The life cycle of new digital trends

Bitcoin and its copycat cryptocurrencies have gone through a life cycle like many other digital trends. They have gone faster than many, but it shows us what to expect when the next Hot New Thing appears. (Gartner Research calls the portion of technology development before results or lasting value are in evidence the “hype cycle.”)

The basic concept of Bitcoin is that each new coin mined is more expensive than the coins preceding it. This establishes a situation where early miners of coins have an asset whose value should naturally rise over time. To have a valuation at all, however, there must be a market for coins.

Because Bitcoin was a way to exchange value without going to the bank, it got some credibility as a subversive thing to do. Criminals started liking Bitcoin, although it remains to be seen whether the coins can all be retrieved and turned into cash. People who just prefer to be a little subversive also got into buying Bitcoin with hard currency.

Suddenly, Bitcoin was a hot topic in financial circles. The mania was on, and the valuations started leaping upward. Interestingly, all that was necessary for the value of Bitcoin to vary widely was for one of the investors to try to cash in, “take profits” as they say in market reporting.  It turns out “sell high” is fine advice, but the timing can be difficult to get right.

With the mania came the copycats. Now there are over 1500 cryptocurrencies, most created when the mania was already evident, led by Bitcoin. There are still plenty of opportunities to get in on the ground floor for a cryptocurrency, it’s just going to be one you’ve never heard of.

Only a fraction of the current valuation of cryptocurrency is the cost of mining. A bigger factor in the stunning increases in valuation are the stunning number of speculators buying in.

The method of mining is to do a calculation that finds the next available number in a complex cryptography scheme. Each new coin mined is expensive because of the calculations required. Each new correct answer is found in the same way a computer hunts for the next prime number: by computing values in sequence and seeing if it is a fit. The method is called brute force. When Bitcoin first came to prominence, I made the assumption it was an experiment, with the hidden objective of testing just how secure our encryption methods are.

Perhaps the experiment is to follow the evolution of a new, digital mania?

The obvious cost of coinmining is the electricity. Each new coin mined requires even more computation time than the previous. How much can that be? There was news from Sweden that a data center was to be built, consuming 10 MW of power usage just for the calculations associated with coinmining. Forbes reports coinmining consumed about 20,000 GW-hours of energy in the past twelve months. 20,000 GW-hours per year is an awkward set of units for us technical types. That’s the same as 224 MW of electrical power. In contrast, Hoover Dam (when it has enough water in Lake Mead) can produce about 1345 MW of power.

Speculation into coinmining has a carbon footprint. But it’s okay, coinmining only uses about the same power as consumed by the entire nation of Ireland.

The expense comes not only in the operating cost of the electricity. There is also the need for the computers themselves. There are data centers built, with severs dedicated to the calculation. A new digital trend is officially in the mainstream when bricks and mortar are dedicated to the technology.

This is just a case of “sweat equity,” except the equity scales with effort, and more effort is easily available by using more computers. Unlike sweat equity in your house, wealthy folks can spend their money to use more virtual sweat to gain more equity than us ordinary folks.

There is more than one way to get more computing power. Malicious software that does mining calculations on other peoples’ computers are becoming more common. I was interested to learn that the most common coinmining attacks are just extra stuff added to existing malicious code that does something else as well. Virus have been around for a while, and malware has evolved over time. Criminals getting in on a hot new digital trend relatively early is unusual. Coinmining is basically an opportunity to spend effort to gain something of value, so it stands to reason people will try to spend other peoples’ effort for that value.

I’m unable to name another criminal act with a carbon footprint.

It also appears the cryptography on the digital “wallets” where the currency is kept isn’t so good. One source says over $1 Billion in market value has been stolen in just the past six months, with individual thefts in the hundreds of millions of dollars worth of digital information.

Finally, we’re seeing some evidence that blockchain, the technology behind cryptocurrency, might actually serve useful purposes. IBM is touting it for many purposes requiring the equivalent of a digital serial number on records. It looks like using blockchain to serial number copies of artworks and media, such as music, photos or movies, could help preserve digital rights.

There is no evidence that cryptocurrencies will hold lasting value. There is no evidence cryptocurrencies will be a good investment. I recall the DotCom bubble in the early 2000’s, when hundreds of new business models and thousands of copycats raised investment before they had any evidence they might be successful. Especially with the large number of competing currencies, it is clear a mania is underway. The disruption when the mania crashes is to be expected.

Like nearly all new digital trends, only when the hype subsides and the noise quiets down will we see the emergence of actual value.


The Weinstein Psalm

The producer is my shepherd. What else does he want?

He leads me sit on his green, leather casting couch. He wants me to be still and go along.

He says it will be righteous, for my career’s sake.

No, you are not going into that valley. You’re evil, Creep, and I do not fear you.

Your rod is no source of comfort for me, quite the opposite. And your staff, they are all enablers.

I don’t care how expensive the dinner was. You picked the restaurant, and you didn’t mind showing me off to everyone.

My attorney, from the law firm of Shirley, Goodness and Mercy will be hounding you all the days of your life.

Background:  A few weeks ago, a person whose volunteer efforts and activism I admire very much, helped organize a poetry slam.  That’s like a poetry jam, except the readings parody or criticize old, classic poetry. I was unable to attend the event, but I wrote a first draft on my phone in a few minutes, to submit for reading. This post has been further edited and is slightly improved. 

Third world problem in a First World country

Back in the day, the First World was Europe, solid, established, profitable. The rest of the world was those places destined to be colonies, adding to profitability. The Third World was places destined to be exploited, or ignored, depending on their profitability.  The First World soon came to mean the politically stable, economically prosperous countries, not matter where they were located.

The Third World are the places whose politics have not stabilized, whose economies haven’t developed, who do not have universal access to “modern” features like running water and electricity. The First World has all the modern conveniences. In the First World we fret about the right brand of bottled water. In the Third World they wonder how to deal with the river running so low.

We are accustomed to seeing Third World inconveniences like drought, famine, civil unrest, low life expectancy confined to the Third World. That way, we don’t have to spend too much of our energy thinking about them. Specifically, we think of dying from gunman shooting into a crowd as a Third World issue.

Dying from a gunshot into a crowd has happened in Las Vegas, Texas, Florida, Connecticut, and Colorado.  Et cetera.

Recently, statistics were published showing that a teenager is more likely to die due to texting while driving than from a mass shooting. Why, some voices were quick to ask ask, aren’t children marching in protest of texting while driving?

I think the answer is simple: the more common causes of death are either diseases we haven’t conquered, or they are First World problems, unique to what we take for granted as part of life. The outrage over mass shootings, over bullets in the schools, is because dying due to gun violence shouldn’t be a problem in an advanced, dare I say civilized, country.

Texting while driving is an act of negligence, failing to take adequate care.  Shooting is a deliberate act, not a careless act.  Under the law, the penalty for a wrong because you fail to do something is usually less than the penalty for a wrong because you actively did something. As a result, we are more outraged by a mass shooting than distracted driving.

America is different from Europe, the original First World. We have all the technological advances. We created many of them. We have prosperity in the aggregate, although we have our share of people who aren’t enjoying the benefits of living and working in this economy. We live in an advanced society, or at least many of us feel we do.

However, we Americans don’t seem all that civilized. To become more civilized, some of the things we take for granted need to be reconsidered. We’ve reconsidered drunk driving, the laws keep getting more restrictive and the incidence keeps falling. We’re on the path to reconsidering distracted driving, with laws coming on and enforcement getting more serious.

It’s time to do it for guns.

Sure, it was about politics – except it wasn’t

The Super Bowl Champions, the Philadelphia Eagles, didn’t come to the traditional celebration at the White House this year.

The President says it’s about politics. I think he’s right, but I don’t think that’s what he really means.

When the President says this outcome was about politics, he does not mean those radical football players were going to bring their national anthem protests to the White House lawn. The consensus is no Eagles were seen taking a knee during the past season. Well, that’s not true, some have been seen kneeling in prayer, but not during the Star Spangled Banner. I certainly don’t believe the President was saying the football players were not coming to the White House as a further protest about police using deadly force disproportionately on people of color.

It isn’t like there was a team meeting and they all decided against a White House appearance. The news I’m hearing is the White House pre-screening list, originally about 80 people, just kept shrinking as more and more potential attendees discovered something else they had to do.

I think this was about politics. With most public events at the White House looking like the ongoing mr. t. reality show, a lot of them decided not to have a cameo in the latest episodes. It’s just that simple.

When mr. t. says it’s about politics, it is necessary to interpret his words. He wanted the players as a backdrop, and that was politics – specifically, it was marketing, building the brand. When he expressed disappointment they were not going to perform their assigned role, he was simply expressing disappointment that his marketing effort wasn’t going to run as planned.

When the players on a team don’t attend as planned, it isn’t about the National Anthem, it isn’t about the military and it isn’t about the flag. It is about politics, but in the opposite sense: players not wanting to be associated with the President. It’s about not wanting to be co-opted into the narrative he pursues.

But really, it isn’t about politics, it’s about him.

When he complains it’s about politics, in his own, self-centered way, the President is saying it all about him.  He doesn’t realize he is acknowledging the players reticence is about the President himself.

More schools, more bullets

The debate rages on about what to do to reduce gun violence aimed at schools.

Tea Party conservative and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton  has published an opinion piece in USA Today  in which he says, “after Santa Fe and Parkland, gun control is a waste of time.”  Gun control alone is not likely to address mass shootings. But gun control reform, specifically making changes that make guns less accessible, is an essential element of the overall solution.

The problem, from my viewpoint, is each proponent raises (or dismisses) just one solution. Ideas range from gun control to more people attending church. It seems to me gun violence, and school shootings in particular, is a complex, multi-faceted problem which will require a solution embracing several parts.

Here is a list of things that, to date, aren’t working:

  • moments of silence
  • prayers
  • consolation speeches
  • “(name of town) Strong” or “(Name of state) Tough” slogans and their variants
  • politicians promising to do everything necessary to address the problem

Let’s start with the obvious: a disproportionate number of school shooters are themselves in school, or recently out of school. What was it about their school experience that made them sour? Why were they loners, why did they change into loners? Some people are just solitary people, and there is nothing wrong with that. But a lot of people become loners in middle school or early high school because they were bullied. It appears there are lots of laws about bullying  in school, lots of approaches to dealing with it, yet bullying persists, especially now, in the age of social media giving more to worm your way, unwanted, into someone’s life. Bullying leads to both school violence and suicide.

The response to bullying can take many forms, including mental health approaches. Identifying people with mental health issues, and giving them the support they need, is an essential part of dealing with violence in our society. Such a change necessarily means spending a lot more money on mental health.

A decent number of the mass shooters appear to have been suicidal. Apparently they wanted others to die with them. Some, like the Las Vegas shooter, took their own lives. Others, like the boys in Illinois and Maryland, appeared to want the police to shoot them. A specific goal for mental health would be identifying and intervening with students who may become suicidal. It’s worth mentioning that victims of bullying commit suicide with distressing frequency without harming others as well.

A great deal of this mental health needs to be up close to the students. One approach is to have mental health professionals in each middle and high school. The Federal government might choose to pay for it. As a general rule for many situations, prevention is less expensive than responding after the event.

There is another disturbing pattern: school shooters can be boys, taking their revenge on girls. We have a culture that tolerates violence against women. It appears the shooter in Santa Fe, Texas, was specifically targeting a girl he had pursued for some time, who turned him down in embarrassing way. Now that #metoo is pushing away sexual assault as an option for revenge, apparently deadly violence is the next option. A change in the culture of how men are expected to treat women would change some of these events. A change that leads young males to stop seeing themselves as entitled to what a young female might do with them will make a difference. My problem is I don’t know how to change the culture.

Both violence toward women in particular, and violence in general, are common enough in the entertainment available to children. It seems the most popular movies these days involve people solving problems by brute force, forte main. The seeming constant stream of superhero movies come to mind. Music, especially urban music, seems to be dominated by males who have belittling, sometimes angry and violent things to say to women, more generally about other people. My problem is I don’t know how to change the culture.

A disproportionate number of school shooters had school discipline problems. Many of them were suspended from class, or expelled. The problem with expulsion is it doesn’t solve anything, it only shifts the burden elsewhere. Ironically, the students who don’t want to be in school can find a way to get out of school. A Federal program could fund all school districts to implement programs that deal with students with discipline issues while keeping them in school.

Similarly, some school shooters are dropouts. The program to deal with discipline issues should also address truancy. They are two side of the same coin.

I’d like to offer a proposal for changing how children learn values. The challenge here is the long time required for the such a proposal to show results. It seems to me the children learn from their parents. My problem is I don’t know how to influence the parents.

From my viewpoint, the clear and unarguable issue about guns is they are too readily at hand for people who are at risk of committing a mass shooting. There are gun control options which are likely to make a difference. A lot of the recent shooters used firearms which were in their parent’s custody. Clearly, the gun owners did not properly secure the guns. In one case, the Waffle House shooter in Tennessee, the shooter had weapons provided to him by a father who knew they had just been taken away from him by law enforcement. Set a significant penalty on failing to keep a firearm secured while in your custody may be a deterrent, and would not be very expensive to implement. Seattle is developing such an approach.

I’ve made more detailed proposals addressing gun control. I think they are still worthy of consideration. It is notable that, as we have more shootings, we identify still more gun control issues to consider.

I’m growing tired of writing about school students dying in their classrooms. The good news: a period of fewer school shootings is about to begin. Most schools are not open over the summer.

A few, random thoughts

Best of breed

Perhaps the few Congressmen enabling the President’s vigorous, if odd, defense against the “Russia” investigation consider themselves his guard dogs. Fiercely, they prowl the perimeters, looking for threats, barking out warnings against interlopers.

There are a few problems with this. As guard dogs, they are demonstrating loyalty to their master. What needs guarding is the property, not the master in the big house in the center. It would be nice to see clear evidence that these Congressmen are working in the best interests of the country.

The bigger problem with being such a vigilant guard dog is these Congressmen can easily be misunderstood. Instead of guard dogs, one might instead believe they are lap dogs, standing vigilantly on the arm of the throne of power, yapping at everything that comes through the door, making little distinction between friend and foe. It isn’t clear which one we’re hearing.

Dragon energy

When Kanye West tweeted that he likes mr t, he said they were both “dragon energy.” Let’s stop and think about that. Dragons are the embodiment of avarice, collecting treasure to themselves. Dragons are accustomed to power, but they use that power primarily for their own interests. Dragons wield their power without discrimination, with little concern for collateral damage. No matter that one man stole a golden cup, the entire village will burn. It just feels better to get rid of all the rage that way, and it’s also fine deterrent against next time.

Prom promise

The scandal at Christopher Columbus High School’s prom night wasn’t the students startled by a caged tiger on the dance floor. It was the astonishing amount of money they were willing to spend on decorating for the prom. Here we are, teaching privileged students to bear up under First World problems.

A simple misunderstanding

The President called the Robert Mueller investigation “the world’s most expensive witch hunt,” which qualifies as truthful hyperbole. Your view of the expense depends on whether you are counting dollars, time, or impact on people close to the President. Everything so far strikes me as a tight, well-run investigation that is making rapid progress and is wasting no money.

Now mr. t wants an investigation into the unsubstantiated rumors the Department of Justice infiltrated his campaign efforts.

I can see where he’s coming from, the basic misunderstanding . He thinks the entire Executive Branch works for him. Therefore he thinks the FBI did the political bidding of his predecessor. Therefore he can command his Department of Justice to investigate the Obama Department of Justice for political activities.

On the one hand, if you accept the premise that they all work for the President, then this all makes sense.  But that’s not exactly what being President means, especially with respect to the Department of Justice.

On the other hand, such a politically-influenced system would fall from its own weight in just a few election cycles. If the law enforcement agencies could be used to pursue political ends, if the law enforcement agencies could be used to investigate past political opponents, then politics in this country would be a very different experience, and we’d all be feeling the difference.

It is necessary to factor in mr. t’s own, obvious personality. He’s feeling persecuted, he is currently the embodiment of the old saying, sometimes there really are people out to get you. So, the Great Counter-puncher uses the only trick in his arsenal and punches back. He’s constantly seeking the next way to push back against the investigation by Mueller and team.

I believe the natural progression of law enforcement in this country, conducted by the highly professional, very ethical people at the Department of Justice and the FBI, will end up giving him the truth about the events around the election.

Is he pushing back too vigorously? I have yet to figure out whether he’s just counter-punching out of general principles, or whether he has a reason to want the investigation to end before it finds something he would prefer to escape notice. As I’ve written before, I don’t believe there was actual collusion between the Russian government and mr. t’s campaign for the presidency. I believe there was no collusion because everything moved too fast, the few people working for the campaign didn’t have enough time to put something together as the opportunity came and went. However, with all the information the President has withheld, one wonders what is being concealed about his relationship with wealthy Russians. (Because, let’s face it, the wealthiest Russians are pretty much synonymous with the Russian government.)

Then there’s the new story in the “failing and crookedNew York Times telling us it wasn’t just Russians. Apparently the Saudis were also interested in helping mr t win the election. Suddenly it’s a pattern of behavior instead of a single event. Making the mistake once can be written off as naivete. Engaging in multiple conversations with people who spoke for foreign governments is a pretty careless disregard for both American election law and good sense.

Still, the fact is mr. t’s style all along, since the late Seventies, has been win at all costs. We have no reason to expect different behavior from him as a politician. It is all about him, and the rules, on a good day, are guidelines to be considered or ignored.

I am reminded of the politicians of a century ago, in places like Tammany Hall. Just as I don’t believe there was planned collusion, I also don’t believe the President was sold to the highest bidder. It is more likely he has been rented out, time-share, to everyone who made a bid.