Sidebar: A note about mining pools

Aside

This is a sidebar post; you may wish to read the main mining rig post here first.

One thing I didn’t cram into my earlier post on getting started on cryptocurrency mining was how you actually make money (or fail to). To figure this out, we will look at the two ways you can mine cryptocurrency.

Drawing the Pool Picture

The “classic” method is what we’ll call solo mining. This means you’re looking for blocks on your own. If you find a block, you get the whole reward for yourself. For Bitcoin, this could be over $100k in one fell swoop. However, unless you have $100k or more in custom mining hardware (ASIC miners like the Antminer S9), your odds of finding a block on your own are miniscule at best.

The more confusing method is called pool mining. This means you contribute the work your miner does to a collective, who share out the rewards when the collective pool finds a block. If you’re the lucky block-finder, you get a LOT less reward than if you solo-mined that block, but the other 99.999999985% of the time (scientifically chosen random nearly 100% number) you’re getting a lot MORE than if you solo-mined and didn’t find anything.

You could think of mining in this situation as similar to taking a metal detector out to the Atlantic or Pacific beach looking for gold or other treasure. There’s a lot of shoreline and beach, and if you go out with one metal detector (or even two, one in each hand), you can only cover so much space. Take 10, 100, or 150,000 friends with their metal detectors and you have a better chance of finding something and sharing the reward. Continue reading

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Coming back to the NetBeez monitoring service – a gigabit agent and more

[Disclosures at the end, as usual. Also, since this post was begun, NetBeez has announced discontinuation of their free tier of service. There is still a 30-day trial, though, so if you’re looking at deploying a paid option, you can still try it out first.]

At Cisco Live this year, I won a NetBeez monitoring agent (in the form of a Raspberry Pi 2 model B). It took a couple months, but I finally got it plugged in and running. NetBeez were kind enough to offer me an expanded license for a couple of devices, so I could run them from my home, my workshop, and possibly even a mobile rig.

See the previous article for how I started using the gear, and why I wanted to upgrade almost as soon as I got the first agent going.

B is for Banana – Pro, that is

With a 200mbit+ connection at home, and a 100mbit Ethernet port on my agent, I hit an obvious bottleneck.

Luckily, though, I’d stocked up on a couple of Banana Pi Pro devices, and had a Raspberry Pi 3 Model B as well. Since the only device I have a case for is the Banana, that’s what I ran with. I later realized the Raspberry Pi 3 is also a 10/100 device, so it would not fix the problem, although it worked fine as an agent on my backup DSL connection (which maxes at 20Mbps). Continue reading

First look: Checking out the Netbeez cloud-based monitoring service

[Disclosures at the end, as usual. Also, since this post was begun, NetBeez has announced discontinuation of their free tier of service. There is still a 30-day trial, though, so if you’re looking at deploying a paid option, you can still try it out first.]

At Cisco Live last year, I won a NetBeez monitoring agent (in the form of a Raspberry Pi 2 model B). It took a couple months, but I finally got it plugged in and running. NetBeez were kind enough to offer me an expanded license for a couple of devices, so I could run them from my home, my workshop, and possibly even a mobile rig.

I’ll admit that I wasn’t completely sure what I would do with the agent, but once I got it going, I found a lot of utility in the offering.

Getting Started

If you want an utterly painless way to get started, win a pre-built monitoring agent at an event. The second closest option to that would be buying a preloaded agent from NetBeez.

However, for most of my readers, loading an OS onto a device you’ve had sitting in a pile in the corner of your lab or spare room is going to be as easy and a bit cheaper. NetBeez offers options for Debian Linux, OVA bundles for the virtualization platform of your choice, Raspbian for Raspberry Pi, and an Odroid C2 Debian image. There are probably other options you can work out if you put your mind to it, but it’s not much of a hindrance to getting going.

With any of these options, you’ll run an agent setup script with your secret code in it, given to you in an email (or in their dashboard once you’re set up–click on the gear icon in the top right of your dashboard). Then it should show up promptly in the NetBeez dashboard, and you can rename, configure, add targets, etc.

What I’m Monitoring

The first tests I put in were pointing at my home router (a Meraki MX84, see disclosures), and my remote workshop router (a Meraki MX60).

For my home router, I have a ping to the router’s internal interface, and a DNS lookup for one of the Meraki Cloud sites I would use to manage the Meraki environment. This validates internal connectivity and general DNS availability.

For the remote workshop router, which is connected over VPN, I check ping and http response to the internal interface of the router (which validates VPN connectivity), and ping and traceroute to the external interface (which validates Internet connectivity). Continue reading

Keyboards for the 12.9″ iPad Pro – An adventure and review

As I’ve mentioned before, I use a 2015 edition iPad Pro 12.9 as a daily driver tablet and almost-laptop-replacement. With the right external keyboard case it can easily be mistaken for a Macbook, and serves most of my on-the-go needs at airports, meetings, conferences, and even in front of the television at night.

However, the two leading contenders for best iPad Pro 12.9 keyboard case have had their quirks and issues, and I’ve run headlong into both devices’ issues.

Those two contenders are the Zagg SlimBook keyboard case and the Logitech Create keyboard case.

A look at the contenders

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The Zagg SlimBook ($139.99 at Zagg, Amazon) is a Bluetooth device that pairs with up to three devices (iPad or not) with a removable shell for the iPad Pro itself and a hinge that lets you fold/open the joined device. it has its own battery, and is rated for about 700 hours of use on a single charge (2 years at 1 hour a day). It may be a challenge to find; it was out of stock for January, and Zagg sold out of the new run in about two days this week.

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The Logitech/Logi Create ($150 or less at Logitech, Amazon new, Amazon refurb) is a non-separable keyboard case that connects using Apple’s Smart Connector. It has no battery, and while the backlight draws some juice from the iPad, I didn’t notice battery issues from the draw. It’s more readily available, and comes in 4 colors. I got the purple one, as it was discounted at the time. If I were buying it again, I’d go with a more conventional color. You’ll see why in a bit.

Similarities

I consider these two devices the contenders primarily because they work as lap-top devices. You have different angles; the hinge on the Zagg holds it in place and gives plenty of adjustment angles, whereas the Logitech has a single magnetic-locking position for keyboard use. But they both provide a stable base of operations, which lets you use them like a laptop.

They also both provide methods for using the device without the keyboard in place. With Zagg, you remove the iPad and its shell and set the keyboard aside. Note that the keyboard does stay paired, which could be bothersome or it could let you use an iPad stand to get a bit more distance between your eyes and the screen. With the Logitech, you simply disconnect the Smart Connector and fold the iPad over; without the SC connection, the keyboard is inert.

There are a lot of other devices that work great on a tabletop or desk, like the Logitech Slim Combo ($149.99 from Amazon), which I tried and wanted to like, but I needed the lap stability factor. A number of others follow the kickstand concept (like a Surface Pro). And there are a couple of devices like the Zagg (cheaper imports that are still readily available), but they don’t have the finish and finesse of these options.

Disparate Disappointments

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The Zagg’s strength, in the variable-angle hinge, is also its most common complaint. The hinge is susceptible to cracking, and if the plastic around the hinge breaks, you can still use the keyboard, but you can no longer practically open and close the device. After mine stopped working recently, I found numerous complaints online from others having this issue, and one person even built metal clamps to resolve the issue.

Zagg’s one year warranty would have covered this, except that they were out of stock with no information on restocking time frames, so I received a gift card for the purchase price (it was the retail price minus the Best Buy gift card and reward certificate amounts I used, but still more than I expected). I ended up ordering a screen film for my phone and marking the “notify me” option for the SlimBook; I ordered the replacement with the remaining gift card balance within minutes of the notification coming in.

The Logitech’s two disappointments together come in even worse than the Zaggs, to be honest. First, the material on the back will build up fingerprint residue and other daily stains as you use it, and if you get a lighter color (even the purple counts as “light” for this), it will look pretty sad after a while. The woven fabric doesn’t lend itself well to skins or stickers to cover up the grime.

 

But even worse, and again this is a frequent woe on Internet forums, the keyboard’s metal parts will indelibly scratch your $1,000 tablet’s screen. (This one was hard to photograph, so you’ll have to imagine it.)

It ends up looking like a half-inch-high barcode stripe along the top inch of the screen, and at first I thought it was fingerprint oil that just needed scrubbing with a microfiber. Alas it was permanent, and taught me that I should have installed the Zagg screen protector much sooner.

Luckily, it qualified under the AppleCare accidental damage classification, and I got a replacement for the $49 deductible (a month before AppleCare ran out, whew!).

Trying Another Keyboard

Since the Zagg was uncertain at the time, and I wasn’t sure where I’d stashed the Logitech keyboard back in November, I searched eBay and Amazon for alternatives. The best option I came up with was the iEGrow keyboard case. Available in gold or silver, it features a 5600mAh battery in the keyboard which can be used to boost your iPad or other USB-cabled device as well as running the keyboard itself.

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The battery adds substantial weight to the case, but if it saves me having to carry a battery pack, it could be worth it. The main complaint that showed up on Amazon was that the circle on the back doesn’t quite align with the Apple logo on the iPad Pro itself, but that didn’t bother me too much.

I used it for about three days but found that the case didn’t quite fit the iPad Pro; the edge along the home button side was noticeably raised compared to the camera side. It did come with a rubber keyboard skin that wasn’t impossible to type through, and offers some protection to the screen.

I probably would’ve kept it and suffered through the ridge issue, but that notification from Zagg came in, so the iEGrow is going back.

Closing Caveats

It’s been two years since I started using the iPad Pro, and in that time I switched keyboards twice. If the Zagg hinge were better or the Logitech keyboard didn’t permanently damage the iPad Pro screen, either could be a slam dunk (or both could). I did finally relocate my Logi, so I’ll be returning the iEGrow and using the Logi (with the Zagg glass screen protector and a microfiber keyboard cover) until the SlimBook arrives next week.

I am a bit surprised that there haven’t been more top-brand choices with Apple renewing the iPad Pro 12.9 in 2017, and that Zagg let their device disappear even from Customer Service. I will say that Zagg customer service was excellent when trying to deal with this issue, as was Apple’s support with the screen issue last fall.

I will also note that if you’re thinking of using your credit card’s extended warranty feature to protect in an eventual failure, make sure you don’t use gift cards or reward certificates; some if not all card warranty programs will decline protection if you didn’t pay for the device entirely with their credit card (this happened for me).

And finally, while the 12.9″ iPad Pro has very limited top-shelf keyboard case options, that is not the case (so to speak) with the 10.5 or 9.7. The 9.7″ iPad Pro seems to work with most cases that fit the iPad Air 2–feel free to buy one of mine on eBay if you like–so you’ll have plenty of options. The newer version of the Belkin QODE Ultimate Pro keyboard for iPad Air 2 is one of my all-time favorites; I wrote about the original version here after Belkin’s CMO sent me one to try out, and I ended up buying the new version on my own and loving it.

Do you have insights or experiences with the iPad Pro in keyboard cases? If so, share in the comments, or join the conversation on Facebook or Twitter.

Disclosure: All of the devices discussed/reviewed here, with the exception of the first generation Belkin QODE Ultimate Pro mentioned in passing, were purchased out of our own pockets and no consideration was given by (or asked for) from the vendors in question. The Belkin device was provided free of charge in 2014, but with no expectation of review content or direction.

 

Amazon links are affiliate links, and we get a small commission of sorts if you buy through them. Vendor links are direct and we get no consideration for purchases through them.

Looking ahead into 2018 with rsts11

My friend Tom Hollingsworth posted a good piece on New Year’s Day, talking about writing more, and the balance of video and text, and more. It was an inspiring read, and there’s a lot that I probably could have said in this post if I hadn’t read his post first.

Go ahead and give it a read. I’ll wait.

Now back to rsts11, in a quick review and a look forward…

Looking back to 2017

Visit rsts11travel for travel technology, caffeination, and loyalty program advice wherever we go!

In 2017 (or more accurately, New Year’s Eve 2016), I launched rsts11travel, splitting out travel content (technology, caffeine, and loyalty) to its own site. The year-end review for rsts11travel went up on New Year’s Eve. This year I’ll try to keep the two blogs rolling at a similar pace, and there will continue to be crossovers as we had in 2017 where the content warrants it. And I still have a slight hope of coming up with a better name, but for now it works.

On the rsts11 side, we looked at NBASE-T and the Modern Office (part 1, part 2), Internet connectivity on the road (part 1, part 2). I made a fun build in a misleading case, inspired by our look at Antsle’s personal cloud servers — and they followed our Xeon-D direction later in the year. And I met with Opengear at InteropITX, with a conversation on video with them later on about the state of out-of-band management.

Moving ahead into 2018

I’ve been getting back into hardware (as opposed to getting surrounded by hardware, which I’d been excelling at for years). This has been partially due to a renewed interest in cryptocurrency mining, so there are a couple of posts in the posts-in-progress folder about some hardware designs and a beginner’s guide to cryptocurrency mining.

There are also a couple of project machines (like the Microserver Gen 8 that I finally upgraded to a Xeon E3) that are overdue for coverage as well. I have some other interesting gear in the lab that may make its way onto the blog as well (especially if I can figure out how to reset a particular SDN device to factory defaults).

Invoking Bartles and Jaymes…

As always, I appreciate my readers’ support in any form. Comments and feedback here, on Twitter at @rsts11, or Facebook at @rsts11 help me target and track coverage for the blog. Buying things through my Amazon links (like an Omnicharge 20, or pretty much anything through an Amazon link on the site), or taking advantage of other referrals listed on the support-us page can help fund acquisitions for review, cover the minimal ongoing costs of the blogs, and maintain respectable caffeination levels along the way.

Where do we go from here?

Let me know what you’re looking for from rsts11 this year. Would you watch videos, and if so, what sort of content are you looking for? Maybe you want more product reviews (retail and enterprise?), or system and solution builds?