I Don’t Have to Show You Any Stinking Badges!*

June 15, 2011 · 2 comments

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Iwas a Boy Scout, but I never worked my way up the ranks to Eagle scout. That achievement required at least 21 merit badges, a few of which (swimming, lifesaving) were mandatory requirements completely beyond my physical capabilities. It should come as no surprise that I did acquire the cooking merit badge before I gave up on Scouting:

Years later, while reading the Starstruck comics, I was introduced to the fictitious Galactic Girl Guides, a galaxy-spanning network of con artists and grifters whose ranks were filled with young girls. When they weren’t selling Triangle Mint cookies (“Looks like a triangle, tastes like a mint!”), they were working on earning merit badges for skills like Short Con, Pickpocketing, Gambling, and other unsavory activities. I particularly liked their Forgery merit badge, which required the Guide to successfully forge a Forgery merit badge in order to earn it. The self-referentiality of the joke stuck with me long after I had forgotten the rest of the story.

When the Nerd Merit Badges became available I purchased all that I could claim applied to me.

From left to right: Family Help Desk, Inbox Zero, Rubber Duck (“Solved problems by standing there and nodding.”), Homonyms (“Correctly spell words that sound the same”), Been Boinged (“You’ve had a project mentioned on the Great Big Blog!” Yup, I have.), and Printer Hero (which, ironically, has a misprint on its letterpressed heavy card stock holder).

When I saw this post on BoingBoing, I knew I had to have this merit badge; it had that self-referentiality I remembered from the Forgery badge. I’d be able to say “I bought this ‘Bought This Bitcoin Badge With Bitcoins’ badge with Bitcoins.” Little did I know that it would involve more work than any actual merit badge I had previously earned.

Bitcoins are the most recent attempt at establishing a secure online currency, but one that has no central issuing authority. I won’t go into details – there’s enough information online to satisfy your inner cypherpunk geek – but it’s important to note that “no major retailer accepts the currency for payment.” Like any currency, it has a trading exchange, and is subject to value increases and decreases based on the market.

I wanted to purchase two Bitcoins so I could buy two merit badges, and this is where the process got stupidly complicated. My two options were to directly trade US dollars (USD) for Bitcoins (BC) via an online forum where people were offering that service for a small fee, or to create an account at the currency exchange and buy directly. Direct trades looked like scams, so I opted for setting up an account.

None of the currency traders will let you transfer USD from a PayPal account (“They’re evil!”), so I had to set up an account with Dwolla, one of the approved also-ran online payment sites. Just like PayPal, I had to set up routing info from my bank, wait a few days to have random small deposits made into my bank account, report those amounts to Dwolla, and then wait for the new account to be authorized — a process that took a whole week. I transferred $20 to Dwolla, then went to the exchange to buy two Bitcoins, which were trading at about $8.5 USD/1 BC. Dwolla took its percentage of the transaction out of my account, and I was told my purchase was successful. I now had 1.98 Bitcoins. Why 1.98? I was informed “This is because 0.65% of commission is excluded directly from the bitcoin you bought.”, an explanation which is nowhere to be found in the exchange’s help area.

I wasn’t put of the woods yet. I had two Bitcoins, but I had to create them with Bitcoin software, which involved connecting to a distributed network and waiting for enough cycles to elapse to have my currency generated. The result was a unique key, which I mailed to the guys at Nerd Merit Badges, along with an apology for only sending 1.98 BC. Their response?

SERIOUSLY, it’s incredibly difficult, isn’t it? Hence the badge, I was just so damn proud of myself the first time I got my own hands on a couple of bitcoins.

Re: the 1.98. No problem. We will simply take a deep breath near the badges before putting them in the envelope, thereby removing a tiny fraction of their mass through sublimation and offgassing, and will send you both badges 🙂

My ordeal was over, and I received my badges a few days later. At the time I speculated that those badges were probably the only tangible goods one could purchase with Bitcoins, but I was soon proven wrong. An untraceable, distributed currency is ideal for drug trafficking, as reported here. A few days later, this story about an anonymous online market for recreational substances appeared on Gawker. Bitcoins are now worth almost $20 USD each, acquiring value through one of the great American early adopters: drugs and pornography.

I have my badges, I can make my geeky joke, but I hope I never have to use a Bitcoin again. Unless I want to score some crystal meth, which requires a type of cooking I’m unwilling to try at home.

*This is the actual quote from “Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” not “We don’t need no stinking badges!” Proof:

2 comments

JO June 16, 2011 at 3:08 pm

Treasure if the Sierra Madre? Surely that’s the famous 50’s existentialist film-noir, starring Yves Montand as the private eye who can’t decide whether to track down the Maguffin.

David June 16, 2011 at 3:22 pm

Edited to make it the Bogart movie.

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