Life imitates art

A computer engineer has offered his local council more than £50 million to allow him to dig up a rubbish tip and find a hard drive thrown out by mistake with a potential fortune inside.

James Howells, 35, says the missing drive contains bitcoin that would now be worth more than £220 million after he accidentally threw it out in 2013.

From The Times.

From the comedy Silicon Valley:

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30 Responses to Life imitates art

  1. Bruce of Newcastle says:

    When he finds the hard drive I hope he can remember the password.

    Man who can’t remember Bitcoin password says he’s ‘made peace’ with $220M loss (15 Jan)

    Stefan Thomas went viral this week after a New York Times profile revealed to the world his unsettling dilemma: The password to unlock his Bitcoin fortune is locked in a hard drive that gives users 10 attempts before wiping clean. Thomas has just two more tries.

    “One person suggested, have you tried the word ‘password’?” he joked. “Some people have recommended various mediums, psychics, prophets that I could talk to. Some people are suggesting nootropic memory enhancing drugs.”

    Sherr said there are many people who bought Bitcoins years ago back when they were worth very little, wrote down their password somewhere, “and just thought it wouldn’t be a thing.”

    “And now it’s worth millions,” he said, “And they’re sitting there racking their heads to figure out where that piece of paper is or what their password might have been.”

    Interesting issue. Who owns that US$220 million if he tries twice more and fails? Blockchain says the money exists, but if he doesn’t own it, by reason of his inability to remember the password, then who does?

  2. Sinclair Davidson says:

    Bruce of Newcastle – not your wallet, not your password, not your coin.

    Rule #1. Don’t forget your password.

  3. Old School Conservative says:

    Oh for the good old days when a meeting with your bank Branch manager would resolve all such problems.

  4. Snotball says:

    Bit what?

  5. John Bayley says:

    You don’t need any ‘password’ to retrieve your BTC.

    You don’t even need the ‘hard drive’.

    All that is required is the recovery seed phrase, which consists of either 12 or 24 words, depending on how the original wallet was set up.

    The article Bruce referenced above confuses the security of a storage device with the recovery seed. These have nothing to do with each other and if this guy’s ‘drive’ gets wiped after so many unsuccessful attempts, that still does not mean his coins are lost forever.

    Although, considering how clueless he appears to be, they probably are (lost forever).

  6. stackja says:

    Bitser of a problem.

  7. JC says:

    The Vid is freaking hilarious. Loved that show.

    That’s a thumb you found, I said a thumb drive.


  8. JC says:

    Who owns that US$220 million if he tries twice more and fails? Blockchain says the money exists, but if he doesn’t own it, by reason of his inability to remember the password, then who does?

    It’s the same as say a house burning down with hidden money going up in smoke. Who owns the right to the burned cash? It’s gonsky.

  9. mh says:

    Is there any stories of people who didn’t lose their 220 mill in bitcoin, then sold it, and now live the high life with Ferraris and mega mansions?

  10. Bruce of Newcastle says:

    Who owns the right to the burned cash? It’s gonsky.

    But JC the bitcoins still exist in the blockchain. Who then owns them?

    If someone comes along and puts in a correct user code and password, that person. But if no one can do so who then? It asks a fun philosophical question about what ownership is.

    Ownership is like value, an agreement between humans, which is why gold is worth lots. Gold is the original blockchain currency, since it needs to be mines and there’re only so many atoms on the planet – produced in supernovae before the planet existed. Ok, yes you can transmute other elements into gold now, but that is so expensive as to be futile.

  11. Bruce of Newcastle says:

    Mined, not mines. I’ve melted gold and cast it into blocks at a gold mine. It’s overrated.
    Not sure what that says about bitcoin, or, for that matter, US dollars.

  12. Back Burn says:

    If someone comes along and puts in a correct user code and password, that person.
    But if no one can do so who then?

    The Bitcoin Eater address is legendary.

    At the moment 380 BTC.

    Every morning I mash the keyboard to have a crack at the private key. I am serious. Although the key space is massive, you can get “infinitely” lucky.

    This is why most high-value addresses are now in multisig addresses.

    On a side note: The Large Bitcoin Collider has been hard it for 5 years trying to find key collisions

    So far they have generated 40,000 Trillion addresses and keys.

  13. vlad says:

    Who throws away a hard drive without backing it up – especially if you’re an IT professional?

    Or am I missing something and you can’t back up Bitcoin?

  14. mumdi says:

    The reason bitcoin is booming is simply tax fraud.

    All a business needs to do is use all profits to buy bitcoin, then ‘lose’ all their profit “investing”.

    Now someone else not connected in any way ‘gains’ the bit coin and earns all the money investing… but they of course are in a different tax jurisdiction….

    Every company not a public company is not doing it.

  15. Bruce of Newcastle says:

    Who throws away a hard drive without backing it up

    I once had a fine afternoon destroying old hard drives. I was chucking out ancient PCs in a council cleanup day.

    The really old ones are tough, made of metal plates. Sledge hammer and much sweat. The later ones were made of glass with iron oxide on them. One hit with the block splitter and kapow! It was fun.

  16. JC says:

    But JC the bitcoins still exist in the blockchain. Who then owns them?

    Okay, another analogy. Think Indiana Jones and the Ark of the Covenant. 🙂 The treasure is there but trying to get it means ultimate death.

  17. JC says:


    You need to go through an exchange to buy the crap. Also, your bank will leave details as to where the funds were sent. There’s no hiding from the tax man.

  18. Eyrie says:

    I’m with Ann Barnhardt ” if you can’t stand on top of it and defend it with an AR-15, you don’t truly own it”.
    Or Robert A. Heinlein ” to truly own something you must be able to carry it while maintaining a fair clip”.

  19. Eyrie says:

    The Lagarde woman is already saying governments should ban Bitcoin and other digital currencies.

  20. Back Burn says:

    There’s no hiding from the tax man.

    That’s not correct. There are several options.

    1) Tumblers – Open Source obfuscated routing.

    2) Inter-Crypto Swapping. There are many pure crypto-to-crypto exchanges. BTC -> Monero -> Stellar -> ETH -> BTC

    3) Physical Swapping. In person key exchange.

    “I was hacked” is enough plausible deniability from any of the above.

  21. John Bayley says:

    Going by the comments, there seem to be quite a few crypto-currency experts here. /s

    Back Burn excluded.

    With this now having become a legitimate asset class, it’s not too late to fire up your Duck Duck and Go and learn a little.
    It won’t hurt and it may even be profitable one day. You just never know.

  22. Bad Samaritan says:

    I’m all for bitcoin……

    Yeah, sure the govt has closed my garage-Nazi chatroom sites….and my puppy-porn accounts….and all my hate-speech sites….and everything else they don’t approve of. But there’s no way they’ll do likewise to my Bitcoin access, or else tell my ISP to do it, eh fellow secret-society coinsters, disciples and acolytes?

    BTW: A couple of years back when the power and Credit Card lines were down for a week up in my home-town, that bitcoin I offered for a tank-full of E10 could not be broken by the Indian bloke behind the counter. A fifty buck note did the trick, however…..and the fella at Bunnings was happy with a 10g Gold ingot for a generator. Funny old world, isn’t it?

  23. Elizabeth (Lizzie) Beare says:

    What happened to all of these crack password hackers that are supposed to exist, and get into any password within two goes? For fifty mill I guess a few of them would have a go.

    Or is this just being naive? Must be something more to it than that. And he’s had 8 of his 10 goes.

  24. Elizabeth (Lizzie) Beare says:

    I will leave bitcoin to the autistics of this world. They have a fascination with abstractions.

  25. Kim says:

    Helpful timing. Just as Bitcoin hits peak nonsense a person emerges with the best metaphor.

  26. NoFixedAddress says:


    The concept and potential usage of the Bit-Chain technology is enormous.

    To me it is the digital equivalent of The Torrens Title System.

    But it looks like “It’s Time” for the ‘Gringotts’ BitCoin Bank ™

  27. Seza says:

    Bruce of Newcastle,
    I spent some enjoyable time destroying Engineering Workstation hard drives that may have contained confidential information. I was disassembling them to remove the platters and destroying them by mechanical means. The reason for doing this was thoroughness, and the option of salvaging the seriously finger-threatening magnets from the voice coil assembly. Great for retrieving keys or tools dropped behind wooden furniture and demonstrating eddy-current braking with aluminium strip.
    It always fascinates me watching people destroying PCs to keep their information safe, when all you need is remove and destroy the hard drives and any copies made on other media. The computer itself retains no data, other than a possible BIOS-based password. Ask Hillary, and Anthony Weiner.

  28. will says:

    Mr “accidentally threw it out” needs to spend the 50 k on developing a metal detecting burrowing robot and let it loose at the tip. Otherwise, no hope. He would need a small army to totally turn over and examine 100%.

    I often think some of these stories, or at least aspects of them, are fabricated. But the MSM would never do that to attract a readership, would they? they never lie.

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