I’m back, and now dealing with China’s new Bitcoin restrictions

I'm back, and now dealing with China's new Bitcoin restrictions
JISHOU, HUNAN — While I was away, China’s central banking authorities decided to investigate (as they put it), China’s Bitcoin exchanges, resulting in all the exchanges sharply curtailing withdrawals of Bitcoin until further notice. As I have used Bitcoin as a way to move part of my salary (paid in Chinese yuan) to my bank in America, this new situation directly affects me. All is not lost, however, as I will detail below. One dilemma many expats face is moving money from one country to another. I am paid in Chinese yuan, and am permitted to transfer 70% of my very modest pay — by US standards — each month to the USA. At first, I used bank wire transfers, which required substantial paperwork, the assistance of a Chinese national’s bank account and relatively high fees. Then I learned I could create a Chinese PayPal account and send funds to my American PayPal account, paying about 4% in exchange fees. Not bad, but my experience with PayPal is, shall we say, less than positive. Beginning in 2013 I started using Bitcoin to move my money cross-border. I’d buy bitcoins with Chinese yuan, send the bitcoins to my Coinbase account, and ...

Animation shows #Bitcoin transactions happening in real time

Animation shows #Bitcoin transactions happening in real time
If you don’t pay attention to the Bitcoin world, you probably aren’t aware how active the Bitcoin system (other known as the blockchain) is. Now there’s an app for that. It won’t fit on your phone, but a web visualization at bitbonkers.com (screencap above) will show you in real time what the Bitcoin world is doing After a rough-and-tumble beginning that saw Bitcoin prices soar to more than $1,000 from a measly $1, the computer-based currency has settled into a more settled dollar-exchange zone between $300 and $500 as it has become more widely used. Each cube represents a block of transactions within the Bitcoin shared ledger, the blockchain. The balls represent individual Bitcoin transactions, with different colors representing the size of the exchanges. Reds — representing transactions up to 1 BTC ($420 at this moment) — are the most common, but blues (100 – 1000 BTC) are pretty frequent, too, suggesting some users with deep pockets are using Bitcoin. Click on a ball to see the exact amount displayed on the right. If the sound effects get on your nerves, click the mute button at upper right to quiet things down. The project is part of the WebGL project, ...

Website updates took almost a whole day

Website updates took almost a whole day
JISHOU, HUNAN — What started out to be a few simple housekeeping chores turned into an all-day affair. I’d forgotten how time-consuming website maintenance can be. With a day off from classes, I wanted to clean up two things on the site that have been bothering me for months. Clean up the header, to put the site title and logo over the banner image, to recover some lost space. Refine/reinstall the PayPal and Bitcoin donation buttons. I tackled #2 first, because I naively assumed it would take less time than #1. Nope. Taking care of the PayPal donations button was not especially time-consuming, aside from dealing with PayPal’s hidden user profile page, which contains the merchant ID. I no longer have a merchant account, but the ID is still valid. Using it allows me to keep my personal email address out of reach of spammers when I use the PayPal donation button. You’d assume that PayPal would place the ID in plain sight, like on your profile page. I had to go to a usergroup discussion to find the link to it. PayPal still has the information; it’s just not included in the newly designed profile page. There will now ...

Malaysia trip, part 5 SIDEBAR: The quest for Singapore’s Bitcoin ATMs

Malaysia trip, part 5 SIDEBAR: The quest for Singapore's Bitcoin ATMs
HONG KONG — As you can guess from the dateline here, I’ve come to the end of my Malaysian adventure, and I’m still running behind in talking about it. This post is a sidebar to the forthcoming narrative about my three days in Singapore. It’s about my efforts to find Singapore’s Bitcoin ATMs (plural), and finding perhaps the only surviving member of the species. I’m still a cautious booster of Bitcoin, the computer-based “cryptocurrency” that’s been behind both scandals and successes in the financial world. For my purposes, it’s a relatively low-cost way to channel Chinese yuan from my Chinese bank account to American dollars in my US bank account. Depending on market prices, sometimes it’s a no-cost way to move money, and if you time transfers right, somewhat profitable. I move funds roughly once a month, after payday. Usually, I use two exchanges, BTCC, which is based in China, and Coinbase, in the USA. [Coinbase is not technically an exchange, but it does permit you to move between dollars and bitcoins. For simplicity’s sake, I’ll call it an exchange for now.] Buying bitcoins in China used to be a piece of cake, using a Chinese version of PayPal called ...

Bitcoin in China update 4

Bitcoin in China update
JISHOU, HUNAN — #Bitcoin is still alive and well in China, a year after the central banking authorities clamped down hard on banks doing Bitcoin-related business. We can still exchange renminbi for Bitcoin; it’s just not as easy as it was before December last year. Before the big crackdown, it was easy to transfer money from one’s bank account to any of several Bitcoin exchanges in China using the UnionPay interbank debit card system or the AliPay or TenPay third-party processor systems. So easy, that it appears Chinese Bitcoin speculation was pushing the exchange rate well over US$1,000. After the central bank restricted bank transfers and required banks close the exchanges’ bank accounts, the value of Bitcoins tumbled very quickly and has yet to return to the $1,000 level. Today, it was trading around $325. All but a few of the Bitcoin exchanges in China closed their doors. BTC China is one of the few that survives. It works around the banking restrictions by using vouchers as an intermediate step, and two representatives who accept the bank transfers. I took advantage of this system this week to transfer part of my paycheck to my US bank account. Previously, I had ...

Buying Bitcoin in Hong Kong with an ATM

Buying Bitcoin in Hong Kong with an ATM
HONG KONG SAR, CHINA — It’s been a year since I first bought bitcoins, and coincidentally I commemorated the event by buying Bitcoin at a Lamassu ATM here a few days ago. Reports of Bitcoin ATMs in Hong Kong came out earlier this year. One is in a café in the Mid-Levels on Hong Kong Island, and the other is in Mong Kok in Kowloon. I only visited the Mong Kok location. My son was in HK for a conference, so I took a week’s leave to meet up with him. While he was busy conferring, I spent the time doing my own stuff. One of my missions was to find and use the Mong Kok ATM. This website gives directions on its use, but provides only the address. It’s easier than using a regular bank ATM. There’s no keypad, no need to insert a card, provide your handprint or have your face scanned. This machine scans the unique QR code on your smartphone to determine your Bitcoin address, and waits for you to insert cash (Hong Kong dollars, in this case). When you’re done, the equivalent value of bitcoins, less a small service charge, is sent to your Bitcoin ...

Using Bitcoin to top up your cellphone minutes

JISHOU, HUNAN — Here’s a practical use for Bitcoin: I just topped up my friend’s cellphone account by sending Bitcoin from my phone’s wallet. My friend Laura is in Beijing and for various reasons not pertinent to this discussion, asked me to top up her cellphone account. Normally. I could do it from my computer by logging into my online bank account services and sending funds to top up any Chinese cellphone number. Trouble is, the entire campus hasn’t had Internet access since 11:30 am (it’s now 4 pm), and she needed the funds right away. So, I could have walked to the campus China Mobile office — in the pouring rain — and put in cash money — assuming their Internet was working — but I decided to try a new service called Piiko a try. Piiko allows you to top up cellphone accounts worldwide just by entering the country code + phone number and paying with Bitcoin. I had about $20 in my cell’s Bitcoin wallet, so I tried sending half that to Laura’s account. It worked! Here are the details. To use it with your mobile phone, you need to have a Bitcoin wallet on your phone, ...

April update 1

JISHOU, HUNAN — I’ve been lax in keeping up the blogging, so here’s an update on life here in Jishou. This weekend is a holiday, 清明节 (Qingming Jie), which is called Tomb Sweeping Day in English. It was Saturday, and many offices and schools got Friday and Monday off. Most Chinese families use the day to visit the graves of deceased family members, clean them, and leave offerings of “money” and food to their ancestors’ spirits. For those who live close to home, it’s also a chance for some quality time with family. For others, it’s a welcome respite from a 6-days-a-week, 51-weeks-a-year work schedule. My holiday was the calm and peaceful kind. I didn’t go anywhere special — it’s been pouring outside — and anyway, I had private lessons to give on Sunday. The university has offered me a generous raise for the following year, so I have agreed to stay another year. It will be my seventh year teaching here. To be frank, I never expected to stay this long, but the time has flown by, so I take that as a sign that my annual choice to stick around has been a good one. My weekend teaching ...

What fools these mortals be 2

JISHOU, HUNAN — Just to be clear, I am not Satoshi Nakamoto. Nor do I write for Newsweek. Under the circumstances, these are both good things. Dorian Sakamoto also says he is not Satoshi Nakamoto. He’s the 64-year-old Californian who Newsweek says is the man responsible for the Bitcoin technology. Dorian, who was born Satoshi in Japan, told The AP he doesn’t even know what Bitcoin is. (He called it Bitcom.) Here’s the short version of this Shakespearean comedy. Bitcoin was invented in 2008-9 by an anonymous programmer going by the name Satoshi Nakamoto. He identified himself as 38 years old and living in Japan. His true identity was unknown even to his closest collaborators on the Bitcoin protocol. Newsweek, which has just been brought back from the dead, made its re-premiere cover story an exposé of the “man behind Bitcoin,” asserting he is Dorian Prentice Satoshi Nakamoto, a naturalized American citizen living in a nondescript neighborhood of Temple City, California. The reporter who tracked him down, Leah McGrath Goodman, pored through public records, contacted Bitcoin developers, former associates and family of Dorian Nakamoto, and even obtained his email address from a business in the UK. Dorian likes model trains, ...

Bitcoin: not just for the privileged few

On Thursday, the liberal website, Think Progress, published a critique, Bitcoin: By The Privileged, For The Privileged, saying the controversial digital currency only benefits the privileged, and does not address the needs of the poor and working poor. Basically, says writer Annie-Rose Strasser, Bitcoin’s libertarian proponents oppose government intervention in financial matters, while the underprivileged need government protection from financial abuse. So, she says, Bitcoin cannot help the underprivileged. Bitcoin users’ rejection of the government reflects the luxury of being able to live well without state support, while the less advantaged desperately need a larger government role in the banking system to help them them overcome deep, systemic bias. Strasser raises some valid points in her column, but her suggestion that Bitcoin offers nothing to the underprivileged and the “unbanked,” as the phrase goes, does not follow logically from her objections to the currency. Rather, she seems opposed to the idea of Bitcoin simply because of libertarians’ fondness for the currency. She fails to see the advantages Bitcoin may offer the less privileged. To be honest, Bitcoin proponents have done a piss-poor job marketing their pet project to the public at large, and debacles such as the recent collapse of ...

We now resume regularly scheduled programming, now in progress

JISHOU, HUNAN — Nothing like a server crash to slow down your writing projects. I had practically all of last weekend free to write, and the drive to do it, but as I said in the last post, my site was down for the count until midweek. Coincidentally, that big Bitcoin exchange in Japan, Mt. Gox, also went dark about the same time. Their situation is more dire, as they’ve “lost” more than 850,000 bitcoins somehow and have filed for bankruptcy protection. Their site remains dark. I don’t have those bitcoins. I promise. If I did, I would probably be sitting near some tropical beach now, sipping a piña colada, not sitting in my flat at Jishou University sipping green tea. Unless I were being sly. Muhahaha! In fact, my experiment with Bitcoin is doing better than I had expected. Prices are still not above the levels when I first entered Bitcoin land in early December, but Bitcoin has not tanked completely, even after the Mt. Gox fiasco. I successfully used Bitcoin last week to transfer some of my pay from China to the USA, netting $25 in the process because of changing prices and arbitrage. You can read the ...

A new writing gig

JISHOU, HUNAN — A feller approached me the other day about writing for his blog, Better Off Bitcoin. Unpaid, but it’s exposure, so I took Justin Hawley up on the offer. So far, I’ve written only two blogs there. One is cribbed from a post I wrote here, Moving Money the Modern Way, and another I just penned today, Why I Bitcoin. I got more than 330 hits on the first one, not bad for my first run. One reader noticed that I’ve been posting pages at Little Green Footballs. I started that a few months ago, whenever I caught something interesting I wanted to share there. It’s not exactly blogging — more like clipping and commenting — but I find some items don’t suit this blog very well. LGF gives me another venue to share my thoughts. I’ve written diairies at The Daily Kos in the past, but so much this past year. It seems I can only keep up with one political blog at a time, and Daily Kos has too much stuff going on for me to keep up with. Maybe I’ll write there again soon, if the muse visits me. The feeds from here to Twitter ...
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