I just recently finished a series of videos from the Khan Academy on how Bitcoin works. This is now my favorite explanation of how bitcoin works. It takes about an hour to get through it but it is hard to imagine a useful explanation being much shorter. It is also the first lesson series I’ve actually done on Khan Academy, I can see why people like it so much it’s a great way to learn.
I’ve had some interesting conversations about Bitcoins over the past few days. If you interested in a more detailed explanation of how they work, the episode of Security Now about Bitcoin is the best one I’ve heard so far.
Also, the folks at BitcoinStore.com went above and beyond what I expected, not only did they return the extra Bitcoins I accidentally sent them, they returned them relative to their value in USD. So they actually returned more bitcoins then I overpaid (because the value has changed so much since I made my purchase). I was not expecting that and it was a very pleasant surprise.
So, thanks, BitcoinStore, I will be making more purchases there.
I’ve been running a little experiment with bitcoins and I thought I’d share my experiences. I started reading about the bitcoin project years ago and got a fraction of a bitcoin back in 2011, but I did not actually put any money down until back in December 2012 when I bought 3.9888 coins for $60.
Buying Bitcoins at my Local Library
To get my bitcoins I used LocalBitcoins.com. I found someone selling bitcoins in my area, offered to meet and pay cash. We meet at a local library over lunch. The actual transaction took about 10 seconds. They have a fairly straight forward system for handing these kinds of transactions that seemed to work great.
Over the next few months I watched as the value of bitcoins exploded, blowing through $100 USD per Bitcoin around April 1st. If you have not seen the chart, it’s pretty crazy. It looks like an asset bubble. I’m not going to get into that. I did not get my Bitcoins as an investment. I really think crypto currency is likely the currency of the future and I wanted to learn how it worked.
I had been trying to decided what to do next. I was not learning much about Bitcoins by sitting on them, however it was hard to want to “do” anything with them. I’ve never owned something that’s risen in value that quickly and who knows, I may never again.
Still though, I’ve been meaning to buy an XBox for a while know and I read an article about BitcoinStore.com. They had something I wanted (Xboxes), I had something they wanted (Bitcoins), I bought the basic Xbox model for 1.45 BTC on April 5th.
I made a mistake though, I accidentally double payed. I was using Mt. Gox as my online wallet. Their interface confused me, it was “too easy” to send the bitcoins and I sent the same amount of bitcoins twice (whoops). So I sent a support request to BitcoinStore.com asking them to return the extra coins.
Even though the purchase process with a little less polished then I’m used to (like on Amazon or Newegg) it seemed to work well, and it was even easier then using a credit card. If you take into account that I got a better price then I would have because BitcoinStore does not have to pay credit card fees, not to mention the fact that if hackers ever break into BitcoinStore they will not be able to steal my credit card (because they will not have it) this seems like a notable online shopping experience improvement.
On Friday I got the Xbox. I think it took that long (almost a week) to arrive because I opted for the free shipping and there was some awful weather in Minnesota. In the intervening days Bitcoin went on a (not unsurprising) wild ride up and down. At the peak trading for over $230.00, then crashing so that by Friday, it had dropped to well below $100.
The Return of the Bitcoins
After I realized I double payed I send a support request. I got a response back and after some back and forth I was told on Friday (the same day the xbox came), that they found my double payment, they would return the extra bitcoins. I do not have them yet, but I suspect I will on Monday. Even though things moved a little slowly, I’m glad they are returning the coins and over all the the impression I have is, the folks at BitcoinStore are standup folks you can trust with your digital crypto currency. Once I get my coins back I have another order (that includes some xbox accessories) queued up and ready to go.
If I could give some general advice, look into this whole “Bitcoin” thing, and please don’t rely one the main media outlets, at least for now. I have seen a couple of news stories, they’re getting things, either straight up wrong or saying things in misleading ways. I do not think there is any sort of conspiracy or anything like that, they just do not understand it yet, and it has not seemed like a big enough deal for them to take the time to learn it.
Next, get your hands on a small amount of bitcoins and play around with them. Send them from one account to another. See how that works. Then buy something small. If this is the future, the sooner you get confortable with Bitcoins the better.
Another hobby of mine for the past 4 years or so has been economics. One really interesting question everyone should spend sometime thinking about it “What is money?” There are lots of bad answers out there. Money is one half of almost every transaction, it’s a big deal. Bitcoin could be a big deal.
I like bitcoins for a lot of reasons but that doesn’t mean there will not be an even better option out there. If you read Hacker News like I do you will see tons of bitcoin articles, most them seem to have titles like “Bitcoin will fail because of X Y and/or Z”, “Bitcoin is a Scam of some sort”, “Bitcoin is a bubble” or even “Bitcoin is the Future.” I have read a small portion of these articles, most of them are pretty worthless. Mostly I just wish there was a way to read them by cutting out “What is a bitcoin?” parts and get to the part where they actually claim to have something interesting to say. Let me share some of my thoughts on these (and other) topics.
- Bitcoin may fail, but if it does it will be, because something better comes along. My experiment has pretty much convinced me “old money” has a lot of problems and/or weaknesses that bitcoin addresses.
- If Bitcoin is a scam it’s the most transparent scam I’ve ever seen. The closest real scam I can think of (in terms of it’s transparency) is playing Black Jack at a casino. All the information about the the system is easy to find and not that hard to understand. Everything is being done in the open. If there is a scam going on everyone is either enjoying it so much they don’t care or they think their in on it.
- Bitcoin might be a “bubble”, it’s pretty much the definition of an immature market right now. Bitcoin brings some new features to the money market and there really is not a good sense yet of how valuable those things are.
- Bitcoins value will have a lot to do with how the governments of the world behave. I think trying to ban or stop bitcoins at this point would be really hard, I’m not really talking about that. More, how do governments treat their currency’s? Will they use and abuse them? If so, the value of Bitcoin could be huge. On the other hand, if they carefully guard their value, and not play games, bitcoin may only ever have a very limited value.
- Bitcoin’s value will also depend a lot on what sort of security problems bitcoins has verses other ways to buy things online. If credit cards turn out to be so much safer, the fact that bitcoin is a little easier (and less expensive) to use won’t make a difference with many people. However if bitcoin turns out to be the safer option, bitcoins would be very valuable.
- Bitcoin’s value will depend a lot on whether the market stabilizes. No one wants to hold currency that fluctuates wildly. This will take time. In order to have a stable market it needs to be traded all over the world and used it a lot of different markets. This may take a long time (in internet time), but I’ll bet it will happen a lot sooner then people expect.
I tried winter camping on Bear Skin Lake near Grand Marais. It was cold. It was me, my wife Erin and our friend KJ. We had a great time and have some friends who live in Grand Marais that helped us out a lot.
When we left we had big plans for setting up camp Saturday, then going on an excursion and building a quincy on Sunday, staying out a second night and going home on Monday. After we got camp set up and made dinner, we decided we were going to try to survive for one night, try to stay warm enough to get some sleep and then retreat to warmth of civilization on Sunday.
Here is what I learned.
Stay aware of how much you are sweating. If you get really sweaty, which is surprisingly easy when you are pulling a sled across the ice (no matter how cold it is) and then stop, you will get cold very quickly. I can see now how one could spend insane amounts of money on high performance cold weather clothing. I’m going to seriously consider buying some nicer long underwear and a middle layer before I try this again.
Along those same lines, give your self lots of extra time to do thing like “get to the camp site” and “set up camp”. If you have a plan, then fall behind schedule, then try to “pick up the pace” to make up for lost time. That’s bad news. You’re just going to get really sweaty and then really cold and it will be no fun. Make sure any “Type A“s going with you are very aware of this and don’t set too fast of a pace (conveniently we didn’t have anyone like that on this trip but it’s all too easy to imagine).
Bring a canvas wall tent with stove. Borrowing a canvas wall tent (with wood stove) and sleds from our friends worked out great. They also loaned us a cot, extra sleeping bags, down “booties” for our feet (while sleeping). These were all great.
Sleep on a cot. I did not get to sleep on a cot (since we only had one) but if I were to try this again I would bring one. They get you off the ice, which melted enough to make a puddle that covered about a quarter of the tent once we got a fire in the stove. Just having one made a huge difference because we could sit on it and store gear underneath it.
Bring 2 sleeping bags. I had an extra blanket (that my wife insisted I bring) and I’m glad I had it, if I did not have that I doubt I would have been able to stay warm enough to sleep. If I had to do this again I’d put my “warm weather bag” on the outside and my cold weather bag on the inside. I would also like to get a colder, cold weather bag, mine turned out to only be graded for 25°F.
Bring firewood. We hauled out fire wood with us, that was a great decision. Finding enough wood to keep us warm would have been really hard. It turned out we only had enough fire wood for one evening (and one night), about half a sled’s worth of wood. We never really got the fire going in the morning. I’m not sure how you figure out how much fire wood to bring.
Hauling with sleds is fun. We only really went across one lake (maybe a little over half a mile), but if we had time we could have hauled more gear a lot further with out too much trouble. I would not have wanted to go through any steep portages with hills though, that sounds like trouble. If you’re sticking to mostly lakes though you can haul in a lot more stuff then you can with canoes. I think if we had had snowshoes, that would have helped too.
Tie down your gear well. Our friends loaned us some bungie cords, and those worked well, but we did not have quite enough, which we did not really know until we started. Trying to go 100 ft on a slightly inclined hill with a few small bumps in it result in several spilled sleds. Once we got on to the ice it was fine, but I wish we had taken the time to secure the gear a bit better. This would have been critical if we were planning on taking the sleds over more land.
Maybe go when it’s not so cold. So, we have lives, and the only way for this to work was to plan a few weeks in advance. so we didn’t have a way to capture an accurate forecast and we ended up picking an unusually cold weekend. That was a shame, but what can you do. Maybe not go to Grand Marais in January I guess.
Bring some big boots. A few days before I left I bought my first pair of real winter boots since, maybe I was a kid. I’ve had some nice (somewhat insulated) hiking books I had been using. These worked great for hiking out to the camp site, but for standing around you should have some big heavily insulated boots.
Mornings are the hardest part. Getting up, when it’s really cold, and putting on your gear when it’s really cold, that’s just terrible. I’d like to learn some tricks to make this more bearable. It did not help that the temperature hand dropped about 30 degrees between Saturday afternoon (when we left) and Sunday morning (when we headed home).
Overall though, I’m glad I went. I had a great time with my wife and our friends and I learned a lot about winter camping. All of these lessons were things people told me before we left, some I heeded, some I did not, I suppose there’s no teacher like experience.
Here’s a CD’s worth of Christmas music that Erin and I will be listening to this year. Merry Christmas!:)
1. Hark! the Herald Angels Sing – Weezer
From the Christmas With Weezer album, one of my favorite Christmas albums and one of my favorite Christmas songs.
2.We Wish You a Merry Christmas - John Denver and the Muppets
From the A Christmas Together album. We (me and Erin) really like the Muppets but I’m afraid I was unfamiliar with their “Christmas together” with John Denver until Erin showed me the light. It’s good stuff. Erin says that for this song’s full effect you need to see it, I can’t find a video of it though. If I find one, I’ll put a link here.
3.Sleigh Ride – Fun.
From the Holidays Rule album. We like Fun.
4.Wonderful Christmastime - The Shins
From the Holidays Rule album. We also like The Shins. As you can see, this album is featured heavily in this years playlist.
5. I Don’t Need No Santa Clause - Fiction Family
6. Why Can’t It Be Christmas Time All Year - Rosie Thomas
7. Snow, Snow and Mistletoe - Shelley Adams
8. Twelve Days of Christmas - John Denver & the Muppets
9. I Heard the Bells On Christmas Day – The Civil Wars
From the Holidays Rule album. Only good things come from The Civil Wars
10. It Came Upon a Midnight Clear – Tim McArthur
From A Rarebird in a Pear Tree Vol. 2. This little ditty as a nice, simple sound.
11. Lift Up Your Heads Ye Mighty Gates – Sufjan Stevens
From Silver & Gold, Sufjan Stevens’ second massive collection of Christmas music.
12. Christmas is All Around – Sleeping At Last
13. O Thou Joyful – Shorelions
14. Silent Night – Sufjan Stevens
From the Silver & Gold album.
15. The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On an Open Fire) - Paul McCartney
From the Holidays Rule album. A classic. On all counts.
16. Winter Wonderland – Aimee Mann
From the One More Drifter In the Snow album. We are fan of snowy snowy winters. Here’s hoping we get a snowy one this year.
17. Home For The Holidays – Emmy The Great & Tim Wheeler
From the This Is Christmas album.
18. Joy to the World – Kate Rusby
From the While Mortals Sleep album.
19. What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve? – The Head and the Heart
From the Holidays Rule album. Because we all move on from Christmas…
20. Auld Lang Syne – Andrew Bird
From the Holidays Rule album. This is a fun version, huh?
Listen To It
Here are some different ways to listen to the playlist. I will try to add more.
- YouTube Playlist - I wasn’t able to find all the songs, but it’s most of them.
- Last.fm Playlist – You can only listen to about half of them and it seemed to be unable to find the correct version of #14 (Silent Night).
If you like this music checkout previous years playlists.