Bitcoin, the world's foremost digital currency, has finally made it to Miami, and this week Planet Linux Caffe in Coral Gables will become the first business in the city to accept the decentralized digital currency as payment for items on its menu, says owner Daniel Mery.
If this news means nothing to you, maybe you should attend the Day of Bitcoin Secrets seminar hosted by HackMiami and Miami-Coral Gables Open Source Group at Planet Linux Caffe Thursday, June 27, at 6:30 p.m.
What exactly is a bitcoin? It is a piece of digital currency that is essentially created out of thin air when your computer solves a complex mathematical problem over a bitcoin network.
You are competing with other users -- or "miners," or groups of miners called "pools" -- with faster computers over who can solve the problem first.
There are only a finite number of bitcoins in the world, so like real currency, there's a problem with resources.
The miners who score bitcoins are able to cash them out for real money via currency exchange. Or they can be deposited directly into other users' bitcoin accounts.
Bitcoins have increasingly emerged as an alternative to commodities such as paper currency and gold. Some law enforcement agencies have charged that bitcoin exchanges have become money-laundering operations because transactions are virtually anonymous.
With the rising popularity of bitcoins, the U.S. government is attempting to curb the flow of transactions across the globe by shutting down exchanges.
But that's not stopping Mery, who sees the bitcoin as a possible solution to a global financial crisis.
"Bitcoin is a very good currency," he says. "In a global world, we need a global currency. The world is in a crisis. To exit the crisis, we need new ideas."
Bitcoins are also peer-to-peer, meaning currency is transferred directly from user to user without a third party. The technology is also open-source, which means anybody can modify the code. One downside of the currency is its volatility. With any commodity market, the bitcoin exchange rate tends to fluctuate, and not always in a good way. The current rate of exchange is about $102 for every one bitcoin.
Users have bitcoin "wallets" where currency can be added or subtracted. Another downside to bitcoin, like anything digital, is that wallets can be hacked. Several wallet programs, or apps, can be used to exchange bitcoins, including Bitpay or Bitcoin Wallet for Android. Apple, however, has been a little reluctant in accepting bitcoin for its iOS devices.
Mery knows all about open-source. Originally from Argentina, he is a geophysicist who has used open-source computer software such as Linux and FreeBSD to process seismic data. The technology is employed throughout the world in gambling machines, web servers, and even military fire-control systems. The best part of Linux, FreeBSD, and similar operating systems is that they are free.
Mery moved to Miami from Tampa in 2010. With his affinity for open-source technology, he opened Planet Linux Caffe in November 2011. Since then, it has become a hacker space, or a space for various computer and gaming groups to meet and talk shop.
At Planet Linux, hackers and patrons will be able to trade the digital cash for coffee and a full menu featuring computer-themed sandwiches such as the Gnome (ham, cheese, sweet peppers, and olives on panini), Ubuntu coconut bars, Slackware guava-banana bars, smoothies, and empanadas.
Mery also hosts various hacker-related activities monthly at Planet Linux, including capture-the-flag parties, during which die-hard techies hone their skills at taking over computer servers.
Despite the government crackdown on bitcoin, use of the currency is spreading. This is apparent with Planet Linux Caffe, which could be the first of many businesses in South Florida to accept the new digital currency.
"I hope Planet Linux Caffe will be replicated," Mery says. "I think bitcoin is good for society and people."
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