From Sweden

Sergej Kotliar clip 2017 (BitJoin Cross-Post)

In April 2017 i began following up with the 6 founders featured in my first documentary short – Founded. I started by catching up with Sergej Kotliar of BitRefill. In the past i have published the full interviews on the BitJoin youtube channel, however this time i intend on publishing these interviews solely on Popchest in order to help raise funds for the production of the follow up documentary to Founded. If you know of a better way to raise funds don’t hesitate to contact me at rich@bitjoin.me

New Money Old Problems

Money’s funny isn’t it, I have always been somewhat intrigued by the way people think about money and how it motivates them to get what they want. But what happens when the money you have collected is suddenly worthless and unable to get you what you want?

Demonetisation is happening in both Sweden (where i reside) and India where in November 2016 the fairly new prime minister Modi, announced the demonetisation of all ₹500 and ₹1,000 banknotes of the Mahatma Gandhi Series. The government claimed that removing 86% of the currency in circulation would “curtail the shadow economy and crack down on the use of illicit and counterfeit cash to fund illegal activity and terrorism.”

I am not sure how they plan to prove that (if ever), or if anyone else could prove otherwise due to the difficulties in acquiring concrete statistics on the shadow economy, but now, after several months of demonetisation many thing appear crystal clear; the poor in India are the ones that end up worse off, and it appears in parallel those with the capacity to provide digital infrastructure to Modi’s new vision for the rupee are the ones that have prospered most.

Listen to this BBC podcast for a more in-depth report on the fallout from the demonetisation situation in India.

How does India’s Demonetisation differ from Sweden’s recent efforts?

I write this post as Sweden enters its final phases of demonetisation, (which for some reason is being called the “major money changeover” by the Local.) It means that old 1-, 2- and 5-kronor coins, as well as 100-kronor and 500-kronor banknotes, will become invalid after June 30th 2017.

One noticeable difference between the two countries is the pace in which the demonetisation has occurred, India’s transition appears to have happened rather quickly in comparison to Sweden, which began in 2015. Another difference is that Sweden has replaced the old notes with new notes; so the medium of exchange has remained the same, in contrast India’s Modi has pulled the cash out of society and replaced it with an entirely different kind of money which is heavily reliant on digital infrastructure to function properly.

This struck me as quite curious, surely the hard physical cash would have been better in the hands of the Indian population – a society that lacks good reliable digital infrastructure nation wide. Wouldn’t they have benefited from a more accessible currency form? And Sweden – a supposedly already cashless society – introduces new cash notes. Something feels back to front here.

A possible reason could be that, by Modi forcing a new form of money through it may help to encourage development of those needed infrastructures that otherwise are not being built, that’s a bold and disruptive move but could well turn out to be great long term thinking for the country. With those sorts of bold moves there will always be unforeseen side effects in the economy, and from what i have observed so far – for India’s poorest – the worst is yet to come, it will likely be years of downwards mobility before it starts to pick up again, but what gets me, is how many media outlets talk as if its over – it has been done – it’s in the past, try telling the people affected everyday that; I doubt they would agree it’s over, i think they know quite well it has only just begun.

Sweden’s “major money changeover”

So what does Sweden get out of their “major money changeover” or more accurately, their demonetisation plan. Sweden often makes headlines around the world for being such a fantastically cashless utopia and that’s fine if you are pro-cashless, i am not – yet. My own experiences here in Sweden trying to deal with cash have been infuriating to say the least. I have heard numerous stories of persons trying to deposit cash into their own bank account (of which they had been a member since almost birth) and being treated like a suspect in a line up; and the banks will point at the regulators – and the regulators will point back at the banks, or at the EU or some other such entity. Whats apparent is that the bank is the gate keeper, they own and run the channels, therefore they have absolute power over how the channels are used. K.Y.C and other similar regulations are unenforceable if you are the right kind of customer, as we have seen numerous times across the world when it comes to bad banking behaviour; not to even mention the question of data ownership when it comes to the transactional data we all create (big or small) every day.

The Riksbank tells us on its FAQ’s page”

“The banknotes have new security features to make them harder to counterfeit. The older banknotes were designed around 30 years ago and need to be modernised.” For the coins they say: “Firstly, the new coins are much smaller and lighter, which means that the handling costs for coins will be lower than they are now. Secondly, the new coins are completely nickel-free. This eliminates the risk of nickel allergy, which is a problem for many people. Thirdly, there is less environmental impact as fewer transports will be needed for the same value of coins. The new coins are also much cheaper to produce, which means that the Riksbank, and thus the state, has lower costs. By introducing a 2-krona coins, fewer coins will be needed as the 2-krona coin will replace two 1-krona coins in many payments.”

So, some fairly obvious benefits to using the new Swedish Krona coins for the citizen right? Although i was not aware nickel allergy was such an enormous problem in Sweden that it would actually help determine the makeup for the country’s new currency, i certainly learned something today (especially relevant to a film project i am working on at the moment.)

But the counterfeit argument for the notes, i have seen this one time and time again from many well developed modern societies, from Australia to the UK, this idea that you can make a note any more secure than it wants to be seems more theatre than anything else. Counterfeit or not, bad people will keep finding ways of exchanging value, putting an intelligent strip in the note or a GPS beacon on it (which we already have thanks to mobile banking) will likely not deter any criminals from business as usual.

So why do it? why go through that process if it will not necessarily provide immediate improvements for the lives of the citizens of these countries? My theory – for India, it’s a combination of appearing to be both innovative (High tech) to outsiders, and becoming more growth oriented, (Privatisation) regardless of the immediate consequences.

For Sweden, it is likely about reduction in circulation, being able to take a bunch of these notes out of circulation, making it more likely for people to transition over to digital payments, coupled with the appearance of doing something new, everyone seems to get excited when a country issues new currency, i am unsure many bother to think why it’s happening, especially if it does not directly or immediately affect them personally.

Open Letter – BitJoin re-post from 2016

This is a re-post from my bitjoin.me blog posted here on Apr 28, 2016

A letter to the University of Nicosia

Hey guys, i would like to tell you a little about the project i have been working on for the past 18 months. I was also on the MOOC back in 2014 and found it really insightful, i came to the course due to my own interest in trading cryptocurrencies on the exchanges through the winter of 2013/14, eventually getting bored with that i wondered if i might build something useful with this new technology known as blockchain. My idea stems from my time trading all those funky named coins and learning all about the communities behind them and the individual value-twist a new coin would bring to the table, it was a rather wild west time for alt coins and it was fun investigating the various projects and ideas.

Somewhere down the line during October of 2014 i began to realise that there were so many coins being added all the time and the barrier was so low to entry (even i was asked if i wanted my coin registered on Bittrex when all i had was a domain registered and a twitter handle) it made me realise that this technology was going to have a long and troublesome road ahead towards the mainstream especially if a) currencies are so easy to publicise you don’t even need to have one running on a blockchain to be approached by a major exchange and b) validating the persons behind the currency brand, whether a community of enthusiasts or a group of experienced engineers it still remained rather difficult to identify which brands were valid amongst a tidal wave of different coins.

This, coupled with the numerous pump and dump schemes, constant developments of genuine new technologies i.e ColoredCoins / SmartContracts etc, and the just plane inability to understand from the mainstream media made it a super interesting place to be.

I decided the problem i would try to solve is that of having clearly recognisable currencies on exchanges, so that even the laymen could look at an exchange full of cryptocurrencies or hear about a currency and instantly recognise that currency. They key was putting recognisable brands behind those currencies, and its what i have been working on for the last 18 months. Along with five other guys, two in Germany, three including myself in Sweden and one guy in China, we are now beta testing with several small companies here in Sweden, we have soft launched, are facing the market and are set to fully launch in the 3rd quarter of 2016.
To learn more about the project from a brands perspective go to qwids.biz
or as a user you can grab a wallet at qwids.co
we are also building a dedicated test community at qwids.me
We are currently testing the service in Sweden and so the brands available as of now are Swedish but we are looking for people and brands to test the service outside of Sweden also.
Any feedback would be greatly appreciated.
RichTella
rich@qwids.co
qwids.biz

Workshop Meditation

About four years ago i had just arrived to Sweden and was looking for a path forward; a path in which i could enjoy my working day.  I started by upcycling junk that i found at local dump sites, and by collecting building site scrap materials. I documented my works on a blog called MakeMendMakeDo these […]

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FOUNDED – My first micro- doc

After much grappling with the art of story telling and many years of experimentation with video production i have now published my first short documentary.

It is based around interviews i conducted in 2015 with Bitcoin founders, back then i was just starting with producing video; the audio and video are a little sub-par, but i have been informed that viewers will watch if the story is strong enough to hold their attention.

I am hoping to use this first short to raise funds for a follow up film with the same six founders in an effort to show how the landscape has changed since these six founders set out on their journey to build successful companies in the Bitcoin space.

Viewers can help fund the follow up film by donating bitcoin to the documentary fund found here: https://bitjoin.me/bitjoin-documentary-fund

Chance Empathy

Chance plays a rather large role in life in general, we all experience it somehow, some time or another. Lately i have really felt like chances have been arising left right and center for me, i am still not fully sure how they arise or why, but i have a theory that goes something like this:

Connecting with people that are willing to give you a chance, no matter what it is, no matter how strange it may seem at first glance makes me think that somewhere along their own journey they have also experienced the same thing.

Someone, somewhere down the line has given them a chance in the past, and when they look at me they are reminded of a chance they were given. Even if it was twenty years ago, deep down, they recall that person giving them that chance; and how it set them on the path towards where they are today, if you are attentive you can just about hear the nostalgia in their tone when you first speak with them.

I write this because i often wonder why some people even bother with me to the extent that they do, why is this person even interested in what i am trying to do? why should they use up their precious time on my crazy project ideas?

I recently came to the realisation that perhaps they were once in my position and someone gave them a chance to hear them out, and this single chance changed their world and lead them on a path toward something they hold dearly to this day.

It made me feel (if i am accurate in my theory) that the world must be filled with people like this, all able to recall when they were given a chance that helped them realise their potential, and in holding on to that moment, are easily able to give others the chance they need to achieve what they need to achieve.

So something i would suggest looking out for when you meet people who you need to help you unlock a door or even join you on a quest, is empathy.

Can they relate to my struggle?

Does the journey I am on resonate at all with them?

If you look and listen closely you should be able to answer these questions within the first few moments together.

Who’s message is it anyway?

On the 12th of April Strängnäs Tidning reported on Nazi vandalism across Strängnäs city, with people allegedly hitting up 25-30 different places with their message. At first glance it concerned me greatly as i fall under the label of ‘foreigner’ (being from the U.K and looking a little darker due to my father’s Italian roots) and live and work locally. Having experienced some pretty horrific racism in Strängnäs (due to being mistaken as Arab) when i first arrived to Sweden some three years ago, this news conjured up some bad memories, so much so that i was in two minds whether to even publish this post.

What concerned me most about the article when i read it the first time was the numerous full-screen images of the group’s message. (which according to the articles date-stamp were later in the day edited out to leave just one cropped image of the message) The sheer quantity of images in the original publication made me first think – well if these so called ‘Nazi’s’ wanted attention for their cause then this article surely is aiding and abetting them to a certain extent, no? I mean, it’s super important to get this information out there, and to have an informed public, but when it comes to these types of groups trying to get their message out, do we the public really believe that these groups believe old fashioned analogue graffiti is the best way to get their message to reach the maximum amount of people? i doubt it – but it makes for a great photo-op though.

They – as do many groups like them – use social media as a primary way to get their position understood. Graffiti done like this serves to make the public think this is just a juvenile reaction, and to some extent will disregard it as such. These types of events can also serve to hook the local press into unwittingly helping the cause by reporting on it more widely; the results of which can gain more recruits for the cause, and perhaps even increase superficial fear amongst the local inhabitants.

So how to report on such events in the future while being conscious of potentially propagating the message further? I am not sure it’s possible. A reporter’s job is to report what happened, nothing more nothing less; and that’s exactly what Strängnäs Tidning did, only this time in doing so, it can be argued (if only for 5 hours) they aided the cause to some extent – and that, perhaps (with some mixed public reactions) was the reason behind them eventually removing the bulk of the imagery in the article.

Extreme Attention

I have been living in Sweden for a little over three years, the other day something happened that certain communities on the internet and around the world have been suggesting would happen for quite some time. Ever since Sweden made the headlines for supposedly letting in too many syrian refugees in 2015, right up to the recent (ill informed) commentary from one well known power-man in the USA, a man whose name i refuse to utter in this post.

As those of you know by now – a deranged individual drove a truck into a crowd of people killing four and injuring many right in the middle of central Stockholm. When i heard the news i was just minutes out of a meeting with a young Syrian refugee.

I had agreed to meet this person because i had been informed by a colleague that the young Syrian had a dream, a dream in which my colleague believed i could help make a reality. The young man wanted to make a documentary film, a film about what has been happening on the ground in Syria – his goal, in his words – “to bring the truth of the situation in Syria to the Europeans”

Working as a citizen journalist in Syria, he told me he had accumulated over twenty hours of video footage from demonstrations, air strikes and his own journey with the people in which he was able to escape Syria. Naturally, i first asked what are the risks in you pursuing this film project? are your friends and family at risk if you make this film?

He explained to me that he sees no risks, and that his family are in a safe part of Syria, his explanation stumped me immediately; as i was not aware there are any safe places in Syria. I dont pretend to be the most well informed person when it comes to Syria, but the idea there are safe places in Syria took me slightly by surprise.

He wanted help to make a documentary film from the footage he had collected, I did my best to explain the processes involved (having not yet made a documentary myself, but very much in the middle of the very same processes) We parted ways and agreed to meet up again once he had written a synopsis for the documentary in English, so i can begin to see what he sees.

After coming out of that meeting with the young Syrian journalist who was trying to shine a light on what happened in his country; i was immediately approached by a colleague with the sound of a panicked Swedish reporters voice coming from his mobile phone, the broadcast stated there had been people killed in Stockholm due to an terror attack.

I stopped still.

First with that feeling of dread filling my chest, and then recalling back to my very recent conversation with the Syrian refugee.

For a moment both events collided in my mind, on one hand i had just met a man from Syria whose goal was to inform Europeans of the situation on the ground in Syria through the documentary film format, and at the very same time there was another person in Stockholm who had just murdered four people in an effort to have his views brought to attention, off course there was no connection between the two events but it made me think about how attention is acquired in today’s day and age, both in the physical and non-physical spaces we as humans frequent.

When one wants attention for a cause that they feel deeply about, regardless of the cause, one may find themselves asking some unforeseen and unruly questions of themselves, (what could i do to get attention for my cause? what barriers exist for having my cause noticed?) and in doing so potentially draw some very extreme conclusions in order to get the attention they crave.

In a world with so many different groups and individuals all striving and competing for attention around their cause both online and off, has it become the norm for some to use extreme measures to get the attention they desire?