How geeks do charity: Use your GPU to churn out goats

CoinLab’s ‘Give A Goat’ charitable Bitcoin mining program.

Your computer’s graphics processor might be more charitable than you think.

CoinLab, a Seattle-based tech startup that focuses on the Bitcoin digital currency, has come up with a way for PC users to take advantage of their spare GPU cycles to raise money to buy goats for impoverished families around the world.

Yes, real goats. This is not FarmVille. The software program is grounded in the mechanics of the Bitcoin system — in which units of the digital currency are generated in exchange for adding computational power to the Bitcoin network.

Mike Koss and Peter Vessenes

CoinLab, co-founded by Seattle entrepreneurs Peter Vessenes and Mike Koss, normally works with game developers. CoinLab’s program lets gamers voluntarily install a program that makes their idle computing resources available to generate Bitcoins, in exchange for in-game virtual goods and points from the developers.

In the spirit of the holiday season, CoinLab recently created a charitable version of its software for anyone to use — called “Give a Goat.”

Users who download and run the Windows-based software can donate the spare processing time from their GPU to generate Bitcoins for charity. CoinLab says it will donate 100 percent of the proceeds to Heifer International, which provides animals to families to help alleviate hunger throughout the world. For every $120 raised through the Bitcoin mining, they’ll be able to send a goat to one family.

CoinLab explains on its Give a Goat page, “By giving a goat to a family in need, you are providing them with path to lifting themselves out of poverty. The milk goats produce is nutritious and valuable, so the family can stay healthier themselves and sell extra milk as an extra source of income. Goat manure is also a useful fertilizer, so families can make their farmland more productive. Finally, the offspring of the goats can be kept to grow the family’s herd, or sold for additional income.”

They estimate that someone with a good graphics card can earn up to $1 per day toward a goat by running the program. CoinLab will take care of the donation (after converting the Bitcoins into U.S. currency, unless the Heifer project wants the Bitcoins).

The software even comes with a dashboard and dials for users to track their contributions.

Bitcoin was a hot topic in the tech industry at one point last year, but the virtual currency’s price volatility and other problems made many people skeptical. Vessenes and Koss are big believers in Bitcoin’s potential, and hope to help legitimize it for more widespread use. The company raised $500,000 this year from investors including Tim Draper to push ahead with Bitcoin projects.

More background on the “Give a Goat” program is available here.

  • http://twitter.com/Nanostring Nanostring Founder

    There was a story about Chad Waite raising goats, a few days ago… GeekWire is becoming too goat-centric. :)

  • Gets My Goat

    If you factor in the cost of electricity, this program does not make a ton of sense.

    The claim is you can create up to $1 a day for goats by running the program. So the natural question to ask is, what does that one dollar cost you? We’ll can start by looking at electricity alone, not counting any other costs like hardware depreciation.

    Since the program generates “up to $1,” it is reasonable to assume you need a higher end GPU to get to that level. According to Tom’s Hardware (http://www.tomshardware.com/charts/2012-vga-gpgpu/23-Power-Consumtion-Load,2981.html) high end GPUs can consume over 500 watts on bitmining benchmarks. Let’s be a little more conservative than that, and say we can get $1 a day of bitcoins on a GPU that uses 300w. According to Tom’s hardware, there is a good selection of cards in this range. Let’s conservatively throw in another 50w consumed by other system components, including power supply losses. If we run at 350w all day (24 hours), we consume 8.4 kilowatt hours of electricity per day.

    The average cost of residential electricity in the US is a little over 12 cents per kilowatt hour (http://www.eia.gov/beta/enerdat/#/topic/7?agg=0,1&geo=g&endsec=vg&freq=M&start=200101&end=201209&ctype=linechart&rse=0&maptype=0). So the 8.4 kwh at $0.12/kwh costs us $1.00.

    Guess what, we just spent a dollar on electricity to get a dollar worth of goat. Why not just send the dollar directly to Heifer International and save the power for something useful?

    Indeed, if it were reliably and predictably possible to generate substantially more that $1 worth of bitcoin for $1 worth of electricity, then arbitragers would jump at the chance to do so until such time as the value of bitcoins dropped to the point that the arbitrage opportunity disappeared. Do we see any hedge funds doing this?

  • http://twitter.com/ErikVoorhees Erik Voorhees

    So brilliant!

  • Gets My Goat

    If you factor in the cost of electricity, this program does not make a ton
    of sense.

    The claim is you can create up to $1 a day for goats by running the program. So the natural question to ask is, what does that one dollar cost you? We can start by looking at electricity alone, not counting any other costs like hardware depreciation.

    Since the program generates “up to $1,” it is reasonable to assume you need
    a higher end GPU to get to that level. According to Tom’s Hardware (http://www.tomshardware.com/charts/2012-vga-gpgpu/23-Power-Consumtion-Load,2981.html) high end GPUs can consume over 500 watts on bitmining benchmarks. Let’s be a little more conservative than that, and say we can get $1 a day of bitcoins on a GPU that uses 300w. According to Tom’s hardware, there is a good selection of cards in this range. Let’s conservatively throw in another 50w consumed by other system components, including power supply losses. If we run at 350w all day (24 hours), we consume 8.4 kilowatt hours of electricity per day.

    The average cost of residential electricity in the US is a little over 12 cents per kilowatt hour (http://www.eia.gov/beta/enerdat/#/topic/7?agg=0,1&geo=g&endsec=vg&freq=M&start=200101&end=201209&ctype=linechart&rse=0&maptype=0). So the 8.4 kwh at $0.12/kwh costs us $1.00.

    Guess what, we just spent a dollar on electricity to get a dollar worth of goat. Why not just send the dollar directly to Heifer International and save the power for something useful?

    Indeed, if it were reliably and predictably possible to generate substantially more that $1 worth of bitcoin for $1 worth of electricity, then arbitragers would jump at the chance to do so until such time as the value of bitcoins dropped to the point that the arbitrage opportunity disappeared. Do we see any hedge funds doing this?

    • Jack Alderson

      You’re forgetting that bitcoin is an international currency/protocol and can be used from anywhere in the world, including places that use a very high percentage of renewable energy, like Germany. In such places, this program essentially transfers the energy of the sun and wind in wealthier states to much-needed livestock in poorer states. Yea, it’s a stretch, but it’s just the start and it’s actually really cool to think about the potential.

      Stop being such a downer

      • Guest

        I think you left out the capitol cost of the solar panels and wind turbines. In Germany power cost $0.31/kwh. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electricity_pricing] So renewable or not, Germany is clearly not the place to be mining bitcoins.

    • Chris Koss

      Hey Gets My Goat,

      I’m Chris Koss, community manager at CoinLab.

      You’re definitely correct: this program is geared towards people with great GPUs. If you have an old GPU or pay a high rate for power, it is likely more efficient to donate directly, which we’d love for you to do.

      However, many people with powerful GPUs, particularly gamers, will be able to donate at a “discount”.

      For example, our in-house testing machine has a AMD 7970 in it. At load, the 7970 consumes an additional 215 W, for a total of 5.16 kWh per day. At the national average power price, this would cost about $0.62 per day, but because we pay $0.07 per kWh, it actually costs us $0.36 a day to keep running.

      Each day, the 7970 can produce $1.39, so we’re effectively getting a 3.8x multiplier on our donation.

      Compare this to donating a dollar through Paypal. Paypal charges a $0.30 + 2.9% fee. Donating a dollar would put only $0.67 into Heifer’s pocket.

      Our software certainly isn’t for everyone, but those with great GPUs can effectively donate at a discount.

  • http://mckoss.com/ mckoss

    Pro-tip – You can follow along with the team progress by viewing our online leaderboard:

    http://pool.coinlab.com/partners/goats/leaderboard

    No need to install the client if you just want to see how this is going.

    - Mike

  • Guest

    I didn’t really know anything about CoinLab before this article. But I checked their web site and it looks like their business model is to run this same software for profit instead of charity. They embed it in a game and mine coins when the GPU is idle. They take the value and the cost is hidden in the gamer’s electric bill. Cost might be higher or lower than value depending on GPU and electric rate. But the gamer pays it and never notices and the publisher gets the coin with CoinLab taking a cut. Clever.

    • http://geekwire.com Todd Bishop

      Yes, I mentioned that in the story above. The ‘Give a Goat’ client is an alternative version of their program for charity, not their primary business. Also see this past story on the CoinLab business … http://www.geekwire.com/2012/bitcoin-startup-coinlab-lands-funding-tim-draper-monetize-games/

      • Guest

        Todd,

        After the comments on the last story and now this one, it seems the real headline you should be writing is, “CoinLab aims to profit by convincing gamers to waste electricity and pay for it.” that would be more interesting journalism than just fluffing up their next press release.

        • http://mckoss.com/ mckoss

          I don’t think “waste” is accurate. These computers are being used to create something of value by securing Bitcoin transactions. We are consuming fewer resources than value we are creating (at least according to the free-market’s determination of the relative value of electricity and Bitcoins).

          We try to be transparent by displaying how much a player is earning per day or hour directly in the client so they can make an informed decision on whether to continue to use the program.

          • Grumbler

            Don’t listen to those who can’t shake off their -3 Cloak of Negativity. Even the most eloquent explanation will not convince them that what you’re doing isn’t shady.

    • Chris Koss

      Yep. Except we don’t “embed” it into the game (because we use close to 100% of the GPU and it will slow your framerate down in-game). Instead we create stand-alone clients branded with our partners’ games.

      If you’d like to check an example out, you can earn Keys for Uber Entertainment’s Super Monday Night Combat with this client: http://pool.coinlab.com/partners/uber

      Also, we are forthright about the fact that in-game items are not “free”, and do cost electricity. However, if you have good hardware and a good price on power, you can “buy” a dollars worth of in-game items for as little as $0.26.