Buy it with bitcoin in New York, but it’s not cheap

Investors’ interest has been piqued by the cryptocurrency’s surging value, which topped $11,000 for the first time on November 29, 2017. Above, bitcoin medals. (AFP)
Updated 03 December 2017

Buy it with bitcoin in New York, but it’s not cheap

NEW YORK: At Melt Bakery, a hole in the wall that sells ice cream sandwiches in New York’s upscale Manhattan neighborhood, you can pay for your guilty pleasure in bitcoin.
And while a few swipes of a mobile app are all it takes to fill your electronic wallet, the novelty, for now, comes at a hefty cost.
Melt is one of several small stores in America’s biggest city now accepting the bitcoins, hailed by some as the future of currency.
Investors’ interest has been piqued by the virtual currency’s surging value while industry insiders see it as an alternative instrument for consumers who want to shop online but don’t have access to traditional instruments like a credit card.
It has even triggered an expanding ATM network that lets people turn their cash into bitcoins, and their bitcoins back into cash.
At Melt’s checkout counter, each transaction can take several minutes to process and trigger varying fees.
That means a $5 chocolate ice cream sandwich cost $9.29 for a recent bitcoin purchase.
Though its presence is growing, bitcoin use is still far from widespread at the storefront level.
A New York chiropractor who released a statement in 2014 announcing he would accept bitcoin payments has yet to receive any.
Nick Allen, head of product development at the Blockchain Technologies startup, acknowledges such use is limited.
“It’s just for promotion,” said the 24-year-old.
“Bitcoin will never be used largely in real life. Transaction fees are too high and an owner is not able to track the transactions made by its employees.”
For his part, Allen converts his entire income into the currency which he then uses to do all his shopping online, including basic groceries.
He buys store gift cards on an online platform where, he says, vendors “want bitcoins more than they want gift cards.”
In just a few clicks, he can buy $100 worth of takeout food delivered by UberEats for just $36.
But he found himself in a bit of a bind during a recent trip to Amsterdam, where, without a credit card and just €200 ($238) in cash, he couldn’t find anywhere to convert his bitcoins.
More and more major companies now accept virtual currency, including Bitcoin but also others, as a valid form of payment — from booking a flight on Expedia to a new sofa from retailer Overstock.
“We are a big believer that it is good for us,” said Overstock’s president Jonathan Johnson. “It is another way for customers to spend money at our stores and it is cheaper for us because we don’t have to pay a credit card transaction fee.”
The firm initially converted all its bitcoins into dollars, but now retains half in order to pay suppliers, and to take advantage of its surging value.
A bitcoin was worth about $1,000 at the start of the year, but is now more than $10,000.
At a small grocery store in Harlem, Matthew, a former financier who now works in tech and who gave his first name only, said he bought his first bitcoins in 2016 and was now withdrawing his profits from an ATM.
“Buying bitcoin at an ATM is the easiest and safest way to do it,” he said, adding he did not entirely trust other platforms.
Investors make up 25 percent of the user base of Coinsource, a nationwide bitcoin ATM network, according to its manager, Sheffield Clark.
The majority of users see the currency as “a medium of exchange to buy things online,” explains Clark, who adds that in the future, bitcoin will likely complement rather than replace real money.
It is especially useful for those who “may not have access to a PayPal account or access to traditional financial services such as a credit card or debit card account,” he adds.


‘Into the Wild’ movie luring unprepared to Alaska wilderness

Updated 28 February 2020

‘Into the Wild’ movie luring unprepared to Alaska wilderness

  • Adventurers following in McCandless footsteps finding trouble themselves
  • Families of some of those who have died are proposing looking at building a footbridge over the River Teklanika

ANCHORAGE, Alaska: For more than a quarter-century, the old bus abandoned in Alaska’s punishing wilderness has drawn adventurers seeking to retrace the steps of a young idealist who met a tragic death in the derelict vehicle.
For many, Christopher McCandless’ legend was cemented in the “Into the Wild” book and movie. But scores of travelers following his journey along the Stampede Trail just outside Denali National Park have been rescued and others have died in the harsh reality of back-country terrain,
It is marked by no cell phone service, unpredictable weather and the raging Teklanika River, whose swollen banks prevented the 24-year-old Virginian from seeking help before his 1992 starvation death.
Now families of some of those who died are proposing looking at building a footbridge over the Teklanika. The effort is led by the husband of a 24-year-old newlywed woman from Belarus who died last year trying to reach the bus.
“People keep going there despite multiple accidents reported,” said Piotr Markielau, who was with his wife Veramika Maikamava when she was swept away by the river. “Making the crossing safer is a social responsibility. It is also a constructive and humane way to learn from people who died there.”
But some local officials in Denali Borough in Healy, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) away, fear a footbridge could give people a false impression of safety that doesn’t exist.
“It’ll only encourage more people to go,” says Denali Assembly member Jeff Stenger, who rejects the bridge idea and would prefer to see warning signs posted in the area.
Borough Mayor Clay Walker wants to see the bus relocated to a safer location on the other side of the Teklanika with the help of federal and state agencies.
“This bus has meaning to a lot of people, and the challenge will be to put together a plan that works for all,” Walker said.
A bridge would not have made a difference in the latest rescue. It involved five Italian tourists — one with frostbitten feet — who were rescued Saturday after visiting the dilapidated bus. There are other hazards, including harsh weather and dangerous terrain. Some attempting the trip are ill-prepared.
The long-discarded bus sits in a clearing on state land roughly half a mile (0.8 kilometers) from the boundary of the Denali National Park and Preserve.
Travelers often traverse park land to get to the bus, which was left in the wilderness to house construction crews working to improve the trail so trucks could haul ore from a mine, according to the book. It’s outfitted with a barrel stove and bunks, and McCandless wrote in his journal about living there for 114 days, right up until his death.
Author Jon Krakauer, who wrote “Into the Wild,” said he is “saddened and horrified” by the deaths of people trying to cross the Teklanika. He’s also skeptical building a bridge or moving the bus will solve the problem.
“I really don’t know what can be done or should be done about the unprepared ‘pilgrims’ who get into trouble and perish or need to be rescued,” he said in an email to The Associated Press. “I have no objection to removing the bus, or building a bridge to it, if a persuasive argument can be made that doing either of these things would solve the problem. I am skeptical about the wisdom of either of these proposed measures, however.”
McCandless’ sister agrees. Carine McCandless believes people will keep trying to reach the site, regardless of what locals decide. She said people send her messages every day from all over the world, identifying with her brother’s story, and she understands why people continue to make the trek.
“It is not Chris’s story they are following, it is their own, even if they don’t realize it at the time,” she said. “And as far as the lure of the bus — it’s not about the bus, either. If the bus is moved, people will simply erect a memorial in its place and continue to go there.”