Philly 2600

Crack Liberty Bells & Passwords

Vintage Hacking Tales From T0ne Syndr0me

I had the pleasure of receiving an email from Marcos Duarte (aka T0ne Syndr0me) who read the Hacking History article I wrote in 2013, tracing back some of Philly’s hacking history.

Marcus attended some Philly 2600 meetings back in the late ’90s and sent me a few stories he could recount from the time. Simply put, I found his stories to be fantastic. You can only piece together so much from reading old articles and books. Having a first-hand account is like a breath of fresh air. With his permission, I’m posting both stories below.

Story #1

I found your article while reminiscing about the old days; yet one guy I never forgot was Kepi Blanc. Mind you was about 14-16 when I attended those meetings; I’m 33 now! Lol

So I googled “Kepi Blanc” just to see what the mans up to nowadays (I knew he’d be “somebody” at this point. That’s why I never forgot him; his knowledge and experience at the meetings impressed me enough then, that I figured he’s gotta be doing bigger things, or “evolved” if you will, up to this point … I remember he’d bring a soldering-iron and build things right there at the table in the food court of the train-station haha. I dunno what it was, but he was making a little black box, with a red button at the time. 2600 posted (1997-ish) that meeting were under the Stairwell 7 sign, but they weren’t. They were at the food court so we could actually sit down an chill. If someone new was waiting under the sign (like I once was) with a tiny magazine in his hand, haha … We knew what was up, and would go get ’em 🙂

It was fun. Cool people I remember; another young guy named “Bellum” also. He introduced me to IRC.
I went by “T0ne Syndr0me” at the time. I established the name/handle because I was so focused on phreaking, and phone systems rather than cars and girls, that I literally began hearing DTMF tones regularly, like auditory hallucinations lol!
I shit you not 🙂
So I said to myself “I think I have Tone Syndrome” … This became my handle.

I remember one meeting where another young guy (I forget his name, but he was friends with Kepi) had a cellular-scanner; which he traded with someone (a borrow until the next meeting) for a Lineman’s Handset. I had never seen one before, so he let me use it and said “Point it at anyone you see on a cell phone” … And *BOOM* I was instantly listening-in on a woman’s conversation down the hall of the station! I was like “woah” 😛

Another guy was selling Red Box crystals; I bought one for my Radio Shack Tone-Dialer, for like $5.00.

Story #2

There was a time we were experimenting with the use of the TTY system for deaf/mute users, and since we’re at the payphones, one guy actually needed to make a call … So he’s going around asking if anyone had a quarter, and everyone’s like “Nah, man; I don’t have any change, sorry” … Not to be dicks haha, just nobody had anything. So I sat there baffled like “wtf?” And I said to him “Just red-box the phone!!!” 😀
To which he replied: “I know right; I’m at a 2600 meeting; there’s gotta be an easier way to make a phone call!” 😀

Lol
So we boxed a payphone only to discover that they’ve changed the ESS; so boxing didn’t always work anymore. On some phones it did, but not as many anymore. So I thought to myself “Aright; how can I help this guy out?” which was when I came up with a solution, proving that Red Boxing still works – Even Today! 😀

I had the quarter tones recorded in my nifty digital voice-recorder wristwatch (also from Radio-Shack), and figured, if I can’t enter them into the system, then maybe the Operator can do it for me …

So I hit “0” and social-engineered the Operator; saying: “Hi, I’m at a payphone in the city, and it looks like somebody’s vandalized the phone. There’s chewing gum or something all over the keys … So I was wondering: If I give you the number, can you place the call for me?”

She said “Sure; I’m sorry to hear that. What’s the phone number?”

I gave it to her, and she then asked me to deposit 25 cents …

So instead of doing so, I played the recorder tones for her to listen to; convincing her that money was indeed deposited, and low and behold – It worked! 🙂
She connected the call!

I saved the day, and felt like a badass. 16yrs old, doin’ “big things” at Philly 2600, hahaha 😀

Do you have any old Philly hacking stories? Let me know!

Sixteen Colors of Liberation – Online Patriotic Art of the Gulf War

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One of my more eccentric hobbies is as an armchair, amateur historian preserving the transient digital culture we all live in. A specific area of interest of mine is material from the Bulletin Board System (BBS) era. Specifically, 1993-1996. This is the time I started getting online with computers and connecting with other people before the Internet was a common thing you could be connected to in every home.

If you’re not familiar with the concept of digital art/ ANSI Art, I first suggest you check out, BBS The Documentary Part 5 to hear from the people themselves who created this art. I recently stumbled across a cache of old BBS related files on the OspreyNet IRC FTP site (ftp://irc.ospreynet.info – which appears unstable / available at random). Amongst this collection of BBS Files was huge chunks of ANSI art which appear to have been downloaded from P-80 BBS – which one can tell by the automated tagline/advertisement added to nearly every file telling you so.

Most folks when they think of ANSI Art identify the style with the “art scene” / graffiti style made famous by groups such as ACiD and iCE. I started noticing a trend in the ANSI files as I paged through the files from the site – early pre-art group examples, often crude in style, by individual artists. While I have an immense respect for the “scene style” ANSI art, I’d never quite stopped to look at some of this earlier style of work.

I’d consider these kind of pieces of art the “folk art” of the ANSI world. While the artscene groups drew very much in a street art / graffiti / anime style, the early art by individuals was crude in some places, amateur, and I find it much more endearing. While we have great sites like sixteencolors.net to preserve the artscene packs, I have found little to no focus / curated effort to collect together these ANSI pieces drawn out of love by individuals.

Being the early 90s, I started noticing some trends developing while going through the Opsreynet collection. Specifically there was a very interesting large amount of ANSI art with Gulf War themes to it from around 1991.  At first this struck me as a bit odd, but it quickly made sense when I thought about it. Imagine it is 1991, and the Internet was we know it doesn’t exist.

The Internet exists, but you lack large-scale social media platform or photo hosting websites such as Flickr, Tumblr, Twitter, Geocities, or a blog on to which place your opinions, views, or artistic output. So what do you do? In the case of numerous artists I found, they expressed their views of the Gulf War conflict in the way they knew how – ANSI art. Creatable by anyone with a computer and a copy of TheDraw, easily distributed by modem, this artform makes perfect sense for the time and place in which it exists.

Throughout this collection you’ll find many reoccurring themes. The pieces range from the heavily patriotic, sporting Eagle imagery, to the light and humorous such as the Iraqi Air Force Group Photo. “Support our Troops” appears as a common motif in many pieces. The SCUD missile features prominently in one piece, while we get comedic potshots taken at Saddam Hussein in a few others. “Free Kuwait” as a theme appears twice.

I hope you enjoy this snapshot of amateur online art in wartime context. I’ll gather the original .ANS files available at some point  and update this post when I make them available. If you have any further files to contribute to this collection, please contact me on Twitter.

Click this link to access the gallery on imgur.com

Enjoy!

Article written by @AKKuhn of atz0.wordpress.com

Meetup.com Group Dropped

For anyone who has used the Philly 2600 group through Meetup.com, I have decided to let the group renewal expire and drop all use of their service. Of the 40+ people who joined and RSVP’d to come to meetings, only two people ever actually showed up, chalking the Meetup.com group experiment up to something of a failure.

In absence of the Meetup.com group, I have spurred a Google Plus community for Philly 2600 (also linked in the sidebar) which has already gained a bit of momentum. The G+ group integrates nicely with Google Calendar and other Google services, and is available at the low low price of free for organizers. Check it out, and I’ll see you next month!

Helping Aaron – A Vintage Computer Adventure

It’s rare that I get overwhelmed. I’m not talking about stress or anything like that. It’s rare that my senses get overwhelmed, specifically my sense of sight. This past Saturday, that sense became overloaded.

I’ve known Aaron for a little while now. We met online somehow in 2012, and while I don’t remember the exact details, I think he started following me on Twitter and things went on from there after I followed him back and we started replying to each other’s tweets. We quickly figured out that we lived pretty close to  one another, which I found humorous considering we were both into archiving and preservation. Who would think that I’d be geographically this close to another person who idles in the #archiveteam IRC channel, online headquarters for the team dedicated to rescuing any and everything in the way of data? Aaron and I hit it off pretty well, and we eventually ended up meeting (somewhat unexpectedly) at Pumpcon 2013. Later, I ran into him again at the BSides Delaware conference and shortly thereafter he started coming to the Philly 2600 meetings which I’ve been frequenting for some time.

About two weeks ago, Aaron approached me via an online message and asked if I would like to go through some old computers at a local nonprofit he is on the Board of Directors for, NTR. NTR is in itself a fantastic organization which provides both refurbished computers (done in-house from donations) and hands-on computer training to low-income Philadelphia residents. If you are employed by or know a company in the area that is retiring their current fleet of workstations, consider donating the old machines to NTR. And, if they ultimately cannot use the machines, they will ensure that they are recycled in an environmentally safe fashion.

Aaron thought that I would be the right guy to help out. Being someone that preserves old technology, rescues it from unknown fate, and is a general enthusiast about it, I couldn’t resist the urge to come out and see what I could uncover. The details I got about what I was to do left a lot to my imagination. I got a location, we  settled on a time, and I was told to wear clothes I wouldn’t mind getting dirty and bring a set of work gloves. Hardhats would be provided.

The dirt and grime never bother me. Just what I would be working with, I didn’t know. But, I was excited nonetheless and on the morning of Saturday I walked on over to NTR and met Aaron out front. The building we would go on to enter was the former site of the hackerspace The Hacktory before they moved to a larger location. The building itself is a big old warehouse that is much larger inside than it looks from the street. The parking lot to the side is encased with giant stone walls almost as high as the building itself and easily fits a dozen cars without having anybody blocked in. Aaron tells me that the building has also been declared a historical site, meaning they can’t do a lot of modification to it directly, but they do keep it nicely maintained.

As Aaron lifts one of the giant metal doors encased in the building’s western wall, I get my first look into NTR. He shows me bins of donated computer equipment: smaller stuff like peripherals lovingly stacked in re-purposed milk crates and small amounts of desktop computers stacked together up the side of the two-story wall. I get a tour of all the classrooms, a look into the computer thrift store they run out of the same building, and dozens of other rooms and hallways that wind around the giant space, separated by heavy opaque sliding doors. Eventually we make our way into the main computer storage area where there are pallets upon pallets of donated machines on giant shelves that Aaron points out to me with a flashlight. It’s dark in this part of the building.

We then go up to the second floor to see Stan, who is the Executive Director Emeritus of the organization, having initially been the Executive Director starting in 1980 and taken on the Emeritus title more recently. Stan himself is energetic and charismatic and goes on to tell me about how he set up a community information store on South Street in the 1970’s as we head down to where we came in to the building to the relatively new looking wooden steps that will lead to the area that Aaron and I will be looking through for the next few hours. Aaron later explains that much like me, Stan has been collecting and preserving technology and computer history, though he has been doing it for considerably longer. Some of his collection is also mixed in with the stuff we will be digging through.

I put on my gloves and snag a hardhat out of milk crate on a shelf by the stairs before Aaron and myself head up. The stairs are steep and don’t seem to be spaced consistently. You feel like you could fall down them easily but the railing is firm enough to keep you steady. As we make it to the top, I peer into the sea of computers which I will be acquainting myself with, lit by a pair of metal lamps that are clipped on to the wide beams of the underside of the roof – an afterthought in this 40×20 foot space.

A shot behind me after I made my way off the stairs

A shot behind me after I made my way off the stairs

I quickly realize I can’t stand up all the way and have to hunch over, but that isn’t nearly as assaulting as the dust that comes out from seemingly everywhere and permeates through the air thick like smoke. Aaron walks slowly forward with his flashlight in hand and I follow close behind as he points out different areas of the space. We see newer stuff like a few Dell servers and stacks of Intel-based PCs at first but as we go further in we take more steps back in time. Aaron shines his light on a pile of all-in-one Macs before going further to the more interesting artifacts. On the left are some more modern machines, followed by boxes upon boxes of various documents, computers, and peripherals. I see Kaypros with Commodores with IBM clones and crazy displays for systems I can’t even fathom. There are tons of Macs, a few Mac clones, Apple ][s, and some old portable computers the size of suitcases. There are bags of electronics: half finished projects from decades before, muddled in with 8-bit personal computers, a pile of Sun workstations, and boxes of 5.25″ floppy disks. On the right side are more Macs: G5s, G3s, a dozen classic Macs, some older desktops and a seemingly endless collection of obscure monitors and terminals to other systems. This is where we start.

A view of the left side

A view of the left side

A claustrophobic shot of the beginnings of the right side

A claustrophobic shot of the beginnings of the right side

We navigate down the narrow path separating the space straight through the middle and get acquainted with the Mac area. We line up rows of milk crates and start digging, sorting along the way. Put the classic Macs here, put modems in this bin, mice in that bin, terminals over here, MIPS-based hardware over there. We sort and sort and sort, moving the heavy machines slowly as we work another path into the mess. The day was a cold one, but we quickly discarded our jackets as we carried hardware along the narrow aisle we carved out; we were warm enough simply moving back and forth, ducking beneath low hanging beams and swiveling around waist-high stacks that created our own personal obstacle course. As we went, we stopped to appreciate anything interesting we happened to find. Almost immediately we come across a monitor for a NeXTcube (though we didn’t find the cube itself) and we dug up other odd monitors and software packages and interesting little add-on boards that most people have probably long forget. We pooled our expertise and our energy and sorted in a long sprint.

After we cleared a new path

After we cleared a new path

Cleared path continued

Cleared path continued

Aaron told me that a lot of this stuff will ultimately be cleared out. The newer stuff didn’t necessarily belong there and could be assimilated downstairs or recycled while the less valuable systems would be readily sold at their retail store. Some of the rarer pieces would be donated to museums or sold to enthusiasts and collectors who appreciate them to  ensure their longevity. I hope when the time comes I might fit into this last group. The amount of history in this room is simply breathtaking.

View from the far corner

View from the far corner

After a brief break, we pushed back against the section we were using for trash so we had more room to sort. Ultimately, we successfully cleared space more terminals and bins upon bins of manuals – hard copies are always under-appreciated. We then moved around, more slowly, to some of the more obscure hardware – testing a few things as we went. More time in this stretch was just spent digging as opposed to organizing. We wanted to see what was in some of the giant boxes at the bottoms of the stacks. We didn’t want to leave any stone unturned. Who knows what would be tucked away? We sorted through some IBM clones, found an Amiga 2500, a Wang Terminal, a Vector Monitor, a Silicon Graphics Indy, a whole mess of Kaypros and some more interesting items like a computer for those with disabilities and a strange keyboard or computer that neither of us could quite figure out. Down below us, people were trickling in for a computer class in one of the many rooms. “Who here has internet access at home?” I heard an instructor ask before I accidentally knocked over a PowerPC Mac. Hopefully they didn’t mind the noise.

Delta Data IV "Cherry" Keyboard or 8-bit computer?

Delta Data IV “Cherry.” Keyboard or 8-bit computer?

SGI Indy

SGI Indy

Stack of Altos 580's on some Kaypros next to a Commodore 128.

Stack of Altos 580’s on some Kaypros next to a Commodore 128

We finally succumbed to the tech and called it quits for the day. We got a good idea of what was up in the area and talked about the next steps which are likely to be inventorying and testing (though there can probably be some more organization in the meantime). The space itself serves as a fantastic time capsule and it is a breath of fresh air to know that some of the stuff in there is just in there – and in good condition. However, there is much to be done and many more hours to devote to make sure everything is handled properly.

As we rounded out the end of our excavation, we threw down the hardhats and unhanded the once-clean work gloves before walking around the corner for a cup of coffee. As we took our first steps away from the building, I felt a sense of accomplishment. We were archaeologists returning from our first day at an excavation. We uncovered some great finds, having fun along the way.

With any luck, I’ll be asked back. There’s a lot to go through and I can’t help but think that there’s more I can offer. Never before had I been able to lay my hands on some classic pieces of hardware that I had only read about, and it was quite an experience being able to put the pieces together.

Univac / Sperry Rand keyboard

Univac / Sperry Rand keyboard

“Age means nothing today,” Stan told me earlier that morning. “In this day and age, things are moving so fast.” I can’t say that I disagree, but I consider myself lucky to have the experience and knowledge under my belt when it comes to vintage computers.

And with any hope, I can keep expanding it.

 

 

Another shot of the left side

Another shot of the left side

Some newer Intel-based PCs

Some newer Intel-based PCs

More of the Mac area

More of the Mac area

Newer computers tucked away

Newer computers tucked away

More Macs, pink note states that this Mac was the second produced.

More Macs, pink note states that this Mac was the second produced

Sun workstations, Macs, Apples, old laptops

Sun workstations, Macs, Apples, old laptops

RadioShack diskettes. Think the warranty is still good?

RadioShack diskettes. Think the warranty is still good?

5.25" diskettes

5.25″ diskettes

Close-up of the Altos 580's

Close-up of the Altos 580’s

A lone Kaypro II

A lone Kaypro II

Wang terminal

Wang terminal

A Tandy and a terminal

A Tandy and a terminal

The Amiga 2500 and an Apple Monitor

The Amiga 2500 and an Apple monitor

Boxy keboard

Unknown brand keyboard

Vector display

Vector display

Timex personal computer

Timex personal computer

Another Kaypro II and a Kaypro 10

Another Kaypro II and a Kaypro 10

A shot of the left side from out path in the Mac Section

A shot of the left side from out path in the Mac section

Hacking History – A Brief Look Into Philly’s Hacking Roots

The tech scene in Philadelphia is booming. We have local startups like Duck Duck Go and TicketLeap, and we have co-working spaces like Indy Hall and Philly Game Forge. We have hackathons like Apps for Philly Transit and Start-up Weekend Health, and we have hackerspaces like Hive 76 and Devnuts. We have user groups like PLUG and PSSUG, and we have conferences like Fosscon and PumpCon. We have events like Philly Tech Week and TEDxPhilly, and we have security meet-ups like PhillySec and, yeah, Philly 2600. The hacker spirit is alive and well in the city of brotherly love, but where did all of this pro-hacker sentiment come from? What came before to help shape our current tech-centric landscape?

It’s surprisingly difficult to approach the topic from the present day. I haven’t been there since the beginning, and the breadcrumbs left over from the era are few and far between. We are left with hints though, but usually from more analog sources. The first issue of 2600 that includes meeting times is volume 10, issue 2, from 1993. Philly 2600 is listed here with numerous others (making the meeting at least 20 years old), but how long did the meeting exist before this? We also know that Bernie S., longtime 2600 affiliate, was the founder of the Philadelphia 2600 chapter. Other than that, there is little to find on paper.

First listing of Philadelphia 2600 Meeting. 2600 Volume 3, Issue 9. 1993.

First listing of the Philadelphia 2600 meeting in 2600 Volume 10, Issue 2 (1993).

But what else can we dig up? We do have some other little tidbits of information that apply themselves to the history of Philly 2600. The film Freedom Downtime (2001) has some footage taking place at Stairway #7 of 30th Street Station, the original meeting location. There are also mentions of the meeting in the book Hacker Diaries: Confessions of Teenage Hackers (2002), where one story places a student at the 30th Street meeting in the late 1990’s. More recent references, such as the current 2600 magazine meeting listings have the meeting location moved to the southeast corner of the food court – the location used previous to the current location some 50 feet away.

Mention of Philadelphia 2600 meeting from The Hacker Diaries Confessions of Teenage Hackers (2002)

Mention of Philadelphia 2600 meeting from The Hacker Diaries: Confessions of Teenage Hackers (2002).

But what about the people who attended? It’s hard to keep track of this aspect, and as time goes on people come and go. Some come for one meeting and are never seen again, but some stick around a while. Eventually, there are no remains of the previous group – the meeting goes through generations. We can get a little information from simple web searches. Old Usenet listings can be a great source for material, here’s a Philadelphia 2600 meeting announcement from 1995 by The Professor. Even more interesting, here’s a Phrack article by Emmanuel Goldstein (publisher of 2600) talking about how he and three others brought Mark Abene (Phiber Optik) to the Philly 2600 meeting before having to drop him off at federal prison in Schuylkill.

Using Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, we can get an interesting perspective on the members from ten years ago by visiting an archived version of the old website (also at this domain). This is actually something we can explore. It appears that as of mid 2002 to regulars were JQS, Kepi Blanc, Damiend LaTao, Dj`Freak, The Good Revrend Nookie Freak, and GodEmperor Daeymion. Before this, regulars included Satanklawz (former site admin at the time) and Starkweather before the site was passed on to Kepi Blanc. The archived website offers an incredible amount of information such as a WiFi map of the city, several papers, and even (incredibly tiny thumbnails of) meeting photos. It’s clunky and full of imperfections but this website offers a time-capsule-like look into Philly 2600’s past.

The old Philly 2600 logo

The old Philly 2600 logo

But what about other hacker origins in the area?

We know of Pumpcon, one of the USA’s first hacker conferences started in 1993 (almost as old as DEFCON). Pumpcon has been running for over 20 years with an invite-only status. It is often overshadowed and left in the dust by the larger conferences in the country, despite its stature as one of the first of its kind. Pumpcon has not been exclusively held in Philadelphia since its inception. The conference has previously been held in Greenburgh, New York and Pittsburgh. Pumpcon has no central repository of information (why would it?) but a lot of history can be found scouring the web through old ezine articles like this one about Pumpcon being busted and notices like this one announcing Pumpcon VI. I’m currently compiling as many of these resources as I can, but there is an immense amount of data to sift through. Below I have some hard copy from my collection: A review of Pumpcon II from the publication Gray Areas and the incredibly recent Pumpcon 2012 announcement.

Pumpcon II Review (Page 1/2) from Gray Areas Vol. 3 No. 1 (1994)

Pumpcon II Review (Page 1/2) from Gray Areas Vol. 3 No. 1 (1994)

Pumpcon 2012 Announcement

Pumpcon 2012 Announcement

Other groups are harder to find. Numerous groups started up, burned brightly, and were then extinguished. Who knows where those people are now or the extent of what they accomplished. There are of course a few leftovers. One of my own pet projects is the development of an archive of older hacker magazines. A previously popular publication in particular, Blacklisted! 411, sheds a little light on some long-lost Philly hackers. A few issues make reference to Blacklisted! meetings taking place at Suburban Station in Philadelphia and another at the Granite Run Mall run by thegreek[at]hygnet[dot]com (long defunct) in neighboring Delaware County (and surprisingly about five minutes from my house). The earliest occurrence of these meetings I can find of this is in volume 3, issue 3 from August 1996 but either may have started earlier.

Philadelphia and Media Blacklisted Meeting listings from

Philadelphia/Media Blacklisted meeting listings from Blacklisted! 411 Vol. 3, Issue 3 (1996)

There are a few other loose ends as well. The recent book Exploding The Phone (2013) by Phil Lapsley catalogs the beginnings of the phreak culture, and makes reference to several fone phreaks in PA, some more notable than others, including Philadelphia native David Condon and some unidentified friends of John Draper (Cap’n Crunch) around the time he was busted by Pennsylvania Bell. We additionally know that some of the main scenes in the previously mentioned Freedom Downtime were filmed in Philadelphia. We also know that there are were hundreds of hacker bulletin board systems in the area from the 1980’s through the 1990’s.

Bell Pennsylvania joke advert, from Exploding the Phone (2013)

Bell Pennsylvania joke advert, from Exploding the Phone (2013)

Let’s change gears now. Our main problem in moving forward is what we do not know. Stories and events have been lost as time goes one, and the hopes of finding them becomes dimmer with each passing year.

If you had some involvement with the Philadelphia hacking scene in the years past, tell someone. Talk to me. Let me interview you. Get your story out there. Share your experiences – I’m all ears.

Those of you out there hosting meetings and starting projects, keep a record of what you’re doing. This is my one request.

We’ve already lost a lot of history. Let’s try saving some.

Mining Bitcoin for Fun and (Basically No) Profit, Part 4: Aftermath

If you have not done so already, please read parts 1, 2 & 3 of this series.

As of writing this, I’ve spent one week running my setup with one USB Block Eruptor and one week running my setup with three. In my first week, I received about two payouts of 0.01 bitcoin each while in the second week I received that payout almost daily.

The current average Bitcoin rate in USD (as of this writing) is $144.99322. This means my payout, one hundredth of that value, is $1.4499322. Now, this doesn’t sound like too bad of a payout. However, there is a lot to consider when figuring out whether or not I will actually make any money off of this in the long run.

First, we have to consider that the price of a bitcoin is constantly fluctuating. When I started this project, the exchange rate was ~$119.00 USD. This amount could change at any time as the value inflates or deflates. Next, we have to consider the change in mining complexity – as more people start mining, the harder it will be. This is not only a problem of competition, the difficulty of generating a block increases systematically every 2016 blocks (roughly two weeks) Thus, as time goes on, you’ll make less money.

Aside from these variable rates, we have some constants to think about. The initial investment wasn’t enough to break the bank, but it wasn’t anything to ignore.

Recall our initial build list, this time with some prices:

  • 1 x Raspberry Pi ($35 + $4.98 shipping = $39.98)
  • 1 x ~4GB SD Card ($5.01 + $0 shipping = $5.01)
  • 1 x Micro USB Cable ($2.60 + $0 shipping = $2.60)
  • 1 x Network Cable ($5.49 + $0 shipping = $5.49)
  • 1 x Powered USB HUB ($19.95 + $0 shipping = $19.95)
  • n x USB Block Eruptor (($42.99 + $3.99 shipping) * 3 = $140.94)

Total = $213.97 USD

Pretty big when you put it all together, but this is worst case scenario – when you don’t start with anything. I already had most of this around the house. Besides the USB Block Eruptors, I did need to purchase a USB hub, but I wouldn’t consider this part of my investment as I needed one anyway (the project more or less gave me an excuse to get it). I’m more concerned with making back my money from the Block Eruptors, which total $140.94 USD.

Next, we should consider power requirements. Again, this doesn’t matter to me much, I’m just focused on earning back money for the USB Block Eruptors, but let’s hook the whole rig up to my Kill A Watt electricity usage monitor and see what it says.

Kill A Watt reading.

Kill A Watt reading for kWh over 44 hours.

The Kill A Watt states that the consumption is 0.55 kWh, this was taken over a period of 44 hours. Now let’s say our monthly electricity rate was 15 cents per kWh. We can plug all of those numbers into this handy formula: 0.55 kWh / 44 hours * 732 hours [hours in a month] * $0.15 [price per kWh] = $1.37 per month. So overall the power cost isn’t too bad, especially compared to old GPU rigs.

Okay, now we know the power consumption, have our initial costs, are mindful of the changing rates, etc. How do we put it all together?

The Genesis Block has created the Mining Dashboard just for this sort of thing. We can plug in all of our information here and see what’s what. They do have some fields for power, but that doesn’t take into account the Raspberry Pi and the hub. Plug in what matters to you. You cannot retroactively compute values, so I’ll have to base my start in September. However, this doesn’t take into account that I’ve already mined $9.96 (in the current exchange rate), so I’ll subtract that from my investment of $140.94 to get $130.98. It’s a dirty workaround, but this is an estimate after all. After putting in all the values, hit ‘Calculate.’ Here are my results:

My Mining Dashboard projection.

My Mining Dashboard projection.

From the projection, I will never break even and will forever be $44 in debt because my setup will be completely obsolete in around 10 months time.

Now as I said, this is a projection but it’s likely closer to being accurate than it is to inaccurate. I likely won’t make my money back unless the value of a bitcoin continues to rise and/or the mining complexity grows at a slower rate (which is unlikely).

I’m not the only one in this boat. As more and more powerful ASIC rigs are being produced, the window for profit gets smaller and smaller. Some new ASICs sold now won’t even be able to turn any profit for owners because the time between ordering and arrival leaves too small a window to mine back the initial investment at the current complexity.

While it is unfortunate to (likely) not turn a profit, this still proved to be a fun and incredibly interesting project. I may not have come out of it with financial wealth, but the ability to look down at my little Raspberry Pi chugging away (actually turning electricity into money, who knew?) was completely worth the time and effort I put into it. I’ll likely end up sitting on the bitcoins I mine now for a little while, just like I did back when my wallet got its first deposit. I’m more infatuated with mining and collecting the currency than I am with spending it, at least for right now..

Hopefully you, one way or another, have learned something from my little journey.

I know I did.

Mining Bitcoin for Fun and (Basically No) Profit, Part 3: Mobile Development

If you have not done so already, please read parts 1 and 2 in this series.

So I have a mining rig that’s successfully rewarding me with bitcoins. Normal people would probably stop at this point. One nice thing about mining in Slush’s Pool is that it has a handy email notification option that tells you when credit is being transferred to your Bitcoin wallet. This is pretty cool, but what if I want more in-depth information? For example, what if I want to know my hash rate, or if my miner is alive (did the system crash?) or how many bitcoins I have total?

The next step for me was to create a mobile application which could provide all this information – whenever or wherever I wanted it. So, I got to work.

The platform I chose to work with was Android. A logical choice for me as I had prior experience developing Android applications and own an Android phone myself. Programming for Android, as many know, means programming in Java. If you have any prior Java experience, you’re already have a head start if you ever wanted to get into Android development.

A fantastic thing about Slush’s Pool is that it offers an API (Application Programming Interface) which allows users to pull down information on their miners using the de facto JSON format. So from this I can get at my mining information, but what else do I want? I decided it would be wise to pull down the average value of a bitcoin in USD, at any given moment. This way, I can do some simple calculations to determine a rough estimate of how much I’m generating and getting payed in USD. Lastly, I wanted to get the balance of my Bitcoin wallet, again to be displayed in both Bitcoin and USD.

I already had the API information for Slush’s Pool, as it is linked on everyone’s profile and accessed via a common base url and unique key for each user. Here is an example of the JSON output for my account:


{
    username: "Famicoman",'
    rating: "none",
    confirmed_nmc_reward: "0.00000000",
    send_threshold: "0.01000000",
    nmc_send_threshold: "1.00000000",
    confirmed_reward: "0.00145923",
    workers: {
        Famicoman.worker1: {
            last_share: 1378319704,
            score: "70687.6038",
            hashrate: 1004,
            shares: 1906,
            alive: true
        }
    },
    wallet: "1DVLNHpcoAso6rvisCnVQbCFN8dRir1GVQ",
    unconfirmed_nmc_reward: "0.00000000",
    unconfirmed_reward: "0.00612688",
    estimated_reward: "0.00046390",
    hashrate: "1006.437"
}

Next, I needed an API for the average value of a bitcoin in USD. I went on the hunt. Finally, I found that Mt. Gox, the largest Bitcoin exchange, has a public API for bitcoin rates (located at this ticker URL). This works perfectly for my needs. Here is some sample JSON output from this API:


{
    result: "success",
    return: {
        avg: {
        value: "143.97798",
        value_int: "14397798",
        display: "$143.98",
        display_short: "$143.98",
        currency: "USD"
        }
    }
}

So far, so good.

Lastly, I wanted wallet information. I discovered that Blockchain shows records of transactions (as they are all recorded in the block chain), so I did some probing and found they also offered an API for attributes of individual wallets (Here’s a link using my wallet info, it’s all public anyway). This includes balance, transactions, etc. The units for bitcoins here is the Satoshi, one millionth of a bitcoin. Some sample JSON output from this service looks like so:


{
    hash160: "88fd52ba00f9aa29003cfc88882a3a3b69bfd377",
    address: "1DVLNHpcoAso6rvisCnVQbCFN8dRir1GVQ",
    n_tx: 7,
    total_received: 8434869,
    total_sent: 0,
    final_balance: 8434869,
}

So now I had the APIs I was going to use and needed to put them all together in a neat package. The resulting Android application is a simple one. Two screens (home and statistics) with a refresh button that pulls everything down again and recalculates any necessary currency conversions. Android does not allow you to do anything system-intensive on the main (UI) thread anymore, so I had to resort to using an asynchronous task that spawns a new thread. This thread is where I pull down all the JSON (in text form) and get my hands dirty manipulating the data. I utilize a 3rd party library called GSON to parse the data I need from the JSON string. Then, it’s just a little bit of math and we have all the necessary data. After all of that is done, the application prints everything on the screen. Pretty basic, and with plenty of room for potential additions.

When running the application, provided there’s network connectivity and all the servers are up, you will be rewarded with a screen like this:

The application in action

The application in action

Not too shabby. If you wanted to use it yourself, it would be necessary to hard-code your own key from Slush’s pool. There doesn’t appear to be an API call by username (by design), so it needs to be implemented manually at some point (which happens to be in code as of right now).

The source for this application, which I call SlushPuppy, is freely available on GitHub. Feel free to fork it, or just download and mess around with it. If anything, it provides a small example of both Android-specific programming as well as API interaction.