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‘Be prepared for wild volatility.’ Sacramento group looks to join Bitcoin gold rush

NYT: Bitcoin Believers

While regulators debate the pros and cons of bitcoins, the rising real-world value of this digital currency inspires the question: What makes money, money?
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While regulators debate the pros and cons of bitcoins, the rising real-world value of this digital currency inspires the question: What makes money, money?

There wasn’t a gold pan or pickax in the room.

Nonetheless, a crowd of 60 men and seven women filled a Sacramento meeting room last week to stake their claim in the digital gold rush.

Bitcoin and a broader assortment of cryptocurrencies have seen their values skyrocket as more investors warm to the idea of digital currency outside of governmental control. The “Bitcoin Meetup” at Sacramento’s Hacker Lab co-working space on Wednesday was a chance to get in on the action.

“I came to temper my husband,” said Charyl Thorpe of Roseville, who described herself as a senior who plays the stock market but is wary of bitcoin. “I’m very practical.”

Ten minutes before the meeting, she was confident her prudence would win the day. Wouldn’t the room be full if this was the next big thing, she asked a reporter. By the time event organizer Bryan Barton bounded to the front of the room wearing a Silk Road Restaurant T-shirt, the room was packed.

Barton, a Sacramento tech enthusiast and part-time pickup artist instructor, started the meeting with humor and energy, complete with a tongue-in-cheek prayer to Satoshi Nakamoto, the name used by the unknown person or people who created bitcoin.

One by one, attendees introduced themselves by saying what they wanted to learn and giving their level of experience.

“Noob,” they shouted out (per instructions) as newcomers introduced themselves. More than half of those in the room were greeted with the “Noob” chant.

After more surveying of the audience, there was a little discussion about next steps before Barton invited the featured speaker to the front to the room.

Kerati Apilakvanichakit, who introduced himself as Hard Money Kerati, handed his phone to a friend wearing a bitcoin sweatshirt to record his talk, then launched into a passionate rundown of the virtues of cryptocurrency.

“It’s borderless. I can send money to my family in Thailand. I don’t need Western Union,” Kerati said.

Josh Gurin, of TEKsystems, said don’t bet the farm on bitcoin – but do invest something. If there is something to be wary of, he said, it’s the lesser-known cryptocurrencies created and launched daily in an “initial coin offering,” or ICO.

“There are about 1,000 of them and 900 of them are garbage,” said Gurin, whose company sponsored the event. In much the same way a company would raise money by selling stock, an ICO sells digital coins to early backers for legal tender or other cryptocurrencies. Some of the most highly traded and respected cryptocurrencies include bitcoin, Ethereum, Ripple and Litecoin.

“I was in early. The volatility scared me away,” Gurin said. “Now it’s like, ‘Do I get back in?’ The obvious answer is ‘Yes.’ It’s happening so quickly.”

Gurin said people considering putting money into cryptocurrency should be prepared for wild swings, but he thinks the value will never go to zero.

“Be prepared for wild volatility,” he said. “If you lose half your value in one day, don’t gulp.”

Matt Crocker, a Sacramento engineer who was not at the meetup, said he lost out on a healthy pile of money when he sold his Litecoin earlier in the week. Crocker said he began using his powerful computer to “mine” bitcoin. Because there is no central bank, the work of processing and verifying transactions stored in a public ledger, or “blockchain,” is spread to a network of computers. Those participating computers doing the mining are paid out in digital currency.

Crocker said he made about $20 a month using his computer this way.

“I had free electricity and was looking for anything I could do to make extra money,” Crocker said. “Then I more or less forgot about it for about three years. It fell off my radar until the price boomed. It was money I had forgotten about.

“I was seeing very rapid growth so I pulled all my money out,” he said. “Now, I’m regretting getting out.”

After selling his bitcoins for Litecoin, he sold his Litecoin earlier this week in two batches, about half at $142 a coin and the rest at $193 per coin.

Between the time he sold and being interviewed the next afternoon, the price of the coin jumped 90 percent to $370 per coin. Since then, it’s dropped to below $325 per coin.

“It went in the exact opposite direction from what I was expecting,” Crocker said. “I panicked.”

The Sacramento Kings were the first NBA team to announce they’d accept Bitcoin payments for tickets and in the team store. But with few people willing to actually part with Bitcoin, those payment portals are no longer active.

There may come a time when people are cashing out bitcoins (or fractions of them) for Kings jerseys, but for now most people are trading them like stock, Crocker said.

Last week’s gathering attracted all sorts of people, from Kerati, the hard money lender, to folks in real estate – along with hardcore programmers and Efrain Alvarado, a Caltrans “road warrior” who is also the co-founder of the Distributists’ Crypto Guild.

The meetup group, which seems to both fear and embrace the growth, plans to continue meeting biweekly, building toward an April 7 rally at the state Capitol. The next meeting is at 7 p.m. Jan. 8 at the Hacker Lab, 1715 I St.

If Thorpe was looking for a voice to convince her husband that investing in bitcoin was a bad idea, she wouldn’t find it in that room.

“This is going to cause a revolution,” Alvarado said.

Ed Fletcher: 916-321-1269, @NewsFletch

Cryptocurrency definitions

bit·coin

ˈbitˌkoin/

noun

  • a type of digital currency in which encryption techniques are used to regulate the generation of units of currency and verify the transfer of funds, operating independently of a central bank.

cryp·to·cur·ren·cy

ˈkriptōˌkərənsē/

noun

  • a digital currency in which encryption techniques are used to regulate the generation of units of currency and verify the transfer of funds, operating independently of a central bank.

block·chain

ˈbläkˌCHān/

noun

  • a digital ledger in which transactions made in bitcoin or another cryptocurrency are recorded chronologically and publicly.
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