This week in bitcoin: Bitcoin’s earliest adopter and pioneer Hal Finney dies at 58

Hal computer

This week’s bitcoin review looks back on Hal Finney’s contributions to bitcoin.

Hal Finney, 1956-2014

On Thursday, bitcoin lost one of its originals.

Hal Finney, age 58, died from complication from ALS, at a time when the disease is at its peak awareness thanks to the ice bucket challenges. A member of the “cypherpunks“, Finney was an ardent believer in cryptography, especially when it came to payment systems. While Satoshi Nakamoto is the famous name associated with inventing bitcoin, Finney was one of the first to download the bitcoin software, start mining and receive the first 10 bitcoin transferred through the network.

After being diagnosed with the ALS in 2009, the former marathon runner slowly become paralyzed as the disease ravaged his body. However, his mind remained sharp. Last March, Finney typed out a personal bio (using a professional eye tracker system) and posted it to the bitcoin talk forums. In it, he describes his role in the first days of bitcoin, something that may end up in history books one day.

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 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. After a few days, bitcoin was running pretty stably, so I left it running… 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.

Finney helped conversed with Nakamoto via email, thinking he was just “dealing with a young man of Japanese ancestry who was very smart and sincere.” Nakamoto’s identity to this day is unknown (despite Newsweek’s alleged outing of the creator as Dorian Nakamoto, who lives a few blocks away from Finney). Many have pinpointed Finney to be the mastermind of it all, although he has continually denied it, most recently to a Forbes reporter in an in-depth profile.

Hal Finney after his diagnosis. Photo from Fran Finney/WordPress

Hal Finney after his diagnosis. Photo from Fran Finney/WordPress

In 2009, he penned an essay called “Dying Outside” to describe his diagnosis and what it was like to hear it. Since then his wife, Fran Finney, had been taking care of him and blogging about it. On Tuesday, the pair flew to Scottsdale, Arizona where he was checked into the ICU of a hospital. Yesterday Finney died from complications of the disease and then was cryogenically frozen by Alcor.

Digital asset inheritance has been a political subject debated recently, with Delaware passing the first law on it. But it seems Finney has known what he was going to do with his remaining cryptocurrency since his 2013 post about his early days with bitcoin:

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. …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.

The market this week

It wasn’t quite the same roller coaster as last week, but bitcoin again saw fluctuations from a low of $497 on Saturday to a high of $521 this week. The price has been dropping slowly the past two days, but it is up .20 percent this morning to $508 at 10 a.m. PST.
Bitcoin price 0829
For background on why we’re using Coindesk’s Bitcoin Price Index, see the note at the bottom of the post. 

Here are some of the best reads from around the web this week:

  • Re/code’s Nellie Bowles visited Camp Bitcoin at Burning Man: “I walked to the village canteen and asked a man, who was stark-naked except for work gloves, where I could find the bitcoin camp. He laughed. ‘Oh, yeah, they have a trailer in the corner, and you’ll see them. Just some dudes sitting under a tarp.'”
  • A new peer-to-peer marketplace, OpenBazaar, told Wired that its Silk Road-esque, fed-proof marketplace is not for drugs. Instead, its creators view it as a more democratic Craigslist.
  • While widespread adoption may be a few years out, bitcoin acceptance by businesses is seeing a boom with companies like Expedia and Dell wanting to get in early on the action, according to Reuters.
  • Inside bitcoin’s Fort Knox: The Verge interviewed Wences Casares of Xapo about why he thinks bitcoin is going to change the world more than the internet did.

Bitcoin in 2014

The history of bitcoin’s price

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A note on our data: We use CoinDesk’s Bitcoin Price Index to obtain both a historical and current reflection of the Bitcoin market. The BPI is an average of the four Bitcoin exchanges which meet their criteria: Bitstamp, BTC-e, LakeBTC and Bitfinex. To see the criteria for inclusion or for price updates by the minute, visit CoinDesk. Since the market never closes, the “closing price” as noted in the graphics is based on end of day Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) or British Summer Time (BST). 

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