Struggling With the Ledger Nano S Hardware Wallet

Now that I’ve broadened my crypto portfolio, I need to get serious about storing them safely off the Internet. Over a month ago I bought a Ledger Nano S hardware wallet but I didn’t get around to setting it up until now.

The device seems simple enough to figure out. I plugged one end of its USB cord into the device and the other end into my computer. Its LCD screen illuminated, giving directions on how to use its interface of two button and LCD screen: Push the Left button to scroll left, push the Right button to scroll right, push BOTH buttons to select something. Then it prompted me to enter a PIN. I wish it gave me the option to set up the PIN later, but it didn’t so I had to come up with something that would be too hard to guess, but not too hard to remember. I have no idea if there’s a way to re-set the PIN so I hope what I devised is adequate. It then prompted me to enter the PIN again, and I was relieved I remembered it properly since I made it up spontaneously.

It then instructed me to “write down the recovery phrase”. To me, a “phrase” is a SHORT SENTENCE. So I grabbed a pen and tiny post-it note.  What commenced was neither short nor a phrase. It gave me 24 random words to write down in sequential order. I realized it was giving me words to write in the “Recovery Sheet” that came with the Nano S device. Why didn’t it say “write down these 24 recovery words”?! So I stopped writing on the tiny note pad and found the recovery card with 24 numbered blank lines and recorded the words in their proper place.

After scrolling through the words, the interface did not give me a prompt to continue. I pushed the Right button, but nothing happened. So I pushed the Left button, and it scrolled through the words in reverse order. When I got to the first word again, I pushed the Left button one more time, and it quizzed me on the words I just saw: What was word #13? Then it prompted me to scroll through a bunch of random words until I saw the word I wrote in space 13. When I saw the word, I pushed both buttons. Then it asked me to identify word #22. I scrolled through the options until I saw the word I wrote in space #22. I pushed both buttons to select it. Then it told me the device has been configured and is ready to use.

BUT IT DOESN’T TELL ME HOW TO USE IT. It would be nice if either the tiny LCD screen gave me some direction. I double-checked the sparse instructions that came with the device and it did say to “get started at” and follow the instructions. When I set up my Trezor hardware wallet, it clearly requested the Chrome browser. So I went to on Chrome.

The Ledger Nano S was still plugged into my computer, so I was surprised when the Website couldn’t recognize the device I had and asked me to identify it from the other devices Ledger offers. It asks if I want to configure the device (nope, already did it without assistance), watch video tutorials (no thanks, I’m the weirdo who prefers reading than watching a video), or install a Bitcoin Wallet, an Ethereum Wallet, or a Ripple Wallet.

Since I specifically bought Trezor Nano S because it’s the only hardware wallet that stores Ripple, I click “Install Ripple Wallet”. This page promotes the wallet’s benefits of being simple, free, fast, secure, and open source “so anyone can access the full source code to authenticate code paths and contribute to the development”. This statement makes me laugh. Do these techies REALLY believe that ANYONE “can access and authenticate” source code? I – and I dare say MOST HUMANS ON EARTH – can neither access nor authenticate ANY kind of code – “source” or otherwise. But I guess “open source” sounds like a plus so I’m “happy” it’s a “feature” of my wallet.

There’s a button to “download the Ripple App”. I’m not sure where I’m downloading it to – I guess it’s to the Nano S device. I really don’t trust my computer because I know where on the Internet it’s been…

I click to download the Ripple App. It prompts me to save it somewhere but my Nano S wallet is not a destination option. I noticed the device looks like it went dormant, so I unplug it from my computer and plug it back in. It livens up and prompts me to enter the PIN and to my amazement I input it correctly.

The device’s little LCD screen is showing icon’s I hadn’t previously seen on it: A Bitcoin symbol, an Ethereum symbol, and two I don’t recognize. I use the buttons to scroll to them and it says “Fido U2F” and “settings”. I keep scrolling and it circles back to Bitcoin. Ripple is not there.

On my computer I click to download the Ripple App, hoping it will load onto my wallet and not only my (old and abused) laptop. It asks me where I want to save the app and again my Nano S wallet is not an option. So I guess I am storing this wallet onto my sketchy computer. I recall one of the benefits of the Ledger Nano S is that it is safe to use even on a computer with malware. I would not be surprised at all if I have malware, so as much as I don’t like it, start downloading the wallet to my hard drive.

While I’m waiting for the app to download, I explore the “Settings” option of my Nano S. Under “Settings” it offers “Display”, “Security”, “Device”, “Assistance”, and “Quit App”.  I chose “Quit App” and it brought me back to where I saw the Bitcoin and Ethereum symbols. So I guess “Settings” is an “App”? I went back into “Settings” and chose “Display” – this lets you adjust the LCD’s brightness, rotate the screen, or invert the colors. I didn’t want to do any, so I scrolled to “Back” and pressed both buttons to return to the previous menu. Now I selected “Security” which offers “Auto-lock”, “Change PIN” (oh good! I get a second chance if I think up a better one), “Shuffle PIN” (I have no idea what this means or how it would work), and “Passphrase” (which we now know means the sequence of 24 words that make the recovery key for this device). I don’t want to mess with any of these, so I scroll to “Back” and press both buttons. The next option is “Device” which offers “Firmware” (ugh, I don’t want to tinker with that) and “Reset all” (scary, no thanks). I choose “Back” and try the last option which is “Assistance”. I can’t image how much “assistance” a 3/8” by 1” screen can offer. I pushed both buttons and it displayed the following: “To get assistance, contact Ledger support.” Um, why even bother?? No phone number, no Web site. Seems like a waste of firmware (am I using that word right?). I pushed a button to scroll to the “Back” option but there wasn’t one! So I pushed both buttons and then it displayed so I guess that’s the “more information” information. But I still don’t know how to leave this screen. I push both buttons again and now an email appears: I push both buttons again and it brings me back to the previous menu. It’s weird that that one screen doesn’t follow the same rhythm as the others. I scroll to “Quit App” and push both buttons.

After my tour of the LCD offerings, I noticed my Ripple App failed to download completely. It would have been nice if it warned me the file is 49MB. It would be a miracle if my dodgy internet could handle that. I’ll have to go to a WeWork to download it.

I went to WeWork and it downloaded in about 2 seconds. I downloaded the Ripple Wallet, the Bitcoin Wallet and the Ether Wallet. I think the Bitcoin Wallet and Ether Wallet are already installed on the Nano S device, but I didn’t want to have to go back to WeWork in case it wasn’t, so I downloaded them since I was in the presence of excellent Internet connectivity. They weren’t programs, they were “Chrome Extensions”. I’m not sure what the difference is, but they didn’t download a file to my desktop that I had to launch.

In my haste to get to WeWork, I forgot to bring my Nano S device with, so I have to go back home to finish setting it up.

Back home, I plugged in my Nano S device, then launched the Ripple Wallet program. I wasn’t happy to see the warning about the publisher not being verified and asking if I really want to open it. I clicked YES and ran the download. When it finished downloading, it asked me to click a FINISH button, then launched the Ledger Wallet Ripple program. It showed up as a separate program window in my application tray beside my Web browsers, but the screen was empty. My Nano S went to sleep, so I had to click the buttons and enter the PIN to wake it up.

On the Nano S’s tiny screen, it told me to “Use Wallet to View Accounts”. I wasn’t sure what that meant, so I clicked both buttons. That didn’t do anything. So I just clicked the Right button and scrolled through until I saw “Quit App”. I didn’t know I was in an App, so I selected it. Then I could scroll through the options of Bitcoin, Ethereum, Fido U2F, and Settings. There was no Ripple option which really bummed me out. I checked the Ripple program screen and it was still blank. When in doubt, I close programs and re-launch them. I also unplugged the Nano S and plugged it back in again. It prompted me to unlock the device and enter its PIN. I launched the Ripple program on my computer and its window said to launch the Ripple App on my device. It appears the Ripple App is not loaded on my device. I thought downloading the wallet to my desktop would also put it on my Nano S device since it was plugged in, but apparently not.

It appears I need to download the “Ledger Manager Program” to my computer which will enables the Ripple App to be loaded onto the Nano S device.

I thought this meant I had to go back to WeWork to download this program but I checked and it’s a Chrome Extension, which is only about 2 MB – a size my (terrible) home Internet can handle. I downloaded the extension and it showed up in my Chrome browser on the page chrome://apps/

I woke up my Nano S, then double-clicked on the Ledger Manager icon on chrome://apps/ and a new program window opened, listing all of the crypto currency wallets Ledger offers for the Nano S: Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, Dash, Dogecoin, Ethereum, Fido U2F, Komodo, LiteCoin, Stratus, Zcash, Hello, Ripple, PoSW, Ark, Ubiq, Expanse, PIVX, Stealthcoin, Vertcoin, Viacoin, Neo, Bitcoin Gold, Stellar, Digibite, Hcash, and Qtum.

I clicked on the down arrow beside Ripple. My Nano S screen asked me to confirm allowing the Ledger Manager to access it. I clicked the button with the checkmark. The little LCD said it’s processing for about 2 seconds and then went back to the regular menu showing the Bitcoin symbol. I used the button to scroll and saw it now has a Ripple icon. I guess it installed in about 2 seconds. So now I have a Ripple Wallet on my Nano S. I now have to launch its desktop wallet to transfer my Ripple off of Kraken and into the Nano S.

But first, I want to install the Stellar wallet since that’s a baby coin I want to buy (read about my Baby Coin Fever here). I went back to the Leger Manager window and clicked the down arrow beside Stellar. This time the Nano S didn’t prompt me to allow the Ledger Manager to access it. It didn’t even say it was downloading the wallet. I scrolled past the Ripple wallet, and the Stellar wallet was magically on the tiny LCD screen.

Now I’m ready to load Ripple and baby coins onto the safety of my Ledger Nano S hardware wallet. But first, here is a clean and clear set of instructions I made on how to set up the Ledger Nano S hardware wallet so you can do it without the frustration.

A Bitter Story About A Quarter Bitcoin

I’m embarrassed to admit how much my fractured Bitcoin impacted my psyche – especially as Bitcoin approached $20,000 in early December. When my Bitcoin was whole, I knew how much I had: whatever its valuation was, that’s what I was holding. Now I had to calculate the current price by 0.995 and it disturbed me beyond reason. A well-adjusted person would just round-up and live their life. I’m just not calibrated like that.

As soon as I received a Christmas bonus, I wired it to my Kraken account. At almost $20K, I couldn’t buy a whole Bitcoin, but I could buy a fraction to make it whole once more.

The rational part of my brain said “Use this $5K to buy Ripple – it’s almost a dollar and seems to be increasing a dime a day”. Another part of my brain said “Didn’t you read Ethereum is under-valued? It’s still around $500 – you could buy 10 of them! And if it does go up, you’ll enjoy 10X the profits”.

But the lizard part of my brain said “MAKE MY BITCOIN WHOLE AGAIN”. So I spent $ $4,688.40 USD on 0.25 BTC, which I figured should be enough to preserve its wholeness even if I transfer it a few more times.

Then I felt guilty and used the remaining $298.60 to buy 391 Ripple for $0.76 each.

Not 2 weeks later, Bitcoin fell to $14K, and Ripple doubled to $1.25.

Why oh why will I never learn. It was that same voice that insisted I buy Bitcoin in December 2016 when it was $700 (which I regrettably ignored) that said to buy Ripple instead of Bitcoin with my Christmas bonus. If I listened the first time, that $700 would have grown 20X IN ONE YEAR. And if I listened to that voice regarding my Christmas bonus, and invested the $5K in Ripple, it would have doubled WITHIN A FORTNIGHT. But I followed my emotions and ignored my senses.

When Ripple reached $3, it was small comfort knowing my $298 was now worth almost $1,000, because the masochist in me also calculated the $5,000 I didn’t invest in Ripple could have bought me another whole Bitcoin. Did I mention Ethereum ended up doubling in value too? So that $5000 could have been $10,000 by now.

I need to teach that sensible voice in my head to punch me when I ignore it.

Does anyone else have a bitter Bitcoin story they’d like to share?

Buying a Hardware Wallet

The excruciating (but mercifully temporary) inability to log into my cryptocurrency exchange illuminated my need for a hardware wallet to safely store my beloved bitcoin and alt coins. Phone-based wallets exist, but considering the sketchy places I’ve trolled on my phone, it seems a security risk. The safest place to store cryptocurrency is OFFLINE, and that means an unplugged hardware wallet.

A hardware wallet is basically a flash drive. But unlike cheap USB sticks handed out freely at tradeshows and conferences, hardware wallets are more durable and most have additional security features.  The most celebrated hardware wallets by nerds in the know are Trezor, Keepkey, and Ledger Nano S.

These three wallets don’t have an operating system, which means they can’t harbor malware. Apparently, they are safe to use even on a computer that DOES have malware. That’s especially important because you may not even know you have malware.

These three wallets have a Liquid Crystal Display screen which also improves security and makes them easier to use. Apparently wallets without LCD screens rely on inputting information into your computer which is sent to the wallet. If your computer is compromised with malware, the information could be stolen and never make it into your wallet.

Physical buttons on the wallet also let you securely navigate the interface – that means, to make selections and enter passwords. Apparently this is a big security bonus because someone who may be controlling your computer remotely is not able to control physical buttons, and therefore cannot control your hardware wallet (i.e. steal from it). From what I read, it appears the Ledger Nano S and Trezor have physical buttons but the Keepkey does not.

Something to note is NOT ALL WALLETS ACCEPT ALL CRYPTOCURRENCIES. And if you’ve read my earliest posts, you’ll know I have a somewhat diverse portfolio. KeepKey won’t support my Bitcoin Cash, ZCash, Ripple or Monero. Trezor won’t support my Ripple or Monero.  Ledger Nano S is the only wallet supporting Ripple but won’t support Monero (what’s up with no wallets supporting Monero??).

KeepKey not supporting 4 of my cryptocurrencies and lacking physical buttons eliminated it as a possibility. That leaves Trezor and Ledger Nano S.

Ledger Nano S appears to support all my cryptocurrencies except Monero. Bloggers enthuse about Ledger Nano S’s sleek design but I don’t plan to display it. In fact, I plan to hide it.

I did read something about Nano S only holding 3 currencies at a time, which is confusing. The more I read, the more confused I get. Apparently you can load a currency onto Nano S, then erase it and load another, then erase it, until all of your currencies are loaded but only a few can remain on the stick. I also read that the value doesn’t actually RESIDE on the wallet device, which is also hard to comprehend. The idea of ERASING my digital currency freaks me out. I guess I’ll have to buy a Nano S and try it to see for myself. Maybe I really do need to buy a Trezor wallet too so I don’t have to erase anything from the Nano S.

Bloggers encourage purchasing hardware wallets from and rarely discuss buying from the manufacturer’s Website. I suspect Amazon covertly sponsors many blogs.  The trouble with Amazon is the wide price variance for identical products. And many of the vendors have bad ratings, or no ratings, or sell other non-crypto and even non-tech items, which seems unseemly. If I’m buying a device to protect assets worth thousands (maybe hundreds of thousands?) of dollars, I need to believe I’m buying something legitimate.

On Amazon, the Trezor wallet price varies from $99 to $145 – sometimes from the same vendor!  A black version is $99, a white version is $94.99 and a grey version is $145. I can’t imagine anyone would care enough about the color of something so few people would see.  Upon closer inspection it seems like the grey one with the higher price comes with the USB cable, box, and instruction manual, which could account for the $44 difference.

Some vendors accurately identify the Trezor Wallet’s manufacturer as Satoshi Labs. But one vendor says it’s manufactured by Mom Made Foods. WTF?? I need more confidence in my purveyor of crypto security than that. According to many bloggers, you MUST check if your hardware wallet arrives FACTORY SEALED to ensure someone didn’t compromise it. If it doesn’t come factory sealed, you should send it back and get a refund. Also, don’t buy a used wallet.

Amazon has fewer vendors of the Ledger Nano S, but still a wide and confusing mix of prices and product offerings. Some bundle the wallet with a bunch of (seemingly unnecessary) accessories like a carrying case, lanyard, USB cable, Micro USB adapter, and even a ball point pen for almost $150. Some offer just the Ledger Nano S (no cable, no manual) for as low as $72. Personally, I want a manual, and I’m willing to pay extra for it, but I don’t want to buy a bunch of stuff I don’t need. Unfortunately, I don’t know what is necessary and what is superfluous. I’m also concerned that some of the accessories may be after-market and not as durable as the wallet. I don’t want a cable to fail when I’m transferring my digital currency.

It’s not that I don’t trust vendors on Amazon, I don’t trust people in general and prefer to buy directly from the manufacturer. I’m confident the wallet manufacturers will sell what I need: If I need a cable, they will provide an approved cable. If I need a manual, they will provide a manual.

Although I prefer buying directly from the manufacturer, both Trezor and Ledger are overseas and priced in Euros. They both accept payment in Bitcoin which, ironically, I won’t spend because its value keeps appreciating. If Bitcoin’s value was more static, I would enjoy avoiding my credit card’s infuriating foreign currency transaction fees.

In addition to Bitcoin, Trezor’s Website accepts credit cards, while Ledger’s Website accepts credit cards and PayPal.  Both Websites warn their prices do not include taxes and duties. I loathe imagining the hassle of coordinating my  schedule with the delivery guy to write a check for the import tariff. I also wasn’t sure where I put my seldom-used checkbook. Buying from Amazon would be so much more convenient. But that nagging voice in my head (which I’ve regretted ignoring in the past) won me over.  My distrust of online merchants supersedes my lust for convenience.

I decided to buy only one to see how nightmarish the overseas delivery would be. I chose Ledger because it gave 2 non-Bitcoin payment options, and the Ledger Nano S is compatible with 7 of my 8 cryptocurrencies. I wanted to see if I could in fact store them all together on the one stick or if there really was a 3 currency limit. If I could store them all, I wouldn’t need to buy another wallet. If it truly did limit to only 3 currencies, I would store my Ripple, Bitcoin, and Bitcoin Cash onto the Ledger S, and I would buy the Trezor wallet to store my Ethereum, Dash, Litecoin, and ZCash.

I first tried using my credit card on the Ledger site, but the online overseas transaction triggered a security block. So I tried the PayPal option (using the same blocked credit card) and it succeeded. This seemed illogical but I was glad it worked. A confirmation email claimed I would receive my Ledger Nano S in 3 days.  Of course these 3 days fell within the Thanksgiving holiday, complicating calculations of its expected arrival (i.e. when to work at home).  The following Monday I was shocked to see it arrived without any attempt to collect taxes, tariffs or duties. I felt stupid for expecting aggravations.

That night I bought the Trezor wallet from the Trezor Website. The Trezor Website doesn’t accept PayPal, so I first called my credit card company for permission to use my card for an online overseas transaction. The transaction worked, and a confirmation email said to expect my Trezor wallet to arrive in 3 to 5 business days by DHL. I’ve never had a good experience receiving shipments from DHL but I hoped for the best, given the success of my Ledger Nano S purchase.

Four days later, a DHL email announced my package’s scheduled arrival by end of day. I was already at work and considered going home to await the delivery, expecting to write a customs/duty check. When I got home I was shocked to see the package arrived without a request for customs or duty. So it seems if you’re in the continental US purchasing from the Ledger or Trezor Website, you can ignore the stern warning about taxes/tariffs/duties.

Now I’ve got to unpack these wallets. I hope setting them up is as effortless as buying and receiving them.

The Price of Impulsiveness

It took me 4 years to finally buy into Bitcoin. During this time, I learned about alt coins. Alt coins were hundreds of dollars at the most – much more palatable for my budget than the almost $4,000 Bitcoin I finally bought.  The day I bought my 1 Bitcoin, I bought a bunch of alt coins. I didn’t want to procrastinate and get priced out of them the way I almost got priced out of buying Bitcoin. (Read my Bitcoin-buying procrastination sob story here.) I learned the hard way that “panic buying” is not a good strategy. Some of my alt coins appreciated, some held at their purchase price, but some nosedived.

I really thought I did my homework. I wanted to diversify my crypto-portfoio to reap as many gains as possible. I used the money that wasn’t sufficient to buy a second Bitcoin to buy the alt coins Bitcoin Cash, Monero, Dash, Ethereum, Litecoin, ZCash, and Ripple.

Bitcoin Cash was created on August 1, 2017 as an offshoot of Bitcoin to make transactions faster. Anyone with Bitcoin on August 1, 2017 suddenly also owned Bitcoin AND Bitcoin Cash. (You can read why I did not own Bitcoin on August 1 here.)  I assumed the swift climb of Bitcoin’s valuation would happen to its twin Bitcoin Cash. Within 2 weeks its price bounced erratically between $200 and $400. In late August it shot up to almost $800. The first 2 weeks of September it was in the $500’s. I bought in mid-September, believing it would continue to climb. What a mistake. Within a week, Bitcoin Cash declined dramatically. It turns out I bought at the top and it may never reach that price again. For all of October it was worth about 60% what I paid for it. The lesson here is to not buy something that’s only a few months old. There’s not enough data to make an informed decision. And don’t buy something that everyone else got for free. Fortunately I only bought 1. Now that it’s November, Bitcoin Cash is valued $50 MORE than what I paid for it. So I have to amend my “lesson learned” to “hold your nose and hope for the best”.

Monero seemed like the next big thing: quick transaction processing and true anonymity (Bitcoin only provides pseudoanonymity).  In 2016, Monero saw incredible gains. I wanted to ride the swift and steep rise I missed with Bitcoin. Monero’s price peaked in early September at almost $150. I bought it a week or so later on the downswing at just under $100. In my enthusiasm, I bought a bunch of Monero. Now it’s holding at around $88, still less than what I paid. I wish I only bought 1, or waited until its price flattened.

Dash seemed promising too. It is another truly anonymous alt coin. I followed its climb to $387 in August and figured it looked like Bitcoin-like opportunity to ride the upswing to double-digit gains. It turns out that August price was the peak. I bought at less than its peak price, but its valuation has since declined. I’m losing about $30 a piece on Dash. If I looked at its performance curve before buying, I would have followed its inclination a little more before committing.

Ethereum enjoyed the most news coverage of all alt coins. Its blockchain is the foundation of “smart contracts” which promises to revolutionize government issued ID, legal contracts, and supply chain tracking. In 2016 Ethereum traded for around $10. In the summer of 2017, it skyrocketed to $371, then fell to $150 in mid-July, then climbed again to $386 September 1, then dipped to $250 in mid-September. I bought on the upswing at just under $300. It’s been bouncing around the low $300’s. I’m glad I didn’t buy at a spike, but I wished I would have waited to buy in at a dip. I’m not losing but my impatience did miss on some great potential gains.

Litecoin was developed by the eggheads at MIT, so I figured they knew how to build a robust, revolutionary digital currency. Litecoin wasn’t expensive and I splurged on a handful of them. To date, the price hasn’t changed much. I’m glad it’s not losing value, but I’m disappointed it’s not appreciating either. I didn’t have to enter the market when I did, and I could have used my funds to buy something that was appreciating, like ZCash.

ZCash offers privacy and selective transparency in some transactions. It claims to provide extra security compared to other digital cash. All I know is it’s the only Alt Coin that was a good buy at the time. In the spring it was under $100 but I bought in the fall for under $200. To date ZCash gained about $30 each.  I wish I bought twice as many as I did.

Ripple has been a fun experiment. Ripple’s stated goal is to see “big companies lose their control over the flow of other people’s money just as they’ve lost control over the flow of information.” I personally would enjoy witnessing the demise of big banks that constantly rip me off with countless fees. Ironically, Ripple is backed by Google, a big company itself. At 18-cents each, I bought a shit load of Ripple and felt like a kingpin. When its price soared 10 cents, I reveled in my genius. It has since fallen back to my original purchase price. I’ve stopped reveling.

Enthusiasm and FOMO drove my alt coin purchases. I should have exercised restraint and bought based on fact and reason instead of emotion. I expect over time most or all of these currencies will appreciate, but I could have made my money work harder. Next time I have funds to play the crypto market, I’ll be smarter and hopefully see stronger returns.

What alt coins have you invested or dabbled in? Share what you would have done differently with the clarity of hindsight.