10 things I learned while setting up five masternodes

Photo by Denys Nevozhai on Unsplash

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been experimenting with masternodes as alternatives/replacements to traditional crypto mining rigs. Like with many other crypto-related things, I was surprised to find such a huge community and wealth of options. It’s akin to opening a window into another world.

What interests me the most is to learn to what extent Proof of Stake has the potential to replace Proof of Work, and the best way to learn —apart from formal reading— is to set up your own.

Masternodes deliver on the promise of you being an enabler of a decentralized network of value exchange by locking or “staking” a fixed amount of coins in exchange for the privilege to transmit or verify transactions. Basically, you buy a fixed amount of coin, say 1000, and lock them in a masternode.

I picked 5 projects at different price points: ALQO (XLQ), Ellerium Project (ELP), Rampant (RCO), High Temperature Coin (HTRC), and Madcoin (MDC). Just by the names, it sounded like a bad idea, but I cannot afford and will ever afford dumping $400K into a Dash masternode. Also, these… um, “coins”, offered the promise of a high risk/reward investment and the always underestimated chance of learning something by making a fool out of myself.

I had low expectations, I wanted some education and the possibility for the experiment to pay for itself with the rewards from HODLing the coins.

So, what did I learn?

1 You can set up a masternode anywhere, but it’s best if you get a VPS

The masternode can be any machine connected to the internet, but you need a fixed IP address. Exposing your home network to attackers is a bad idea, so the standard procedure is to get a VPS from a hosting provider and set up a masternode there.
I got a VPS from oOVH, just because they had an offer for a year-long plan of 2GB/10GB at €2.5/month;

 

2 It’s a scammers free-for-all

In an industry already filled with pyramid schemes, masternodes offer scammers an almost-frictionless way of stealing our money. See this article for a lengthy description of the different scamming methods.

 

3 It’s all —almost— the same code base

This one was quite surprising. All the clients I tested come from the same origin. I believe it’s either the Bitcoin or the Dash client (haven’t checked), they have all the same names for their command line tools and the same options.

However, I noticed some code smells: the clients for High Temperature Coin and Madcoin consist on a single application to run the daemon and query the status of the masternode, whereas ALQO uses the more sensible alqod as a daemon and alqo-cli for client-related queries.

I guess this makes it even easier to swindle a couple of hundred people.

 

4 Cheaper coins are harder to set up

You want the easiest setup procedure? There’s a markup for that. The best developers/marketers flock to the most popular projects. They are better debuggers, keen on following up on errors and setting up good documentation.

ALQO, the “premium” coin in this case, has flawless setup procedures. They also offer a monitored VPS themselves for $9.99 with minimal setup effort, a clever move by the team, given the hefty markup they charge. But on the other hand also worth it, if you don’t want to invest a few hours tinkering with settings and another chunk of your time monitoring if the masternode is still up.

My life saver was Nodemaster, an excellent tool that allows you to install around 60 different masternodes by just running a script.

 

5 You can set up more than one masternode per server

It kinda defeats the purpose of a supposedly decentralized network, but some masternode coins allow you to start up more than one daemon per machine, if you configure the ports correctly and you have extra IP addresses. As long as you don’t use the same IP and ports you can start as much daemons as your memory allows. Each of the daemons consume around 250 to 400MB.

This is a cheap way to hedge your bets: get onto several cheap-ish coins, find a high-memory, vps and load it up as much as you can.

 

6 I found a use case for Discord

No amount of customization will make me choose Slack over the traceability of a 15-year-old email inbox. But I found that almost all of these coins use Discord for their community engagement and support and, turns out, it works extremely well. I was able to get responses to my queries within minutes without the noise that Twitter brings. It works just like IRC did 20 years ago 😉

 

7 Decentralized exchanges offer the future now

Most of these coins need to be bought at decentralized exchanges. Learning how these exchanges work was worth all the trouble. They are one of the best representations of how we can become fully independent of banks and clearinghouses… or maybe we’ll never get there, but decentralized exchanges sure are extremely efficient and automated intermediaries.

 

8 It works!

I was amazed when I received my first reward. Mere cents, but satisfying nevertheless because it is, essentially, free money (after costs)

 

If you want to get into this, I have two recommendations… and this is NOT investment advice:

9 Check your expectations about how long-term can this be

If you are doing it for learning purposes, don’t overthink it. But if you’re planning medium term (months) or more, you need an exit strategy. Setting up a masternode might take you anywhere from 8 hours to 30 minutes, depending on the transaction time, network speed, who’s your VPS provider, and how good are the coin developers. Make it worth your while. The majority of the masternodes I’ve seen are short-term scams looking to make a million or two. You have to ask yourself when and how you are going to shut down the masternode and stick to that plan. Don’t be the last dummy holding, keep checking the volume of the exchanges where the coin are available.

 

10 How to pick up the right coin

Check the coin’s Discord or Telegram channel. Look for signs of trouble in the support area and look at how lively the community is. Do the team members write in a language they understand? Do they write at all? Spam and shitposting are signs of a badly-maintained community. The developers might be in the Bahamas by now.

Check other social proof: how many followers they have on Twitter, are they real or purchased followers? Do they seem to know what they are talking about? How many committers the project has on GitHub. A not-so-surprising majority of these projects have only one committer in Github. Either he has an earth-shattering idea or he’s in for a quick win.
Also-important-but-weirdly-enough-not-so-really: Does this coin has a purpose? Is it filling a real-world need?

In masternodes.online you will find a listing of a lot —if not all— of these coins. One of the elements of this list is the ROI (Return On Investment). Don’t fall for it. ROI can be made into whatever they want with proper monetary policy and price manipulation, especially in “young” coins with a few masternodes. Check the daily volume (the total value of daily operations) and the total market capitalization, take the two numbers and divide them, take the masternode worth (amount of US$ in coin you need to stake) and find a combination you like for the three numbers. Open Excel, do your own research.

The volume tells you the most brutal of truths: the price might be attractive, but if you cannot get your money out, it’s worthless.

Again, this is NOT investment advice. In fact, I guarantee that you will gain experience and lose whatever you invest! That should be your default expectation.

 

A hub to end all dongles

When I got the 2016 MacBook I knew that I was condemning myself to the dongle life. However, instead of complaining or getting on with the program and buy 2 or 10 dongles. I researched a bit and found the perfect solution for my desktop.

I wanted a docking station to connect two monitors (one DVI and another one HDMI), an Ethernet cable, several USB devices, and still have a single USB C cable going to my computer. This is exactly what this USB dock by KKmoon provides. You may find under several names: KKMoon USB 3.1 dock, Lapdock or WavLink. It uses a technology called DisplayLink, a standard to connect computers and displays using USB and, unlike many, many other dongles, it’s able to drive multiple displays.

If you need something more portable, Cable Matters has a good alternative. However it doesn’t allow you to drive two monitors a the same time.

If for some reason, you still want the dongle life, I recommend dongle.life, a website that recommends you the best dongle for your need.

 

 

Stagehand, cool platformer for iOS

I have a lot of respect for Big Bucket, the mobile game company that set the bar on how to develop a high quality retro-inspired game. I wasted invested a lot of hours in the Barcelona metro playing The Incident, and another few more with Space Age, a game I recommended to all my friends who played adventure games back in the day.

Stagehand is their latest creation. On the surface it looks like your standard platformer. But in reality is a reinterpretation of its basic mechanics. Instead of controlling the character to jump over pits and spikes, you have a constantly-running character and you manipulate the environment, dragging platforms and pieces of the stage in order to navigate the obstacles. Hence the tagline “A Reverse Platformer”.

You can download Stagehand by following this link.

 

You had one job

In July 2016, a bomb disposal robot was used for the first time to remotely kill a suspect.

This sparked some debate about the use of machines to kill humans (amidst drone usage and all of that), and tapped into our Robocop-and-Terminator-induced dystopian fears.

Inspired by all this, Scott Brown wrote “You had one job”, a great short story which I heard, brilliantly narrated, in This American Life:

 

How to tidy up and organize music on your PC o Mac

Do you have a lot of Untitled / Without Artist / Without Album songs?

All music players allow you to sort and catalog the songs, as long as you know the titles and names of the artists. But what happens when many of your songs are unidentified?

There are some tools out there like Tune Up and Jaikoz, but you have to pay for them.

So if you’re looking for a free way to sort, catalog, tidy up and organize the music you’ve downloaded, the solution is Picard, a Free mp3 classifying application that relies on Musicbrainz, the second largest database of music on the internet (and the only free one).

To begin, click “add files” or “add folder”. I recommend that you test with a folder with few songs.
(If you do not know where your songs are, you’ll usually find them in the “Music” folder in your user directory, at the same level as “Documents”)

Once you have added the files, click on “Lookup”.

At the end of the analysis, you’ll have a list on the right hand side with the found albums, each one with songs inside. If you are very lucky, all your songs will be identified. If you are like the rest of us, Picard will have identified only some of the songs.

Typically, these types of programs are very good identifying English Pop / Rock. So I use Salsa to test how good they are. In this case, I used a folder with twenty mp3 songs by Ismael Rivera and it only didn’t recognize 6. Not bad.

It is at this point that we can “help” Picard by dragging mp3 from the left to the correct album to the right (or in between albums on the right, you can also do that). Once you do, Picard will recognize the song and assign to it the correct data!

You can help Picard further by going to Options, Fingerprinting and activating Fingerprinting with AmpliFIND. This will allow you to use the “Scan” icon to identify songs by their sound pattern.

 

When you are finished, choose the album on the right and click on “Save”. Then remove it from the list and continue working with the rest.

 

I recommend that you also download the plugin to download album art. To do so, visit the plugins page and download the latest version of Cover Art Downloader. Then, within the Picard options, go to the plugins section, click on “Install Plugin” and look for the coverart.py file in your downloads folder.