Thirty Days On The Front Lines: A return to tech support

In September 1996, I left my desk at IQuest Internet in Indianapolis for the last time. A friend from the MUDs I was on had talked me into talking to her brother, a recruiter at Taos Mountain Software, and two weeks later I had an offer, notice given for my apartment and my job, and the terrifying thought of driving 2300 miles with my possessions in a Ryder truck, my very unhappy cat in the front of the truck, and my Pontiac Grand Prix on a trailer it was too heavy for.

But on the flip side, I was getting out of the Midwest and its glorious winters, escaping a salaried position that ended up being a pay cut, and most importantly, leaving behind end-user tech support. For the next 25 years or so, I did tech support, and infrastructure/architecture/caffeine delivery systems, but for internal colleagues who were generally more aligned with my assigned priorities.

Now, I’ve gone back onto the front lines, supporting end users from around the world in several different languages (thanks to Google Translate or Bing Translate), explaining and troubleshooting and answering questions about cryptocurrency in general, Ethereum and Chia in particular, and specifically how to make them work with one of the more advanced mining pools.

As I told the owner when I started, I’ll scale back or even hand over the reigns altogether when I find something more in line with Silicon Valley expense levels, but for now, it’s an extension of what I’d been doing on Telegram since January, and it’s supplementing my coffers in the process.

I meant to write this last month, when it would have been 30 days, but the conversations get overwhelming and blog posts get distracted-from, so here we are closer to 60 days in reality.

What’s it like working for a mining pool?

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When your corporate message is 15 years too late

This is a fun little gripe, not a particularly deep reflection on anything.

I recently dug back into my email to find the following gem:

As you can see, I’m coming up on 15 years (at least) as a customer of Woot!, the daily deal and “bag o’ crap” seller of geek fame. I’ve been a customer long enough to remember moofi, and I’m pretty sure I remember them having just one deal a day.

Well, Amazon acquired Woot! in 2010, and it’s kinda folded in nicely since then. You can log in and pay with Amazon, and Amazon Prime shoppers get Prime shipping and occasional benefits (like a $5 discount on the already marked down Woot! version of this 100-pack of Peets Nespresso-compatible capsules, which are $62 on Amazon but $39 on a recent day’s Woot! deals).

But somehow the marketing email side of Amazon doesn’t realize they have customers who are already customers of Woot!, because 40 times since 2014 (most of them in the last year), they’ve sent me an invitation to join Woot!.

Now before the Amazon login integration, I could understand it. After all, my Woot and Amazon accounts are under different email addresses, in part because when I started shopping with Amazon in 1999, Gmail didn’t exist.

Darn, I don’t need that Solaris 2.6 guide anymore, and the return window has closed.

Anyway, it’s things like this, and getting ads in my mobile games for other games I already have (even the game I found that mobile game through), that make me feel that AI isn’t quite all it’s feared to be just yet.

And I’m a bit disappointed that they haven’t offered me a new customer promo code in each of those 40 emails. That would be a LOT of deeply discounted coffee capsules and cast iron grill accessories, and maybe, just maybe, my first-ever Bag O Crap.

Where do we go from here?

Well, a new Woot email just came in, so I’m going to go look at what I don’t need from this week’s deals.

Robert’s Rules for Success, or at least reduced chance of failure

I’ve made a few references lately to avoiding Jurassic failures. In some tech circles, including cryptocurrency projects, it seems very popular to make bad decisions and not claim responsibility. And yes, I’ve been writing and talking and thinking a lot about crypto this year. I’m not alone, but I’m the only one on this blog who you’d be able to make that observation about.

The Jurassic reference of course is to Jeff Goldblum’s character Dr Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park.

Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.

The Jurassic Park reference is a bit more universal than the one I used to use, which was to Wangdi something. I had a Nepalese classmate in college named Wangdi, and the main thing I remember of him from those years was his disc soccer/disc golf prowess. Well, that, and the time he had someone spread three soccer discs in a throw which he would normally have caught with ease, but in this case he tripped over a sprinkler head about two steps into his run and faceplanted in the quad.

  1. Don’t always do things just because you can

    Corollary: Don’t always do things just because you saw them on the Internet

2. Don’t try to start out at full speed; watch where you’re going and work your way up

Corollary: Set a reasonable plan and try to follow it. Don’t get distracted by squirrels

3. Plan to spend at least one minute for every $100 spent, learning how your item works

Corollary: If you can’t do that, don’t expect others to do it for you for free

Between these two warnings, you can take something away. First, don’t always do things just because you can (or because you saw them on the Internet). Second, don’t try to start out at full speed; watch where you’re going and work your way up.

And third is my One Percent Rule, not to be confused with Arthur Conan Doyle’s Seven Percent Solution. For every $100 you spend on an endeavour, spend at least one (1) minute learning or trying to understand it on your own before demanding help in free volunteer forums or from overworked support staff. So if you’re spending $3,000 on a GPU, but you’re not willing to spend 30 minutes learning how to use it, maybe don’t spend it. See also the first and second rules above.

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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.

Quick Take: Different ways of acquiring cryptocurrency

With this past month’s stock and crypto activity (various stocks heading for lunar orbit, Bitcoin breaking US$40,000, etc), a lot of people have started looking for ways to buy cryptocurrency (and stocks).

In a lot of forums, they’re being hit with misleading or outright false information. I’m here today to give you some pointers and context, and help you understand the cryptocurrency options available to you.

Nothing in this post is provided as investment advice or recommendations to conduct any financial transactions. There is risk in any of these processes, and you are on your own for that.

If you choose to use one of my referral links to sign up for one of the services mentioned, I’ll either get a share or two of a cheap stock, a few bucks worth of a stock, or sometimes a cash bonus. And I’ll appreciate your support. (Note that promos can change, and I may not come back and update these promos later; see the respective websites for active promotion terms)

  • SoFi Invest (fund an active account including crypto with $1000, and we’ll both get $50 worth of stock) (crypto available)
  • SoFi Money (fund an account with $500, and we both get $50 cash) (Virtual money management account, linkable to Invest and other services)
  • Robinhood (sign up and link a bank account, and we both get a free share of stock) (crypto available)
  • Webull (fun an account with $100 and get at least one stock share, maybe two) (crypto under tags like BTCUSD, ETHUSD, no DOGE)
  • Public (app-only, complete application and get a free amount of stock up to $16, must hold the value of the free stock in the account for 90 days) (no crypto, just stocks)

What is cryptocurrency? Do I get an actual physical bitcoin?

Cryptocurrency is a virtual currency that is created through a process called mining, and can be transferred and converted to other currencies (including “fiat” or what some would call “real” money). You don’t get a physical bitcoin (or ethereum or anything like that), and if you’ve seen one of those metal “Real Bitcoin Coin” items at a store, you’ve just seen a souvenir with little to no value and no association with any bitcoins.

Many cryptocurrencies have developed value, primarily through people giving them value and accepting them in transactions. This isn’t entirely unlike paper money – a piece of green and white paper alone doesn’t have any value, but when a nation accepts that that piece of paper is worth a certain amount and uses it in trade, it suddenly has value. 

The cryptocurrencies you’ve probably heard most about are Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin, and (lately) Dogecoin. Bitcoin is the grandfather of crypto, and has been around since 2009. The others have come along since, to address perceived shortcomings or scaling issues with Bitcoin. Continue reading