Cryptocurrency and irreversible transactions

There’s a current news story about a wallet blunder freezing up $280,000,000 of Ether, a cryptocurrency. I try to avoid posting too much opinion on my blog, but I do have a view on this.


A cryptocurrency like Bitcoin or Ether is based on the idea of unbreakable contracts and irreversible transactions. This is great in many contexts, but somewhat scary to me as consumer should I ever choose to pay for something using a cryptocurrency.

If you want to know more about cryptocurrency and Blockchain, you should check out the Blockchain Essentials course on Cognitive Class.

Mostly Harmless

I think this Douglas Adams parable about the design problem of un-openable windows applies to many things in tech, including cryptocurrency:

…all the windows in the buildings were built sealed shut. This is true.

While the systems were being installed, a number of people who were going to work in the buildings found themselves having conversations with Breathe-o-Smart systems fitters which went something like this:

“But what if we want to have the windows open?”

“You won’t want to have the windows open with new Breathe-o-Smart.”

“Yes but supposing we just wanted to have them open for a little bit?”

“You won’t want to have them open even for a little bit. The new Breathe-o-Smart system will see to that.”


“Enjoy Breathe-o-Smart!”

“OK, so what if the Breathe-o-Smart breaks down or goes wrong or something?”

“Ah! One of the smartest features of the Breathe-o-Smart is that it cannot possibly go wrong. So. No worries on that score. Enjoy your breathing now, and have a nice day.”

It was, of course, as a result of the Great Ventilation and Telephone Riots of SrDt 3454, that all mechanical or electrical or quantum-mechanical or hydraulic or even wind, steam or piston-driven devices, are now requited to have a certain legend emblazoned on them somewhere. It doesn’t matter how small the object is, the designers of the object have got to find a way of squeezing the legend in somewhere, because it is their attention which is being drawn to it rather than necessarily that of the user’s.

The legend is this:

“The major difference between a thing that might go wrong and a thing that cannot possibly go wrong is that when a thing that cannot possibly go wrong goes wrong it usually turns out to be impossible to get at or repair.”

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