Once Bryan Hellard starts talking about Bitcoin, he can go for hours. Some of his fellow students at the British Columbia Institute of Technology are about to discover this.
Hellard is the founder of the BCIT Bitcoins club, which was established in January. The Coquitlam resident is studying mechatronics and robotics at the institute.
On February 16, Hellard spoke about Bitcoin at a currency conference, which took place during CoinFest. He’s also a member of Vancouver's Bitcoin Co-op and a Bitcoin mining technician for Newnote Networks, which launched a Bitcoin mining collocation data centre on February 19.
The Georgia Straight reached Hellard by phone at BCIT’s Burnaby campus.
Why did you start the BCIT Bitcoins club?
I started the BCIT Bitcoins club because I figured that bitcoins were an interesting enough subject that people should have a place to get together and talk about them. Working with the co-op and going to the Vancouver Meetup events and meeting up with the entire community and seeing how everybody’s approaching it, it’s just cool how many angles you can get to it.
So, I figured while it’s still a new topic and people don’t really know much about it—and BCIT being a techie school—there’s probably lots of people here who’ve heard about it and want to learn more. We might as well give them an opportunity to do so and somewhere they can meet up with people of like interests.
What kinds of activities or events do you plan to do with the club?
To start, I’m thinking I’m just going to do a couple chill events—get a core of people who are interested in Bitcoin. We can hang out, go for dinner, and see what’s what—like I said, bring people of like interests together so we can work together. Once we get a base going, then we can start doing bigger events. I’m thinking we can rent out some lecture halls and get some speakers in and help educate the masses—or, I guess, students.
What is the biggest misconception out there about Bitcoin?
There is a couple. Whenever the media throws up a big problem, they’re like, “Oh, there’s the Bitcoin double spending attack or the selfish miners, and it’s going to crash the entire network.” Most of those have already been covered, and there’s already solutions prepared for them. They’re just waiting for them to happen.
Another one is the problem isn’t with the Bitcoin protocol itself. It’s usually with things surrounding it. “Oh, you can have your money hacked and stolen.” Okay, if you hand your wallet full of $100 bills to a stranger you met on the street and say, “Here, hold this for me,” and then that stranger runs off with it, yeah, of course your money can get hacked and stolen.
There are a couple problems unique to the Bitcoin network. Like it’s electronic and digital, so you can delete your wallet and it’s gone forever. There are a couple unique problems, but most problems that apply to Bitcoin apply to cash or any other currency as well.
This gives people a new approach to money, and most people don’t understand what responsibility they have when they have their coins. Like when you hold your money, you control it. It’s like having an envelope of money always. If you want somebody else to store it, like in a web wallet or something else, how much do you trust that person? You’re handing them an envelope of money and saying, “Keep this safe for me.” If they run off with it, there’s no regulations calling them back or doing anything of that sort. There’s no protections, no insurance. There’s not really banks or anything. I guess banks nowadays could just run off with your bank account, as shown in Cyprus, where they just started sucking money out of people’s accounts.
Misconceptions—yes, there are problems, but, yes, there are solutions. Be smart with your money.
Do you think it will be mainstream in a year or two?
I guess there’s different definitions of mainstream. Some people are talking about how they’ll replace the Canadian dollar, and we won’t use any other money but Bitcoin. But that’s kind of stupid, in my opinion. I think it has its place alongside everything else.
The one thing it makes easier than anything is sending money. Western Union—I don’t think they realize how much trouble they’re in. Say you’re going on a trip to Europe. You have your Canadian dollars, and you buy a couple bitcoins and you travel over to Europe. While you’re in Europe, you can either find restaurants or stores or hostels with Bitcoin, or you can just find someone to sell them for euros or pounds or whatever currency you’re looking for over there. I think that’s one of the biggest uses—international money transferring.
Again, if you do cross-border, international business, then you can send Bitcoin across the world in like 10 minutes. You don’t have to wait for money transfers. You don’t have to wait for bank wires. Yes, there are bank drafts and solutions to this problem. I don’t think Bitcoin has any solutions that are 100-percent innovative. Anything Bitcoin does, yes, it can be done some other way—through a bank. Bitcoin does it best and easiest.
Mainstream—I don’t think it will be in day-to-day use. Sure, they’ll have coffee shops that accept Bitcoin, and people will be like, “Yay, I can use my coins.” But the true usage is outside of that—not necessarily in day-to-day use.
What other cryptocurrencies have caught your attention?
There’s a couple cool ones. Litecoin has a good concept. They’re thinking gold [Bitcoin] gets too valuable, Litecoin—there’s four times as many, so theoretically it’ll have a quarter of the value—it’ll be more easily traded. I guess easier for little transactions. It’s kind of a cool concept, but there’s nothing really groundbreaking about that.
Namecoin was a cool concept. They took the idea and all the computer processing and stuff that secures the Bitcoin network, and, instead of applying it to currency and money transfer, they applied it to domain names. So, it proves the ownership of domain names and how those move around and keeping those secure. So, that’s a cool concept.
Quarkcoin, I only know a little bit about it. From what I know, it’s apparently the most secure coin and has like nine layers of encryption on it, I think. So, that’s supposed to be the most secure. You’d think after nine layers of encryption you’re getting a little double redundant there, but it sounds cool. So, those are some that caught my eye.