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Thursday, November 28, 2013

Litecoin Mining with R9 290 and R9 290X: Settings for 850-1000 KHash/sec

[Update: You can just use Nicehash, with there auto-switching NiceHashMiner. That's what I'm doing these days, and it pays out in BTC. Litecoin has been dramatically affected by ASICs, making the following information below no longer pertinent.]

With the price of Litecoin having jumped up into the high 40s of late, people are getting very interested in mining hardware. Previously, the HD 7950 seemed to be the sweet spot in terms of price and performance, but AMD has released their new R9 290 and R9 290X that take things to another level. Also note that the R9 280X is just a tweaked version of the existing HD 7970, so shop accordingly. Let me quickly show you some rough numbers (~10% margin of error):

Radeon HD 7950 gets ~600Khash/sec @ ~300W = 2.00KHash/Watt
Radeon R9 280X (HD 7970) gets ~700Khash/sec @ ~340W = 2.06KHash/Watt
Radeon R9 290 gets ~900KHash/sec @ ~330W = 2.73KHash/Watt
Radeon R9 290X gets ~1000KHash/sec @ ~360W = 2.71KHash/Watt

The Radeon HD 7950 was an awesome card for mining Litecoin, but if you're looking for the new hotness, it's all about the R9 290 and R9 290X. There are a few things to keep in mind when setting up a rig with the R9 cards. First, they can generally run pretty hot, so 90-95C isn't the end of the world. Second, they can be relatively loud, but when looking at HD 7950 vs. R9 290 and mining Litecoin, I don't think there's that much of a difference -- gaming, sure, but not for mining where you're at 100% GPU load all the time! Finally, look at the efficiency people are getting from R9 -- almost 30% higher than the old Tahiti GPUs is great stuff. So with that said, let's look at some settings for mining with R9 hardware.

CGminer.conf for R9 290 and ~850KHash -- note that not all cards will handle these clocks!
"pools" : [
"url" : "stratum+tcp://",
"user" : "[USER].[WORKER]",
"pass" : "[PASS]"
"url" : "stratum+tcp://",
"user" : "[USER].[WORKER]",
"pass" : "[PASS]"

"intensity" : "20",
"vectors" : "1",
"worksize" : "256",
"lookup-gap" : "2",
"thread-concurrency" : "32768",
"gpu-engine" : "850",
"gpu-fan" : "40-100",
"gpu-memclock" : "1550",
"gpu-powertune" : "20",
"temp-cutoff" : "99",
"temp-overheat" : "95",
"temp-target" : "90",

"api-port" : "4028",
"expiry" : "120",
"failover-only" : true,
"gpu-threads" : "1",

"log" : "5",
"queue" : "1",
"scan-time" : "60",
"temp-hysteresis" : "3",

"scrypt" : true,
"kernel" : "scrypt",
"kernel-path" : "/usr/local/bin"
The settings are similar for the R9 290X -- the only change I would make is to the following lines (and again, many cards may not work at these clocks):
"thread-concurrency" : "33792",
"gpu-engine" : "875",
"gpu-fan" : "40-100",
"gpu-memclock" : "1550",
"gpu-powertune" : "20"
The other big item you need to look at is GPU voltages, and don't think for a minute that the default voltage is going to be ideal. I have 7950 cards that are at 1.250V stock, but they run much better (cooler and quieter and faster) at 1.087V -- the reason being that at 1.250V, they simply can't maintain higher hash rates because they get too hot. Crashes are frequent as well if you're getting too hot, so with the R9 290 and R9 290X I'd look at setting voltage to 1.110-1.150. In fact, you're probably better off setting a lower voltage and reducing clock speeds than you are pushing things to the limit.

Wrapping up, I want to mention a few other options. I won't go into a lot of detail here, but if you want to have a 24/7 mining rig you really need to get CGWatcher and use that to launch CGminer. It will restart the mining operation if any of the GPUs go into a DEAD state, or if you're just getting other issues. The only thing that will really halt mining is if your system hard locks (and doesn't automatically reset), or if your network goes down (and doesn't come back up without manual intervention). With the cgminer.conf file above, it's super easy to get CGWatcher running as well -- just create a profile and point it at the CGminer directory and CGminer.conf files and you're set. Then tweak the settings so that CGWatcher starts with Windows and on the Monitor tab configure the appropriate restart options. On my machines, I have it check the status every 10 seconds, restart if mining falls below 50KHash, restart if no accepted shares in 10 minutes, and restart if any GPUs go SICK or DEAD. Awesome!

Speaking of CGminer, there's something else you need to know: the last version to support GPU mining (unless something changes) is 3.7.2 -- everything after that is for FPGA and ASIC mining only, which basically means SHA256 Bitcoin or similar mining. I'd also recommend not investing into any ASIC mining rigs because the difficulty of Bitcoin mining has scaled to massive levels -- it's over 1000 times more difficult to mine Bitcoins today than it was at the start of 2013, and most ASICs will only break even in six months of mining at best (and very likely longer than that as more ASICs continue to come online). Plus, many of the ASICs don't even ship within a few days of ordering. You're far better off buying GPUs and mining LTC than to buy ASICs for BTC in my opinion -- and I don't even know how long that will last. :-)

Speaking of which, you might be wondering: how long before I could break even on a new R9 290 or 290X at these hashing rates and prices? It's a bit crazy but you could actually break even on a new R9 290 in just two weeks. Even with increasing difficulty levels, it shouldn't take more than a month! That's assuming that the prices stay more or less where they're at, which is anything but guaranteed. We could very well see $100 LTC before the year ends...or it might drop back (temporarily at least) to the $10 range. Best advice: don't invest more than you can afford to lose.

Find this useful? Please donate some LTC to help me support my blogging efforts or shop via my affiliate links. Either one is greatly appreciated! Maybe you need an inexpensive laptop or tablet so you can monitor your mining rigs on the go? Or even better, grab a new digital camera so you can take pictures while on your Litecoin-funded vacation! Whatever your poison, happy shopping, and thanks for reading!

LTC: LXpEZcNJtikd263z7Ha3vrdYDcLU7hiKWv

Or if that's too much, go play at the LTC4You faucet and typically win 0.00004 LTC every hour. That's a free $0.00120 for clicking a button and typing a captcha. If every visitor to my site did that once per day, I could make a whopping $3 per day. Which means I need every visitor to do that ten times per day! :-)

Update: Need help? See my Toubeshooting Guide.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Trying to Sign Up for ObamaCare: WAHealthPlanFinder Edition

So the open enrollment is going on with Obamacare, and I figured with all the hoopla I would look into it and see how bad things really are. I'm a technical guy, so I figure if I can't get a site to work then probably no one can. But, I live in Washington, so we don't use the site -- we have our own exchange just for the state of WA: Catchy name, isn't it? What follows is my journey into how NOT to do things if you're trying to sign up. I've snagged a bunch of images, grayed out names and dates, but otherwise this is what you'd experience if you follow the same steps.

You start at the home page, and there are several large buttons calling for attention: Find and Compare Health Plans, Apply for Coverage, and in the bottom-right is the sign-in section. Naturally, first time users don't have an account yet, but there's an option down there: Create an account. Again, I'm a tech savvy person, so I figured I'd just jump right in and start with creating an account. This, it seems, was a terrible mistake.

Creating an account was pretty straightforward -- choose a user name (it has to have at least six characters with one number and one letter, with a maximum length of 20 characters. The password requirement is a bit more strict: at least eight characters, 1 UPPERCASE letter, 1 lowercase letter, 1 number, and 1 special character. Enter your email address, pick and answer three security questions, agree to the Conditions of Use, and you're done. Ready to search for plans and apply for coverage now? TOO BAD! Here's what you get:

Hmmm...strange, there doesn't seem to be anything to do. Maybe it's under one of the other options on the site? Well, I checked around and it appears that's not the case. The home page in particular has now changed quite a bit, as all you can do is watch a tutorial video or go back to the useless dashboard. So that's a problem, but I thought after a bit maybe they just want me to search for a plan and then apply, so let's try that.

To find a plan at all, you need to first sign out -- which makes zero sense. Finding and comparing plans when you're lot signed in is easy enough, though -- give the site your zip code, birthdates and sex (and smoking/pregnant status if needed), add household members, and then input your household income. Search for plans, and in my case I get the following:

Huzzah! Check out all these plans! And with four people and a household income under $60K, there are some subsidies available (with higher subsidies for lower incomes). So far so good. Since my family is already with Group Health and we're okay with the care we've received there, let's just limit things to the Group Health options:

The Silver plan looks pretty good, so let's go ahead and apply for that....

Oh, now I can log in or create an account! We're getting somewhere. Except, we're not, since I already created an account. If I sign in, I'm back to the empty dashboard. If I try to create a new account, the system figures out that I've already created an account (same SSN, after all), and I'm stuck again.

There are a few more pieces of information to tack on, however. First is that the "estimated price after tax credit" figures are apparently a joke -- you'll pay more than this unless you're on Medicaid, from what I've read elsewhere. And that's apparently assuming your application is even accepted, which it might not be -- if it was guaranteed, you wouldn't be applying, right? Of course, you have to go through the site if you want any chance at a tax credit; skip the exchange and you're stuck paying the full price no matter what.

My bet: even if I happen to qualify for a tax credit, it will likely end up being smoke and mirrors. If I get a $200 tax credit on my health insurance but my other federal taxes end up being $300 higher, it's a net loss of $100. And as I've mentioned before, with all of the people now guaranteed the ability to get some form of coverage (if you can't get accepted on an application, you can always go with the single provider government option), I suspect a tax rate hike is coming down the pipe.

I'll be trying to make some phone calls this week to see if I can get to the "apply" stage, which will likely require some serious time on hold. Wish me luck....

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Bitcoin and Litecoin Bubble, November 2013

If you've been following Bitcoin and Litecoin at all, you'll have noticed a massive spike in pricing over the past couple of weeks. I wish I could say that I had called this one, but honestly: it's all just speculation. Plenty of people are patting themselves on the back for buying in at $150 or even $250 on Bitcoin, but if you read around you'll probably find the same people talking about how even $800 was a "great price" -- right before we dropped $200 to $300.

There's still a ton of turmoil in the prices, driven almost entirely by the rampant speculation. People are trying to guess if we're just pausing before another meteoric rise to $2000+, or if we're about ready to take another plunge into the <$200 range. My take: either is possible, short-term. Long-term, though, I'd be far more likely to bet on the increase in price of Bitcoin, and as the top Scrypt-based cryptocurrency, Litecoin as well. Here's why.

First, China has been going crazy, and there are a bunch of real businesses beginning to accept Bitcoin as legal payment. But the reasons for China and other places going crazy might have as much to do with the US government shutdown as anything, as the shutdown illustrated just how fragile our governments can be. If the US goes through hyper-inflation, Bitcoins could skyrocket in value relative to the USD -- and if the USD has serious issues, let me tell you, the rest of the world's currencies aren't going to be far behind, as most of them are at least significantly linked to the USD (in the short- to medium-term).

There are other factors at play as well. Silk Road, a site dealing with the trading of illegal goods (mostly drugs) was closed by the FBI earlier this year in a sting operation that seized a good chunk of BTC (potentially 500K). That caused a short-term panic, but overall the closing of an illegal business has established BTC as a tool with many legal uses.

We've also seen ASICs (Application Specific Integrated Circuits) start shipping in quantity, which has basically driven the difficulty of mining BTC up 200X or more just in 2013. That has killed off the potential for mining BTC with GPUs (all of my computers and GPUs would currently 0.125 BTC per month, with a power cost of $325 or so), but the ASIC pricing has dropped tremendously. The ASICMiner Block Erupter USB sticks for instance were priced at $300 early this year when they first showed up. Last month before this bubble they were even down below the $20 mark, and now with the price increase they're back at $40. Those little USB sticks can do around 330MHash/sec, while drawing less than 5W, leading to a net profit of $5 per month or so. At $20, I should have bought 50; at $40, I'm not so sure, but if the price does go up to into the five digit range and I just sat on all the coins, it would be a guaranteed win.

Let's go back to China for a moment, now that I've mentioned ASICs. With pricing of $40 for a USB stick in the US, it probably costs less than $5 to build one of those over in China. Imagine a bunch of people using ASIC miners in China to get BTC to pay for their Internet service and whatever else, which is very likely already happening. How many Bitcoins does China need to support such services? There are 1.4 billion Chinese, so if each of them happened to hold $100 worth of Bitcoin for purchases, Bitcoin would need at a minimum a market capitalization of $140 billion.

For those that aren't familiar with Bitcoin, there will only be 21 million BTC ever created -- it's part of the design of the currency. Right now, there are roughly 12 million BTC in existence, so a bit more than half of the total. If BTC needed to have a market capital of $12 billion, then each coin would need to be worth $1000; for the capital to reach the $140 billion above, right now we'd need to have coins worth roughly $12,000 each!

Pie in the sky? I thought so too a while back. If I had been a bit more daring, I wouldn't have sold most of the coins I mined prior to the start of 2013 (around 1000BTC). My total costs for mining all of those coins, including power and computer hardware, are around $8000, and I've more than covered that now. But, could you imagine if I had saved them all? I'd have over half a million -- enough to pay for my house and another just like it, plus plenty of other items as well. Of course, if BTC tanked and disappeared, I'd have $8000 in additional debt (expenses) to deal with.

We've now been through this bubble mania three times. The first bubble in May/June 2011 peaked at just over $30, and it was followed by BTC dipping all the way to just under $2. At one point, I had computers that were mining over 5 BTC per day, but my power costs were roughly equal to the value in BTC and I covered those in the interest of being "better safe than sorry". Then in the buildup to April of this year, when we hit $266 or so, we had a crash back to $60. Now we've spiked as high as $900 and have fallen back as low as $450. Perhaps we'll continue down until we're in the $200 range, but there's still an upward trend.

The LTC side has been a bit less chaotic, but it's still interesting. There was a massive bubble in May 2013 where LTC hit roughly $6 before falling into the $2 range, with a dip even into the $1.25 range (when Silk Road was shut down). Last week it spiked up to nearly $10 and it's now down in the $7 range. How many Litecoin have I mined, just since April or so? Over 1600, which if I had kept them all would now be worth over $11,000. I could have purchased four mining rigs in April for around $6000 and already have double my "investment" -- but again, I got a bit scared with those $1.50 coins and panicked.

Now, after several hard lessons, I think I might be seeing the way forward with more clarity. It's time to stop selling coins when we look to the long-term. Short-term is still a guess, but if you're willing to take a chance, I wouldn't be surprised if right now is merely a short-term pull-back before we see another substantial jump in value. In fact, I'd bet heavily that before the end of the year we'll see $1000 BTC, if only for a few of the big investors to say, "I told you so." Litecoin usually stabilizes around 0.012-0.025 BTC, so if that holds we might see LTC go as high as $25 before 2014 rolls around. I sure hope it does, because when I'm sitting on a few hundred LTC in 2014 I suspect I'm going to be looking pretty darn smart.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Internet Pornography Filtering Petition - Why It Won't Work

Have you heard about the new petition to help protect us from Internet pornography? Depending on where you fall on the religious, technology, and political spectrums it's either a great idea or a terrible one. Here's what the petition says (for those that can't be bothered to click the above link):
In its current state, Internet porn seeks out users by email solicitations and massive amounts of free content throughout Internet browser searches. The average person, even children, can type in the word "cat" or "home" or "soup" and instantly be inundated with offensive and disturbing pornographic images. Parents and individuals have to go to great lengths to install Internet filters that often don't weed out all porn. We are asking for greater protection and responsibility from Internet Service providers and our country. We are asking that people who are interested in porn should have to seek it and choose it. They should have to "Opt In" for it by making arrangements to receive it with their Internet Service Provider. Everyone else should be free from it and assumed "Opt Out".
If only things were that simple! Here's my problem with this petition: it's not Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that are somehow forcing people to "opt in" to pornography. Rather, it's the nature of the free and open Internet. Someone creates a site with pornography and it can be at any domain name -- for example, I believe for a while was a pornography site (thankfully, that site is now Logical Design Solutions). This is why filtering companies and software were created, but they have to be continuously updated to keep track of all the places that have pornography, and inevitably they miss some of it. What's more, one person's definition of "porn" isn't going to be the same as my definition, so some would like to block all scantily clad female and male images where others are only concerned with nudity.

In effect, this is a petition to get government more heavily involved in our lives, when we have already seen that the government is generally incapable of effectively running so many things. How are Social Security, the Post Office, Electronic Voting, and ObamaCare Registration going if you think this is a good idea? We're trying to pass the buck to the ISPs to adequately filter all content for us. But what happens when some stuff doesn't get filtered? Or what happens when a site that we want to access that doesn't have pornography inadvertently gets filtered?

There was an idea going around a while ago to have .porn and .xxx domains and require all sites with pornography to register a new domain name with one of those suffixes. There was resistance for a variety of reasons, and ultimately it didn't happen. I wish it were as simple as just waving a magic petition wand and having the plague of pornography go away, but it's just not. While we're at it, can we also pass legislation to require ISPs to have an "opt out" feature for all viruses, malware, and other undesirable content? That would save me a lot of time cleaning infections on other people's PCs! If you really want to be safe, you're probably better off creating your own filter where only sites and IP addresses you specifically unblock are accessible -- good luck with that, considering there are 150 million domain names just in the most common Top Level Domains (.com, .org, .net, .info, .biz, .us).

I say that last sort of tongue-in-cheek, but that's really the crux of the problem. It's the same idea here as the thought that making all guns illegal will somehow stop criminals from using guns (or other weapons). And as a technology geek, my bet is that if this petition were to actually pass, we would end up with a watered down result that doesn't do much more than what we currently have, and we'd get people suing ISPs because they saw porn and hadn't opted in, and the result would likely be more legislation and higher prices for Internet access. We would also have "ostrich parents" that assume because there's a law in effect, they're now free from the responsibility to monitor their children and they can go back to sticking their heads in the ground.

My best suggestion: if you don't want you or your children to see pornography, find a good filter that will block most undesirable content and that gets updated regularly. Here's a site that has a few good suggestions, but let's be clear: you'll need to do work to protect your PC and family. Also, keep your PC in a location accessible to the whole family if at all possible, and more importantly spouses and parents need to be actively involved in monitoring Internet behavior. Don't forget smartphones and tablets either....

Also, I wonder if the petition hasn't worded things incorrectly. Maybe they just want all search providers to "opt out" of explicit search results by default? I believe Google already does this (and personally, it's the best search engine so why would you want to use anything else?), and Bing has this option as well (listed in the above link). I don't know about most other search engines, but there are many out there and I would recommend sticking to the bigger names like Google and Bing if you want filtered results. I'll also toss out a recommendation that OpenDNS has some reasonable filtering options for free, but it can slow down access to the Internet in some cases and as always: it won't protect you from everything (and a tech savvy youth can easily circumvent OpenDNS filtering).

I'm not sure what the best solution to the pornography problem is, simply because like so many things in life, it's a very complex topic. It's right up there with gun control, gay rights, abortion, religion, health care, alcohol, cigarettes, etc. for being wide open to differing opinions. Trying to involve the government in regulating the Internet in my opinion is about as effective as trying to have the government regulate the climate (which hasn't stopped them from trying).

To be clear: I believe 100% that pornography is bad for us -- for marriages, relationships, children, self esteem, the people involved in making it, and so on. I think any responsible adult should decide for themselves (and their family) what their stance is, and then research the most effective ways to protect yourself (or not, as the case may be). Parents in particular need to become more tech savvy in regards to the Internet so that they can understand what exactly their children are doing (on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.) It's not always easy to do, no, but parenting has never been billed as "easy" as far as I'm aware.

Unfortunately, the real problem is for people like me. I'll be frank: like most (probably nearly all) males, I've seen pornography. It's enticing and addictive, and those are two adjectives that I like to avoid where at all possible. I would love to somehow have access to all of the great information and content on the Internet while at the same time being 100% free from the blight of pornography and other garbage. But it's not going to happen. I know enough that no person, petition, or government is going to stop me from viewing pornography...if I want to!

And at the end of the day, that's what it comes down to: developing the moral fiber and support system to help you avoid things that you know are harmful and addictive. So you take it one day at a time, occasionally make mistakes, and try to do your best to avoid it. If you're struggling with pornography, talk to your family, spouse, religious adviser, or find a 12-step addiction recovery group you can attend. And pray, because that will be far more effective than the petition.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Humble Bundle: WB Games and Batman Edition

I’ll be honest with you: there are a lot of games we’ve used as benchmarks that I haven’t quite finished, and some that I hardly even play. So when a game is good enough to keep me playing, it’s usually worth a look. Batman: Arkham Asylum is one of the games I completed. Now I’m not saying it was the greatest beat-em-up game ever, but it did a better job of making you feel like a superhero than any other game I can recall. It was visceral, and it controlled well with a mouse and keyboard or with a gamepad; it helped that the graphics were good as well, and the story kept me going.

All of that is a nice lead-in to the latest Humble Bundle, courtesy of WB Games. As you can guess, Batman: Arkham Asylum is part of the package, but it doesn’t stop there. F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin and F.E.A.R. 3 (or F.3.A.R. if you prefer) are also part of the base package, which means any donation of $1 or more snags you those games, with Lord of the Rings: War in the North rounding out the collection. You might notice a couple of things with the list; first is that they’re arranged in order of decreasing score, so Batman walks away with a 91%, FEAR2 gets 79%, FEAR3 71%, and LotR scrapes by with 66%. The second thing you’ll notice is that the original F.E.A.R. is sadly missing from the list, which is a shame as that was probably the best game of the series. The reason for the omission is pretty simple, though: it wasn’t published by WB Games.

There are two additional titles as part of the collection, provided you pay more than the current average ($4.47 at the time of writing). Scribblenauts Unlimited is a fun little game that’s perhaps better suited to a device with a stylus or finger input. The final title is a great way to wrap things up, Batman: Arkham City. The sequel to the original sports improved graphics and a larger game world, and it’s every bit as good (in my opinion at least). Even if the package only included the first two Batman games, it would be worth the price of entry – provided of course that you didn’t already own both, which I do; in fact, I already own most of the games, with LotR and Scribblenauts Unlimited being the only ones missing from my Steam list, and I’m still planning on buying the bundle. If you’re curious, the six games (Arkham Asylum, Arkham City, F.E.A.R. 2, F.E.A.R. 3, War in the North, and Scribblenauts Unlimited) would set you back a combined $74.25 (plus tax where applicable).

Now, there's one reason (and one reason only!) for me reposting my story from AnandTech (with minor editing) to my personal blog: I've got a couple extra game keys available, specifically for the two Batman games (which as mentioned I already own). So this is a test of your geek skills, because I will give the codes (individually, so you don't get both -- sorry!) to the first two people to send me an email at my work address, with the subject line "I want Batman: Arkham Asylum" or "I want Batman: Arkham City". I'll update this text when the codes have been claimed.