trash the life – The British James Howellsinfamous for inadvertently dumping a hard drive containing 7500 BTC, is back. And, he has a plan. Robot dogs, venture capital, artificial intelligence… This time, James feels that the nauseating wind of misfortune could finally turn. And, it is not a recalcitrant municipality and a few vaguely ecological considerations that will manage to hinder him on what is now transforming into the quest of his life: to find his lost bitcoins whose presence he feels, there, somewhere 50 cms below his feet.
The name of James Howells may not tell you anything. And yet, like Satoshi Nakamotofrom the creation of belching HODL! Where Bitcoin Pizza Day, his story is etched in the young history of Bitcoin. Even if it is easy to imagine that the person concerned would have preferred to remain in comfortable anonymity, he who had nevertheless perceived all the value of Bitcoin before the majority of us.
In effect, James Howells began to mine Bitcoin in 2009, i.e. in the very first ages of the queen of blockchains. He is therefore a contemporary of S. Nakamoto. As such, he is part of the handful of industry pioneers and for that alone, he would have deserved a special place in the crypto-Pantheon. Unfortunately, he will go down in history for a completely different reason.
In those ancient ages when the thing was still possible, James frantically mines bitcoins on his laptop. He will thus accumulate 7500 bitcoins, stored on its internal hard drive. A dark story of a girlfriend dissatisfied with the noise and the heat given off by the device and a spill of lemonade later, said hard drive ends up extracted, cleaned and stored in an anonymous drawer.
This is where the drama unfolds. On the occasion of a major cleaning, our unfortunate British accidentally throws the disc. He is then completely unaware that by doing so he is sealing his fate and ruining the quality of his sleep for the next decade.
Some time later, during a television broadcast, the young man becomes aware of two things. On the one hand, that his 7,500 bitcoins are worth around $650,000. And that on the other hand, the hoard now rests under a few tons of garbage for some time. You thought you knew the emotional elevator phenomenon? Have a compassionate thought for James.
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Bitcoins lost, Newport town hall turns a deaf ear
In 2017, the Journal du Coin was already echoing this story, and you can consult the adventures and twists and turns James went through in the following years. Various episodes that we will summarize simply by mentioning that yes, the municipality of Newport – the municipality of residence of our dazed bitcoiner – understood what was at stake, but no, it was out of the question to let anyone shovel haphazardly in an industrial, polluted and dangerous environment (the landfill in question covers an area equivalent to several football fields).
Currently, James’ bitcoin jackpot is valued at around $160 million. Enough to live a dream life rather than nightmare recycling bins and industrial shredder.
Over the years, from time to time, the story of James has occasionally found a new echo, according to media interviews, half amused, half heartbroken by the misfortune of the young computer scientist. A veritable ode to the vital necessity of the “backup copy” (and to the dangerousness of drinking lemonade in front of a computer). Unfortunately, little progress has been made over the years, the municipality still showing resistance to the slightest excavation of the site. A site of such scope that everyone agreed that the research enterprise would involve a new definition of the concepts of “needle” and “haystack”, version decentralized economy.
But in 2022 everything could change: James is back! And this time he is prepared and seems to have managed to bring together a team, substantial financial resources and a battle plan. A happy epilogue in perspective?
Digital gold in the trash
In a media interview Business Insider, James details his plan. And even his plans, with different timeframes and stakes, thereby demonstrating that he has matured his strategy (10 years of insomnia probably helped). And, the least we can say is that even if it means marking crypto history, you might as well do it with panache! On the one hand, James secured the support of investment funds which he managed to convince of his few chances of success (after all, we have seen crypto investment funds make dumber bets, right?).
Thereby, Hanspeter Jaberg and Karl Wendeborntwo Swiss venture capitalists, have pledged to support the Briton’s initiative to the tune of $11 million.
A significant budget, but which will not be too much in view of the size of the site. Indeed, we are talking about the prospect of returning, sorting, then reprocessing more than 110,000 tonnes of waste over an estimated period of between 18 months and 3 years. In support of these excavations, numerous personnel and a dedicated tracking and triage station boosted with Artificial Intelligence, capable of detecting anything that potentially resembles James’ hard drive.
For the picture to be complete, the team of valiant ordurologists plans to enlist the services of a few specimens of the Spot robot dog from Boston Dynamics with the mission of securing the site at night and, like veritable truffle pigs of a new kind, taking part in the searches during the day.
Add to this that James Howells plans to generously reward the entire team, the municipality of Newport, but also the entire population of the city (150,000 people all the same) via incentives and a generous airdrop of satoshis. All of this, of course, on the assumption that the medium is found, and that it is still usable. A possibility that Howells assesses at “about 80 to 90% chance”.
The plan is sound, the motivation obvious, but at the time of writing Newport City Hall has again made it known that access to the site and permission to dig remains out of the question. A posture that obviously disappoints James, who indicates that he would potentially consider taking the town hall to court for “illegal embargoing” of his bitcoins… A somewhat crazy posture but probably not much more than the whole of this modern saga which has not finished building its legend.
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