Elite: Dangerous custom controls

Elite: Dangerous is a game I do enjoy greatly, but inconsistently. I will dive in head first for a few weeks or months, then take a break for anywhere from 3 months to a year, before returning in force. Every time I come back, there is new and wondrous surprises in store from the constant updated by Frontier, and I was no less disappointed when I returned back in May after nearly a year away.

Each time I come back, I always dive just a liiiiitle bit deeper into my actual gaming setup, and this time I went in hard!

Since it came out, I’ve played with a HOTAS setup (throttle and stick), of the Saitek X-55 variety, but for a while I’ve been eyeballing something new and shiny: Thrustmaster Cougar MFD. They replicate the concept of a traditional cockpit MFD, only instead of an interactive computer screen within the frame of 5×5 buttons, it’s a hollow square (with cardboard inserts for aesthetics). My thought was, it’s nice to have 25 new buttons (50 with a pair) from adding them, but without real screens it’s just more keys to memorize, making it no more convenient than a keyboard. But… what if I put an LCD screen under them?

Image result for thrustmaster cougar mfd


Fortunately for me, a wonderful community developer has written a custom tool that takes advantage of the detailed logging output by E:D (something that countless other handy 3rd party tools rely on) to power customizable guided displays, a portion of which are designed from the ground up specifically to sit inside the viewable areas of the Thrustmaster MFDs!

I hopped on Amazon, and snapped up both a pair of the Cougar MFDs, as well as a cheap LCD screen, and eagerly awaited their arrival.

Once they arrived, I first whipped up a quick and dirty prototype. I laid out the units on some foam core, and made a series of measurements to account for their placement, the screen, it’s bezels, etc. I had enough workable real estate that after placing the MFDs, I had room for a horizontal output at the top and vertical one in the center. However, upon cutting up the foam-core prototype, I realized it would quickly lose physical integrity, so I left the central column un-cut (it was simply going to show fuel and altitude levels, something I can imagine there just fine for now).


After cutting out the foam core, I wedged in the MFDs, and rested the unit on top of the display, and began tinkering with settings to layout the grids to get a feel for some ideal setups.

Once I was happy with the arrangement, I played with it some to dial in some things, set the colors to match my game’s hud, etc… and then the hard part began: 3D Modeling a final frame.


Now, while I am well versed in 3D printing as a solid hobby, my 3D modeling skills are virtually nonexistent. What little I know is rudimentary at best but it’s enough to get by for now. I expect to make future versions far better than this one, or more likely, to commission someone better than I, but for the time being my efforts will suffice.


I whipped up a design, one that has an exterior frame that sits around the screen to hold it firmly in place, left holes for the inputs, display areas, and divided it up into 4 pieces so it would fit on my print bed with janky designs to help force it back into a smooth shape again.

Once printed, I test fit everything for a quick sanity check and then bonded the parts together, put some heavy weights on them to keep the whole thing bonding flat and smooth, and let the epoxy cure. Once set, I re-fit everything, and fired her up!


I must say, this is going to be fun! I’ve already thought of about 3 or 4 things I want to change for a second printing… the biggest one being the fact that while I measured things well for my prototype, when making the plastic frame, I forgot to remember to do what I did on the foam core, and account for the “usable” space over the LCD screen’s bezels. Had I put the MFD frame over the bezels, I would have doubled up on screen real estate and gained back about 20% more usable space, instead however my MFD frames are over the exposed LCD, pushing the two of them closer to each other than they need to be, losing space in between. (Not to mention, the frames between windows are far wider than they need to be, due to how strong the plastic is vs the foam core, and the windows can be made wider as well.) No big deal, but definitely something I want to fix in v2. Additionally, I’d like to put a 45 degree chamfer on the viewing windows, to alleviate some of the lost viewing angles due to the depth between surface level and screen, and to also make proper dovetails to help the frame snap into place rigidly, rather than these unstable jagged cuts.

Still, all in all, I’m happy with my v1.0 and have already put a solid nights use into it!

2018 Travel Recap

Wow. 2018 was quite the year for travel. I knew going into this new job that it was going to be *very* travel heavy, that was part of the plan. That said, this year I think I flew about as much as the previous 4 or 5… and I actually ended up lighter on the travel than was initially planned for a variety of reasons. (Having Victoria living in Japan and visiting her regularly definitely impacted it as well!)


So where do we stand? Well, here’s some of the notables:

  • 60 Flights (44 Work related)
  • 84k Miles
  • 220 hours in a plane.
  • 16 Airports
  • 4 Countries
  • 14 Different Aircraft types

Quite the year.. and this was with only working for Genvid as of May 1st. Next year is definitely going to be even more crazy, and is already shaping up to be double this years at a minimum!

…. Thank god for the Delta Sky Club and Diamond Medallion… it’s what changes this from being miserable to quite unobtrusively pleasant.

UPS seems to have lost my wine and doesn’t want to tell me

So last week (Sept 11th) a quarterly care package of wine was due to be delivered from Russian River Vineyards. It’s liquor, which means UPS will not leave it under any circumstances unless an adult signs for it in person. It has to be an adult at my address, no neighbors, no pre-sign online, none of that. Normally I had these shipped to my office mail room, but I changed jobs and have been working from home. I now have an office it can be sent to again as of last week, but it was too late to update in time for this package.

It was due to arrive last Wednesday the 13th, which would have been a problem for me but before I could log on and change the delivery date to a better time where I could actually be home, I got another notice it had been conveniently rescheduled to Friday the 15th due to unforeseen circumstances. I work from home on Fridays, so that’s perfect. Except, midway through Friday I was notified again that it was not going to make it on Friday after all, again due to unforseen circumstances, and come in later, either Monday or Tuesday.

That wouldn’t work for me, so begrudgingly I paid their silly $8 fee to re-schedule my package for the following Friday the 21st… today (as of this writing). It was the only time I could know for sure I would be home to sign for it. I also paid a few dollars extra to narrow down the delivery window to a 4 hour window instead of anytime that day. I got an email an hour later confirming my request was accepted and to expect it around 4 pm today, give or take 2 hours.

Fast forward to today (Friday the 21st)… it’s 7 pm, and no package. I just realized this, so I hopped online to look at the tracking info.. guess what? That info hasn’t updated at all since last Friday the 15th. Not a bit. Doesn’t even show it failing to deliver, being delayed, or out for delivery again, just that I requested a change and to come back later for more info. In a different view however, and also on my calendar view, it does show it due today on the 21st though, as does my email confirmation from the change.

So I called the 1-800 number for UPS. Agent #1 says they can’t see any info more than I do on tracking, and that this is indeed weird and that I should sit tight while they transfer me to someone with better info access. I get transferred, and Agent #2 is equally stumped. They have no idea what’s happened to the package since last week even though they are digging deeper in the system, and eventually offer to transfer me to an entirely different department that has way more info.

Person #3 first is equally confused, but then after a bit says “well, if you just sit tight, I can promise you it will be delivered today. If it hasn’t shown up in about an hour and a half, then you can call us back and I’ll see what I can do.” I ask if I can just have it re-routed to my office because clearly it is not arriving today, and if it gets routed there someone can sign for it. He, however, insists he cannot make this change himself, and that I can only make the change by logging in and paying the fee to do it myself.. yeah right, that’s not happening.

“Look”, I say.. “it’s 7:30 PM on a Friday. I have plans.. never in my life did I expect I would have to be here this late to sign for a package. I need to leave the house around 8 pm tonight, and I don’t want to be late. There’s no reason I should have to stay around for a package that was due a week ago. This is ridiculous and unfair to me. It’s 7:35 pm… I don’t see a realistic scenario where everything suddenly gets better in 20 minutes, when right now at this moment you can’t actually tell me you know what’s going on or can guarantee me it’s on it’s way here, you just said you don’t know where it is.”

He then proceeds to swear he knows for a fact it’s on the truck, out for delivery, and will be here by 8 pm (wow that hour and a half sure changed quick) and that if it’s not, to feel free to call back at 8 at that time… but he can promise me I won’t have to, and it will be definitely be here if I just wait… Now.. as I post this at 7:58 PM… why is it I don’t believe him?

UPDATE 1: So 8:05 pm arrives and I called in, and this time I get transferred once more to a different department with “more info” right off the bat once they look up my package. The nice woman right away says “I can tell from your package history and what I can additionally see that this is 100% not on a truck for delivery today. I have no idea where it is, and do not know what it’s status is, but I can promise you that if it was out for delivery I would know that much. You’ll need to call back once another 24 hours have passed, at which point we can open an investigation.” Great… I’m so glad I stayed to work from home two different Fridays, and paid change fees to acomodate their mistake for them to lose this thing…

UPDATE 2: UPS saw my tweet about this article and reached out to me early Saturday AM. They asked for my tracking number and contact info and said someone would contact me within the hour… 3 hours later I asked them again about an update and heart nothing. The following day on Sunday I asked once more, and was given an apology and told they are closed on Sundays and will be in touch with me Monday. Fair enough.. on the Sunday part.. but I’m miffed about the blow off on Saturday.

Monday the 24th rolls around and I wake up to an email saying my package is out for delivery today. Great and all that they seemingly have found it, except this doesn’t help anything. I am not home today, the package is still flagged as adult signature required, and I was never given the option to address this issue with anyone in person as promised and do what I intended: arrange for either another Friday delivery on the 28th or a re-direct to my office. I replied to the twitter DM thread with these frustrations, and they apologized once more for the lack of the promised followup(s). They said someone would be in touch with me by 11:15 am… it is now 11:30 am and I have heard nothing.

For those keeping score, that is 2 failed deliveries, 4 promised phone calls that never happened,  and 2 blatant lies by customer service agents on the phone trying to get me off the call. At this point the USPS is starting to look like less of a shit show than UPS and that’s saying something. You know, as a Louisville native, we used to take great pride in the UPS brand and all it has done for that city… 🙁

UPDATE 3: Got a nice guy on the phone calling me back at noon on Monday. He said sorry for the mix-up and the package will be held and NOT delivered today, and will be sent back out Friday as planned.

UPDATE 4: Oh this just gets better. At 3:45PM i get a text saying they tried to deliver my package and failed, and that it will be re-delivered Monday. Now…I live in a secured building. You have to punch in a pin pad that rings my phone to get in.. and then if you need a signature from me you need to knock on my unit door that I am sitting 20 feet from with a clear view and earshot of. Neither of those things happened. Additionally, there was no slip left behind saying sorry we missed you.

I called UPS, they said a local office manager will call me back within the hour. An hour and a half later a nice lady calls me, I relay my story to her.. she said its unlikely the driver will be willing to do a redelivery on a Friday night but that she will call and ask just in case, and that one way or another, she will call me back in 10 minutes and go over options with me.

UPDATE 5: An hour and a half later she has not called my back, and when I try to call the number on my caller ID it says the number does not accept inbound calls. On a whim, I refresh my tracking info, and what do you know? It shows that a second delivery attempt was made 20 minutes ago, and that I was not home and note was left.

I look outside… no note. My phone? Never rang. My door-box? Never rang. Oh.. did I mention that I left my unit door cracked open about a foot, wide open to the hallway, so that if anyone walked past my unit at ALL I know would know?

I call customer service, and re-explain my saga to a supervisor, she types away and says “well, according to the notes here, the manager spoke to the driver and he informed her he would not be able to make a second delivery attempt” Really!?!! Then why on earth does the tracking say one was made and now show two deliveries?

She tells me shes updating the notes and requesting that a “senior manager contact me within the hour.” I politely reminded her I’ve been told I would be contacted “within the hour” 5 times before, and I am 5 for 5 on it never actually happening. She promises one will, however, and that the package is now confirmed for a delivery tomorrow on Saturday, but she cannot give me any kind of guarantee on the time frame.. so I guess I’m spending my Saturday at home now.

UPDATE 6: Naturally no Sr Manager ever called me last night.I woke up to a 9am phone call however from the same nice lady in the local office as before that that my package is out for delivery today. (Yay). I asked if they could give me a more narrow window than “by end of day at 5pm” but she said she could not, however she would be happy to make a call asking if she was able to get a better window, and call me back within the hour. Naturally of course, 4 hours later, I haven’t heard from her.. but I am not surprised at this point. Additionally, I tried to ask about the clearly fake failed delivery attempts, the package being lost, all the stuff that led up to this, but she dodged around all of it and wouldn’t get into it with me and I didn’t want to push, she was the only nice person I’ve dealt with so far. So here I am.. waiting.

I did get curious though and look up my tracking around noon to see if it was indeed out for delivery, and it was! I also noticed something else.. here’s a side by side comparison to the tracking info from last night.. see if you can notice the difference.

it would seem, they have deleted the first delivery attempt last night from my tracking history. Now the second one, I know 100% without a doubt never happened. The first I *know* they didn’t as well, but the second one is even easier, if you read above, to prove never happened than the fist. Yet.. *poof*… gone is the first one. Shady as heck if you ask me.

At this point, I don’t even care about the package anymore… I’ve lost well over the $200 of it’s value in time, patience, work, and stress. At this point, it’s about the fact they are treating me with such utter disrespect, dismissiveness, and lack of empathy that I am just absolutely at the end of my rope with how they have treated me… and the worst part is.. .they know and don’t care one bit because they know there is nothing I can do about it. I’m just a line item on a spreadsheet to someone with a revenue value.

UPDATE 7: I’m in the bathroom. I think I might hear a single, loud, solo knock at the door across the house. I get my pants decent as fast as I humanly can and run like hell to the front door…

And there is a sorry we missed you slip on it. It must have taken me less than 20 seconds to get there… I run down 3 flights of stairs as fast as I humanly can, and I see the truck driving off down the block…

I give up.

UPDATE 8: I just got off the phone with UPS. I refused to end the call until I had the package re-routed somewhere else, and for ONCE they didn’t say no.. on top of that he even went to a few different supervisors to try and get the fees waived so I wouldn’t have to pay them… and now it’s due to be delivered at my office on the 2nd. I won’t be there as I’ll be out of town starting that morning, but that’s fine, they can at least sign for it for me and hold it till I come back on the 4th.

*sigh*

I really hope this saga is over. Never in my life will I willingly give UPS another penny by choice. I just became a FedEx fan for life.

UPDATE 9: Hang on to your hats boys and girls… it’s not over yet!

That’s right.. here we are Monday the 1st at 3pm and I just got a failed to delivery notification at my HOME address… including a nice reminder this is the last attempt and the package will now be sent back to the shipper.

So as I’m updating this I call and I just got a hold of a supervisor, and they are telling me there is no record of the address change from last night, or the managers over ride of the charges. In fact, there are extensive notes from most of my calls, but no record at all of my call last night. I am at a loss for words. I’m being told the system will not allow the package to be shipped elsewhere, or be picked up in person, because it is locked out in the system by the shipper. My only option now is to just let it go back to Russian River Vineyards. *sigh*

I am going to go out of my way at all costs to not voluntarily give UPS another penny as long as I live.

UPDATE 10: Final update. The package is on its way back to the vineyard and that is that. That said, I shared this page on twitter.. and I even tagged UPS in it. Not only that, but  I have a 20 tweet long DM convo back and fourth with their support team over the last week. They responded via DM once more after linking this comedy of horrors. Their response to me?

Sir, I truly apologize for the inconvenience, but unfortunately, we are unable to reroute your shipment to a different address due to contents inside the package. I suggest contact the shipper for alternative options.

That’s it. It’s not even about the package… it hasn’t been about the pages in days. It’s about their total lack of effort to deliver any kind of reasonable customer service. Zero follow throughs on countless “someone will call you within the hour” promises, or falsified delivery notices, or the multiple outright lies to me by people on the phone. Nope they don’t address of even acknowledge any of that one bit. Of course not.. why would they? That requires empathy.

FINAL UPDATE: It’s here! The wonderfully nice lady at Russian River Vineyards contacted UPS for me and had them redirect the box to my office, and it finally arrived. And… I think I now know why everything went south.

This is NOT the box the wine was sent in. This is not the official packaging Russian River uses. It also has a label that was CLEARLY removed from another box and added to this one. The interior bottles were packaged in a weird, aftermarket styrofoam contraption that left them boxed up cork down (good) fully exposed with no protection against the bottom of the box (BAAAAAAD)! (WTF?!) after being individually sealed in bags. The original paperwork is heavily liquid damaged, and the box was haphazardly constructed by shelling two ends of two boxes together with this waterlogged ad-hoc MacGyver contraption inside.

It’s pretty evident that during the very first “unforeseen circumstances” or the subsequent “week of missing in action” something went horribly wrong with my box and UPS tried to hide it.

J’s EDC

So, due to the new job (Oh… uh… I should make a post about that shouldn’t I?) I am very much more-so a Digital Nomad now. As a result, I have refined my Everyday Carry items down to a science… and I figured I would share it as I know several of my friends are nerds about this kind of stuff.

I’ve roughly broken it down into 3 sections… my daily laptop bag and it’s contents. The “Travel Mode” items that get swapped out/added when flying (which is almost weekly these days) and finally there are the “pocket items”… things that are on me personally, most of the time. (Truth be told they could be with the first group, but to be totally honest I forgot to include them until after I took the pics and packed everything back up…)

First up, we have the “pocket items”:

Nothing too fancy here, just my day to day pocket items.. though the keys are often attached to an inside pocket of the bag via a carabiner.

  1. Decadent Minimalist Wallet
    A piece of machined aluminum, it fits 8 cards that slide out easily as needed and snap back into place securely with an extremely satisfying “click”. In the event I ever end up with some RFID cards in my set, I can always pop in special signal blocking cards on either side as well.
  2. Key ring with a Keyport MOCA 10-1 tool
    The MOCA tool has been ridiculously handy in the 2 months I’ve had it. The scoring blade has opened countless packaging tape on boxes, and it’s easily opened it’s fair share of bottle caps as well. 😉 (oh yeah, and it’s TSA compliant!)
  3. My Mazda3 Key-fob
    Oh yeah, and the key-fob has a cute lego brick with my name on it, courtesy of the Girlfriend.
  4. Apple Watch Series 2
    It tells the time… and a few extra things… like hatching Pokemon eggs! 😉

Next up, we have “The Bag”:

  1. 5.11 Tactical RUSH Delivery Mike Messenger bag
    HOLY CRAP does this thing pack a LOT in a small space. I simply cannot suggest this bag enough to anyone! It comes in several sizes, but mine is the smallest of them. It barely snugly fits the MBP, but that’s okay because it’s so small and compact it’s perfect for me for all uses, even when I don’t want to carry a computer at all.
  2. Macbook Pro 15″
    Usual run-of-the-mill 15″ MacBook Pro. It’s my work laptop, and squeezes in a bit of gaming when needed as well!
  3. iPad Pro 9″
    Slim and exceptionally powerful for it’s form factor… acts as a great computer when I don’t want to dig out the laptop.
  4. Kindle Oasis
    Slick little guy, small (fits perfectly in an outer pocket the same shape as it), water resistant, big screen, and carries everything I ever want to read on a seemingly-forever charge.
  5. Apple USB-c charger and cable
  6. Anker 26,800 mAh battery
    This thing has STUPID capacity, it can fully recharge everything in this bag and then some, and snuggles down in the outer side pocket perfectly out of sight.
  7. Hedgehog Zootility Tool
    This little guys is awesome, it’s a beard comb, phone kickstand, wrench, screwdriver, ruler, and several other things in one.. all the size of a business card.
  8. iPhone USB cable
  9. Sandisk USB 3.1/c hybrid 128gb thumb drive
    128gb of storage with, a slider switch that extends a 3.1 USB plug on one side, and a USB-c on the other!
  10. iPad stylus, Nexus Minimal Fountain Pen, fine tipped marker, and roller-ball pen
    The stylus is self explanatory. The fountain pen is my sexy, single-piece, machined aluminum go-to writing tool but I don’t trust strangers with the nib, hence the roller-ball. The extra fine marker comes in quite handy from time to time, sometimes interchanged with a fine sharpie.
  11. Samsung Galaxy S9 (Work Phone)
  12. iPhone 8 Plus (Personal phone)
  13. Apple AirPods
  14. Business card holder
    Kind of self explanatory, eh?
  15. Satechi USB-c Hub
    HDMI, 3 Usb 3.1 ports, ethernet, memory card readers, though power USB-c,  all in a portable hub, I love this thing!
  16. Leatherman Wave Multiool
    LOVE. THIS. TOOL! It lives in a MOLLE pouch on the outer side of the bag, though I take it out when flying. Seriously, if you don’t own a multitool, you want this one. I won’t list all it’s features here, just click the link to see for yourself and then buy one.
  17. Sony RX100 Mk 5
    I churned hard out of photography and I greatly regret it, but my hope is that by carrying this BEAST of a point and shoot, I will be encouraged to shoot more and get back into it. Thanks to it’s small portability, powerful sensor and optics, and wifi communications to my phone… so far it’s working! He lives in a little MOLLE pouch on the opposite side of the bag from the Multitool.
  18. GlocalMe Pocket WiFi
    This guy is great. He has his own cloud services with comparable daily rates to other big named WiFi devices for when I’m traveling, but it *also* also has a Dual-SIM card slot. This way I can keep a Verizon sim in him to share in my phones domestic data plan, as well as popping in a foreign SIM when I am going to be out of the country for more than a day or two (cheaper than using the service usually). As a professional road warrior, he’s a must-have.

 

All packed up, it makes for a snug but awesome fit in the bag:

Lastly we have the “Modular” stuff:

These are things that are added or swapped out for stuff in the bag when I am on the road traveling away from home:

  1. PDP Nintendo Switch Case
    This is probably the slimmest, most nondescript Switch case I could find, love it. I’m looking however for something slightly smaller and thinner that has MOLLE straps that I can affix to the outer flap of the bag when traveling.
  2. Limited edition Zelda 3DS
    I rarely use this anymore, the Switch has almost entirely replaced it, but I do like my Pokemon and have many more street pass regions to unlock! Considering replacing it with one of the new 2DS XLS, specifically the Japan-only matte black with green trim one.
  3. Nintendo Switch
    Nuff said. Oh and go buy Golf Story and Octopath Traveler.
  4. 2017 12″ Macbook Retina
    This thing is a shockingly powerful laptop for its size. It’s as thin as the iPad and nearly half the size & bulk of the Macbook Pro. When I don’t need the MBP for work reasons (ie. a Big Scren for demos)… he’s my go-to instead. My daily driver due to it’s lightweight portability with a decent punch, he’s served me well.
  5. Sony Noise Canceling headphones.
    Moderately priced with active noise canceling, a airline 2-prong adapter, and the ability to collapse down into a small package, this is great for alllllll those flights I take!And there you have it! This is what gets me through the days. Nothing too fancy, but I had a little fun documenting it all on a quiet evening.

One of the hardest decisions of my life…

Major life changing news: I’ve decided to take the insane, risky leap to leave the comfort and stability of Riot, and tackle an incredibly exciting opportunity that has presented itself to me. Sorta long post ahead… if you care about the nuances of my life, my professional career, and self growth then read on. If you just want the TL;DR version, well there it was!

I’m now a little over 4 years into my time at Riot, and it has been the most impacting of any experiences of my life in evolving who I am. (Credit where credit is due however, I’m pretty sure Victoria has had a hand in things as well!) This experience has led to amazing opportunities, self growth, friendships, and so much more. Many might think I would be a fool to walk away from that, the extended “family” I have, and the amazing perks that come with working with such amazing and talented people. Honestly, I can’t blame them. This was a terrifying decision that I spent many days agonizing over and talking to quite a few confidants about before making the decision that yes, this is the right path.

I’ve been presented with the amazing opportunity to craft my own role in Partner Relations and BizDev at a senior position at a startup that is doing something that I think has valuable merit, and more importantly… something that will challenge me far more than I am now, with a perfect (for me) balance of risk to reward.

In June I’ll be 38 years old, and Victoria is living halfway around the world for the next 2+ years. If I’m going to take any major chances in life and do anything risky with my career, these next 2-3 years are the best real shot I think I have before I need to really think hard about my long-term commitments in life and listen to the adult voice in the back of my head that I’ve been mostly ignoring until now.

And so that brings me here. Friday, April 27th 2018 will be my last day at Riot. I’ve got a lot of work to do to help prepare my team to be successful without me, though I have the full confidence that they will be able to do so… I’ve spent the last 4 years helping them be ready for that. Still, I felt that 4 weeks through the end of the month was the right way to go here for the smoothest transition, I certainly owe them that.

Riot has treated me well these last 4+ years, and the only reason this opportunity has even been presented to me is because of the investment they made in me as a person. There have been honest efforts made to convince me to stay, but I haven’t been this invigorated, excited, and challenged as I am about this new opportunity since, well… since I first started at Riot, and I want that feeling again. I have faith in this new adventure, but if things don’t work out, well… if they have a need for my particular skill set again, Riot has a bit of a known habit of collecting back alumni.

I am a strange mix of excitement, terror, and anxiety. Never before have I walked away from the comfort and safety of a job willingly like this, to take a chance on something else… but I know deep down it’s the right choice.

Stay tuned, and in future days I’ll share more about where I’m going and what I’m doing! (Oh! And I’m not leaving the Santa Monica area, so I won’t be moving or anything!)

Holy crap… I’m building a makerspace!

Okay… to step back a bit, it’s not QUITE that complex. I’m building a private, small (size and scale) maker space. It’s going to be a bit of an ongoing experiment to lay the groundwork for *actually* building a large scale, public space in a better location down the road and hopefully making it open to public membership.

I just secured a current location in Santa Monica in a great area that’s close to the expo line and down town SM. It’s only about 350 sq feet, but its bigger than you’d think and more importantly, the lease is exceptionally well priced for our needs, includes power and internet in the cost, and has its own entrance/exit with 24/7 access that I can apply some smart automation to.

We’re going to start off small… I and a few Rioters are going to be moving some 3D Printers, tools, accessories and other related stuff there. Though, no major power tools, no CNCs, nothing that would disrupt the 9-5 lives of our fellow tenants in their tech offices out of both politeness and necessity. My hope is that my fellow Rioters and friends can make good use of a shared creative space for 3D Printing, Cosplay making, prop fabrication, circuitry noodling and other stuff in a relatively small but shareable space via evening creative sessions and fun group weekend collaborations. I’m not going to ask for a specific fixed dollar amount from folks in order to partake in the space to fully offset the cost, but hopefully people will contribute enough in their own way that I’m not fully out of pocket entirely, and it can be self sustaining.

It’s a month to month lease so we can experiment as long as its working for us, and either sunset things if they don’t or use it as a springboard to securing a bigger, more appropriate long term space and turning it into a public venture. Additionally the monthly cost is reasonable enough that I am comfortable shouldering it myself as part of the experiment, worst case.


I have no idea what I’m doing and this is probably a stupid idea I’ll regret down the road, but I’m incredibly excited and highly motivated right now!

On a related note, if anyone is interested in investing into an *actual* Makerspace on the Westside of LA with me, that changes things greatly and offsets the challenge of bootstrapping an idea from scratch. Let’s talk.. You know how to find me.!

A quick how-to on building a GPU crypto-miner

So, several people have asked me for the basics on building a GPU based crypto currency miner (more specifically for Ethereum, or ETH). Previously I outlined how to setup up an Ubuntu one for the very, very basics with existing home PC hardware, but they’ve wanted more details for a full fledged setup. Now that I have mine in a happy place, tweaking-wise, I think I’m ready to share my findings. Please do note I am not a complete expert, and you might find better advise elsewhere or additional tweaks I didn’t suggest. I’m not saying this is perfect guidance, but I will stand by it being good. 😀 Additionally, I’m going to make some assumptions to avoid bringing too much into-scope on this write-up, and expect that you already have an Ethereum wallet setup, and have chosen a mining pool to join mining within.

(Oh and to answer the question that comes up a lot: Yes, mining ETH is still practical. ETH was specially designed that custom mining hardware like ASICs will never be a thing like they were with BTC. It’s designed to always live on GPUs. Eventually the difficulty will curve enough that you need tons to do it practically, but right now my 5 GPU rig brings in 3.9 ETH  (or $700 after power costs). Investing and buying it might still be better for the average Joe, but if you are a tinkerer and tech guy, this is just plain fun to do!)

First off, if you want to build a solid, full fledged rig, there’s a few things to keep in mind before you set down this path.

  • It won’t be cheap. You are going to want to max out at 5-6 GPUs and a quality power supply. My rig was $2400 all-in.
  • It needs to live somewhere. It will produce continuous fan noise, and you want it to sit where that won’t be an issue. (though quality fans, like Frozrs or the stock MSI Gaming X’s are very quiet. Mine are near silent and sit at 30% at load!)
  • It needs internet. You’ll need a constant connection, though wireless will do just fine.
  • It’s going to produce heat. My cards are air-cooled and hover around 70c. This causes my open floor-plan condo to kick over the AC every 2 hours or so for 10 minutes to keep it around 74f. By comparison, last year our AC turned on for 20 minutes once a day, this does have a $$ cost for me here in SoCal!

The hardware:

So first off, let’s talk parts. You’re going to need to get all this stuff gathered from a few places on the internet before you get rolling. The majority can be bought at Frys, Amazon, etc, but some of the parts, specifically the case and risers, may require some extra leg work depending on availability.

  1. Motherboard: any board that supports 5-6 GPUs will do. Asrock makes a miner-specific “BTC” series boards for hella-cheap in the 60$ range, but mining-whales grab up the market every time they ship and flip them for $300, so good luck. I just went with an MSI gaming series. Do note that bus speed bandwidth is important with this many video cards, so try to avoid specifically the z170 line of boards due to their bus low bandwidth.
  2. CPU: go cheap here. A Celereon will be *too* cheap, but an i3 is plenty power and cheap. If you go with an older board then you can probably get an older i5 or i7 for cheap as well, up to you. In either case, you are *not* going to be CPU mining, it is a complete money sink to try, just don’t do it okay?
  3. Ram: you want 16gb min, but you don’t need high end gaming shit. Quantity not quality here. (Generally speaking you want 3x the number of GPUs in RAM or 12gb, whichever is larger.. but RAM is cheap so just go all the way now if you can.)
  4. GPUs: you are going to want anywhere from 1 to 6 GPUs, the more the better. AMD is light years ahead of Nvidia in this space due to complex technical reasons I won’t get into. If you have some old 7990’s dust those babies off because they are KING, but impossible to find anymore (we’re talking 75% faster than an RX 4/5xx series!). Other wise you want RX 470/480/570/580s. As of right now, 5xx’s run roughly the same hashrate as 4xx’s. but might be improved over time with new BIOS tweaks. However, they use more power and produce more heat so if you can get some 470/80’s still at this time (it’s hard), go for it. In either case, the only difference between a 70 and 80 is about 1.5 mh/s hashing power and a 70 will use 45% less power, so aim for a 70. Also an 8GB card will get you 1.5 mh/s more than a 4gb, not because of the memory size but due to the types of chips used being better quality on the 8GB resulting in better hashing. In short, get what you can within your budget from the above, aiming at 7990, 470, 480, 570, 580 in that order.
  5. An SSD: doesn’t matter what size, just big enough for the OS and some other stuff, anything over 126gb will do.
  6. Power supply: this is important! There is where those “gold” and “platinum” ratings actually matter. We’re going to put 60%-80% load 24/7 on this supply so the quality does matter here for longevity. You want a gold or higher, and the power output should be relevant to how many cards you  have. For a full on 6-GPU rig you can get by with 1100w but 1300w is better.
  7. Case: Obviously you cant fit 6 GPUs in a tower. Additionally, air flow is hella key. That’s why you work with open framed cases for this, meant specifically for mining. I use this one.
  8. GPU Risers: You are going to need what are called “GPU risers”. Most mining cases come with them, if not.. this is what they look like.
  9. HDMI Emulator: You are going to run a headless windows system, and when you remote in with something like Teamviewer, you will be stuck with a desktop resolution matching that of the monitor attached, or a tiny ass 400×600 pixel view otherwise. Plugging in a little 7$ HDMI emulator dongle will trick the system into thinking a full res display is attached instead!
  10. USB WiFi adapter: Pretty straightforward… your miner will need to phone home to it’s pool every 5-20 seconds, and I doubt you will want wires running to wherever it lives.

Here’s my own parts for reference:

 

The build:

Okay now you have the core hardware, let’s talk setup. You’re going to want to hook everything up in the case you’ve obtained. Those risers? the small breadboard goes into you PCI 1x/16x slots and the usb cable connects it to the long board that slots into your GPUs. Each one needs power over Sata connectors, and I would not suggest more than 3 risers per power rail. The GPUs themselves should each be powered via their own cable and rail… this is where having the high quality PSU helps because it should have rails galore… for example mine has 8 dedicated to GPU’s alone. (A power rail is basically just an individual cable all to itself).

Next up, the OS. Now in the word of headless servers, Ubuntu is king.. but guess what? We’re putting Windows 10 on this thing. Yes, I know that sounds insane but bear with me! You are going to eventually want to custom flash the BIOS’s on each card to squeeze out every last Mega-hash per second (mh/s). You’re also going to tweak the settings, overclock the GPU memory, etc. This is all really hard, and in some cases impossible, to do on Linux. Also, the custom Drivers you will need need don’t work so well on there either as while AMD officially supports Ubuntu, their track record is quite spotty.

The nice thing about Windows 10 is that Microsoft really, really, reaaaaaly wants the whole world moved onto it. They are all-in on this OS cycle due to some long term world-domination stuff I won’t get into here, and as a result they were willing to make some concessions. One being, you can install it without a key for free and it’s going to pretty much run just fine for you, so long as you don’t mind an obnoxious watermark down in the bottom right popping up. Now, if you plan to do this long term, I think it’s safe to say you can easily afford less than 1/2 of an ETH worth of money on paying for a key, but for the initial tinkering/learning phase, if you are on a tight budget you don’t have to fork that over right away if it’s going to be a blocker.

So get your parts installed, and with only one video card connected, boot it on up up and go ahead and install Windows like you normally would, and we’re almost good to go. First up, we need to install some very specific AMD drivers. Now, you can install the latest and it’s going to work fine, but if you want to squeeze every last mh/s out of your cards then you want to tweak your GPU’s BIOS. Unfortunately, last year with driver v. 16.12, AMD added a BIOS check to the drivers. Moving forward from there, if you have a custom BIOS on your card, then windows will not detect the cards properly because “reasons”. To avoid this, we’re going to install OLD drivers from AMD, 16.11 ones to be precise since we need the 16.x drivers to detected 4xx/5xx cards, but not past 16.12. You can grab those bad boys right here.

Lastly, there is one other little Windows tweak you need to make: You will want to go into your system profile settings, find the “Virtual Memory” option, and you’re gonna crank that baby all the way up to 16GB. There is a long technical explanation behind this around DAG files, GPU memory etc… suffice to say though, this is a very important step.

Once installed, we want to go ahead and do a test run before we start to screw with the BIOS on them. Both to just rule out variables if something is wrong, and two, to help set a baseline so you know what your improvements did. Go ahead and shut the system down and hook up the other cards now, and then we’ll move on to the software side of things.

Next up you want to get the actual miner software installed. There are a ton of options but one of the best in class is Claymore’s Ethereum miner. We’re gonna grab the latest one from here. As of this writing,. 9.4 is the newest, but the main post is updated each time he changes it, this forum thread is the definitive resource for all things Claymore Eth Miner. Download it, and extract the folder to wherever makes sense for you.

We’ll need to make some quick tweaks to the default start.bat file to make it’ll mine for you and not Claymore’s default wallet first though. By now I assume you have an Ethereum wallet address and have chosen a mining pool to be a part of. Getting one, setting up a wallet, choosing/joining a pool, etc, is beyond the scope of this, so I’m going to assume you have one. Open up the start.bat file and edit the existing command line to read like the following:

EthDcrMiner64.exe -epool pool.hostname.com:port -ewal YOURETHWALLETID 

for example:

EthDcrMiner64.exe -epool us1.ethpool.org:3333 -ewal 0xD69af2A796A737A103F12d2f0BCC563a13900E6F 

Now save that bat file, and run it!

(Worth noting here, Claymore has a *plethora* of command line options you can explore and experiment with. Custom tweaks per-gpu.. dual mining for SIA or Decred with unused GPU cycles, fan, power, and heat limiters and optimizations, auto restarts, logging, remote management, you name it! Make sure you dig deep into that Claymore forum thread and learn how to really have fun, once you’re comfortable with the  basics!)

You should get some pretty output in a console window that looks similar to this example:

(This is just a generic example, you’re version, card identifiers, and other data will be different!)

If it doesn’t look like this, or you have a lot of red, then we’ve got some errors that you’ll need to triage, most of which should be self explanatory thanks to the error reporting, and easy to find answers to in the Claymore thread you got the file from.

Let it run for a bit, and what you’re going to want to look for, is a reporting of stats showing that all of your cards are working as intended. It will be the teal text (for Claymore that is) reading total speed/total shares followed by a second line with each GPU listed in numerical order with it’s individual stats. Pressing the “S” key will force this to appear rather than wait for it’s timer:

Congratulations! You are now mining Ethereum!

The customization:

If all of your cards are showing similar numbers then things are looking great! Now, you can call it a day here and let it do it’s thing, and life will be good. If you’re a real min-maxer though, you’re gonna want to do the “fun” stuff and play with the BIOS settings of your GPUs by tweaking the memory timings.

The problem is, this is where it gets hard for me to walk you through things directly, since it all depends on the specific cards you have, and even the types of memory chips among lines of cards. Some cards have custom BIOS files the community has released, ready to go for you. Some have people who have trialed and error many different memory timings and settled on accepted good ones. Others need you to explore on your own, it varies. To be honest, your best bet here is to do a LOT of googling and research before taking any actions… a wrong step here can brick your GPU.

Just to give you a rough idea of what to expect though, I’m going to walk you through exactly what I did for my own setup, which has MSI RX 480 Gaming X 4Gb cards, but I cannot stress this enough… DO NOT DO THE EXACT STEPS BELOW OR USE THE EXACT BIOS FILE BELOW IF YOU DO NOT HAVE THIS EXACT CARD! This is meant to be a learning example to point you in the right direction only. If you flash the wrong BIOS on the wrong card you now own a $300 brick, okay?

In any scenario however, mine or yours, we will want to grab ATI-Flash to copy the BIOS files off the card. I then made a backup of that BIOS in a folder somewhere safe and put an additional working-copy somewhere easy to get to. You can grab the utility here: ATI-Flash Download

I then used the Polaris Bios Editor to open the working-copy of that bios file, and made the following changes to the memory timings before saving the BIOS to a new file with an easy to reference name:

  1. Copy the 1500 strap string to the 1625, 1750, and 2000MHz fields.
  2. Then copy the 1425 strap string to the 1500 MHz, 1375 and 1425MHz fields.

I then re-opened ATI-Flash and flashed this newly edited BIOS back to the cards, one at a time. Once done, I rebooted the computer and assuming all was well, fired back up Claymore’s miner by launching the start.bat file.

Voila! ~25.5 mh/s per card!

This was by no means fully comprehensive, and I’m not perfect… but this should be enough to get the average person going, and I plan to come back and make edits from time to time as needed!

Oh by the way.. if this helped you at all and you want to thank me.. you’re welcome to donate any small amount of ETH you would like to the following address! 😉 0x53705931eC12cAd966B7E9Fdc6FEEc3756B71beb

Rito Points, an Ethereum blockchain token!

So a bunch of us at work are into Crypto currencies,  both investing and mining, as well as some tinkering around with some of the more technologically-fun things we can do with it.

As a means to tinker even more with some of the exciting fun stuff you can do with custom tokens on the Ethereum block chain, I’ve created a custom token for us, playfully named the Rito Points. It can be stored/sent/received with any Ethereum wallet, just like any other Token, so long as your wallet software supports tracking them (also known as contracts).  (In the event your wallet does not already know how to “watch” the Token, you can still receive them, but just not see or interact with them until you load the contract.)

MyEtherWallet.com is a great place to start if you need a wallet that can be taught to see custom tokens, and the default Ethereum Wallet/mist installs work well too (but they do require downloading and indexing the whole Ether chain!) Since I expect I’ll be sharing instructions a lot for folks on how to configure their wallet to “see” Rito Points on the blockchain, I figured I’d just document it here for easy reference. Know that any Ethereum address can receive any custom token, including Rito Points, regardless of if the below steps are done, but you won’t be able to see them or manipulate them until you do so. My instructions will be for MyEtherWallet.com but will work for any wallet that supports smart contracts.

  1. Log into your MyEtherWallet, and on the left hand menu select “Add Custom Token” (in some other apps this will be called “Watch Contract” or “Watch Token”.)
  2. Under address, enter 0x8ea88ddefa3b470b51c108475ed2073845a3944c
    (In a perfect world, the remaining fields will auto-complete for you. In case they do not, use the following:)
  3. Under Token Symbol enter RP
  4. Under Decimals enter 4 (I tried to keep it simple yet flexible.)

A screen shot of the contract watch panel within Ethereum Wallet/Mist

That’s it! Your wallet now “knows” about Rito Points and can track it’s balance of it as well as send it!

Update! After tinkering with learning more about the Solidity scripting for the smart contracts, I whipped up a new contract that will accept ETH (in incredibly small amounts) and in return send you some RP to the same address that sent the ETH. The conversion rate is roughly 1,000 RP per .01 ETH (Just under a $1 at current rates). This was purely a learning test as well as a method to automate sending our RP to select interested parties while maintaining an ETH balance to cover TX fees… not an attempt to make any ETH, so please don’t wipe out my account! 😉 To leverage it, just send ETH to the following: 0xdFD326B2C0627Cf37757A790cb72a7861bc72037

Contract Explorer, for the curious: https://ethplorer.io/address/0x8ea88ddefa3b470b51c108475ed2073845a3944c

Accepting Trump is President does not mean you have to ignore that he is a terrible person.

Here’s the thing… yes I have a lot of negativity about Trump being president, but I do accept that Trump is the president. I do… but just because I accept he is the president, it does not mean he represents me. He may represent America on the international stage, and our government at the highest level, but he does not represent my moral values or the ethics my family instilled upon me growing up. He does not represent my ideological values that I have gained from a lifetime of growth and development.

I condemn his open bigotry. I condemn his hateful comments about Muslims. I condemn his hateful comments about Hispanics. I condemn his hateful comments about Women. I condemn him for mocking a disabled man. I condemn him for pandering to white supremacists purely for the sake of votes, for welcoming them directly into his administration, and even having one write his inauguration speech. I condemn him for running a campaign based on openly and unabashedly lying to Americans. I condemn him because he instructs his staff to brazenly lie to people over and over again until the entire point is lost and people move on. I condemn him for basing his campaign around dividing the American people against one another to his own advantage. I condemn his inability to admit personal fault in even the slightest way as a form of personal growth. At the core, I condemn him as a human being who does not represent even a sliver of a percent of the best of what an American can, and should, be.

Accepting that he is my President doesn’t mean I have to root for his success. If he somehow made America a better place, I would be thrilled… however Trump’s concept of “better” is directly the opposite of mine and anyone I hold dear to me. I don’t want him to succeed in banning Muslims or Hispanics from the country. I don’t want him to succeed in building a titanic wall along the border. I don’t want him to succeed in unwinding key parts of healthcare reform that protects people against bullshit “pre-existing conditions” clauses or 5000% drug price increases based purely for profit. I don’t want him to succeed in filling his administration with opportunists who are looking for personal gain over the best interests of Americans. I want him to fail at these things, because I think America will be a far, far worse for the wear if he succeeds at all of this.