Hotel discount for not using housekeeping services

I was just booking a room in the Westin St. Francis in San Francisco for an upcoming conference. When I filled in all details and my credit card number (unfortunately no bitcoin payments yet for Starwood hotels…) I was asked whether I was interested in a $5 coupon per day for food & beverage if I would opt out of housekeeping services.

I had never seen this before and was surprised to get such a question. The Westin is not a cheap hotel, so I can’t imagine anybody taking the offer to get $5 back (rooms start at over $300/night even if you book well in advance). I did a quick Google search and it seems to be a standard thing for Starwood hotels when you book through their website (which I normally don’t do), and instead of $5 you can also get SGP points that apparently are more valuable.

The official reason Starwood Hotels offers this is that you can ‘Make A Green Choice’, but on FlyerTalk it was described as a marketing ploy to get more people to sign up for the Starwood program. If it’s really about making a green choice they should give you the option to hang a ‘no housekeeping services required’ sign on the door without offering a financial reward. Whatever the reason, I like a clean room with fresh towels after a long day of meetings (isn’t that the reason people stay at decent hotels?), so I kindly declined their offer.

Circle: Not yet Bitcoin’s killer app, but coming close

Circle $10

Yesterday I finally got access to my Bitcoin account, after I signed up for it 3 months ago during the announcement at the Bitcoin Conference in Amsterdam. My first impression: Circle is the most user-friendly and safest Bitcoin wallet (wallet = similar to a bank account) that’s currently on the market, but it’s not perfect yet. Because Circle is so easy to use and no real Bitcoin knowledge is needed it could help lead to more widespread Bitcoin adoption.

Setting up your account 

If you have ever used online banking you’ll be able to use as well, the site is very basic without any bells and whistles, and leads you through the process of setting up an account in 2 minutes. You don’t need to understand much about Bitcoin and your coins are supposed to be safe because they are all insured.

After setting up your account (just an email username and a password), you are asked to give Circle your mobile number so they can send you a text message to verify it. From that moment on Circle will keep on sending you text messages with a verification code each time you want to log in or you want to transfer money. This is called 2-factor authentication and many other sites use it (I use it for many other applications to make them more secure, incl. for example Gmail), and it’s a good thing that Circle forces everybody to use it.

Account balance in BTC and USD

Once you are in your account you will see your account balance. I was happy to see that Circle sent me $10 worth of Bitcoin already, which is great for people who are new to cryptocurrencies and don’t own any BTC yet. The interesting thing is that the value of your BTC is prominently displayed in USD. This may confuse some customers at first because your account balance is fixed in BTC, but changes constantly in USD when the rate changes (overnight my USD balance went up to $10.35 because the BTC price went up).

Buying BTC

Buying BTC is a big problem for most people that I have introduced to Bitcoin over the past year, but Circle changes that. You don’t need to set up an account at an exchange anymore, but you just link your credit card or bank account to the website and transfer money to your Circle account. I connected one of my credit cards and that was literally done in 30 seconds. I could immediately transfer money from my card to the account.

Changing BTC from your circle account to USD is just as easy, you can just send it from your account to your credit card or bank account. Of course credit cards may charge fees for that, but bank transfers should be free. One downside is that only US bank accounts can be used for now, so international customers can only use credit cards to easily get money out.

Sending BTC

Sending money is even more easy, either you send money to another Bitcoin address like in every other wallet or you can send money to the receiver’s email if he or she also has a Circle account. That’s a major thing in my opinion, because most people at first are afraid to type in (or copy) a long string of characters when they send money to someone. But typing in an email address is something everybody does all the time, so using it transfer money is a much lower hurdle.

Send money with Circle

Issues with Circle

I am very impressed with the simplicity and functionality of the site. However, there are a couple of downsides that I need to mention here. First of all, for Bitcoin power users like me it’s not acceptable that I do not have my private key. This is similar to Mt. Gox where Mark Karpeles or a hacker was able to run away with most of the funds because the site held the private keys. Of course Circle solved this by insuring the funds, but I would still be reluctant to put larger sums on the site. But I believe that for most people not having to worry about a private key or storing Bitcoins offline is actually a good thing, because this is the same experience as putting money in a bank account, where you have to trust the bank to keep your money safe.

Circle creates a new Bitcoin address for you each time you want to receive money and this is confusing to consumers. People are used to having just one bank account that never changes. I emailed their support last night to ask what happens with used addresses and it turns out that they will always stay yours. So your ‘bank account number’ does not change, but you end up with many ‘bank account numbers’ that consolidate in your account balance. Probably a good solution, but because it’s initially confusing they should make it clear on the site how this works. By the way, their support responded very fast and gave a clear answer, this is very important for such service that depends on trust.

Another problem I have is hat Circle does not have a mobile app yet. They tell you to use their mobile site, but this is not very secure when you also receive your 2-factor authentication codes there. But worse is that if you want to pay with Bitcoin in a coffeeshop you can’t just scan a QR code and then press pay on your screen, but you’ll need to manually type in the full address. That makes using Circle virtually worthless to me when paying with Bitcoin in daily life. I assume this is something they’ll work on, because without it nobody will pay small amounts with Circle (or maybe that’s their aim right now?).

Conclusion: this comes close to BTC’s killer app

Generally I think Circle developed a fantastic product for new users. At Bitcoin conferences I have said a few times that I am waiting for the Bitcoin killer app to appear and I think this app comes very close. Circle is so simple to use that it could lead to mainstream Bitcoin adoption. If you’re interested in Bitcoin you should sign up for a Circle account and experience yourself how easy to use it is. Too bad I am not an investor in this company: they raised $26 million already and are probably values at $100-200 million right now, which is a bit out of my league.

Hunting for golf balls


Scott and Elaine like to collect lost golf balls and the best place to find them is in a creek next to the golf course. Most people decide to tee of with a driver, but their skills are generally not as good as they think, so many balls end up in the woods and very often the ball rolls into a creek that runs through there.

This afternoon I joined Scott and my parents for a walk along the creek to hunt for lost golf balls. We immediately spotted a few, but some where hard to get out of the stream. I even had to wade into the cold water to collect some of the balls.


Within 20 minutes we found 15 golf balls, despite the fact that we already found at least 5 yesterday as well. After that we walked down to the beach where we spotted another one in the water at least 200 meters from the fairway.


While Scott was building a dam in the creek on the beach he found another one. That ball must have floated down the creek when there was more water in it, I don’t think I ever found golf balls before on that beach. So a total of 17 balls during a short walk, which is probably a new record. At home the kids now have a collection of hundreds of golf balls, there might be a small business in there for Scott and Elaine!

Hike from Eagle Harbour to Cypress Mountain with my dad

Me on the Baden Powell Trail

Because it’s a bit cooler and more cloudy this weekend, my dad and I decided to hike up from Eagle Harbour to Cypress Mountain, a 12 km trail that climbs 1000 meters in just the first 8 km.

Baden Powell Trail

I had done the trail (which is part of the Baden Powell Trail) once before with Alexandre Imperatori, but we somehow got lost and made a bit of a detour with lots of scrambling and climbing on very steep mountain slopes. We later figured out how and where we got lost, so I managed to avoid the mistake this time.

Baden Powell Trail

We started off by doing the Nelson Creek Trail to Whyte Lake, which took us just over 20 minutes. Then we hiked around the lake and took a left on the first small path that we saw, which took us to the Baden Powell Trail in about 10 minutes. From there it was hiking straight up for about 2 hours.

Nice views on the Baden Powell Trail

During the whole trail we only saw 6 other people. One person was a bit strange, he came down from the trail on his own (which is unusual) and asked us where the trail would lead to and whether it was well marked. This was at least 1.5 hours of fast hiking from the start of the trail and 2-3 hours from the top, nobody would end up here without a map and some knowledge of the area.

When I first spotted him in the distance I thought for a second that it was a bear, because he was completely dressed in black. He actually stopped when he saw us in the distance but after about 10 seconds he continued. Looking back I was glad I was not on my own there, it did not feel right. Maybe it was a criminal, he certainly looked like one. But what was he doing here? I can’t explain it.

Baden Powell Trail

Nature is stunning, the rainforest is so amazing here, with small streams, rocks and huge fallen trees. The trail was extremely steep at some places and we had to climb using both hands and feet over boulders and rocks.

My dad climbing up the Baden Powell Trail

After about 2.5 hours we ended up at Eagle Bluffs, an area with huge rocks overlooking Vancouver, Bowen Island and Howe Sound. Unfortunately there were quite some clouds below us, so the view was not as nice as usual. We had a banana and some water and then continued on to Cypress Mountain.

Eagle Bluffs

The last part is fairly easy, just a trail that goes up and down a bit through the forest. There are lots of mountain lakes that are probably frozen and snow-covered for most of the year, but that now almost look like well-maintained park lakes. The main difference would probably be the manytracks of animals in the mud at the water’s edge.

Baden Powell Trail close to Black Mountain

Eventually we ended up at the top of the Eagle Express chairlift at Cypress Mountain, the area where I ski at least once a week in winter. The ski area was deserted at the end of summer, and my dad and I decided to take one of the skipistes down to the main parking lot. Halfway my dad stopped and pointed something out in the distance. I took a better look and realized 2 huge grey wolves were standing about 200-300 meters away from us. To be honest, that scared me a bit, I don’t know a thing about wolves and I had no idea what we should do or not do. We both picked up a large rock and then quickly continued our descent in a direction away from the animals – without even taking a picture, something I now regret…

Walking down below the Eagle Express Chairlift (Cypress mountain)

We made it back safely to the parking lot where we had parked one of our cars, exactly 3.5 hours after we had started the hike. We were both quite tired and had an energy bar and some water before driving back to Eagle Harbour to pick up my car. It had been a great hike, glad we managed to do it without too much trouble.

Sailing in the Gulf Islands

At the wheel on our way to Salt Spring Island

Last week we went sailing in the Gulf Islands in southern British Columbia. It was the first longer trip on my new boat Liberty and I had been looking forward to it. My sailboat is quite spacious, with 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms (the boat sleeps 8 people in total), so next to Grace, Scott and Elaine I also brought my parents along on this trip.

Getting ready to leave Coal Harbour Marina

The original plan was to sail to Desolation Sound and spend a couple of days there, but the day we left the wind was blowing hard and exactly from the direction where we planned to sail, so we changed our plans just an hour into the trip. Instead if going north to Desolation sound we went west and crossed the Strait of Georgia to Galiano island.

There was more wind than I had imagined and there were a lot of waves once we were away from the mainland. Most of my family members did not feel too great, but luckily the boat is quite fast and within 3 hours we were on the other side of the strait where the conditions were very different. On the west side of Galiano the water was completely flat and there was hardly any wind.


Then I suddenly realized that I did not bring any guidebooks nor official charts for the Gulf Islands with me, because we had not planned to go here. Luckily my chart plotter has all the charts I needed, so based on those charts and with a bit of Googling on my phone we decided to go to Ganges Harbour on Salt Spring Island. I called 2 marinas there, the first one (Salt Spring Marina) did not answer the phone but the second one (Ganges Marina) luckily did. They would close for the night before we would arrive but they still had a good spot for us.

Liberty in Salt Spring Island (Ganges Harbour)

The marina was quite nice and they indeed had a big spot where other sailors helped us to tie up the boat. We then cooked a quick meal so the kids could go to bed early (they were very tired after a long day on the water), and after that I had a bottle of wine with my parents.

Sunset in Poet's Cove (Pender Island)

The next day we spent a lazy morning in the marina, we did some shopping and I managed to buy the official charts. At 1 pm we left Salt Spring Island and sailed south to Pender Island. There was not a lot of wind so we took it quite easy and ended up motoring the last part of the trip.

Liberty moored in Poet's Cove (Pender Island)

On Pender Island I had reserved space for the boat in Poet’s Cove, a nice marina that shares a pool and restaurants with a resort. Scott and Elaine went kayaking and I took the kids out in the dinghy. The water here is much colder than close to Vancouver, probably because of the proximity to the Pacific Ocean. I wanted to go for a swim but after just putting my feet in I decided to stay on the boat instead!

Poet's Cove (Pender Island)

The third day we sailed to Sidney, which has a big marina with some nice boats in it. There was quite a lot of wind when I had to dock the boat and I was very happy that Liberty has both bowthrusters and a stern drive. Without that I am not sure if I could have managed it. We had a drink on the boat and then strolled through the town. I had been here once before but when you arrive by boat it always looks like a different place. I now noticed the many bookstores (the town is famous for it apparently) and was more interested in the boat stores than in the real estate agents (I always look at house prices when I’m in a nice place).

Motoring to Salt Spring Island

After a night in Sidney the wind had picked up even more. We had planned to sail to Victoria, but that meant we would have to go straight against the wind and the tide currents through an area with lots of rocks and shallow areas. Because we really wanted to go back to Victoria (where we spent a few days with the family in July) we decided to just motor there. That worked well and it was a nice ride. We among others passed by James Island, which is a huge private island with its own golf course and very nice beaches (and it’s for sale!). And we got to see the nice villas on Victoria’s waterfront from the boat, there are some great houses there.

Liberty in downtown Victoria

I managed to get a spot in Victoria’s inner harbour, right in front of The Fairmont Empress Hotel, where we stayed last month. We did a bit of shopping and sightseeing and then ended the day with a good meal in a seafood restaurant. After the kids were in bed we had a drink outside on the boat while watching the sunset.

Sunset in the inner harbour in Victoria

I really enjoyed spending a few days on the boat, but because of business obligations I had to go back to Vancouver. So on the last day we left quite early to take advantage of the currents and sailed and motored in just over 10 hours from Victoria to Vancouver. Most of the trip back the autopilot sailed the boat for us, so we could enjoy a book or just look at the natural scenery.

Leaving Victoria harbour

The Gulf Islands are incredibly beautiful and there are hardly any other boats. In Holland such an area would be filled up by people on their sail- and motor boats, but here you hardly see anybody else. I am happy that I have now explored this part of British Columbia a bit, I will certainly be back!

Almost back in Vancouver

Advertising photography

One of my Flickr pictures was used by Honda for a car brochure

The new Honda Pilot 2015 brochure

I take many pictures every day and some of them I put online, especially on Flickr. I started using Flickr for my online pictures in January 2005, a few months after I started this blog. At first just a few pictures per week, but from my stats I can see that I became more active around 2007, when I started posting 100-200 pictures per month.

Right now my Flickr stream contains over 17,000 public pictures that have been viewed about 2.5 million times. On average people view about 2500 of my pictures every day, but when I post a lot of photos in a post on this blog or on Facebook/Twitter that can easily go up to to 5000 or even 10,000 views per day.

I believe in the motto ‘sharing is caring’, so I use a Creative Commons license for my pictures, the Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license. That means that anybody can use my pictures, either commercially or non-commercially, as long as they attribute the picture to me and if they do not change the picture in any way. Because of that my pictures have ended up on many other websites over the years, but also in travel guidebooks, magazines and in newspapers. Normally I only find it out through Google Alerts when pictures are attributed to me, or when I see a spike in traffic coming from an external site.

A few weeks ago an ad agency working for Honda got in touch and asked whether they could use a picture of the Sea-to-Sky highway for a Honda car brochure. It was a photo that I took with my iPhone while driving home from Whistler last year. I told them that was fine with me and that I did not want money for it, just an attribution with my name and a copy of the brochure.

Sea to Sky highway (Whistler to Vancouver)

The original picture

Because the quality of the iPhone picture was not very high I did not think they would use it, and I also did not expect them to send me a copy of the brochure. But to my surprise yesterday Fedex delivered a couple of Honda Pilot 2015 brochures and on the second page my picture was used. So now I can also add car advertising photographer to the list of many different jobs that I have had over the years!

Quick bitcoin price analysis

A couple of people asked me this morning why Bitcoin went down so much over the past couple of days (it went down to $500 before buyers came back into the market). My take is that it’s a combination of a couple of factors:

  1. New merchants such as Dell now accept bitcoin, but sell the coins the moment someone buys a product. Result: supply up, but no change in demand, so lower price
  2. Bitcoin miners mine at a loss at current prices, so they wait for a price increase. However, they can’t wait too long before paying their bills, so they start selling as well when prices are in a downward trend.
  3. The successful Ethereum crowdsale means that these old coins will hit the market as well (I don’t think many people bought BTC just to invest in Ethereum), again increasing supply and lower prices
  4. These lower prices led to massive margin calls on Bitfinex, at one point 9000 coins were sold in 15 min on Bifinex, leading to a sharp decrease in prices and additional margin calls.

Because the order book is so thin these (small) increases in supply lead to lower prices right away. If you have some extra cash laying around this seems like a good time to buy (although according to technical analysis, if $500 is broken the price may go down to the $430 resistance level). What will happen next is that short sellers take profits and start buying again.

Still waiting for the first Wall Street ETF to be approved, at that point demand will go up a lot, which should lead to a huge increase in price. But that may still be a couple of months away, the SEC is so slow…

10 years of podcasting, Adam Curry, and the beginning of Tudou (and Twitter)

My first Apple device, a 2003 iPod with 10 GB hard disk

On August 13, 2004, today exactly 10 years ago, Adam Curry recorded his first podcast, The Daily Source Code (DSC), which started the whole podcasting phenomena. Coincidentally I was following Adam on his blog during that time so I listened to that first DSC as well. I immediately liked the concept of self-produced on-demand radio and so I started looking at the technology behind podcasting. Doing that would change my life, but of course I had no idea about that yet.

In the summer of 2004 I was working in Shanghai as a managing partner in a consulting company called China Bay. During that time I was not active online yet, but during the hot summer months in our small high-rise apartment in Xujiahui I started reading blogs (blogging was still quite new at that time) on subjects that interested me. I also started playing around with RSS feeds for the first time.

Adam Curry’s blog was on my blogroll (does that word still exist?) because I used to listen to him as a teenager when he was a famous Dutch DJ. If I remember correctly he used his blog to describe how he was hacking together a piece of software that would let you automatically download mp3 files to your iPod. He called it iPodder and with that podcasting was born.

I spent August playing around with iPodder, reading the newsgroups and/or email newsletters about podcasting and of course listening to the first podcasters on my big white iPod (which still had an internal hard disk!). Dave Winer’s Morning Coffee Notes was one of my favorite podcasts (Dave invented RSS) and of course the show that Adam and Dave recorded regularly, Trade Secrets.

I was not an entrepreneur yet but I started looking at potential business opportunities around that time, and I felt podcasting could become big. Within a very short time podcasters were sharing intimate details of their lives online (e.g. on the quite explicit Dawn and Drew show) and for the first time I realized that people want to show others their lives if you give them the right online tools (remember that this was long before social media started to take off).

Podcasting suddenly gave everybody the freedom to record a show and distribute it to the whole world on a subscription basis through a ‘podcatcher’ (another word that’s not being used anymore I think, iTunes is the best example of a modern day podcatcher). By following so many blogs and podcasts I also felt the urge to start sharing my own ideas with the world. I thought about doing a podcast, but decided to start with a blog first. My first blog post dates back to September 2004, but it’s lost in cyberspace (the archives on this blog only go back to August 2005 when I changed from Radio Userland to Blogger). Luckily I still have a hardcopy of my first 2 years of blogging because Grace put them together in a hardcover book as a Christmas present in 2006.

After starting the blog I wanted to do more and my idea was to set up some sort of podcatcher for the Chinese market. I was thinking of a service where everybody could upload their podcasts and where other people could subscribe to them. But I felt that would not be sufficient, you would need an editorial team that would put the best podcasts on the homepage in order to attract more people to the site. However, I could not do that myself because I had hardly any programming skills. I was looking for someone who could help me with that, but did not have a big network yet in the online world.

Coincidentally I sat next to Gary Wang during the first Formula One race in Shanghai in September 2004 (Gary and Grace both worked at Bertelsmann during that time and that company had invited us to the race) and we became friends. A few weeks later during a round of golf I explained him my podcasting ideas and that turned into a new company. Of course we found out quickly that a pure audio site would not become very big, so we added video as well and then Tudou was born!

Interestingly at the same time a company in Silicon Valley was trying to do the exact same thing for the US market. They were called Odeo and were also a combination of a podcatcher with a homepage with the best podcasts. They even managed to get into the New York Times with their idea. Just like us they realized that pure audio podcasting does not scale and is hard to monetize, but instead of switching to video they went in a completely different direction and launched a SMS broadcasting service that they called twttr. And yes, that’s now Twitter with a $25+ billion market cap.

Thanks Adam Curry for this innovation, without you I would probably not have started this blog and certainly would not have come up with the idea for a podcasting site. Audio podcasting never really became mainstream but because of it other people developed new ideas. And I actually still listen to podcasts regularly, not on an iPod anymore but now in my car through the iPhone podcast app.

An evening on the water

Leaving Vancouver harbour

Every summer the Celebration of Light takes place on English Bay in Vancouver, a fireworks festival in which country teams compete to create the best fireworks show. Last night it was Japan’s turn and we decided to check it out with visiting friends from Seattle. Because hundreds of thousands of people were expected to show up we decided to take our boat and watch the show from the water.

Entering English Bay

We left the marina just after 6 pm and drove the boat under the Lions Gate bridge and around Stanley Park to English Bay. The currents in the First Narrows just before the Lions Gate were very strong and a 70 foot motor yacht ahead of us was pushed off its course several times. Our boat was less affected (likely because we have a deeper keel?), but I had to work hard at the rudder to keep it going in the right direction. But after the bridge it was easy sailing again.

Who is in charge of steering the boat?

The weather was fantastic, about 30 degrees Celsius and a clear blue sky. There was a bit of breeze to cool us off, but the sea was almost completely flat. Surprisingly there were not a lot of boats on the water.

Scott is happy

We decided to go straight to the place where the fireworks festival would be held to find a good anchoring spot. We found a really good place close to the fireworks barges and put the anchor out about 200-300 meter from the beach.

Liberty at anchor in English Bay

The beaches in downtown were very full already, in order to get a good viewing spot you have to be there many hours in advance. And they kept on getting fuller and fuller, I read this morning that a total of 350,000-400,000 people watched the fireworks last night!

Rowing the dinghy with the kids

After anchoring we went for a swim and we lowered the rubber dinghy into the water. The water was warm enough to swim, so that was a good way to cool off a bit.
Liberty at anchor in English Bay

Scott wanted to go kayaking, so I also put his small kayak out. Because there was a bit of a current (tidal currents) I put a long line on his kayak so we could always pull him back in if needed.

Scott on his kayak

Around 8 pm I took a quick shower and then we had dinner. Lots of boats had barbecues on board, and the smell had made us all hungry. Among others we brought sandwiches, salads, quiche and soup, and we ate it while watching the boats around us. More and more boats kept on coming, I was happy that I had moored early. I am not too experienced with anchoring my boat yet and the last thing you want is that the anchor does not set well and you drift against other boats.

Dinner on the boat

After dinner the kids played on their iPads and we talked and read a bit while it was slowly getting dark.

Sunset over English Bay

The sunset was beautiful over the water, especially with a drink in our hands and good music on the sound system.

View from the boat to West Vancouver's mountains

Just before the show would start at 10 PM we changed the music to a radio station that would broadcast the fireworks music. Each Celebration of Light show is synchronized to music, which makes it even better than a normal fireworks show. And I finally had a good reason to put my outdoor sound system really loud!

Fireworks on English Bay (Celebration of Light Festival)

I am not an expert in fireworks shows, but I have seen a lot of them over the years and this certainly seemed like an extremely good one. It lasted about 25 minutes and it looked like the Japanese team used every pyrotechnic trick in the book. Of course being so close to the actual barges made it even better, you could even feel the pressure changes because of the explosions!

After the show most boats left right away, but we had another drink and waited until most of them had sailed off into the dark. Then we pulled up the anchor and slowly motored away. It was pitch dark and there were still some boats anchored, so we had to be very careful.

Sailing on English Bay late at night, it was incredibly dark on the water

Once on the open water I sped up to about 9 knots, but I did not feel completely comfortable. I navigated on my instruments (you could not see a thing around you) and from experience I knew what areas to avoid, but I was worried that I might not see some of the other boats. Most vessels had the required lights on, but there were a few smaller ones that did not seem to understand how dangerous it is to sail without lights. And many of those smaller boats did not show up on my radar either, so it was kind of dangerous. Isabell offered to sit at the front of the boat and look out for other vessels. Glad she did because she indeed had to warn me twice of ships that I had not seen yet.

Sailing into Vancouver harbour late at night

There were quite some waves on English Bay and in First Narrows, mainly caused by speed boats, but we made it back safely. Around 11:30 we were back in the marina, packed our things and drove home. Elaine had fallen asleep during the boat ride back already but Scott was still wide awake. At home I put Scott to bed and then Marcin and I ended the day with a few beers at the pool. It had been a great night on the water!

I put a lot more pictures of the evening online in this set on Flickr:

Sightseeing in Deep Cove and Mount Seymour

Deep Cove, BC

My family in law is still visiting and they will leave later this week, therefore we decided to do a bit of sightseeing. I had planned to go to Deep Cove with them on my boat, but because I sprained my wrist on Friday when I slipped outside the office (never read emails on your phone while walking…) we could not to do that. But of course you can also drive your car to Deep Cove, so that’s what we did.

Deep Cove, BC

Deep Cove is at the eastern end of Vancouver’s North Shore, at the entrance of Indian Arm and at the foot of Mount Seymour, just a 25 minute drive from our house. It’s a great village to visit in summer because of the combination of mountains and a peaceful bay. I actually looked at a house on the water here before we bought our current home, but because it rains a lot more in Deep Cove in winter I decided not to consider the place.

But of course the summers here are just as great as in most places in British Columbia, with temperatures in the mid-20s Celsius and clear blue skies most of the time.

Deep Cove, BC

Deep Cove has a marina with mainly small boats (at least compared to Vancouver’s downtown marinas), even on the public dock the maximum length for boats is just 36 feet. So if I had taken my own boat I would have needed to anchor in the bay. Also I would have had to call the railway bridge over the Second Narrows as my mast is too tall to pass under it. So going by car was actually a good solution.

Deep Cove, BC

We walked along the beach at low tide and looked at the many people in their kayaks and canoes. The water is normally very quiet here, so ideal to paddle around. It’s also the best place to venture into Indian Arm, a 20 km long glacial fjord with steep mountain slopes on both sides and several water falls.

Deep Cove, BC

After a lunch of sushi, sashimi and teppanyaki at a local Japanese restaurant we decided to drive up Mount Seymour. In winter Mount Seymour is Vancouver’s third ski resort (next to the ski areas on Cypress Mountain and Grouse Mountain), but in summer it’s a great place to go hiking or to enjoy the views.

View from Mount Seymour with Mount Baker in background

Because my parents in law are a bit older already we did not do a real hike, but instead enjoyed the views over Vancouver with snow covered Mount Baker in the distance. If my hand would not have hurt so much from the fall I probably would have done a short hike up and down one of the ski slopes. I’ll leave that for next time.

View from Mount Seymour with Mount Baker in background

Only in China…

The downside of a real estate boom is that a lot of downtown buildings will be demolished after 15-20 years to make room for other (=more profitbable) buildings. In China that happens a lot, and sometimes the safety measures are a bit less than you would expect.

In the video below a tower at a busy intersection in downtown Qiqihar (Heilongjiang) was blasted without any warning for the public. A car coincidentally recorded the whole scene while standing at a traffic light. No police cordoning off the area, no spraying of water to reduce the dust, and not even a warning that an explosion would take place. Makes me wonder if a worker accidentally pushed the demolition button too early. Only in China…

Note: The video started playing automaticall (with sound…), so I decided to take out the i-frame and just put a link to the original article where the video is embedded:

Source: Shanghaiist

The Ethereum hype

As regular readers know I am passionate about anything related to Bitcoin, especially applications that use the blockchain for more than just monetary transactions. One company that I have been following since their launch in January is Ethereum, a platform and programming language for applications built on top of a new distributed ledger (blockchain). Business Insider named them the most hyped digital currency since Bitcoin, and I think that is a correct title.

Vitalik Buterin (Ethereum), North American Bitcoin Conference in Miami (Jan 2014)

Vitalik Buterin introducing Ethereum at the Miami conference

After Ethereum was introduced to the world in January at the Miami Bitcoin Conference, its 21-year old genius founder Vitalik Buterin became an instant rock star in the Bitcoin world. People even started comparing him to Bitcoin inventor Satoshi Nakamoto. Vitalik announced at that time that Ethereum would launch its crowdsale IPO on February 1, and I had planned to buy some Ether during that time.

However, right before the IPO should take place the sale was cancelled and since then there have not been a lot of official announcements. Because of how they handled their potential investors I decided not to put any money into Ethereum if they would try to do their IPO again. When you can’t even handle a simple crowdsale well, I wonder if you are mature enough to run an altcoin platform that should change the way we do business.

Vitalik Buterin (Ethereum), a star is born - North American Bitcoin Conference in Miami (Jan 2014)

People all wanted to talk to Vitalik after his talk in Miami

Well, this week Ethereum finally launched its funding, this time without any advance notice. At least, I did not get the message and I also don’t think Vitalik mentioned it at the Chicago conference last weekend. But that did not matter, because the IPO was a HUGE success: after 2 days they already raised almost 7000 bitcoins, which is about US$ 4.8 million at current prices.

To me that was a surprise, I knew the company was hyped but I had not expected such a major hype. Why? Simply because the company is still purely a powerpoint and a couple of geeks talking at conferences about their ideas. Very good ideas I have to say, but there is no product yet and there won’t be a product until at least 6 months later. But that’s not all, because they are selling Ether (their currency) without announcing how many Ether they will selling in total (it’s an open-ended crowdsale). That means you have no clue what percentage of the company you will buy or, in venture capital language, you invest without knowing the valuation of the company.

Ethereum logo

And what do you get for that? Moe Levin put it well in a podcast interview today in which he called Ether “Casino chips that can only be used in one casino”. It may be a huge casino eventually, or maybe there will never be a casino. Or they will just keep printing new chips for new users, diluting the value of the current chips.

To make matters worse, anybody can copy Ethereum’s source code (it’s open source, so anybody can see it) and start a copy of Ethereum that works exactly the same. And that’s already being done, last night Aethereum (Yes, just one letter difference) was announced and this platform will give its coins away for free based on how many Bitcoins you own.

USD 4.8 million is a lot of money, a lot more money than the company needs to build its product. They are a low cost operation, basically just a bunch of young but very smart developers, who all get Ether as well for their efforts (if I remember correctly 9.9% of all Ether is set aside for the founders).

As a rational investor I would never put money into such a venture, but it seems most Ethereum investors are not rational. Ethereum uses an interesting incentive to get people to buy quickly, because after 14 days the price of Ether will go up. That means you’ll have a limited time to buy at the current price. This may be part of the reason why people want to put money in as soon as possible. On social media people are arguing that they just invest to help the team, and that may be true. However, I believe 4.8 million is a lot of money to give away to help a young team to build a good product, even in the Bitcoin world.

Ether sale

To be fair, the Ethereum team did nothing wrong (well, they botched their first IPO and are terrible at investor communications) and they are very clear about the fact what they offer. It’s not a pump and dump. They mention it’s not a regular investment, you just get coins that do not even exist yet. Maybe Ether will become very valuable or maybe it will never have any value, to me that’s gambling.

And that’s fine, but you won’t see me put any money into Ethereum until after they launch their coins and until they get some traction. The Bitcoin world changes so fast that by then another competitor may have emerged that is better or faster. Congrats to the team for raising so much money so easily, now the pressure is on them to deliver on the expectations they created.

Chicago & the North American Bitcoin Conference

Chicago (July 2014)

This weekend I was in Chicago for the 2nd North American Bitcoin Conference, the same conference that I spoke at in Miami in January. I’m writing this post on my phone on the plane back home (United Airlines did not have power outlets on its seats in biz class, and I did not recharge my laptop before boarding), so hopefully not too many typos.

It does not happen often that I travel for business to a city I have not been to yet, but I had never visited Chicago so I looked very much forward to the trip: a conference about a topic that I am very passionate about combined with the chance to see a new city.

Chicago (July 2014)

Chicago turned out to be a very nice city that reminded me a lot of New York City (esp. the building style), but more open and directly on the huge Lake Michigan. It felt very friendly with lots of bars, clubs and restaurants and with several marinas close to downtown.

Although there was not a lot of time to see the city (the conference lasted for 2 full days on Saturday and Sunday), I still managed to see quite a lot of it from Uber taxis on my way to dinners or parties and from a architectural sightseeing boat trip on the rivers in Chicago.

Running in Chicago

I also started the day on both Sunday and Monday with a run along the lakeshore. There is a flat concrete trail that follows Lake Michigan’s shoreline, with parks, beaches and marinas along it. The trail offers excellent views of the Chicago skyline as well, especially north of Museum Park. One of the nicer places to run in the world, especially in warm, sunny summer weather (it was about 30 Celcius while I was in Chicago).

The conference itself was once again very interesting. Moe Levin (the organizer) told me that there were about 800 participants, similar to the number of people in Miami (the other Bitcoin conference that he organizes).

Venture Capital panel at Chicago BTC conference #tnabc

The topics were similar to other conferences, with as usual a venture capital panel (on which I was invited to speak) and panels on topics like mining (Ghash’s crossing the 51% mark (twice!) and solutions for that were discussed), and regulation (the timing of NY’s draft Bitlicenses last wek was perfect).

But the topics that fascinated me most were Bitcoin 2.0 and the talks by China exchanges Huibi and OKCoin. Both companies seem to have overcome the Chinese anti-Bitcoin sentiment and are actively internationalizing. The speed with which they are doing that is incredible (possibly another post on that later this week). BTC China, the former leader in the exchange world was not at the conference and seems to be lagging behind fast.

The Bitcoin 2.0 discussion was super interesting, although there was nothing groundbreaking new. The time for new exchanges and wallets is over, the future are the companies that live on the blockchain. Smart property and smart contracts are the new keyword in Bitcoin land.

Of course the price of Bitcoin came up as well. Consensus was that the current stable price is due to the fact that more merchants accepting BTC are coming into the market (welcome Dell!) but they all change to fiat currency the moment they receive the crypto currency. This means more supply which follows the rising demand for BTC. But once a Wall Street ETF comes onto the market (e.g. the Winkelvoss fund that is waiting for SEC approval) prices might explode. The VC panel thought the price will be in the $1200-1400 range by year end in case ETF’s will be available by then.

The Shreminator (Charlie Shrem's robot)

Charlie Shrem also had a guest appearance at the conference. He is waiting for his trial in New York and has house arrest, but he solved that by sending his robot. He could control the Shreminator robot and in that way walk around, talk to people and even give a speech on stage.

For me Chicago trip was worth the time (no weekend at home) and cost, I had a good time and met many of my global Bitcoin friends again. Thanks for another great event and the excellent organization Moe!

Sea to Summit Trail & Sea to Sky Gondola

A couple of weeks ago the Sea to Sky Gondola started its operations, a new cable car just outside of Squamish that opens up a new high altitude hiking and snowshoeing area next to the Stawamus Chief. I heard good things about it, but I was a bit worried that it would be very busy on a weekend (some blogs were saying that waiting times for the gondola were 45 minutes on weekends). However, because the weather was very nice (30 degrees Celsius!) and my family-in-law is visiting we decided to go there anyway.

My family taking the brand new Sea to Sky Gondola

It turned out that it was not busy at all, the parking lot at the gondola entrance had a number of empty spaces and there was no line at all at the gondola. I think the weekend lines may have been due to the fact that the gondola had just opened and many people wanted to try it out. My family bought tickets to take the gondola but I decided to run (actually, mainly hike and climb) up the newly built 1o km Sea to Summit trail to the top at over 900 meters altitude.

Hiking the Sea to Sky Summit Trail

The trail starts right behind the parking lot and merges with another trail after a few hundred meters. At that point the path got really busy, but I soon found out that these were all people hiking up to Stawamus Chief and not to the top of the gondola. After about 20 minutes the Sea to Summit trail turned to the right, following the Shannon Falls trail, and it was quiet again.

Hiking the Sea to Sky Summit Trail

The Sea to Summit trail is similar to the Grouse Grind in terms of its vertical distance, but where the Grouse goes up 900 meters in less than 3 km, the Sea to Sky takes 10 km for that. A large part of the trail is relatively flat, meaning that you can recover easily, which is never the case on the Grouse Grind. But part of the trail is very steep as well and reminded me of the Grouse, I even had to climb over rocks using both my hands (on Grouse that’s hardly ever needed, only when it rains or when it’s freezing). The Sea to Summit is not a trail you want to do with young kids!

Selfie at the Shannon Falls (Sea to Sky Summit Trail)

The Sea to Summit has some beautiful sights along the trail, among others the upper Shannon Falls that are located about halfway to the top. I heard the waterfalls from far away already and was happy that the trail passed by them so I could check them out.

View over Howe Sound from the Sea to Sky summit trail

Ten minutes past the Shannon Falls is a great viewing area, where you can see Howe Sound and part of Squamish. It’s a good place to rest before tackling the final 3-4 km to the top. I just stopped for a minute for another drink: I was dehydrating fast because of the hot weather and kept on drinking water during the work-out.

Some parts of the Sea to Sky summit trail are quite hard and ropes are needed

At the final part of the trail I took the Wrinkle Rock trail shortcut, which is about 1 km shorter than the normal route but also a lot more difficult. You have to go over some rocky terrain where the fixed ropes (see picture) are needed to get to the top. From there it’s another 20 minutes of relatively steep trails through the woods to the top of the gondola.

Arrived at the top of the Sea to Summit trail, Scott & Elaine were waiting for me

After 1 hour and 57 minutes I arrived at the summit where Scott and Elaine were waiting for me. I was completely exhausted, not only because of the long and quite difficult trail, but especially because of the heat. 30 degrees Celsius is actually too hot for a hike/run like this and I drank about 2 liters of chocolate milk, water and smoothies before I started to recuperate a bit.

Made it to the top of the Sea to Sky summit!

After about 15 minutes I felt good enough to walk around at the top and so I did a bit of sightseeing with Scott. The summit area looks great and the views are stunning. I think this may become an important tourist destination in the future.

Scott looking at the map at the Sea to Sky gondola summit

It’s also a good start for some new trails that were recently built. However, because it’s high mountain area you have to watch out where you hike: last weekend a hiker died after falling only 6 km away from the top of the gondola. Easier accessibility to the backcountry does not mean that it’s less dangerous.

Top of the Sea to Sky gondola

Although I was too tired to try any of the new trails (next time!), I did join Scott on the suspension bridge that’s close to the gondola.

Suspension bridge at the top of the Sea to Sky gondola

After that I joined my family in the gondola to go down to the parking lot again. I would not advise anybody to hike down if you’re tired already. The downhill fee for the gondola is only $10 (the same as on Grouse Mountain), so that should not be a reason to hike down.

Taking the gondola down with my family after hiking up to the Sea to Sky Summit

The Sea to Summit is a much nicer hike than the Grouse Grind, but also more time consuming (it takes approximately twice as long, my Grinds normally take 50-55 minutes). It only took me 30 minutes to drive home from the gondola station, so I think I will come back here more often. However, I’ll probably wait until it cools off a bit, in the height of the British Columbia summer it’s actually too hot to do a 2 hour outdoor work-outs.

Because of its proximity to Vancouver the Sea to Summit could become a competitor to the Grouse Grind, especially for weekend hikes (a 2 hour after-work hike instead of 1 hour, plus extra travel time, will be too much for most Grouse Grinders). So far there is no official timer yet like on Grouse, so you’ll have to time yourself, but once the hike becomes more popular that may come as well. I’m looking forward to doing this one a couple of times per year!

Mini break in Victoria, BC

Grace’ family is visiting at the moment, so last weekend we decided to take the ferry to Victoria on Vancouver Island to spend a few days there. I enjoyed the trip a lot, because I had not seen a lot of Victoria during my last trip there and because of the great summer weather.

We decided to take the ferry instead of a seaplane so that we would have our own car while in town. That was a good idea, because there is a lot to see outside of Victoria. Below a couple of pictures from the 3 days and nights we spent there.

Ferry from Tsawassen to Swartz Bay

On the ferry from Tsawassen to Swartz Bay

On the ferry to Vancouver Island

View during the ferry ride to Vancouver Island. The Gulf Islands are beautiful, I hope to come back here soon on my own boat. Lots of places to anchor and so quiet! Happy to have this kind of places within one day of sailing from home.

Sidney, BC

Sidney, BC. A small seaside town between the ferry terminal and Victoria. We walked along the waterfront and looked at some of the shops.

Kids looking out of the window in the living room at Fairmont The Empress, Victoria, BC

Scott and Elaine enjoying the view from our living room in the Fairmont hotel. There was always something happening in the harbour and it was nice to see the ferries, seaplanes, sailing boats and whale watching tours arrive and depart continuously.

Fairmont The Empress, Victoria, BC

Fairmont The Empress, one of the best hotels I have stayed in in North America and in a great location in the center of town. I will likely stay here again on future trips to Victoria.

View from our room at Fairmont The Empress, Victoria, BC

Sunset view over Victoria Harbour, taken from our room

Fairmont The Empress, Victoria, BC

Fairmont The Empress at night

Parliament Building, Victoria, BC

Parliament Building at night, taken from the harbour

Craigdarroch Castle, Victoria, BC

Craigdarroch Castle, the former residence of mining tycoon Dunsmuir. Highly recommended to visit this huge house that was put back in its original state. 

Royal BC Museum

Royal BC Museum, explaining and showing the history and nature of British Columbia. Even Scott and Elaine liked the museum a lot.

Victoria Parliament Building

Parliament Building, next to Victoria’s inner harbour.

Victoria Parliament Building

Inside Parliament Building. The Parliament is open to the public, either on a guided or a self-guided tour.

Sooke, BC

Sooke, on the Pacific Coast. It was much colder here because of the clouds that came in over the ocean. A relaxed atmosphere in a beautiful setting, I plan to come back here.

Lunch in Sooke, BC

Lunch in a restaurant on the water, just outside of Sooke

Butchart Gardens, Victoria, BC

The Butchart Gardens, about 20 km outside Victoria. Planted in a former mine, this is a nice park to stroll for an hour or 2. The park has among others a rose garden, an Italian garden and a Japanese garden.

Butchart Gardens, Victoria, BC

Japanese Garden at the Butchart Gardens, Scott and Elaine posing for pictures.

Scott in the lounge at the Fairmont The Empress (Victoria)

Scott in the lounge of our hotel. We spent quite some time here every day for breakfast, drinks, high tea, appetizers and wine before dinner, and for a last glass of wine after the kids were in bed.

Horseshoe Bay from the ferry

On the ferry right before arriving in Horseshoe Bay.

More pictures of our trip are here on this set on Flickr:

Bitcoin close to a tipping point? An overview of all the recent positive news


Today’s warning by the European Banking Authority for banks not to sell, hold or trade Bitcoin was reported as negative for Bitcoin in mainstream media. I think these media are wrong, the fact that even the EU is now asking for regulation of Bitcoin means that cryptocurrencies are actually getting much closer to a breakthrough than I had assumed just a few months ago.

I believe Bitcoin regulation will be needed in order for it to succeed, so I applaud the fact that more regulation will come soon. Only then the average Joe will start using Bitcoin, so they might as well start regulating it sooner than later.

Mainstream media are very biased in their Bitcoin reporting, it reminds me a bit of how they report about China: mainly negative, stereotypical stories make it into the media. Over the past weeks so many positive, important things have happened to Bitcoin that I feel that it’s coming close to a tipping point. But of course you don’t read these stories in your daily newspaper or on the national news. Therefore here an overview of some of the most important Bitcoin news stories from the past weeks, that show how far Bitcoin has come already.

California makes Bitcoin legal currency
Last week California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill that makes “various forms of altnernative currency such as digital currency” legal in purchasing goods and transmitting payments. A major step for Bitcoin!

Russian may legalize Bitcoin
After basically banning Bitcoin a couple of months ago, Russia is seeing the light. Bank of Russia deputy chairman Luntovsky said this week that the Bank of Russia is ready to legalize Bitcoin. At a conference he said: “One can’t ignore this instrument, maybe this is the future”. However, “We advocate a careful approach to bitcoin and are monitoring the situation along with the Bank for International Settlements,”

Newegg accepts Bitcoin payments
Newegg, the multi-billion dollar online retailer of computer hardware and software started to accept Bitcoin this week. According to Newegg: “Our customers have been asking for Bitcoin as a payment option for months. We believe there is a pent-up demand just waiting to be served and we are happy to open this payment option to them.” Newegg is using Bitpay to convert its Bitcoin into traditional currency.

Winkelvoss Bitcoin Trust getting closer to launch
Wall Street can still not buy Bitcoin because there are no Bitcoin instruments available to them. Therefore it’s imperative that ETFs (electronically traded funds) come onto the market. The first one will most likely be the Winkelvoss ETF, because they (again) handed in an amended S-1 to the SEC. They also announced that the ETF will trade on the NASDAQ under the symbol COIN. Once this ETF will start trading I expect an immediate big increase in the Bitcoin price.

Successful US Bitcoin auction
The big news in Bitcoin land this week was the succesful auction of 30,000 BTC that the US government seized from Silk Road. Venture Capitalist Tim Draper turned out to be the winner of the auction, but he did not want to say how much he paid for them. The Bitcoin price had gone down after the auction was announced, but right after the auction was over it increased again to pre-auction levels. For me the auction is signficant not only because it was successful, but also because it signals that the US does not see Bitcoin as an illegal asset. If they would have seized drugs they certainly would not have auctioned it off!

South Korean payment processor Galaxia integrates Bitcoin
I have to admit that until a few days ago I never heard of Korean payment processor Galaxia, but after they announced that they will integrate Bitcoin most people in Bitcoin land will remember them. They are in the top 3 of largest payment processors in Korea and because of their Bitcoin integration Koreans can now pay in cryptocurrency on more than 10,000 domestic and international websites.

Bloomberg, Yahoo Finance and Google Finance add Bitcoin
A few weeks ago Bloomberg suddenly added Bitcoin to its terminals for financial professionals. An important prerequisite for traders to start paying attention to the cryptocurrency. And for people like me who don’t want to spend $3000 per month on real time financial news and data, both Yahoo Finance and Google Finance also added Bitcoin price data.

Apple allows Bitcoin wallets
When Apple started to ban Bitcoin wallets last year I was seriously thinking to switch back to Android, despite all the drawbacks for an Apple junkie like me. But it looks like that won’t be necessary anymore, because Apple changed its mind and started to allow Bitcoin wallets again. Great news for me and many other people who are married to the iOS infrastructure. Bitcoin now even appears in the official iPhone stock quotes app, but that’s likely because of the Yahoo Finance integration (Yahoo delivers the data for this app).

Bitcoin Bowl
Bitpay and ESPN signed a 4-year deal to rename the college football bowl in St. Petersburg, FL to the Bitcoin Bowl. Heads off to Bitpay for not naming it Bitpay Bowl, because now a 100 million Americans will hear about the Bitcoin Bowl on ESPN. According to CryptoCoinNews the Bitcoin Bowl agreement has the potential to: “To win over a public still skeptical of digital currencies and to get some good headlines in a year marked by bad press for its falling price and bankruptcy scandals, Bitcoin promoters are turning to America’s favorite pastime – football.”

Coinbase Vault
If you mined some Bitcoin a few years ago or spent a thousand dollars in 2010 or 2011 on Bitcoin, you would now be a (multi)millionaire. The problem is that if you keep your money in Bitcoin (as most would stilll do of course) you may suddenly have sleepless nights because you wonder how safe your Bitcoin really are in your online wallet. Several of my friends who intend to buy serious amounts of Bitcoin did not do so yet because of the same problem, they worry about the people stealing their coins. Of course you can keep them in paper wallets, but they can get lost and most non-techies don’t even understand what a paper wallet is yet.

Coinbase has now solved this problem with a new product called Vault. They will store your coins offline and withdrawals are time delayed, meaning that if someone threatens you and forces you to give them your pass codes they can’t access your money until after 48 hours. Also you can add multiple signatures to your account, so that you need more than one person’s password to access your money. An important product that will lead to a higher Bitcoin adoption.

MIT students all get $100 in Bitcoin
What happens if the smartest technical students would all get $100 worth of Bitcoin? We’ll find out, because all undergraduate MIT students will get $100 this fall when they arrive back on campus. The money for this was privately raised through MIT alumni and the Bitcoin community and will likely not only lead to more Bitcoin awareness but also to a lot of Bitcoin projects by MIT students.

Expedia allows Bitcoin payments
One of the largest online travel agencies,, now accepts Bitcoin as payment. To start with for hotel bookings only and only on its US site, but it’s a good start. Expedia uses Coinbase for its Bitcoin transactions. Expedia announced this week that the bookings in Bitcoin have exceeded their expectations.

Dianrong offers 10% guaranteed investment return in Sina partnership

New product: 10% guaranteed return!

Update: Unbelievable, the product below was so popular that it sold out in just 2 minutes! Only in China, finding lenders for 3 million RMB (about US$ 500K) in 2 minutes. I love it!

Last week Grace and I visited the offices of (formerly SinoLending) in Shanghai, a p2p lending company where I’m a board member. They have some innovative products coming up and one of them will launch today.

In a cooperation with Sina, Dianrong will now offer lenders a 10% guaranteed annualized return on their investments in a new product that they offer. Anybody can join, the minimum amount that you need to lend out is RMB 500 for a period of 6 months. However, the offer is only available until Monday or until 3 million RMB has been lended (whatever comes first). You can check the progress here:

I think this will be a very popular product, because the principal and interest are guaranteed and because it’s offered in cooperation with leading portal Sina. The product will introduce more people to the concept of p2p lending in China, where the savings rate is traditionally quite high and banks like anywhere give low interest rates on deposits.

Dianrong is growing extremely fast and I am proud of the strong team that comes up with these new products and implements them quickly. Expect some more innovative products over the next couple of weeks.

Sold out in 2 minutes!

Chinese entrepreneurship

During our meetings over the past days in Shanghai it became once again very clear to me that there is no country for entrepreneurship like China. Things just go so much faster than in most other parts of the world. Just one example here, judge for yourself if this would be possible outside China:

Grace and I were meeting with an entrepreneur for breakfast. Grace had known him online for about 3 years and met him once in real life, but so far I had not seen him in person. Grace talked highly about him, because he was smart and had a lot of potential.

He indeed turned out to be a very smart guy in his early 30s who spoke fluent English. Not surprising considering his tech degree from one of the top 5 universities in the US and his work experience there. He mentioned that Canada had given him a permanent residence but that he let it expire because of the opportunities in China. This actually reminded me of Grace not taking a Singapore permanent residence after getting her INSEAD degree (at that time Singapore offered this to all INSEAD MBA graduates).

After ordering food and drinks on the terrace in Xintiandi he started telling us about his start-up. I hear a lot of pitches in my job a venture capitalist, but this was one of the best I had ever heard. The guy was extremely passionate about his idea and I immediately got what he was planning to do and how it could disrupt a major industry. The idea was a relatively simple (tech) execution play and I realized this was a potential multi-billion dollar idea. I can’t talk about the idea here because he is in full stealth mode, but if it comes out and becomes as succesful (as I think it will be) I will likely blog about it.

He started the company about 6 weeks ago and now already has 15 people on his payroll. Not just average developers and operations people, but top people from China’s leading online companies. I was very impressed but I understood how he had managed to convince them to join him in his start-up.

Although it was not an ‘official’ pitch I became intrigued and decided on the spot that I wanted to invest (something that’s highly unusual for me by the way). However, he then told me that 2 weeks ago he had had lunch with a partner of one of the leading Silicon Valley venture capital funds (a fund that I can’t name here either), where he had informally mentioned his plan. Although he wasn’t ready to raise money yet, he also offered to invest immediately and within 5 days all documents had been signed and the deal was closed! I guess we were just 2 weeks too late. Maybe there is a chance to get in at a later stage, but likely at a very inflated valuation.

Two months ago this was just an idea, and now it’s already a fully operational and well-funded company that will grow to 20 employees before its launch later this month. Wow, just wow.

When hearing this kind of stories I sometimes wonder whether I made the right decision to leave China. Of course I know I can’t really live in China anymore with my family because of the pollution, the food scandals, the traffic jams and the censored, slow Internet. Also I am very happy with my new life and job in Vancouver and I would not consider leaving. But as an ambitious investor and entrepreneur I realize the quality of life in Canada comes at a price. You can’t have it all, so it’s great to be back every now in the place where things really happen.

Back in China for a few days

View over Xintiandi

View over Xintiandi (Shanghai)

Grace and I landed in China on Sunday afternoon for a couple of days of meetings, dinners or drinks with companies, friends and family. The longer we live in Canada the longer it takes to get used to China again. Things that were normal just 15 months ago now seem so foreign to me. But it’s great to be back and to see what’s going on in business – and in the Chinese Bitcoin world!

The love/hate relationship I used to have with China is still there, but I feel more of an outsider now. My driver’s license here has expired so I can’t drive myself anymore (probably a good thing), I have trouble finding my way in Beijing because the city changes so fast, and I seem to have lost much of my Chinese so I have trouble communicating.

Taishan (during train ride from Beijing to Shanghai)

Taishan (Mt. Tai), during train ride from Beijing to Shanghai

The good thing is that because I am only here for 10 days I don’t take things so serious anymore. People jumping the queue don’t bother me as much as before and the endless traffic jams in Beijing are a pity, but then I just leave a bit earlier. When I ordered a cafe mocha during a meeting in a hotel lobby yesterday and the waitress came back 20 minutes later telling me that they don’t have mocha, I just smiled and ordered a black coffee instead. Vancouver made me a lot more patient it seems.

That doesn’t mean that things don’t bother me, the slow and censored Internet is still a big nuisance, but I know it’s just for a few days. I started coughing again a bit a few hours after I landed in Beijing (despite the relatively low smog levels), which is something I am not too happy with. But also there I know I’ll be out of the bad air soon again, so it’s just part of the package.

What I still love is the speed of business here, businesses keep on developing much faster than in Canada. People in China just execute better and faster it seems, and not just Chinese entrepreneurs but also non-Chinese ones. That’s what I still love (and miss) most about China, things just get done here and every week you see progress. Bitcoin gets blocked? Companies find a way around it, and if the way around it gets blocked they will come up with something else.

Taking the bullet train from Beijing to Shanghai

Boarding the bullet train in Beijing

I am now on the fast train from Beijing to Shanghai, my favorite mode of transport between these 2 cities. After the Xinjiang terrorist attacks the security at the train station has become as much of a nuisance as at the airport. We had to go through train station security twice, once at the entrance to the station and once before going to the train tracks. Twice we were stopped because we had a Swiss army knife in our suitcase. The first time we had to register the tool (just sign a document) but could keep it, not sure what the value of that is. Would a terrorist not use a knife after he signed a document for it? We were told to make sure not to lose the knife!

At the second security we had to give them the knife and they put tape around it before handing it back. We were not allowed to take the tape off until we arrived in Shanghai. What’s the use of that? Do they think people with criminal intentions would now not dare to use the knife?

A carpenter got into an argument with security because they wanted to take away his hammer. How can people who need to take the train for their jobs take their tools with them? I understand the country is afraid of a new attacks but either provide a different solution (you can’t check luggage on the train, so maybe provide a temporary solution where you can check in knives and tools?) or just let people take tools anyway (taping them doesn’t help much anyway).

So China has not changed much, but I certainly have. I am more relaxed and don’t take things too serious anymore. Maybe that will change in a couple of days again? I don’t know, but if so I’ll probably update this post. For now I am happy to be back in my former home country.

Dancing on the ceiling in Vancouver

Lionel Richie concert in Vancouver (May 29, 2014)

In China we regularly went to concert and events, but in Vancouver we spend most of our nights at home (mainly working or reading work-related materials, some things never seem to change…). That’s actually not because we don’t want to go out, but mainly because we don’t have live-in staff, so we can’t leave the kids at home at night. But because my parents were in town we decided to watch the opening concert of Lionel Richie‘s North American Tour last night at the Rogers Arena in Vancouver.


Grace managed to get us front row seats, which is a special experience because you are so close to the artists and you can really feel the music (because of the speakers that are literally right in front of you). Next time I’ll bring ear plugs though. Lionel may not be one of the loudest acts, but my ears still lack some hearing the morning after the show!

Lionel Richie concert in Vancouver (May 29, 2014)

The tickets were not cheap, but I guess that’s supply & demand at work. In Shanghai we were normally invited to concerts, so tickets and even backstage events were for free, and I did not always realize how expensive this can be.

Lionel Richie concert in Vancouver (May 29, 2014)

I grew up with Lionel Richie’s music in the 80s and remember among others that my first slow dance in high school was on a Lionel Richie song. I had his albums on cassette tapes and later owned a couple of his CDs, but I had never been to any of his concerts, so this seemed like a good chance.

Cee-Lo Green, opening act of the Lionel Richie concert in Vancouver (May 29, 2014)

The opening act was Cee-Lo Green, who gave a decent (but not great) 40 minute performance with lots of covers of old R&B and soul songs, but also with his hit Crazy. The scarcely dressed girls that surround him made the show fun to watch, but did not add much to the music. Cee-Lo understood very well that most people were not there to see him and referred to Lionel Richie a couple of times. I like him a lot better now than before, but I can’t believe he is only 38 (he looks 20 years older, partly because he is so obese).

Lionel Richie concert in Vancouver (May 29, 2014)

After the opening act the stage was rebuilt, which took about 30 minutes. That gave me some time to post pictures to social media, answer some emails and to have a beer. And then Lionel Richie came up! Although he will turn 65 next month, he looks and acts much younger. He seems to be in great shape and gave a fantastic show for all ages.

Lionel Richie concert in Vancouver (May 29, 2014)

Of course all of his greatest hits were on the playlist (from Hello to Dancing on the Ceiling and from Penny Lover to Say You, Say Me), but also a lot of Commodores hits. The light show was pretty good as well, which colorful background images and animations. Lionel is a good actor and did quite some talking in between songs (introducing songs, making some jokes), which made the evening even more interesting.

Lionel Richie concert in Vancouver (May 29, 2014)

The interaction with his band was great, he gave them a lot of room to perform and they did a great job. Especially the saxophonist gave a super performance, he was really amazing but Lionel did not introduce him.

Lionel Richie concert in Vancouver (May 29, 2014)

I had expected the last song to be All Night Long, but Lionel Richie and his band came back on stage after that song to perform We Are The World. I did not know that he co-wrote that song with Michael Jackson, but it was the perfect ending for a great night in the Rogers Arena.

Lionel Richie concert in Vancouver (May 29, 2014)

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