Chia update and frequently answered questions

Just 15 days ago, I posted a somewhat quick introduction to Chia farming as well as a quick guide to Chia hardware starting points and, a few days later, a step-by-step build of the Intel NUC 10th gen plotter inspired by chiadecentral. Today I posted the start of a Frequently Ungoogled Chia Questions post that I will add to over the coming weeks.

I expected a few dozen people in the Telegram chats I was in to read it, and some Tech Field Day cohorts, and a few random bots on Twitter. 

Well…

50000 airplane banner by Dake via Wikimedia Commons

Over 50,000 readers later, I’m pretty shocked. In fourteen days it surpassed the former leaders, Cisco UCS for beginners – an end-user’s overview and Five fun and useful uses for an extra PCI slot, to become the most read post in my site’s 10 year history.

Lots of comments have shown that it was useful and provoked interest and thought, as well as showing that not everything was fully covered in that post and its follow-ons (hence the new Frequently Ungoogled Chia Questions post). 

And a lot of you were kind enough to use my affiliate links to buy your Chia gear (and some other things I’m sure), for which this between-jobs blogger is grateful. 

What’s new, Chia-cat? Whoa, whoa whoa…

Since those posts came out, Chia transactions went live a week ago, with a peak price on some exchanges of around US$1500 per XCH and a current price of around US$1000 (as I type this). (Click the link or the image for current charts from CoinGecko.)

The world of Chia will become more interesting next week when the pool protocol and design come out from Chia HQ. Like other crypto pools, this development will make it possible to spread out work and rewards more evenly than solo mining/farming. 

It is not expected to end solo farming, which is what has been going on since mainnet opened in March. So if (like me) you’re plotting and farming already, you can keep those plots up and available for another few years and hope for more rewards. 

How’s your hardware going?

Robert's primary chia farming gear

From left to right: Dell Precision T7910, cheap EMC and Dell SAS arrays for supplemental storage, Dell precision T5810

You may remember from my original post that I’m running Chia on my Ryzen 5 3600 desktop (not pictured), a T7910 beast workstation (pictured above), and a T5810 mini-beast (pictured above). Last week I built a NUC-based plotter, and except for filling up the stopgap slow storage drives, and maybe running a little bit warm, it’s worked pretty well so far. 

I’ve taken a liking to the Micron P420m PCIe flash cards, although they’ve become more scarce lately. These are PCIe 2.0 x8 cards that may be branded Micron, EMC, or HP, with 700GB or 1400GB of storage, and write endurance of 9000 and 18000 TBW respectively…

if you have the spare slots, cards like these are pretty good, and while they’re not photonics-speed, they’re quite fit for purpose. Consider other brands, and check with the seller for any details on SMART or other lifespan monitoring data available. A couple of mine had apparently never been powered up before, but a member of our Telegram chat got one that was a lot closer to demise. 

If you can’t find the affordable PCIe cards, datacenter-class SSDs are always showing up, for as low as $200 for a 1.6TB drive (good for 5 plots) . And as mentioned in a previous post, if your motherboard supports PCIe bifurcation, there are several 4x NVMe cards available to get your high speed storage right on the bus. 

Where do we go from here?

Send your questions in if you have something not answered on the posts so far. I’m thinking about a NUC build video, as I have an older one that’s almost identical in build, so if you think videos or other topics would be good to see. 

I’ll be trying to consolidate storage this week, and upgrading the T5810. Right now I have 40+ TB of underutilized space in my SAS arrays, and some 12TB white label drives to test out and put into use. 

Fry’s Electronics is dead

How’s that for a spoiler of a headline?

After a day or two of rumors, a Bay Area TV news report last night confirmed that Fry’s Electronics, a mainstay of Silicon Valley electronics sourcing and more for almost 40 years, would cease operations today, February 24, 2021.

History of Silicon Valley Indeed: Is Fry’s Electronics Dying? | rsts11

Revisiting Fry’s Electronics a year later | rsts11

Fry’s confirmed this on their website early on Wednesday, February 24.

Many locals have seen the stores dry up, but there were still some goods they were useful for; I myself bought a few flash drives and SSDs for mining rigs and appliance builds earlier this months.

I’ve seen a few outlets declare that Fry’s fell to the pandemic, but people who’ve paid attention know this was not the core cause. The stores failed to adjust to competition, both local and online, over the past decade. Despite being the prime source of technology in the Bay Area for decades, they didn’t really keep up with the tech, internally or in the competitive environment.

The cascade through the consignment transition and then through the pandemic didn’t help, but there was a lot more going on long before COVID-19. A couple of friends joked that if they’d just sold toilet paper last year at this time, they would’ve been even more rich and weathered the storm, but like the failure to capitalize on the last two Black Friday sales opportunities, they missed the boat on perma-work-from-home.

Ironically, Micro Center, who are doing well in other parts of the country, failed in Silicon Valley around the turn of the century for similar reasons to Frys’s – failure to compete with what was at the time a very unique retail environment in the Bay Area. In today’s market, they might be able to make a comeback if they can find an affordable location (maybe the Fry’s building in Sunnyvale could be refitted with some windows and fewer ceiling leaks?).

For now, Silicon Valley denizens will have a choice of national websites like Amazon, Newegg, Zones, and the like; the local Best Buy stores; and Silicon Valley’s “other” local computer store, Central Computers (founded in Sunnyvale decades ago like Fry’s). For electric and electronic components, we still have options like Anchor Electronics (also a South Bay staple for around 40 years) and Excess Solutions (which has adjusted and expanded three times in the last 20 years or so).

For the past year or two, a trip to Fry’s for me has been an exercise in controlled disappointment, similar to vintage computer and car aficionados who might drive past the building where their favorite was invented, designed, built. Even more than before, I’d likely leave with nothing purchased, and the 64 empty registers would remain silent. Now they’ll be silent forever.

Money Pit: 3D Printing Part 3 – OctoPrint and OctoPi

This is one topic in a series of what I’m calling “money pit” projects. To be fair, it’ll be money and time pit topics, and nothing that you’d really have to get a second mortgage on your house to do… but things always get a bit out of hand.

This project is the 3D Printing project. Expect it to be an ongoing series, and I’m hoping to have some friends join the effort and offer their feedback as well. Links and prices are accurate as of November 2020, and may get updated in the future… but don’t count on it.

See the previous parts for the lead-in to this project. From here we’ll get into the enhancements and early printing.

Octopi / OctoPrint

The first day or two, I was running out to the garage to check on prints, and shuttling the included 8GB MicroSD card back and forth to load print files onto it. Since the only storage the printer has is this MicroSD card, I couldn’t add files during a print run, and it got somewhat tiring.

Enter OctoPrint and OctoPi.

OctoPrint is an open-source management program and web front-end for many/most 3D printers. It communicates with the printer over a USB cable. It can be installed on a Linux, Windows, or MacOS computer. However, you might not want to dedicate a full-sized computer to this task.

OctoPi is a Raspbian (Raspberry Pi Debian image) based distribution with Octoprint and the video streamer software included. you just need a Pi 3B or later board (and case and power supply) and an SD card with OctoPi installed. Older boards will work, but with the camera option or other intense plugins (like gcode viewers) you won’t like it according to the folks behind OctoPrint and OctoPi. Continue reading

Revisiting Fry’s Electronics a year later

A little over a year ago, I wrote about the decline of Fry’s Electronics. I have to admit that I didn’t expect the pandemic and its related impact, but I didn’t expect Fry’s to continue on its steady coasting path.

I figured they would either rebound over the holidays or fade into history. As you may recall from the updates, they did not make any visible advances over the holidays, dropping the ball on Black Friday/Cyber Monday, but they didn’t disappear altogether.

This weekend I went back to the Sunnyvale Fry’s store, the one I’ve probably been to more than any other. I think this was the first time at least since February, if not before, that I’ve been to a Fry’s store.

I was a bit surprised.

Fry’s Sunnyvale parking lot, November 1, 2020

The shopping cart corrals were empty, but the parking lot had a couple dozen cars. When I walked in, there were a few people around, and I saw a couple of employees. One was working in the repair shop, and two were behind the register counters where one register was open. There was no register line.

Motherboard display, Fry’s Sunnyvale, November 1, 2020

As I made my way to the flash memory section looking for some MicroSDXC cards for my new Jetson Nano development kit, I was surprised to find the motherboard display disassembled altogether. Last time I was there, they had one motherboard in stock, with five pieces on the shelves that used to be here. This time, I saw absolutely no motherboards.

They did have a modest assortment of SD/MicroSD cards, some even priced on the shelf, and a couple of adapters for reading them on PCs. I believe there was one brand name card, a 64GB Samsung EVO of some sort, and a lot of fringe brands (including the Hyundai cards which actually work pretty well).

Computer component station

The stations where you would normally go to talk to a sales associate or get an invoice and/or price match were marked for social distancing, and abandoned. I saw this in components, computers/printers/monitors, and the television section. I will admit I’d feel guilty price-matching at this point, but it seems like it would be a challenge to get help if you needed it. The only employees I saw were re-shelving things near what used to be the computer section.

I didn’t get photos of a lot of the store. There was one desktop and a couple of semi-offbrand laptops in the computer section (on the former Apple islands), and the remainder of the computer display was limited to a couple of monitors and a few open box PC cases (moved from the far end of the store apparently). Car Electronics has been pretty much decimated, along with the bedding and exercise gear displays.

3D printer filament display

A couple of positive surprises were visible though. There was a healthy display of printer filament for your 3D printing needs (pictured above). I’ve bought almost all of my filament from Central Computer, but I would consider trying some of the colors from eSUN here before ordering online.

I also found the “maker” / Raspberry Pi accessory section, also in the aisles where electronic components used to be (and some still are). There was an abundant selection of cheap 120 and 240 gigabyte SSDs, for prices similar to what I’ve paid for used drives on eBay, so I may go back for some of those when my next Rabbit door comes in. It looked like memory and CPUs were in short supply, but there were reasonable (think Best Buy level) stocks of USB flash drives and SD cards.

The one thing Fry’s seems to have outdone themselves on is personal protective equipment (PPE). The front aisle adjacent to the checkout line was half PPE (several varieties of hand sanitizer, including gallon jugs, as well as masks and protective clothing). So if I run out of what I’ve picked up at Marshalls or TJ Maxx, I could probably stock up here.

Where do we go from here?

It’s hard to tell whether Fry’s will improve their rather stagnant effort to convert to consignment models with their vendors. A few stores (including Palo Alto and Anaheim, as well as one in Georgia) have closed, and it looks like the others haven’t improved much in the past year (based on my observation and some social media posts friends have shared with me from other stores).

At this point, for some limited categories, they are a viable option. With the stores being rearranged, you may have trouble finding a “Fry’s Advisor” or the new location for the products you’re looking for, but they have improved on a couple of categories.

I’ll keep you posted on what I hear – watch for updates here if they happen.

See last year’s Fry’s post here — History of Silicon Valley Indeed; is Fry’s Electronics Dying?

And pour one out for Billy, the Fry’s Electronics social media guy. He takes a lot of flak from people wanting to rag on the store, but stays coherent and professional through it all.

Money Pit: 3D Printing Part 2 – First Round of Enhancements

This is one topic in a series of what I’m calling “money pit” projects. To be fair, it’ll be money and time pit topics, and nothing that you’d really have to get a second mortgage on your house to do… but things always get a bit out of hand.

This project is the 3D Printing project. Expect it to be an ongoing series, and I’m hoping to have some friends join the effort and offer their feedback as well.

See the previous part (The Back Story, The Rationale, and The Assembly) for the lead-in to this project. From here we’ll get into the enhancements and early printing.

Our first round of enhancements include:

  • Power protection
  • Metal extruder and printed filament guide
  • PEI print bed
  • Upgraded Bowden tubing

I mentioned OctoPi / OctoPrint in the first installment, so I’ll leave the details out this time other than to say you really should set one of these up. Let me know in the comments if you’d like more details in a future post. 

Continue reading