Archive for the ‘Projects’ Category
Tuesday, January 28th, 2014
This article was originally written for and published at Philly Mesh on January 28th, 2014. It has been posted here for safe keeping.
The first time I remember hearing about mesh networks was sometime around 2005. Through rigorous searches, I had finally tracked down a complete run of Seattle Wireless TV, a proto-podcast that ran from July of 2003 until June of 2004. This hunt was undergone for my own personal interests; I was and am something of an online-video-series junkie, and I have since posted all the episodes for download on Archive.org where they will be preserved for anyone to watch for years to come. The topics of these episodes varied from interviews with operators, to wardriving tips, and even antenna creation. Pretty popular topics back then, but now the show serves as a fantastic time capsule from a technologically-simpler time. Even ten years ago, “getting into” wireless networking seemed radically different. Everyone tried their hand at wardriving, embraced 802.11g, and wired cantennas to their Orinoco cards. Here is a prime example of the times — some Seattleites setting up their own mesh network in 2002. Essentially, Wi-Fi was king and you could have it in your own home. I didn’t end up jumping into the mix until years later. I got my first laptop in 2006 and even then I usually embraced a wired connection. Watching these video shows was my own little outlet into what the cool kids were doing. It wasn’t until a little later that I decided it was time to play.
In 2007, I received a La Fonera router from Fon courtesy of a free giveaway (I actually managed to snag one on the very last day they offered the promotion). I thought it might be cool to join their Wi-Fi collective, but I was much more interested in what else I could do with the device. The day it came in the mail I promptly researched what others were doing with it and joined in on the popular act of flashing dd-wrt firmware onto the little device to get some expanded functionality. This process was harder than I expected and my lack of knowledge on the subject at the time showed. After many frustrating hours — flipping back and forth between telnet, tftp, and IRC chatter — I had a fully functioning dd-wrt router of my very own. While this was a feat all in itself, it went on to inspire me to see what I could do with other routers. I soon grew a little collection of second-hand Linksys WRT54G routers to tinker with and take up space on my work bench. I tried out different firmwares like OpenWrt and Tomato and always tried to keep something new running on a separate network for me to play with so I didn’t accidentally bring down the whole house’s internet access with a bad flash or misconfiguration.
Years later, I ended up working with wireless technology in a professional capacity. However, I was no longer handling everyone’s favorite suite of 802.11 protocols but the new-fangled 802.15.4 for low-rate wireless personal area networks. I focused on the ZigBee specification and its derivatives, which were and are a popular choice for technologies like home automation systems, wireless switches, electrical meters, etc. I spent months toying with the technology, working to understand the encryption, capture and dissect the traffic, and create and transmit my own custom packets. While the technology itself was enough to hold my interest, I felt a draw toward the technology’s use of wireless mesh networking to create expansive networks.
This wasn’t my first foray into the world of mesh networking per se. Prior to my work with ZigBee, I focused on meshing briefly to combat network interruption when creating the topology for a hobby-run IRC network I was administrating. This was, however, my first time applying mesh ideas wirelessly. I quickly learned the ins and outs of the Zigbee specification and the overarching 802.15.4 standard, but I couldn’t help thinking about how these technologies applied to Wi-Fi and how much fun an 802.11 mesh network would be.
Soon, I discovered the existence of Philly Mesh, a Philadelphia-based mesh network in its infancy that connected with Hyperboria: a global decentralized network of nodes running cjdns. I made a few posts to its subreddit, added my potential node to the map, and ordered some TP-Link routers to play with. While the group seemed to be gathering support, it ultimately (and much to my dismay) stagnated. Expansion stopped and communication dwindled. People disappeared and services started to fall apart. Over the next year I tried to work through getting my own node up but hit several setbacks. I bricked a router, ran into configuration problems, suffered from outdated or missing documentation, and then bricked another router. Eventually, after a seemingly endless process of torment and discovery, I connected to the network using a Raspberry Pi. My first cjdns node was up.
After this, I made a push to revive the Philly Mesh project. I constructed a new website, revived some of the services, and started my push for finding community involvement. Though it stands to be a slow process, things are coming together and people are coming forward. Whether or not we will have a thriving mesh network in the future is unknown, but the journey in this case interests me just as much as the destination.
As of now, I’m embracing wireless mesh as a hobby. I still have a pile of routers to play with and test firmware on, and am getting new hardware every so often. As for the bricked TP-Links, I’ve picked up USB/TTL adapter in an attempt to correct my wrongdoings and get cjdns set up properly. I’m also constantly playing with my settings on the Raspberry Pi installation as I have to firewall things off, assure reliability for an application crash, and generally make sure things are running smoothly. Additionally, I’ve been toying around with different technologies to set up an access point through the Raspberry Pi such as a USB/Ethernet adapter to bridge a connection between an old router and the Pi, and a USB dongle to create an access point in a more direct model. Aside from the Raspberry Pi and assorted routers, I’m also interested in getting cjdns installed and configured on plug computers like the Pogoplug and single board computers like the BeagleBone Black.
Where will all of this take us? Hopefully this is a stepping stone on the way to building a thriving local mesh, but the future is unknown. I’d love to get some nodes set up wirelessly within the city, but I’m only one person out in the suburbs tinkering away. While I’m sitting here learning about setting up devices, I only hope to share what I find with others who might benefit from having someone else carve out an initial path. I, by myself, can work to build a local mesh but it wouldn’t be nearly as robust or expansive as if I worked within a team sharing ideas and experience.
If you’re reading this, you have the interest. You may not have the know-how, the money for high-tech equipment, or a location nearby other potential operators, but you have the desire. If there’s anything that I’ve learned throughout my ongoing mesh adventure, it’s that good things take time and nothing happens overnight.
Tomorrow, we can work to build a strong mesh for our city. As for today, why don’t we get started?
Friday, September 6th, 2013
If you have not done so already, please read parts 1, 2 & 3 of this series.
As of writing this, I’ve spent one week running my setup with one USB Block Eruptor and one week running my setup with three. In my first week, I received about two payouts of 0.01 bitcoin each while in the second week I received that payout almost daily.
The current average Bitcoin rate in USD (as of this writing) is $144.99322. This means my payout, one hundredth of that value, is $1.4499322. Now, this doesn’t sound like too bad of a payout. However, there is a lot to consider when figuring out whether or not I will actually make any money off of this in the long run.
First, we have to consider that the price of a bitcoin is constantly fluctuating. When I started this project, the exchange rate was ~$119.00 USD. This amount could change at any time as the value inflates or deflates. Next, we have to consider the change in mining complexity – as more people start mining, the harder it will be. This is not only a problem of competition, the difficulty of generating a block increases systematically every 2016 blocks (roughly two weeks) Thus, as time goes on, you’ll make less money.
Aside from these variable rates, we have some constants to think about. The initial investment wasn’t enough to break the bank, but it wasn’t anything to ignore.
Recall our initial build list, this time with some prices:
- 1 x Raspberry Pi ($35 + $4.98 shipping = $39.98)
- 1 x ~4GB SD Card ($5.01 + $0 shipping = $5.01)
- 1 x Micro USB Cable ($2.60 + $0 shipping = $2.60)
- 1 x Network Cable ($5.49 + $0 shipping = $5.49)
- 1 x Powered USB HUB ($19.95 + $0 shipping = $19.95)
- n x USB Block Eruptor (($42.99 + $3.99 shipping) * 3 = $140.94)
Total = $213.97 USD
Pretty big when you put it all together, but this is worst case scenario – when you don’t start with anything. I already had most of this around the house. Besides the USB Block Eruptors, I did need to purchase a USB hub, but I wouldn’t consider this part of my investment as I needed one anyway (the project more or less gave me an excuse to get it). I’m more concerned with making back my money from the Block Eruptors, which total $140.94 USD.
Next, we should consider power requirements. Again, this doesn’t matter to me much, I’m just focused on earning back money for the USB Block Eruptors, but let’s hook the whole rig up to my Kill A Watt electricity usage monitor and see what it says.
Kill A Watt reading for kWh over 44 hours.
The Kill A Watt states that the consumption is 0.55 kWh, this was taken over a period of 44 hours. Now let’s say our monthly electricity rate was 15 cents per kWh. We can plug all of those numbers into this handy formula: 0.55 kWh / 44 hours * 732 hours [hours in a month] * $0.15 [price per kWh] = $1.37 per month. So overall the power cost isn’t too bad, especially compared to old GPU rigs.
Okay, now we know the power consumption, have our initial costs, are mindful of the changing rates, etc. How do we put it all together?
The Genesis Block has created the Mining Dashboard just for this sort of thing. We can plug in all of our information here and see what’s what. They do have some fields for power, but that doesn’t take into account the Raspberry Pi and the hub. Plug in what matters to you. You cannot retroactively compute values, so I’ll have to base my start in September. However, this doesn’t take into account that I’ve already mined $9.96 (in the current exchange rate), so I’ll subtract that from my investment of $140.94 to get $130.98. It’s a dirty workaround, but this is an estimate after all. After putting in all the values, hit ‘Calculate.’ Here are my results:
My Mining Dashboard projection.
From the projection, I will never break even and will forever be $44 in debt because my setup will be completely obsolete in around 10 months time.
Now as I said, this is a projection but it’s likely closer to being accurate than it is to inaccurate. I likely won’t make my money back unless the value of a bitcoin continues to rise and/or the mining complexity grows at a slower rate (which is unlikely).
I’m not the only one in this boat. As more and more powerful ASIC rigs are being produced, the window for profit gets smaller and smaller. Some new ASICs sold now won’t even be able to turn any profit for owners because the time between ordering and arrival leaves too small a window to mine back the initial investment at the current complexity.
While it is unfortunate to (likely) not turn a profit, this still proved to be a fun and incredibly interesting project. I may not have come out of it with financial wealth, but the ability to look down at my little Raspberry Pi chugging away (actually turning electricity into money, who knew?) was completely worth the time and effort I put into it. I’ll likely end up sitting on the bitcoins I mine now for a little while, just like I did back when my wallet got its first deposit. I’m more infatuated with mining and collecting the currency than I am with spending it, at least for right now..
Hopefully you, one way or another, have learned something from my little journey.
I know I did.
Thursday, September 5th, 2013
If you have not done so already, please read parts 1 and 2 in this series.
So I have a mining rig that’s successfully rewarding me with bitcoins. Normal people would probably stop at this point. One nice thing about mining in Slush’s Pool is that it has a handy email notification option that tells you when credit is being transferred to your Bitcoin wallet. This is pretty cool, but what if I want more in-depth information? For example, what if I want to know my hash rate, or if my miner is alive (did the system crash?) or how many bitcoins I have total?
The next step for me was to create a mobile application which could provide all this information – whenever or wherever I wanted it. So, I got to work.
The platform I chose to work with was Android. A logical choice for me as I had prior experience developing Android applications and own an Android phone myself. Programming for Android, as many know, means programming in Java. If you have any prior Java experience, you’re already have a head start if you ever wanted to get into Android development.
A fantastic thing about Slush’s Pool is that it offers an API (Application Programming Interface) which allows users to pull down information on their miners using the de facto JSON format. So from this I can get at my mining information, but what else do I want? I decided it would be wise to pull down the average value of a bitcoin in USD, at any given moment. This way, I can do some simple calculations to determine a rough estimate of how much I’m generating and getting payed in USD. Lastly, I wanted to get the balance of my Bitcoin wallet, again to be displayed in both Bitcoin and USD.
I already had the API information for Slush’s Pool, as it is linked on everyone’s profile and accessed via a common base url and unique key for each user. Here is an example of the JSON output for my account:
Next, I needed an API for the average value of a bitcoin in USD. I went on the hunt. Finally, I found that Mt. Gox, the largest Bitcoin exchange, has a public API for bitcoin rates (located at this ticker URL). This works perfectly for my needs. Here is some sample JSON output from this API:
So far, so good.
Lastly, I wanted wallet information. I discovered that Blockchain shows records of transactions (as they are all recorded in the block chain), so I did some probing and found they also offered an API for attributes of individual wallets (Here’s a link using my wallet info, it’s all public anyway). This includes balance, transactions, etc. The units for bitcoins here is the Satoshi, one millionth of a bitcoin. Some sample JSON output from this service looks like so:
So now I had the APIs I was going to use and needed to put them all together in a neat package. The resulting Android application is a simple one. Two screens (home and statistics) with a refresh button that pulls everything down again and recalculates any necessary currency conversions. Android does not allow you to do anything system-intensive on the main (UI) thread anymore, so I had to resort to using an asynchronous task that spawns a new thread. This thread is where I pull down all the JSON (in text form) and get my hands dirty manipulating the data. I utilize a 3rd party library called GSON to parse the data I need from the JSON string. Then, it’s just a little bit of math and we have all the necessary data. After all of that is done, the application prints everything on the screen. Pretty basic, and with plenty of room for potential additions.
When running the application, provided there’s network connectivity and all the servers are up, you will be rewarded with a screen like this:
The application in action
Not too shabby. If you wanted to use it yourself, it would be necessary to hard-code your own key from Slush’s pool. There doesn’t appear to be an API call by username (by design), so it needs to be implemented manually at some point (which happens to be in code as of right now).
The source for this application, which I call SlushPuppy, is freely available on GitHub. Feel free to fork it, or just download and mess around with it. If anything, it provides a small example of both Android-specific programming as well as API interaction.
Wednesday, September 4th, 2013
If you have not yet, please read the first article in this series: Mining Bitcoin for Fun and (Basically No) Profit, Part 1: Introduction
I have a few Raspberry Pis around my house that I like to play with – four in total. Prior to this idea of a Bitcoin project, I had one running as a media center and another operating as a PBX. Of the remaining two, one was an early model B with 256MB of RAM while the other was the shiny new revision sporting 512MB. I wanted to save the revised model for the possibility of a MAME project, so I decided to put the other, older one to work. It would help me on my quest to mine bitcoins.
Raspberry Pi Model B
But what is mining exactly you may ask? Bitcoin works on a system of verified transactions achieved through a distributed consensus (a mouthful I know). Every transaction is kept as a record on the Bitcoin block chain. Mining is more or less the process of verifying a “block” of these transactions and appending them to the chain. These blocks have to fit strict cryptographic rules before they can be appended, else blocks could be modified and invalidated. When someone properly generates one of these blocks, the system pays them in a certain amount of bitcoins (currently 25). This process repeats every ten minutes.
I knew that at this stage in the mining game I had to go with an ASIC setup and I new I wanted to run it off of my Raspberry Pi. Simple enough. The Raspberry Pi is a fantastic platform for this considering its price, power consumption, and horsepower. For mining hardware, I decided to buy the cheapest ASIC miners I could get my hands on. I found the ASICminer USB Block Eruptor Sapphire for the low price of $45 on Amazon. They cost more money on eBay and I couldn’t buy them from any sellers with Bitcoin because I didn’t have any (and didn’t want to bother with exchanges) so this seemed like the way to go. The Block Eruptor could run at ~330MHash/s, which is pretty hefty compared to GPU mining and at a fraction of the price. It is also pretty low power, using only 2.5 watts.
ASICminer USB Block Eruptor
So I figured that I would get one of those, but also devised a more complete and formal parts list:
- 1 x Raspberry Pi
- 1 x ~4GB SD Card
- 1 x Micro USB Cable
- 1 x Network Cable
- 1 x Powered USB HUB
- n x USB Block Eruptor
That’s the basics of it. I already had the Raspberry Pi, and the necessary cables and SD card. These were just lying around. I needed to purchase a USB hub, so I bought a 7-port model for about $20. The hub needs to be powered as it will be running both the Raspberry Pi and the USB Block Eruptor. Considering power, the Raspberry Pi claims to draw somewhere around 1-1.2 Amps maximum while the USB Block Eruptor claims to draw 500 milliAmps maximum. I tested things out using my Kill A Watt and found that my setup with the USB hub, Raspberry Pi, and three USB Block Eruptors draws only 170 milliAmps and uses only 12.5 watts! So the projected power usage seems off for me, but I can’t guarantee the same results for you.
After buying my USB Block Eruptor on Amazon, I got it in about a week. The day after I got it and made sure it was working, I ordered two additional units to fill out the hub a little more.
To do anything with Bitcoin, we’re first going to need a wallet and a Bitcoin address. Which wallet software you use is up to you. For desktop apps, there is the original Bitcoin-qt, MultiBit, and other third-party wallets. There are mobile applications like Bitcoin Wallet for Android, and even web-based wallets like BlockChain that store your bitcoins online. Figure out what client works best for you and use it to generate your Bitcoin address. The address is a series of alphanumeric characters that act as a public key for anyone to send bitcoins to. This address is also linked to a private key, not meant to be distributed, which allows the address holder to transfer funds.
In order to use the USB Block Eruptor, we’re going to need mining software. One great thing about using the Raspberry Pi as a platform is that someone has already made a Bitcoin mining operating system called MinePeon, built on Arch Linux. The distribution combines existing mining packages cgminer and BFGminer with a web-based GUI and some nice statistical elements. You’re going to need to download this.
To copy the operating system image file onto the SD card for your Raspberry Pi, insert the card into your computer and format it with the application of your choosing. Since I did this with a Windows system, I used Win32 Disk Imager. It is fairly straight forward: choose the image file, choose the drive letter, hit write, and you’re done.
Win32 Disk Imager
Okay, software is ready. Now to set up the Raspberry Pi, insert the SD card into the Pi’s slot. To power the Pi, plug your Raspberry Pi into one of the USB ports via Micro USB cable. Then, plug the USB hub into one of your Raspberry Pi’s free USB ports. Any USB Block Eruptors you have can be plugged into the remaining USB ports on the hub (not the Raspberry Pi directly), but keep heat flow in mind as they get pretty hot. Next, connect the Raspberry Pi to your home network. Finally, plug your hub’s power cord in and let the Pi boot up.
To go any further, you will need to determine your Raspberry Pi’s IP address. If your router allows for it, the easiest way is to log in to it and look for the new device on your network list. Alternatively, plug a monitor or television into your Raspberry Pi and log directly into the system using minepeon as the user and peon as the password. From there, run the ifconfig command to retrieve the internal IP address.
Navigate to MinePeon’s web interface by typing the IP address in your browser. You’ll have to log in to the web interface using the previously defined credentials: minepeon as the user and peon as the password. You should be presented with a screen similar to this (But without the graphs filled in):
MinePeon Status Screen
If you receive an in-line error about the graphs not being found, don’t worry. You just need to get mining and they will generate automatically, making the message go away.
In order to utilize the software, you will now need to register with one or more Bitcoin mining pools. Mining pools work using distribution. The pool you are connected to will track the progress of each user’s attempt at solving a block for the block chain. On proof of an attempt at solving the next block, the user is awarded a share. At the end of the round, any winnings are divided among users based on how much power (how many shares) they contribute. Why use a mining pool at all? Payout usually only happens for one user when a block is solved. It can be very difficult for a user to mine a bitcoin, even after months of trying as the odds of success are always the same. Mining independently offers the opportunity of a giant payout at some point, but pooled mining offers smaller, more regular payouts.
Mining pools can differ greatly in how the payout is divided. I’d advise that you do some research as to which method works best for you. Alternatively, you could go about setting up your own mining pool, but I wouldn’t advise it without a substantial amount of processing power unless you’re willing to wait for a payout (if it even comes at all).
Anyway, I chose two mining pools: Slush’s pool (my primary) and BTC Guild (my fail-over in case my primary is down).
Registering with a mining pool is as simple as registering with any other website. After completing registration, you will be supplied with a worker name/password and the server address. These credentials can then be pushed into the MinePeon Pools configuration like so:
MinePeon Mining Pools
Next go to the Settings page and change your password for the MinePeon web interface (it’s a good idea), the timezone (this is buggy right now and won’t look like it’s working on the settings page) and any time you want to donate to the MinePeon maintainer (if any).
If everything is configured correctly, within a few hours (or instantly), you should see some activity on your MinePeon Status screen. Additionally, be sure to check your account on the mining pool you signed up with to make sure everything is working as expected.
My MinePeon Pool & Device Status
My Slush’s Pool Worker Status
Now, just sit back and let your machine go to town. The only thing you have to do at this point is make sure the USB hub continues to get power (don’t let anyone unplug it) and it should run continuously. On your first day or two, it may take a while before your status update and payout will take even longer.
My mining rig, hub side
My mining rig, Raspberry Pi side
Most mining pools offer status tracking for your payout, so you should be able to see how things are progressing fairly quickly. As of this article being published, I receive a payout of 0.01 Bitcoin near every 24-30 hours while running three USB Block Eruptors.
Wednesday, September 4th, 2013
Note: This article is the first entry in a series I am writing for Philly2600.
If you’re anything like myself, you’ve been keeping loose tabs on Bitcoin over the years. When I first read about the cryptocurrency, I thought it was an awesome concept. Now, I had heard about electronic currencies before. The first mental link I made upon hearing about Bitcoin was that it reminded me of e-gold. Founded in 1996, years before Paypal, e-gold was a gold-backed digital currency created by a few guys in Florida. e-gold was the de facto currency for underground transactions, and was recently referenced in Kevin Poulsen’s Kingpin as the choice of the carder market – the collection of online outlets to buy and sell credit card information.
Though it was forged near the tail of e-gold’s run and adopted a similar concept, Bitcoin turned out to be a different beast entirely. While it is still favored for underground transactions, closely integrated with controversial websites like The Silk Road, the currency had striking differences that allowed it to come into its own. Bitcoin is distributed (read peer-to-peer), decentralized, and considered fiat money (as opposed to representative money). There is no central authority to go to with legal matters, you cannot simply flick a switch and shut down the network, and the currency only has value because we give it value – it isn’t backed against gold or silver or another currency.
Bitcoin also has an interesting history. The identity of the creator, who goes by the name Satoshi Nakamoto, is still unknown to the public. Many theories have come up to who the man behind Bitcoin really is. Some speculations range from an academic team to a government agency to a reclusive cryptographer. If you want to see more speculation, there’s an interesting Vice article about the whole thing I’d recommend checking out.
In 2011, I got interested enough in Bitcoin to set up my own wallet, download the block-chain, and set up little donate buttons on a blog or two. The donations never rolled in (and why would they), but my fascination with the technology did. The idea of a monetary system that worked sort of “like BitTorrent” not only held my attention because of the possibility of financial success but also because it made me feel like I was at the forefront of something cool and exciting. I pictured scenes straight out of Serial Experiments Lain or Neuromancer with a dingy apartment somewhere in a dense city. A patchwork of tangled computer cables linking unknown and mysterious hardware together to just run and create money for me while I’m out. Nothing ever sounded both so cyberpunk and actually possible (though probably not as bleakly artistic).
At the time, CPU mining was on its way out as GPU mining was taking over. The internet was flooding with pictures of enthusiasts’ mining rigs. Case-less computers, motherboards with a large amount of PCI slots, each filled with a top-of-the-line graphics card. One of these setups was big, hot, messy, expensive, and beautiful. Usually a person would have a few of these chaotic mining machines all running in the same room and they caught the cyberpunk feel I so badly wanted to create for myself. I wanted the hectic rat’s nest of wires and satisfaction of a successful rig build.
The “Super Rig”
I never got that far. Building a machine to do this was an expensive process and I didn’t want to put a huge investment on the line when I was operating on a limited budget in the first place. So, ultimately, I steered away from mining as a whole.
That didn’t turn me off from the whole technological concept though. I did end up surveying the field to see what people were using Bitcoin for. The possibilities seemed endless. Aside from sales of underground goods, I saw there was gambling, web hosting, and even retails sales (including some coffee shops). Pretty much any type of business that could accept Bitcoin was starting to have outlets that accepted the digital currency. I did what any Bitcoin novice did: got my 0.005 BTC from BitFountain for free (now defunct), and sat on it. No use doing anything with it. One bitcoin was worth around $8 USD at the time, so I had about four cents.
After the GPU mining wave, I next saw the FPGA generation. FPGA stands for Field Programmable Gate Array and is pretty much self-explanatory. An FPGA has a hardware array of logic gates like your typical AND or XOR operations. Sequences of logic gates can be put together to form half-adders and multiplexers and eventually processors (when you chain enough smaller components together). Normally, you would have all of these components pre-determined into some type of integrated circuit called an ASIC (standing for Application Specific Integrated Circuit) which are designed and programmed only for certain unique tasks. Think of an FPGA as a breadboard for the final ASIC design. Both the FPGA and ASIC are programmed in an HDL (hardware description language) such as VHDL or Verilog (or any other ones you might remember from a System Architecture class). Unlike your typical object-oriented or scripting languages, an HDL is more suited for the Electrical Engineer instead of the Software Engineer (me). An HDL allows you to create models and interactions of hardware components as though you had them available physically.
XILINX Spartan-3E FPGA
As you’d guess, FPGAs were a favorite for Bitcoin mining enthusiasts. Developers would program the boards to mine Bitcoin and leave behind anyone still pushing their GPUs to the limit. For me, FPGAs were still a massive investment. Though likely not as much as an outfit of new GPUs, coupled with enough electricity to power a small town, the amount of money for an FPGA was still a few hundred dollars. On top of that, I’d still have to dust off some of my class notes and program the thing. It would have been fun and a great learning experience but at the time I didn’t want the hastle. Besides, something better was coming soon anyway.
In the summer of 2012, I started discussing with my co-workers the feasibility of having us set up a Bitcoin mining operation. The whole concept was relatively simple: we were all going to throw money in for a new USB connected ASIC chip and run it off of a computer of our own. We did the math to figure out power consumption, our initial investment, mining complexity increase, etc. and the numbers for our break-even point looked pretty good. The company were were looking at for our miner was Butterfly Labs, who boasted they could provide a chip with an incredible hash rate at only a few hundred dollars. Split between a few people, it didn’t seem like too bad of a deal. Then, we started looking into the company. They were plagued with manufacturing delays. When you couple the time delay with the growing mining complexity, your return takes much longer. Couple that with the fact that Butterfly hadn’t delivered anything yet, the whole thing could have been someone’s pie-in-the-sky idea or giant scam. We decided to shut down our little plan and save ourselves the aggravation. This ended up being a wise decision. Butterfly Labs continued to be plagued by delays and people ended up auctioning off their pre-orders. There are still not that many Butterfly Labs ASIC chips out in the wild, even now.
Butterfly Labs ASIC Miner
After all this, I still wanted to try my hand at Bitcoin mining.
I knew that I wasn’t going to make a lot of money, but I thought it would be fun. If it made me any money, any at all, that would be something. So I got to work doing a little research.
Tuesday, August 20th, 2013
Every Summer I speculate that I’m going to have an unbelievable amount free time. It will always be so fantastic and freeing. I’ll be done school, working a stress-free job, and there will be so much unscheduled time that I’ll just get bored and come up with hundreds of new tasks for myself.
This never happens.
Well, the having-free-time-thing never happens but I do take on new activities anyway. After enough time, I end up with a bunch of things I’ve been meaning to do, and work on them impulsively at sporadic intervals. Everything moves forward, slow and steady, but in an agonizing and chaotic fashion.
I do make time for my projects, but the available time is fluctuating as the years go by. When I started these projects all I had was time and energy, but no money. Now, I seem to find myself with a modest amount of money and energy, but no time. Eventually, I’m doomed to have time and money, but no energy. This is the vicious cycle, and here I find myself in the second stage.
Without organization, every project falls on its face. I’m a big proponent of organization, especially when I have so much going on. After a while, you just need to keep track and work smarter (or risk meeting some men who want to put you in a straitjacket). Below, I’ve outlined (to the best of my ability) the various projects I’m working on, and where they need to go next. Hopefully this not only helps me stay on track but also gives you something to yell at me about the next time you see me.
I’ve actually had most of an episode filmed for a long time by this point. The only problem that I faced was the audio cut out at the end of one of the shots. After I redo it, which I wanted to do anyway, the footage should be mostly set to go into editing. Additionally, I’d like to film a little skit for the intro if I can manage it. Editing usually doesn’t take a whole lot of time, though I do want to try out some new software and I have to cut a brand new introduction. High definition video also proves to be more of a hassle and take some more (read unplanned) time.
This one is going along pretty well, especially recently. On the scanning side of things, I have plenty of stuff coming in but not a lot going up. The scanner I have is awful when it comes down to conducting magazine scans and I’ll have to look for something beefier before going full tilt on my library. As an aside, I’ve more or less created the most complete wiki of hacker magazines complete with information on them as far as I can tell. With my current rig, I can pump out some more Blacklisted! 411 issues without much hesitation.
Going after Revision3 has slowed a little, but I can get back into it with some one-liners soon. Getting to other odds and ends comes and goes as I find them. The only section that could have hours poured into it is the hacker con category. The videos I find not only have different ways of being obtained but also get updated with a new crop annually, so everything is constantly in flux. I’m trying to hunt down some of the more difficult stuff as well as fill in actual information about the conferences. If you want to help out, please do.
This one is more or less dead due to lack of interest. While it was cool having a collaboration site for retro tech, it lost its luster after a few months. I considered turning TechTat into an audio podcast but I’m not sure how that would turn out. I’m certain I can find some use for the concept.
ChannelEM keeps trucking on, but is prone to frequent crashing. It does seem to get more stable after software updates, but still ultimately hangs. I want to take a look at the scripting done to run the station and see if I can put in any fail-safes to stop the crashing. CEM also needs a rotation update with any new episodes. Further, the idea of getting new shows to join up is a bit fruitless now, but the site does well as it stands. For no real reason at all, I’d like to see if I can add on to the existing scripts and create a JSON API with scheduling information.
Moonlit has also been working on some very interesting video projects that I’d like to integrate which would completely change the look and feel of both the site and the content.
More or less in a standstill. The stability fluctuates and there isn’t that much going on there anyway. The IRC server is really only kept up if Ethan, Pat, and myself need a place to chat. For a network that has been off-and-on for 6-7 years, we have empty periods like this all the time. I’d like to just keep it up if I can.
The IPTV Archive
More or less in waiting. I put up a hefty amount of content, and then ultimately mirrored it to Internet Archive where it can live forever. If I had the time, I’d spend it doing more detective work for the missing shows- there is always more detective work to do. There are probably a half dozen more smaller shows I could throw up at some point but nothing too pressing.
Additionally, when I started the site I used Blip because it had (arguably) the best quality at the time. Now, YouTube has eclipsed it. There was a bit of panic a few months back about some Blip channels being closed down for no reason and I have to entertain the idea that this could happen to me. If that happens, the whole library would likely need to be moved to YouTube. A big move, but likely a nice one for the content.
Moreover, I’ve also considered moving the content over to Anarchivism as it would be a much more flexible platform.
House Keeping and Solo Projects
I enjoy writing and I’d to do more of it. Besides just being more active here, I’d like to get back into writing for other outlets. I’m thinking of more for The New Tech, and another for my local 2600 group. I’ve also been playing around with Medium (I like the concept but it still might be pretentious dribble) and would like to publish another article through it. I’m looking into 2-3 print publications as well if I can come up with the right topics and go into those pieces with the right energy.
Aside from my web work, I have a bunch of little, lower-profile things going on that I need to get out of the way.
I recently got a display for my Apple G5, so I can let it run as a capture PC for video transfers. I already have an ADVC box hooked up and the machine captures great… but it needs a monitor hooked up to run. Then, I can do more video transfers which can ultimately pop up in other places (Maybe a found footage section on Anarchivism).
I want to set up a dedicated headless Linux server for staging web projects amongst other things. I might also have it just run wget scripts all day or some custom web crawlers or who knows what else.
I have an old cocktail arcade cabinet that needs some love. If the original electronics are beyond repair, it would be nice to outfit the cab with new hardware and set up a MAME machine.
More Raspberry Pi projects would be nice. I like having the Incredible Pi set up as a PBX but I feel like I could do more with it. I have another Pi set up as a media center that I use often. I’m currently on setting up a Bitcoin mining rig with another and still have many more ideas. Raspberry Pi cluster? Telnet BBS? BBS hooked into the PBX? The possibilities are endless.
Paranoia kicks in with regard to my data. I have a dozen or so terabytes worth and I need to clean data off of old drives, sort it, duplicate it, and duplicate the data that’s already there. To make matters worse, I’m constantly downloading more.
A CJDNS Meshnet node has also been in the works for a long time. I tried to set up my first one on a PogoPlug and while I eventually got the software to compile, I couldn’t connect to anybody. It may be time for another try, and possibly on a “normal” box before adapting it to the PogoPlug.
And the list goes on.
There’s a lot of things here- a hell of a lot of things. I’d be lying if I said that there weren’t going to be even more. Hopefully, as I now have a nice little outline, I’ll be able to zero-in my focus and get some work done.
In the meantime, sit back and enjoy the show.
Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013
Yeah, I stole the title from the Halloween series. It seemed fitting.
So here we are about a year later. Guess what? Revision3 has killed off a few more shows, started a bunch more, and redesigned their site.
A few days ago, Moonlit and I got into an interesting Twitter conversation with Revision3, the results of which can be found here and here. Basically, with their site redesign they lost a bunch of shows which they then regained after we brought it up. They also claimed to fix some dead links, so some possible good news there. On the negative, they did say that some shows have been removed purposefully. Thankfully I believe I have a copy of everything they’ve taken down to date. On the whole, it felt as though they danced around issues I brought up, but at this point I find it unsurprising. It’s probably a good thing they didn’t Google me while we were talking.
I checked my download script from last summer, and sure enough it didn’t work. Upon doing a few trials, it’s a simple fix to change “small” to “medium.” So, I went ahead and updated it. This now works perfectly again (woohoo!).
I went through the wiki page and added in the shows that they had cancelled while I was out of the loop. I’m just going off of their “Archive Shows” page, which may be incomplete, but I don’t know enough about this age of Revision3 to tell you if something is missing or not. It doesn’t look too much as if they throw out shows altogether these days.
I count 10 more dead shows.
On a similar topic, I’m also finally getting work done with Hack College (One of the baby Rev3 Beta shows) and am in the process of uploading it. Let’s walk through how I did this finally because you might be curious.
I know that they have the series up on http://blip.tv/hackcollege. This is good for starters. I also know that youtube-dl supports Blip.tv. Excellent. After a little trial and error, I settled on this command:
youtube-dl -c -i -t http://blip.tv/hackcollege
This downloads all the videos from the hackcollege account, puts titles in the file names, continues incomplete downloads, and skips errors. I only added that last part because one video gave me an error (I eventually just downloaded it manually). Then, I forgot I wanted descriptions for each video, so I ran this:
youtube-dl -i -c -t –write-info-json http://blip.tv/hackcollege
See how easy that was? JSON descriptions in just a few seconds. Okay. A few people still know a little trick for getting RSS from Blip.tv: just add “/rss” after the account url. You can go ahead and load it yourself at http://blip.tv/hackcollege/rss. Now, if you’ve been downloading along, you might notice that youtube-dl only snags the .m4v files and there are these beautiful giant .mov files in the RSS feed. Wouldn’t it be nice to grab these? Unfortunately, you can’t fine-tune youtube-dl for these just yet (maybe if I hunt around in the source code I can set this up, but I honestly didn’t think of that until right now). How do we get these files? I came up with this one-liner:
curl http://blip.tv/hackcollege/rss | grep -o ‘http.*mov’ | sort | uniq > out.txt
Pretty self explanatory. Grab the RSS, filter for .mov links, and sort it to get rid of duplicates. Then, save it to a text file. You might notice that the RSS feed doesn’t contain links for every video. There really isn’t anything we can do about that, but it does appear that the .mov files were a semi-recent addition to these videos and earlier videos most likely don’t have the option. I’d say it’s a pretty safe bet that we’ve got them. Next, we will want to download those links. You can probably pipe that one-liner into wget, but I wasn’t ready to download when I wrote it, so I saved the text for later. Here’s how I eventually used it with wget:
wget –user-agent=”iTunes/10.6.1″ -c -i out.txt
It appears that Blip.tv white-lists your user-agent, so it knows to not allow wget, or probably a slew of other bots and/or browsers. You can find this out if you can download a file in your browser but running something automated on the site results in redirects and file fragments. There’s always a workaround. If you trick it into thinking you are iTunes, you not only get access to the files, but also get them faster than if you just manually downloaded from your browser (throttle-free!). Very nice. So after feeding the text file into wget, the .mov files download rather quickly. You don’t get the nice fancy file names like with youtube-dl, but you do get the files.
So there. Only took an hour or two to work everything out.
Well, as you can see, I’m finishing up a few parts of SaveRev3. Unfortunately, there is still work to be done and the list keeps on growing.
Here’s to another summer of hard drives and bandwidth. It’s going to be a hot one.
Friday, February 8th, 2013
I have many projects. Too many, one might argue. Either way, they exist and I enjoy doing them.
For a long time, I’ve had something of a collection of magazines that I usually refrain from talking about simply because it doesn’t come up a lot in normal conversation. A few months ago when it was announced that Nintendo Power was halting production, someone told me that the cover of the last issue was a throwback to the very first issue from 1988. I was asked if I had the first issue (people tend to wonder just how much old stuff I have) and I do. Here’s a picture of it.
Nintendo Power #1
What you don’t see in this picture is the rest of my magazines. I have a lot. Hundreds. Most of them are video game magazines from the 1990′s and I’ve been accumulating them for over ten years. That isn’t to say that these sum up my entire collection. I have an almost complete run of 2600, six or seven years of Wired, a few dozen issues of MAD Magazine from the 1970′s bundled away, 10 or so issues of High Times from the late 1970′s and early 1980′s, and a few years of some more modern things. Besides those, I have a few other random magazines here and there and most likely some I’ve forgotten.
While I have a few current subscriptions, I’ve recently re-opened my magazine obsession. Why now? I don’t really know, but it was bound to happen. Every once in a while you get one of those “I should really do that, wouldn’t that be great?” ideas and they really start to stack up. One or two of those ideas end up toppling off the pile sooner or later and you just run with them. This particular idea started with Blacklisted! 411.
If you haven’t heard of Blacklisted! 411, I don’t hold it against you. If you know what 2600: The Hacker Quarterly is, then think of Blacklisted! 411 as a lower budget version of that. If you don’t know what 2600 is, it’s the most popular and longest running independent print hacker magazine. Blacklisted! has something of an interesting past. There are a lot of politics involving the magazine that are still something of a hot issue even for people today. There’s no doubt that it left a sour taste in the mouths of many. To briefly go through things, the zine started as a cheap black and white publication in the early 90′s. Initially monthly, the magazine switched to a quarterly release schedule to allow for more articles per issue (mirroring 2600 in this regard). Many criticized the quality of the articles and the publication in general, but it had a loyal group of fans and writers. In the mid 1990′s, the magazine up and disappeared (angering many) and reappeared in the early 2000′s. Throughout the life of Blacklisted!, a lot of people claim to have been treated unfairly by it and promised compensation for their articles which they never received I wasn’t there, and I don’t know all the details for sure. Defending nor attacking the magazine are not my goals either way.
Issues of 2600
For as long as I had known about 2600, I had also known about Blacklisted!. While I could easily get back issues of 2600 through their website, Blacklisted! was far more elusive as it went out of print. I was less likely to come across old issues out at book sales or flea markets when compared to something more popular like Wired. So, I forgot about it for a while and chalked it up to a boat that I had missed.
Fast forward to now. I’ve decided to take it upon myself to start gobbling up every issue of Blacklisted! 411 ever produced. Normally when you see someone take on a pie-in-the-sky task like collecting all of something from scratch you dismiss them with an “oh, that’s nice” and pat them on the head while taking bets on how quickly they tire of the project and go home. I already know it’s not something that will happen overnight, and will probably take years if I’m ever able to complete it at all. It’s a bit of a turn-key project either way, so it’s not much of a hassle. Initially, I set up some aggregation online to see if any issues go up for sale, at most I might dig through a few more bins at the punk rock flea market. It’s something of a slow burn.
As I started doing research on Blacklisted! I came upon a few other hacker or hacker-related magazines that went into print. For example, I discovered Mondo 2000 (and its other incarnations), bOING bOING, THUD, Grey Areas, Binary Revolution, and more. These were also low-number interdependent physical magazines that lived a short life of usually fewer than 20 issues. So, I expanded my scope. If I can find them for the right price, I’ll snatch these up as well. Are there more out there? Probably (And please, let me know what I missed). I can’t get to everything, but I have a pretty good idea of what print zines we had just by asking around.
THUD & Binary Revolution
You may raise the issue of me going after physical magazines exclusively. Where’s the love for the electronic zines? While I do have a fondness for ezines, I don’t consider them nearly as endangered a species as the print-only zines. While an electronic zine may have been copied hundreds of thousands of times with little effort, when a physical magazine goes out of print it can only slip further into obscurity. Some copies get mistreated and trashed, while others are packed away and forgotten. These are the ones I want to save. Right now at least.
So the next logical question is what am I doing with all of these magazines? While I admit that I do get a nice warm, fuzzy feeling from physical magazines, I have bigger plans than simple self-satisfaction. Scanning is the name of the game. I’m currently in the process of scanning in all these old issues I’ve already found, compiling each issue into a single document, and uploading the documents online to share with everyone. Through this whole scanning process, I’ve already learned a lot. Enough to write something on it actually, but it would fare better as its own article. My scanning workflow works well enough to actually yield results, which you can check out here and here. If you want to check out my overall progress on how I’m doing with all the zines I hope to find, you can visit this page. You might notice that in some cases, I’ve found magazines already scanned by people. These are few and far between, but save me a little work considering they are usually of good quality.
While my scanner might be slow and I might be busy, I’m happy to say that the wheels are in motion. Things would probably move a little faster if I had a more portable scanner, but for the time being I’m keeping things slow and steady. That all said, if you have some of these magazines and feel like donating to the cause, I’ll serve as a home for your wayward magazines (and I’m probably a decent alternative to the trash if anything). If you feel like scanning, you can contribute that way as well. The Anarchivism wiki linked above is editable if you create an account.
So as I’m picking up older magazines, I’m also starting to focus on newer ones. Consider something like Bitcoin Magazine. An independent publication about a decentralized digital currency? Who knows how much longer this will stick around. It’s important to apply a little foresight for things like this. Otherwise, who knows what you’ll be able to get your hands on down the line. Luckily, many current publications have bridged the digital divide and offer both physical and electronic copies. Other magazines are now entirely based online. Still, there are those holdouts that are only available on paper. These are what I’m after. These are what I want to save before time runs out.
Friday, November 23rd, 2012
It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these.
My progress on archiving had been stalled for a little bit. I got about half way through the Revision3 Beta shows, and then had other things that demanded my time. Working through the past week I’m down to just one more show which I am trying to download as I type. Surprise, sometimes downloads don’t go the way you want them to. Focusing on Revision3 Beta shows, I believe I’ve already touched on how these shows are hosted for streaming on Viddler instead of the standard BitGravity download CDN. But why you may ask? With those unfamiliar with the concept of Revision3 Beta, I don’t hold anything against you. It’s another one of those little failed projects by Revision3 that you’d be lucky to find any information on these days. Here is an archived page of the line up. These were little independent series that were “talent-farmed” (quoting Wikipedia on this one) with hopes that they’d one day make it to a full-on Revision3 show. A pretty awesome idea if you ask me, and something that had a lot of potential. The project was apparently halted because of a lack of funding, but if you watch any of these shows you wonder what the hell that could mean. The shows don’t seem to be getting any money, running Viddler accounts can’t be too expensive, and basic web hosting is pretty cheap. I’d wonder if someone just didn’t want it around anymore. Even though Revision3 shut down the Beta project, many of these shows went own to produce more episodes outside of the Revision3 banner, but most ended up with a short lifespan anyway. Most of the shows continued to upload to Viddler and these episodes basically have to be downloaded manually. This can be a pain if there are many of them. Thankfully, a lot of these shows uploaded their back catalog of episodes on other sites such as Youtube, Vimeo, or Blip.tv. Using youtube-dl, downloading these videos from more popular sites can be automated for the most part, making things much easier. It would still be nice if the tool had Viddler support, but Viddler isn’t a popular platform and beggars can’t be choosers.
Going back to regular old Revision3 shows, Unboxing Porn has finally been moved to the Archived page after being out of production for quite some time. On top of that, Ask Jay and Epic Meal Time are now moved over as well. So, I did what anyone would imagine and performed a download sweep of those shows. As usual, I found some numbering errors. Epic Meal Time goes out of sequence for two episodes, and has a completely messed up episode feed. Fortunately, I was able to pull all of the episodes they put out under Revision3 without any considerable hunting. Ask Jay turned out to be perfect, which is always helpful.
While I was originally worried about the state of Revision3 after the Discovery deal, I’m surprised by what I see today. While I thought many shows were going to be cancelled, the network is actually growing considerably. I’d estimate that the number of shows currently being produced has almost doubled since the start of the summer. I can’t help but wonder if this is a measured approach, or if they’re just throwing shows against a wall to see what sticks. Either way, I’ll be sure to follow up and see what they axe.
The more shows they end up making, the more I’ll end up preserving.
Saturday, November 3rd, 2012
Been a while since I’ve done one of these. You may remember in the last part of this series of articles, I hinted at a documentary I was doing (It’s posted below, but you can check it out here if you don’t want to wait). This was April, seven whole months ago.
I got busy. That happens with life and I wish it didn’t. On top of that, my computer couldn’t handle the high definition video that I wanted it to. I wish it could have, but it couldn’t.
The documentary in question is about my friend and his barn. For a little background, he lives in a house that was built around the time of the American Civil War, and the property also includes a barn from the same era. Back then, my whole town was farm land (apparently my property 30 seconds away was part of an orchard) but now the original properties have been substantially broken down for housing. From what I’ve seen, his is the only one in town to include the original barn. Anyway, I called him up and asked him if he’d be interested in letting me do some filming to test out my camera. He agreed.
Now, it’s important to note that this filming had no plan. I came over and told him to just start talking. We didn’t hash out too much of a story, there wasn’t any logic to the way the footage was shot, and we concluded filming when there wasn’t enough light to go any further. Having said that, don’t expect the resulting documentary to follow any logical flow. It was more an act of shooting as much as possible, and then seeing if I could somehow work all the footage together in a way that made sense. In this regard, I think it came out well.
Let’s talk about where I messed up. For one, lighting. I brought a measly halogen light when I went to film, but quickly abandoned it. It made absolutely no difference whatsoever in illuminating the room. I probably could have produced better footage had I handled the ISO settings better, so that’s something to take into consideration for next time. Really though, it’s difficult to get a good sense of things when you have only a two inch screen to look at and adjust with. On top of this, I also purchased an inexpensive NEEWER LED lighting rig that sits on top of the camera. Though off-brand and cheap, it’s particularly bright and comes with several gels so it should help out tremendously. A smaller mistake I made was where I had my friend looking when on camera. While I tried to follow the rule of thirds as best as I could, I didn’t know about having the subject look to the far side of the camera. If you have him look at the edge of the screen he’s on, it’s as if 2/3 of the screen is wasted. Unfortunately, it’s something that you cannot unsee after it is pointed out to you. Lastly, I had some problems in audio. While I did monitoring with headphones, it was difficult to gauge the sound quality when I could hear everything from outside the headphones as well as through them. Ultimately, I’ll probably get a pair that do noise cancellation. I’m also interested in getting an inexpensive shotgun microphone for something a little more directional.
For editing, I ended up completely building a new computer from scratch. The process and all the little details can be found here, so give that a glance if you have not already. While I did a rough edit on my laptop, it would frequently crash and I could not get an fine edit because the playback was so choppy. This new rig does the job nicely and cuts through the video like a warm knife. Now, I started editing this in Sony Vegas and that’s what I finished in. For future projects, I am hoping to switch to Adobe Premiere. I’m a bit sick of Vegas at this point, especially after finding a glitch wherein I cannot render using the beefy GPU I got for the build. Anyway, I feel the editing went well. I’m not fantastic at color correcting. I did some minor correcting and light balancing, but some of the footage was hard to do anything with since it was so dark.
Below is the final edited video if you care to check it out. I originally planned to do a few of these mini documentaries, but it took so long to do one and I ultimately ran out of time to follow through with anything else. While I had some problems with this project, I can say that few of these issues would effect how I do Obsoleet or any similar tutorial-based segment. I recently created a segment for The New Tech which will pop up soon with any hope, and I can now turn my attention more towards this type of content once again. Let’s just hope real life tones it down a little.