Tag Archives: Litecoin

Understanding Bitcoins: Cryptocurrency Mining Equipment and Preparation

In the previous post of this series, I explained that you can make your own money in cryptocurrencies. That’s right, you make your own money. Feel free to read it again so I don’t have to repeat myself.

This may not be for the faint of heart, though, and will require that you do some research. In the end, your cost may exceed your earnings, so you don’t want to based your pension on mining coins unless you’re prepared to spend considerable time preparing.

For the purposes of this article, I’ll be using examples from mining Litecoins. Litecoins is a cryptocurrency, a younger and much smaller brother of Bitcoin, that uses a slightly different algorithm for mining than its big brother. I’ll explain more later in the article.

Oh, and the article is written in mid-April 2013, so chances are high that the numbers will be wildly different at a later date (better or worse; it will likely be different).

Mining for Money

In terms of cryptocurrencies (of which Bitcoin is the major player), mining refers to the process by which new money come into existence. This process is performed by performing massive amounts of calculations and then by sheer luck ending up with a certain result that matches a pre-determined value. I explained this briefly in the article Making Money!

This may sound strange, but works very well and is a very fair way of distributing money. You get more money if you put in more computational power.

It does, however, favor the geeks who are willing to spend the time to do the mining. Mining for coin is certainly not as easy as double-clicking Setup.exe and accepting all the defaults.

You need to make sure you have the right hardware. Technically, you can mine on any computer, but chances are you may be spending more money in electricity than you gain from the venture. Next, you need the right software and the patience to learn how it works, and to be honest, it’s quite hostile at times.

Finally, you need to get your expectations right. It’s easy to get blinded by the initial earnings you can reap from coin mining, but you’ll likely have a rude awakening before long unless you know what to expect.

Let me elaborate on these details.


TL/DR; If you don’t have a high-end graphics card, you won’t make money.

The first consideration you need to make is what hardware to use. Now, you may have a brand new laptop that you’d want to use to mine or you have an old PC laying around that’s collecting dust, and you want to see whether you can get some money from it.

Chances are, you won’t make any money, and in fact may lose money due to power cost, unless you have a high-end graphics card, and preferably one from AMD.

The reason for this is simple; the computational tasks you need to perform are perfect for the graphics processing unit (GPU) of your graphics card, but utterly inefficient for a CPU. Your CPU is designed to perform a wide variety of tasks while your GPU is designed to do only one thing; crunch numbers by the billions. You can read more about why a CPU is inferior to a GPU in the Bitcoin Wiki.

A good high-end card, though, may pay for itself over a few months, so if you’re planning on upgrading your gaming PC in any case, then you may actually get the graphics card partially of even fully paid for by using it to mine coins.

By high-end graphics card, I mean the top two or three cards on the market. You always want to get an AMD card, for example a Radeon HD7950, over an nVidia Geforce card, for example, because the Radeon cards have more ALU pipelines than Geforce. If that tells you nothing, think of it as AMD having more but simpler ways of doing calculations. This means you can get more simple stuff done per second, often by a factor of 4-5 in favor of AMD, which is all that matters in coin mining.

How much money can you make from a card? Well, it greatly depends and it goes down over time. It’s impossible to accurately predict how much money you will make, but you can get a pretty good estimate by using numbers from a mining hardware guide and putting those numbers into a mining profitability calculator.

Note: The Dustcoin mining calculator at http://dustcoin.com/mining will show you the profitability of several cryptocurrencies so you can pick the one that gives you the most money.

Give Me Power!

TL/DR; You want enough power and a good PSU. A cheap or bad one may cost you money or lost revenue.

And important consideration in mining profitability is your power consumption. This is a reason why older machines perform far worse; they are simply less power efficient.

When you start mining, your power consumption will skyrocket. At idle, a GPU may consume 40-60 watts, but at full peak, a 7950 can easily drain 250 watts or more if you overclock it.

As such, keeping tabs on your power cost is vital to figuring out whether you will make money. For most older computers, they consume so much power and generate so little computational power that the calculations simply don’t add up.

As an example, my rather old Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 CPU will generate around 14 kilohashes per second of computational power, but will consume 105 watts of power. Putting that into the mining calculator at at present, I will earn a whooping US$0.27 per week mining Litecoins. However, my new 7950 GPUs generate around 550 kilohashes per second (around 40 times as much as the CPU) consuming around 200 watts of power at peak. Put that into the calculator, and at present, it will generate around US$83 per week.

Note: Yes, those examples contained a lot of new terms. I’ll explain in a moment.

Because you need a lot of power, you also need to make sure your power supply unit (PSU) can cope. If you are building a new machine for the purpose of mining, that means a high-end PSU too. Expect around 200-250 watts per GPU plus 100-150 watts for the rest of the system. Also make sure you have a quality PSU; in terms of system stability, not all power is equal, and a bad PSU may seriously affect your mining operations and reduce profitability by giving you less than peak performance and possibly downtime.


TL/DR; If you hate tweaking settings through a user hostile interface, you are out of luck.

The choice or software for mining is simpler, because in reality, there are just a couple of options. You can either use Reaper or cgminer. At the time of this writing, Reaper seems to be a dead project and the normal download links are dead, so cgminer is your weapon of choice.

cgminer is a free tool that is incredibly well designed once you get to know it. However, it has a console user interface and you need to know what you are doing to work it properly. Not using it properly means you lose a lot of hashing power, as much as 40-60 percent. It requires constant tweaking until you get it to run at peak efficiency.

As an example, with its default setting, my new GPUs do around 250 kh/s, while properly tweaked, they run at over double that.


There is a nice graphical user interface version that will give you an easy way to just get started, but I highly recommend not using that. As for a non-tweaked cgminer, it will simply yield lousy results and you’re throwing money out the window.

In other words, you should expect to spend a fair amount of time tweaking settings and learning what yields the best results, or you should avoid the whole thing; it simply won’t be worth it.

Expectations and Results

After you’ve set up your mining operation, it’s time to start evaluating the results of your hard work and time to understand some of the terms I used earlier.

First, you need to understand that there are two types of mining for cryptocurrencies; SHA-256 and Scrypt. Every currency uses one of these methods, but both share the property of being far more profitable on a GPU than a CPU.

For SHA-256 based currencies (like Bitcoin, Namecoin, and PPCoin), you usually evaluate your efficiency in millions of hashes solved per second, or MH/s. For Scrypt based currencies (like Litecoin and Novacoin), you usually evaluate your efficiency in thousands of hashes solved per second, or kH/s.

Note: A further difference is that Scrypt based mining is resilient against ASIC mining due to memory requirements. ASIC mining refers to using specialized chips that do hashing very fast, by several orders of magnitude.

This does not mean that Scrypt based mining is 1,000 times slower or less efficient. In fact, at the time of this writing, the Scrypt based currencies are more efficient than SHA-256 in terms of return on investment. You can check Dustcoin for the relative efficiency of the various currencies.

Of course, the only proof is in the pudding, so the ultimate evaluation of your result depends on whether you make more money than you spend.

What Will I Earn?

Patience, grasshopper, it’s not as easy as giving an amount X which works in all or even most situations.

First of all, you need to understand that mining profits adjust based on the need and power of the network. The more power combined, the more difficult it becomes for everyone to find a correct solution to the problem. Thus, the more profitable mining becomes, the more people will want to mine, and the harder it gets, reducing profitability. Then, when people stop mining from lack of profitability, the difficulty decreases, and profitability rises again.

Note: Mining power moves between the different currencies in response to profitability. You can check the relative profitability on the Dustcoin mining calculator.

Due to this self-regulating characteristic,

What is your electricity cost? If you are mining on inefficient or older hardware, chances are your output is going to be less than the cost of your power drain. At the time of this writing, mining using your CPU is already obsolete, and for SHA-256 mining, even GPUs are falling behind the efficiency of ASIC miners.

What is the cost of your hardware? If you are purchasing new equipment to mine for currencies, you need to account for the cost of hardware over time, and this becomes a bit more complicated due to the self-adjusting difficulty of mining operations.

Let’s say you buy a new Radeon HD7950 card for $250, and put it through the hoops of tweaking until it reaches an output of around $10 per day. “Great”, you think, “I’ll have that baby paid off in a matter of weeks”.

Well, sorry to burst your bubble, Sunshine, but because the difficulty increases as more hashing power is added to the network, so does your profitability. At times, the difficulty has increased by 80-100% during a week, meaning your profitability may have dropped to $5-6 per day by the end of next week.

And yes, this will keep happening.

Oh, and let’s not forget that the reward for finding a block (which is how new coins are minted) goes down on a regular basis. That means that at predictable intervals, the profitability halves.

Get Rich Quick!

Here’s the bottom line, and I’ll elaborate on this further in a later article. If you think the price of cryptocurrencies is going to go up, there’s really no point in buying mining equipment. This may sound counter-intuitive, so let me explain.

First, though, allow me to thank Deprived over on Bitcointalk.org for explaining this somewhat counter-intuitive idea.

Let say you buy a Bitcoin right now at $250 because you think the price per Bitcoin will go up, and the future proves you’re right, sending the price per Bitcoin to $500 after a month. Now you can sell your Bitcoin and buy twice the processing power that you could when you started, because your equipment will be denominated in dollars.

Note: Denominated simply means its price is set in a certain currency

You won’t be nearly able to mine coins enough with your new equipment to warrant a repayment in a month. Most likely, you are looking at several months, probably more, before your investment has repaid itself. Of course, this also means that the Bitcoins you have mined will be more valuable.

Now, if you think the price per Bitcoin will fall, however, then buying your equipment now will mean you safeguard yourself against a drop in BTC prices because you’ve not invested anything in Bitcoins per se. Let’s say the price of a Bitcoin drops to $125; you can now buy two Bitcoins for the same dollar amount, so sell your mining equipment and buy two Bitcoins instead. Again, with the reduced Bitcoin value, your mining operation has likely produced a loss.

I’m not going to give financial advice, because I really suck at it, but you need to understand that the prospect of making your own money is more complex than you think. If you’re not willing or able to properly evaluate the investment before you begin, your chances of getting rich as opposed to losing money is minute.

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Understanding Bitcoins: Bitcoin, Litecoin, Whatcoin? Oh My!

You’ve probably heard of Bitcoin by now, and at the time of this writing, meaning mid-April 2013, it’s currently experiencing a blossom that has caught everyone by surprise and made a lot of people very rich.

What you may not know, though, is that Bitcoin is just one of several emerging virtual currencies. Bitcoin is definitely the biggest, but it’s important to understand the other currencies too, especially if you plan on investing or mining coin.

In this article, part of the Understanding Bitcoin series, I’ll talk about each of the different cryptocurrencies and what distinguishes them from each other. I’ll focus mostly on the two largest, Bitcoin and Litecoin, and then give you a brief overview of some of the other cryptocurrencies out there.


Let’s start with the basics. A cryptocurrency is a virtual currency that people use for various purchases. Currently, it’s used a lot of places online, but even offline brick-and-mortar stores are beginning to accept cryptocurrencies. This is especially true for Bitcoins.

There are already several cryptocurrencies in existence, each having slightly different characteristics and have uses in different scenarios. Which one will be used and which will die is a matter of great speculation, and as with all things that have a geeky nature, it’s often becoming a debate of passion. When I read these debates, I’m often reminded of Linux vs. Windows vs. Mac debates, or Android vs. iPhone, or similar debates where the underlying differences aren’t really that huge but people still get massively passionate about their particular favorite.

What most agree, though, is that digital currencies have a place in society now, and especially on the internet. With the democratic, global, and decentralized nature of cryptocoins, the ease of use for anyone, the inherent security and potential anonymity, as well as the technical abilities, cryptocurrencies are starting to look like a perfect model for internet heavy economies. Cryptocoins, although certainly not the only form of digital currency, seems to have the characteristics that users and society covets.

Cryptocurrencies work in much the same way as regular currencies and are in their simplest form nothing more. It’s money, and that’s really all you need to know. Whether the money is worth anything is up to society, if society adopts it as an accepted measure of value, then cryptocurrencies have value just like ‘hard’ (or fiat) currencies. Adoption is rising rapidly so there is evidence to support the idea that cryptocurrencies have merit and thus value.

On the flip-side, cryptocurrencies are extremely young and nobody really knows where they will go. The technology hasn’t been proven on a large scale and we know there are inherent problems that need to be resolved at some point. We do not know how governments around the world will react, although we do know that the US have declared digital money as just another foreign currency, giving it at least some credibility. We also have no way of determining value. Cryptocoins can take over online trade completely, and if so, even the current pricing is ridiculously low, or not exist at all in a year or two, in which case any value is overrated, even at one US cent per Bitcoin.

For the purposes of the rest of this article, I’m going to focus on two of the cryptocurrencies that derive from the open-source Bitcoin code. Bitcoin was the first of these currencies, but several other currencies have since appeared with different characteristics making them useful and beneficial in different situations. The other one is Litecoin.

Bitcoin (BTC)

Bitcoin was the first and remains by far the largest cryptocurrency. It is largest in market capitalization, acceptance by merchants, transactions, and mining power.

On the downside, Bitcoins’ size is starting to become a problem, or will shortly. For example, by design, a particular transaction block can be up to 1 Mb in size and must contain every transaction since the previous block was solved. This means that as more transactions happen, the block fills faster, and some transactions must wait until the next block, delaying transactions.

The mechanism designed to solve this is a voluntary transaction fee, which is added to the bonus of the block. As Bitcoin evolves and transactions increase, this voluntary transaction fee becomes the main revenue for mining operations, and if the market decides so, the fee will effectively be mandatory by giving low fee transactions less priority and slower transaction times, with a larger fee ensuring a faster transaction.

At the moment, mid-April 2013, BTC is seeing a rocket ride in terms of price. Be aware, though, that the actual value (as opposed to price) is still very undetermined and absolutely unknown. Anyone claiming to know is wrong at this point, whether they are warning against a bubble or hailing this as the most important thing on the planet.

Bitcoins have a fixed distribution rate and will end up with a maximum of 21 million coins. Most of those coins will be mined by 2032, though so after that (or even before) transaction fees will make up most of mining profitability. Bitcoins are mined using an SHA-256 based algorithm.

For Bitcoin based financial and investment services, there are currently both currency exchanges and stock markets, and other services from traditional financial markets are emerging. Still, because of the nature of Bitcoin, there is no government regulation or guarantees for these markets, so it is extremely risk to invest in BTC-based markets. The largest BTC/USD exchange by far is MTGox. Two other prominent currency markets are BTC-E and Vircurex, while MPEx (large, but expensive and somewhat difficult), BTC-T (smallest but easier), and Bitfunder corners the market on stock trades.

Litecoin (LTC)

Litecoin is the second largest cryptocurrency at this time, but is still much smaller than Bitcoin. Although the relative size varies in terms of market capitalization, at present the Litecoin economy is about 1/30 the size of Bitcoin.

Note: Numbers are based on sizes from http://dustcoin.com/mining

Litecoins have some different characteristics from Bitcoins. First, it is mined using a slightly different algorithm, called Scrypt, which is more resistant to massive mining rigs than the SHA-256 based currencies. That means that even personal computers, provided they have sufficiently powerful graphic card, can still participate in profitable mining.

Note: For a mining operations guide, read the previous post in this series on cryptocurrency mining.

Litecoins like Bitcoins are limited in total number of coins too, but its limit is 84 million coins. This really has nothing to do with its price or value, and because Litecoins are generated at a much faster rate, it evens out in the long run.

When I say that the Litecoin economy is much smaller, I mean much smaller, not just in market capitalization but also in adoption. Adoption is growing, though, but it looks like the community and merchants are waiting to see whether Bitcoins take off. Few merchants accept Litecoins yet, at least compared to Bitcoin, so its circulation is mostly based on person to person transactions and not so much for purchasing products or services.

On the plus side, Litecoins have a faster rate of block generation. Where Bitcoin blocks are designed to appear every 10 minutes, Litecoin blocks appear every 2.5 minutes. This has the benefit of giving potentially quicker and cheaper transactions, although it doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be quicker or cheaper.

Also, as the largest of the alternative cryptocurrencies, it may take a place as a backup currency in case Bitcoin transactions have issues like high fees, slow transactions, or even technical issues. Adding support for Litecoins once a merchant has support for Bitcoins is easier than trying to add other backup payment alternatives.

At the moment, Litecoin price is tied closely to the price of Bitcoins, so a rise in Bitcoin price often lead to a rise in Litecoin price. Litecoins are mined using a Scrypt-based algorithm.

Note: You can see an exchange rate for LTC to BTC or USD on BTC-E http://btc-e.com/. MTGox, the largest Bitcoin exchange in the world, is rumored to introduce Litecoin support soon.

Other Cryptocurrencies

Bitcoin and Litecoin combined make up more than 99% of the market at the moment, but that doesn’t mean they are the only currencies available. Other currencies exist, perhaps with more obscure characteristics, and right now, nobody knows whether these will survive or grow alongside their bigger brothers.

Namecoin is a much smaller currency, even compared to Litecoin, having about 0.3% of the market share. It’s designed to work with identities, currently mainly through an alternate DNS system that allows for completely anonymous domain name registrations. Very much a currency and system for privacy freaks bit can also be used to provide secure identification services. Namecoins utilize merged mining, meaning they are mined alongside regular Bitcoin mining at no extra cost to the miner.

PPCoin is a somewhat different cryptocurrency that implements an alternative method of minting coins and securing transactions, called Proof of Stake (BTC and LTC uses Proof of Work). There are several benefits to this, and the details go beyond the scope of this article, but feel free to read up on it on the PPCoin Github wiki.

Devcoin is a coin designed to support open source development, where mining generates revenue for open source projects. 90% of coin generation goes to open-source projects, the distribution of which is done through bounties administered by a democratic voting process. Anyone can apply and three random administrators vote on whether to approve the project, thus giving revenue to the project.

Novacoin is a bit of a controversial coin due to allegations of fraud in the introduction of the coin. The founder allegedly pre-minded a lot of coins before the introduction, many or all of which were used in a bribe and later destroyed (read more). It is the only alternative coin that uses Scrypt for mining (like Litecoins) so it may be an alternative to Litecoins, should Litecoins need one.

Terracoin is a relatively new coin that has seen some recent troubles due to its similarity to the Bitcoin code. In short, the profitability of mining rose drastically in a short time, making it practically worthless for normal miners to support. The developers have taken steps to correct the issue, which may help the coin survive.

Freicoin is another very interesting but obscure currency with some pretty remarkable characteristics. For one, it effectively implements negative interest, meaning you need to spend your money unless it loses its value gradually through Demurrage. The argument for this is that holding money is bad and circulation is good, encouraging investors to invest and banks to loan rather than hoard money.

Why, Oh Why?

With all these different types of coin in existence, it’s pretty clear there will be confusion for many people. The risk is huge like we saw with Terracoin, that technical issues and exploitation may kill smaller coins completely. New and innovative algorithms may stall this or prevent it completely, but it’s still a very immature technology and subject to malicious intent, like most other technologies.

However, it also shows that there is innovation in the way money works and should work and what society wants from its currencies. Cryptocurrencies is a great tool for encouraging innovation in monetary scenarios.

Even more, we have only seen the start of this innovation, perhaps at the level where the web was around 1997 when it too was four years old (Bitcoin is four years in 2013). Nobody knows yet whether this is a passing fad or whether the world is ready for new ways of using money, but if nothing else, Bitcoin and its smaller siblings have already had an effect on people’s minds.

I’m rooting for the future!


Bitcoin Investment Complications

I have previously written about the dangers of investing in cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. In short, DO NOT invest a single dime or cent you cannot easily afford to throw out the window while speeding down a highway, DO NOT see this as anything but a gamble, and most importantly, with the exception of this sentence, DO NOT listen to any advice I give when making financial decisions.

One reason why investing in Bitcoin, Litecoin, or other cryptocurrencies is complicated is that you need to think doubly about the effect that the price of a currency has. No only will you need to consider all the normal investment considerations, but you add what is often a completely opposite effect of your investment because of the exchange between currencies.

Even if you are a seasoned or even moderately experienced investor, you need to take into account a number of complications with cryptocurrency investments. Let me show you a few examples.

Currency Trade Complications

Let’s start with something that may seem simple, buying and selling cryptocurrencies at one of the virtual currency exchanges.

Most of the world still denominates value in fiat currencies (like US dollars, Euros, Yen, Pounds, and so on). You probably still pay your bills in such fiat currencies. That means that in addition to doing your regular investment planning, you need to calculate the effect that exchange rates have on your investment.

To make matters worse, if you hold a certain amount of currency units, whether that is US dollars, Bitcoins, Litecoins, or any other currency, you need to remember that when one currency goes up, the other currency of the exchange pair effectively goes down. In other words, if you hold your US dollars while the price of Bitcoin goes up, your relative value of US dollars goes down.

Currency speculators know this by heart, but for a novice, it may not be obvious that holding a ‘safe’ currency is almost as dangerous in terms of profit. If you trade, you double the risk and potential profit or loss.

Let’s start out with US$100, and a price of a Litecoin at $2 so you can buy 50 LTC for your money. You decide to hold on to your US dollars, thinking the price of Litecoin goes down. However, the price rises to $2.5 per Litecoin so you can now only buy LTC 40. Effectively, your dollar value measured in LTC has dropped 20% even if you did absolutely nothing. In relative purchasing power, you now have only $80 dollars.

Let’s further assume that the price drops back to $2 per LTC and you sell. You still have $80, right, so the loss hasn’t increased? Wrong! The only thing that changes is that you realized your loss, meaning you took the lost and made it ‘real’ by converting back to whatever value your had at the beginning.


However, you have effectively lost double the amount you think. $100 initial value minus your current value of $80 is your realized loss of $20, right? You can now only buy 40 LTC which is 20% lower than initially.

Let’s say you didn’t buy LTC at all. You would no be left with no realized loss, and $100, which is obvious. If you didn’t buy at $2.5, but waited until the price dropped and purchased when the price fell back to $2, you would now have 50 LTC.

If, on the other hand, you had bought at the beginning and sold at $2.5, you would now be left with $125, and a price of $2 per LTC, meaning you can now purchase 62.5 LTC, or around 56% more than if you had failed to hit the top and bottom (or vice versa) completely. While the price of LTC was rising, your dollar value fell, and while the price of LTC was falling, your dollar value rose.

Even by not trading and just sitting still, you have ‘lost’ 20% profit, even if the price is now back exactly where it was when you began. If you trade and miss completely, your loss is 56%, even if the price rises and falls by only 20%.

Note: I know this can be said for any commodity, stock, or item that rises and falls in value, but it is even more obvious when you trade in currency because both are considered the same thing (money) and your loss becomes immediately visible.

Currency speculation is dangerous and complex, and it’s easy to get scared when you realize that even when you don’t buy in, you lose money. However, making mistakes may effectively double your losses, and unless you know very well how a currency will behave in a market (and frankly, nobody does with cryptocurrencies at this point), you’ll stand a high chance of risking such a loss.

Buying Stock

There’s also the psychological aspect of currency values. For example, let’s say you invest in a gaming company that pays our dividends in Bitcoin at an average rate of 0.5% per week and also charges their users in Bitcoin.

Lets now think that the exchange rate of US dollars to Bitcoin rises drastically (meaning Bitcoins become more expensive to buy with US dollars). What happens to your investment? Well, because dividends are paid in Bitcoin, you still reap the same amount of Bitcoins, but because each Bitcoin is more valuable, the dividend is worth more in terms of US dollar.

However, because the price rises, the cost for people playing the game also rises, meaning they will spend less in Bitcoin even if their spending in US dollar is the same. Suddenly a bet or purchase cost more in terms of US dollars and people will likely reduce their spending in Bitcoin. That means the rate of dividend will go down even if that dividend is worth more per coin than previously.

This complication is more difficult to understand than it may seem. The psychological effect that currency values have on people’s perception may completely throw normal investment ideas out the window.

Also, if you plan on investing in stocks denominated in cryptocurrencies, you need to realize that the cryptocurrency market is still very, very immature. There is by nature no government control and thus no government oversight of exchanges. Although there are a few reputable stock exchanges already, anyone can set up a new exchange without requiring any mandate or supervision from anyone.

Further, even the established and somewhat reputable exchanges have very few formal requirements for accepting new assets, and most of the requirements are based on community consensus which can be manipulated. You are essentially trusting the issuer of the asset that they will honor their commitments, and sadly, the short history of cryptostock exchanges have shown that you can’t always trust even those with the most honest of appearances. People have lost a lot of money and so may you.

Mining Operations

Lets say you consider investing in coin mining operations, and let’s say you have US$1,000.00 to invest and the current Bitcoin/USD exchange rate is 1 BTC = $100.

Note: Bitcoins, Litecoins, and other cryptocoins based on the Bitcoin code base, can be mined, or minted, by users using their own computers at home.

You may think that the US dollar price of a Bitcoin will rise, so you decide to buy mining equipment to get a piece of the action. You buy a new computer with a few suitable graphic cards, and start mining. Perhaps you mine a couple of Bitcoins over the course of a month.

It turns out, you were right about the price increase, and after the first month, the US dollar price for a Bitcoin has risen to $150. “Great,” you think, “I’ve gotten $300 free and that must have been a great investment”. You still have your new computer, valued at $1,000, and let’s assume it still holds its original value after just a month, and you have two free Bitcoins priced at $150 each for a total value of $1,300.

Not so fast, grasshopper. You have actually lost money on this operation.

Had you purchased BTC for $100, you could have gotten 10 of them, now valued $1,500. In other words, you ‘lost’ $150 on your investment because you paid for your computer in US dollars. Even if you sell the new machine for Bitcoins now, you would only get around 6.6 BTC ($1,000/$150) and even with your mining revenue of 2 BTC, you’d be down 1.4 BTC.

Ah,” you think, “I can just keep mining and the profit will skyrocket! One more month and I’ll be up 0.6 BTC

You may be right in thinking this, but you may also be forgetting that the difficulty of mining increases with time (or rather with effort) so your revenue goes down. In fact, for certain cryptocurrencies, the difficult has doubled, effectively halving revenue, within a week due to shifting and ever increasing effort for the network. What may seem like a great investment in April may be costing you more in electricity than you get back by June.

The Dangers of Investing in Cryptocurrencies

DO NOT under any circumstance take this as financial advice. I have no idea what I’m doing with regards to investing, I merely want to point out some of the dangers to you. DO EXPECT to throw money out the window unless you know very well what you are doing. ANY INVESTMENT is a dangerous game, especially for novices like me.

There, that should get the mood set.

In this article, I’ll focus on explaining to you some of the dangers of investing in cryptocurrencies. I’m doing this to warn you about the dangers involved, and maybe even scare you away from investing completely. This isn’t a beginners game and you will get burned if you approach it without proper preparation.

Investing Bits and Bytes? You’re Joking, Right?

You may be surprised that there is a thriving market for Bitcoin based investments. Even Litecoins now have dedicated stock and options markets. Why on earth would such a thing exist at all? It’s just numbers, right? Not real money?

Note: No, I’m not having the debate about the merits of Bitcoin, whether Litecoin has a place at all, cryptocurrencies in general, or other similar discussions now. My opinion is that there is a market need for cryptocurrencies, Bitcoin, Litecoin, or otherwise. Currently, Bitcoin and Litecoin are my favorites to lead this race, but don’t listen to me.

Well, as with all things subject to speculation, people will speculate, trying to make more of what they already have. Whether they speculate in the volatility of the market, or the long-term success of any particular cryptocurrency, these markets will pop up and as long as there are willing participants who believe they can benefit, they will thrive.

I would like to stress, though, that investing with and in cryptocurrencies is an extremely risky business. It is even more tricky and complicated than regular speculation because you also need to take into consideration the exchange rate between the various cryptocurrencies, and the exchange rate between cryptocurrencies and fiat currencies.

In other words, and make no mistake about this: DO NOT under any circumstance put money into cryptocurrency speculation that you are not completely comfortable considering lost the moment you buy in. Nobody understand this market, nobody knows where it is going, nobody has any relevant previous experience with cryptocurrency markets, much less with how stocks and options work.

So, Why Are You Investing?

Personally, I have a few Bitcoin and Litecoin investments, but like I explained, I consider these funds lost and have no hope of ever recovering them. I am using the investments to learn more about investing in general and about cryptocurrencies in particular. I have faith in cryptocurrencies as the future of commerce, and I want to learn as much as possible. I’m a learning junkie, in case you haven’t read anything I’ve written before.

At the time of this writing, I have yet to realize any losses on my investments, but I have also spent weeks and months learning and calculating, reading about investment strategies, how traditional markets work, how psychology plays into the game, and so on. I have spread my investments to balance any risks, and I’ve constructed an investment profile that matches my risk profile (which is ‘let it ride’, basically) with my expectations for the growth of cryptocurrencies.

I am a complete novice at this game; I expect to suffer heavy losses, perhaps even a complete loss, or, as it stands right now, even more than I have invested. I have spent considerable time learning, and that time may instead have been used for other, more profitable ventures.

I have, however, put in some of the legwork to understand as best I can how this game works, and it has taken considerable time. When I say I’ve worked weeks on this, I’m talking about 15-18 hour days, seven days a week. This probably makes me more informed than most first-time investors, but make no mistake; I am utterly incapable of making sound decisions, and I’m having to completely rethink what I’m doing on a daily basis. DO NOT take any of what I tell you as any kind of advice on what you should do, with one exception (two, counting the previous sentence): DO YOUR HOMEWORK.

Why is it So Complicated?

I’ll talk more about the complications of investing in cryptocurrencies in a later blog post, but be aware that investing in cryptocurrencies is more complex than regular investments. Rather than having an investment go up and down based on a single or few market conditions, you need to take the exchange rate into consideration, and that may move in any direction at any time.

Further, since Bitcoins and other cryptocurrencies are by nature decentralized and out of government control, you have no recourse if something goes wrong (recourse meaning your ability to get money back if you’re tricked or scammed). Plenty of people have lost plenty of money to scammers, but also to people who have had honest intentions but very little experience or just plain bad luck.

Also take into consideration that the cryptocurrencies’ exchange rates are extremely volatile at present. This is partially due to its size but also because it is a young market and nobody really knows what drives the exchange rate. Bitcoin Market Capitalizaion Snapshot from Blockchain.info

Many people lost large fortunes during April 2013 after what seems to have been a bubble in the Bitcoin/US Dollar exchange rate, even seasoned investors who thought they could ride the wave into the sky.

Finally, because the Bitcoin stock investment market is extremely young and small, but also due to its decentralized nature, it is to a large extent based on trust. You need to do far more investigations into the background of the issuers of stock denominated in cryptocurrencies than you would for a regular stock exchange, where you can trust somewhat in the exchange to do some of the due diligence for you.

The cryptostock market is definitely maturing in this area, but has a long way to go before its reputation and process for admissions is as strict as it would be for example for being traded on NASDAQ.

So, if I haven’t scared you off yet, I haven’t done a good job, but I would like to see that you’ve at least become more aware of the dangers inherent in investing in an unproven, highly speculative, and largely misunderstood market.

Be safe, and in the case of Bitcoin, Litecoin, or other cryptocoin investments, that may mean sitting on the bench for a while.