Blog / Beginning Bitcoin

I’ve been messing around with Bitcoin. As someone who cares about usability and trustworthiness on the web it’s a nightmare and in dire need of disruption. Weird, right? Bitcoin is actually super trustworthy and itself a disruption to so many fields.

But the apps are terrible on Windows and Mac. The only marginally usable wallet app I’ve found is MultiBit. It’s written in Java and a little clunky, but the fact that it’s cross-platform is a comfort. I made an address and encrypted the hell out of it. Seems a little weird that it doesn’t have to download the whole blockchain to synchronize, but I don’t know the full story of how Bitcoin works.

I do know a bit. Michael Neilsen’s blog has a great explanation of Bitcoin’s fundamentals.

Once you’ve got a wallet you probably want a few bitcoins. Or maybe a fraction of one since they’re about a thousand dollars right now. I went to Mt. Gox and discovered that you have to submit your driver’s license and a utility bill before you can run transactions on that site. Then wait at least ten business days. Ah ha ha. Maybe I’ll do some mining?

In that case your experience will be even worse. Don’t bother to mine solo, it’s impossible. Instead, join one of the super sketchy pools on the Internet. If you enjoy updating your router’s firmware you’ll be right at home in the 1999-era pool websites.

Then you have to select a mining program and configure it to talk to the pool. Again, dozens of choices, but none of the are even decent. GUIMiner seems to work, but it’s too aggressive and the pool I was using started complaining. I eventually settled on an old version of CGMiner, a command-line app, which shows the poor quality of the graphical versions.

Then away with the mining! For some reason my computer tends to get quieter when it’s doing heavy processing. This wasn’t touching my CPU, but my GPU was figuratively on fire. I put my hand behind the video card’s output and felt the fires of Balthazar. The mouse dragged slowly across the screen and Chrome was sluggish to render pages so I let it run overnight.

In the morning I went to my pool’s website to discover I had earned… zero bitcoins! Yaaay what?

Turns out we weren’t mining any actual bitcoins. And even on these crapcoins I had turned in a pitiful performance compared to the rest of the group. For eight hours of mining I did I would have to spend 1/3 of it on a transaction fee for whatever theoretical bitcoins might come of it. Interesting.

Bitcoin has a strange, bright future, folks. It just might cost you $1K to get started.