A while ago, I’ve read some recent news related to technology and hacking. While I was reading articles, I discovered something called bitcoins. Essentially, it is a decentralized currency that is not tied to a specific region or country. This currency is entirely electronic and uses P2P networking for distribution and transactions. Bitcoins can be exchanged for other currencies (e.g. Canadian/US Dollar, Euros, etc.) and can be received by running a bitcoin program that connects to a P2P network, running CPU-intensive algorithms based on trial-and-error to ensure that bitcoins grow at a controlled and predictable rate and to prevent people from gaining bitcoins through fraud. This process is known as “bitcoin mining”.
First of all, I have nothing against bitcoins personally. I think it’s a great concept and anyone interested in finance would enjoy understanding the concept of decentralized currency. From what I’ve read, this is actually encouraging people to think about investments, trading and tracking stocks. I’m surprised to see that people have gone as far as buy thousands of dollars worth of computers filled with powerful GPUs made specifically for bitcoin mining. Someone even got fired for going as far as to use company servers for bitcoin mining.
High investment, low return (at least for me)
I tried bitcoin mining on my laptop, which has a GTX 460 and i7 processor. I was able to get 33 megahashes per second. In lamen’s terms, it is a measurement for how much processing my computer is doing towards gaining bitcoins. The bitcoin client predicted that I would gain 0.0201 bitcoins per day, a small amount despite the exchange rate. Last time I checked, 1 bitcoin = ~$10 USD. Do the math to get one bitcoin and I feel it’s not worth it for me. Of course, if I had more powerful GPUs running, it would be better. This isn’t “free money” and I don’t feel like it’s better than the currency I am already using.
Folding@home and helping research
There are thousands of medical problems that can be solved if medical doctors and scientists could understand how proteins fold and unfold. Folding@home uses a distributed network that any computer or PlayStation 3 can connect to for running calculations that are sent back to a server. These calculations are collected to figure how to make proteins fold back into a healthy form. This research leads to the better understanding and curing of conditions such as diseases, viruses and allergies. This project is backed by the University of Stanford and has been called the largest distributed computing network in the world.
Folding on and off
Ironically, Folding@home is closed source, while the source behind Bitcoin is open. Whenever the oppotunity presents itself, I’ll dedicate some of my computer time for folding. For example, if I’m going to sleep or work, I’ll set my computer to start folding during that time. I don’t keep track of the folding work or join any particular teams; I just fold whatever I can to contribute something to the project.
Damn you, NCIX!
I remember a long time ago, NCIX had a contest that they’d give a video card to someone who was folding for their folding team. Folding teams are a friendly and competitive method of encouraging people to fold. Anyways, I have to give them my folding user name so they can match it with my NCIX account and get their approval. THEN SIX MONTHS AFTER THE CONTEST ENDED, THEY APPROVED MY NAME! When I complained about this, they told me that there was an issue with their messaging system and many people were in the same situation. I just thought I should mention this; it’s a funny story and it shows anyone reading this that I haven’t forgotten this. Other than that, NCIX is a great place for buying electronics online.
The concept behind bitcoins is very fascinating and its concepts are interesting. I have no idea how this will evolve, with its anonymous nature, CPU/GPU-intensive requirements and perceived legal questions. The Electronic Frontier Foundation abandoned bitcoins because of the unknown legalities behind it. If anyone is profiting from this, I’m very impressed. It’s just not for me. Folding@home is much older, larger and its purpose contributes to the world. The value of folding research is priceless. I’m not willing to spend money for power-hungry hardware for bitcoins. Why not use that hardware I already have for a short time to contribute to something that could change the world for the better? Unless, someone wants to raise bitcoins for medical research…