Monday, October 28, 2013

So I built a Bitcoin miner.

For graduation, my friend +Thomas Jensen gave me a Raspberry Pi. Those of you who don't know, Raspberry Pi is a Linux powered, 700MHz computer designed to make computer science more accessible to schools (for more info check out On top of the educational implications, they are also really fun to tinker with! After reading about other people's projects, I decided I wanted to something a little bit different with my Pi, so I sat on it for a few months.

Flash forward to 2 weeks ago. Scanning my Twitter feed I noticed some chatter about a Bitcoin ATM that was scheduled to open. Now, by this point I was well aware of Bitcoins, but I thought I would dig into them a bit deeper. I started looking into the basics of Bitcoin mining. You need mining software, block erupters (which process the algorithms), a mining pool, and a Bitcoin wallet. That's when I stumbled onto MinePeon, a Bitcoin mining software developed specifically for the ARM processor (the processor that powers the Raspberry Pi).

Computer, check. Mining software, check. Now on to the erupters. Erupters are ASIC devices designed specifically for processing the algorithms which generate and verify Bitcoins. An entry level miner, the ASICMiner Block Erupter USB 330MH/s Sapphire Miner was right in my price range.

Now, up until this point, this project has cost me zero out of pocket, but that was about to change... Some what. I had the good fortune of winning a $100 Amazon gift card from VMUG (thanks again, VMUG!), and thankfully, they had all the parts necessary to complete this project. The Pi does not have enough power to handle a block eruper plugged directly into it, so a powered USB hub is necessary. Also, the miner tends to run hot, so I purchased a USB fan to keep the rig cool. Below is a breakdown of price per part:

  • Raspberry Pi    $35 (my cost - free)
  • 12 port USB Hub    $27.99
  • USB fan     $5.99
  • ASICMiner Block Erupter USB 330MH/s Sapphire Miner     $11.99 
I headed to my Amazon shopping cart, but then I hesitated. I thought, "I've still got enough money left on this gift card for another 4 erupters, why not quintuple my mining power!", so I doubled back and added 4 more to my cart. Then I hesitated again, "Ya know, you've still got 5 open ports on that hub, and technically you haven't spent a dime on this project, what's a $60 out of pocket expense to decuple my earning power!". 

So, my Raspberry Pi Bitcoin Mining rig has a price tag of ~$175, with an out of pocket cost to me of $60.  

Assembly of the miner is simple, the most complicated step is burning MinePeon to the SD card. You'll need to sign up for a Bitcoin wallet, which is where the coins you have mined will be stored. I chose an online wallet for security reasons, but you can install a walled on your computer. You will also need to find a mining pool. There are several out there, and plenty of information about hash rate, fees, etc... so you can make an informed decision on which pool you wish to join. Signing up for pools and wallets are free, and most are very easy to get started. Setting up your wallet to the pool is also easy, just request an address from your wallet, and link it to your pool account! 

Once I had all the parts in place, signed up for the pool and wallet, it was time to power it up! Visually, it's quite a sight!

Once it fired up, I monitored it for a few hours as I worked on other projects around the house. At the time, all 10 erupters were functioning, and it had jumped into a few different mining "shifts" and started working. I felt comfortable heading off to bed. 

Knowing full well this is a low power miner, I still ran downstairs like a child on Christmas, excited to see what Bitcoin Claus left me! 0.00000049 BTC. Yup, less than a penny. Turns out during the night a few of the erupters stopped working, and the miner failed to grab any other shifts after it completed the one it was working. I rebooted the Pi and the erupters and during the day Friday, it looked like it was finally functioning properly. If it kept up the pace it was mining at, my rig would pay for my out of pocket cost in about 45 to 60 days. 

Unfortunately, it has not keep up that pace. Still to this day it is failing to reach out to a new shift without rebooting the miner. I reached out to the MinePeon forums and a few other locations to ask other users if they've run into similar experiences. The common thought was that my hub did not have enough power to keep up with 10 erupters. I stared by removing the USB fan and plugging it into a near by desktop to cool the rig, which did result in fewer hardware errors, but did not help with the shift errors. My next step was to remove a few of the erupters. Since the hub breaks down into 2 circuits, I took two erupters off so it was running 4 on each circuit. No dice, still won't pick up a shift without a reboot. 

So here's the situation. If I log directly into MinePeon, it shows that the miner is functioning, but if I log in via the GUI it shows the miner as offline. Same thing with the mining pool website, it shows the worker is offline, but after a reboot it will show that I am working shifts and will see an increase in my amount earned. My next troubleshooting idea would be to reinstall MinePeon, this seems like a software issue, but I could be wrong. I will post a new blog once I figure out the issue and get it running fully. 

Until then, if you want to follow my progress, feel free to follow me on Twitter (@ExploreVM), Instagram (ExploreVM) or Google+ (Paul Woodward Jr).

I would also love to hear any troubleshooting ideas you may have! Comment below or reach out to me via the above listed channels. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

VMUG Needs Your Input!

I wanted to keep this quiet until after the big announcement at VMWorld, which was hard for me because I'm a fairly social person. VMUG is planning their first ever virtual meeting, and I have been tapped to be on the task force planning the event. The event is going to feature a keynote from VMware, several virtualization experts, presentations from vendors and Q&A sessions.

With that being said, let's get down to business! What we need to know from all of you is what do you want in a VMUG meeting? What topics, technologies, trends are most important to you and your business. This is your time to speak up.Have you attended virtual events before? What did you like, what didn't you like? Any input is good input for us. We want to make this event great!

On a personal note, I'd like to thank my friend and former professor Brian Kirsch for the vote of confidence in bringing me into the team. It's going to be an amazing opportunity and I'm excited to be involved.

You can reach out to me on Twitter (@ExploreVM), Google+, Facebook, or feel free to comment right here on this blog. We are all looking forward to hearing what you've got to say.  

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Got my foot in the door.

Well everyone, I've caught my break. After 6 months of applying, submitting resumes, and meeting with recruiters, I have finally got an IT job! Effective July 15th I'll be an ID Management Support Technician for a large, multinational company working at it's headquarters in Milwaukee. This position gives me the opportunity to build ever important work experience, which has been holding me back on my job hunt.

My main job requirements consist of managing users security settings through Active Directory, building and deploying desktop/laptop computers, and deploying mobile devices for new employees. Mobile deployment will be a new skill set for me, which, after talking to a few people already in the IT field and technical recruiters, looks to be an excellent addition to my resume. I've been told by more than a few people that mobile deployment is highly sought after right now. Oh, and on top of learning new skills, this position comes with a (small) bump in pay.

Everything's coming up Millhouse Paul, right? Well, not quite. Remember a couple of posts ago when I said "fortune favors the bold"? This is certainly the case. This position is only a short term contract. I've been told there is a chance of being hired on or the contract being extended, but the reality of the situation is to take this new position, I have to give up a job I have been at for just over 9 years. Is this a risky move? Certainly. Is it worth it? I say yes. I have to take the opportunity to build my professional experience when it's offered to me. In this job market, I'd be a fool not to. I've just got to push forward with the optimistic outlook that my hard work will pay off in the end. So if anyone happens to be looking for some new employees in a couple of months, keep me in mind!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Entering the Field of Virtualization

So here I am, a college graduate! The big day came and went, now what? How do I continue to prepare myself for a career in virtualization and information technology? How do I take that next step? Reality hits you pretty quickly once the ceremony is over. I am already preparing for the VCP exam, continuously reading anything that could end up being remotely useful in my future, but really, all this prep work is so broad. I thought to myself, to get a better handle on what I should be preparing for and what to expect I should speak to professionals already in the field. 

Enter Brian Kirsch and Adam Bergh. Seven and five years in virtualization respectively, Brian currently teaches Emerging Network Technologies at MATC after working for Children's Hospital and Fiserv, and Adam is a Senior Datacenter Engineer at Netech Corp. The list of certifications between both of them is long and impressive, from MCSE & CCNA to VCP & NetApp to vExpert & Masters level education. To be honest, I couldn't do these guys justice without listing every certification they hold. I asked them both first five questions that came to my mind.

As I am working to enter the field, I wondered how these two got their start, so I asked what was their first experience with virtualization and how their careers began. Adam's first experience with VMware was Workstation back in 2002, and from that moment he knew big changes in information technology were coming. In 2008 he changed careers as an engineer and dove right into datacenter consulting. Like a lot of people, Brian started as a Systems Administrator and encountered Microsoft virtual technologies, but really got deep into ESX / GSX with Fiserv.

Now that I had an understanding of how they encountered virtualization technologies, the next question I had was as virtualization professionals, what traits or skills do you feel are necessary to succeed in the field? "Flexibility and a open mind to multiple solutions." according to Brian Kirsch. He went on to say "Virtualizing something is not always the correct solution. VMware and other tools are just that you have to know how to use and even use a bit outside what they are designed for to provide the solution to the customer". Adam's thoughts really spoke to my style and work ethic. He said "It sounds cliché, but the most important trait to have in this industry is a thirst for knowledge. Technology in this industry is constantly changing, and it takes someone who is willing to constantly be studying, reading, and communicating with industry leaders so stay on top of the emerging tech."

So at this point I feel like I'm on the right track. Reading, studying, watching training videos, using Twitter and blog posts to learn and network about virtualization, I am trying to take in as much knowledge as I can. My next thought was what advice to an aspiring IT professional could they offer? Don't get stuck in a vendor rut according to Brian, his advice was "Be open to everything coming, do not dedicate to a single vendor but embrace all of the technologies." The sentiment was shared by Adam, "The best advice I could give is to try and catch on with a solutions partner and integrator of one of the leading technology firms in this industry. (Cisco, VMware, Microsoft, EMC, NetApp, Dell, HP, etc)." He added "Your education is massively accelerated by seeing different solutions, implementations, projects, etc, rather that trying to do in-house IT for a customer of VMware, Microsoft, etc." There was one more point that Adam made that really sticks out in this job climate. His advice, " Don't be afraid to start small. Be an intern if you have to as a way to get in. Find the best engineers and shadow their every move. Stay up all night reading and building scenarios in labs." Not being afraid to start small is huge now more than ever. I've met with technical recruiters and a common theme is that job seekers are not willing to start at the bottom and work their way up. My stance has always been just get my foot in the door, whether it's re-installing operating systems, setting up workstations, or answering help desk phone calls, I'll let my skill set, knowledge, and work ethic propel my career upwards. 

To close out the interviews I asked for any final thoughts. Adam suggests keeping an eye to the future, "This is one industry where someone new to the industry can come in and compete with seasoned professionals who have been doing this for years. The reason is the constant change in the industry and the new technologies that arrive and seemly shake the industry every few years. Cloud technologies begin the most recent example. The next example the coming SDDC (Software Defined Datacenter) revolution that is threatening to completely change that way datacenters are designed and deployed." And Brian put it simply, "It's a fun ride that never slows down..."

What are your thoughts? Feel free to join the conversation in the comments section below, on my Google+ page, or on Twitter, my handle is @ExploreVM. Also, if you would like to be interviewed for future blog posts, message me directly. 

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Fortune Favors The Bold - A Personal Update

I've lived by that saying for a while now, "fortune favors the bold", and I believe it. With my time at Milwaukee Area Technical College coming to a close, I have made a few large life decisions. First of all, as some of my followers may know already, I've been accepted to the Milwaukee School of Engineering for the Management Information Systems program starting this fall. Continuing my education at such a well respected college is a step I feel I need to take in my ongoing journey to be a well rounded IT Professional. I will enter the school as a Junior. After talking with a few past students I have learned that the Junior year at MSOE is the most difficult, but honestly, I am excited and looking forward to the challenge.

Second of all, I've been actively seeking employment in the field for a couple of months now, and the road block I continuously run into is lack of experience. In an effort to counteract this, I am forming my own LLC to do contract IT work, and to consult small businesses on social media marketing. This move will have a two fold effect. First of all, holding the LLC shows a level of professionalism to potential clients over other individuals who are just using word of mouth, posting flyers, or Craigslist to seek work. Secondly, I've received two contract offers from small businesses to create, update, and manage their social media presence and I would like to handle that in a professional manner. Now, the LLC is just supplementary work for myself right now, as I am still working full time and seeking full time employment. I understand that there is a chance that when I do finally find entry level IT work for a company, I may face a cut in pay from what I earn currently, so I will maintain the LLC to offset any loss in pay. And who knows, maybe I will have enough success that I can turn my small business into full time employment... Well, a boy can dream, can't he?

Finally, the third, and easily biggest life choice I have made is that I asked my girlfriend of over 2 years to marry me. Without her support, none of this could be possible, and I am grateful to have her in my life. This decision also adds to my motivation to succeed professionally, as now it's not just me anymore, is us.

If you've got any comments, tips, words of encouragement, or anything at all, feel free to leave a comment, or contact me on Twitter: @ExploreVM 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Deeper I Get Into Virtualization...

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend my first VMUG meeting. The Wisconsin VMUG chapter held a half day session at MATC's Downtown Milwaukee Campus. Frankly, I loved it. There were great presentations from Netech, Daniel Klemz, and Scott Harold, & a Q&A session. I enjoyed being around so many people with a passion for virtualization. Attending this event gave me a bump of motivation towards preparing for the VCP exam.

During the meeting, I was tweeting out thoughts and observations (my Twitter handle is @ExploreVM, if you don't follow me already!), and this tweet is one of my biggest takeaways from the meeting:

"The deeper I get into #virtualization, it becomes more evident that #CiscoUCS may have to be the next step in education"

While listening to Netech's presentation about FlexPod, I had a flash back to a tour of a data center I took a few months beforehand which uses a VCE block system. The common factor, both use Cisco UCS. Now, of course a deep understanding of the ESX hypervisor and the entire suite of VMware products is going to be my entry into the world of data center virtualization, but if I have any aspirations to manage a data center (which believe me, I do), and to become a well-rounded IT professional, learning the Unified Computing System is a likely next step.

The problem with that? Finding the training at a reasonable cost. A quick Google search yields 5 day training sessions and online training courses, but the cost of these courses ($3000+) is nearly prohibitive for a student attempting to further their education. Also, with any boot camp style training sessions, you have to wonder how much you are actually learning and retaining in a meaningful way. An ideal solution would be if the local technical schools or colleges would offer Cisco UCS courses.

Milwaukee Area Technical College offers a great VMware vSphere course taught by amazingly knowledgeable professors, and there has been rumors that the school is working on cloud and storage certificate programs, both of which I would love to attend and I feel help advance the school over other technical colleges in the area. At this point, I would like get on my soapbox momentarily, hoping some of the higher-ups at MATC are listening, and petition the school for a Cisco UCS course. It's becoming more and more obvious that business are implementing pre-configured, converged infrastructure virtualization solutions, and while the VMware vSphere training is an excellent start, adding UCS experience to your graduates portfolio would make them more competitive in the job market, along with increasing their overall technical capability.

Now, my blog may never get noticed by anyone of significance at MATC, but I will close with this, hoping someone is listening. I graduate in 6 weeks, and will be continuing my education at the Milwaukee School of Engineering in the fall, but if MATC adds the Cloud Certificate, Storage Certificate, and Cisco UCS programs, they have me not only coming back, spending my educational dollars at their college, but also touting the IT program to anyone who cares to listen to me.