Our Bitcoin Mining Adventures

Why we chose to investigate bitcoin mining

Investment returns in the UK remain low despite the recent increase in the Bank Rate to 0.5%. For some time now we have been looking at ways to improve the performance of our investments. One of the many methods that we have looked is Bitcoin and, in particular, Bitcoin Mining.

Bitcoin is a virtual cryptocurrency and payment system that is based on a very complicated computer generated sequence of so-called “hashes” that are added together together to form a “blockchain”. How all this works is beyond the scope of this article but if you want to learn more, try the Wikipedia desription here.Suffice to say that Bitcoin is here to stay and seems to have value.

Getting and Using Bitcoins

In order to use Bitcoins, you have to purchase them, generate them yourself by running mining software or invest in a so-called “mining company”. Running mining software yourself is very computer intensive and it is most likely that the cost of the electrical energy used would exceed the value of Bitcoin generated. If you just purchase them in the hope that the value per Bitcoin unit will increase is very risky. The value of each coin has varied by as much as 50% in the space of a month or less and can go very much down as well as up very quickly. After a very detailed study, we decided to make a very small investment in an existing mining company to try the system out. To use Bitcoin for trade or conversion to normal currency (e.g. $, £ etc.) you need a Bitcoin Wallet. This can be either software based or a real piece of hardware.

The BitCoin Mining project so far

The first step was to obtain a web based bitcoin wallet. For this we chose blockchain.info as it was rated quite highly be several authoratative sites and seemed to us to take security very seriously. Security is VERY important when you are dealing with any financial matter. The sign up process was very simple and setting up the wallet security was detailed and easy to follow. We opted to have a 2 factor sign in using our mobile and sms.

Our next step was to sign up with a “mining company”. We chose sun-mining.com. Our research showed that there are a lot of what can only be described as scam or ponzi mining schemes out on the web. This company looked to us to be fairly legitimate at first but note that we have not given any link to it’s site! Caveat Emptor! Again, the sign up process was quick and easy to follow. Sun-mining offer a range of “contracts” for various cryptocurrencies. We chose to take out a VERY small contract for 3 years mining bitcoin at a total cost of US$18.

This contract promised a return of US$3.70c per month for this investment, i.e. full payback in about 5 months. We transferred the amount requested and “mining” started as soon as the payment was received as promised. After a few days we checked that our promised rewards were accumulating and it looked as if they were.

All too good to be true? Probably yes. When examining the site in detail it became obvious that there were some bad signs and a few pitfalls as follows:

  • It looked as if the minimum transfer amount back to your wallet is .01BTC (bitcoin), i.e. approx. US$71 at the rate on 7/11/17. If this is correct, you would not be able to get any of your minimum contract return back for 19 months.
  • The site offered an affilliate program that looks too generous.
  • The site offered a re-investment plan. If you take advantage of this the accumulation will be quicker but the time until you can withdraw any money increases. This, if repeated, could eventually result in no payback until the end of the contract, if ever!
  • Immediately we started mining, we were offered discounted larger contracts. Why discount if the investment is so great?
  • The company offers no details of their location except what appears to be an accommodation address in Sydney. We are currently checking this out.
  • The company offers no information as to where their staff or equipment is/are located. It is a “secret”, very suspicious. They don’t even say that it is in Australia. it could be in Russia, China or anywhere else as far as we can tell.

Our Conclusions

We make no immediate judgement. All could be well but it does not look good. On our scoring system the likelihood of this being yet another scam is about 8 out of 10. Watch this space for episode 2 soon!

Solar Energy: Techfor Energy Fail to Honour Warranty

During 2011 we had a solar energy generating system installed at our house by a company called Techfor Energy Ltd who are located near Guildford. The system came with a 10 year guarantee on the system as a whole. We were quite happy with the installation which was accomplished quickly, with very little disruption and on time. We were quite happy to reccomend the company to others who showed interest.

At the beginning of January 2017 it became apparent that one of the inverters (the units that convert DC power from the solar panel to AC to feed into the electric distribution system or “grid”) had failed or become disconnected in some way. It was generating no power although the rest of the system was working well. No problem, I thought, we will call the company and they would fix the problem under warranty.

Some hopes!

After a relatively short and somewhat fraught conversation it became apparent that Techfor Energy Ltd. had no intention at all of honouring the warranty that they had provided. The excuse that they gave was that the manufacturer of the inverters, Enecsys, had gone out of business some time ago and that these unit were no longer available.

Following the telephone conversation I exchanged emails with the company over the next few days but there was no change in their position. They refused to contemplate any repair neither did they make any suggestions as to other ways of solving the problem. This despite the fact that I found a source of inverters and informed them that they were in fact available quite easily albeit from the USA. These units carried a 3 year warranty which, although not as long as the original manufacturers warranty, is reasonable given the circumstances.

Consumer Rights

After the email exchange failed to get any result, I contacted a lawyer to give an opinion on the matter. The lawyer read the warranty document and reported that he thought that we had a watertight case if we persued the warranty claim. I instructed him to write to Techfor Energy and make a claim under “The Sale and Supply of Goods to Consumers Regulations 2002 and in particular regulation 15” as he advised. We requested a response with 2 weeks.

After a longer than 2 week delay Techfor Energy replied stating that they needed more time to consult with their legal team and insurers. They promised a response within “5 to 10 days”. It is now some 24 days since this email, no response has been received. I have therefore decided to get quotations from other contractors for the repair and will update this post when they are received.

Windows 10 -Yes or NO?

For the last month or so, Microsoft (MS) have been pounding on the virtual door advertising that I could “upgrade” to Windows 10 for free. How free the upgrade is is debatable and opinions vary as to how good the new product is is certainly up for debate. There are a few caveats that need to be taken into account such as

  • Only certain versions of Windows are upgradeable for free, Windows 7 Pro, Windows 8, 8.1, Windows 7 Home and Starter are ok. A full list is here.
  • There are hardware requirements, using the minimum could result in a slow result, these requirements are here.
  • Some drivers may not work with older hardware e.g. printers, scanners et al – you need to check this out with the hardware manufacturer.
  • There are security settings that could share your data without your knowledge – make sure that you go through the settings procedure during the install and that you reveal as little as possible.
  • The new install can only be rolled back during the first month and some drivers may have to be re-installed if you do this.
  • The new OS license is valid only for the life of the “device” that it is installed on, i.e. even if you have the oringinal disc for Windows 7, you may not be able to install Windows 10 on a new machine in the future without paying.

From here on I will use W10 for Windows 10, W7 for Windows 7 etc.

Some reports have indicated that the new OS is worth trying so in my “experimental” mode, I decided to install W10 on my oldish (4yrs, Acer D257 250GB HDD, 2GB ram, Intel N570 proc, W7 starter edition) netbook which is not used very often. This followed the assurance in the MS blurb that you could roll back to Windows 7 in the first month. Note that this netbook also has Linux Mint Mate installed on it as a boot option.

Before you can perform the upgrade, you have to make sure that your existing installation of W7, W8 or W8.1 is up to date. I spent nearly 2 days catching up with the mandatory pre-installation updates that W10 requires. When I thought that I had finished the Get W10 App icon failed to appear! I went through the troubleshooting procedure suggested by MS and much to my surprise one diagnostic reported my version of Windows 7 STARTER (an eligible product) as W7 ENTERPRISE edition which is not eligible for upgrade!!

Eventually after several reboots and re-installing some obscure .NET updates that were not really needed, the icon appeared. I do not know why but I suspect that the MS diagnostic tool does not work properly.

Clicking on the “Get Windows 10” icon registers you for the upgrade and after getting my notification, it took 4 days for the upgrade to be scheduled – you get a pop-up notice in the desktop.

I followed the fairly intuitive instructions and teh upgrade started, it failed failed almost immediately. The netbook then insisted on installing yet another 13 updates before restarting the upgrade.

The upgrade starts with a download that took about an hour, not bad for 2GB in the background. The download does seem to be “resilient” in that it will restart if interrupted.

After the download the upgrade procedure started automatically. Note that the wording of some of the steps is a little misleading and leads you to believe that things are progressing when they have, in fact, only just started. the author of teh progress meter should also have paid more attention to time accuracy!!

After about 10 minutes of my installation there was a warning that the driver for the Realtek card reader was not compatible and needed to be deleted – this is a deal breaker for me as the netbook is used as a picture backup for the camera on long trips. However, I accepted this change on the basis that I was assured that I could roll back to my previous W7 within a month.

The remainder of the installation was fairly painless but did require several restarts. WARNING: if your machine is dual boot to e.g. Linux as is mine, you need to be present to “guide” the boot back to Windows which, by the way, continues to be shown as Windows 7 even after the upgrade. This is a Linux/GRUB configuration matter and not Windows, Linux cannot tell that the upgrade has taken place.

After about 1.5 hours the install was complete and W10 started with the same log in credentials as the now absent W7. No real problems so far.

At first sight it looks like W10 has picked up most of the settings for the installed applications, e.g. Windows Live mail worked as before. I also tested Filezilla, Audacity, Adobe Audition and several other apps that worked as before.

After leaving the machine for 1 night W10 decided that we needed yet another update of about 13 items but this did not take too long. I think that some new apps were “pushed” on to the machine as it seemed to have more to offer this morning such as Weather, Calendar etc.

One good thing is that the card reader does still work. It seems that W10 has its own driver for the Realtek device but one cannot obviously be sure that this will be the case for all hardware on every machine – so beware.

On balance the speed is just about acceptable and maybe about the same as the old W7 but time will tell as Windows gets more cluttered.

I am beginning to feel that MS may have got it almost right again this time around and I suggest that if you have relatively standard and modern (<5yrs?) hardware that is compliant with the published spec, W10 may be worth a try.

 

Using Calor Gas for Heating

We recently needed some work performed on our central heating system – just at the wrong time, it was freezing!!

We looked at using electric heaters but decided that they were MUCH too expensive and parafin heaters were also expensive as well as very dangerous.

So, what did we end up using? CALOR GAS!

Calor gas, or butane comes in metal gas bottles delivered to your door at very reasonable prices. The heaters are easily rented and give out an incredible amount of heat. They are safe (no liquids to spill) and easily controlled.

We purchased the gas from Butane Heating Services in North London. They gave great, friendly service (delivered next day) and their prices are really competitive.

Thanks to George and Joe we were able to keep warm through the worst of the winter.

 

Solar PV Systems – The Good and the Bad

We are having a new solar PV micro-generation system installed at our home. You can follow its progress here:

http://grey-power.org.uk/solar/

The good thing about having such a system is that our electricity bills will be lower and, with any luck, we will benefit from a tax free income for the next 25 years – assuming, that is, that we survive that long. We will also be reducing the CO2 footprint of our home.

The bad side of the equation is that this decision was made for solely economic grounds, i.e. we are buying into the scheme because it should earn us money in the long term but at the expense of other consumers.

The payments that we will receive, the “FIT” (feed in tariff), is financed by every consumer of electricity in the country – including us!