Bitcoin in 6 minutes

A couple of months ago Rutger van Zuidam told me he was working with some friends on a project to create a short animated video that would explain the concept of Bitcoin to people new to the technology. I liked the idea immediately, because understanding the basics of Bitcoin is hard and most resources on the Internet assume that people know what Bitcoin is and what it can be used for. Today the video was officially launched, you can see it here in English and here in Dutch (both links on YouTube).

The result is great and will send it to friends or business relations who ask me about Bitcoin, something that happens several times per week. The video explains that Bitcoin is much more than just a currency (Bitcoin as money is actually just the tip of the iceberg), how it works and what the technology can be used for.

There are some great examples in the clip, among others about using Bitcoin technology to reduce healthcare costs (by assigning some bitcoins specifically for certain care), and about Bitcoin trust that allows a vending machine to order new goods on its own when they run out and even pay for the products itself.

Even if you know a lot about Bitcoin already it’s an entertaining video. And if you’re new to Bitcoin this educational video is a must watch. Enjoy and spread the word!

More information: http://www.bitcoinproperly.org/

Robot suits

On Facebook I came across this (English language) video about robot suits. Coincidentally I had a discussion about exactly this topic last week, so I have been thinking about the impact of robots and robotic equipment quite a lot over the past days.

My personal belief is that robots will make our life a lot easier, but that they will also lead to mass unemployment. I am generally an optimist and I like technological progress more than most, but I do believe that within one generation most people’s jobs might be replaced by robots. And not just almost all low-end jobs, but also many higher-end positions like those of doctors, cooks and teachers.

Scary? Yes, especially because I don’t see how other jobs can be created to offset the loss of jobs within this short timespan. If 50% of the adult population is unemployed this will cause mass unrest, even if we can find a way to provide these people with a basic income. Most people only look a few years ahead and think this will sort itself out, but I am not too sure about that.

Robots get exponentially faster, smarter and cheaper, and things that now seem impossible will be possible very soon. One good example are autonomous cars. Just a year ago most people that I talked to did not believe my vision that they would see them in their lifetimes. My prediction was that Scott (who is now 6 years old now) would not need to get a drivers license anymore because he would be able to get a self-driving car.

People laughed at that idea, but see how far we have come in just one year: Tesla is now launching a car with an autopilot and that’s the last step to a real self-driving vehicle. My prediction: within 5 years the first cars without drivers will hit the car showrooms in California. The main hurdle won’t be technology but outdated government legislation.

Robots will not necessarily be independently functioning objects like cars or humanoids, but can also be something like the suit in the video. They can make humans into super humans and that will lead to interesting new possibilities. This will also cause the loss of jobs, but to me it feels less scary than the ‘normal’ robots. Take a look at the video and think about the possibilities. Maybe one day I will be able to run the marathon in less than 2 hours because of a robot suit!

Bitcoin Watch

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I like nice watches and I am a big fan of Bitcoin, so when I read in a Chinese WeChat group about the first watch for the Bitcoin aficionado I immediately decided to check it out. Normally I don’t buy watches off the Internet (I want to see and feel them first, especially more expensive ones), but this one is so special that I ordered it right away after seeing it online.

The watch, called the Cryptomatic, is available in 4 different colors (red gold, silver/red gold, silver, and black) and I immediately liked the black one. The timepiece ships from Hong Kong and took about 3 days to arrive in Canada.

What’s I like about the watch is not only the fact that it prominently shows the Bitcoin logo and has the 1-12 numbers in binary format, but also that you can only buy it with Bitcoin. Luis Rosende, the designer and watchmaker, is also a big Bitcoin believer and said in the group chat that he refused several orders because people wanted to pay in fiat currency. If you want a watch like this and you can’t to pay in Bitcoin you don’t ‘deserve’ to own one yet. Hint: If you don’t have bitcoin yet and want this watch, go to Circle.com and set up an account. It’s very easy and takes less than 5 minutes to set up and fund a bitcoin account.

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The packaging of the watch looks great and opening the box for the first time was part of the experience for me, it reminds me a bit of how Apple packages its products. The watch itself is as beautiful as the pictures on the website. It’s quite thick but not too heavy, and it comes standard with a black metal chain and an additional black leather strap. The chain can easily be shortened with the tools that come with the watch.

The Cryptomatic itself is self-winding, just like most other high(er)-end watches, so you’ll need an automatic watch winder in case you don’t wear it everyday. If you don’t have one you can buy one here with Bitcoin. The watch is a limited edition watch, each of the 4 colors is only produced 200 times. Your watch will be numbered, mine was 003 out of 200 (it’s engraved on the side of the watch).

The Cryptomatic watch costs CHF 888 (about 2.5 bitcoin on the day that I ordered it), so it’s not super expensive but it’s certainly not a low end watch either. If you believe in Bitcoin and want to spread the Bitcoin gospel, this is a great product to own. I am sure it will be a conversation starter at many dinners, meetings or parties!

Maritime radio

Rainy day at the West Vancouver Yacht Club

One thing I realized this summer while sailing the Gulf Islands on my boat Liberty, was that I had no idea how to operate my radio. I was able to listen to conversations on channels, but I had no idea what channels to listen to nor how to initiate a conversation myself. So when I was back I did some research and found I actually needed to be licensed in order to operate my yacht’s radio.

The easiest way to get certified was through a one-day course, which is offered a few times a year at the West Vancouver Yacht Club. Today was one of those days, so at 8:45 AM I showed up in their classroom overlooking the marina. It turned out to be a rainy day today, so it was perfect for spending it inside and learning a lot. I had not prepared much, except for revisiting the phonetic alphabet (Alpha, Beta, Charlie, Delta etc.) and some common abbreviations.

There were 11 students for today’s course, most of them experienced sailors and several of them with prior radio experience. Alll students received a book that would be the basis for the exam at the end of the day. We could have picked up book at the instructor’s house a couple of days before the course, but I had been too busy at work to study, so I hadn’t done so. During the first 30 minutes of the course I regretted that, because the level was a bit higher than I had expected, especially when listening to the questions that some of the students asked and that I did not even understand.

Maritime Radio Course at the West Vancouver Yacht Club

But after a few hours of listening intently and taking tens of pages of notes everything came together and I felt I understand most of the theory. It’s really not that hard, but if you don’t even know the difference between a traditiona VHF radio and a DSC (digital selective calling) device it is a bit overwhelming at first.

The course was very interesting actually and I enjoyed taking part in it. Everyone who has a boat with radio (most boats these days have one) should probably participate, not only because it’s obligatory and will make you a better sailor, but also because you learn a lot of interesting facts (did you know that almost anything you hear over the radio should be treated confidentially? You can’t just blog about it for example…).

After doing theory until about 1:30 PM we started on the practical (oral) part. We similated several situations in which we needed to communicate with other ships or with the coast guard. Very useful, because if you need to do this for the first time on your own boat it can be quite stressful. Now you could make mistakes without all other boats around you listening in.

Maritime Radio Course @ West Vancouver Yacht Club

A class room with a view!

The day ended with a 1-hour theory exam which was not very hard (it was multiple choice!), I finished it in 20 minutes or so and passed easily.  The oral exam that followed was quite easy as well, I had to use the phonetic alphabet to spell some words and boat IDs, and then I had to do a simulated radio call in a security situation. Also this I could do without many problems and now I’m the holder of a restricted maritime radio operator’s certificate.

Looking back it’s interesting how much you can learn in one day if you fully focus on it. This morning I still did not know much about radio communication and now I know quite a lot about radio channels, protocols and equipment. I look forward to using my maritime radio for the first time to talk to the coast guard and I may actually take one of my boat’s handheld radio sets home to listen in to some of the maritime conversations that take place on the ships that pass by our house.

At the end of a rainy day the sun broke through the clouds!

When I got home the rain stopped, the sun broke through the clouds and the sky was almost blue. I love Vancouver’s weather!

Daily salary payments and other Bitcoin opportunities

Bitcoin

During a strategic session in our office this afternoon we brainstormed about new business models that would only be possible with Bitcoin technology. One thing we discussed was a business idea that I had read about last night in a post from Twobitidiot (a well-known Bitcoin blogger). His idea was to set up a company that would allow employees to be paid on a daily basis instead of monthly.

When I read this yesterday I did not think about it t0o much, but it’s actually a very feasible idea. One reason why most people are paid on monthly instead of daily, is because it’s too much of an administrative effort to do this every day. If you give people a check you don’t want to write new ones every day, if you pay cash it’s too much work to count money on a daily basis, and if you pay by bank transfer transaction costs would be much higher.

I wonder what would happen if companies would offer people the choice to either get paid on a daily basis in bitcoin or monthly in fiat currency. Especially among people who are not paid so well a large group may prefer to get daily payments instead. It would for example mean that people who now go to payday loan companies before the end of each month don’t need to do that anymore and can save the (high) interest that they are being charged there.

Companies may not like it of course, because their cash flow would look a bit different (at the end of the month it will be the same, but during the month they need more cash on hand to pay) and they would lose interest on the salaries that need to be paid earlier.

Employees might be scared because of the high volatility of bitcoin, but with services like Bitpay or GoCoin it’s easy to change the bitcoin to dollars right away, so there is no exchange risk. Once bitcoin will be less volatile (which will eventually happen) they can keep the money in bitcoin until they use it. By that time they can buy a lot more products in BTC anyway.

You could set up smart contracts that pay out right away the moment someone checks out from work or leaves the building, and even overtime could be paid out immediately. It’s actually a much fairer system for workers.

Right now there is no full cycle in the bitcoin economy: you can buy goods with bitcoin, but merchants will immediately sell their bitcoin for fiat currency to pay their salaries and other costs, leading to a downward pressure on the bitcoin price. If salaries would be in bitcoin as well there is less pressure for them to sell all their coins, because they can use them. Next to that, if more people would earn bitcoin it’s likely that more companies will accept bitcoin. These companies in turn may use them to pay their employees, and then there is suddenly a full cycle possible.

Embracing Bitcoin technology can make life a lot easier for people but also for companies. We identified quite some opportunities for start-ups to use the blockchain and smart contracts. The ideas we came up with don’t exist yet because entrepreneurs only go for the low-hanging fruit in a new market segment or because they don’t think out of the box (yet).

The world as we know it will change a lot over the next years because of Bitcoin, that’s for sure. It’s fun to be at the forefront of these changes and to try to predict what to focus on in our investments.

Picture source: Flickr (under creative commons license)

Mixed feelings about the iPhone 6

Elaine and my new iPhone 6

I have been using the iPhone 6 for about 10 days now and I have mixed feelings about it. Normally when a new iPhone comes out I buy it straight away and hardly ever touch my last phone anymore, but this time it’s different.

The phone looks decent, but it reminds me of an ancient Galaxy S3 that I still use as my Chinese phone (it’s an early 2012 model), the size and the design are quite similar. The only design part I do no like about the iPhone 6 is that the camera lens sticks out. I don’t believe that’s something that Steve Jobs would have allowed, it just feels awkward and the phone is always tilting a bit when you put it on the table.

The screen of the iPhone 6 is great and after some initial problems of setting up the phone (for some reason the full back-up I made of my 5S did not make it completely to the new phone) I enjoyed using it. The camera is better that the 5S, especially in low light situations and the extra row of apps on my home screen is an advantage when you constantly have to decide which apps come on the first screen.

However, the bigger screen is also its biggest disadvantage, because it is much harder to use the phone with one hand. Over the years I got used to handling the phone completely with one hand, including typing. But with the iPhone 6 the screen is just too big to that comfortably. I already dropped the phone once (luckily the screen did not break this time) when trying to reach the top right app with my right hand thumb and I am sure that will happen more often in the future.

This weekend I was in Las Vegas for a 3-night bachelor party (no blog post about that trip, what happens in Vegas…) and when I’m in the US I use both my Canadian and my US phones. Because I use my US phone more than my Canadian when in the US I normally switch SIM cards, so that my Canadian phone becomes my US phone. However, this time I did not do that right away and I used my 5S with my US SIM card. And guess what, it felt much better to use the 5S again. I actually kept on using the 5S during the whole trip and only took my iPhone 6 with me for taking pictures.

I would not be surprised if a lot more people will soon realize that they have the problem that they can’t use the phone with one hand anymore. I had assumed that this problem might occur with the iPhone 6 plus, so I did not buy that one, but I had not imagined that the 6 would also be too small. With iOS 8 installed the 5S may actually be a better phone than the 6, except for NFC and the camera.

I will likely use the 6 for a while again now that I’m back in Canada, especially because of the camera (I take tons of pictures every day). It’s possible that I will get used to it after a while but if I keep dropping it I may switch back.

First world problems, I know, but it shows that Apple may have lost some of its magical touch by making products that are not exactly what you wanted to have. I actually believe that if the iPhone 5S had come out after the 6 people may have raved about it that one (“the smaller size is just amazing, it’s so much more convenient etc.”), just like they now rave about the 6. Well, I am glad I did not buy the iPhone 6 plus!

Epic road trip from Vancouver to California

Danny and Marc at the Kendall-Jackson winery in Sonoma

Last week my friend Danny Wilms Floet came to visit me in Vancouver to do a road trip from here to California. I have known Danny for 35 years, we were schoolmates in primary school and he is currently living in Shanghai – coincidentally in the same street as where I used to live until March 2013.

We left on Sunday morning without any real preparations. The idea was to first drive through Washington state to Portland, Oregon, and spend the first night there before driving down the Oregon coast. But while driving out of my driveway I met my neighbour who told us that if we wanted to follow the coast we should not go down as far as Portland and try to spend the first night in Cannon Beach. We looked it up on my car’s GPS and that seemed indeed a better destination for the first day.

The weather was nice so we drove top down for most of the way, even on the interstate. Danny knows a lot more about contemporary music than I do, so he created some playlists in Spotify to play during the ride, which was really cool. We mixed that with some Sirius XM satellite radio stations (classical, jazz, 70s, 80s, and current hits) and even some occasional Dutch pop songs from the 80s that we both had not heard for years.

Sunset at Cannon Beach, OR

We arrived at Cannon Beach exactly during sunset, and we had a great view of the sun going down in the Pacific. I then checked the Hotel Tonight app for hotel rooms, but it turned out that Cannon Beach was fully booked. But the app showed us some other hotels with availability in Seaside, which was just a 10 minute drive away. We checked the best price online and then went to the hotel and asked for their best price. That was lower than the online price so we booked 2 rooms, put our luggage in the rooms and went out for a seafood dinner and drinks. We ended up in the only bar in Seaside that was open after 11 pm and had a memorable first evening. Not too many details here, but it involved almost getting into a fight with a completely drunk and very aggressive lady and a slight hangover because someone gave us whiskey shots while we were drinking IPAs after lots of local wine.

Oregon Coast

The next morning I needed some coffee and a walk on the beach to wake up, and we did not hit the road before 10:30 AM. That didn’t matter because we had no fixed plan. Or actually, we had no plan at all. My idea had been to drive along the Oregon and California coast to Napa Valley or so, but when my GPS showed us that that was something like 1100 km we changed our mind (I first double checked with Google Maps, in my mind it could not be more than 600 km or so – I was wrong!).

So we decided to take it easy and drive until sunset and then find a place to stay. The drive along the Oregon coast was amazing, much better than I could have imagined. The weather started off quite good, but halfway the coast it became more cloudy. That actually added to the experience, but it also got much cooler so we closed the roof of the car. Around 7 pm we were close to the Oregon and California border and we decided to take a hotel room in a little town called Brookings. Every single bar and restaurant in that place seemed to close down by 9 pm, so we had an early night (or better, I worked on emails and RSS feeds until midnight in my room).

Running in Brookings, Oregon

The next morning we started with a run along the coast. Just north of Brookings we found a fantastic wild beach that was perfect for a run. After the run we showered, got some coffee and topped up our energy levels with a donut before we took off for the next leg of our trip through Northern Calfornia. The first part was still along the coast and we visited some nice little towns (my favorite was Trinidad, CA, where I would have stayed for a night if we would have had more time). The second part was through the redwood forests, which was quite spectacular as well.

Trinidad, CA

We ended up in the town of Healdsburg in Sonoma, where we found a hotel and then went for dinner at a nice French restaurant. We had some good wines and great food and then started looking for a nice bar. Healdsburg is a very nice town and great for boutique shopping, but it’s not the best place to party.

Healdsburg, CA

The first wine bar that we found only had French wines, so we did not even go inside (if you’re in the middle of one of the best wine areas in the US I find it a bit arrogant to not have any good local wines on the menu). The next one seemed to be much better and we shared a great bottle. Unfortunately after about 30 minutes we were the only guests that were left and the staff started cleaning the bar… So by 11 pm we were back in the hotel again.

With my car at the Kendall-Jackson winery in Sonoma

Wednesday morning we had a quick breakfast in the hotel (bagels & coffee) and then drove to the Kendall-Jackson winery. Kendall-Jackson is one of my favorite Californian wine brands, and it’s the brand I drink most when I open a bottle during the week or at dinner (mainly Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon). We arrived around 11 AM and started with their Garden Tour, a wine tasting in their gardens and vineyard. We among others tasted some of the Chardonnay grapes that would be harvested that night (!) and of course drank their Chardonnay with that.

Kendall-Jackson winery in Sonoma

After tasting several different wines in the gardens we ended with a dessert wine on the terrace. Because it was lunchtime we decided to have lunch there as well and ended up with a wine pairing lunch. The food was quite amazing, this was very high end cooking, something I had not expected at a winery. The combination with the wines was perfect and we had a great meal at Kendall-Jackson.

Danny crossing the Golden Gate Bridge

After tasting so many wines it’s not advisable to start driving right away, so we made a walk through the vineyards, had a coffee and bought some souvenirs before hitting the road again. We first drove to Tiburon with its nice views over the bay to San Francisco and then drove over the Golden Gate Bridge along Highway 1 to Half Moon Bay. I guess we could have stayed in the Ritz-Carlton there (one of my favorite hotels in the world because of its location and great atmosphere), but we had made a reservation in Mountain View already so we continued on for another hour. At night we had a great sushi and sake dinner followed by a bottle of Napa valley wine in a local bar, where we arrived just in time for the last order at 10 pm… We finished the night with a pale ale in the hotel room.

Danny on the Stanford Dish Loop

Despite all the alcohol we both woke up relatively refreshed the next morning and decided to start with a run around the Stanford Dish Loop. I have written about this loop before on my blog, it’s still one of my favorite places to run in Silicon Valley. After a shower we packed our bags and had breakfast. Then we did a bit of corporate sightseeing, among others at Google HQ where we drove the Google bikes around the campu, and at the Apple HQ where we stocked up on supplies in the Corporate Store.

View from Montebello Road in Cupertino over Silicon Valley

After those visits we decided to go back into nature and so we drove to the hills (among others Montebello Road above Cupertino with great views over the Valley) and explored the backroads through the vineyards. The original plan had been to drive to Los Angeles, but we eventually decided not to spend an additional 2 days in the car and just have a relaxed afternoon. We ended up at the Inn at Saratoga, a nice hotel where I had stayed before.

Dinner in Saratoga with Danny

We had a fun evening in town with a swordfish dinner and some beers in the local bar, where people were singing karaoke, which reminded both of us of Shanghai. We did not stay too late because we decided to drive back to Canada the next day, which we indeed did. We now took the interstate (mainly I-5) which took us in about 17 hours from Saratoga to Vancouver, including several stops for lunch, dinner, and of course filling up the tank at gas stations. Luckily no speeding tickets (as far as I know)! Even this road was quite spectacular, especially the part in northern California and southern Oregon. I was happy to be home though, 17 hours is actually just too long to spend in a vehicle in one day (even with 2 drivers in a fast car with several stops).

It was a long drive from Silicon Valley back to Vancouver

Looking back this was probably the best road trip I ever did. The feeling of total freedom, not knowing where you will end up each day, beautiful sceneries along most of the road, great conversations and discussions with a good friend for days in a row, a nice convertible, lots of good music, and great wines almost every day. It really can’t get much better in my opinion. I will have great memories of this epic trip for a long time to come!

More pictures from the trip in this set on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/chijs/sets/72157647978334645/

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 Circle.com 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 Circle.com 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

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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.
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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.

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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.

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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.

IMG_3957

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: https://www.flickr.com/photos/chijs/sets/72157646199469433/

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:

http://hk.apple.nextmedia.com/realtime/china/20140726/52732150

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!

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