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Author Topic: Bitcoin and me (Hal Finney)  (Read 86012 times)
Hal
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March 19, 2013, 08:40:02 PM
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I thought I'd write about the last four years, an eventful time for Bitcoin and me.

For those who don't know me, I'm Hal Finney. I got my start in crypto working on an early version of PGP, working closely with Phil Zimmermann. When Phil decided to start PGP Corporation, I was one of the first hires. I would work on PGP until my retirement. At the same time, I got involved with the Cypherpunks. I ran the first cryptographically based anonymous remailer, among other activities.

Fast forward to late 2008 and the announcement of Bitcoin. I've noticed that cryptographic graybeards (I was in my mid 50's) tend to get cynical. I was more idealistic; I have always loved crypto, the mystery and the paradox of it.

When Satoshi announced Bitcoin on the cryptography mailing list, he got a skeptical reception at best. Cryptographers have seen too many grand schemes by clueless noobs. They tend to have a knee jerk reaction.

I was more positive. I had long been interested in cryptographic payment schemes. Plus I was lucky enough to meet and extensively correspond with both Wei Dai and Nick Szabo, generally acknowledged to have created ideas that would be realized with Bitcoin. I had made an attempt to create my own proof of work based currency, called RPOW. So I found Bitcoin facinating.

When Satoshi announced the first release of the software, I grabbed it right away. I think I was the first person besides Satoshi to run bitcoin. I mined block 70-something, and I was the recipient of the first bitcoin transaction, when Satoshi sent ten coins to me as a test. I carried on an email conversation with Satoshi over the next few days, mostly me reporting bugs and him fixing them.

Today, Satoshi's true identity has become a mystery. But at the time, I thought I was dealing with a young man of Japanese ancestry who was very smart and sincere. I've had the good fortune to know many brilliant people over the course of my life, so I recognize the signs.

After a few days, bitcoin was running pretty stably, so I left it running. Those were the days when difficulty was 1, and you could find blocks with a CPU, not even a GPU. I mined several blocks over the next days. But I turned it off because it made my computer run hot, and the fan noise bothered me. In retrospect, I wish I had kept it up longer, but on the other hand I was extraordinarily lucky to be there at the beginning. It's one of those glass half full half empty things.

The next I heard of Bitcoin was late 2010, when I was surprised to find that it was not only still going, bitcoins actually had monetary value. I dusted off my old wallet, and was relieved to discover that my bitcoins were still there. As the price climbed up to real money, I transferred the coins into an offline wallet, where hopefully they'll be worth something to my heirs.

Speaking of heirs, I got a surprise in 2009, when I was suddenly diagnosed with a fatal disease. I was in the best shape of my life at the start of that year, I'd lost a lot of weight and taken up distance running. I'd run several half marathons, and I was starting to train for a full marathon. I worked my way up to 20+ mile runs, and I thought I was all set. That's when everything went wrong.

My body began to fail. I slurred my speech, lost strength in my hands, and my legs were slow to recover. In August, 2009, I was given the diagnosis of ALS, also called Lou Gehrig's disease, after the famous baseball player who got it.

ALS is a disease that kills moter neurons, which carry signals from the brain to the muscles. It causes first weakness, then gradually increasing paralysis. It is usually fatal in 2 to 5 years. My symptoms were mild at first and I continued to work, but fatigue and voice problems forced me to retire in early 2011. Since then the disease has continued its inexorable progression.

Today, I am essentially paralyzed. I am fed through a tube, and my breathing is assisted through another tube. I operate the computer using a commercial eyetracker system. It also has a speech synthesizer, so this is my voice now. I spend all day in my power wheelchair. I worked up an interface using an arduino so that I can adjust my wheelchair's position using my eyes.

It has been an adjustment, but my life is not too bad. I can still read, listen to music, and watch TV and movies. I recently discovered that I can even write code. It's very slow, probably 50 times slower than I was before. But I still love programming and it gives me goals. Currently I'm working on something Mike Hearn suggested, using the security features of modern processors, designed to support "Trusted Computing", to harden Bitcoin wallets. It's almost ready to release. I just have to do the documentation.

And of course the price gyrations of bitcoins are entertaining to me. I have skin in the game. But I came by my bitcoins through luck, with little credit to me. I lived through the crash of 2011. So I've seen it before. Easy come, easy go.

That's my story. I'm pretty lucky overall. Even with the ALS, my life is very satisfying. But my life expectancy is limited. Those discussions about inheriting your bitcoins are of more than academic interest. My bitcoins are stored in our safe deposit box, and my son and daughter are tech savvy. I think they're safe enough. I'm comfortable with my legacy.
[edited slightly]

Hal Finney

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March 19, 2013, 08:49:23 PM
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very inspirational and you put things back into perspective.

i've enjoyed reading your posts from the early days and found them highly educational. 

thanks for your help in getting Bitcoin off the ground.
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March 19, 2013, 08:49:47 PM
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I was just browsing the forum when all of a sudden there's this impressive thread. Thanks for taking the time to write down your story, it's absolutely fascinating that you were there in the beginning.
Wishing you all the best and keep up your optimism!

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March 19, 2013, 08:54:25 PM
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Thank you, fine sir!

You are enjoying a fulfilling existence, despite the obstacles you've encountered. To that I say, "Congratulations!"
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March 19, 2013, 09:00:21 PM
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I just have to do the documentation.

I'm sure there are plenty of us who would like to contribute, if we can.
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March 19, 2013, 09:05:57 PM
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There is at least a small group of the technical crowd around here who has been aware of your challenges— your excellent lesswrong post has been circulated many times— and every time you post something it generates great excitement on IRC. Seeing you continue on with a productive life is an inspiration to everyone and, speaking for myself usually makes my own difficulties seem a bit more trivial and surmountable— doubly so considering that many of us found your work interesting before your troubles. (E.g. I corresponded with you about RPOW back in 2004.)

More selfishly, I believe having people contributing to the Bitcoin ecosystem from many perspectives is highly valuable— your I/O limitations are a burden no one would choose, but perhaps they give you useful perspectives that others are less likely to have. I'm grateful that you've chosen to continue to spend time in this area and I hope you'll continue to find it fulfilling.  When Pieter created a pull request with your ECDSA optimizations (work which he has since continued and achieved something like a 4x speedup over OpenSSL) I quipped that we were truly in the future: we have a decenteralized cryptocurrency, and one of its developers exists in brain-in-a-jar state.

After your bcflick post I ordered an extra TPM/XMHF capable system (don't want to risk bricking my laptop messing around with it)... I'm pretty excited by that work and eager to see where it goes.
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March 19, 2013, 09:16:09 PM
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You have singlehandedly elevated the level of discourse on these forums by several degrees... for that alone, you deserve our praise and thanks.
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March 19, 2013, 09:17:23 PM
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Hal Finney, I haven't heard about you before, since I've not been much into the crypto-world before bitcoin. But I read up on you online, and surely the work you've done is most impressive, and it's also impressive that despite the sickness you haven't given up. I am also happy to learn that you have your wife by your side that cares for you through these days.


Hal Finney supported by wife on his outside adventures.
Source: http://www.noozhawk.com/local_news/article/101710_hal_finney_als/




 I enjoyed reading your story, and it's part of bitcoin history now. Actually when I finished reading your message, I had tear in my eyes.

It's great that you still get out and about in your wheel-chair.

You've contributed more than many other men in their lifetime, and when your time comes, I'm sure your bitcoins will be put to good use, and who knows what price they'll be at. Thanks for writing, and not just fading away.

With high respect,
Herodes
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March 19, 2013, 09:20:48 PM
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You have singlehandedly elevated the level of discourse on these forums by several degrees... for that alone, you deserve our praise and thanks.

Here here, and hooray for that.

Hal. I am humbled.

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March 19, 2013, 09:26:07 PM
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Wow. As a physician, I am humbled by your adaptive capabilities. I think most of us, myself included, use much lamer excuses for not getting stuff done.

Thank you.

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March 19, 2013, 09:30:39 PM
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Thanks for taking the time to share your story. I'm impressed and inspired by your attitude in the face of adversity. I've been programming for 30 years and I hope I can continue as long as I am able. I have wondered before to what extreme efforts I would take to continue programming under conditions such as yours. I'm glad you are able to continue your love for programming. It makes me realize how much I take for granted.

In tribute to your dedication and contribution to bitcoin, I have decided that I will refresh and improve my articles on Satoshi Client Operation (currently pinned in the technical forum). (Although it may not be until summer when I have some time off). If you can continue to contribute in your circumstances, then I have no excuse for not doing the same.
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March 19, 2013, 09:35:27 PM
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Wow, incredible story. Thanks for sharing.

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March 19, 2013, 09:48:39 PM
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It's truly inspirational how you've faced such immense challenges without giving up. And it's always exciting to see that you've posted something here -- your projects are always very interesting!

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March 19, 2013, 09:49:46 PM
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Thanks for sharing your story. Your contribution is immortal. Kudos.

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March 19, 2013, 09:51:52 PM
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Thank you.

For all you've done in your life, and for putting it into perspective.

Dankedan: price seems low, time to sell I think...
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March 19, 2013, 10:00:28 PM
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The single most beautiful post ever made on this board, Hal.

You don't know me but I lurked the cypherpunk list way back when. You made more of an impact on my life, and that of many others, than you can probably comprehend. PGP changed everything and you helped. Bitcoin has changed everything and you helped. You even have a Bitcoin attack named after you.

Thanks for sharing what you know, Hal. You're showing us how to do it.

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March 19, 2013, 10:02:03 PM
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Wow. Bitcoin suddenly feels like what it was always supposed to be: the future.

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March 19, 2013, 10:06:31 PM
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Hal, thanks for sharing this with us, very touching.

Satoshi was (is) a pure genius. May we live by Satoshi's legacy.

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March 19, 2013, 10:28:31 PM
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Thank you for sharing your story here with us and thank you for all your contributions to Bitcoin. I am sure that once Bitcoin has changed the world, your name will remain a legend forever linked to it's dawn.

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March 19, 2013, 10:32:14 PM
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Without lowering the reverence of this thread I'd just like to say that Hal's avatar always reminds me of Pierce Brosnan.

Thanks for all the work you've put into making Bitcoin what it is.
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