Earlier this month, Great Bend was one of hundreds of cities targeted by a wave of bomb threats which may have been a Russian email scam. Several businesses and organizations across the country received emails informing them that bombs had been placed in their buildings, and $20,000 in Bitcoin was demanded to stop the bombs from detonating.
Authorities determined the bomb threat was a hoax. But, after the dust settled, it left many scratching their heads about what Bitcoin is. For those who understand how to use it, Bitcoin can be traded instantaneously in any amount, without third-party involvement, making it essentially impossible to trace.
We asked around the Great Bend area, speaking to bankers and other finance experts. While most had rudimentary knowledge of what Bitcoin is and how it is created, none had any concrete experience with the cryptocurrency, so declined to be quoted for this story. We widened our net, requesting input from a Kansas State University professor and finance expert, D. Elizabeth Kiss, Ph.D. While she had little knowledge of Bitcoin, she offered a 2015 Extension publication, “Virtual Economics: Bitcoin and Beyond” that included some Bitcoin basics. It outlined how Bitcoin works, and how the cryptocurrency can, at least in theory, be used to actually purchase tangible items, as well as a lot of other valuable information.
We set out to learn what we could through other sources, and through first-hand experience. Our goal: to determine what Bitcoin is and see if it works just like traditional currency.
Locally, interest is lukewarm
Darcy Leech, owner of Mind Sculpt Games in Great Bend, said she considered setting up an in-store kiosk and accepting Bitcoin from customers, but decided against it.
The instability and volatility of the market was her top concern, with Bitcoin’s value dropping as newer alternate currencies come online. Also, the question of how often the money represented could turn over in the local economy was uncertain. The kiosk they were considering was one where customers could convert cash to Bitcoin for a flat 1.5 percent fee.
“If customers spent money at our kiosk in Great Bend, we didn’t think we would see a large percentage of that spent with us in our shop or at other areas in our community,” she said.
Leech cited one other reason. Bitcoin’s early reputation as a payment method on the Dark Web wasn’t what she wanted to have associated with Mind Sculpt Games.
“It just wasn’t the right fit for us right now,” she said.
Interestingly, there is a connection between Bitcoin and the collectible card game value markets.
“They seem to have a lot of similar investors,” Leech said. “As Bitcoin values went up, the value of a lot of scarce and highly valuable, sought-after trading cards from Magic: The Gathering, also went up.”
She is aware of others in her field who have invested in Bitcoin. If it showed as much promise as a year ago, she might give it a second look, she said, but for now, the U.S. dollar is more her speed.
LibertyX markets the kiosk that Leech had considered. We downloaded the app, and our Great Bend zip code brought up the Loves’ Country Store located at 1221 10th Street as the nearest location where purchasers can exchange cash for Bitcoin. The app indicated a fee of $5.00 plus 1.85 percent would be charged.
When we arrived at the store the attendant was unaware Bitcoin could be purchased there. He attempted to contact a manager, but to no avail. There was no LibertyX kiosk to be found.
Following up, we contacted Love’s corporate office, but were directed to the voicemail of an executive there; our call was not returned. At least for now, purchasing in cash locally doesn’t appear to be possible.
Breaking into Bitcoin
There’s more than one way to fill your wallet with Bitcoin. With the right software, working on the right hardware, you can solve puzzles creating money out of thin air.
Here, again, is where the gaming world and the world of cryptocurrencies cross paths. Great Bend Tribune reporter Russ Edem is an avid gamer. He customizes and builds his own computers so he can play at top speed. He’s found that the cost of video cards has gone up as the popularity of Bitcoin increases. That’s because of how Bitcoins are created. According to a 2013 Popular Mechanics article, “How to spend a Bitcoin,” units of the cryptocurrency are created by solving math problems.
“Bitcoin ‘miners’ create new coins by solving complicated cryptographic proof-of-work verifications of every Bitcoin transaction. Those calculations simultaneously maintain the peer-to-peer Bitcoin network and, for those who solve the calculations, earn them freshly minted Bitcoins.”
Mining Bitcoin requires the kind of power and speed found in video cards in order to crunch the numbers and solve increasingly complicated computations.
But, what about if you don’t have the resources to mine Bitcoin? …