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23 Nov 2013
Due to the ever inflating Bitcoin bubble, I'd spent $20 to buy what after commissions was about $18 worth of Bitcoins, but between Monday and Friday the price went up enough so that even after buying two coffees for about $5, what I had left was worth about $21. The vending machine said its minimum buyback was $20, so I figured I was in luck.
The process was, for Bitcoins, intended to be relatively straightforward. I selected the option to sell bitcoins, stuck my hand in to verify my palm print, and it recognized me. I said I wanted to sell $20 worth, it said to send it 0.06039 bitcoins, and printed out a ticket with a QR code for the transaction to send them to. My wallet is in my Android tablet, which is chronically bad at reading QR codes, so I eventually typed in the amount and the wallet ID, and sent it off, with the usual 0.0005 fee to get a Bitcoin miner to publish the transaction more quickly. Then it said to go away until it could verify that I'd sent the coins and come back later.
I came back about five minutes later, and that's when I ran into trouble. I stuck my hand in, and it said stick it in again. It took a while to realize it didn't recognize my hand, so it was making me a new palmprint account, come back in a minute after we've approved the account.
I did, now it recognized me with the new account (I gave it different contact e-mail addresses, so I could tell which version of me it thought I was), but when I scanned the ticket, well, you lose. Old me sold them the bitcoins, but new me was trying to redeem the ticket. Grr. Repeated attempts to scan, wiggle my hand, etc., didn't help. My long streak of breaking computers merely by standing near them continued.
This story does have sort of a happy ending. I wrote to the contact address on the screen, sending them a picture of the ticket, the contact e-mail addresses and a link to the Bitcoin transaction. Since I'd left Vancouver by then, I asked them to send my Bitcoins back.
They promptly responded, said I seemed to have found a new bug in the machine, please wait a day while they figure out whether the machine will refund automatically or they have to do it. A day later, they sent back my bitcoins, still minus the 0.0005 mining fee, of course.
The happy ending is that the bubble inflated still more, and the Bitcoins in my wallet are now worth about $51. Except that it turns out that if you don't have a vending machine handy, it's really hard to cash in modest amounts of Bitcoins. MtGox, the best known site, charges 2.50€ per withdrawal to a Euro bank account and ¥2000 (about $20) for a dollar bank wire, and they say their withdrawals are all running four to six weeks behind.
The vending machine people say their next one will be in Toronto, so I guess I'll look for it the next time I'm up that way.
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