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Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Bitcoin newbie

Bitcoin (and many other cryptocurrencies) has been around now for many years, and after initially (still) being mostly used for nefarious activities and 'dark web' purchases (or maybe just geeks), it now seems to be getting more main stream. So I decided it was about time I had a play around with the ins and out of using Bitcoin. (I'll use the singular, as with 1 BTC currently being 'worth' about A$1547.59 I'm unlikely to have more than a fraction of one BTC any time soon).

To get started I first created a free Bitcoin 'wallet' on my smart phone (I chose to use Copay, but there myriad wallet apps out there - with a range of features, security, ease-of-use, platform availability, cost, etc.). So far so good, but having a wallet with 0 BTC in it isn't much use so I next had to look into how to get some Bitcoin to fill my 'wallet'...

Being a tight-arse I'm not about to spend any real money to 'buy' a Bitcoin, and I'm not sure that using my credit card on a site 'selling' bitcoins would be prudent. So, how to get some Bitcoins into my 'wallet'?

Well, the first (easiest) option seemed to be to install a free 'bitcoin maker' app onto my phone, and use it to 'earn' some BTC. Real 'mining' of Bitcoins isn't viable on a smart phone or even on a high spec PC (unless you join a pool and are content to earn a fraction of a fraction of a Bitcoin, probably worth less than the electricity spent on the computations). So the 'mining' app I've downloaded seems to do no actual 'mining', but instead requires tapping a button every 10 or 30 minutes to 'earn' 500 Satoshi (a 'Satoshi' is one 100 millionth of a Bitcoin, so 500 Satoshi is worth about 0,77c). When they are 'available' tapping the button also displays a 30s ad (presumably that is where the app developer is getting the funds to actually purchase some BTC). I seen numerous trailers for the movie 'Rings(3)', some road safety ads, and a large number of variants of candy crush/tetris... On second thoughts, while the app was easy to install, it certainly was easy to 'earn' the minimum 500,000 Satoshi required to make a withdrawal request. As it took about two weeks to 'earn' that half-million Satoshi (worth around A$10), I certainly won't get rich that way. I've also yet to see that transfer of funds arrive in my Bitcoin 'wallet' (according to the app it should take 'up to 10 days' for the transaction to be processed/added to the blockchain).

One thing I noticed in the first week of using this App was that the ads were using up a significant amount of my phone's monthly data plan (I ran out of data before the end of the month), so I now only turn on my mobile phone Data Connection via 3G when I don't have the Bitcoin mining app running. I initially thought that the 500kS minimum required to make a withdrawal was simply there to ensure the developer got maximum 'breakage' from users that loose interest before reaching the redemption threshold, but since then I've learned that each 'transfer' of Bitcoins incurs a small transaction fee (the amount depends on what priority/speed the transaction processing is assigned), which means that extremely small transactions would cost more to process than they are worth. Tapping the App every ten minutes soon gets very tedious, but its the sort of thing you don't mind doing while watching TV or going for a walk.

A second way of getting some BTC into my 'wallet' is to get people to 'donate' some -- so, in case any reader happens to use Bitcoins, here is a QR code for my 'wallet': some small test transaction would be nice ;)
( 11324np9vhfsWKaqrYHutakZxjqSgSQQrv )
Apparently this Bitcoin address is 'single use'. So after receiving a 'payment' via this address, a new one was generated for my Copay 'wallet', While that apparently is a good security/privacy feature, and would suit a merchant seeking a single payment (for example, for an invoice to be paid in BTC), it doesn't seem suited for use as a permanent 'donate' button on a blog etc.

I've yet to see if subsequent transactions made using this ID get processed OK...







A third way of getting some Bitcoins is to 'mine' them (a complex calculation to solve a 'block' which results in a set amount of Bitcoins to be created - currently 12.5 BTC/block). But to do that at a reasonable rate would require purchasing specialized hardware, which tends to become outdated/non-competitive very rapidly, so the pay-back period calculation is rather uncertain. The economics of 'mining' for Bitcoin is dependent on the cost of electricity (hence many Bitcoin mining 'farms' are places with sources of cheap power, such as Greenland).

I did install one 'Bitcoin Mining' App on my Windows Laptop, which 'mines' as part of a 'pool'. It does seem to actually be working (at a snail's pace), accumulating around 4,000 Satoshi worth of Bitcoin every second day (the minimum amount that gets automatically swept out of the account daily is 2,370 Satoshi, as apparently that is the smallest transaction value that can be processed). At least that transaction did appear in my Copay 'wallet' the next day - so I currently have a balance of 0.000032 BTC in my 'wallet' ;) The Mining app can be setup on up to ten different devices (using the same account details), so in theory I could have my various PCs 'mining' around 20,000 Satoshi/day (worth around 40c!). But the extra power usage would probably cost more than the Bitcoin production is worth.

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