Fri Jan 4 21:03:31 EST 2013


767 days ago, I commented on a HN submission about a random number generator:

3.) Providing random numbers as an advertisement for your fine line of hardware random number generators. Here it doesn't matter how much money you make [providing the numbers], you just want people to buy the hardware that made them. Oddly enough, none of the random number services (and there are quite a few) do this, for some inexplicable reason. There's not even an argument-from-proprietary technology, since HRNGs are supposed to generate perfectly random noise, and there's no way an attacker could stage a replay attack.

I left it there, because I was lazy. But last month, notorious badass Maciej Cegłowski created The Pinboard Co-Prosperity Cloud.

What is it?

The Pinboard Co-Prosperity Cloud is a startup self-incubator. Six successful applicants will receive a modest amount of funding and as much publicity as I can provide for their sustainable and useful business idea.

Is this a joke?

It is not a joke.

What are the requirements?

You must have a good idea that you are capable of building, a willingness to build it, and a plan for making it mildly profitable.

How much funding will I get?

Each successful applicant will receive $37. This will cover the cost of six months of hosting at and a productivity-enhancing hot beverage.

So I entered. Ha ha why not?

The more I thought about it though, the more I realized that I wasn't getting the joke. The idea was trivially simple. I already had a web server. I didn't need all that mad cash. I could just... build it.

So I did. It's right here. (EDIT 2013/3/22: I let the domain name lapse, and moved the content to

It was amazingly easy, even though this was pretty much my first major (har) piece of programming. I had never used python, javascript, or jquery before.

Web programming in the year 2012 has the smooth, well polished feel of something that has had the sharp edges worn off by the passage of thousands of other people. Getting nginx to talk to the WSGI server was a snap. Installing was easy. JQuery was no problem.

Any time I had a problem, googling the error message would return a helpful, relevant page, explaining how my "build it as fast as possible, while learning as little as possible" design methodology had screwed me over again.

At the time, of course, it seemed a vast edifice of impossible complexity, but in retrospect it was painless. "It's easy to do if you know how to do it", maybe.

The only difficulty I faced was the hardware random number generator. The numbers had to come from it, since that was the whole point of the site; but my server was a virtual machine on the east coast, and my HRNG was sitting on my desk.

The "money" solution would be to buy a rackmount server, plug the widget into it, then slot it into a colo, but I didn't have money, and instead I had to be creative.

I couldn't just run the web server locally, since my ISP blocks port 80. Enter the ugly hack: I plugged the entropykey into a spare laptop, ran the application server on that, then ran a SSH tunnel to my web server, which communicates with the front end via JSON. It works, at the cost of an extra 150ms of latency per roll.

There's room to improve, of course. You could probably list off a dozen features needs without pausing to draw breath, (starting with "make it less ugly") but, the ideal of the minimum viable product shines bright.

The second biggest problem after integrating the HRNG was the ad copy that makes up most of the page. It was originally twice as long-- ruthless editing has reduced to it merely "too long" from "far, far too long." This too could use improvement.

But! It's done and it works! Programming is fun.

Posted by Samuel Bierwagen | Permanent link | File under: important, Linux