Some time ago I built a mining rig for mining crypto-currencies (‘Ether’ to be more precise). I am not going to explain all the technical details, but it’s a very powerful computer that does only one thing: Running a so-called hashing algorithm.

Hashing is the transformation of an input into a usually shorter fixed-length output value that represents the original. It is for example used for securing communication by scrambling – or encrypting – messages.

Hashing is also used in the crypto-currency world and with my powerful machine I have been ‘mining’ some cold (digital) cash which I exchanged for real dollars. That was fun.

The most rewarding thing was not that I made some money (I mined while bitcoin and other currencies reached record highs), but the process of building the rig. I had never assembled a computer before and didn’t know much about crypto-currencies. But that didn’t stop me.

miningAs you can see in the picture, I even built a wooden frame for the computer (despite me having two left hands). Yes, a frame. Not a cabinet. The computer was so big and produced so much heat that it had to be in the open air to avoid overheating. That it heated the entire room in wintertime was a pleasant (and money saving) side effect (don’t ask about the summer!). The noise it produced wasn’t.

Some people thought I was crazy when I told them about my project. Building a computer that spits out money; I admit it sounds insane.

For me it made sense though. Mainly because it wasn’t really about the money. Well a bit, but it wasn’t my main motivation. It was about the process. About building a computer, which I had never done before. And not just an ordinary one, but a mining rig. I simply wanted to see whether I could do it.

And I could. It was great fun building it. And I acquired some new skills in the process.

It took me several months of reading, planning, ordering components, assembling and error finding before I finally got it to work. But when it finally did the machine managed to do 150 million of calculations per second. Mind blowing isn’t it? The nerd in me thinks so. Also, I have never been so happy seeing Windows starting up!

To go from concept/idea to reality is a pretty addictive process. Especially if it involves acquiring new skills. It doesn’t have to be something useful, something that provides instant, tangible return. It doesn’t have to be something that other people like or approve of.

Some people build little machines that when you turn them on, they turn themselves off. Utterly useless. But hilarious. And it requires skills to build them.

As far as I am concerned, the slow process of developing an idea, figuring things out and turning the idea into reality gives me joy and enriches my life.

Our interests vary of course and you don’t have to build a mining computer or a useless device that turns off the moment you turn it on. This is about doing something you haven’t done before. Something that is brand new to you. You’ll be faced with a learning curve. You will need to be patient in order to acquire new skills.

Whether it is learning how to build a computer, cook, mastering a new language, making music, become an amateur whiskey connoisseur or how to survive above the arctic circle, it doesn’t matter.

And to be honest, the journey to FIRE is very much the same. The idea is to produce sufficient wealth to become financially independent, allowing me to retire early. To achieve that I need to learn, plan, execute. And that process is as rewarding to me now as early retirement will be once I reach it. That’s how I look at it at least.

Vintage radio

My next ‘let’s see whether I can do it’ project is building a vintage radio receiver with vacuum tubes.

A what?

Something like the radio shown below. Much smaller though, with a home made cabinet.

radio

It may seem random, but it really isn’t.

It is very much related to what FIRE is all about for me.

I’ve written about this before in my post Typewriters And Tape Recorders.

Financial independence for me is about winding down. Recover some of the lost simplicity again. I know that I have the choice already today. To make things simpler I mean. I can’t quit my job just yet, but I can simplify my life. Be conscious about how I use the limited spare time I have. And use my imagination more. Create adventures. I don’t need Netflix for that. But a good book would help.

Building a vintage radio receiver is almost symbolic. It’s about winding down and using my imagination. It is a device from simpler times. Building it will be like traveling back. It’s a time machine.

Another explanation is that I am just getting old. Granted, looking back is a function of your age. The older you get, the more you reminisce about the past. And let’s face it, I’ve reached an age where most years are behind me (I am not saying the best years). The future is shrinking. It’s exciting (in many ways), but shrinking nonetheless.

But I am not dwelling in the past. It’s just that some things in the old days were pretty awesome. I mean, how cool (and clumsy) were typewriters, reel to reel tape recorders, phones with dials, remote-less black & white tellies and Walkmans? Just to name a few things.

And how cool were radios with vacuum tubes?

Just for the record, they were no longer a thing when I was young. I am not that old yet.

Anyway, I will keep you posted on the progress of course. Let’s see whether I can build a monster machine that can’t mine crypto-currencies, but does allow me to tap into the secret world of shortwave radio broadcasts….

How about you?

Any thoughts?

Do you have any ‘strange’ and ‘not so strange’ projects and/or hobbies? Would love to hear about them!

4 thoughts on “FIRE Aside: Building A Vintage Vacuum Tube Radio Receiver

  1. Nice rig! I suggested to a colleague of mine back in 2013 that we should build a huge bitcoin mining rig (based on old server parts, so not really optimal – however, It would have worked). He didn’t think it was worth our (company) time or (company) money…Biggest mistake we ever made 😛

    Good luck on the short wave radio! I’ve heard that true audio connoisseurs swear by the old vacuum tube amplifiers – supposedly the sound is more smooth than the modern digital amplifiers…I guess you ought to build a whole old-style sound-system to play those vinyls on then? 😛

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    1. That is indeed a huge mistake! 😉 But who in the world could have known Bitcoin would go from less than a dollar to $19K in a matter of years? It’s insane! As for me, I was way too late to ride the wave from start to end. But I managed to pull out with a tiny profit, which is good enough for me. That’s what I tell myself at least… 😉

      Yes, a smooth vacuum tube amplifier could be the next project. And then listen to scratchy old vinyl records with it 😉

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  2. That’s really cool! I’ve always wanted to try my hand at building a computer from scratch, rather than simply buying a complete desktop or laptop. Not only does it usually work out cheaper, but it sounds fun and challenging. I don’t really have the room available at the moment, but you’ve prompted me to consider it for when my laptop dies on me and I start looking for a replacement!

    Looking forward to seeing how you fare with the ham radio!

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    1. It takes a little effort, but it is very rewarding to build your own computer. It is indeed cheaper and not too hard…once you know how to do it obviously 😉 But all you need is motherboard, CPU, RAM, PSU, Disk, GPU (and keyboard, mouse and monitor)… Connect the cables and voila! 🙂 A computer build to your own specs!

      I will keep you posted on the radio project!

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