Five years ago, I threw away a hard drive. An utterly generic 250GB portable hard drive, already a few years old, with a couple of dings and scratches in its shell and with the beginnings of an audible click that would have eventually killed it.
It had a data file containing 1400 Bitcoin on it. No big deal, at the time.
Today, those few kilobytes are worth more than
four million seven million dollars.
AU Editor’s Note, 15/08/17: So, the price of Bitcoin smashed through the $US4000 barrier yesterday. I just did the maths, and instead of $4.2 million, my 1400BTC would now be worth $7.6 million. It seemed like the right time to share this with you all again. C’est la vie, I guess. — Cam
So I Bought Some Bitcoin
To be honest, the details are a bit foggy these days. My best recreation of my potential brush with incredible riches comes from everything else that was happening at the time. When I moved out of home, when I moved back home, when I broke up with a girlfriend, when I PayPal’d some random stranger from the other side of the world a few US dollars for a digital transaction of an effectively worthless faux-currency.
At the start of 2010, Bitcoin trading wasn’t even really a thing. It was hard to find anywhere that would sell BTC. Mining coins — with your PC’s CPU, then with your PC’s graphics card, then with specialised and increasingly expensive hardware — was the easiest way to accumulate Bitcoin out of thin air, with the only investment being electricity and processor cycles.
But I found a site, or forum — I can’t remember which — where someone was selling Bitcoin. I think I paid well above the quasi-official exchange rate for the coins; who really cares about the difference between 1.2 cents and 1.5 cents when you’re only spending $25? I’d read something fun about them, probably in WIRED, and wanted to understand them better, so I bought some.
Eventually, I had the Bitcoin sitting in a cold storage wallet — an offline file, outside of any online bank or exchange or digital storage facility. A text file, basically, with a long string of cryptographic hash that represented an encryption key. I didn’t trust any online service not to crash and lose my investment.
I put on a hard drive.
I used the hard drive for a whole bunch of things. Storing pirated music and movies and TV series, a portfolio of my best tech writing work, all my uni assignments, photos of friends and family and the couple of holidays that I’d taken. I took the hard drive with me when I moved out of home with my long-term girlfriend, and used it for all the things you use a portable hard drive for.
In the year or so that followed, we broke up, and I moved back home. As I was moving out I used the opportunity to clean up some of the accumulated tech detritus that comes with being a technology journalist. USB sticks, 3D glasses, USB cables, PC components — all that sort of literal junk. A pile of junk that went into a skip. That hard drive was in the pile, and it had that damn annoying click. I had better portable hard drives.
I didn’t need, or care about, anything on it. The photos were backed up to another portable drive, my writing was in Google Drive, the music was on my desktop PC.
So I threw it away.
It Really Wasn’t A Big Deal, Guys
I think I remembered the Bitcoin a couple of months later. I know that I actually remembered them because of something else on the drive — a terrible quality pirated copy of The Hire, BMW’s short car-porn vignettes staring Clive Owen, which was and is still hard to find on the ‘net. Remembering that on the drive made me think about what else was there — including a little digital marker for 1400-odd Bitcoin.
When I remembered that I’d thrown away my Bitcoin stash, I was a little bit pissed off. In between the time that I’d frittered away $25 over the ‘net and the day I remembered how many BTC I’d actually thrown away, the price had skyrocketed — relatively — from barely more than a cent to around $2.50 per coin. $4000, give or take, was what my loss was. I was in a bit of debt from a holiday to Japan a while before, and that four grand would have been nice.
It wasn’t a big deal. It was one of those “aw, shit” moments that happen to everyone on a semi-regular basis. I got a parking ticket, I forgot to send a birthday card to a friend overseas — that kind of thing. Without the benefit of hindsight, of course, it wasn’t that big a deal. I think I got a promotion around that time that more than made up for my lost investment. Bitcoin was a fun fad.
Obviously time and the ‘net have proven me wrong.
Time has been kind of the price of Bitcoin. Every now and then since, when I’ve seen Bitcoin in the news or reported on Gizmodo or mentioned in reference to world events like the WannaCry malware, I’ve checked the price. Bitcoin has become pretty popular since 2011. And I’ve done a bit of back-of-the-napkin calculation, and — sometimes, not every time — had a bit of a quiet moment and a shake of my head.
At the moment, at a historic high price in USD and AUD alike, my 1400 BTC would be worth
$4.8 million $7.6 million — and change. The price, always wildly volatile, is skyrocketing at the moment. When I first tweeted this story, it was $4.2 million, but in the two days since it went up 15 per cent. In the three months since, it’s up another 80 per cent on that.
It’ll probably go higher.
What Happens Now?
Honestly, as far as I’m concerned, my stash of ‘coin is gone.
In the past couple of days, since I told my story, I’ve been contacted by friends and strangers alike with advice and suggestions — and some hare-brained proposals — on how to retrieve my Bitcoin.
Apparently landfill is exceedingly well organised and stratified. And my trash would be with other trash of the same age, with dates and locations and other clues along the path to a dented hard drive in a pile of USB cables. I could contact the tip or the council in the area that I rented that apartment in, and see if they could point me in the right direction. Police do it all the time.
One friend said that all I’d need to do is find someone willing to take a quarter stake in it — on spec, of course, I don’t have a million bucks — to make it worth that person’s time to track it down. But then that raises questions of its own — what if someone else found the hard drive, that used to be my hard drive, first? What right would I have to that text file?
Strangers on Twitter — quite a few of them, really — have told me to double down and to invest in Eth. I’m fine, thanks. My dalliance with volatile digital currencies is over. I’ve learned my lesson, whatever it is. And I still have some Dogecoin, anyway.
I don’t even especially want to find those Bitcoin, though. I’m really happy with my life at the moment. I don’t need them. I’d like them, sure, but I don’t need them. This isn’t trying to get philosophical — the real value was in the friends we made along the way, or some crap like that — but just to say that I’ve come to terms with losing those Bitcoin. That chapter of my life is over.
I spent $25 on some Bitcoin. When I realised what I’d lost, they were worth about $4000. If you wanted to put a dollar figure on the anguish that I feel, it’d be somewhere between those two. Definitely not in the realm of millions of dollars. It’s mostly a fun story that I trot out every now and then, and occasionally pretend to be mock-upset about, and only occasionally actually upset.
Do you have any regrets? I sure do. But in the scheme of things, this is only really a small one.