I was lucky enough to be able to attend Bitcoin in the Beltway this past weekend, hosted by none other than the man who is probably the best known Bitcoin philanthropist, Jason King of Sean’s Outpost. And when I say lucky enough, I do mean it–for multiple reasons. First, I was local, and not having to travel far always makes events like this much easier to make it out to. Second, I was the recipient of Jason’s good will–I keep to a tight budget and wasn’t able to find a way to add in the price of attendance in time for the event, but he was kind enough to offer me a last-minute press badge so I could still come by and have a great time interacting with the community.
However, the third and most significant reason I say I was lucky enough to attend is the all-star list of speakers and Bitcoin businesses that were in attendance.
For those not fortunate enough to show up themselves, I snapped a few pictures during my time there. There was quite a bit going on!
The gentlemen and lady running Bitpay‘s booth were consistently swamped with people wanting to talk to them. I couldn’t even find a time to get a quiet picture of just them and their booth, so I had to settle for this! I’ve heard of much worse problems than having your time demanded by interested potential customers, though.
And even if I couldn’t get a solid picture of their booth, I didn’t walk away empty-handed. I stole (was given, same thing) a stuffed copy of Bitpay CEO Tony Gallippi’s dog:
I imagine the real-life version to be much cuter, but I bet that he doesn’t wear a Bitpay shirt!
Plenty of the other biggest names in the cryptocurrency world were there as well, showing off the newest of the new. Mycelium‘s booth was staffed by Dmitry Murashchik, or for those that know him by his alias, Rassah, and he had a neat little new gadget from Mycelium to show off:
What is that he’s holding, you ask? It’s called Mycelium Entropy. It’s a tiny random wallet generator that is designed to be plugged directly into a printer. It remains entirely offline during the process, and prints out a beautiful paper wallet. It can also print out 2-of-3 wallets, if you’d prefer. If you can see the tiny white button on the device, that is used to switch between the two modes: 2-of-3 and single address. Dmitry had printed off test versions of each to show off the functionality, and while the paper is simple, the functionality is both quite obvious and quite valuable. Mycelium intended to launch a Kickstarter for the device, but they’re being prevented from doing so by Kickstarter themselves, who claim that their project violates Kickstarter’s rule against providing financial services. If this device interests you, look to see a crowdfunding project going live very soon from Mycelium–and probably on a better website than Kickstarter; hopefully one that can understand the difference between financial services and data security services.
Moving on, also in attendance was BitMainTech, a Bitcoin mining hardware manufacturer known for their Antminer line of products. They’ve got a solid track record within the Bitcoin mining space, because there’s something they do a little bit differently than their competitors: they don’t do preorders. They only sell products that are either in-hand or are very close to being in-hand–never vaporware. While this can hardly be considered good for them, as preorder capital is delicious, it is definitely good for their customers, who can be certain of receiving their products when they expect them–and not 6 weeks later, when their profitability might be seriously different. Antminer is just about to send out Batch 4 of their new S2, a 1TH/s miner with pretty low power consumption at ~1100 watts from the wall and a price point of 3BTC. You can check it out here.
Also in attendance was Butterfly Labs, the best-known and largest producers of mining hardware:
This weekend, though, when I asked, they wanted to show off something a little bit different. Rather than their mining machines, they were focused on their new hardware wallet, the BitSafe. They had a demo copy flashing through a few of the default screens:
Butterfly Labs’ BitSafe lets you create and store addresses, label them however you’d like, display QR codes, send and receive payments, and so on. It pretty much does everything, while also remaining immune to intruders–and to water! It’s not quite available yet, but it will be soon. Check back with Butterfly Labs later on to order one yourself!
CoinOutlet is a very young company–so young, in fact, that their website is just getting finished up! They were on-site showing off their Bitcoin, Dogecoin, and Litecoin ATM Kiosk! It’s a nice piece of machinery with a relatively simple process for first time buyers–my only complaint was the price. At $5,000 per model, you’d have to be certain of placing it in a high-traffic area for it to be worth the investment. Still, running an ATM is a profitable business–maybe enough to justify the price tag.
The guys at the College Crypto Network are pushing the cause forward among the most receptive demographic out there–college students. As a rule, students are fed up with the predatory banking system, fed up with student loan garbage, distrustful of the government, and excited about new technology. Who better to pitch the cause of cryptocurrency to? The CCN was there taking down information from people, looking to start up more and more campus groups–as well as looking for commitments from potential guests that they could shop around to groups who would like to host speakers. Grassroots activism like this is the way to move us forward, and I was glad to see some fellow young faces around the conference hall–bright-eyed and looking forward to a Bitcoin-powered future.
Another company I hadn’t heard of but whose acquaintance I was glad to make. CrowdCurity is a crowdsourced platform for web security. An organization for white hat programmers (those who look for bugs, security flaws, and other issues with the intention of informing the owners so that they can be fixed, as opposed to black hats, those who search for flaws to exploit or sell them for personal gain). CrowdCurity is making it easy for smaller web businesses to incentivize programmers to secure their websites through bug bounty programs. You’ll no longer need an in-house security expert to run a secure platform, thanks to CrowdCurity. Yet another example of how decentralization can improve the lives of everyone–individuals and corporations alike. White hats get jobs, companies get affordable security, and consumers can be more confident of their personal information security on various platforms they use. Everybody benefits from competition.
Who’s that man holding the rather risqué t-shirt, you ask? While I would hope he needs little introduction, that’s Davi Barker of Bitcoin Not Bombs fame. For those unfamiliar with him or his organization, he is a prolific anarchist and activist. Bitcoin Not Bombs is an organization devoted to just what you might expect–the cause of liberty. It was great to get a chance to meet him and have a quick exchange (mostly about how neither of us knew the term for the precedent/president wordplay on the shirt; turns out it’s a heterographic homophone, not exactly catchy)–he’s a very friendly and likable guy, out in the world doing something he is extremely passionate about, and for good reason. His table was full of merchandise of all sorts, much of which you’ll be able to find on the Bitcoin Not Bombs shop once it relaunches. If you want a copy of that shirt he’s holding, though, you’ll have to get at him on Twitter or through e-mail! When I spoke to him, he was a little uncertain of whether it should be available for sale online. I tried my best to convince him it should be, but rabid customers will do it better! He’s not threatening violence against anyone–he’s just threatening to replace the old paradigm with a new one, built on Bitcoin, aimed at creating freedom. Hardly something worth not selling a shirt over, in my mind.
Last of those I spoke to, but far from least, was this unassuming booth. You can’t see it in the picture, but the computer screen is showing the stock ticker for NEMstake on the NXT Secure Asset Exchange. The man on the right is Sergey Nazarov, one of the developers of the Secure Asset Exchange and someone who likely deserves far more followers on Twitter than he currently has. I find the project incredibly exciting–it’s only missing one thing: more companies listing a diverse array of assets on the exchange. That’s something that will come in time, though. Still, even now, the exchange has a few worthwhile ventures you should consider looking into. I anticipate that the SAE will be one of the most important early use-cases for cryptocurrency moving forward, and I’m excited to watch it push on.
That’s all for the various exhibitors who were present, but what about the other meat of the conference? The speakers were a diverse group, but I’m going to focus in briefly on just a few of the most influential.
The headliners for the conference were the always-impressive Patrick Byrne, the impeccable Jeffrey Tucker, and the inimitable Andreas Antonopoulos. Andreas was early on in the first day, and unsurprisingly his speech was so popular that it ran well, well past its appointed time. His talk got a lot of laughs, but it was actually deadly serious. A few choice (mostly paraphrased) lines from Andreas:
"…then the regulators woke up, and 1000's of bankers were jailed. Oh wait, that didn't happen." (Laughter from crowd) – @aantonop
— Ben Isgur (@BenIsgur) June 21, 2014
"When you give people control of your money, something always happens. Sooner or later, usually sooner, they steal it." – @aantonop prphrse
— Ben Isgur (@BenIsgur) June 21, 2014
Andreas’ point is much the same as it has been in the past: Bitcoin’s great achievement is a movement of power from a corrupt and centralized structure to an open, transparent, and decentralized structure. Power has returned to those to whom it belongs: the individual.
Andreas ended his talk with a brief discussion and announcement of something he called “Proof of Publication.”
— Ben Isgur (@BenIsgur) June 21, 2014
Details on that project should hopefully be forthcoming, but I’m certainly excited to see it happen.
Mr. Tucker’s presentation focused on a different understanding of the history of the world than is commonly taught; one in which money fuels conflict, an idea that seems so obvious once presented. He catalogued the world moving forward as one in which a cycle repeats itself: a centralized institution takes control of a people’s monetary supply. That institution, or those pulling its strings, uses that power for selfish reasons–to wage wars, to disenfranchise the powerless, to hurt those with whom they disagree or who might question their power or its use. And then it implodes, and yet eventually, every time, we manage to return to the first step: a centralized institution is given control over people’s money. Bitcoin has ended this most vicious cycle, finally, once and for all. It disrupted step one: instead of a centralized institution being given control over people’s money, a decentralized one has been. And ‘given control’ might even be a misnomer, given the programmatic nature of the Bitcoin system. Jeffrey Tucker was, as always, eloquent and good-humored, even while discussing this most dismal of topics. I enjoyed his speech immensely, and would strongly recommend it to my readers once it is available on YouTube.
Lastly on the day, we had Patrick Byrne, Bitcoin Messiah, CEO of Overstock.com, and Scourge of Wall Street. While Mr. Byrne chose to spend the first few minutes of the presentation disavowing that particular titling, I would disagree with him. It certainly seems well-deserved to me.
Patrick’s speech was very different. If you’ve heard the phrase, “a face only a mother could love”, I’d suggest a slight deviation of it would be applicable to his speech. “A talk only another philosopher could find enrapturing.” Mr. Byrne holds a Doctorate in Philosophy from Stanford University, and as a fellow philosopher, I recognize the curse this has laid upon him: he now has difficulty discussing complex topics in such a way that non-philosophers consistently find engaging. This problem only persisted for the first portion of his discussion (which was, in retrospect, critical to the remaining portions. I don’t mean to criticize his speech with my quip about philosophers, merely to note the unusual characteristics of his presentation.)
Mr. Byrne wove together several topics in his discussion, but his focus was on the concept which we might commonly call corruption within centralized institutions. He excellently articulated a concept titular to his investigative journalistic work, DeepCapture.com, which focuses on… well, his website speaks for itself. In the about section:
“Public choice theory describes a phenomenon whereby industries take control of, or “capture”, regulators who are supposed to oversee them. The claim of this website is that powerful actors have been able to influence or take control of not just the regulators, but also law enforcement, elected officials, national media, and the intellectual establishment.”
Mr. Byrne’s speech provided excellent backdrop and justification for this work–very important work that it is. Just recently, DeepCapture made waves by filing a historic lawsuit against the SEC specifically relating to their lack of enforcement of naked short selling laws. I hope to see it continue to push forward exposing corruption within not just financial regulators, but also in the realm of law enforcement, the mud of political arenas, and the two-faced theater that is media. I doubt there is any shortage of muck to be dug up.
Mr. Byrne ended with a surprising announcement on a different topic that was met with deafening applause. Overstock.com will begin donating a significant portion of their added profits from Bitcoin to some worthy organization aimed at promoting the technology. The program is still so new that the details are not perfectly settled, but somewhere around 3% of Bitcoin sales will be going back into the Bitcoin ecosystem in order to promote it. A very kind gesture on the part of Overstock, one that is very likely to provide an additional surge of goodwill from our community to their company. A win-win, as they say.
To hop back a moment in the topics I’ve touched on, though, I’d like to discuss the title of this post: Who, What, and Where’s Charlie? Charlie, of course, is Charlie Shrem, currently under house arrest, although still quite active in the Bitcoin community. He was supposed to be attending and speaking at Bitcoin in the Beltway, but he was prevented from doing so for unknown reasons. Captured authorities, one might suggest, though without evidence at current. It is unfortunate to see such an influential member of the community prevented from fulfilling something as innocuous as a speaking obligation due presumably to a relatively unrelated but ongoing criminal case. Of course, we all wish him the best, as even though he has gone through immense personal tribulations these past months, and continues to, he has never given up on the Bitcoin community, and never stopped doing his utmost to support and encourage it as it developed.
That’s all for my summary of Bitcoin in the Beltway this past weekend! I hope you enjoyed getting a chance to read along and hear a little of what went on over the weekend. Make sure to check out the excellent and dense array of panels, speeches, and presentations from the weekend as they pop up on YouTube! There were far too many excellent presenters to discuss in just one article, and much of what they had to say is certainly worth a watch (or a listen!).