Small cryptocurrency mining rig in a room of the Dominican Nelson Mercedes' house.
Nelson Mercedes, 36, worked before the pandemic in a supermarket in Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic). "I watched the security cameras to see who was stealing or doing something strange." Confinement arrived and the supermarket fired him. With the liquidation he did something he had wanted to do for a long time: he bought four graphics cards, a motherboard and a CPU (central processing unit, the main element of a computer) in the United States through the eBay auction page. it was enough to set up a rig (rig) to mine cryptocurrencies from home. And get hold of a few crumbs from the burgeoning business of non-expendable (non-replaceable, called NFT for its acronym in English), the latest fever of the internet economy in which unique virtual objects such as a tweet or a digital file can be sold for millions of dollars
Mercedes wanted to do it since a friend who moved to the United States told her how the business worked. Basically, the crypto miners use all the electricity they have so that their computer equipment manufacture non-stop text blocks where the NFT transactions are registered. NFTs are digital collectibles marked with a code that makes them unique. This code allows someone to buy a particularly interesting digital good (a mythical tweet, a widely shared gif, a special meme, an NBA video or a newspaper article) and can trade with it, even if it is still on the internet, and it is written on the Ethereum blockchain.
These transactions are kept on many computers around the world, which prevents fraud by guaranteeing the uniqueness of the objects that are bought and sold. And, as a reward for participating in the process and hosting said blocks on their computers, the crypto miners receive a reward in ethers (this Friday an ether was exchanged for 1,400 euros), the cryptocurrency of Ethereum. The more power and capacity its teams have, the more they earn.
With an investment of 800 euros and without computer training, Mercedes set up the structure of her home business. "I have learned everything by watching YouTube videos in English," he says in several written and audio conversations on WhatsApp. The Latin American cryptocurrency has its channels on this platform where experts try to solve the doubts of people who see how a small investment can give some money to survive. Another friend helped him out with his first computer: “He helped me buy a computer, put it together, and installed Windows for me. From there I learned everything that is done on the computer: disassemble it, format it, clean it, enter the programs. Without studying or taking any course, "he says.
When he started mining in September, he did not know if it was going to work:" At first, I did not know the actual consumption of electricity that it would have. When the first bill came, I saw that it was making a profit, ”he says. Every month he enters 400 dollars with ethereum and the electricity consumption in the house is 160, although Mercedes does not pay it in full. He has about $ 10 a day net left. He completes his salary by solving recaptchas (the tests with which web pages challenge us to certify that we are human) on an international platform , a much heavier task. “I earn more even if I have to pay the most expensive electricity, because I'm always at home and I can solve more recaptchas . If one day I can't work, I don't work. I don't have to go to the street and I don't risk catching it. And if I get tired, I start watching Netflix. I earn more now and without pressure ”, he says.
“ I cannot hold [save, from English “hold” , sustain, maintain] because that money is what I live with. If I put something together, it is in pesos, not in cryptocurrency. At the moment I have not been able to do it because I have to survive, I have to pay my health insurance and buy things. I am not an employee but, how do you say, an entrepreneur ”. Why health insurance? "Because it is better to have it, the hospitals here are useless," he adds.
The problem of heat
Mercedes has never heard of NFTs, even though she is involved in the business. Its story is very different. Mining requires cheap electricity, a country without legal restrictions and, ideally, low temperatures, because the equipment gets very hot. For this reason, the Dominican Republic is clearly not an ideal country, like China, Russia, the United States or Iceland, for different reasons. The only Latin American country with some presence in the world of cryptocurrencies is Venezuela, because electricity is free, although not everyone can dedicate themselves to mining due to the control exercised by the Government.
His story serves to put the fever of the NFT. A work of art auctioned for $ 69 million or the first tweet by Jack Dorsey, founder of Twitter, sold for 2.9 million. While these events occupy the front pages of the media and enrich some elites, in other parts of the world there are lots of people who with their skill and training try to scratch the leftovers. Mercedes solves recaptcha and mines every hour she can, even if that means she can't use her other PC to play games. It would be too much consumption.
Mercedes converts the ethers it gets into Dominican pesos. Although the way to convert the cryptocurrency into local currency is also long. “I use the Coinbase platform as a cryptocurrency wallet. When I get paid, I convert it to [cryptocurrency] litecoin. I return it in dollars and with the AirTM platform I withdraw it at an ATM in Dominican pesos ”, explains Mercedes.
In the Dominican Republic there are some possibilities that Mercedes does not take advantage of. "I know that there are people who mine and do not pay for electricity because they do not have a meter in their sectors or neighborhoods," he says. That is clearly an advantage, although you risk a fine. The other problem is the price of the equipment. The cards that Mercedes bought in the summer of 2020 for $ 175 now cost three times as much, about $ 500. "Nobody knows what mining is here, they don't understand it," he says. “Of the few friends I have, one knows but didn't pay attention to it. The other wanted to build a rig and has money to invest but it is very expensive now ”, he adds. Friends have arrived late.
And the heat of the Caribbean? The Mercedes team carries four internal refrigerators and the room is ventilated, he says. "And if it gets too hot, I put the fan [fan]," he says.
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