FAQ

Q: How can I make a lot of money with bitcoin?

A: Unfortunately, making a lot of money with bitcoin is like making a lot of money with pork bellies: some skill, some luck, but not much real connection to the underlying mechanisms. This book explains at a high level how those underlying mechanisms work – the “plumbing” of bitcoin, if you like – but doesn’t attempt to teach you how to buy/sell bitcoin for fun and profit.

Q: Is Bits to Bitcoin a “Dummies” book?

A: No, for two reasons. First, the “Dummies” series is a trademark of a different publisher. Second, this book was written for intelligent curious readers who don’t necessarily have a technical background. Those readers are smart, not “dummies.”

Q: Why is my computer frozen?

A: The most likely cause of an operating system getting “stuck” is some kind of synchronization error. It’s like a traffic gridlock, but happening inside your computer. That’s discussed in chapter 8 of Bits to Bitcoin.

Q: This feature of my program used to work, but now it doesn’t. What’s wrong?

A: One common problem is that the configuration information associated with the program has changed, possibly as an unintended side-effect of some other seemingly unrelated change elsewhere. Another common problem is that the program’s environment (network, files, location) may have actually changed in ways that affect the program’s operation. Yet another common problem is that the user asking this question doesn’t correctly remember the feature in question – it may have a different name, be in a different location, or require slightly different information than what the user thinks. If none of those turn out to be the case, it’s worth looking to see if the program might have been updated to fix bugs or improve features since the last time it was working – an unfortunately common experience is that changing a program to fix problems can introduce new problems. (Some of these topics are discussed in Bits to Bitcoin chapters 6 and 7.)

Q: Why am I getting better network service when I turn off WiFi on my phone and use the mobile data service instead?

A: WiFi is usually cheaper and higher-bandwidth than the mobile data services provided by wireless telephone companies, so a phone usually prefers to use WiFi when it’s available. However, WiFi can get into an unfortunate state where the phone is “connected” to the base station but little or no data is actually being sent. (The most common way this happens is with a badly-designed login screen; the phone thinks that all is well on the connection, but the base station has actually decided to reject the connection. Any time the phone sends data, the base station drops it on the floor.)  If you turn off WiFi entirely, you can avoid this “Bermuda Triangle” of data.

Q: What’s the best programming language?

A: The one that’s best suited to what you’re trying to do. Different circumstances yield very different answers.

Q: Should I learn to code?

A: Only if you want to. Learning to code is an admirable and useful skill, but so are many other things: bricklaying, speaking French, swimming, flying an airplane… to name a few.  There’s no sense in which “everyone should learn to program” in order to survive in the modern world. (We survived the 1890’s “electrical revolution” without everyone becoming an electrician, and the 1900’s “automotive revolution” without everyone becoming an auto mechanic. We can likewise survive our computer and AI era without everyone becoming a programmer)

Q: I heard that the CIA can read data that’s been deleted. So why do I need to keep backups?

A: The simple answer is that even if the CIA could do that, they probably aren’t available to reconstruct your data. It’s also worth noting that their effort might be very expensive, even if they were willing to try. In addition, there are some situations where even the best efforts by experts won’t be able to recover data that’s been lost. Rather than depending on heroic reconstruction/recovery efforts that might fail, far better to avoid the problem by keeping a backup copy of important data.

Q: Why is it important not to use the same password on different web sites?

A: You have no control over how a web site stores your password. Recent attacks on web sites have included embarrassing revelations of how poorly user passwords protected. So a security failure of a web site could potentially disclose your user name and password to an attacker. It’s bad enough if that attacker can cause you problems on that one web site, but it’s crucial to avoid a situation in which a security failure on one site hands that attacker your login information on lots of different web sites at once.

Q: Why is it important not to use an “easy” password?

A: Most phrases or key sequences that are easy to remember are also easy for attackers to figure out. It’s important to realize that an attacker is not a person typing at a keyboard, trying one password at a time and thinking about what to try next. Instead, the attacker has a sophisticated attack program: based on dictionaries, with common variations of words, common ways to combine words, and possibly your other passwords as sold or freely shared among criminals. And that program will be carrying out many different passwords, much faster than a person could type.

Q: What is the cloud?

A: “Cloud” is a way of referring to some facilities or services used via the Internet, while being deliberately vague about where they’re located. For example, “cloud storage” and “cloud computing” refer to ways in which storage or computing can be made available over the Internet, often with some kind of associated flexibility in terms of how the service is purchased. Sometimes “cloud” refers to networks in general, in which case it’s a way of being deliberately vague about the details of how some network(s) connect(s) various different parties. These different uses of “cloud” are discussed in Bits to Bitcoin chapters 19 and 20.