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The wilkelvoss are trying to make bitcoin legit according to esquire magazine
Every idea needs a face, even if the faces are illusory simplifications. The country you get is the president you get. The Yankees you get is the shortstop you get. Apple needed Jobs. ISIS needs al-Baghdadi. The moon shot belongs to Bezos. There's nothing under the Facebook sun that doesn't come back to Zuckerberg. submitted by thegrandknight to Bitcoin [link] [comments]
But there is, as yet, no face behind the bitcoin curtain. It's the currency you've heard about but haven't been able to understand. Still to this day nobody knows who created it. For most people, it has something to do with programmable cash and algorithms and the deep space of mathematics, but it also has something to do with heroin and barbiturates and the sex trade and bankruptcies, too. It has no face because it doesn't seem tangible or real. We might align it with an anarchist's riot mask or a highly conceptualized question mark, but those images truncate its reality. Certain economists say it's as important as the birth of the Internet, that it's like discovering ice. Others are sure that it's doomed to melt. In the political sphere, it is the darling of the cypherpunks and libertarians. When they're not busy ignoring it, it scares the living shit out of the big banks and credit-card companies.
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It sparked to life in 2008—when all the financial world prepared for itself the articulate noose—and it knocked on the door like some inconvenient relative arriving at the dinner party in muddy shoes and a knit hat. Fierce ideological battles are currently being waged among the people who own and shepherd the currency. Some shout, Ponzi scheme. Some shout, Gold dust. Bitcoin alone is worth billions of dollars, but the computational structure behind it—its blockchain and its sidechains—could become the absolute underpinning of the world's financial structure for decades to come.
What bitcoin has needed for years is a face to legitimize it, sanitize it, make it palpable to all the naysayers. But it has no Larry Ellison, no Elon Musk, no noticeable visionaries either with or without the truth. There's a lot of ideology at stake. A lot of principle and dogma and creed. And an awful lot of cash, too.
At 6:00 on a Wednesday winter morning, three months after launching Gemini, their bitcoin exchange, Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss step out onto Broadway in New York, wearing the same make of sneakers, the same type of shorts, their baseball caps turned backward. They don't quite fall into the absolute caricature of twindom: They wear different-colored tops. Still, it's difficult to tell them apart, where Tyler ends and Cameron begins. Their faces are sculpted from another era, as if they had stepped from the ruin of one of Gatsby's parties. Their eyes are quick and seldom land on anything for long. Now thirty-four, there is something boyishly earnest about them as they jog down Prince Street, braiding in and out of each other, taking turns talking, as if they were working in shifts, drafting off each other.
Forget, for a moment, the four things the Winklevosses are most known for: suing Mark Zuckerberg, their portrayal in The Social Network, rowing in the Beijing Olympics, and their overwhelming public twinness. Because the Winklevoss brothers are betting just about everything—including their past—on a fifth thing: They want to shake the soul of money out.
At the deep end of their lives, they are athletes. Rowers. Full stop. And the thing about rowing—which might also be the thing about bitcoin—is that it's just about impossible to get your brain around its complexity. Everyone thinks you're going to a picnic. They have this notion you're out catching butterflies. They might ask you if you've got your little boater's hat ready. But it's not like that at all. You're fifteen years old. You rise in the dark. You drag your carcass along the railroad tracks before dawn. The boathouse keys are cold to the touch. You undo the ropes. You carry a shell down to the river. The carbon fiber rips at your hands. You place the boat in the water. You slip the oars in the locks. You wait for your coach. Nothing more than a thumb of light in the sky. It's still cold and the river stinks. That heron hasn't moved since yesterday. You hear Coach's voice before you see him. On you go, lads. You start at a dead sprint. The left rib's a little sore, but you don't say a thing. You are all power and no weight. The first push-to-pull in the water is a ripping surprise. From the legs first. Through the whole body. The arc. Atomic balance. A calm waiting for the burst. Your chest burns, your thighs scald, your brain blanks. It feels as if your rib cage might shatter. You are stillness exploding. You catch the water almost without breaking the surface. Coach says something about the pole vault. You like him. You really do. That brogue of his. Lads this, lads that. Fire. Stamina. Pain. After two dozen strokes, it already feels like you're hitting the wall. All that glycogen gone. Nobody knows. Nobody. They can't even pronounce it. Rowing. Ro-wing. Roh-ing. You push again, then pull. You feel as if you are breaking branch after branch off the bottom of your feet. You don't rock. You don't jolt. Keep it steady. Left, right, left, right. The heron stays still. This river. You see it every day. Nothing behind you. Everything in front. You cross the line. You know the exact tree. Your chest explodes. Your knees are trembling. This is the way the world will end, not with a whimper but a bang. You lean over the side of the boat. Up it comes, the breakfast you almost didn't have. A sign of respect to the river. You lay back. Ah, blue sky. Some cloud. Some gray. Do it again, lads. Yes, sir. You row so hard you puke it up once more. And here comes the heron, it's moving now, over the water, here it comes, look at that thing glide.
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The Winklevoss twins in the men's pair final during the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. GETTY There's plenty of gin and beer and whiskey in the Harrison Room in downtown Manhattan, but the Winklevoss brothers sip Coca-Cola. The room, one of many in the newly renovated Pier A restaurant, is all mahogany and lamplight. It is, in essence, a floating bar, jutting four hundred feet out into the Hudson River. From the window you can see the Statue of Liberty. It feels entirely like their sort of room, a Jazz Age expectation hovering around their initial appearance—tall, imposing, the hair mannered, the collars of their shirts slightly tilted—but then they just slide into their seats, tentative, polite, even introverted.
They came here by subway early on a Friday evening, and they lean back in their seats, a little wary, their eyes busy—as if they want to look beyond the rehearsal of their words.
They had the curse of privilege, but, as they're keen to note, a curse that was earned. Their father worked to pay his way at a tiny college in backwoods Pennsylvania coal country. He escaped the small mining town and made it all the way to a professorship at Wharton. He founded his own company and eventually created the comfortable upper-middle-class family that came with it. They were raised in Greenwich, Connecticut, the most housebroken town on the planet. They might have looked like the others in their ZIP code, and dressed like them, spoke like them, but they didn't quite feel like them. Some nagging feeling—close to anger, close to fear—lodged itself beneath their shoulders, not quite a chip but an ache. They wanted Harvard but weren't quite sure what could get them there. "You have to be basically the best in the world at something if you're coming from Greenwich," says Tyler. "Otherwise it's like, great, you have a 1600 SAT, you and ten thousand others, so what?"
The rowing was a means to an end, but there was also something about the boat that they felt allowed another balance between them. They pulled their way through high school, Cameron on the port-side oar, Tyler on the starboard. They got to Harvard. The Square was theirs. They rowed their way to the national championships—twice. They went to Oxford. They competed in the Beijing Olympics. They sucked up the smog. They came in sixth place. The cameras loved them. Girls, too. They were so American, sandy-haired, blue-eyed, they could have been cast in a John Cougar Mellencamp song.
It might all have been so clean-cut and whitebread except for the fact that—at one of the turns in the river—they got involved in the most public brawl in the whole of the Internet's nascent history.
They don't talk about it much anymore, but they know that it still defines them, not so much in their own minds but in the minds of others. The story seems simple on one level, but nothing is ever simple, not even simplification. Theirs was the original idea for the first social network, Harvard Connection. They hired Mark Zuckerberg to build it. Instead he went off and created Facebook. They sued him. They settled for $65 million. It was a world of public spats and private anguish. Rumors and recriminations. A few years later, dusty old pre-Facebook text messages were leaked online by Silicon Alley Insider: "Yeah, I'm going to fuck them," wrote Zuckerberg to a friend. "Probably in the ear." The twins got their money, but then they believed they were duped again by an unfairly low evaluation of their stock. They began a second round of lawsuits for $180 million. There was even talk about the Supreme Court. It reeked of opportunism. But they wouldn't let it go. In interviews, they came across as insolent and splenetic, tossing their rattles out of the pram. It wasn't about the money, they said at the time, it was about fairness, reality, justice. Most people thought it was about some further agile fuckery, this time in Zuckerberg's ear.
There are many ways to tell the story, but perhaps the most penetrating version is that they weren't screwed so much by Zuckerberg as they were by their eventual portrayal in the film version of their lives. They appeared querulous and sulky, exactly the type of characters that America, peeling off the third-degree burns of the great recession, needed to hate. While the rest of the country worried about mounting debt and vanishing jobs, they were out there drinking champagne from, at the very least, Manolo stilettos. The truth would never get in the way of a good story. In Aaron Sorkin's world, and on just about every Web site, the blueblood trust-fund boys got what was coming to them. And the best thing now was for them to take their Facebook money and turn the corner, quickly, away, down toward whatever river would whisk them away.
Armie Hammer brilliantly portrayed them as the bluest of bloods in The Social Network. When the twins are questioned about those times now, they lean back a little in their seats, as if they've just lost a long race, a little perplexed that they came off as the victims of Hollywood's ability to throw an image, while the whole rip-roaring regatta still goes on behind them. "They put us in a box," says Cameron, "caricatured to a point where we didn't really exist." He glances around the bar, drums his finger against the glass. "That's fair enough. I understand that impulse." They smart a little when they hear Zuckerberg's name. "I don't think Mark liked being called an asshole," says Tyler, with a flick of bluster in his eyes, but then he catches himself. "You know, maybe Mark doesn't care. He's a bit of a statesman now, out there connecting the world. I have nothing against him. He's a smart guy."
These are men who've been taught, or have finally taught themselves, to tell their story rather than be told by it. But underneath the calm—just like underneath the boat—one can sense the churn.
They say the word—ath-letes—as if it were a country where pain is the passport. One of the things the brothers mention over and over again is that you can spontaneously crack a rib while rowing, just from the sheer exertion of the muscles hauling on the rib cage.
Along came bitcoin.
At its most elemental, bitcoin is a virtual currency. It's the sort of thing a five-year-old can understand—It's just e-cash, Mom—until he reaches eighteen and he begins to question the deep future of what money really means. It is a currency without government. It doesn't need a banker. It doesn't need a bank. It doesn't even need a brick to be built upon. Its supporters say that it bypasses the Man. It is less than a decade old and it has already come through its own Wild West, a story rooted in uncharted digital territory, up from the dust, an evening redness in the arithmetical West.
These are men who've been taught, or have finally taught themselves, to tell their story rather than be told by it. Bitcoin appeared in 2008—westward ho!—a little dot on the horizon of the Internet. It was the brainchild of a computer scientist named Satoshi Nakamoto. The first sting in the tale is that—to this very day—nobody knows who Nakamoto is, where he lives, or how much of his own invention he actually owns. He could be Californian, he could be Australian, he could even be a European conglomerate, but it doesn't really matter, since what he created was a cryptographic system that is borderless and supposedly unbreakable.
In the beginning the currency was ridiculed and scorned. It was money created from ones and zeros. You either bought it or you had to "mine" for it. If you were mining, your computer was your shovel. Any nerd could do it. You keyed your way in. By using your computer to help check and confirm the bitcoin transactions of others, you made coin. Everyone in this together. The computer heated up and mined, down down down, into the mathematical ground, lifting up numbers, making and breaking camp every hour or so until you had your saddlebags full of virtual coin. It all seemed a bit of a lark at first. No sheriff, no deputy, no central bank. The only saloon was a geeky chat room where a few dozen bitcoiners gathered to chew data.
Lest we forget, money was filthy in 2008.
The collapse was coming. The banks were shorting out. The real estate market was a confederacy of dunces. Bernie Madoff's shadow loomed. Occupy was on the horizon. And all those Wall Street yahoos were beginning to squirm.
Along came bitcoin like some Jesse James of the financial imagination. It was the biggest disruption of money since coins. Here was an idea that could revolutionize the financial world. A communal articulation of a new era. Fuck American Express. Fuck Western Union. Fuck Visa. Fuck the Fed. Fuck the Treasury. Fuck the deregulated thievery of the twenty-first century.
To the earliest settlers, bitcoin suggested a moral way out. It was a money created from the ground up, a currency of the people, by the people, for the people, with all government control extinguished. It was built on a solid base of blockchain technology where everyone participated in the protection of the code. It attracted anarchists, libertarians, whistle-blowers, cypherpunks, economists, extropians, geeks, upstairs, downstairs, left-wing, right-wing. Sure, it could be used by businesses and corporations, but it could also be used by poor people and immigrants to send money home, instantly, honestly, anonymously, without charge, with a click of the keyboard. Everyone in the world had access to your transaction, but nobody had to know your name. It bypassed the suits. All you needed to move money was a phone or a computer. It was freedom of economic action, a sort of anarchy at its democratic best, no rulers, just rules.
Bitcoin, to the original explorers, was a safe pass through the government-occupied valleys: Those assholes were up there in the hills, but they didn't have any scopes on their rifles, and besides, bitcoin went through in communal wagons at night.
Ordinary punters took a shot. Businesses, too. You could buy silk ties in Paris without any extra bank charges. You could protect your money in Buenos Aires without fear of a government grab.
The Winklevoss twins leave the U.S. Court of Appeals in 2011, after appearing in court to ask that the previous settlement case against Facebook be voided. GETTY But freedom can corrupt as surely as power. It was soon the currency that paid for everything illegal under the sun, the go-to money of the darknet. The westward ho! became the outlaw territory of Silk Road and beyond. Heroin through the mail. Cocaine at your doorstep. Child porn at a click. What better way for terrorists to ship money across the world than through a network of anonymous computers? Hezbollah, the Taliban, the Mexican cartels. In Central America, kidnappers began demanding ransom in bitcoin—there was no need for the cash to be stashed under a park bench anymore. Now everything could travel down the wire. Grab, gag, and collect. Uranium could be paid for in bitcoin. People, too. The sex trade was turned on: It was a perfect currency for Madame X. For the online gambling sites, bitcoin was pure jackpot.
For a while, things got very shady indeed. Over a couple years, the rate pinballed between $10 and $1,200 per bitcoin, causing massive waves and troughs of online panic and greed. (In recent times, it has begun to stabilize between $350 and $450.) In 2014, it was revealed that hackers had gotten into the hot wallet of Mt. Gox, a bitcoin exchange based in Tokyo. A total of 850,000 coins were "lost," at an estimated value of almost half a billion dollars. The founder of Silk Road, Ross William Ulbricht (known as "Dread Pirate Roberts"), got himself a four-by-six room in a federal penitentiary for life, not to mention pending charges for murder-for-hire in Maryland.
Everyone thought that bitcoin was the problem. The fact of the matter was, as it so often is, human nature was the problem. Money means desire. Desire means temptation. Temptation means that people get hurt.
During the first Gold Rush in the late 1840s, the belief was that all you needed was a pan and a decent pair of boots and a good dose of nerve and you could go out and make yourself a riverbed millionaire. Even Jack London later fell for the lure of it alongside thousands of others: the western test of manhood and the promise of wealth. What they soon found out was that a single egg could cost twenty-five of today's dollars, a pound of coffee went for a hundred, and a night in a whorehouse could set you back $6,000.
A few miners hit pay dirt, but what most ended up with for their troubles was a busted body and a nasty dose of syphilis.
The gold was discovered on the property of John Sutter in Sacramento, but the one who made the real cash was a neighboring merchant, Samuel Brannan. When Brannan heard the news of the gold nuggets, he bought up all the pickaxes and shovels he could find, filled a quinine bottle with gold dust, and went to San Francisco. Word went around like a prayer in a flash flood: gold gold gold. Brannan didn't wildcat for gold himself, but at the peak of the rush he was flogging $5,000 worth of shovels a day—that's $155,000 today—and went on to become the wealthiest man in California, alongside the Wells Fargo crew, Levi Strauss, and the Studebaker family, who sold wheelbarrows.
If you comb back through the Winklevoss family, you will find a great-grandfather and a great-great-grandfather who knew a thing or two about digging: They worked side by side in the coal mines of Pennsylvania. They didn't go west and they didn't get rich, but maybe the lesson became part of their DNA: Sometimes it's the man who sells the shovels who ends up hitting gold.
Like it or not—and many people don't like it—the Winklevoss brothers are shaping up to be the Samuel Brannans of the bitcoin world.
Nine months after being portrayed in The Social Network, the Winklevoss twins were back out on the water at the World Rowing Cup. CHRISTOPHER LEE/GETTY They heard about it first poolside in Ibiza, Spain. Later it would play into the idea of ease and privilege: umbrella drinks and girls in bikinis. But if the creation myth was going to be flippant, the talk was serious. "I'd say we were cautious, but we were definitely intrigued," says Cameron. They went back home to New York and began to read. There was something about it that got under their skin. "We knew that money had been so broken and inefficient for years," says Tyler, "so bitcoin appealed to us right away."
They speak in braided sentences, catching each other, reassuring themselves, tightening each other's ideas. They don't quite want to say that bitcoin looked like something that might be redemptive—after all, they, like everyone else, were looking to make money, lots of it, Olympic-sized amounts—but they say that it did strike an idealistic chord inside them. They certainly wouldn't be cozying up to the anarchists anytime soon, but this was a global currency that, despite its uncertainties, seemed to present a solution to some of the world's more pressing problems. "It was borderless, instantaneous, irreversible, decentralized, with virtually no transaction costs," says Tyler. It could possibly cut the banks out, and it might even take the knees out from under the credit-card companies. Not only that, but the price, at just under ten dollars per coin, was in their estimation low, very low. They began to snap it up.
They were aware, even at the beginning, that they might, once again, be called Johnny-come-latelys, just hopping blithely on the bandwagon—it was 2012, already four years into the birth of the currency—but they went ahead anyway, power ten. Within a short time they'd spent $11 million buying up a whopping 1 percent of the world's bitcoin, a position they kept up as more bitcoins were mined, making their 1 percent holding today worth about $66 million.
But bitcoin was flammable. The brothers felt the burn quickly. Their next significant investment came later that year, when they gave $1.5 million in venture funding to a nascent exchange called BitInstant. Within a year the CEO was arrested for laundering drug money through the exchange.
So what were a pair of smart, clean-cut Olympic rowers doing hanging around the edges of something so apparently shady, and what, if anything, were they going to do about it?
They mightn't have thought of it this way, but there was something of the sheriff striding into town, the one with the swagger and the scar, glancing up at the balconies as he comes down Main Street, all tumbleweeds and broken pianos. This place was a dump in most people's eyes, but the sheriff glimpsed his last best shot at finally getting the respect he thinks he deserves.
The money shot: A good stroke will catch the water almost without breaking its seal. You stir without rippling. Your silence is sinewy. There's muscle in that calm. The violence catches underneath, thrusts the boat along. Stroke after stroke. Just keep going. Today's truth dies tomorrow. What you have to do is elemental enough. You row without looking behind you. You keep the others in front of you. As long as you can see what they're doing, it's all in your hands. You are there to out-pain them. Doesn't matter who they are, where they come from, how they got here. Know your enemy through yourself. Push through toward pull. Find the still point of this pain. Cut a melody in the disk of your flesh. The only terror comes when they pass you—if they ever pass you.
There are no suits or ties, but there is a white hum in the offices of Gemini in the Flatiron District. The air feels as if it has been brushed clean. There is something so everywhereabout the place. Ergonomic chairs. iPhone portals. Rows of flickering computers. Not so much a hush around the room as a quiet expectation. Eight, nine people. Programmers, analysts, assistants. Other employees—teammates, they call them—dialing in from Portland, Oregon, and beyond.
The brothers fire up the room when they walk inside. A fist-pump here, a shoulder touch there. At the same time, there is something almost shy about them. Apart, they seem like casual visitors to the space they inhabit. It is when they're together that they feel fully shaped. One can't imagine them being apart from each other for very long.
The Winklevoss twins speak onstage at Bitcoin! Let's Cut Through the Noise Already at SXSW in 2016. GETTY They move from desk to desk. The price goes up, the price goes down. The phones ring. The e-mails beep. Customer-service calls. Questions about fees. Inquiries about tax structures.
Gemini was started in late 2015 as a next-generation bitcoin exchange. It is not the first such exchange in the world by any means, but it is one of the most watched. The company is designed with ordinary investors in mind, maybe a hedge fund, maybe a bank: all those people who used to be confused or even terrified by the word bitcoin. It is insured. It is clean. What's so fascinating about this venture is that the brothers are risking themselves by trying to eliminate risk: keeping the boat steady and exploding through it at the same time.
It is when they're together that they feel fully shaped. One can't imagine them being apart from each other for very long. For the past couple years, the Winklevosses have worked closely with just about every compliance agency imaginable. They ticked off all the regulatory boxes. Essentially they wanted to ease all the Debting Thomases. They put regulatory frameworks in place. Security and bankability and insurance were their highest objectives. Nobody was going to be able to blow open the safe. They wanted to soothe all the appetites for risk. They told Bitcoin Magazine they were asking for "permission, not forgiveness."
This is where bitcoin can become normal—that is, if you want bitcoin to be normal.
Just a mile or two down the road, in Soho, a half dozen bitcoiners gather at a meetup. The room is scruffy, small, boxy. A half mannequin is propped on a table, a scarf draped around it. It's the sort of place that twenty years ago would have been full of cigarette smoke. There's a bit of Allen Ginsberg here, a touch of Emma Goldman, a lot of Zuccotti Park. The wine is free and the talk is loose. These are the true believers. They see bitcoin in its clearest possible philosophical terms—the frictionless currency of the people, changing the way people move money around the world, bypassing the banks, disrupting the status quo.
A comedy show is being run out in the backyard. A scruffy young man wanders in and out, announcing over and over again that he is half-baked. A well-dressed Asian girl sidles up to the bar. She looks like she's just stepped out of an NYU business class. She's interested in discovering what bitcoin is. She is regaled by a series of convivial answers. The bartender tells her that bitcoin is a remaking of the prevailing power structures. The girl asks for another glass of wine. The bartender adds that bitcoin is democracy, pure and straight. She nods and tells him that the wine tastes like cooking oil. He laughs and says it wasn't bought with bitcoin. "I don't get it," she says. And so the evening goes, presided over by Margaux Avedisian, who describes herself as the queen of bitcoin. Avedisian, a digital-currency consultant of Armenian descent, is involved in several high-level bitcoin projects. She has appeared in documentaries and on numerous panels. She is smart, sassy, articulate.
When the talk turns to the Winklevoss brothers, the bar turns dark. Someone, somewhere, reaches up to take all the oxygen out of the air. Avedisian leans forward on the counter, her eyes shining, delightful, raged.
"The Winklevii are not the face of bitcoin," she says. "They're jokes. They don't know what they're saying. Nobody in our community respects them. They're so one-note. If you look at their exchange, they have no real volume, they never will. They keep throwing money at different things. Nobody cares. They're not part of us. They're just hangers-on."
"Ah, they're just assholes," the bartender chimes in.
"What they want to do," says Avedisian, "is lobotomize bitcoin, make it into something entirely vapid. They have no clue."
The Asian girl leaves without drinking her third glass of free wine. She's got a totter in her step. She doesn't quite get the future of money, but then again maybe very few in the world do.
Giving testimony on bitcoin licensing before the New York State Department of Financial Services in 2014. LUCAS JACKSON/REUTERS The future of money might look like this: You're standing on Oxford Street in London in winter. You think about how you want to get to Charing Cross Road. The thought triggers itself through electrical signals into the chip embedded in your wrist. Within a moment, a driverless car pulls up on the sensor-equipped road. The door opens. You hop in. The car says hello. You tell it to shut up. It does. It already knows where you want to go. It turns onto Regent Street. You think,A little more air-conditioning, please. The vents blow. You think, Go a little faster, please. The pace picks up. You think, This traffic is too heavy, use Quick(TM). The car swings down Glasshouse Street. You think, Pay the car in front to get out of my way. It does. You think, Unlock access to a shortcut. The car turns down Sherwood Street to Shaftsbury Avenue. You pull in to Charing Cross. You hop out. The car says goodbye. You tell it to shut up again. You run for the train and the computer chip in your wrist pays for the quiet-car ticket for the way home.
All of these transactions—the air-conditioning, the pace, the shortcut, the bribe to get out of the way, the quick lanes, the ride itself, the train, maybe even the "shut up"—will cost money. As far as crypto-currency enthusiasts think, it will be paid for without coins, without phones, without glass screens, just the money coming in and going out of your preprogrammed wallet embedded beneath your skin.
The Winklevosses are betting that the money will be bitcoin. And that those coins will flow through high-end, corporate-run exchanges like Gemini rather than smoky SoHo dives.
Cameron leans across a table in a New York diner, the sort of place where you might want to polish your fork just in case, and says: "The future is here, it's just not evenly distributed yet." He can't remember whom the quote belongs to, but he freely acknowledges that it's not his own. Theirs is a truculent but generous intelligence, capable of surprise and turn at the oddest of moments. They talk meditation, they talk economics, they talk Van Halen, they talk, yes, William Gibson, but everything comes around again to bitcoin.
"The key to all this is that people aren't even going to know that they're using bitcoin," says Tyler. "It's going to be there, but it's not going to be exposed to the end user. Bitcoin is going to be the rails that underpin our payment systems. It's just like an IP address. We don't log on to a series of numbers, 115.425.5 or whatever. No, we log on to Google.com. In the same way, bitcoin is going to be disguised. There will be a body kit that makes it user-friendly. That's what makes bitcoin a kick-ass currency."
Any fool can send a billion dollars across the world—as long as they have it, of course—but it's virtually impossible to send a quarter unless you stick it in an envelope and pay forty-nine cents for a stamp. It's one of the great ironies of our antiquated money system. And yet the quark of the financial world is essentially the small denomination. What bitcoin promises is that it will enable people and businesses to send money in just about any denomination to one another, anywhere in the world, for next to nothing. A public address, a private key, a click of the mouse, and the money is gone.
A Bitcoin conference in New York City in 2014. GETTY This matters. This matters a lot. Credit-card companies can't do this. Neither can the big banks under their current systems. But Marie-Louise on the corner of Libertador Avenue can. And so can Pat Murphy in his Limerick housing estate. So can Mark Andreessen and Bill Gates and Laurene Powell Jobs. Anyone can do it, anywhere in the world, at virtually no charge.
You can do it, in fact, from your phone in a diner in New York. But the whole time they are there—over identical California omelettes that they order with an ironic shrug—they never once open their phones. They come across more like the talkative guys who might buy you a drink at the sports bar than the petulants ordering bottle service in the VIP corner. The older they get, the more comfortable they seem in their contradictions: the competition, the ease; the fame, the quiet; the gamble, the sure thing.
Bitcoin is what might eventually make them among the richest men in America. And yet. There is always a yet. What seems indisputable about the future of money, to the Winklevosses and other bitcoin adherents, is that the technology that underpins bitcoin—the blockchain—will become one of the fundamental tenets of how we deal with the world of finance. Blockchain is the core computer code. It's open source and peer to peer—in other words, it's free and open to you and me. Every single bitcoin transaction ever made goes to an open public ledger. It would take an unprecedented 51 percent attack—where one entity would come to control more than half of the computing power used to mine bitcoin—for hackers to undo it. The blockchain is maintained by computers all around the world, and its future sidechains will create systems that deal with contracts and stock and other payments. These sidechains could very well be the foundation of the new global economy for the big banks, the credit-card companies, and even government itself.
"It's boundless," says Cameron.
This is what the brothers are counting on—and what might eventually make them among the richest men in America.
And yet. There is always a yet.
When you delve into the world of bitcoin, it gets deeper, darker, more mysterious all the time. Why has its creator remained anonymous? Why did he drop off the face of the earth? How much of it does he own himself? Will banks and corporations try to bring the currency down? Why are there really only five developers with full "commit access" to the code (not the Winklevosses, by the way)? Who is really in charge of the currency's governance?
Perhaps the most pressing issue at hand is that of scaling, which has caused what amounts to a civil war among followers. A maximum block size of one megabyte has been imposed on the chain, sort of like a built-in artificial dampener to keep bitcoin punk rock. That's not nearly enough capacity for the number of transactions that would take place in future visions. In years to come, there could be massive backlogs and outages that could create instant financial panic. Bitcoin's most influential leaders are haggling over what will happen. Will bitcoin maintain its decentralized status, or will it go legit and open up to infinite transactions? And if it goes legit, where's the punk?
The issues are ongoing—and they might very well take bitcoin down, but the Winklevosses don't think so. They have seen internal disputes before. They've refrained from taking a public stance mostly because they know that there are a lot of other very smart people in bitcoin who are aware that crisis often builds consensus. "We're in this for the long haul," says Tyler. "We're the first batter in the first inning."
GILLIAN LAUB The waiter comes across and asks them, bizarrely, if they're twins. They nod politely. Who was born first? They've heard it a million times and their answer is always the same: Neither of them—they were born cesarean. Cameron looks older, says the waiter. Tyler grins. Normally it's the other way around, says Cameron, grinning back. Do you ever fight? asks the waiter. Every now and then, they say. But not over this, not over the future.
Heraclitus was wrong. You can, in fact, step in the same river twice. In the beginning you went to the shed. No electricity there, no heat, just a giant tub where you simulated the river. You could only do eleven strokes. But there was something about the repetition, the difference, even the monotony, that hooked you. After a while it wasn't an abandoned shed anymore. College gyms, national training centers. Bigger buildings. High ceilings. AC. Doctors and trainers. Monitors hooked up to your heart, your head, your blood. Six foot five, but even then you were not as tall as the other guys. You liked the notion of underdog. Everyone called you the opposite. The rich kids. The privileged ones. To hell with that. They don't know us, who we are, where we came from. Some of the biggest chips rest on the shoulders of those with the least to lose. Six foot five times two makes just about thirteen feet. You sit in the erg and you stare ahead. Day in, day out. One thousand strokes, two thousand. You work with the very best. You even train with the Navy SEALs. It touches that American part of you. The sentiment, the false optimism. When the oil fields are burning, you even think, I'll go there with them. But you stay in the boat. You want that other flag rising. That's what you aim for. You don't win but you get close. Afterward there are planes, galas, regattas, magazine spreads, but you always come back to that early river. The cold. The fierceness. The heron. Like it or not, you're never going to get off the water—that's just the fact of the matter, it's always going to be there. Hard to admit it, but once you were wrong. You got out of the boat and you haggled over who made it. You lost that one, hard. You might lose this one, too, but then again it just might be the original arc that you're stepping toward. So you return, then. You rise before dark. You drag your carcass along Broadway before dawn.
All the rich men in the world want to get shot into outer space. Richard Branson. Jeff Bezos. Elon Musk. The new explorers. To get the hell out of here and see if they—and maybe we—can exist somewhere else for a while. It's the story of the century. We want to know if the pocket of the universe can be turned inside out. We're either going to bring all the detritus of the world upward with us or we're going to find a brand-new way to exist. The cynical say that it's just another form of colonization—they're probably right, but then again maybe it's our only way out.
The Winklevosses have booked their tickets—numbers 700 and 701—on Branson's Virgin Galactic. Although they go virtually everywhere together, the twins want to go on different flights because of the risk involved: Now that they're in their mid-thirties, they can finally see death, or at least its rumor. It's a boy's adventure, but it's also the outer edge of possibility. It cost a quarter of a million dollars per seat, and they paid for it, yes, in bitcoin.
Of course, up until recently, the original space flights all splashed down into the sea. One of the ships that hauled the Gemini space capsule out of the water in 1965 was the Intrepid aircraft carrier.
The Winklevosses no longer pull their boat up the river. Instead they often run five miles along the Hudson to the Intrepid and back. The destroyer has been parked along Manhattan's West Side for almost as long as they have been alive. It's now a museum. The brothers like the boat, its presence, its symbolism: Intrepid, Gemini, the space shot.
They ease into the run.
One of the most famous cases in the short history of Bitcoin has finally been decided in court. An American judge sentenced Trendon Shavers – best known as ‘pirateat40’ -, to pay a combined $40.7 million for running a Ponzi scheme.. Shavers was the owner of Bitcoin Savings and Trust, a company that sold investments using BTC and was investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission A Ponzi scheme is an investment fraud that involves the payment of purported returns to existing investors from funds contributed by new investors. Ponzi scheme organizers often solicit new investors by promising to invest funds in opportunities claimed to generate high returns with little or no risk. Bitcoin is a huge bubble and ponzi scheme. Kept alive because of libertarianism’s ability to recruit another greater fool. And because nobody knows the bubbles termination date. New submitter craighansen writes "The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has filed a lawsuit against a man they allege ran a Ponzi scheme using Bitcoin.According to the complaint (PDF), during 2011-2012, Trendon Shavers, operating under the username pirateat40, collected investments of over 700,000 Bitcoins from at least 66 'investors' (a valuation of $4.5M) with the promise of as much as Is Bitcoin a Ponzi Scheme? “In a Ponzi Scheme, the founders persuade investors that they’ll profit. Bitcoin does not make such a guarantee. There is no central entity, just individuals building an economy. A ponzi scheme is a zero sum game. Early adopters can only profit at the expense of late adopters. Bitcoin has possible win-win outcomes.
         
Sonic 1: The Ring Ride
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