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    We are big Chris Stapleton fans, and we have taken his song “Traveler” to heart… Yes, we are travelers on this earth, sure as our heart’s behind the pockets of our shirts. But, as with everything we do, we must add a techie twist. Sorry, Chris! So, we thought we would share our favorite travel-related web sites and apps for looking for travel deals and travel opportunities.
    Most of the time, we use our connected devices to find travel for a planned trip. When we do, we want to use the site as a travel agent replacement, that is, to find the cheapest, fastest, and most comfortable flight.
    Google Flights, Kayak, and ITA Software Matrix
    Each of these search sites are great, but we lump them together because we are told they are all powered by Google’s ITA. In our opinion, the best of the three is Google Flights. Why? It is very fast and gives the best variety of cheap flights to your selected destination. It may not always find the cheapest fare, but it is always very close. Its speed makes up for any other shortcomings. In addition, it provides a feature called “Explore.” When you are thinking about traveling to a general area and not a specific destination, it will let you compare prices for various months and compare prices to fly into cities in the destination area. This feature really helps when you are beginning to plan a trip. The main drawback is that none of these sites include Southwest in its searches—a drawback for Nashville travelers. But none do, except Southwest, which is why you should always check Southwest separately.
    Many folks we know love Momondo. One reason is that it really works well on mobile devices. Its interface is simple—at the top, it displays the cheapest, quickest, and best flight price points. Click on one of those choices and it will display the flights within that price range, or you can review flights by carrier, times, and price. Above the search results, the top row will display three different price points: cheapest, quickest, and best. Clicking on either of those three prices will take you to the flights within the price range. Or, you can scroll through the results, as Momondo will show the results by the carrier, flight times, and price. It also supplies a “happiness” rating for each flight on a 10-point scale. One other advantage of searching with Momondo is that you can compare prices with other search engines without leaving Momondo—a pretty cool feature.
    The one app we continue to love is Hipmunk, as it is especially informative in selecting flight reservations. We love the way Hipmunk displays the available flights based on a scale ranking the flights from least painful to most painful—taking into account the price, layover, departure, and arrival times. We started using Hipmunk several years ago just for airline reservations. However, as the app has evolved, you can now use it to book your entire trip with just a click of a button. Hipmunk really has become a digital travel assistant. It lacks some of the features of other web search sites, but it works great. Besides, we love the name.
    Sometimes you just want to get the “hell out of Dodge” as when the bartender (or a loved one) tells you “I don’t care where you go, but you can’t stay here.” These sites allow you to go somewhere—anywhere cool to cool your jets—at a good price. But be careful, some of these sites receive terrible reviews. Look before you leap.
    Airfare Watchdog
    We think Airfare Watchdog is the best of these sites that ask the question, “Where do you want to go?” We really like the feature “Today’s Top Fares.” It displays the top 50 cheapest fares that it can find available at any given moment. It’s also allows you to compare dates, departure and arrival cities, and even deals from select airlines—even Southwest on occasion. The interface can be clunky at times, but when your better half tells you to leave, you should visit this site.
    The Flight Deal
    When you don’t have to leave immediately, you can use The Flight Deal. It provides you with some unbelievable deals, especially if you follow it on Twitter. But be careful, it can be addictive. Before you know it, you could be traveling all the time, like Jim Kelley. Flight Deal will make you decide to travel to places you’ve never heard of before. Using The Flight Deal is a bit more complicated, though. It uses ITA Software Matrix to locate the flights, but you must go to the airline’s site to actually book the flight. (Many times, that is the best way to book a flight anyway, once you have identified the flight you want to take.) You can also build in layover times in your searches using ITA Matrix.
    There are times when you want to travel, but your pockets are empty because you spent too much of your hard-earned cash on buying gadgets you read about in our column. We feel your pain. When that happens, but you still want to travel, try these sites.
    We are fans Hopper. We had already experimented with it, with some success. Now, though, they really have sucked us in. Earlier this year it partnered with several airlines to provide what it calls “Secret Fares.” We love this concept, as these secret fares are sometimes much cheaper than published fares, and Hopper contends that the feature is consumer friendly because it tends to drive prices down. In any event, Hopper does a great job of alerting you when fares to a given city drop, and lets you know to go ahead and buy. Again, it does not include Southwest fares.
    Scott’s Cheap Flights
    Scott Keyes follows airline prices like a hawk, just like Phil follows the prices on Microsoft products. So, join the Scott’s Cheap Flights email list. He alerts his subscribers to deals he uncovers with his internet bots, trolling for deals, some of which are dirt cheap. If you become a premium subscriber for $39 a month (which seems a bit out of character for cheap people), you will be the first to know. Some of these deals disappear with hours, or even minutes, especially when the airlines realize they have made a mistake.
    Happy Traveling. See you next month.
    Summer is a time when many folks disconnect from their electronics and enjoy the outdoors. Not us. We do enjoy all the outdoor summer activities, but we take our gadgets along with us to enhance the fun. So, if you are looking for some cool gadgets to take with you on summer vacation, read on. If you are determined to divorce yourself from all electronics during the summer break, we’ll see you in the Fall.
    Dreamix Solar Bluetooth Speaker
    We know a trip to the beach or the pool is just not complete without some great music to enjoy in the sun. The Dreamix Solar Bluetooth Speaker is the perfect gadget to take with you. First of all—as Bluetooth speakers go—it is cheap ($27 on Amazon) and still sounds great. But even more impressively, the Dreamix has a built-in solar panel that keeps it charged when in the sunlight (perfect for the beach). Furthermore, the speaker with its protective rubber cover, is splash proof and will survive an accidental drop in the pool. It even has a built-in microphone so you can use it as a speakerphone if you just have to take a call from the office while at the beach. But who wants to do that? We said we would take our gadgets with us on vacation but we didn’t promise to take any work calls.
    Embr Wave
    This gadget is making waves for sure, no pun intended. Developed by a team of MIT grads and crowd sourced on Kickstarter, the Embr Wave band is a dream come true for those who can’t seem to get cool in the summer even with the A/C blasting at full capacity. The Embr Wave is a wristband that can trick your body into thinking you are cooler or warmer than you actually are. With the touch of a button, you can cause your brain to think “cooler” or “warmer.” It sounds like hocus-pocus, but the concept is actually based on solid scientific facts. We won’t get into the science behind how it works (mainly because we don’t understand it). We just know that somehow, it works. So, if you are the one who is perpetually sweating at the pool or freezing under a full-on A/C attack, you might try taking the Embr Wave with you vacation.
    Bose SoundSport Wireless Earbud
    We may have finally found the best truly wireless earbud solution. The Bose Soundsport is essential equipment when we go for a run, bike ride, or just a day at the lake. There are no wires to tangle us up—and once we pair the SoundSport Earbuds to our phone—the sound quality is excellent. The one feature we especially like is that the earbuds do not fall out of our ears, regardless of how rigorous the activity we’re engaged in.
    FitBit Ionic / Versa
    Summer is a great time to spike our exercise activity, and FitBit has many gadgets that can track and motivate us to stay on track with healthy exercise habits. We especially like the latest smart watch releases from FitBit, the Ionic and the Versa. These smart watches are comfortable to wear and are packed with features that we like and use regularly. Besides tracking everything from distance traveled and heart rate to sleeping patterns, we can use these smart watches to listen to music, receive notifications, and make payments.
    Livall Bling Smart Helmet
    If you are a bicyclist, you can combine safety and technology with the Livall Bling Smart Helmet. This helmet is equipped with built-in LED lights, Bluetooth speaker, microphone, and an integrated riding app. You can communicate easily with your riding partners with the speaker and microphone. A built-in safety feature will automatically issue an SOS alert if the helmet senses that you are in an accident. After trying out the Livall Smart Helmet, we wonder why we were satisfied with “dumb” helmets for so long.
    For those of us who will be flying to our summer vacation destination, the Modobag is an incredibly smart carry-on bag that is sure to catch everyone’s attention in the terminal. Not only is the Modobag decked out with all the smart luggage features, such as special compartments for your electronics, USB charging ports, and LED lights; but it also doubles as a vehicle. That’s right, you can actually ride the motorized Modobag to your gate. Topping out at a speed of 8 mph and a range of 8 miles on a full battery charge, you can zip through the hordes of walkers in the airport and get to your gate up to three times faster than walking. Ridable smart luggage is something we never thought we would see or use, but it is now all the rage.
    Opal Nugget Ice Maker
    For those who enjoy a cold summer beverage, ditch those plastic bags of convenience store ice cubes so clumped together you need an icepick and a hammer in order to make a drink. Use the Opal Nugget Ice Maker instead. Most ice makers produce hard, smooth cubes, but this cool countertop machine uses a unique compression process to produce the chewable nuggets you get in bars and restaurants. You can even connect to it with your phone to control it remotely and check the ice level.
    In the April/May issue of the Nashville Bar Journal, we reviewed Zoom, a free videoconference and audioconference service you can use on your computer, smartphone, or tablet. With Zoom, you can use the built-in camera on your device or the Logitech HD Pro Webcam C920 if you want to display your ugly mug in HD. The problem is the built-in microphones and speakers on your devices are usually not that great, especially if you have several persons speaking on your end. For a high-end experience, you need a better microphone and speaker for your Zoom audio and videoconferences (or conferences using other services, such as Skype, GoToMeeting, etc.). The Soundlink Micro ($99 on Amazon) and the eMeet M1 ($180 on Amazon) are two good options for improving your audio experience for what we will collectively call “econferences.” Both have advantages and disadvantages.
    eMeet OfficeCore M1 Conference Speaker
    The eMeet OfficeCore is specifically designed for econferences (perfect for meetings with 10 people or less). By using a multiple microphone array, it will pick up sound from any direction. Any person sitting within six feet of the microphone will be heard clearly during the call or videoconference. The blue light around the edge of the device lights up in the direction of the speaker, making it is easy to follow the conversation.
    The OfficeCore can be connected via Bluetooth, but our best results came when we tethered it via a micro USB cable. It was very easy to set up, and it has amazing batter life (about 12 hours). You can also use it to charge your devices via a USB connection, which comes in very handy when you are using a smartphone or a tablet. It is compatible with every device we have (which is about everything on the market today), and also doubles as a Bluetooth speaker to play music or audio when playing back from your phone or tablet. But, music playback on the OfficeCore M1 is clearly inferior to most Bluetooth speakers.
    The compact design of the OfficeCore makes it an excellent travel “ecompanion” when you anticipate having to join conference calls from the road. It comes with its own carrying case, and is about the size of a hockey puck. (We hope that does not evoke bad memories for you Predators fans.)
    There is no echo for the person on the receiving end of the econference, as is the case with most conference speakers (including the Bose Soundlink Micro). When used for its intended purpose—econferences—the OfficeCore provides a great experience, though it does come with a hefty price tag.
    Bose SoundLink Micro
    As all of our readers know, we love Bluetooth speakers. We are certain that we own more than 20 between the two of us. So, when the SoundLink Micro went on sale for $99, we both ordered one immediately. We were not disappointed.
    The quality of the sound when playing back music is incredible for its size. We could not believe the bass response, the loudness, and the clarity—even outdoors. Robben Ford has never sounded better to us (and he always sounds great).
    And speaking of outdoors, it is waterproof. It is very rugged and resists scratches and nicks. It has a neat strap that allows you to clip it to most anything, including a briefcase or a backpack.
    We liked it so much, we decided to see if it could compare to the OfficeCore M1. As a speakerphone device, the SoundLink is clearly inferior. The recipient of the econference will hear a slight echo in the speaker’s voice and the microphone is not nearly as sensitive as the OfficeCore’s multiple speakers, requiring you to be be much closer to the Soundlink to be heard. In addition, the SoundLink’s battery lasts about six hours. (But, isn’t that long enough for any econference?)
    As a playback speaker, though, it blows the OfficeCore away, as expected. And, for most small econferences, the SoundLink is more than adequate for the job. So, if you are traveling and want a good speaker to kick out the jams in your hotel room or on the beach, the SoundLInk is a perfect traveling companion.
    The bottom line is that both devices work great for their intended purposes and reasonably well for their “add on” features. The Office Core, combined with a good camera and Zoom can give you a videoconference solution that would have cost thousands of dollars in recent years. The Soundlink is a great addition to the Bill and Phil Bluetooth collection because of its size, durability, and audio quality. No surprises here, just good products.
    We have always wanted to have a high-end professional drone of our own. However, our collective flying skills are so horrible that we were afraid to shell out the necessary cash for a state-of-the-art drone—for fear that we would crash the drone and lose our money. But when we went to CES this year, we saw the DJI Mavic Pro and our jaws dropped. We had to have one, and that was all there was to it. So, we shelled out $1,000 and bought it, and it was a great decision.
    Upon its arrival, we unpacked our drone and marveled at its form factor. The entire drone is compact and easily transportable—it folds up into a small package that is about the size of a subway sandwich. (You can also buy a small pouch to carry it.) We will admit that we studied the User’s Guide in detail for fear that we would crash our new toy, but actually, piloting the Mavic Pro is easily learned and very intuitive.
    In essence, this is all you have to do: unfold the remote and attach your smartphone to it; make the connection between the remote controller and the drone; and then start up the DJI Go 4 software on your smartphone. The screen on the smartphone allows you to instruct the Mavic Pro to tell it where “home” is. (You merely push the “home” button.) Magically, the Mavic Pro then knows the exact location for its return. You then press another button telling the drone to take off. It will ask if you are “sure you want to take off” on the screen of your smartphone. Then, you slide the control on your phone’s screen to make the drone take off. It hovers about five feet off the ground while waiting for your commands from the remote control and your smartphone. Then things get really interesting.
    We took the Mavic Pro out to Bill’s farm and flew it to follow the path of the Big Hickory Creek behind the farmhouse. The image from the Mavic Pro’s 4K, 20 megapixel camera was stunning on the smartphone.
    We flew the drone so far over the top of Big Hickory Creek that we could no longer see the drone. We could only watch the camera image on the smartphone screen to determine its location. After we had flown the drone about a mile away from us, we lost our nerve and used the controls to turn it around and bring it back home. It supposedly has a four-mile range, but we were not sure what would happen if we flew it that far away. The drone is also very fast, and can reach speeds up to 40 miles per hour and flies for approximately 30 minutes on one battery charge.
    After we turned the drone around and began flying it back home, it stopped and announced over the speaker on our smartphone that it had encountered an obstacle stopped. It appeared to us that it was too close to a tree branch, so we merely commanded the Mavic Pro to go up another 10 or 20 feet and then commanded it to continue flying. It resumed its flight path and headed back. As we could hear the drone coming before we could see it, we touched the home button on the smartphone screen to command the Mavic Pro to return home. Dutifully, it headed back to the spot we had designated as “home.”
    The drone returned to that destination and hovered five feet over ground and asked—via the screen on the smartphone—if we wanted to land. We answered “yes,” and it landed perfectly. Miraculously, we had successfully flown the Mavic Pro without any damage to the drone whatsoever.
    We then downloaded the camera footage and watched it on a 4K laptop screen. Suffice it to say, the video was stunning. The DJI Go 4 app on our smartphone allowed us to edit the video and add music from the built-in music library that seemed appropriate for a video of Big Hickory Creek during a flood stage. We marveled at the ease of the editing and sound-tracking capabilities of the app.
    There are so many neat features on the Mavic Pro, but we were only able to test out a few of them. You can enable automated flight modes, fine-tune the obstacle avoidance system (although the default obstacle avoidance system worked incredibly well), instruct it to fly around a point of interest in a perfect circle, and instruct it to fly a pre-set pattern. You can even instruct the Mavic Pro to follow you wherever you go, or follow a selected person or any other moving object, such as a car or even a deer or coyote.
    The return home feature is quite impressive. Although we did not test it out, if the communication between the Mavic Pro and the remote is disrupted, the Mavic Pro will automatically return to its take-off point and land. If the Mavic Pro is running low on battery power, it will return home and land before it runs out of power.
    You can also fly the Mavic Pro without the remote controller and simply use your smartphone. You must switch the drone to fly via Wi-Fi controls from your smartphone. This feature, along with the so-called Tripod Mode, will allow you to fly the drone indoors without endangering anyone. With a little practice, we think we can fly the Mavic Pro at our next Bill & Phil Show. If you come see us, don’t forget to duck!
    Many of you have asked about the slowing down of older iPhones and battery-related problems. Interestingly, this issue was first put on everyone’s radar screen by Tyler Barney, a teenager from Mt. Juliet, Tennessee. Barney had noticed older iPhones were slowing down for some unknown reason. He first looked to see if he should update the Operating System, but that did not work. So next he replaced the battery, and he noticed that it sped up. He, therefore, concluded that the slowdown in the phone was created by a degradation of the iPhone’s lithium ion battery. He shared his analysis on Reddit, and that post went viral.
    He was exactly right. The question then becomes: “Did Apple do this as a method to sell more new iPhones, or was it really an effort to assist its older iPhone users. Here is what happened according to Apple? You decide.
    Apple posted an apology and provided its solution for the problem.
    Apple decided to provide users with “power management” without telling its users about it. According to Apple, if your phone has a really old or degraded battery, your phone may have a list of symptoms that indicate a reduction in performance, such as longer time to load applications, background refreshing that requires reloading the application, dimming of the backlight, reduced speaker volume, and so forth. These referenced “symptoms” were programmed by Apple to occur in later versions of the operating system when loaded on phones with reduced power, thereby slowing down the phone. According to Apple, they only did this to allow users to have a “better experience”. The problem is that Apple took all of these actions without informing users they were doing it.
    Apple’s secrecy on this issue and the ensuing criticism obviously has stung the smartphone. In response, Apple has launched a battery replacement service at $29 per battery, but the users are required to bring their phones to an Apple Store for the fix. Replacing the battery of your older model iPhone will normally fix the problem.
    We agree that Apple should have been more open and transparent about its “power management”, but it probably was a good idea that protected older iPhones from random shutdowns and component damage. We bet that from now on, Apple will tell everyone before they start monkeying with the iPhone’s performance behind our backs.
    $1000 iPhone? «X (pronounced «Ten») Marks the Spot»
    by Bill Ramsey & Phillip Hampton
    A cell phone that costs as much as a computer? Really? We love our gadgets, but even a couple of gadget spendthrifts like us found the price for the new iPhone X shocking. But, we bought one anyway. (It actually cost us $1149.)
    Many of the features of the X are brand new. First the visuals. There is no “home” button. It has been replaced by the soon-to-be infamous “notch.” There is no bezel. The 5.8-inch display covers the entire front; it just has a very thin frame around the screen. It looks a lot like a Samsung Galaxy 8 (which we bought earlier this year), except its frame is stainless steel, instead of aluminum. It has an OLED screen that has superior contrast and brightness and is easier to view at an angle. The screen is big, but because it has no bezel, the phone is not big.
    On to use and performance. You no longer unlock the phone with your fingerprint. It unlocks with Face ID. Yes, it is true that Samsung has “been there done that,” but Apple’s Face ID actually works better than Samsung’s. Face ID is easy to set up and easy to use. (When you set it up, it makes a 3D scan of your face, so it even works at an angle.) It is not perfect, but it works very, very well. Still, it is something you will have to get used to if you are accustomed to the fingerprint scan. The real problem is that Face ID uses a camera placed in a “notch” at the top of the phone. When you view items “full screen”, the “notch” gets in the way.
    The X is clearly designed with the new iOS 11 in mind. Instead of pressing the home button you swipe up from the bottom of the screen. To get the Control Center, you swipe from the upper right of the screen. A left-swipe still takes you to the camera. There are several other gesture and control changes that you have to learn, and it takes some getting used to.
    The phone is very, very fast—probably the fastest mobile phone you can buy. It uses a new chipset, the A11 Bionic. If you are a “phone gamer” you will be in heaven. However, the speed and the larger display does not sacrifice battery life. In this area, the X is a vast improvement over the iPhone 7, which, in our experience, pooped out battery-wise too soon. Also, like the new Samsung Galaxy phones, the X charges wirelessly, but, unlike those phones it does not support fast wireless charges speeds. Apple says it will support that feature very soon.
    So, the $1000 question—is the X worth the price? That is up to you. If you do not like abrupt changes, and if you don’t like a sometimes steep learning curve, save your money and get the iPhone 8. In fact, one could argue that the 8 is a better phone for most people’s purposes. The “notch” is annoying and the X really can’t do anything that other smart phones can’t do. But, we are gadget nerds, and we spend money to play with new stuff and experiment. Sometimes it seems we enjoy being annoyed with quirky toys. Bill believes the X is the future of the iPhone, and he has enjoyed the expensive taste of his new toy. (Phil says he will stick with his dependable and technically advanced Samsung Galaxy 8.)
    —Bill & Phil
    September 2017
    Bitcoin, Ether, Cryptocurrency & Such
    by Bill Ramsey & Phillip Hampton
    Yes, we know—Cryptocurrency is not a “gadget.” We do love our gadgets, but we love money, too, because it can buy us more gadgets. So, writing about Bitcoin, Ether, and other cryptocurrency seems a natural fit for our monthly gadget. And, since this topic is so nerdy, it really appeals to us.
    Some say cryptocurrency is the future of “money.” Some say all cryptocurrencies are Ponzi Schemes. Everyone agrees it is a very trendy topic. Banks, accounting firms, governments, and securities firms are all researching the topic, and many do not understand the basic concepts behind it.
    We believe that Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, are a logical step in the evolution of “money.” In cave man days, we traded goods. Then, as we evolved and became more “civilized” we used precious goods, such as salt, silver or gold, or even whiskey as “money.” Next, we created coins out of precious metals, and later backed paper money with the equivalent amount of precious metal, such as gold or silver. Remember “Silver Certificates” or when Nixon took us off the gold standard for our currency in the 1970s? Since that time, our money is purely “fiat money”—or currency without any intrinsic value established as money by government regulation or law. And now, we rarely use cash or coins—we use credit cards, PayPal or Venmo, or Apple Pay—as most spending transactions are now digital. When we pony up for one of our gadgets, we just plop down our credit cards. We pay with “digital cash.”
    With credit cards, Venmo, PayPal, etc., you need a payment network with accounts, balances, and transactions. And to make them work, you need to have a trusted record keeper to keep track of the transactions to prevent double-spending and to verify balances, etc. An inventor who used the fake name, Satoshi Nakamoto, figured it out.
    The solution is the use of “Blockchain” technology that you may have heard about. With Blockchain, there is no centralized ledger. Instead, Blockchain technology uses a network of peers. Every peer has a record of the complete history of all transactions and thus of the balance of every account. Theoretically, the peers do not trust one another, so there can be no cheating. The transaction is known almost immediately by the whole network. But the transaction needs to be confirmed.
    If a transaction is unconfirmed, it is pending and can be forged. When a transaction is confirmed, it is set in stone and is no longer forgeable—it can’t be reversed. Transactions such as credit card transactions use a single record keeper, and those transactions can be reversed. Not so with Blockchain or Bitcoin transactions. Once confirmed, they are set in stone.
    So, you ask, how do transactions get confirmed? The only way they can be confirmed are by so-called “miners.” This is their job in a cryptocurrency-network. They take transactions, stamp them as legit, and spread them in the network. After a transaction is confirmed by a miner, every node must add it to its database. It has become part of the blockchain. For this job, the miners get rewarded with a token of the cryptocurrency, for example, with Bitcoins.
    How do miners “mine?” They compete to solve a cryptologic puzzle for the transaction. After they solve the puzzle, they add it to the Blockchain and it is set in stone. After finding a solution, a miner can build a block and add it to the blockchain. Mining requires a specific amount of computing power. Once “mined” and there is a consensus in the network, no one on the network can break or change the transaction. These cryptocurrency transactions are irreversible, are not identified with any individual (pseudonymous), and are secure. The transactions are very fast and no one has to give permission for them (other than verification by miners).
    The blockchain technology that ensures the veracity and security of cryptocurrency transactions is also getting the notice of the legal technology world. Many envision blockchain being utilized by lawyers for smart contracts as well as other law firm administrative processes. In fact, we believe that in the near future, we will see blockchain being implemented in a number of industries across the global economy. Is this technology the magic bullet for all the cybersecurity ills that plague us today? Probably not, but we do believe it potentially is a big step forward in ensuring secure and legal transactions.
    There are several different “species” of cryptocurrencies… Bitcoin, Ethereum (Ethers), Ripple (not the wine), Litecoin, Monero, Dash, Augur, and more. There are markets that trade in all of them and they all have value on the open market. Cryptocurrencies are not legal everywhere, but they are legal in the United States. On March 25, 2014, the United States Internal Revenue Service (IRS) ruled that Bitcoin will be treated as property for tax purposes as opposed to currency. In fact, for tax purposes, they are treated much like precious metals, such as gold. This ruling had the side benefit of confirming the legality of cryptocurrency in the United States.
    Well, that was your primer on cryptocurrency. Now, we must fire up our computers and “mine” some Bitcoin so we can buy more gadgets.