Friday, 16 February 2018

More about Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies - some things to avoid

I have previously written a brief introduction to Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies generally, and since then I have been tinkering about using small amounts of my own money. Although I do not profess to be anything like an expert in this area, and certainly what I write should not be construed as financial advice, I thought that one or two of the things I have found out might be of use to other beginners.

I first put a modest sum into Bitcoin in July 2017, more to see how the whole thing worked than in the expectation of huge gains. The sums are in any event small by comparison with money earned in my proper job. My initial sum had quadrupled (in terms of GBP) by early January 2018 (the peak of a speculative bubble probably caused by stories of vast fortunes made by others in the past reaching the general public) and has now fallen to about 2.8 times my initial speculation. The ups and downs of major cryptocurrencies (and all those I have looked at) roughly copy each other so far, irrespective it seems of merit.

There are now hundreds of tokens and cryptocurrencies. Some of these are of doubtful value and some are so-called 'pump and dump' schemes, where a new token is offered and promoted, the value of the token then spikes owing to speculation, and the owners then cash in and disappear. Some, however, appear to offer genuine utility and a few will probably change the way we do business in currently unimaginable ways, much as the internet has changed our lives over the past two decades. What we don't know is which ones will become the Googles and Amazons of the future, and which ones will disappear, as happened to so many startups in the dot-com bubble.

I cannot predict the future, nor do I believe anyone who claims to do so, so all anyone interested in any sort of investment can do is to invest on merit. A tulip bulb bought at the right price at the right time could make a fortune in 17th century Netherlands, but bought at the wrong time at the wrong price could equally lose a fortune. The question is, is the value of a tulip bulb fundamentally equal to that of a house or not? If not then don't buy. If speculating in cryptocurrencies, the best one can do is look for those with genuine utility and hold on.

Not all cryptocurrencies are actually currencies, although the tokens do have a market value. For example, a token called (POE) is intended to allow writers and artists to establish copyright and licensing on the blockchain. POE and many other tokens are built on the Ethereum platform, which itself has a token with its own market value (once again, beware: don't use the Ethereum wallet from the download on the front page; it doesn't work for ordinary folk but there are people who play with it and also can't get it to work and I've no idea why they spend time on it).

What would (for me at any rate) be immediately useful would be a way of making transfers into and out of different local currencies for the purposes of paying for things abroad and for sending money abroad. Anyone who has done either of these things will know that bank charges can be excruciatingly high - around 15GBP minimum to send any amount, and an unfair exchange rate at the airport or worse at a hotel (I was charged 10% in a Barbados hotel).  What if instead one could load up one's debit card with Bitcoin and convert to local currency without using the banks as intermediaries?

I have reported before on cryptocurrency contactless payment systems in the pipeline. However caveat emptor: some of the Bitcoin debit cards on offer actually have charges just as bad as those I should like to avoid. In the meantime there are non-crypto ways of achieving cheap money transfers, one of which I have tried successfully in sending money to India (GBP to Rupees): Transferwise. Another I am testing is Glint, for everyday purchases in different currencies - but I won't be able to verify the real cost until I am next abroad. Rather than using cryptocurrencies, Glint allows the user to convert between local fiat currencies and a notional amount of gold. Both are available as smartphone apps.

[NOTE: at the time of writing this blog has no affiliate links and makes no money from any links. Nothing in this article should be taken as financial advice.]

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Check out Martin Dace's new art blog

My illustrator Martin Dace has a new blog at This replaces his old blog, however the old posts will stay for the time being.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Persistance and endurance

Ausdauer and Durchhalten as far as I know mean persistence and endurance - but they sound more impressive in German for some reason. We sometimes lose what we might have gained by giving up too soon.

I wonder if this is what happens to some of those film stars who get married half a dozen times (and no doubt this happens to other people who are not famous so we don't know about them). In that first falling in love, or perhaps in the slower development of a relationship that grows on us more gradually, we see everything beautiful and wonderful about the other person. With more time certain things we used to overlook start to irritate. Perhaps when they irritate or even exasperate enough we start thinking that we should move on, look elsewhere. This is the point at which to apply Ausdauer und Durchhalten. 

It does sometimes happen that a situation is beyond redemption and it is better for all concerned to move on. But first one must consider what in the situation might be redeemable, and what efforts one must make oneself. Thinking about what changes the other person must make will not achieve anything useful. And endurance and persistence can sometimes lead to surprising results. Just as a couple who have been through a difficult external situation together become closer to each other, so it can happen if they successfully negotiate difficulties in a relationship.

In other areas of life, too, success usually depends more on persistence than anything else. Why am I not a very rich successful business person? Because I am not fixated on those goals enough, I do not put the necessary effort into those things. Not because there is anything fundamental in my nature preventing it other than the lack of sufficient desire.

Not to worry: decide what you really want (that's the hard part) then go for it. And like a child learning to play a musical instrument, don't get put off because you cannot play Beethoven after your first lesson.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Mermaid at St Doris Island - work in progress

Mermaid at St Doris Island - work in progress
Here is the current state of the latest mermaid linocut. Apart from a few wavy wiggles the sky will be more-or-less white. In the background you can see the volcano on St Doris Island and on the other side is Drake's Golden Hinde at anchor, as described in Sir Henry Herring's book, S. Doris Iland and the Divers Marvells therein, as quoted in A Mermaid in the Bath by Milton Marmalade.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Do one thing at a time

There is evidence that multitasking lowers your intelligence.

This blogger says it better than me. Do one thing at a time. You'll feel better for it, and get more done.

Friday, 27 October 2017

Ethereum - don't do what I did

Ethereum, Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are increasingly in the news. You may see in this an opportunity to get in on something that may turn out to be big (or all manner of mishaps may happen to it). However it's interesting enough to put an amount of money into it that wouldn't hurt you much if you lost it all.

Ethereum is interesting because it's not just an alternative currency (although it has value), it's a platform on which what are called 'smart contracts' are written. The idea is to write contracts in code on top of the blockchain (ethereum's existing distributed ledger) making contracts enforceable automatically and (presumably) avoiding the necessity of going to law in the case of disputes. That is, both the rules and the execution of the contract are encoded, and the code is tamper-proof, so no external arbitration is required. That's the theory anyway, and it does depend crucially on the code not having exploitable loopholes.

Anyway, long story short, it might be a good although high-risk investment. In my naivete I went to the official site at on the basis that this is all new and there are no doubt some scams out there, so might as well go to the source. If you scroll down you will see that you can download the wallet free. A wallet is somewhere you can keep cryptocurrencies. Using the wallet I purchased a modest quantity of ether (the cryptocurrency). From my experience with Bitcoin I did not expect the amount to show up in my wallet immediately, as these things generally take between a few minutes and an hour. I ran the thing day and night from 11 September until I gave up on 9 October and my ether still did not appear in my wallet. This was because the software was still trying to synchronise with the entire blockchain.

At various points I went to the user community discussion forum discussing this very problem. Although people were mostly kind I was told more than once that this was not the correct forum. I could not understand why people were spending any time on this piece of software that clearly wasn't working for any of them. Anyway I persisted and eventually a user gave me enough information to rescue my ether to the point where if I want to convert them back to regular money I probably can.

So if any of this makes any sense to any of you, take heed, and if you want to play around with this, don't invest a lot of money in it until you understand what you are doing.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

How to get spiritual understanding: Mark 7:28

Mark 7:28 Context

"For a certain woman, whose young daughter had an unclean spirit, heard of him, and came and fell at his feet: The woman was a Greek, a Syrophenician by nation; and she besought him that he would cast forth the devil out of her daughter. But Jesus said unto her, Let the children first be filled: for it is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it unto the dogs. Mark 7:28 And she answered and said unto him, Yes, Lord: yet the dogs under the table eat of the children's crumbs. And he said unto her, For this saying go thy way; the devil is gone out of thy daughter."

This is remarkable. The woman was given a hard answer, but she didn't give up. That's how humble we (i) need to be to get spiritual understanding.