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. It causes first weakness, then gradually increasing paralysis. 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. I think I was the first person besides Satoshi to run bitcoin. I’d run several half marathons, and I was starting to train for a full marathon. But I turned it off because it made my computer run hot, and the fan noise bothered me. I operate the computer using a commercial eyetracker system. 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. I worked up an interface using an arduino so that I can adjust my wheelchair’s position using my eyes. I can still read, listen to music, and watch TV and movies. 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.
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. I carried on an email conversation with Satoshi over the next few days, mostly me reporting bugs and him fixing them. I’ve had the good fortune to know many brilliant people over the course of my life, so I recognize the signs. For those who don’t know me, I’m Hal Finney. In August, 2009, I was given the diagnosis of ALS, also called Lou Gehrig’s disease, after the famous baseball player who got it. But at the time, I thought I was dealing with a young man of Japanese ancestry who was very smart and sincere. At the same time, I got involved with the Cypherpunks. Speaking of heirs, I got a surprise in 2009, when I was suddenly diagnosed with a fatal disease. ALS is a disease that kills moter neurons, which carry signals from the brain to the muscles.
When Phil decided to start PGP Corporation, I was one of the first hires. I ran the first cryptographically based anonymous remailer, among other activities. When Satoshi announced the first release of the software, I grabbed it right away. When Satoshi announced Bitcoin on the cryptography mailing list, he got a skeptical reception at best. 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 got my start in crypto working on an early version of PGP, working closely with Phil Zimmermann. I think they’re safe enough. My bitcoins are stored in our safe deposit box, and my son and daughter are tech savvy. But I came by my bitcoins through luck, with little credit to me. I dusted off my old wallet, and was relieved to discover that my bitcoins were still there. But I still love programming and it gives me goals. I lived through the crash of 2011. So I’ve seen it before.
Cryptographers have seen too many grand schemes by clueless noobs. 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 thought I’d write about the last four years, an eventful time for Bitcoin and me. I thought I was all set. Today, Satoshi’s true identity has become a mystery. Today, I am essentially paralyzed. It also has a speech synthesizer, so this is my voice now. After a few days, bitcoin was running pretty stably, so I left it running. So I found Bitcoin facinating. Fast forward to late 2008 and the announcement of Bitcoin. Bitcoin differs from normal currency, like US dollar, in two important ways. I had made an attempt to create my own proof of work based currency, called RPOW. I would work on PGP until my retirement. It’s one of those glass half full half empty things. Even with the ALS, my life is very satisfying. I recently discovered that I can even write code. While you also have currency notes and coins for various denominations of the US dollar, bitcoins can be stored, traded and used only online.