Week #39 (September 28th, 2014)

And there we go to Brazil again! Sao Paulo though, not Rio – a much safer place for BTC’es. I had to go to present Creative Commons at the Encontre Internacional de Cultura Digital organized by the SESC, a pretty amazing cultural center that did an amazing job organising one of the best cultural event I had the opportunity to attend until now. Most importantly, from a Bitcoin perspective, they did actually fund the speakers (quite well, indeed) in addition to paying for the transportation and hotel. Not only did they give a decent amount of dollars for my presentation, but they even came to pick me up at the airport and provided a van back and forth from the hotel to the venue, and so on. They also gave me extra money for the per-diem expenses, which they insisted should be in Brazilian reais, in spite of my attempt to get them to pay me in Bitcoin. So, I ended up with quite a lot of money in my hands, dollars and reais, and no way of spending them – not only because of my oath, but also because everything was so well taken care of, that I simply could not imagine a situation in which I would actually need to spend that money on anything else but souvenirs perhaps. So I just put it into my pocket, and promised not to spend any of it, till I get back home and convert them into Bitcoin.

Since I did, however, want to spend some bitcoin, I contacted Rodrigo from Mercado Bitcoin, so that I could hang out and hopefully discover interesting places in Sao Paulo where I could spend my Bitcoins. The conference was, however, way too interesting to miss any single part of it, so I ended up not being able to meet up with anyone outside of the venue, but rather invited people to come and meet me there – although, again, everything was perfectly taken care of in the venue, so spending Bitcoin was not only meaningless, but also impossible.

While most of the presentations were extremely interesting, perhaps the one that marked me the most was the one from Gilson Swartz, whose name I did not know until now, but I was highly impressed by his presentation, which touched many topics that I feel closely related to, including the topic of crypto-currencies as applied to an alternative model of non-market transactions. It turns out, Gilson is the co-supervisor of Ricardo, from Mercado Bitcoin, who I had the pleasure to meet last time I was in Sao Paulo, and who had expressed great interest in Sabir. Again, things were magically coming together without even trying   ;)

Serendipity always kicks in, and Gilson actually informed me that, in the past, he had already coined a currency together with Bernard Lietar, whose name was actually “saber” (funny, but I had never realized that Sabir is so similar to Saber, and yet, it turns out that this is actually the root of the word, from the old Lingua Franca times..  ;)  Gilson also produced a short film about the “Creative Currencies” project (Ministry of Culture and BNDES, at www.culturadigital.br/schwartz, also support from BNDES) which was highlighted by UNESCO during the Rio+20 Forum.

Definitely interesting research is going on this field, and – even if it was just for Glison – the whole trip to Sao Paulo was definitely worth it ! It is interesting to see how everyone is currently starting to think about the new opportunities provided by crypto-currencies, but so few people actually manage to look beyond the “currency” paradigm to start looking towards alternative models which are actually not based on ‘scarcity’ and ‘exchange’ but rather on ‘abundance’ and ‘sharing’. Hopefully, we will be able to build fruitful interactions with Gilson’s Saber and our Sabir !    :)

Week #38 (September 21th, 2014)

What I did not realize was that my crypto-ledger based work was actually closely related to my artistic persona. It was while chatting with John Clippinger, professor at MIT, and telling him about my summer and my Bitcoin adventures, that we somehow ended up chatting about his summer and his first encounter with Burning Man. John said that it was a transformative experience for him and his crew (a comment which I completely second, as it had exactly the same effect on me), but that the core-team of Burning Man were actually quite worry about how the original values of Burning Man were being diluted by the commodification of the event, with lots of people coming to the festival only to party, without contributing with the values of collaboration and sharing which have made Burning Man such a special and transformative event for so many people till now. He said that the core-team asked him to think about a solution, a means of preserving the original values of peer-to-peer collaboration and radical inclusion, without it being contaminated by the capitalistic approach of the new-comers, that simply did not understand the value. I mentioned Sabir to him, and he seemed interested. I sent him the whole document on it, and he seemed quite excited. Ultimately, after a week a few days discussing the issue, we realized that Burning Man would, indeed, make the perfect testbed community for Sabir: a way of understanding who’s actually contributing to the community, and who’s free-riding on it, a way of changing the rules of the games in order to promote empathy and collaboration, and discourage commercial exploitation, a way to restore the original values, without actually excluding anyone, but rather extending these values to the new-comers, by using the ‘carrot’ instead of the ‘stick’.  It is not hard to see how Sabir could actually save burning man, because it allows for people to create social capital according to their actual actions as opposed to what they purchased, it allows to set up a reputation system by means of a non-transferrable currency (calling it currency is probably a mistake, but I have no idea how to best call this thing). We actually need to coin a new term for it because we are currently lacking the proper word for this concept, and it’s so hard to communicate the concept, or even to think about it, if you don’t have a word for it. Either way, without even knowing it, I had come up with a solution for a problem that I was not even aware existed (I had been to burning man about 5-4 years ago, and the commodification problem was only emerging by then, but it was in no way an actual problem that the core-team was actually trying to address). So we had a solution, now we just had to figure out how convince the core-team that it is actually the best solution. See my slides (comments welcome!)

Week #37 (September 14th, 2014)

After an incredible difficult attempt to get my VISA in time to fly off the USA before the Berkman’s inauguration week, and after fighting with the US embassy on every possible level, I managed to land into Boston, for what happen to be an amazing week !

I had scheduled lots of meeting to catch up with all the stuff I had been missing out during the summer, most of them related to Sabir, a system for measuring value in the commons-based ecosystem that would fulfil the same function as price in the market economy (in terms of understanding and comparing value within different commons-based community), and providing an interface with the market, but without incurring the risk of commodification. I spoke with Yochai Benkler, David Bollier, John Clippinger and pretty much anyone that was willing to listen to me, in order to figure out whether the whole idea makes sense, and what are the risks and opportunities that it might entails.  The outcome of most of these discussions have been summarized in this document: MoneyLabReader – Sabir

Week #36 (September 7th, 2014)

Quite a boring week on the Bitcoin front. Nothing really excited happened, except for the usual random routine of going back and forth from my house to my work, with the exception that this time I was also travelling back and forth from my house to the US embassy, and from there to my work, and then back to the US embassy, as a desperate attempt to renew my VISA. Two problems: (1) I had lost my copy of the DS19-20 form, which is essential to get a VISA, and (2) I could not prove that I had proper fundings to actually funds myself for one year in the USA, because my work contract actually end on December 31st, and I had not enough money in my bank account to show that I could actually fund myself. In fact, if I could show them my Bitcoin account, perhaps it would have been possible to argue that I was, indeed, able to survive for a while, but the US embassy was reluctant to accept proof of fundings in anything else than fiat currency. I was quite astonished by that, but I was willing to break the rules, and transfer back all of my Bitcoin into my French bank account to prove that I was actually not a complete bum. Yet, the problem emerged as I realized that a transfer from Bitstamp to my French bank account would take over 3 business days, which – if combined with the fact that the US embassy was closed for Labor day, and was now experiencing difficulties with VISA (because of one day closure?!) – it would probably mean that I would never be able to get my VISA processed in time to be able to fly to Boston and enjoy the first week of festivities that the Berkman center was organising for all the new and returning fellows. So I spent hours arguing on the phone, trying to explain that I only had Bitcoin, and that they should just convert them to today’s rate, but they would just hang up on me after a while. So I went to the US embassy in person, trying to hijack the VISA procedure so that they would let me apply for a VISA in person (i.e. by wasting the whole day at the queue at the US embassy, to get a fucking stamp on the passport) instead of benefiting from the more ‘convenient’ procedure that is all done by email (but which is also much much much slower), but in vain. So I decided to give up at this desperate attempt, and simply asked my parents to vouch for me, with their own bank account. This also was not part of the standard procedure, and it would most likely have been rejected by the VISA processor, unless I could explain them what the issue actually was. Of course, I could not explain it to them because I could not go in person talking to them. So, I decided to experiment with another desperate trick: the love letter. I sent my application by mail (as they asked me to). I knew that it would take them about one week to process (while I had to leave before the end of the week, if i wanted to not waste the Berkman inauguration week) and that, even if they would have done it expeditely, they most likely would have rejected the application because of the fundings problem. So I wrote a love letter and attached it to the application, I was sure it was gonna fail, but I figured I would try anyways. I explained them that I live off bitcoin, and that I have fundings but I cannot prove it to them, I told them that I was really desperate about getting to the US in time and that they could make me so happy if they would process my application fast, I told them that I love them and that I wish they could have the best one of their days, I told them that the world is a beautiful place, and that they could contribute to making it even more so. And eventually, I got my VISA in the mail, the very same day I went and fly off to the USA!

Week #35 (August 31st, 2014)

Back to Paris, life has been much easier. Not because the Bitcoin ecosystem is much more advanced here (although Monoprix announced that it will accept Bitcoin starting from December !!) but mainly because it is much easier to live a comfortable life in Europe, even when you cannot spend fiat money.

Shelter is free (since I’m being kindly hosted by my former flatmates) and transportation is simply dealt with through biking everywhere, regardless of weather or distance. Food is also an easy one, since I can always find a human-wallet willing to help me do quite a large bunch of groceries which generally last a fairly decent amount of time – the American way  ;)

But after my failure in South America, I felt I should try and get further into the process of Bitcoin democratization. So I met with my friend Solene, an amazing chick that is pretty much as interested in Bitcoin and decentralized societies as I am, and which is in fact the girlfriend of Amir, the man behind DarkWallet. Both have been living for a few months in Calafou (the amazing eco-industrial post-capitalist colony in the countryside next to Barcelona, where lots of Bitcoin / Ethereum enthusiasts had been meeting for a long while). For some reason, people interested in cryptocurrencies are often not interested in spending currencies for rent: Amir currently lives in a squat in London and Solene in a squat in Paris, right next to my home. While hanging out with her, and chatting about how we could get more people to understand (and exploit) the opportunities that bitcoin and other cryptoledger-based applications more generally might bring to society, we started brainstorming about what we could achieve to present Bitcoin to people from an commons-based perspective rather than a merely capitalistic or speculative standpoint. It did not take long before we finally got one of the best ideas we could get – turning a soon-to-be Paris squat into an actual Crypt (a shorcut for cryptoledger-based common-living space) where anyone interested in cryptocurrencies and beyond would be welcome to stay, hang out, and meet other people interested in the same kind of stuff. The idea would be to create a network composed of several of these Crypts (e.g. Calafou, Amir’s space in london, and so on) for people to be able to travel around, knowing that there will always be someone interesting to meet in these places — something like the various couchsurfing houses which have been deployed all around the world, but about cryptoledgers instead. Anyone with a cryptoldeger-related project could come as a resident and try to build synergies with the rest of the crypto-community. We would also experiment with innovative governance model, not based on the “generally assembly” or other “pseudo-democratic” means of decision-making, but rather on a much more decentralized or distributed governance system, hopefully by experimenting with Ethereum-based DAO governance models, to find out whether they work in practice.

The idea excited us a lot, so we immediately went to speak with one of these guys who are working on setting up a new squat in the neighborhood, in order to try and pitch him the idea. He seemed slightly reluctant at first, but he soon started to understand the concept and actually started to become excited himself — especially after we told him about the possibility of installing a miner into the basement, in order to fund the activities of the squat, while also getting a sauna as a collateral effect (because of the heat generated by the miner). So we had found a place for our idea, and all we had to do now was to find a community: people who are open-minded enough to be willing to experiment with our idea, but serious and pragmatic enough to actually be able to implement it in real life.

Week #34 (August 24th, 2014)

Argentina, Bitcoin paradise – or so I heard. This ought to be a good Bitcoin week, since I really wanted to repay my tort for infringing my oath having spent so many reais while in Rio !  This week, I really would try hard not to cheat.

First issue – as usual – transportation. As soon as I got off the plane and walked into the airport, all the airport staff I interacted with asked me if I wanted to change money at a better rate than the official exchange rate (the so-called black market). I did not want to get any Argentinian pesos, be it either on the black or white market, but it was pretty late at night and I had to take the bus to my friend’s house. Since I was not sure they would accept bitcoin on the bus – in fact, I was pretty sure they wouldn’t – and I was not willing to take the risk of being stuck at the airport for the night, I decided I would change the few reais I had left in my wallet (just a bit more than 10 euros worth) and that would be all I would be allowed to spend during my stay in Argentinia in terms of fiat money.

The bus system in Argentina is quite peculiar, since you can either pay with the bus card (which cannot be purchased at the airport) or with ‘moneta’ (i.e. coins, as opposed to bills) – although you have to pay twice as much in the latter case. I was not aware of that, so I jumped on the bus with my pesos bills, which I was not able to spend. Fortunately, the bus driver was really keen to let me ride the bus for free, and in fact most of the other passengers insisted to pay for me. Considering the price of a bus ticket (about 30 cents) that kindof made sense. So I made it home without spending any pesos, and thus even more motivated to succed in not infringing my oath for the whole period. Arrived at home, I met my new friends (i.e. the friends of a friend of a friend) who were having a little party that night, so I got the chance to meet a bunch of local while eating really nice local foods. I told them about my bitcoin diet, but they did not seem to understand how I would be able to survive, since – while it is true that Bitcoin is highly popular in Argentina – no one actually wants to spend them, so there are indeed very few merchants accepting Bitcoins. This was a little bit alarming, but that made sense indeed, as I could hardly imagine Argentinians spending bitcoin over pesos – after all, the weakest currency is always the one that goes out first.

Nonetheless, I kept a positive attitude and did not give up on the idea of not infringing my oath. The transporation problem had been resolved, as I discovered that it is really easy to travel for free on the Argentinian bus. As a foreigner, I could pretty much travel for free anywhere, as long as would only show them pesos bills. So I could travel everyday back and forth from my home to the Intercontinental Hotel (the venue for the conference I was attending) without spending pesos. In terms of food, I did not have any problems either. During the conference, I could also easily feed myself, since the conference was providing quite a large amount of food, including many delicious Argentinian sweets, even too sweet at times.

The main problem was the Internet, since the place I was staying at did not have an Internet connection. Usually, I would resolve this problem by asking the neighbors if they would like to share their Internet connection, in exchange of money (Bitcoin in that case) or a gift. This time, it was much more difficult, since – perhaps because of my bad spanish – everyone seemed really scared about me even knocking at their door, and they all claimed they had no wifi, even though of course I could see the lie. So, instead, I tried to walk around to find free wifi spots, but nothing seems to have decent wifi connection. Even macdonalds, which is usually my best bet for wifi had a really bad connection which was going up and down all the time. In desperation, I started approaching places which did not generally provide free wifi, and tried to corrupt them into letting me use their Internet connection, obviously by offering them to pay some Bitcoin. I eventually befriended the staff of La Brioche Doree, who actually knew and were generally interested in Bitcoin, so they gave me free access to their Internet, without even asking me to purchase anything from their store – since they were not able to accept Bitcoin. So this became my temporary office, where I would spend most of my time which I did not have to spend at the conference.

As the conference ended on Saturday, I started to be slightly concerned. I had managed to survive without spending any pesos thus far, but if I were to survive during the weekend, I would have to find some ways to spend my Bitcoins. That night, it was the birthday of another friend of a friend of a friend, who invited me to celebrate at his place, where he was gonna make an ‘asado’ (i.e. Argentinian bbq). I felt obliged to bring something, like wine or food, but there was actually nothing around where I would be able to buy anything in Bitcoin. The so-called Bitcoin paradise only goes one-way – it only works for those who want to sell pesos and purchase bitcoin, but not the other way round. I did not want to infringe my oath, but I also did not want to show up without anything for my friend’s birthday. So I transferred some Bitcoin into a new wallet, printed it out as a QRcode on a nice looking card, which would constitute the present I would offer to my new friend. Funnily enough, at that party there were a bunch of swedes that actually knew quite a lot about Bitcoin (more so than the standard Argentinians I had interacted with so far), and after a few hours we were chatting about Bitcoin and Ethereum, I realized that they already knew me, since they had seen my Berkman talk on youtube and they actually thought I was a big deal.. I have to admit, that was absolutely the first time that I ever felt – even if only slightly – “famous”  ;)

Week #33 (August 17th, 2014)

Back in Rio, life went pretty smoothly. After the Sao Paulo experience, it was a bit frustrating to be back in a city that did not understand Bitcoin. But this feeling did not last too long, as a wonderful encounter was awaiting me. Alexio from the ITS suggested to introduce me to a friend of his, Alexandre Linhares, a professor at FGV who is quite a Bitcoin enthusiast himself.  Alexandre is currently teaching a class on complex systems at FGV, and suggested I give a lecture there to explain Ethereum to some of his MBA students. I was a first concerned at first, since I was not sure I could explain Ethereum to anyone, and even less to MBA students – but, as they say, if you cannot explain something to your grandmother, you probably do not understand it yourself. I’m not sure whether the reverse holds true (i.e. if you can explain something to your grandmother, you probably understand it really well), but I seem to have acquired an inherent ability to explain Ethereum to people who never even heard of cryptocurrencies before.. so I decided to take the challenge.

I met with Alexandre one day before the class, for something that surely become one of my favorite evenings in Rio. We went to have dinner, with Alexio and two of his master students, in a really fancy all-you-can-eat restaurant in Rio – I don’t think the restaurant accepted Bitcoin per se, but I’m pretty sure the bill has been paid with Bitcoin money  ;)

In spite of the quality of the food, I was more interested in chatting with Alexandre and his crew about the various opportunities, challenges, and unforeseeable futures that Ethereum could bring. It was great to hear such a variety of diverse perspectives on Bitcoin and Ethereum. And even though the discussion often reached the verge of science-fiction, we all knew that the future is near, and that most of these things – albeit unforeseeable to the common layman – are eventually gonna happen, whether we want it or not. It was especially useful for me to discuss these issues with people with a different background, such as economics and complex system theory, who did not necessarily understand the underlying technical implementation of the technology, but perfectly understood the social and political impact it might bring along. And, of course, it is always a pleasure to meet other curious and passionate people interested in exploring the future of society, instead of just looking at the past  :)

The next day, I went to give my lecture to the class. I was afraid that most students would either not care, not understand, or simply think this is way too crazy to be relevant. Instead, I was surprised to see that the students were actually and genuinely interested in the topic. As opposed to most lawyers – who simply reject the technology to the extent that it does not fit within the traditional framework of law – most of them tried their best to understand how it could be potentially applied, by analogy, to the broader complex system that is modern society. Whether or not they understood the technical specifications, they definitely acquired a new source of curiosity, which hopefully will lead them to further explore this innovative technology, and perhaps contribute to apply it in their own field of research in the years to come.

Overall, I was quite satisfied with my Brazilian experience. Even though I had pathetically failed in my attempt at living off Bitcoin, I felt I had nonetheless contributed to the Bitcoin ecosystem, by introducing Bitcoin at the ITS workshop and Ethereum at the FGV class.

Week #32 (August 10th, 2014)

This week was pretty exciting as we were headed to Sao Paulo. I never been to Sao Paulo, but I had heard a lot of (mainly bad) things about it from all Cariocas of Rio. But that was not the reason I was excited. The exciting part was that we were going there to visit, inter alia, the people who run Mercado Bitcoin, the largest Bitcoin exchange in Brazil. After two weeks in Brazil, struggling to find ways to spend my Bitcoin, I was really eager to go to a city where there are, supposedly, over 100 brick & mortars that actually accept Bitcoin !

Somehow, I was expecting the people from Mercado Bitcoin to be some kind of money-seeking speculators (like most of the Bitcoin startups and investors I interact with in the US) that would be either angry or afraid on the potential regulatory approaches that the Brazilian government might take when it comes to regulating Bitcoin. But nothing could be further from the true. Indeed, most of the people I met there are passionate and enthusiast crypto-folks that truly believe in the future opportunities that Bitcoin will provide to Brazilian people and to the world in general.

I mentioned my fears about the BitLicense proposed by New York State, and asked them whether they thought there was a risk that a similar type of regulation would be implemented in Brazil. They did not seem worry at all. Their positive attitude was perhaps due to the fact they do not have a strong relationship with people from the US, or even Europe, and they are simply not aware of the direction regulation is going; but perhaps they just see the world in a more optimist manner and remain confident that, eventually, Bitcoin will succeed, because it is already too late to stop it.

Rodrigo, who is one of the director of Mercado Bitcoin, had a pretty interesting theory about the whole thing. He told me how history has shown that, every single time that the governments tried to regulate the usage of new technologies, they have failed. That happened to porn movies (every single 13 year old boy in the eighties watched them), mp3 and even electric cars (that don’t receive much love from governments at the moment) are slowly finding their way.

In his view, this type of disruption has always a pattern:

1 – A new technology is created to disrupt old ones

2 – Big companies/government star to fight

3 – Law enforcement chase the new technology users and companies

4 – Big companies embrace the innovation

5 – Yet another new technology is created, to disrupt the old one and take the power off the big companies  (and the cycle starts over..)

According to Rodrigo, Bitcoin is currently in the second stage. And if New York State were to approve the BitLicense regulation, they will only be accelerating steps 4 and 5.

Overall, everyone from Mercado Bitcoin seemed to share the vision that Bitcoin could not be stopped, that it was already out there and it was already affecting society in many subblets ways, and that, at the end everything is going to be different than it is today. There is no way back.

I was really happy to hear that, and it was actually very refreshing to meet people who maintained a good attitude about the Bitcoin universe, in contrast to the crew of disillusioned crypto-folks that I am surrounded by in Cambridge.

Week #31 (August 3rd, 2014)

In spite of the difficulties I encountered at first, most of my pessimism about living off Bitcoin in Rio disappeared as soon as I arrived at the ITS – the Rio Center for Internet & Society, where I would be a fellow for the next 3 weeks.  The ITS is a really great place, which is in many respect really similar to the Berkman Center: same atmosphere, same chocolates and candies available at all times, same research topics, same passionate people, except that the view is much better and that the people are much more laid back here. Everyone from the ITS staff is amazing, and the same could be said for all the other fellows – most of which are related to Berkman anyways.. I already felt a little bit at home   ;)

But the greatest discovery I made at the ITS – at least with regards to my Bitcoin diet – was Alexio, an amazing human who seemed to be at least as obsessed by Bitcoin as I am, but in the right way. Alexio is a hipster in the real sense of the world, he brew his own beer, he makes his own ice-cream, and – of course – he mines his own coins  :) I immediately knew we would be really good friends. Not because of the beer, but because of the ice-cream of course, and perhaps also because of the coins!

I told him about my Bitcoin diet, and he told me that there was, indeed, a way to pay rent with Bitcoin in Rio, since a friend of his was actually running that apartment-rental business in the city. Unfortunately, I had already committed for my 3 weeks rental in Rio, so I could no longer withdraw.. besides, these Bitcoin apartments are  fucking expensive !

He also told me, that as my research on Google had shown, there is actually no place in Rio that would accept Bitcoin as a form of payment for food.. No luck, although he seemed ok for me to use him as a Bitcoin wallet – but then again, that would just be cheating anyways because Alexio already has more than one Bitcoin wallet, so I couldn’t use him as my human-wallet without infringing my oath.

I probably could have gone through the struggle of getting the other fellows / staff of the ITS to become my human-wallets, but there were so few of them that did not yet have a bitcoin wallet, it would not have served me more than one week at the most. Unless I could convince people from the street, I was stuck with reais for the purpose of survival.

Instead, an opportunity came to at least contribute to spreading the Bitcoin economy in Rio. With other 2 fellows, we proposed to run a crypto-workshop, where we would explain to people how to communicate securely by using Tor and PGP, and I immediately jumped on the opportunity to integrate a crypto-ledger flavor to it, by introducing people to Bitcoin, Bitmessage, and Twister. They idea would be to explain that the blockchain is great to exchange money anonymously, but that it can also be used to communicate in a very private and pseudonymous (although not anonymous) way with other people, using the blockchain to ensure that the person they are talking with is, indeed, the person they think it is. With Alexio, we went even further and decided that during the workshop we would propose a Bitcoin-exchange opportunity, where people could purchase reais for Bitcoin, so that they could all come out of the workshop with some Bitcoins in their freshly opened wallet. That way, even if I could not contribute directly to the Bitcoin economy, I could at least contribute to expanding the range of people stuck in Rio with some Bitcoin and no way to spend them (except for renting expensive apartments). Hopefully *they* will  figure out a way to expand the Bitcoin ecosystem in their own city…

Week #30 (July 27th, 2014)

Brazil. Just as Uruguay, this was bound to be difficult. First problem was the rent. I had forgotten about it, since it had been really easy until now thanks to my great landlord in Cambridge, but paying rent in Bitcoin is not as easy as one might think. I have tried my best, through my poor portuguese, to google a place that would accept bitcoin in Rio de Janeiro, but with no luck. I also tried to contact a few couchsurfers to see whether I could “rent” their couch and pay them in Bitcoin, but mostly they thought it was weird, or they just told me that I could stay for free – although 3 weeks was definitely too long for all of them. I tried to contact friends of friends, and their friends, hoping that someone actually had a room to rent that I could pay for in Bitcoin. But again, no luck. I could probably have tried to get a bunch of couchsurfing experiences and keep moving around day after day or week after week, but I figured this would be extremely troublesome, especially considering I had never been to Brazil before, and I had no idea how to proceed with the whole thing. So the best thing I could do was simply to just admit failure and find a place I could rent with fiat money. (I actually found out later, that in fact one of the few places that accept Bitcoin in Rio is a guy who’s renting apartments, some kind of alternative AirBnb — which I was unfortunately not able to find on Google).

Transportation was the second problem. I had already tried to resolve the issue by finding a house that is actually close enough to the ITS office (the main reason is was going to Rio was to be part of the Global Internet Policy Fellowship organised by the ITS), so that I wouldn’t need to deal with the transportation issue. But of course, Rio is a big city, and the closest I could find was in Botafogo (about 3-4 km away from the ITS) which is okay to walk, but I would rather not. I was hoping I could find a bike, either buy one with bitcoin, or perhaps find someone who would kindly lend me one. Again, this was really difficult.. no one seems to own a bike in Rio, because they all get stolen. And those that get stolen are only available for purchases in some shady markets which obviously do not accept Bitcoin as a form of payment — funny, since it would seem like a perfect form of payment for stolen goods, but of course the Brazilian reals are just as efficient when it comes to anonymity. So I started exploring other possibilities.. cheating on the bus was absolutely impossible, as the bus companies in Rio are actually private companies, they pay quite a lot of attention to avoid any kind of free-riding. Besides, you don’t want to get into a fight with the Rio bus drivers, they can be quite aggressive.. So I figured out the best way to do it would be to use the public bike service offered by the city of Rio, actually a really nice deal since with only 10 reais (about 5 bucks) you can get a monthly pass that would let you ride a bike anywhere around the city.. I figured I could do that – yet another cheating, but a small one at least. Unfortunately, this was not as easy as it seemed. While it only costed 10 reais to get the bike pass, the only way to use that pass was to be connected to the Internet in order to load and unload the bikes from the stations. Of course, Rio is not like Cambridge with ubiquitous wifi connection almost everywhere, so I needed to purchase a data-plan for my phone.. Again, I went and researched the possibilities, hoping that there would be at least one phone operator accepting Bitcoin. Impossible to say the least. Not only there were no telecom operators willing to even consider a payment in bitcoin, but it was actually quite hard, as a foreigner, to get an actual sim-card.. if not for the exclusive pre-paid card that was designed especially for the foreigners coming for the world-cup. Reluctantly, realizing that this was the only alternative, I cheated once again upon my oath and purchased a sim card with a pre-paid data-connection monthly plan with fiat money.

I was not really proud of myself. All my attempts at spending Bitcoin in brazil were failing. And then it came to food. I did not want to fail on that one. So, again, I started googling around, hoping to find at least one restaurant, bar, cafe, or perhaps even a supermarket that would accept Bitcoin as a payment. I don’t know if my portuguese is just too bad, or whether I was just not looking for the right thing, but it just seemed that there was no place around that I could go and spend my Bitcoins at. I figured, perhaps, I could find some place with free food at least, but – of course – Rio is way different from Cambridge. Finding free food in a third world country is probably as hard as finding a bitcoin restaurant in Rio  ;(

Once again, I had to accept failure, and declare that Brazilian reals would not qualify against my oath..