Skip to content

Back to paper and gold

I’ve been starting to broker a lot of bitcoin transactions that involve paper money.  Paper money has gotten a bad reputation for being evil stuff that only criminals use, but it turns out that paper cash is in some ways better and more secure than the electronic stuff.

First of all, when I broker high value transaction, I only do it between people that are properly licensed to move money, and people are careful to keep very accurate records and to proper AML/KYC.  I don’t deal with anyone that I think does anything involving criminal activity not just for moral reasons, but because there are issues of personal safety.  If you are a compliance officer at a bank, and you mess up, the worst that can happen to you is that you lose your job.  If you get involved with bad people, then you are looking at issues of personal safety, and that makes me extremely careful to deal only with good people moving clean money.  The nice thing is that I’m worried that they are dealing with a bad person, but they are worried that I’m also a bad person, and I’ve found that people that are in the business of moving money are generally more honest and ethical than most of the people I meet on Wall Street, and the money turns out to be cleaner.

So you might ask.  If you are not an evil criminal, why touch paper?  It turns out that paper cash is faster and more secure than electronic payments.  It can take 2 to 5 days to move electronic cash from place to place, and if the cash goes missing you are looking at weeks trying to track things down.  With paper cash, you can end up anywhere in the world in 12 hours, and you can always know where the cash is.  You can fit about USD 2 million in a carry on suitcase with a USD 1500 plane ticket.  It also turns out that you get security for free.  So it turns out that paper is faster then SWIFT.

As far as security, cash gets rid of the atomicity problem.  So here is the basic problem.  I want to give you USD 2 million in cash, you want to give me USD 2 million in bitcoin.  How do you know that one person won’t screw over the other person?  It turns out that paper cash solves a lot of these problems.  I had you paper cash, you hand me bitcoin and neither us leaves the room until the transaction is complete.  The failure modes are counterfeiting and theft.  For counterfeiting, it turns out that most cash counting machines can detect counterfeiting, and you can do the deal in a conference room.

And also it turns out that the people are nicer.

So you go into an investment bank in Central, and you end up in this marble room, whereas if you go to the money changing shops in Wan Chai, Worldwide House, and Chungking Mansions, you end up with a booth with hand written signs.  But the thing that I’ve started to figure out and what other people have figured out is that all of the marble and oak, it’s all fake.  It turns out that the bank is spending a ton of money to present an image, whereas the little currency shop doesn’t care about image.  Because the currency shop skimps on the oak panel and the marble they can actually provide something like decent customer service.

And the more I think about it, the more I think that banks are screwed.  So if you go into an investment bank, you have a meeting on the conference room, but they will never let you see the trading floor.  Now with a currency shop, you hand them cash, and one thing that you’ll notice is that all of their activities are behind a glass window so that you can see exactly what is going on.  You can see them, and they can see you.

Which brings up the most important reason why I think paper cash is more secure.  You can see it.  If I put my savings in paper cash, I know where it is.  I could lose it.  It could get lost or stolen, but it’s a physical artifact that you just can’t play games with it.  The same happens to be true with bitcoin.  Now if I take the paper cash and turn it into bank stuff, then God knows what the bank is doing with the money.  But of course, this is all silly.  You see the people in suits and the nice oak conference rooms, and you know that banks can be trusted not to do something crazy with your cash like put it into bogus mortgages or invest in derivatives that no one understands.

Yeah right….

Advertisements

Banks falling further and further behind

I was looking at the agenda for NextMoney, and it’s just incredible to me how banks are utterly failing at innovation even when they try to catch up.  Right now, the rest of all are already establishing colonies on Mars while the banks are just trying to flap their wings to get off the ground.  At this point the big banks are so far behind, that i think it’s just hopeless for them.

https://ff18.nextmoney.org/Schedule/

For example, they are starting to have a pitch competition.  I’ve always hated pitch competition, because you have very earnest bright startups that are spending a lot of time and effort for a chance to get some money.  And in the end, they end up getting trivial amounts of cash.  With people getting USD 5-50 million in an ICO, then why the hell are you even bothering pitching to a bank.  If you have a brilliant idea, just go for it, do the ICO and you are looking at several million in funding if you are good.

The only startups that are pitching in fintech are those that are providing services for banks, and that’s like setting up a refreshment stand on the Titanic.

The mistake that people make is to assume that banks have money.  Banks don’t have money.  Banks manage other people’s money, and the people whose money they are managing are quite annoyed at banks.  Right now, I’m brokering several multi-million USD deals between miners, high net work individuals, and funds, and we are looking at each other wondering why we need a bank.

Resigning from Ambrosus

Just a note that I’ve resigned from working with the Ambrosus supply chain project.  Please direct any inquiries to the Ambrosus management.  Thank you.

Adventures in mining cryptocurrency in Hong Kong

So I have my cryptocurrency mine up and running.  It’s currently with one AMD RX580 GPU card and the rough rule is that one graphics card produces 1 USD per day.  The mine isn’t going to make me rich, but my old computer broke and it’s running in the background, and this gives me an excuse to get into the world of astrophysics and high performance computing.

The other reason I did some mining was that there is a famous bitcoin celebrity that has come to HK to pitch mining contracts to people in HK, and since I know almost nothing about the practical aspects of mining I thought I should learn.  The other thing is that the HK media has made mining and crypto suddenly fashionable, so my wife has been asking me about setting up a mine.

The economics of crypto mining seems to be a lot like making sushi.  You can learn how to do is.  You can have fun doing it, but if you want to quit your job and open a sushi restaurant, it’s possible, but you need to think about it.

OK here are some random bits of information

Getting the parts…..

I ended up getting the parts from two computer shops.  If you go to the second floor of the Wan Chai computer center than in the back corner there is a computer store that has a crypto-mine operating (未來科技), and I got most of the computer parts from that store.  Some of the graphics cards I got from the Golden Computer Center (not the big one but the smaller center on the side).  The company I used was BNV Computer Center because they have the frame for a mine there.

Also I found that the stores with the best variety were at the Mong Kok computer center, but while they have the best selection the people running the stores didn’t know anything about the parts, whereas with both BNV.  Buying parts from a store that runs a cryptomine turns out to be a weird indicator since it means that you are dealing directly with the manager, since they put out the mine.

Searching for the (ASUS Mining Expert) motherboard on price.com.hk will get you the right stores.

So the only special high tech computer part that I used was the ASUS B250 Mining Expert that has 19 PCI-E ports, which is an interesting card because it has a ton of slots.  I was a bit worried when the Wai Chai computer maker quoted me a single price for all of the parts, but I felt a lot better when he quoted me a price for a terribly weak CPU which showed that he knew mining (i.e. he was trying to sell me a weak CPU, low memory, and a strong power supply which is exactly what you need).  I ended up paying HKD 7900 for a motherboard, i5-7500 CPU, 32 Gig of RAM, and a big 1000 watt Corsair power supply and another HKD 2500 (more or less) for an AMD RX580 graphics card.  This turns out to be high because I got a good CPU and much more RAM than I needed.

The funny thing was that the two special parts that I needed were low tech…..

The first is a frame.  It turns out that the Wanchai store sells a frame for 12-18 GPU’s, but they need to special order.  BNV sells a frame for 6 GPU’s for around HKD 600.  I looked at getting a glass case from Thermaltake, which is really nice but it’s overkill.

I ended up getting a DRAGAN trolley from IKEA (google on youtube for IKEA and mining).  Getting a case turns out to be quite interesting from an anthropological and human psychology point of view just like buying ladies hand bags (so I’ve heard).  On the one hand, you want to be cheap since a case or frame will determine profitability.  On the other hand, there is an issue of practicality (i.e. mounting the parts and air cooling).  And then there is the issue of showing off which turns out to be important since you are hitting the gaming world.  It also turns out that there is a fight brewing between gamers and miners so your case/frame tells you who you are.

So since I’m a DIY/astrophysics kind of guy, I went with IKEA.  It’s cheap, and it turns out to be functional.

By far the hardest part for me to get was the power button.  Since I don’t have a case, I need a button to turn on and off the computer.  It’s a very cheap part, but since it was difficult to find, and I finally found a computer repair shop that dug through their old parts and found a switch for 50 HKD.  It was really hard to find the part, because computer stores don’t sell them, and electronics stores don’t assemble the bits into something that I can use.

Also, now that I’ve taken apart the power button, I can see how to build the switch on my own.

So now hardware assembly…..

It took me about three days to put together the system and it’s your usual DIY game of why @#$#$@ doesn’t this work.  I never was able to get the HDMI output of the ASUS card to send signal to my television, and it turns out that some of the HDMI ports on my TV were broken, but after a few hours of trouble shooting and buying about HKD 500 in adapters I was able to figure out why I wasn’t getting signal.

What I think is happening is that my television is old and can’t handle the HDMI signal from the Intel integrated output of the motherboard, but the signal from the RX580 works fine.

The most annoying part of setting it up was that I got a very nasty and painful shock from a broken power adapter (i.e. the thing with multiple plugs).  The power adapter had a broken ground.  Normally this would matter, but because of my IKEA cart, the motherboard was insulated from the ground by plastic.  So I plugged the motherboard into the bad power adapter, and when I connected the cable from the motherboard to the television, I got a really painful and nasty electric shock because the grounding was different.  The shock was enough to be somewhat dangerous, and it took me about thirty minutes to figure out what was going on.  I tossed the power adapter.

The thing is that this only happened because of the framing I used in which I put the motherboard on plastic trays.  For most cases, the motherboard is electrically connected to the ground so a bad power adapter with a faulty ground would not cause problems.

I was looking into getting a water cooler, but that turns out to be unnecessary from a practical standpoint since fans have gotten a lot quieter than two years ago.  Also installing the Intel CPU was nice since the manufacturers have gotten rid of the pain points.

Now for the software…..

I’m am open source software person so of course I’m going to be running linux, and I’m a packager for Mageia linux.  I end up using AMD rather than Nvidia because more of AMD’s stuff is open source.  It turns out that I got the OpenCL drivers from the AMD package to install on Mageia linux with these instructions….

https://math.dartmouth.edu/~sarunas/amdgpu.html

There are some incompatbilities in the openGL software that means that I couldn’t use a hardware accelerated Cinnamon environment but a LXDE environment worked just fine.

For ethereum software I went to github, started with genoil’s cpp-ethereum, but found ethminer.  To set up the mining pool, I ended up using etherminer.org.  I wasted a day with ethpool.org which happens to have the wrong payment model for the type of small mining what I’m doing (and they have a big banner tell you to understand their payment money).

As an open source person I was happen to find out that the open source software doesn’t suffer from a performance penalty.  When I installed Claymore’s miner, I didn’t get much better hash rates, and the same when I installed the full AMDPRO drivers.  The ethminer software got me really good hash rates, and the key trick was to put in amdgpu.vm_fragment_size=9 in the kernel boot parameters.

But I’m running things on a stack that is more or less open source, so I can tweak most of the stuff.

I tried to find mining software for bitcoin gold, but I couldn’t find anything usable.  There is a lot of good mining stuff for Zcash, but the trouble is that I couldn’t find a decent mining pool for bitcoin gold.

Fashion and movies…..

So you don’t normally think about fashion and movies but I’ve been spending a lot of time with people in the movie and fashion industry, and in some ways the case and the frame that use in building a computer makes a fashion statement about who you are.  One thing that is happening is that you are starting to have a resource competition between the miners and the gamers, and by looking at someone’s case, you can see immediately what camp they belong to.

History….

Also since I’m basically a physicist, I like to find weird connections.  The world of crypto is really a frontier, and since I was educated in Texas, I get some of the culture of the old frontiers and the Old West.

Particularly the Range Wars, and in the English context (Enclosure)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Range_war

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enclosure

Also it turns out that Hong Kong has a huge connection with the American Old West.  All of those Chinese railroad workers left for California from Hong Kong and arrived at San Franscisco.  So the connection between the old Gold rush and the modern one is pretty apt. Hong Kong has always been a city of fear and greed.  Fear causes you to run from something.  Greed causes you to run to something.  The thing that you can’t do if you are driven by fear and greed is to stand still for very long.  You can be frozen as you are caught between two forces, but one of them will win (greed usually does) and you get pushed forward by that.

The other thing is that once you go into cyberspace you end up meeting some people from other places with the same sort of culture.  So I end up meeting with Australians from the Outback, Russians from Siberia, and Argentinians with gaucho culture.  And then you end up with weird mixes of ideas.  What happens when you mix cowboys and Buddhists and start talking about the “pure land” of the West.

The thing about the frontier is that it always moves.  The internet was once a frontier but it’s now locked up by google and facebook.  With the introduction of CME futures and Goldman-Sachs talking about doing a bitcoin trading desk, I’m seeing ranchers with barbed wire and mining companies with big machines.  They’ll come in and mess everything up, so I’ll cash in and then move out further West, so part of what I’m doing building this machine is to figure out where to run to once the suits come in divide up everything.

Conclusion…..

So after spending all of the time and effort, I have a mine that is making USD 1 per day mining ethereum and without too much trouble I can get it to making USD 10-20 per day by buying some extra graphics cards.  I can make decent sushi, but I’m not that keen on starting a sushi restaurant or investing in sushi restaurants.

CBOE/CME futures and arbitrage

Someone asked me…

Do you know why the XBT futures price is always 1xxx higher than the spot XBT? Does it mean we can simply take arbitrage if we long spot and short the futures at CBOE?

The reason bitcoin futures are higher on CBOE than spot is that there are large numbers of people that want bitcoin exposure but can’t hold bitcoin directly.  This includes corporates and high net worth individuals who don’t have the expertise or interest to hold physical bitcoin.  Or people that want to for example have bitcoin exposure as part of a US retirement account.

And yes, shorting futures and holding spot is a viable strategy, but there are some dangers.

The big one is that if the price of bitcoin spikes upward, the futures price and spot price are likely to diverge as people want to pull into bitcoin.  The absolute worst situation is if you get margin called on your short position, and you can’t sell and move the bitcoin from your spot position fast enough, since you’d have to sell your bitcoin, move the cash and cover the margin.  You can run into a situation where everyone does this at the same time, the price spikes because of a short squeeze, and then after your margin position is closed, the price crashes.

(By the way, if it sounds like I’m talking about this because it happened to me before…. Well….  It turns out that when people hear that I trade bitcoin, they assume that I’m a lot richer than I am, because I’ve learned dozens if not hundreds of ways of losing money.)

There are also operational issues.  Getting hacked.  Exchanges goes under.  Exchanges getting hacked.

Space Aliens and Why Bitcoin is the currency of the future

I can explain why bitcoin is the currency of the future by pulling out my astrophysics hat and talking about space aliens, and they pulling out my investment banker hat and talking about making money trading with space aliens.

Suppose tomorrow flying saucers land and little green men come down to earth and announce that they’ve been watching us for a lot time.  This is all cool.

Now since I’m an investment banker, and I notice that they have all of this cool technology, I want to trade stuff with them.  It turns out that I want their hyperspace drive, and they want to buy fingernail clippings because it turns out that human fingernails happen to have a chemical which the space aliens find tasty, that’s all the rage among the young hatchlings on planet Kudzu.

So I want to do a deal, I want to buy their hyperspace drive.  They want human fingernail clippings.  What do we pay with?

It turns out that planet Kudzu doesn’t take US dollars.  However, I can explain to them the concept and mathematics of bitcoin.  Since it’s based on mathematics and not politics, it turns out that bitcoin is worth something on planet Kudzu.  Now it turns out that planet Kudzu has this similar thing called Kudzu coin, which uses a different algorithm, and then explain to me how Kudzu coin works, and we start trading.

The important thing is that we have a currency that is based on mathematics and not politics.

OK.  I don’t see flying saucers.  But…..

I do see Tanzanian farmers and Chinese factory workers.  It turns out that lots of people in China happen to want to buy this thing called “coffee” and lots of Tanzanian farmers want to buy Chinese manufactured goods.  The trouble is that the Tanzanian farmers need Tanzanian shillings and Chinese factory workers need Chinese Renminbi.  Trying to work through the politics of it all is a nightmare, so the easiest thing is to rely on mathematics.  Putting on my astrophysics hat, I realize that the problem that you have trying to buy and sell stuff between China and Tanzania are *exactly* the same as doing trade with space aliens.  And putting on my investment banking hat, I realize that there’s a ton of wealth you can generate if you can exchange fingernail clippings for hyperspace drives, or coffee for automated spice grinders.

ICO’s made easy – Come to Hong Kong

I’ve been trying to promote HK as an ICO hub, and one reason is that the securities laws here are not as insane as they are in the US.

If you try to do an ICO in the United States then you are looking for a hell of a time complying with SEC regulations.  The easy thing to do is to target non-US investors, at which point you are exempt from SEC regulations under Regulation S.  At that point your costs go way, way down.

There are Hong Kong regulations on securities, but securities that are subject to private placement are not subject to registration, and you can summarize everything by saying don’t actively market tokens to non-professional investors in Hong Kong.

%d bloggers like this: