I held the flimsy scrap of printout up to the Bitcoin ATM’s scanner, tapped its screen, and ten crisp hundred-dollar bills shot into the delivery tray at the bottom. Maybe Bitcoin is real?
What happened was, back in April when Bitcoin was last spiking, I bought a few, not using any of the exchanges (setup seems pretty heavyweight) but from another enthusiast, with cash. The price headed for the basement as soon as I loaded up, so I was feeling kind of stupid. But now it’s spiking again; nobody knows why, but I hear hints of big pools of money hovering, wanting into this asset class.
Anyhow, this week it’s over double what I paid, and while I think Bitcoin is more interesting as a payment mechanism than an investment vehicle, de facto I had an investment way in the black. In that situation, you have to think about taking some off the table; and there’s been a flurry of news about the new Bitcoin ATM in Vancouver.
So Lauren and I headed down to the undistinguished coffee shop on an undistinguished downtown corner and there it was.
It’s the size of a refrigerator. The screen has three choices: BUY BITCOIN, SELL BITCOIN, and REDEEM TICKET. On the right are a barcode scanner, a palm scanner, and an ID document reader; I think you need to use these if you’re buying bitcoin and don’t already have a wallet. At the lower bottom are slots for a credit card, and for taking money in and pushing it out.
I was in taking-it-out mode. So I tapped SELL BITCOIN and here’s how it worked:
It asked how much how much; the usual kind of screen with ±$20 and ±$100 buttons like you see on transit-fare machines. I said $1000.
It said that would be 2.40701 Bitcoins and printed out a little strip of paper of paper with two QR codes. One described the destination and amount, the other was called a “Transaction Redeem Code”.
I use the Blockchain.info service for my Bitcoins, and it comes with an OK Android client. The camera on my Nexus 7 wouldn’t read the QR code on the slip, but it had no trouble with the one on the ATM screen. Blockchain said “OK to send the Bitcoins?” and I agreed.
At this point, the user experience was a little puzzling. Eventually I figured out that it wanted me to say “OK, I’m done”, then use the REDEEM TICKET top-level choice.
So I did that, it asked me to hold up the second QR code in front of its scanner, and I instantly got this cheery screen.
Tapping “Withdraw” got me a popup saying “0 of 1 required confirmations received, the Bitcoin network is still processing this transaction.” OK, I guess. I tried a few more times over the next ten minutes, then got bored and went shopping.
An hour later we returned to the coffee shop, scanned the redemption slip one last time, and Bang!, there was the cash.
What is Bitcoin For? · I think Bitcoin is interesting because it potentially offers very low transaction costs and doesn’t much notice national borders.
As an investment vehicle, well... I’m not smart enough to understand it. I guess what I’ll do is, if it stays up here, take enough out to get my money back and let the rest ride. I dunno, if it then plunges again I might buy some more on the assumption that the gyration will continue.
An important quality of of a useful currency is stability, and Bitcoin clearly doesn’t have any.
I do feel a bit like a doofus though, for not having actually studied up on the crypto and done some mining back in the old days. There’s one Bitcoin mailing list I’m on, full of extremely technically competent people; someone there casually mentioned that, as an old-timer, he’d been on the ride long enough, so he cashed in half his Bitcoins this month and paid off his mortgage. And, he noted, had retained a first-rate tax attorney.