I just got back from the Bitcoin in the Beltway conference in Washington DC and as usual had a blast mixing and mingling with some of the finest minds and personalities in the Bitcoin ecosystem. It wasn’t one of the larger conferences but it had meaningful speakers and there was a lot to learn from other attendees and vendors.
Some my personal highlights of the weekend:
I got a chance to speak one-on-one with Kirk Phillips, a new contributor to the LTB Network show, Bitcoins & Gravy, and somehow the topic got onto merchant adoption and some of the difficulties involved not just on-boarding merchants but also retaining them amidst the unfamiliar and sometimes difficult process of accepting bitcoins at the point-of-sale. After a few minutes of mentioning the past experiences I’ve had being a small business merchant myself, and how merchants have been poorly set up to accept bitcoin, we decided to do a full on recorded interview on the topic. The interview was ad hoc, but since these thoughts have been brewing in my head for quite some time, everything flowed quite nicely. We covered everything from choosing merchant processors to which devices to set up merchants with and how to prepare those devices in their workspace. I look forward to the final clips from an episode and I’m sure the bitcoin ecosystem will find a lot of value from those tips.
Hunting down the talk on Project Skyhook by Kyle Drake was an adventure of navigating hidden hallways which felt miles away from the main Convention area and for no apparent reason given the large number of completely unused conference rooms at the Renaissance Marriott in downtown DC. Rumor was it that the hotel, possibly pressured by the government denizens of DC, were aiming to disrupt the flow of the conference and give the organizers as hard of a time as possible. Rooms were constantly shifted around and schedules on television displays were frequently incorrect. Despite the havoc, I found Kyle’s presentation space and sat down for an intimate overview of Project Skyhook, why bitcoin and other currencies should not be regulated, and more importantly got to hear his tremendous support for keeping bitcoin decentralized. He lamented the unfortunate trend for bitcoin companies to behave like banks and hold the keys to our funds. I felt proud knowing that the Airbitz wallet we are building takes a firm stance on user privacy and user ownership of their own private keys. Referring back to his ATM project, my favorite quote from his talk was “I don’t need to show my passport to buy a Coke from a vending machine. Why should I have to to buy bitcoins from this ATM?” It sounded silly at first, but thinking deeper, it entirely makes sense. Bitcoin is just another good that can be purchased and traded much like a bottle of Coke. Kyle mentions that the governments claim to impose regulatory measures for our own protection. After all, bitcoins can be used to purchase illegal drugs and weapons. Then he makes a fascinating point. Obesity and diabetes are the #1 and #7 cause of death in the US. Death by gunfire or illegal drugs are not even on the top 10. What is a bigger killer, bitcoin or a bottle of coke?!
On Saturday evening, Patrick Byrne gave his keynote address and although similar to the one he gave in Amsterdam just a few weeks prior, he added in a very important nugget. Overstock.com will be donating 3% of their bitcoin revenue to projects which help promote the bit coin ecosystem. This shows a huge boost of support from a major, publicly traded company, but more so from Patrick Byrne himself.
On Sunday, my absolute favorite talk of the weekend was by Kristov Atlas, the soft spoken, yet eloquent champion of privacy and freedom, and author of the Anonymous Bitcoin Book. His talk on the Silk Road sheds light on the dark impression that the general populace has on it and other dark markets. He foresees a time when we will look back at projects such as Silk Road and Dark Market and see them not as the facilitator of crime and illicit activities, but rather as rebellious and heroic efforts against the injustice of current establishment. He likens them to the Underground Railroad which existed during times of slavery. Illegal and detested by the majority, it brought people to freedom much like dark markets today will bring us global transactional freedom. Definitely catch the video once it’s released.
Saturday evening brought a surprise highlight that I hadn’t yet experienced in a bitcoin conference. Zhou Tonged performed several of their flippin hilarious bitcoin spoofs of various pop-culture songs. With a diverse array of talent, the duo performed spoofs from Billy Joel, Boyz II Men, Afroman, and many other artists and put a bitcoin twist to the lyrics. My personal favorites were “The End of Silk Road” (End of the Road by Boyz II Men) and “Cuz I Didn’t Buy” (Because I Was High by Afroman). Their album launches on Aug 8, so check them out and buy their album using bitcoin.
Overall a fun conference with a strong libertarian, freedom loving energy. I look forward to the North American Bitcoin Conference in Chicago which will be the next stop for Airbitz.