Ethereum Mining Rig

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After weeks of planning and acquiring all the necessary hardware, I finally completed assembling my first Ethereum mining rig. This is no walk in the park. Everything I learnt about building a gaming PC rig was upturned. I had to un-learn and re-learn a lot on what it took to build a PC. Building a computer system with 5 graphics cards for a highly specific purpose of mining Ethereum requires a different set of skills. So how do I get from building gaming PCs for leisure to building mining rigs to make some cash?

I first learned about cryptocurrency about a month ago. I received chatter on social media and on the news online about the rise of cryptocurrency. Of course, the whole concept of cryptocurrency isn’t new. Bitcoin has been around for quite some time. But it remained a very obscure notion to a lay person. Mine block chains and get rewarded for it in a form of electronic currency? Sounds puzzling.

Nonetheless, I soldiered on and read as much about cryptocurrency as I can. I watched various YouTube videos on what block chains are, how it works, how it is applied and the potential usefulness in the future. Along the way, I was surprised that there are several dozen forms of cryptocurrency floating around online! It comes in weird and futuristic sounding names, promising miners and holders of these digital currencies of a surging value in the near future when its use becomes widespread and mainstream. However, as I wrote this entry, the most popular and valuable (in terms of market capitalisation) are Bitcoin, Ethereum, Zcash, Dash, Litecoin and a just couple of others.

From then on, I was intensely curious as to how to build one. Again, I scoured the internet and read up on how to build a multi-GPU PC system. And when I said multi-GPU PCs, I am referring to 6 to 8 GPUs in a single system.

It actually sounds pretty straightforward. You are simply building a PC without a case, (since you can hardly find a PC case large enough to fit all 6 or 8 GPU inside) buy a bunch of GPUs, a compatible motherboard, the cheapest CPU, RAM and SSD you can find. The only difference is that you need to buy a bunch of GPU risers, which allows you to connect your GPU indirectly from the motherboard’s PCI-E slots. This way, you can slot more GPU within the PCI-E slots without cramping the motherboard’s real estate. Oh, and don’t forget a simple on-off switch that connects to the switch jumpers on the motherboard to switch your computer on and off.

Getting the GPUs was challenging! There was a massive shortage of GPU everywhere. I mean it, literally, everywhere. At the moment I was prepared to get all the hardware, it seemed that everyone else was doing it as well. I wasn’t the only crazy one to invest 2.7K on a new PC that does nothing but mine for crypto coins. But eventually, I did get those darn GPUs. It took a while, as all my GPU were on pre-order status and I had to wait for it to arrive. But I finally got 4 units of GTX 1060 mining GPU and 1 unit of an ordinary GTX 1060 GPU for general purpose use. The reason why I got just 1 ordinary unit of GTX 1060 was for video output capabilities. This is essential as I need to see what I’m doing with my PC, especially the first step of any PC building step after hardware assembly: OS installation. As for the rest of the GPUs, I got the mining GPU, cheaper and slightly more power efficient. It doesn’t have any video output at the back of the GPU, which resulted in some cost savings (but at the expense of resale value, as it only exist to serve one function: mine for coins)

I had difficulties with the driver installations as well. I didn’t fully realise that there is actually a certain version of graphics drivers that the mining GPU and the OS were able to recognise each other. I was close to giving up as I was at my wit’s end to figure out why Windows 10 couldn’t recognise the mining GPU, despite the fact that the mining GPU is basically a stripped down version of a Nvidia GTX1060 GPU. Zotac and Biostar weren’t helpful in providing information or FAQ about the correct driver installed.

But worked it did and it worked wonders. I was already familiar setting up the ethereum mining software (Claymore miner, mining block chains in a pool from Nanopool) by testing it on my gaming rig and letting my GTX 1070 churn through the cryptographic algorithm, solving complex puzzles. But the speed and productivity of a single 1070 pale in comparison to having a herd of 5 1060s working in tandem. My hash rate shot up through the roof after I got my mining rig running.

Now everything is in order and quietly humming away in another room. The whole set up can make the room pretty warm though since you have using the GPU to work hard and mine the block chains. The rig is going to run 24/7, maximising my return. I am pretty confident nothing will go wrong, at least for the foreseeable future. The whole set up looks crude, since it’s an open setup, with all the cables exposed and crisscrossing each other. Cost saving was a major deciding factor when it comes to building this mining rig, so I wasn’t keen on spending any more money to make the whole set up look neat (specialised case, rigs, frames to neatly hold the GPUs together).

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I am still closely monitoring the situation now that it has been up and running for 24 hours. But looking at the Claymore console for ethereum mining, it seems everything is going really smoothly.

Another Kickstarter project backed

Recently, I backed a Kickstarter project. Ridgemont Outfitter was launching a new line of waterproof, and durable hiking boots. The new pairs of boots come in a variety of colour and personally, I love the Java/Red combination the best.

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I was browsing Kickstarter when I chanced upon the boots that Ridgemont Outfitters was trying to launch. I backed the project immediately when I saw the Java/Red combination. The design is really beautiful in my opinion. The red accents and shoelaces really give the boots character and it stands out among other hiking boots out there without looking too outlandish. I can’t really comment on the quality of the leather or the boots in general, (it launching in September) but I am pretty excited what that company has promised to offer when the time comes.

Personally, I don’t really need a new pair of hiking boots, since I already have one and a couple of leather shoes from Timberland that is still durable and wearable. What swayed me to back their product on Kickstarter was the fact that this pair of boots, actually look kind of ‘sneaker-like’. I other words, I can wear this to work like a pair of work shoes. It doesn’t look big and bulky like most hiking shoes out there (which is important in providing stability and a certain level of ruggedness to withstand the terrain in which one would be hiking) but the one from Ridgemont had design the boots to be very low profile. And I really really like that.

We shall see if the quality that they promised are up to standard in September. Right now, as I am writing this, I recently gave my sizes to Ridgemont. No doubt, the people at Ridgemont are busy preparing the orders and making user their boots arrive on time to the loyal customers who helped to make their Kickstarter a resounding success.

Science Communication workshop done!

A couple of weeks ago, I attended my first intensive module for my Masters Programme for Science Communication. It lasted two weeks, every day from 9 am to 4 pm. It was held at the Singapore Science Center, and our guest lecturers flew all the way from Australia to conduct the module and workshop (depending on who is attending the module and for what purposes).

It was quite tiring, having to sit in for the lessons every day, but at the same time rewarding, as I actually learned a lot about science communication on a deeper level now. Being a module at a Masters level. The topics and concepts covered during the two-week intensive period were sometimes technical and abstract. Many contemporary issues were discussed with regards to Science Communication, such as what Science Communication really means to us as educators, scientists and even the general public. We also learned the evolution of Science Communication as an expanding and increasingly more important field of science to be taken seriously.

In between the topics to ponder on, we also got the opportunity to learn from the very best in conducting science demonstrations and the innovative ways one can use when conducting science demonstrations to the general public or a specific audience. The hands-on experience was invaluable, as it really opened our eyes to a myriad of ways we can approach in teaching certain basic science concepts using demonstrations. The most striking aspect of science demonstration for me was the popular misconceptions in science when conducting certain classic demonstrations. It brings potential pitfalls in using science demonstration as a tool to teach science and it taught us to be keenly aware in how we should perform certain demonstration without introducing misunderstanding or cultivating certain misconceptions about the science along the way.

Overall, I had fun with the module. Now comes the challenging part, which is to complete a series of writing assignments that are going to take some time to complete it. It will constitute about 70% of the final grade (30% being participation marks and a group presentation that we did on the final day of the workshop).

The submission deadline is the last day of July, which gives me about a month to complete those assignments.

Tomtoc Ultra Slim Sleeve for 13 inch MacBook Pro

Choosing a suitable sleeve for a MacBook Pro can be a headache, especially when the variety out there is endless. There are so many different kinds of sleeves for different needs. When I bought my MacBook Pro, I initially did not consider the need to get one. I imagine myself putting the laptop in my AER Backpack and it would be sufficient.

As I received my new MacBook Pro, I forgot how gorgeous the laptop looked like. And having blemishes on the aluminium exterior right about when I’ve gotten hands on it, would be a disaster. Every scratch, dent, or any other blemishes through some other means would be very obvious against the pristine, space gray build of my MacBook Pro.

So I sought out online to find a simple, but good looking sleeve to safely house my new Laptop. That was when I spotted the Tomtoc Ultra Slim Sleeve for the 13 inch MacBook Pro.

The Tomtoc sleeve is not available in Singapore. So I ordered online on Amazon. But even that, Amazon doesn’t ship the sleeve overseas, to Singapore. So I had to employ the services of EZbuy to receive my package and ship to Singapore for a small shipping fee.

It didn’t take too long to arrive and I wasn’t in a hurry to get one since I had to serve my annual ICT for about a week. This means that I would not around to recieve the package and enjoy the product. But the timing was impeccable. As soon as I reached home upon completion of my ICT, it arrived.

My first impression of the Tomtoc sleeve was that it feels better than it looks. I mean it looks gorgeous already. Anyone holding this sleeve is bound to turn heads. It’s not a design that you see every day when it comes to laptop sleeves. Most of them are generic black, or gray with no character at all. All function, leaving not much room for aesthetics. The Tomtoc sleeve is different. Very different.

Workmanship is pretty solid. Stitching is straight and consistent, with not a single stray thread at the end of a stitch. The thread matches the leather or the gray felt material, where ever those materials are present on the sleeve, which is a nice touch and shows the attention to detail when it comes to designing the product. The felt material feels luxurious, without having too much fibre strands sticking out and all wooly-like in texture.

The size of the sleeve that I bought fits perfectly with my new mid-2017 13-inch MacBook Pro. The sleeve offers a snug fit, without feeling too tight, although it can be a little bit tight if you fill or squeeze stuff inside a separate, easy-access pocket. I tried putting my Moleskin notebook in the separate sleeve in addition to the laptop in the main compartment and it works wonders. The additional sleeve allows you to put thin objects, like cables, tablets, e-readers, notebooks, or even small magazines and stationaries. The additional sleeve is definitely handy and adds quite a bit of functionality to the sleeve.

The sleeve is closed by 2 magnets places on the left and right side of the sleeve. It’s not too strong or too weak, giving a nice solid latch. The magnets are also covered by a felt mesh which will definitely add longevity to the use of the sleeve, and also to prevent any unintended scratches you might get when putting your notebook inside.

Overall, I really love the sleeve and I made a terrific purchase for my MacBook Pro. The overall design of the sleeve provides a highly unique, yet subtle style when carrying my laptop.

Cow Play Cow Moo

Yesterday evening I was at Suntec City, walking around and doing some window shopping when I stumbled upon a video arcade game shop called Cow Play Cow Moo. It is a weird name to name one’s arcade game shop. On the other hand,  it is also a pretty crafty name to name one’s arcade game shop, a clever word play based off a Hokkien vulgar phrase which I shall not type here.

Anyways, video arcade game shops are a pretty rare sight in Singapore nowadays. But what struck me profoundly was how different it was compared to other arcade game shops past and present. It was very crowded when I was there and I noticed many people carrying small baskets filled with coins to play the arcade. I also noticed that the people there who were playing were accumulating a massive amount of tickets as a result of playing the arcade. And I really mean massive, like a basket filled with reams of tickets. These people were playing to win many many tickets in the hopes of being able to redeem something from collecting all those tickets.

It felt almost like these people were gambling. The fact that you can get so many tickets simply from playing the arcade games really feeds into their addiction into playing more so that they can win more. The feeling of instant gratification is almost palpable when I was at Cow Play Cow Moo.

There were many things that you can redeem the tickets you win. It could be as low as 2000 tickets for small trinkets, to 200 000 tickets for a cheap smartphone. 200 000 tickets. That is insane. I cannot imagine what 200 000 tickets would look like in one’s basket, meant for collecting those tickets you’ve won.

When I was there, I saw a maid helping the kids carry the basket full of tickets, following them around as they tried their hands on the various arcade game machines in the shop. I wonder what the parents were thinking, allowing their children to spend the money on such frivolous stuff just to get ‘high’ on winning. Don’t they realise that this is just one form of gambling? It is no different from playing the notorious Japanese gambling machines, Pachinko, seeing various metal balls dropping from various obstacles, pushing them this way and that, in the hopes of hitting the jackpot so that you can earn back some of the winnings.

On the other hand, I can kinda understand why some people would pursue such a mind numbing hobby. Simply to pass time is one reason. Another could be that for a small group of people, spending money to play these games over and over again, and winning something is a stress buster. With no expectations, other than seeing bright lights flashing right in front of you, as you see the fate of the ball, puck, or obstacles in your way, to accrue whatever meager winnings you might get, or the remote possibility of hitting the jackpot, accelerating your winning so that you might have a small chance of feeling better and accomplish than before you started playing them.

ProMotion display on the new iPad Pro.

ipad pro 10.5Although I do not have the new iPad Pro 10.5 inch in my hand right now, I had the opportunity to check it out at the official Apple Store at Orchard Road. Of all the many new features touted by Apple on the new iPad Pro, I was most intrigued by the new display, specifically the ProMotion technology.

The ProMotion technology advertised by Apple on its latest iPad pro is just a term conjured up by the marketing department to give the technology substance. Basically the LCD display on Apple’s new lineup of iPad Pro (both the 10.5 and 12.9 inch version) features a 120hz refresh rate. Conventional LCD display on all tablets released thus far only goes up to 60hz. The faster refresh rate apparently makes every UI animation within the iPad Pro butter smooth. I never got the chance to see first hand until I saw an actual iPad Pro at the Apple Store. All the reviews on YouTube about the new iPad Pro’s incredible display couldn’t capture the butter-smoothness animation because of the slow FPS when watching videos. Truly, this is one feature that despite its awesome rave reviews, you have to see it live in person with the new iPad Pro in front of you to understand why it’s amazing.

As I was at the store and holding the iPad Pro for the first time, the first thing that immediate struck me was how sexy the device looked like. The thinner bezels on the sides made the iPad Pro so much more sleeker. The bigger display (without considerably increasing the overall size of the tablet) is now even more capable of absorbing you in, focusing on it’s colour accurate display without distractions from the other parts of the iPad.

Colour accurate and wide colour gamut display is the main stay of the iPad Pro’s feature. But once I interacted with the tablet, swiping left, right, up and down, going through the various menus, website and general UI, I was truly amazed how smooth the interaction was. 120hz display really does makes a profound difference in the overall experience when using the iPad. Again, you really have to try it out for yourself to really understand what I am saying. There is no competition out there so far. The faster refresh rate is to me, personally what stands out from the rest of the competing tablet makers out there.

For some reason, in addition for the display to capture your attention due to its overall area occupied on the tablet, the faster refresh rate of the display now really really absorbs you in completely. While you interact with the screen, your eyes just cannot peel away from it’s butter smoothness operation.

At the store as I played around with the new iPad Pro, I was quite surprised (though not unexpected, since Apple products always sell like hotcakes regardless) that there were a lot of iPad Pro purchases. Everywhere around me in the midst of the crowd in the store, there were all the Apple Geniuses tending to some customers’ purchases. And under their arms, there will almost always be a box (or two or some accompanying accessories) of the new iPad Pro. The iPad Pro was selling like hotcakes!

Hyperdrive, Thunderbolt USB-C hub for MacBook Pro

Ever since I got my swanking new MacBook Pro about a week ago, I had to deal with Thunderbolt 3 ports. The problem is, there is nothing I can do with Thunderbolt 3 ports on my MacBook Pro, since I have no peripherals at hand that uses them. So I can’t connect my external drives, my SD cards, charge my iPhone, or use my thumbdrives.

Getting the Hyperdrive Thunderbolt USB-C hub for the MacBook Pro seems like the most economical way to expand my ability to connect my ‘legacy’ devices using ‘legacy’ ports.

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I purchased off from their Indiegogo website and within a week and a half it arrived at my doorstep. The Thunderbolt USB-C hub allows me to connect to an external monitor via HDMI, has an SD card and MicroSD card slot, and offers 2 USB 3.0 ports in addition to Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports just like what the MacBook Pro originally provided. The good thing about this hub is that it allows power passthrough, meaning you can charge the laptop while this hub is connected directly to it. The strange thing however, is that the hub uses both Thunderbolt ports to connect the hub. Once connected, only the top Thunderbolt port allows for charging and not the bottom one.

But still this hub greatly expanded my abilty to connect with other devices like I mentioned just now.

Another aspect of this hub that I really like is that the design of the hub is such that it sits flushed right next to the laptop. Buy the hub that matches the colour of your laptop, and it looked pretty natural – like an extension to your already great looking laptop. It doesn’t look bulky, or out of place and the build quality is pretty good, all aluminium, with pretty decent parts. Plus, it comes with a nice, snugly little leather pouch to safety store your hub away when not in use.

Dealing with such hubs can be annoying, but it is a necessity if you wish to walk down a path, using a laptop with nothing but Thunderbolt Ports. So for those who wish to walk down this path, know that you need a little bit more investment in choosing the right dongles or hub so that all your devices you currently have play nice with your new Macbook laptops. The Hyperdrive Thunderbolt USB-C hub manages to tick all the right things when it comes to portability, design and build quality without breaking the bank (US$69).