Saturday, 26 May 2018
My experience with cryptocurrencies, specifically bitcoin, has been simmering away in the background of my home lab for around five years now. I started off with the most basic of kit, a simple USB miner hooked up to a laptop that probably crunched through at around 33MH/s - we will get back to what that actually means later on. It was a good intro into how mining can work, I initially set the miner up to try and mine a whole bitcoin on its own, but ended up killing it AND my laptop by accidentally passing 12 volts across a 5 volt connection on my USB hub... I was rather embarrassed by the whole thing, but I did end up learning a lot from this experience.
Dont Try To Mine A Bitcoin On Your Own
Just dont, it would probably take you a couple of hundred years. Back in the day when the concept was new, people were easily crunching through bitcoins with the graphics cards on their machines, racking up dozens of bitcoins for no other reason than they could. I am not going to get into the history of bitcoin here, you can find plenty of information on it already out on the Internet, suffice it to say that if you want to make any amount of money with bitcoin mining, then you want to get into a mining pool.
Mining in a pool means you work with others to mine those precious bitcoins as a group effort. Each member of the mining pool gets a percentage of the bitcoin depending on how much effort their miner has put in to verifying the bitcoin itself. Again, I am not going to get into the details of how a mining pool works as there is already a bunch of info out in the wild that can do a better job than I and I dont enjoy mindlessly repeating other peoples words. But, if you would like to get into mining as part of a pool, then I can seriously reccomend the one that I use, Slush's Pool, which can be found here: https://slushpool.com/home/
I think this is one of the more popular pools, I didnt really do that much research into which is the best to join, I picked Slush as there is a copious amount of documentation available on the site on how to configure just about every miner there is. Once you have set up your account, you also get a very good dashboard that tells you the status of your miner(s) and how you are performing as part of the pool itself.
After I got over the act of killing my laptop and my first miner, I decided to step it up a gear and purchase a more serious piece of kit (and a new laptop...) to see how far I could go with this. I ended up getting a BlackArrow X1 miner from Ebay extremely cheap. As far as I am concerned, this was an awesome entry level miner for anyone interested in making some decent cash from bitcoin mining a few years back. The device is significantly different to the USB miner I previously used, that one required my laptop to be running at all times, which was annoying given the fact I needed to move it around the place depending on where I was supposed to be for work etc. The BlackArrow X1 is a self contained unit that houses the ASIC's used to do all the heavy lifting as well as a computer running Android, complete with a touch screen interface, wifi and ethernet. All I needed to do was configure it to connect to the pool and leave it to do its thing, which it did for years and made me a fairly sizeable amount of cash for what I laid out for the device and power consumption. Of course, as with all types of computing equipment, things get superseded and the same is true of the X1, which has led me to start investigating how I can expand my mining setup cheaply. This device will happily crunch through bitcoin hashes as part of a pool at around 100GH/s all day long, however this is now considered to be a low power device.
It uses CGMiner, which is pretty much the same application everyone uses when mining in a pool regardless of whether you are using a USB miner or a more powerful device hooked up to your LAN. It is easy to setup and works extremely well, Slush also provides all the instructions you need in order to get CGMiner connected to the pool so you can get up and running with your bitcoin adventure as soon as possible.
If you do a quick search on Ebay right now, you will find many, many miners working up in the TH/s range that can cost a few thousand pounds. Thats great if you have the money to invest right now, but you need to bear in mind that bitcoin is a currency and its value fluctuates on a daily basis - an investment of £1k or £2k now based on current bitcoin prices wont look like such a great deal if the value of the currency drops through the floor next week. I dont have the money to soak up such a loss and I certainly dont run a bitcoin mining farm, so I got to thinking about how I can expand my mining setup economically.
At some point last year, I was given a bitcoin miner from someone who had bought a device from Ebay, but once they received it, had no idea on how to set it up. I gladly took it and left it in a drawer up until a few weeks ago when I reaslised I needed to up my bitcoin game. The device itself is a Block Erupter v2 mining blade that apparently can run at 10GH/s, this doesnt sound that fast for a device like this, however after some research I discovered that it isnt really meant to operate on its own - its a blade that is mean to sit in a backplane with four other devices attached (well, I think four, might be one or two more) and is powered from a server PSU, it has an ethernet connection as well - note, ethernet is far, far better for mining bitcoin than USB, its a hell of a lot fast, also if you have a standalone miner that offers wifi as well as ethernet, choose ethernet, it is THE fastest connection.
Other than that, there is nothing on the device at all that would give you much clue on how to set it up, the only reason I discovered what type of device it is was after googling the only text on the PCB itself. Right now, these things are about £75 each on Ebay, however, finding the backplane for these blades is extremely hard, I have spent a week combing the Internet for one and came up blank. The last one I saw for sale seems to have gone out in January this year from an Ebay seller in the US, even if I caught the auction the seller would not have shipped to the UK, which is vexing.
So, without a backplane, how am I going to get this thing started up so I can see if it will work? Well, there are a number of truly terrifying step by step guides on forums that go through how to destroy an ATX PSU with paperclips(!) in order to power the blades on, this basically involves poking bits of metal into the PSU's MOLEX connector in order to trick the PSU into the on state and then hooking up a bunch of other MOLEX connectors that have also been cut to shreds to the power terminals on the blades themselves. There is also a lot of gaffer tape involved.
Yeah... a 24/7 mining setup that involves gaffer tape and paperclips in order to power a device that gets extremely hot... Not going to do that.
However, I do need to get power to the board in order to see if it works, it has been sat in a drawer for the best part of a year so I have no idea if it will even start up - so I am going to have to use an ATX PSU for this, but in a much safer manner. So first things first, get power to the board and hook it up to the network to see if it gets an IP (it may have static addressing by default, which I am hoping isnt the case). If this thing works, then I can start looking in to getting it hooked into Slush's pool and supplement my existing setup and, if things go well with it, I might even get a couple more added in if they are good value for money...
But please, if anyone else has one of these - think twice about how you are going to power them. I havent figured out how I am going to do it yet, but paperclips and gaffer tape just doesnt sound safe to me.
Thursday, 8 November 2012
I got given Doom 3 just after it was released, when I say given you should read made my GF buy it for me when I was pulling a sickie from work. I didn't last long playing it, for some reason I turn to water when playing scary video games, and for me Doom 3 is up there as one of the most terrifying games I have ever played. Now, I know some people will laugh out loud at that one, but its true.
In 2004, I had a fairly powerful PC so was able to play it at almost the max when it came to graphical settings. I also had surround sound, which made it even scarier for me. Playing it again, just eight years after its release has made me very aware of how much the FPS genre has moved on. I quickly found myself trying to do things that are found in more modern games, getting down on the weapon sight for a more accurate shot or pressing a button for a grenade etc, even alternate fire modes are missing. But does this detract from a game when it is good? Well, when I first started playing it, I felt that it wasn't standing up to the test of time, however Doom 3 had an ace in the hole when it comes to me - I never completed it the first time round without cheating.
One of the good things about console games these days is the inability to cheat. When it comes to PC games I am pretty weak, if I get to a point where I find the level too tough, I will Google for cheats. You dont seem to be able to cheat (as much) on console games - which is a good thing because it made me appreciate Doom 3 for the great game that it actually is.
A lot of people say that ID make games that are awesome to look at, that are wonderful technical achievements and this is true. Doom 3 uses the Tech 4 engine which has only recently been superseded by the Tech 5 engine used in Rage. The lighting effects are amazing, I didn't really appreciate them enough the first time round, but this time on a 50" TV in 3D, I definitely did. The level design is a little old fashioned by today's standards, a lot of traversing one area only to have to go back to the beginning etc as well as a lot of button pressing and searching for security keys and PDA's. Initially I thought this was a bit daft, but then I started to think back to the original Doom, you had to do the same thing there pretty much.
I think we have been spoiled a little bit when it comes to FPS games these days, take the Call of Duty franchise, it relies a lot on set pieces cinematic battles etc. Doom 3 doesn't really have this, sure there are cut scenes and some cinematic elements to keep the story going but on the whole, the player is left to their own devices when it comes to playing out the levels. This is something the common console gamer just wont be used to. Some concessions have been made for the console generation, there are very limited graphical options when compared to the PC original, plus there are elements like a body mounted flash light that were not in the first release. For me, this was a god send, the first time round you couldn't use the torch and a gun at the same time, this made the game a hell of a lot scarier but also frustrated me a lot. Doom 3 often presents you with about 100 shades of black in some levels and with the default settings, the screen is often dark in the brightest of levels. This means you can be bounced around by the weakest of enemies as you search for them.
I also thought I could clear the game in a few hours, which was wrong. Overall I think I took just over ten hours to complete it - after the first three I was completely engrossed in the story and the game play. It was just as scary as the first time round and for me, completing it after so many years gave me an extreme sense of satisfaction. It also got me thinking about other scary games I have played, or more accurately games that I have played that scared me. Looking at Doom 3 again has made me appreciate just how it has influenced so many newer games. Without Doom 3, I wonder if there would have been a Dead Space? Or perhaps, would BioShock been a little more innocent in its level design?
At the same time, you can also see how other games have influenced the design of Doom 3. If any of you have been lucky enough to play System Shock 2, you will kind of see how the narrative of the game, through its logs and misdirection have influenced its design. I also feel that the Thief series have also made a massive impact on the lighting in the game itself, which is truly amazing.
When the original Doom was released, it was a horror game full of zombies, demons and devils. You searched huge levels looking for keys and the exit whilst being confronted by hoards of nasty things. I remember at the time it got a lot of media attention for its content. Doom 3 didn't get the same level of attention, these days we are used to games having adult content, but it is still a Doom game. You still search for keys and still battle wave after wave of hell spawn and still get scared (well, if you are me you do).
Now, having just completed it, I cannot wait for Doom 4...
Wednesday, 2 May 2012
Wednesday, 8 February 2012
Just picked up a copy of Sonic CD for Android. This is an essential purchase for any retro game collector. Given the recent hype surrounding the classic incarnations of Sonic it is no surprise that this fogotten gem has made it on to nearly all the casual gaming platforms going. I was lucky enough to have a copy of this back in the day, but I had no problem picking this up for a few quid.
Nearly every version I have for this game uses the North American sound track. This is a massive shame as the original Japanese soundtrack is gorgeous. Thankfully, the recently released version comes with the Japanese soundtrack as standard.
The touch screen controls are good, if a little hit and miss, so you may want to play this with the keyboard, should your device support one. I am lucky to have a keyboard on both my Android devices, the controls are a standard WASD for direction, with L for action (you only get one button for every action, you dont need any more.).
This version also has a few other refinments, firstly, you can alter the depiction of the spin dash attack. You can choose to use the original spin animation or the version used from Sonic 2 onwards. You also get to choose Tails as a playable character, but unfortunately you are not able to get a Super Tails with all the chaos emeralds.
For the best part of four quid, this is an unbelievably good bargain. A slice of Sonic heritage that is so often missing from Sega collections. I reccomend that you get this game if you have the chance.
This week I picked up the UK folio case for my new Lenovo Tablet along with the stylus. The folio case pretty much transforms the ThinkPad tablet into a fully fledged Android latptop. The built in keyboard and optical mouse respond very well indeed.
On its own, the stylus allows you to have precise pen input, the built in handwriting recognition performs a lot better when used with the N-Trig device than your finger alone. Note taking is improved and you can rest your palm on the screen - something that using your finger wouldnt let you do.
The folio case is in an attractive black leather with all the signature colours you would expect from a Lenovo device. The only thing missing is the inclusion of the keyboard light, something that appears on a lot of Lenovo devices.
Access to all the connectors is provided, however the memory card slot door and full sized USB port are covered. This case uses the USB port for attaching the keyboard and optical mouse, so you wont be able to attache your HDD whilst this is in use. Unfortunately, the case doesnt allow for easy use or acces of it either, which is a shame.
The case also obscures the memory card slot door, if only partially. Which means you wont be hot swapping memory cards whilst in use. This is a bit of a pain, but nothing major. Access to the docking connector, power connector, headphone/mic connector and pen storage is catered for.
The mouse works well, another Lenovo signature addition, instead of a trackpad - which would have extended the keyboard further and thus ruin the design, you have an optical mouse in place of the traditional Lenovo nipple/nub (dont know the official name for this). It works as well as you would expect it, the only negative comment I have about it is that the pointer icon itself seems to be a little on the small size.
In my personal opinion, if you have a Lenovo ThinkPad tablet, then getting both the folio case and the stylus is a must. Whilst the screen keyboard on this tablet is easy to use, it does take up a lot of screen real estate, the folio keyboard reclaims this resulting in an end product that is highly adaptable to pretty much all situations you may need a laptop replacement.
Tuesday, 24 January 2012
Monday, 23 January 2012
A couple of months back, I took delivery of my latest console - the PC Engine FX. As far as I know, this was a 32Bit console that was only ever released in Japan, some how, a brand new boxed example managed to end up in Cornwall, thank God. Buying one of these from Japan costs a lot in shipping.
The device itself is a odd one. It is CD only, which isn't surprising, and it is designed in the style of a small tower PC. For some reason though, there a whole bunch of little secret compartments in the main body, I guess that NEC saw this a being a runaway success, so decided to make it extensible (even though by this time, manufacturers should have realised that upgrades like this didn't sell so well). I don't have any games for it yet, a lot of them seem to be JRPG's and my Japanese is non-existent. Once I find a good example of a Shmup or a brawler, I will fire it up and see how its years in deepest darkest Cornwall have gone down.
As far as I know though, this console wasn't even big in Japan... which I think is a bit of a shame really as it quite a charming little device. The joypads feel a bit cheap, but a substantial - and has six buttons, a staple for new consoles in the mid 90's.
I guess I just need to hit YouTube to get some vids of some of the games available for it, then hit eBay. I really must get around to recording some footage of these devices and upload them. I am not very sure how many other people are interested in things like this to be honest, but given the surge in interest in retro gaming recently, it may be good to talk about the 'also rans'.