I was officially inducted into 'Bitcoin Land' yesterday, and I'm not sure where the exit is. That's OK though, I might have to hang out in this mysterious vortex for awhile. The folks are a friendly bunch. Heck, one guy set me up with a virtual wallet and gifted me seven bucks worth of the digital goodness. "Welcome to Bitcoin Land," he said.
For those unfamiliar with Bitcoin, a digital currency that some businesses are starting to accept in lieu of U.S. dollars, check out our story from last week which explains the phenomenon.
This past weekend, in the Magic City, 1,200 bitcoin enthusiasts and skeptics flocked to the Miami Beach Convention Center for the two-day North American Bitcoin Conference. The event organizers anticipated only 500. The attendees came in from Europe, Asia, Latin America and the United States.
I'd say nearly 90 percent were males. They ranged in age from about 20 to 50, sporting dress shirts and pockets full of business cards. "I'm an entrepreneur," was overheard many times.
A few dudes were wearing Google Glass. I met more entrepreneurs looking for opportunities than computer geeks. I was told that there was a rise in attendance of guys in suits, i.e. Wall Street guys and financial executives. A year or so ago, a conference like this attracted mainly the technology crowd, according to Joseph Vaughn Perling, conference speaker and managing director of the New Liberty Dollar.
The weekend kicked off with a networking party at the South Beach locale, The Clevelander, which accepted bitcoin payments via BitPay, a processing system for merchants. Lectures and panels ran throughout Saturday and Sunday at the convention center.
One notable speaker was Charlie Lee, Litecoin creator. Litecoin is a derivative of bitcoin. Virtual wallet creators exhibited, as did Wendell Davis of Hive. Carol Van Cleef gave a talk on financial services, regulations and anti-money laundering. Michael Terpin was there, cofounder of BitAngels, the first angel investor network for digital currency startups. Our Broward guy and FAU instructor, Dr. Charles Evans discussed how bitcoin can well serve the poor. And Liberty Dollar inventor Bernard von Nothaus appeared. You get the idea.
But of course with all this intelligence packed under one roof, a few oddballs stood out. Here are five bizarre things I saw and learned over the weekend. This list isn't exhaustive.
1. Bitcoin advocates love to give away money. A crew of exhibitors and vendors, like at any conference, were set up in the hallways wrapping the two large rooms rented out for the weekend. My first stop was to the HardBTC.org booth. There David Bailey was selling promotional bitcoin pins. Hey there. I brought up that I read all the Wired articles on bitcoin and it seemed the tech magazine was advocating the currency. That's when Bailey, the exhibitor, said that once people get into the scene they enter 'Bitcoin Land' and there's no turning back. What is this land like? He said that it's vast with opportunities and there are currently not enough people to do everything. What was strange is that he said the community is collaborative and giving. He said that it was common for folks to say, "I don't know who you are but I like you-- how about I give you some bitcoin?" Strange.
2. Bitcoiners prefer Android to Apple. Smartphones are what connect this community right round. But not all smartphones are ideal for bitcoiners. The iPhone offers its apps through iTunes, and this online store doesn't allow for many of the apps that bitcoiners use. The reason? Apple doesn't explain why, according to Bailey. But it is speculated that the tech giant doesn't want the competition. So Android phones are the preferred device in the community. People usually access their bitcoins through virtual wallets that can be managed through smartphone apps. I have an iPhone, and was able to download the Blockchain virtual wallet yesterday. I quickly purchased 1 dollar worth of bitcoin off a guy, and later Bailey gifted me seven bucks worth.
3. Beekeepers Love Bitcoin Vendors around the world accept the currency. But there was one vendor that really stood out over the weekend -- one selling honey for Bitcoin. Beekeeper David Whitlock doesn't accept cash nor credit. "My bees work for bitcoin," said Whitlock. He says there are a handful of beekeepers out there just like him.
Another interesting tidbit: the first item bought with Bitcoin was a $7 million pizza. In May 2010, a Florida programmer Laszlo Hanyecz traded 10,000 Bitcoins for pizzas. It was reported in the New York Times that the programmer just thought it was a cool idea to exchange the currency for pizza. This was allegedly the first Bitcoin transaction for goods. The currency then was worth about three cents per a whole unit. Now, that chunk of change is worth a cool seven million.
4.Alpacas are the Bitcoin Mascot. One of the first goods that was exchanged for Bitcoin was alpaca socks. That's right. The docile herd animal is the unofficial Bitcoin mascot. Check out Bitcoin.org and you'll see an illustration of this furry friend on the landing page. What do alpacas have to say about this? "Meh, meh." That's how they sound when they speak. Oh, and there's apparently an alpaca farm in Malibu that accepts Bitcoin for vacationers who want to rent out a room there.
5. Satoshi Nakamoto Better Stay in Hiding. Bitcoin is said to have been created by Satoshi Nakamoto -- but this name has never been traced to a real person, and most bitcoin enthusiasts now believe its a pseudonym for one person or a small group. As naive as it may sound, I was hoping Satoshi Nakamoto was a real person who would reveal himself at the convention. (I could take a selfie with him!) I asked around if anyone knew if he was there. Bitcoin experts predicted that if this person/group ever showed up, he/she/they would be in grave danger. Bitcoin only works because no single person is in control. Now the cryptocurrency is big enough and powerful enough that Satoshi appearing could topple the whole industry and devastate the finances of people with significant Bitcoin wealth. Satoshi will keep his/her/their heads down permanently, most predicted. Otherwise, there is not one safe place on this planet, I overheard.
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