Subverting computing research for fool’s gold


Part of what makes Bitcoin so clever is that it actually assumes self-interested behavior by Bitcoin miners. Both mining and transactions are decentralized and do not require counter-party trust. Barriers to entry are were low.

(ASIC mining rigs with sufficient processing power to mine bitcoin are now priced in the tens of thousands of dollars. This is due to the more mature status of the blockchain; Bitcoin is vulnerable to first mover’s advantage, just as the P2P Foundation warned.)

Virtual money, real consumption

Bitcoin is produced on a schedule, no matter how much computing power is applied to mining it. Thus supply never meets demand, resulting in ever higher prices being paid for more computing power, due to the associated electricity requirements.

Chart of bitcoin production vs electricity usage

Chart by L. Bragagnolo

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Wisdom of the Cloud


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Is it easier to secure the cloud?

On 7 Nov 2011, senior Defense Department officials and IT industry experts met in Arlington, VA to discuss how to better protect military and commercial cyberspace. At that time, the director of DARPA said that 2004 was the first year that proceeds from cyber crime activities were greater than those from illegal drug sales.

Army Gen. Keith Alexander, commander of U.S. Cyber Command and director of the National Security Agency said that the Defense Department is looking at cloud computing platforms. In cloud computing, remote servers are used to store data. “It’s easier to secure the cloud and it’s cheaper,” Gen. Alexander said, noting potential savings of 30%.

 — DOD, Industry Address ‘Intense Challenge’ of Cyber Security

On the wisdom of a DoD transition to the cloud

The article said, “Another change that would upgrade the military’s cyber defense and save money is adopting cloud computing platforms. It’s easier to secure the cloud…”

Please be careful about reliance on cloud computing! The cloud is cheaper. That’s great. There are probably other benefits, for example, better performance and improved access in the field. The field could be any remote location, say, Antarctica, or underwater, not just the battle field! But there’s nothing as safe and secure as a server and processor accessed over dedicated lines, no internet connectivity, with people on location controlling physical access 24/7, and all of it ring-fenced by, well, fences! The Centers for Disease Control and Hoover Dam operate under that paradigm or similar, as stated on each entity’s public-facing website. Shouldn’t the NSA, CIA and DOD too?  If you transition to cloud computing, test it thoroughly. Thank you for allowing me to share my concerns and opinions.
— Ellie Kesselman, Arizona, U.S.A. 11/8/2011 5:48:26 AM


My hesitancy about the wisdom of relying on vendor cloud computing has increased since then. I am not certain that it is easier to secure the cloud. I fear that reliance on contractors, facilitated by FedRAMP, is likely to cost us dearly in the long-run. Continue reading

What you do not know is what matters



Uncertainty is when there is insufficient data, probability distributions are unknown, and statistical analysis must be replaced by intuition and instinct.

Rumsfeld’s risk categorization grid

There are known knowns; there are things we know…there are known unknowns; that is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know.

What will the Fed do?


Primary dealer poll: Economic & market activity in 2014 (Reuters)

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Too much grit


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Oh noooo! Regarding K-12 education, Mrs. Obama recently said,

Three words you are going to hear me say a lot over the next three years: grit, resilience, courage.

The horrific Angela Duckworth and her supporters’ distorted usage of the word, GRIT is everywhere. The Duckworth has even gotten to Mrs. Obama. An otherwise harmless word has been co-opted and politicized in the interest of indoctrination, charter schools and privatization. Or Marxism. Some say all of the above, and they might be right.

Traversing the stations of privilege

The Duckworth is Martin Seligman’s wunderkind. Martin Seligman, PhD, professor, Department of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, is a former chair of the American Psychological Association. Unlike every other applicant to the PhD program in psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, EVER, she was allowed to apply months after the deadline, and accepted, with gratitude! I would like to know how anyone could have accomplished all of the following, by the age of 28,

  • worked for two years as a management consultant for Booz Allen; recall that they were Ed Snowden’s former employer,
  • worked for two years at an unspecified hedge fund in an unspecified capacity,
  • been a mathematics teacher for three years, and possibly founded a school, according to some effusive accounts,
  • was a Big Sister, worked for the homeless, the elderly (it was the “epicenter” of her focus while at Harvard, consuming 35 hours each week) AND
  • attended Oxford, graduating with a master’s degree in neuroscience.

That was why she couldn’t apply to the University of Pennsylvania on time, you see. Continue reading

Diplomacy update: South Africa and Israel


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Arthur Lenk is the current Ambassador of Israel to South Africa, Lesotho, Mauritius and Swaziland. Earlier this month, he wrote an opinion piece, South Africa and Israel: A mandate for more engagement, which was published in the Daily Maverick, a publication based in South Africa.

Both South Africa and Israel are touchstones for many, seen as places born out of great tragedy. I understand, and appreciate, the long and emotive connection between many in the ANC with the Palestinians. Israel is more than that one (albeit, very important) issue.

South African trade relations with Israel

Israel is a leading trading partner of South Africa, with bilateral trade in goods and services. For example, Israel has a business partnership with South Africa’s biggest vegetable producer of tomatoes. Most South African companies use Israeli telecommunications systems.
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Farmers know best


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The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) is a science policy and advocacy group. They have reasonable attitudes about some issues. Their recommendations about farming are not so rational.  UCS is not the same as the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), although the names are similar at first glance. FAS is also an advocacy group, known for opposition to nuclear weapons proliferation. They’re lefty sorts, not always correct, but they are compassionate and aware of human fallibility. The Union of Concerned Scientists published a blog post in October 2012, updated in March 2013, about rotating crops to increase yields without chemical fertilizers. It is titled, “Crop rotation generates profits without pollution (Or, What Agribusiness doesn’t want you to know!)”.

Chemical fertilizers are unnecessary?

The UCS post begins with the finding that modern farming is not more productive than pre-industrial agriculture. Allegedly, crop rotation and Bronze-Age farming yields the same bountiful harvests as modern methods, with minimal dependence on chemical fertilizers:

Big Ag has worked hard for decades to instill a belief that its chemical-intensive industrial farming methods are more productive than low-input methods. Now a team of researchers has published data showing that more sustainable farming systems can achieve similar or greater yields and profits, despite steep reductions in chemical inputs, the so-called Marsden Farm study.

Mixed cultivation of fauna and flora

Next, the author, let us call her UCS Author explains why encouraging large animals to graze on, around, and in between crops is the key to sustainable farming:

livestock will produce manure…if feed grains and alfalfa are grown for livestock raised on-site or nearby, their manure in turn becomes an asset, fertilizing the crops, improving soil quality, and reducing the fossil fuel needed to transport grain and manufacture synthetic fertilizers.

The Marsden study is credited with these findings. Sounds great! Reintegrate crop cultivation and animal husbandry. Continue reading

Walk loudly with a swagger, do not carry any stick at all


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It is not especially surprising that U.S. intelligence failed to anticipate Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine. If U.S. intel does not recognize President Obama’s absence of alpha leadership, perhaps they do not recognize its presence in the actions of other world leaders.

Such traits are not exclusively male. While Obama does not display strength and competency, Germany’s Angela Merkel does. President Obama does not project force of conviction either, certainly not regarding foreign affairs.

President Obama is considered weak and feckless by our allies as well as our adversaries. From failing to lend a voice to Iranian protesters in his first term…to backing the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt…and now, downsizing the U.S. military…

That seems like an accurate assessment of Mr. Obama’s approach to international diplomacy. The current administration is too busy worrying about whether Facebook’s 58 gender alternatives are sufficient and fighting the “War on Women” to have energy remaining for foreign policy. (The only war on women that I’ve experienced is my ongoing challenge to find a husband!)


Weakness invites a vacuum and a vacuum invites chaos and disorder…Putin did not fear any veiled threats from Washington, and neither does Pyongyang, Beijing or Damascus.

International reputation

Our fine, independent press has been kept on a short leash. The New York Times was excoriated for publishing a political cartoon featuring Hillary Clinton.

Russia has counter-intelligence, and Putin need only read reddit to discern the wide variance in public opinion.

I found Peter Beinart’s article a few days ago, The End of American Exceptionalism. It was prefaced with an enormous photo of Mr. Obama, captioned, “A force abroad: Obama accepts the Nobel Peace Prize”. The three main goals of Obama policy are listed as follows by Beinart,

Secularism? Check. Socialism? Sure. A tendency to apologize for America’s greatness overseas? That, too.

As for Russia being unwelcome at this year’s G8 summit, Putin probably doesn’t consider it any great loss. Can you imagine Hillary Clinton or John Kerry negotiating with Putin or his Foreign Minister Lavrov? Neither are required to make obeisance to political correctness, nor humble themselves to Silicon Valley technocrat utopians.

It is never wise to publicly humiliate and ridicule one’s adversaries, be they GOP or heads of state. The GOP are not the White House’s adversaries at all! It is very sad that they’re labelled as such by some factions, e.g. Mr. Beinart.

A weak and feckless leader, ruling over a dissatisfied, disenfranchised public, i.e. any American, of any race, religion or political party who is not a D.C. insider or Wall Street-connected; that sums it up. We do hold a weak hand. Putin knows this.

All hail the global collective


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I was trawling the collapsed and locked answers on Quora. Again. I followed a trail of breadcrumbs that led me to Birth of the Global Mind, a Tim O’Reilly presentation for Clock of the Long Now.

News of the Long Now

Jeff Bezos has many to fish to fry; a hand in many kettles. One of the more abstract is his Clock of the Long Now project. The Long Now has a speaker series, for members only, of course. Publishing magnate Tim O’Reilly was on the agenda. The following excerpts are drawn from his lectures, interleaved in responsive-reading style, with thoughts of my own.

Deconstructing Tim O’Reilly

The Web has become the leading platform for harnessing collective intelligence. Wikipedia is a virtual city.

No, not really. It doesn’t make Wikipedia bad, nor a failure, but Wikipedia does not resemble a virtual city, even for those with a vivid imagination. I don’t think active Wikipedia editors would describe it as anything more than a fractious, yet somewhat functional online community.

Through device automation, Apple has imbued retail clerks with superpowers in its stores.

Apple Geniuses are NOT imbued with superpowers! They aren’t treated as poorly as warehouse workers, but conditions aren’t so good for Apple retail employees. I have read many complaints about low wages and long hours. Most Apple retail clerks are temporary workers, i.e. no benefits nor job security. Nice word choice, "clerk". It is distinctively redolent of a not-so-great, not-so-new world. Clerks weren’t a fixture of the recent past, but rather, Victorian England and the 19th, or even 18th centuries.

Medicine for the masses

Watson, the AI that beat human champions at “Jeopardy,” is now being deployed to advise doctors in real-time, having read ALL the scientific papers.

I hope not! Artificial intelligence and machine learning are increasingly used to reduce head count, at all levels. In a clinical health setting, that means automating the functions of everyone from the CEO to managers to physicians, pharmacists and registered nurses. The Carl Icahn School of Big Data Medicine can explain it better than me. Peruse the meeting notes from their October 2013 convocation with The Atlantic. The Icahn Medical School was formerly known as Mount Sinai, in case you’re unfamiliar with the new name, as I was. Continue reading

Hot New Tech Accessory


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Fake Google Glasses That Don’t Actually Do Anything

Fashion trends and electronics compulsion are powerful motivators! Google Glass no longer evokes nearly the same level of techno-rapture as it did in March 2013, when it was announced. That’s not entirely Google’s fault. Glass is still in beta as a product, and wearable tech hasn’t gotten past alpha as a consumer product. Edward Snowden’s disclosures about the NSA, which began in June 2013, were not helpful either.

Enthusiasts might have dismissed surveillance concerns if that had been all. Instead, news of additional incursions on privacy, at a domestic and international level, continued. They haven’t ended now, as of mid-January 2014. Rather, the news articles have slowed, but the surveillance and data harvesting continues despite public outcry and an increasing loss of faith in government. That loss of trust is the worst of all.

Silver lining in the Cloud

The Dutch teenagers who made these “fashion accessories” used 3-D printers. That might be the real story: One of the first successful applications of 3-D printing for which there was genuine consumer demand! And it didn’t involve illegally manufactured firearms in any way, whatsoever 🙂

Yay! The silver-lined cloud isn’t the Google Cloud, but Google is involved in many other ventures. I hope we’ll see more affordable 3-D printed products, regardless of the longer-term adoption of Google Glass.


Stay alert, aspiring Glassholes! According to DVice, a pair of jokesters have been roaming the streets of Amsterdam pretending to wear the future’s newest face computer when it’s just a lame knock-off created from a 3D printer.

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