Igor Bubelov
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January 2021

Notes · Jan 31, 2021

Table of Contents

RaspiBlitz

The oldest post in my blog is a book review. What is this book about? Bitcoin! Despite this fact, I’m not an expert in Bitcoin. I love the ideas behind it but I never read its source code nor that I follow any of the latest developments in this scene. Some of my friends tried Bitcoin mining. It didn’t end well, as far as I know. Some entertained this idea but didn’t act on it for various reasons.

It always made me feel a bit guilty. I mean, if I’m excited about Bitcoin, shouldn’t I help this project in one way or another? Words are great, but is it enough to maintain truly decentralized and democratic money?

Some people run their own Bitcoin nodes. I did it for a few months, but it’s pretty expensive to do in the cloud. Blockchain takes a lot of storage space and this space is expensive to rent in the cloud. Using popular cloud services also kind of defeats the purpose of having more Bitcoin nodes. Having more nodes can make Bitcoin more secure and decentralized, but imagine a situation when all the bitcoin nodes are hosted on AWS. It takes a single decision of a single company to shut down the whole thing.

These thoughts led me to a conclusion that I should try to run a Bitcoin node from home. It’s easier said than done, because servers need maintenance, and they may also produce a lot of noise and heat. Those constraints prevented me from running my own node, until some person on Mastodon mentioned a project called RaspiBlitz.

In short, RaspiBlitz is an easy to install Bitcoin and Lightning node that can be run on a Raspberry Pi 4. I decided to try it and I must say: it exceeded my expectations. It literally takes a few minutes to set it up and running, and it allowed me to experiment with many new and exciting projects in Bitcoin space.

RaspiBlitz can also run behind Tor. I newer used Tor, but now I have a reason to play with it. I think that people who are interested in Bitcoin should have a basic operational knowledge, just in case things go sour with the regulators. It will be our responsibility to support the network and make sure it can resist attacks from various bad actors, including rouge nation states.

Digital Markets Act

Most of the tech innovations come from the United States. No doubt, it offers unique environment for ambitious people to build influential tech companies. I’m more interested in consequences of having a market dominated by a few monopolies and in the reasons why we don’t see more competition.

It sure seems like a “market failure”, although it’s important not to be paternalistic here. We shouldn’t assume that consumers are dumb when they make seemingly irrational decisions. I think markets may fail when people don’t understand what kind of deals they’re getting into. Software industry is the worst in this sense. Who reads terms and conditions? Among people who do, how many of them have a clear understanding of what’s going on?

Software companies enjoy locking people in their ecosystems. You have much more leverage over “locked” customers and there are a lot of nasty things you can do to extract profit just because once your customers are in, it’s almost impossible to break free. If you think deeply about the biggest tech companies, it won’t take you a long time to figure out that all of them use the same playbook.

Digital Markets Act, or DMA, does a good job at identifying many of those “dirty tricks” that help monopolies to suppress the completion. Here is a couple of examples:

Article 6(f) — Do make platforms interoperable with other service providers. Gatekeepers would have to make their platforms open to some key third-party service providers, like payment providers, digital identity providers, or ad-tech sellers, on the same terms as their own services.

Article 6(h) — Do make data portable and continuously accessible in real time. Gatekeepers would have to give all users the ability to download their data and take it to a rival. They must also make both end and business user data continuously accessible in real time to their competitors.

My prediction is: if DMA passes in its current form, it will boost the competition in the tech space, and many other countries will follow EU lead.

https://protonmail.com/blog/digital-markets-act-explained/

Ansible

I’ve been managing a handful of servers lately, and the whole process quickly reached the point when it’s very hard to figure out all the steps I need to do to reproduce a particular server in case of a failure (or even a simple migration). Docker makes simple deployments easy to migrate, but you still need to install Docker, Docker Compose, set up appropriate firewall rules, set up WireGuard tunnels, configure automatic updates, add monitoring agents, etc.

Setting up a server isn’t as easy and fast as it may sound. Ansible is a great open source tool that allows me to manage my fleet with ease. It also helps me to make sure that I didn’t miss any steps. It works over SSH, and I believe people can benefit from using it even if they have to manage a single server.

Ansible is one of the tools which enable to define infrastructure as code. There are a few other tools in the market, but Ansible seem to work pretty well for my use cases, so I guess I’ll stick with it for now.

Less Docker?

As I mentioned above, I’ve been playing with Ansible lately. Ansible isn’t directly comparable with Docker, but they intersect in some ways. In both cases, you need to provide a set of steps, and the end result is an easily reproducible system.

I have a Nextcloud server, and it uses Docker Compose. It works pretty well. It fetches the latest version of Nextcloud container from Docker Hub and has no customizations, it just works. All the complexity of Nextcloud configuration is hidden inside that container. That’s helpful when you’re an uncommitted user who just wants to try something. Sooner or later you might want to have a more fine-grained control over the configuration of your Nextcloud server. That’s one of the use cases where Ansible shines.

Pinephone + Mobian

I’ve been following Pinephone development for a while now. The hardware has some problems, the software is still incomplete, but it starts to look functional enough to start tinkering with. I’m a big fan of Debian based systems and when Pinephone folks announced their “Debian Mobile” package, I decided to order it. It should arrive by the end of February. Can’t wait to see what Linux on mobile looks like.

https://pine64.com/product/pinephone-community-edition-mobian-with-convergence-package-limited-edition-linux-smartphone/?v=0446c16e2e66

https://mobian-project.org/

Mastodon

I was a heavy Twitter user once, but those times are long gone. Not that I don’t enjoy Twitter anymore, I just find their business model to be pretty nasty. I had a few Twitter pages in my bookmarks, mostly some people from Bitcoin community. Apparently, this community decided to migrate to Mastodon, and it was such a relief for me. Mastodon allows me to subscribe to certain blogs via RSS. Twitter used to be like this, until they decided that sharing content doesn’t suit their financial interests.

I even created my own Mastodon blog, and it turned out to be pretty helpful. Some folks from the Bitcoin community helped me to set up a Bitcoin and Lightning node. Mastodon feels like microblogging done right. Highly recommend.

https://joinmastodon.org/

BeagleV

BeagleV board looks promising. I like my Raspberry Pi 4 boards, but they have at least two severe problems:

  • They require closed-source binaries to boot!
  • They’re ARM-based

RISC-V is a more open instruction set architecture. Is it that important? Yes, very. ARM licenses are pretty expensive, and it was used as a tool for political pressure. Business have no reason to trust or to pay ARM, RISC-V looks like a cheaper and safer bet.

Closed binaries is an ugly compromise which Raspberry Pi folks had to accept. I don’t think they’re happy about it but I guess there are no other options. Well, it seems like the situation is changing.

https://beaglev.seeed.cc/

UK Against Privacy in Browsers

I always found cookies unnecessary and very invasive, it’s funny how UK government tries to defend this shady practice.

https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-55219750

Twitter Censorship Makes Waves

Twitter banned Trump. Some people think it’s good, some think it’s bad. I think that it’s extremely consequential and sovereign powers won’t let Twitter get away with it. Waves of new regulations are coming.

Alternatives to YouTube

Most of the videos we watch are on YouTube. They’re marketed as “free”, but we pay for them by our attention (watching ads) and by putting ourselves under Google’s surveillance. There are a few ways to have a cake and eat it, though. One of those options is NewPipe:

https://newpipe.net/

This clever app allows us to watch YouTube videos without ads. It solves some problems with YouTube, but it’s not a complete solution. We need to stop relying on YouTube to host our videos. There are a few promising projects and here is the two I find the most interesting:

https://joinpeertube.org/

https://odysee.com

I started to follow a few channels on odysee, and it works pretty well. I hope more authors start to cross-post their content to these services. They also experiment with the new ways of monetising content, which is nice.

Comments in Code

Comments in code are extremely annoying. I’ve been learning nftables lately, and my first configuration files were full of comments. It felt so helpful at the time of writing, but it made me cringe just a couple of months later.

Blockstream Jade

Blockstream is one of the most reputable companies in Bictoin space. They now offer their own hardware wallet. I wonder in what ways it will be different from Trezor. It seems to rely on QR codes, and it also has a built-in camera. That’s something new.

https://blockstream.com/jade/

Ultimate Raspberry Pi 4 Case

I think I found my favorite Raspberry Pi 4 case. It looks cool, it has decent active and passive cooling, and it comes with M2 SSD slot. This beast is a bit pricey though. I made a couple of reviews with photos, in case someone wants to know when and why it makes sense to use cases:

Argon ONE Case Review (Without SSD)

Argon ONE Case Review (With SSD)

Podcast: Anita Posch Show

One of my favorite ways to catch up with some topic is listening to the latest podcasts. I’ve been looking for a good Bitcoin podcast, and I found this great set of interviews made by Anita Posch. I know many of her guests, and it’s been a pleasure to discover new Bitcoin personalities and listen to their ideas.

https://bitcoinundco.com/en/