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That bitcoin thing…

5 Aug

So a few weeks a go I wrote a post introducing bitcoin and gave a fairly rudimentary explanation of what it is and where it comes from. In fact, a couple of things I mentioned were not completely accurate because, I was, and still am, learning about the currency, but I have a pretty good grasp of it now, even if I am not totally au fait with all the technological jargon.

I mention it again as things are moving along and hopefully, by next month, we shall have our app (initially for the iPhone but with an Android version following soon after.)

As a recap, bitcoin is the decentralised, virtual currency, which is transacted over the internet. It has no central authority controlling it so is transferred person to person without any middlemen charging fees or taking a percentage cut of every transaction. It also means it can be used anywhere in the world with no currency exchange costs. It is managed by a peer-to-peer, global computing network. These computers use specially-designed hardware called miners, to crunch away at complex algorithms. Once they have decoded a block of data, bitcoins are issued and this is the way bitcoins are released into circulation. They are held in digital wallets on the internet. There is a predetermined release rate of bitcoins and the bitcoin algorithm can increase in difficulty so even if more and more people start mining for the currency, the market won’t be flooded with bitcoins.  By 2040, all the bitcoins will have been mined.

The fact an increasing number of people are becoming interested in bitcoin is because for small businesses in particular, it offers a lot of benefits. The lower fees and ability to do business internationally without worrying about currency exchange rates are just a couple of advantages. Due to the finite number of bitcoins that can ever exist, it is also inflation-proof and so people who own bitcoins know it cannot be devalued. Then there is the ease of using it, for anyone with access to the internet or a smart phone can transfer bitcoins from one bitcoin address to another quickly and securely.

The currency was created by an unknown, enigmatic individual or group of people, known as Satoshi Nakamoto in 2009. Many of the bitcoin evangelists describe themselves as financial libertarians, that’s not to say they are all anti-state or anti-government, but they do want control over their own money and an alternative to their fiat savings, which are being continually debased and devalued over time.

The owner and founder of BitScan asked me to get involved a few weeks a go and in that time, as well as helping out with some of the elements to the app, future web content and getting my head around bitcoin, I have been writing features for the BitScan features blog. It has been an interesting endeavour, in particular due to some of the people I have met and interviewed. These vary from a Cumbrian taxi driver to a bitcoin miner to various entrepreneurs within the bitcoin world. It is a world that might be relatively small but it is growing. Right now it feels as if those in the know are on the brink of something, which could be potentially huge. Similarly to the Internet all those year’s a go when the nay-sayers all said it would never take off, bitcoin is not only a currency, but a whole concept, which can take some time to understand and accept.

It will probably never exist alone and maybe never become the primary, global currency, but as  growing numbers want a bite of the bitcoin apple, it could well become a much more mainstream and viable option to other fiat currencies. For a start, one economist has declared it should be the national currency of Iceland.

One article on this is here:  http://www.coindesk.com/why-iceland-should-use-bitcoin-as-its-national-currency-btclondon/

A video showing some of his talk is here: http://bitcoinviews.com/bitcoin-london-2013-sveinn-valfells-should-iceland-adopt-bitcoin-as-its-national-currency/

Now on to us!

© Copyright BitScan

© Copyright BitScan

Our own website can be found by clicking here – take a look and see what you think. At the moment, it is all very new and we are developing a proper, integrated blog and website, which will come in due course. Rob’s analysis of bitcoin’s performance on the markets is proving a big hit and my Features blog can be found via the main home page or here.

Finally, I pitched one of my features to Coin Desk, one of the main bitcoin news sites, and it was their top story when it was published on Friday and still in their Most Popular and Must Read lists. It also got a big mention in their weekly roundup. It is a great story about the youngest bitcoin entrepreneurs, bees, honey and bitcoin! You can find a link to that story on our features blog here: http://bitscanfeatures.blogspot.com.au/2013/07/lifes-sweet-with-bitcoin.html

 

So there you go,  take a look and if you are particularly interested in how bitcoins are released (or mined) and how that all works, I wrote a feature on it recently, which hopefully cuts through too much technical jargon! Take a read: http://bitscanfeatures.blogspot.com.au/2013/07/going-down-mine.html

 

 

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Editorial Guidelines

25 May Writing

They are those codes of practise, which most news organisations and journalists strive to uphold; the policies, which are meant to maintain integrity, trustworthiness and ethical behaviour. They are the guidelines I have had to read, refer to and have a pretty good understanding of for the majority of my career as a journalist, whether from a small, local radio station to a national newsroom. Editorial codes are the standards for accuracy, fairness, lawfulness, impartiality, and the procedures to follow if these standards are not met.  They offer journalists guidance for telling stories and portraying characters while ensuring coverage is balanced, diverse and innovative without compromising integrity or quality. Suddenly I am struck at how similar they are to the new ‘editorial guidelines’ I face.

Anyone writing a manuscript knows the importance of having a diversity of characters, striking a good balance of action, narrative and dialogue, maintaining quality over quantity and all without compromising on creativity. This is easily said but hard to master. A short session with an editor has helped me see the flaws and pitfalls to my recent manuscript but has also given me an encouraging push to pursue the novel, the premise of which she really liked. Right now I am concentrating on defining my characters and giving them more depth; pulling at the threads and seeing their souls laid bare, in essence, getting to know them all better and rediscovering their little idiosyncrasies. I realise I have fallen victim to the ‘telling not showing’ trap a few times and am hoping that by correcting this, the characters will more explode on to the page rather than merely shuffle in self-consciously!

I was given a further burst of inspiration and motivation at the Sydney Writers Festival this week. I have attended talks on female fiction, writing narrative, creating tension and suspense, characterisation and even promoting your efforts through blogging and social media. I have heard from best-selling authors, industry experts and publishing gurus and what is more, the whole event was free! There were workshops and ticketed events you could pay for but this was a festival accessible to all and it was possible to fill each day soaking up wisdom and advice from those in the know for no more than the cost of the journey to get there. On that note, the festival was held in the industrial, warehouse-style setting of the Sydney Dance Company‘s studios, overlooking Sydney Harbour at Walsh B ay.

‘The Loft’ where a few of the sessions were held was a cavernous space with stable-doors set high up the wall and thick-set wooden posts soaring up to the girders overhead. Chairs and iron-framed bookshelves were placed on beaten floorboards in front of the stage and it was set for the talk to follow: from cosy armchairs and table lamps to a more corporate look. Each session I went to was packed and even Thursday’s freezing weather and lashing rain didn’t deter thousands turning up and queuing for talks. There was a diverse mix of ages, backgrounds and professions. I talked to university students studying English and media through to retirees who were battling through their first novels. Aspiring writers and journalists mingled with stay-at-home mums and professionals and there really was something for everyone: from historians to tech-wizards and above all, anyone who reads or writes.

A fantastic talk by Scarlett Thomas persuaded me to buy her book: Monkeys with Typewriters, a practical and inspirational guide to all aspects of writing… That will be my reading material for the next few days and as for my writing – well that is a work in progress with some sound guidelines to keep me on the right track 🙂

The harsher side to a beautiful land

7 Jan

When a place you’ve visited is featured on the news – and the news is not good – it just feels a little bit closer and a little bit more relevant. Suddenly you’ve seen the school they’re talking about, you’ve walked down the street now in devastation and had a drink in the coffee shop now standing amid the rubble. This is true for us now, just two weeks after visiting the beautiful island of Tasmania, the state is now being ravaged by bushfires and some are still burning out of control.

The truly devastating effects and indiscriminate nature of nature are clearly in evidence when you look at the images of the once picturesque coastal village of Dunalley, now smouldering in the ashes, gutted by the flames.

jettyfire

The Mercury

Dunalley Fire Aerial (The Australian)

Access to the Tasman Peninsula has been closed off for days when it was just days ago that James and I drove down that way in the camper car to visit Port Arthur. Now people are being evacuated by boat off the peninsula to Hobart.

I have only experienced a similar reaction to a news story when I saw the scenes in Thailand of the Boxing Day tsunami, a year to the day after I was sat on that same beach in Phuket. Yesterday we watched and were just thankful, not only for the timing of our holiday, but that so far, everyone has been accounted for and no lives have been lost in the Tasmanian fires. It was one of the few times we have been compelled to call the number on the screen and visit the website to donate money to the rescue and salvage operation. When you enjoyed a place so much and had a fantastic time because of its scenery and its people, you want to do what you can to protect that scenery and help those people.

Catastrophic fire warnings are now in place across parts of New South Wales as well, especially along the South Coast, where once again, James and I were just two days ago. When the ‘fire risk’ markers obliterate the map of your area you know it’s not a sensational news story and with temperatures in this part of the country set to soar to dizzying heights tomorrow, we are being told we face the biggest fire danger in the state’s history. Temperatures in Sydney are predicted to rise into the 40s and whereas we may be fortunate to escape to the sea breezes and a dip in the ocean, it’s all too easy to forget some will not be so lucky. With family travelling down the South Coast as we speak, we know people have their bags packed and ready to leave their homes at a moment’s notice.

It’s one of the harsher and sadder realities of living in such a hot climate and if anything makes you have a little more respect for nature, the pictures on our news channels at the moment will do just that.

80,403. The End

8 Oct

The tweaking phase has begun. Small amendments, corrections and adjustments to the manuscript, which I am happy to say, I have finally finished. I use finished in the loosest sense for as I mentioned, there are plenty of minor changes to be made and possibly even some longer rewrites of certain sections but over 80,000 words later, I have written a novel.

The strange thing is giving it to people to read and not knowing exactly how the story comes across. As the author, you never have the experience of reading it for the first time, not knowing what comes next or seeing the final twists revealed. This is where feedback becomes useful and this is the stage I am now at. To be honest, it can be just as daunting as facing the blank page but so far so good. It has been generally positive and bar the odd typo and a couple of suggestions or clarifications, there have been no major upsets and the pages have not yet been handed back with a look that says, “perhaps you should forget it.”

However, friends can be much kinder critics than the real thing so I am not naively believing I have yet written something which is good enough to be published. The process has been great though and I have learnt just how much extra work goes into the characters and back stories – and also what I would do differently if I have a go writing another – but one thing at a time!

For now I think James is glad not to have to keep reading random snippets out of order and I have to have a go at condensing those 80,000 plus words into a two page synopsis. I have finally come up with a title – or at least, a working one – and that was with a little help from some friends. I won’t be revealing it on here though just yet.

The man with a story to tell

9 Jul

I’ve been doing that thing so many people say they might do ‘one day’ or would like to try ‘one day’ and decided my ‘one day’ had come. I’ve started writing a book. I decided while I had some time I’d get the story idea I’d had in my head, down on paper (or on screen anyway) and see how it went. So, over sixty thousand words in, it is going fairly well and I have been thoroughly enjoying getting the creative juices flowing again. It’s not necessarily very good, but it has been a really interesting and challenging process at times, and if nothing comes of it, well, at least, I’ll still be able to say I wrote that novel!

So it was, after hearing about this ‘book’, that our next door neighbour popped round after seeing an advert in our local gazette for a freelance writer. She thought I’d be interested. I’m not sure I can call myself ‘a writer’ quite yet but I had nothing to lose so gave the man a call. His name is Stan and he said he had ‘a story to tell’ and wants help writing it.

We arranged to meet up and James decided it may not be the wisest idea to meet a strange man alone, so he would go and have a coffee in the same coffee shop, from a distance. I think having been pent up in the house with a bad knee for nearly two weeks has got to him because ‘Meet Stan’ suddenly became not just an excuse to leave the house, but a chance to pretend he was on a covert operation. The baseball cap and sunglasses were donned and our modern-day Inspector Clouseau trailed me (or rather, limped slowly behind) to the coffee shop, from where he could keep an eye on Stan, the potentially dangerous retiree, roaming around Rose Bay.

I was intrigued if nothing else. I was fully prepared that Stan may just be an elderly man who had grown a prize-winning cauliflower and wanted to tell the world. On the other hand, there was every chance he was some former Mossad agent who wanted to reveal all so I went with an open mind. As it happened, Stan lay somewhere between the two! He wants to get his life story written down from early childhood in Croatia under Tito to staying in refugee camps, hitchhiking across European borders until finally arriving in Australia. There is a lot in between as well, the people he met and the experiences he had. In many ways, I think everyone has a ‘story’ but Stan wants to get his down, whether for future publication or just as a record for future generations, who are now so far removed from his past and where he came from.

He has asked me to write it for him and this is the next challenge I face as ‘a writer’. I am looking forward to the process as it will involve using aspects of journalism, which were the reason I went into that job in the first place: meeting people and hearing their stories. I will be interviewing him and then writing his story. We shall see where it leads, but whatever happens, I am sure it will be just as interesting and informative for me, as it will prove nostalgic and hopefully satisfying for Stan.

Northland in a Campervan

7 May

Our love affair with New Zealand has begun.

Take some of the most beautiful areas of England, Scotland and Wales, add a touch of Alpine and a slight tropical twist, put it all in one country and you have some idea of how beautiful and scenic we found New Zealand. We only covered the North of the North Island but in ten days, found a place we both love and agreed that the holiday rates as one of the best either of us have ever had (and that includes a lot of holidays and travels between us!)

We opted for a campervan, initially as a way to cut costs on accommodation and a hire car but it turned out to be the perfect solution and enabled us to see some of the more remote parts of the island, spend nights camped literally metres from the ocean, explore all the wonderful little beaches and coves and take advantage of camp sites in some of the most stunning locations we’ve ever seen.

Our trip started out in Auckland, from where we traveled north up to Waiwera, on to Russell in the Bay of Islands, over to Ahipara at the south end of Ninety Mile Beach, then up to the northern tip at Cape Reinga, spending a night at Tapotupotu Bay. Then we drove down through the picturesque Doubtless Bay,  past Taipa and on to Taupo Bay from where we had one of the most beautiful drives round the coast to Matauri Bay before heading back to Russell and the Bay of Islands for our final two nights.

It was one of those places where every bend in the road delivered another stunning view across rolling hillsides, turquoise waters, deserted beaches or dramatic mountainous landscapes.

We did quite a few walks – the longest up a small mountain and along the ridge running towards Spirits Bay along the northern coast of the far north peninsula where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean. When you are walking along that stretch of coast on the tip of a promontory, over 100km from the nearest small town, it is quite a strange feeling, perched on the very edge, with an entire country at your back and nothing bar a few small islands between you and Siberia.

Heading to and from Cape Reinga, we stopped a couple of times at Ninety Mile Beach. It is strictly speaking 55 miles long but nevertheless you get the sense of the beach stretching on forever and on windy days, the waves are incredible. It is flanked by the Tasman Sea almost all the way up to Cape Reinga and some pretty impressive sand dunes.

Not only were we totally alone on that bit of beach, we spent the majority of our time only ever passing one of two others while in the far north. New Zealand is so sparsely populated that coming out of season, at the start of what they now call their ‘Winter season’ meant we often had beaches to ourselves, the campsites were almost empty and we had no problem with availability. In contrast to Sydney, usually the only vehicles we saw on the roads were a few logging trucks and other campervans. Having said that, whenever we did meet any New Zealanders, they always lived up to their reputation of being friendly and easy-going. We even got invited to go out sailing with a couple we’d only spent five minutes talking to but unfortunately it was on our final day and we couldn’t take them up on the offer. It is no exaggeration to use the cliche that Kiwis will ‘give you the shirt off their back.’

One of the places, which attracts thousands of tourists in high season is Matauri Bay, a stunning bay with crystal clear water and the campsite, right on the water’s edge, so we were pretty lucky to see it almost empty. At the top of the hill, overlooking the bay, is a monument to The Rainbow Warrior, the Greenpeace flagship, sunk by the French foreign intelligence service in 1985. One of the most memorable mornings was spent there as we decided to get up and climb the hill to watch the sunrise.

Matauri Bay was one of the more ‘luxurious’ campsites and after nine days on a ‘firm’ bed and eating fairly well but on a diet consisting of sandwiches, beans on toast, soup, apples and crisps (basically anything we could do simply in the campervan) we treated ourselves on our last night by staying at The Duke of Marlborough Hotel in Russell, one of the most historic hotels in New Zealand, dating back to 1827, and the first place in the country to have got a liquor licence. It was a fantastic place with views across the bay and an open fire, perfect for the chilly Autumn evenings we’re getting now. Russell itself is a small, quaint town and where some of the first Europeans came to settle. It is full of heritage-style properties, home to the oldest church in New Zealand and despite its popularity in the summer with holidaymakers and tourists, it has still retained its character, with no big commercial hotels or shopping malls.

From arriving on a wet and windy evening in Auckland, we managed to enjoy a full week of sunshine, only a couple of cloudy days and a bit of rain on our final day driving home. We couldn’t believe how lucky we were and the combination of light rain and sunshine on our final morning in Russell gave us a pretty amazing view to remember the country by.

The trip inspired a LOT of photos – I have put a selection in the photo gallery here.
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