So I heard about Bitcoin a few months ago. I didn't pay much attention - it was on Reddit and I had a "Huh, that's kinda neat" moment and moved on with my day. Recently I've had the chance to take a closer look at this new e-currency - and seems to me that Bitcoin is something big - really really big. Like what the internet did to the publishing industry, or what torrents are doing to the record, movie and tv industries. That big, only with money.
It all sounded too good to be true. So I started playing. I setup my home PCs as miners and waited ... and waited ... and waited. It turns out that even with my beefy hardware, since I was mining alone I was probably going to be waiting months and months before I mined a single block (mining happens in "blocks" - 1 block = 50 Bitcoins). I did some reading and found that people are pooling their hardware together to make massive computing grids, that earn blocks fairly frequently and then distribute the 50 Bitcoins among the participants for that block evenly depending on how much power you've put in. I also found out that gamer graphics cards are tremendously better at mining than CPUs. My i7-950 CPU (a pretty damned good and recent CPU) mines at about 5 million hashes/second. My AMD 5850 on the other hand mines at about 230 million hashes/second.
Using "slushs" (the handle of the guy who started it) mining pool and my GPU (plus spare CPU, cause why not?) I earned my first full Bitcoin in a little over 50 hours. At time of writing this is about $26CAD. Not bad for spare computing cycles.
The way I look at Bitcoin is that in order to fully understand it you have to really fully understand three different very complicated things: Economics, mathematics, and computer science. I understand most of the computer science, and a little of the math. I don't even pretend to understand the economics. I know it was been reviewed by some very smart people (com-sci and economics professors) and in addition since it's open source and no one has figured out how to game the system yet - I feel comfortable putting some faith into the Bitcoin economy. Am I ready to put my life savings into it yet? (like this guy) No, but I am going to invest a little - I mean who knows - in 2016 a single Bitcoin could be worth a few grand (or nothing, hah).
There's tons of great reading out there if you're interested. The WeUseCoins site is very informative and easy to read (no technical background needed). If you're interested in just what you can buy right now there's a great Bitcoin Wiki entry filled with places that accept Bitcoins. That same wiki has some technical articles mostly aimed at developers. It's also got a great FAQ/Myths section.
I'm personally very excited for Bitcoin, and I hope it takes off. I think banks and governments hold too much power in terms of economics and currency. Truly, a Bitcoin type economy is a free one.