope to write more frequently than I have in the past, and about a wider variety of topics.

Programming, open source, technology, and entrepreneurship will be the focus, but I’ll throw some photography, 3D printing, electrical engineering, and various other adventures in from time to time.

That’s all for now.

Continue reading →