Bitcoin is less anonymous than cash

This article is written to address a peeve of mine/ I keep reading/hearing “bitcoin is anonymous” and warnings about how terrorists and drug dealers can use it for bad purposes. While this is true, they are far safer doing illegal activities with cash. If you are somehow unaware of Bitcoin, check out the wikipedia page for a good overview.

Bitcoin Summary

Basically, bitcoin is like PayPal except it uses its own currency (bitcoin) instead of U.S. dollars. You have to have internet access to transfer funds (just like you do with PayPal or a credit card). Without an internet connection, you cannot send or receive bitcoin. (Just like PayPal, and just like credit cards, though with credit cards a business could use a paper imprint of the card and run that through later, trusting the buyer. I am not sure if there is any way to do this offline with PayPal or bitcoin.)

Unlike PayPal, bitcoin is decentralized. If PayPal goes down, you can’t use PayPal. Bitcoin works like peer-to-peer file sharing services do. There is no master bitcoin server. Instead, thousands of bitcoin servers are running around the world, creating a vastly redundant network with no central point of failure.

Obtaining Bitcoin

You earn bitcoin just like you earn U.S. dollars — you can do work for someone who pays you in bitcoin, or, you can exchange/sell stuff for it, like how you might give someone a table for cash. In my case, a few years ago I gave some U.S. dollars to a company and they gave me some bitcoin for it.

But how does someone get bitcoin in the first place?

Creating Bitcoin

If you trace the U.S. dollar back far enough, you find it originated as paper notes representing some supply of precious metal (see the wikipedia entry on the U.S. silver certificates).  At some point, we unlinked our dollar from silver, and now paper is just a virtual currency, not really tied to anything. We accept the value because we can trade/exchange it for goods and services. Our banks don’t even have enough dollars to match what we have in our checking or savings accounts. See the wikipedia entry on fractional reserve banking.

Just like U.S. dollars originated from mining precious metals, bitcoin originated by virtual mining. Bitcoin is a mathematical creation, with a finite amount that can be created through some complex mathematical formula. In the early days, bitcoin miners ran software to decode/discover the bitcoin. They might then use it to buy a pizza (which may have been the very first bitcoin transaction for goods in 2010). And thus it begins.

Over the years, mining has become less and less popular. The fewer bitcoins there are to find, the harder and longer it takes to find them. Just like the gold rush, early miners found plenty, and those who showed up years later had to do much more digging.

At some point, the electricity cost to run the bitcoin mining computers is more than what the bitcoin is worth. But, just like gold, if the value of bitcoin goes up high enough, it might be worth mining it again. (It’s much like the oil industry. If gas goes to $4/gallon, suddenly it’s worth it to do more work on those old U.S. oil fields. When it’s $1/gallon, it’s cheaper to just import it.)

Bitcoin is NOT Anonymous

And now … the point of this article. Bitcoin is not an anonymous currency. Every bitcoin ever created is recorded in a ledger. This ledger (see the wikipedia entry on block chain database) is replicated on the thousands of systems running bitcoin software. Every transaction (sending or receiving bitcoin) is recorded in this ledger, thus every virtual penny of bitcoin is traceable.

Just like every U.S. dollar has a serial number on it, every bitcoin has a serial number. Just like with cash, you can spend a portion of a bitcoin — like giving a store $10 for an $8 item, and receiving $2 back in change. As bitcoins split up, new entries in the ledger are created. It is possible to track the movement of every piece of a bitcoin ever spent back to its original full bitcoin that was created through the mining process.

It would be as if every business wrote down the serial number of every cash bill they ever received and then shared this information with every other person who uses cash around the world. In the real world, this would be impossible, but in the digital world, the Internet and distributed computing makes it easy.

What this means is if you have ever been identified as owning a bitcoin (or portion of one), it would be possible to see where you spent it. Since the entire ledger is public, if the receiver of the bitcoin has ever been known, you could now trace the transactions and know that Bob just sent Dan $5 worth of bitcoin.

In order to stay anonymous, users can create disposable wallets for each transaction, and split up bitcoins in to many small pieces and exchange them through anonymizing services making it much harder to track down. Think of it as exchanging serial numbered U.S. dollars to un-serial numbered coins, then turning those coins back in to dollar bills later. (Except, in the case of bitcoin, every fractional penny of bitcoin is still tracked.)

Cash is More Anonymous than Bitcoin

Because of this, cash is far more anonymous than bitcoin. There is no master ledger for cash. There may be a record of where brand new bills are delivered, but once they leave the bank or ATM machine, they are out in the wild. Tracking bills can be done, of course:

…but it’s far from a complete record of every place those bills have been. I expect anyone using bills for illegal purposes probably didn’t take the time to log their bill’s serial numbers in a public database.

“Bitcoin is the new MP3”

MP3 files and peer-to-peer systems were initially associated with illegal music piracy. Today, many see bitcoin along the same lines. Yet, it’s no different than any other piece of technology. Cash can be used to buy a carton of milk, or a bag of illegal narcotics.

The convenience of being able to near-instantly transfer bitcoin anywhere in the world without government oversight is both a benefit and concern. It is a far superior way to move value around the world without anyone being able to stop you. Since cash is completely anonymous, you could buy bitcoin with cash and then move that bitcoin around in ways cash never could — something you could never do though a bank transfer. (You would have to physically smuggle out suitcases of cash to do the same thing with paper currency, and hope it doesn’t get stopped at the border during an inspection.)

Just be aware that somewhere in the ledger is a record of you transferring bitcoin for that carton of milk you just bought.

See Also

Bitcoin is being accepted by places like Dell, and ProXPN. Maybe you’ve heard of them. To them, it’s just another form of value — much like a company dealing with different world currencies.

It will be interesting to see how bitcoin evolves. Maybe it will be huge in the future, or disappear completely like so many other amazing technologies have.

Until then, I’m willing to do work for bitcoin so let me know if you ever need any custom Arduino programming or audio/video work done.

Drobo generation 2 verses Drobo generation 3

I have been working on a multi-part article about the Data Robotics Drobo storage device. It documents my experience moving from the 2nd generation model to the 3rd generation model.

You can find it over at my Mac-centric site, Appleause. Start here:

Carl England writes books, too?

I met Carl England at the very first Atlanta CoCoFest, I believe, back in 1990. If it wasn’t the 1990 one, it was certainly 1991. I have been a fan of his work ever since. His SuperBoot utility was on virtually every RS-DOS disk I owned that had stuff I wanted to run by typing “DOS”. He is also the guy that demonstrated a Tandy DMP105 printer with an add on that turned it in to a full page scanner. It’s a pity that never made it to market. It was way ahead of its time.

Today I found out Carl has also written a fiction book. He is looking for enouhg nominations on Amazon to get it published. If you don’t mind, take a look:


Chainless bicycles?

At another side-project site of mine I have been doing a multi-park review of a “chainless” bike. Instead of a chain, it uses a shaft. Instead of a derailleur, it uses an internal hub. The concept of a chainless bike is very, very old, but Dynamic Bicycles in Rhode Island has taken the idea and updated it with modern technology.

If you have any interest in biking tech, drop by and check out this review:

The Dynamic Bicycles Runabout 8 model is a hybrid bike (meaning it’s bigger/heavier than a street bike, but not quite a mountain bike). Getting rid of the chain solves a ton of problems/challenges with maintaining/tuning a traditional bike. Very cool.

YQ8008 bicycle LED light for $74.96 on e-Bay

  • 2015/8/25 – Added not about $36 YQ8007.
YQ8008 bicycle LED light (pic from e-Bay store), currently $75 on e-Bay.

YQ8008 bicycle LED light (pic from e-Bay store), currently $75 on e-Bay.

A relatively new e-Bay store, Newell Development, has a listing for the YQ8008 three-arm bicycle LED light for $74.96 with free shipping from China. This model typically sells for around $130, but many e-Bay stores have it for around $80 with a $20 shipping fee. This $74.96 price is the lowest I have found so far.

They list the item as “generic” but I wrote them to ask if it was a YQ8008 (they use all the same official photos) and they responded:

“…it is Original with 100 Modes Programmable DIY Bike Bicycle Wheel Spoke Light. And it is in stock.”

Although the XuanWheel has four arms (so it can display images at lower speeds), the YQ8008 has a higher LED count per arm and thus produces a higher resolution image. You can check my comparison chart to see more details.

I have also found the YQ8007 (two arms) for $40 with free shipping from I have received one to review. It shipped on 8/11 and was received in Iowa on 8/20, so just over a week — not bad. (As of this update, it is currently $36.)

See Also: XuanWheel for $79.

XuanWheel bicycle LED light for $79 on Amazon

  • 2015/8/14: Added note about e-Bay seller.
  • 2015/8/24: Added note that it now is shipped by Amazon, and qualifies for Amazon Prime shipping.
XuanWheel (pic from Amazon store).

XuanWheel (pic from Amazon store).

The XuanWheel (or is it Xuan Wheel?) just saw a $10 price drop. It is currently $79 at Amazon with shipping  from Amazon, so it qualifies for Amazon Prime. This model has four arms, and thus produces an image (or moving video) at lower speeds than the cheaper two arm models.

One of the two e-Bay sellers has them for $69 with free shipping (from China), currently.

See Also: There is also the YQ8008 (now found for $75 on e-Bay with free shipping) three arm unit which has a higher density of LEDs no each arm for higher resolution photos. XuanWheel is probably better at slower speeds, and YQ8008 probably has better images at higher speeds.

Bicycle wheel LED light displays

This page will serve as a resource for various persistence-of-vision bicycle wheel LED lights. There are simple ones that create patterns as the wheel spins, on up to fancy ones that can display full motion color video. If you know of any I have missed, please let me know and I will research them and add them.

  • 2015/8/12 – Added/cleaned up the descriptions a bit. According to a company representative, Yeuqi (YQ) means “riding with the moon”. They say: “Night ride more cool, more secure! This is yueqi!” :)
  • 2015/8/13 – Added Wheel Writer by Fuze.

Here is the initial work-in-progress comparison table. Many more details will be added, and updates will be noted at the top of this page.

Bicycle wheel LED lights

ModelSidesArmsLEDs per armLEDs totalColorsProgrammablePicturesLumensMin wheel sizeMax hub sizePowerModel
Monkey Light Pro2432256RGBBluetooth (Mac, iPhone, iPad)video250026"58mmMonkey Light Pro
Hokey Lights11-31616SingleText6Hokey Lights
Wheel Writer11-318?18?RedNo1220"3 AAAWheel Writer
YQ80032232128RGBUSB1830026"1 x 18650 rechargable (15-20 hours)YQ8003
YQ8005222496RGBSD card25 (or 13?)22020"1 x 18650 rechargable (15-20 hours)YQ8005
YQ8006222496RGBSD card100 + 50 frames of animationrechargeableYQ8006
YQ80072236144RGBSD card100 (still or animated)26"1 x 18650 rechargable (15-20 hours)YQ8007
YQ80082324216RGBSD card100 + video26"4cmrechargeableYQ8008
XuanWheel24241928 colorsBluetooth via Android 4.3+/iOS 7+ app26"40mmrechargeable (6-15 hours)XuanWheel
A listing of the various bicycle wheel LED lights and their features.

Here are more details about the various models listed in the table:


This was the first persistence-of-vision bike display I heard about. It is a project you can build yourself. Adafruit Industries sells kits, but I do not know if you can buy one already assembled. (Anyone know?)

Hokey Spokes

The Hokey Spokes Company in Gary, Indiana sells low cost pattern and text displays. It appears to be a very old unit with origins back around 2001 (they even had PalmOS software for it!). Multiple units can be installed and they will synchronize via infrared. Up to three can be installed on a wheel to allow a pattern to display at much lower speeds than using only one. Simple text messages can be entered.

Monkey Light Pro

Monkey Light Pro by Monkeylectric started out as a Kickstarter campaign where they raised  $220,293 of their $180,000 goal. They sell for $995 (!) so I will not be able to offer any kind of review. Overall, this one seems to be the best of them, but is it really $927 better is it versus a $73 XuanWheel?

Wheel Writer

The Fuze Wheel Writer 2.0 targets kids, is very similar to Hokey Spokes. It has a small row of red LEDs that can produce 12 patterns (some animated). There is an iPhone app that can be used to configure it, and it has the ability to have up to three units installed. It is one-sided, and is designed to be used only on the rear wheel. One unique feature is a speed display (based on you setting the size of the wheel) so you can show the world how fast you are peddling. Interesting and cheap from Wal-Mart and Amazon.

XuanWheel (aka, HaloWheel)

The HaloWheel product apparently launched as an IndieGogo campaign which ended, unsuccessfully, on July 4, 2015. It is unique because it uses four display arms instead of just two or three, allowing it to display an image while riding at lower speeds. It is programmed via Bluetooth over an iOS or Android app. It is currently sold as the XuanWheel (or is it Xuan Wheel?) by Chendian Intelligent Tehnology Co., Ltd. of West Hi-Techn Zone, Chengdu, China. (I wonder if they changed the name because there is a bike wheel company called Halo Wheels.)

Yueqi Colorful Wheel Lights

The Yueqi (“riding with the moon”) series of bicycle “colorful wheel lights” is from Shenzhen Zhongxingbang Electronic Technology Co. Ltd. in Longhua Dalang, Shenshen China. They currently list eight models (YQ8000X), with all but one being POV displays that create images as the wheel rotates. The YQ8009 model appears just just be a string of battery operated LEDs that can be used to decorate a bike. The models vary in size (number of LEDs), colors (single or multi), and programability (some have preset images, some allow uploading custom images, animations or even full video). The programmable ones are programmed via USB cable or memory card, depending on model. They are available from resellers on e-Bay,, and many other online stores. Most are shipped from China, and will take several weeks to arrive in the USA.

More on bike spoke light LED signs (POV)

  • 2004/8/09 – Adding link to Hokey Spokes.
  • 2014/8/10 – Adding link to manufacturer of YQ800X series products.

Last year, I posted an article discussing a cheap bike wheel LED display I picked up for $6 on e-Bay. Recently, I discovered many other ones seem much better. The cheap one I have has 32 blue LEDs, and is single sided, so you can only view it from on side of the bike. Since then, I have discovered full color versions with more LEDs and, most importantly, double-sided so they can be viewed on either side of the bike. Here is a rundown of my researc so far, mostly posted here so it can be indexed in Google, BING, etc. and maybe help others.

I will post links to the items available from Amazon (but NONE are actually sold BY Amazon, and most ship from China and take weeks to arrive). I have found hundreds of e-Bay stores selling them, too, often at far lower prices.

There is a company called ExcelVan that makes several, ranging from $20 to over $100.

The ones I have found so far include:

  1. YQ8003 – $45, double-sided, two arm, 128 LED, programmed via USB cable.
  2. YQ8005 – $26, double-sided, two-arm, 96 LED, maybe not programmable (25 included pictures).
  3. YQ8007 – $90 (but I found it for $40), double-sided, two-arm, 144 LED, programmable by SD memory card. This Amazon link is for a different brand name, so it is either a clone/bootleg or just another company selling the item under their name.
  4. YQ8008 – $150 (Amazon Prime), double-sided, three-arm, 216 LEDs, programmable by SD memory card. By having THREE arms, it can display the color picture at a slower speed.

Update: Since the original posting, I think I have located the manufacturer of these devices. They produce YQ8001 to YQ8009. Some use preset patterns, some are programmable (they call them “DIY”), and some can even do video. I will try to put a chart together as I learn more.

Here is the YQ8003 installation video:

By searching for the “YQxxxx” numbers, you can find them being sold all over e-Bay and other online places — most shipping from China. The prices vary greatly. GearBest has the YQ8007 (they claim) for $40.99 with free shipping, for example.

XuanWheel (pic from Amazon store).

XuanWheel (pic from Amazon store).

There is a difference in how they work, too. Some just display static photos, and some can display animation. But, the best one (maybe), is the XuanWheel.

I believe it started out as an IndieGogo campaign called HaloWheel, but since Halo Wheels is a name of a bike wheel brand, maybe that’s why they changed it to XuanWheel? It is a double-sided, four-armed one that is programmed via Bluetooth over an Android or iOS device. This HaloWheel (per IndiGogo name) or XuanWheel (per website) runs $89 on Amazon (there is a $5 discount code right now) with free shipping (from China, so it takes a month to reach the USA). I found similar devices on e-Bay for as low as $73 (they may be knockoffs or clones).

This one looks like it can synchronize both wheel displays (if you have two). I could not find ANY information on what size hub it would fit, so I asked on YouTube and they replied:

The diameter of the hub should not be larger than 3.8 centimeter

WARNING: Their iOS app is not in the App Store. Instead, you just go and download it direct from their website. Assuming you like to just download random apps from sites in China… Yes, just like Android, you can directly install iOS apps without going through the App Store. BUT, they are not supposed to do that. That is, I think, how developers allow beta testers to get access to their apps before they are done and submitted to Apple. They only get a limited number of installs this way, I believe, and they are not meant to be distributing software like this. At least the iOS device will warn you:

Currently not in the App Store, you have to take changes with a non-inspected app from a website in China. Scary!

Currently not in the App Store, you have to take changes with a non-inspected app from a website in China. Scary!

And lastly, there is even the Monkey Light Pro  by Monkeylectric that sells for $1000. It looks good, but not $1000 good!

More to come… I am hoping to have a review unit of one of these in a few weeks.

UPDATE: Commenter wb8nbs pointed me to Hokey Spokes, which at $20 16-LED spoke lights that can display preset patterns or simple one line text. The unique thing about them is you can use just one, or multiple. They sync to each other using infrared, and from the demo videos, it appears they all just do the same thing so all patterns look symmetrical (thus, any text would show the same in three places of the wheel when using three of these). Not color, but you can get them in different colors and create interesting rainbow effects. Not the most cost effective solution, but if you just want cool lights, one would be pretty cheap, and they ship from Indiana!


According to a bunch of tech news stories today (all echoing the same news from the same Symantec source), less than 50% of all e-mail is now spam. This is the lowest level of spam since September 2003.


Keep that in mind when you complain about junk mail that makes it to your inbox… You should be seeing every other message as junk mail. Sadly, spam filters are also filtering out mail you want on a regular basis. I routinely log in to my spam filters and every day there are a few e-mails I manually release so I can read them that would otherwise never make it to me.

E-mail is broken, but like a car that needs a tune-up, it at least gets us to work most of the time…