Mining, How I Got Started

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Every saga has its origin story. My mining adventure is no different. Here’s how I got into bitcoin first, then altcoin mining.

Getting in

I got my start in mining crypto by acquiring a used Ebit E9 from eBay in January 2019 for $175. It claimed to mine 6.3Th/s.

Even back in 2019, this wasn’t a very good output for miners — state of the art bitcoin miners were selling for a few thousand dollars. A $175 machine was definitely considered old, not terribly competitive.

I think my original idea was that I’d point it at testnet and see if I could rack up some serious reserves of testnet coins. Testnet faucets were starting to dry up or go dark around this time, so it made sense to have my own source for them.

So I ordered one off of eBay. I got a cheap, used one because putting one toe in at a time seemed like the right way to go.

Awkward Starts

It turns out that bitcoin miners are pretty loud and pretty noisy? Who knew.

I also learned pretty quickly that electricity in the city of SF is absurdly expensive. The cost of a kwh was around 11-12c, but they’d charge almost twice that in ‘delivery fees’, etc. This is pretty pricey electricity.

Once I had the machine, I had a lot of trouble getting it set up. Turning it on and pointing it at a mining pool is pretty straightforward, but I was trying to mine testnet coins and I could not for the life of me figure out how this worked.

Most miners are set up so that they point at a pool. It’s pretty easy to find a pool and get an address and url to use for configuring your miner, then turning it on and watching the sats roll in.

It’s a lot harder to setup a testnet miner.

At some point I invited a bunch of coworkers over to watch Dan Boneh’s cryptography I lectures, and we futzed around with trying to get it online. We weren’t able to get it set up to mine testnet coins, but we did register for a mainnet mining pool and mine some mainnet for a good bit.

I earned a few pennies worth of bitcoin for an hour or two before turning it off. It sounded like a vacuum cleaner and man was it pushing some hot air around.

Digging In

Looking back through my eBay history, I didn’t stop there. Honestly, I’m not sure what I was thinking, because I bought two more absolutely shit miners a few months later. Maybe I was trying to find energy sippers that would let me finally becoming the testnet kingpin I dreamed of.

In for a penny, in for a pound apparently.

I have a distinct memory of badgering Luke-Jr at a nice steakhouse during Consensus 2019 about how to setup a miner to mine on testnet. We didn’t really understand each other; he was like “no, mining in pools is bad, and especially not something to do on testnet”. And I was like “ok but how do I set up a pool to mine testnet coins, I need something to point my miner at, the software doesn’t seem to work any other way.”

This is me making a note to put out a post on “how to mine testnet with a miner” at some point.

Seeking Cheaper Energy

Mining in SF at a residence is not profitable unless you have somehow conned your landlord into paying your electricity bill on your behalf.

Sometime around April 2019 I got it into my head that I wanted to move to Texas and buy a house.

Was the purchase of two more miners a coincidence within two weeks (on either side) of when I placed an offer on a house in Texas pure coincidence?

Kinda embarrassed to say: I think not.

Anyway, I moved to Texas for cheaper electricity, more sunshine, and to get serious about setting some miners up.

I had learned in SF that miners are hot and noisy and require a bunch of cheap energy. So I started calling around local datacenters to see about putting a miner in at someone’s facility.

Phoning It In

I put in a bunch of inquiries at local dataplaces in my new hometown. One of the smaller datacenters that looked like it was trying to grow pretty aggressively ended up giving me a call as a result of my inquiry. I had a great convo about what I was trying to do (mine bitcoin). He let me in on a couple of key secrets, which now I pass on to you.

First of all, miners are really fine out in the garage. Sure, it’s marginally better if you can keep them in a nice, cooled environment and wick the heat away in a useful manner. As long as you’ve got a decent airflow though, they should be fine. In my experience, this has been good advice.

Second, in Texas you can get wholesale electricity prices by signing up for a company called Griddy.[1] They let you pay whatever the current 5-min spot price for electricity on the grid is. Sometimes this goes negative; it definitely drops at night.

Third, you can monitor your home energy usage with a small device called Sense.

I ended up keeping my miners in the garage, switching to Griddy, and installing a Sense.

There’s a lot more to say about Griddy, keep your eyes out for a separate post on that one. As for the Sense, it hasn’t been as useful as my Kill-A-Watt energy monitor, mostly because it’s hard to tag devices. (My mining machines never got broken out, they’ve been lumped into the “Always On” category). But overall this was pretty good advice!

If you’re looking to do some energy intensive mining (there are other types! We’ll get to them at some point!), check your local energy situation first.

This is a lot for one post, so I’m going to hang it up here for now.

To be continued…

[1] Oh ho ho ho.

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