≡ Menu

The Untold Story of the Greatest Crypto Project Ever – PART 3

PART 3: The Work Gets… Complicated

Continuing from Part 2.

I am convinced that the reason Bitcoin survived isn’t that it withstood the attacks of its enemies, but because it withstood the foolishness of its friends.

Our project survived long enough to reach its goals only because of people who held to their principles, defended them against foolishness, and above all, worked hard to keep things moving forward.

Once Orlin’s team was established in the rear wing of the consulado, they worked quietly. But the guy who was continually pumping his money into the project, “Rex,” was in a hurry for results. That’s generally understandable of course, but Rex was also an inveterate huckster with a tendency to over-promise and then demand product from the developers… NOW!

Writing crypto applications from scratch, however, is neither simple nor fast. And so heads butted… and kept butting for a long time.

Rather heroically at times, a man I’ll call “Bob” stood between the two groups (Rex and his coterie, Orlin and his developers) and kept them apart. I think we all owe a lot to Bob. Rex complained and Orlin (no shrinking violet, he) treated Rex like a buffoon. Bob kept everyone separated. Piece by piece things proceeded.

And of course there was much, much more to this. Years ago I ran across a memorable line((I thought it was from Alvin Toffler’s The Third Wave, but apparently it isn’t.)) that went something like this: Once beyond the borders of the accepted, all sorts of strange flora and fauna pop up. How true that proved to be.

All sorts of strange characters found their way to this thing. Some were plainly brilliant and some were brilliant but with a pet doctrine they expected the project to adopt. We had some who were still trying to make “special economic zones” work. There were people overly interested in drugs, the aforementioned spies (who always tend to make things a little crazy), people who were a bit paranoid, and so on at considerable length.

One of the first people I met was an Olympic pentathlon champion, there to provide security. A couple of the spies – a Russian and an American – got into a fight at the consulado one time. (They were both pretty old and ended up rolling around on the floor until they could be separated… or so I was told.)

My personal nemesis was a writer who pushed endlessly to place the project beneath a constitution and turn it into a state, even if it was “cyber” state. He wrote at great length on law, harping on the old line that one “could not be judge of his own cause.” It took a lot of time and effort to convince all the participants that this was a very bad idea, but it was done well enough to stop the threat. And ultimately the guy shot himself in the foot by advocating some very strange ideas about women… almost that they should be excluded from justice and had to be represented by their husbands.

My fights with the constitution guy (and many others) took place on our messaging system, and in our newspapers((Technically there were two, one succeeding the other. Both were run by Orlin, but an ownership dispute made a name change necessary.)), a partial archive of which remains here.

The big problem, however, was that Rex wanted fast results that he could use to generate more donations. (Founderships, they were called.) After a while, he could no longer be restrained and started hiring his own programmers, who were ordered to get things done fast.

Rex’s programmers were decent guys; I think I liked them all. But they faced an impossible task((Which was almost impossible to refuse for an unemployed or underemployed programmer. Fly to the tropics, bring your family if you have one, live cheaply and well, and work on interesting projects for decent pay. Besides, most programmers in those days were fairly strong libertarians, and so they were pulled in for that reason as well.)). You simply can’t turn out fast products and keep them cryptographically secure. That’s barely doable these days, and it was a heck of a lot harder in 2000. And so, compromises were made.

The first of our products was called “Mailvault,” which became available before Rex started hiring his own programmers. It was a webmail system that incorporated PGP encryption. It was, in other words, PGP webmail, something that Hushmail replicated, at least after a fashion.

Here’s how it looked in 2001:

And here’s some explanatory dialog from the site:

Mailvault was our first success and it was used fairly widely in those days. We were proud of it, and justifiably, I think.

(Available now on Kindle)

To be Continued…

Paul Rosenberg

{ 0 comments… add one }

Leave a Comment