Better tires?

Every motorist knows the pain of a flat tire. The modern low-profile tire is an amazing piece of technology, but it is still susceptible to sharp pieces of metal, carelessly left on a service station floor. Continue reading

Why Steve Forbes is wrong about BitCoin

In an editorial written yesterday, Steve Forbes argues that BitCoin is not a currency.

I’m actually willing to reserve judgement on whether or not Bitcoin is a “real” currency for now (although I’ve personally made a number of small transactions in BitCoin in recent months). Maybe it is something else entirely – a value store, a speculative instrument of some kind, some other kind of animal. I don’t believe this is the case, but I’m willing to wait and see how things pan out in a few years.

I’ve also written far too much about BitCoin lately, and I’m going to switch topic entirely in the very near future. However, before I do, I wanted to point out why Mr Forbes’ arguments about BTC are not at all correct.

The editorial basically makes two points: that exchange rates between BTC and fiat currencies are extremely volatile (true, but irrelevant), and that BTC is somehow lacking in transparency (false, and also irrelevant), and that those two points somehow automatically preclude it from being considered a “real” currency.

There are many countries in which large transactions (i.e. property purchases) are always denominated in US Dollars, regardless of whether the local currency is actually used in payment. This is because those local fiat currencies are too volatile themselves to use for this purpose.

Similarly, most people using BitCoins agree on a price in the local fiat currency, and then use a calculator to determine the quantity of BTC to hand over at the point in time that the purchase is completed. Most people have calculators on their phones these days (editorial aside: sarcastic statement).

Anyone in the world can look up (in enormous detail) exactly how BitCoins are created or used. The code itself is open source, well defined, and understood by millions of participants. Transactions themselves are as simple and “transparent” to conduct as physical cash, with the added provisions that BTC cannot be forged, and that a transaction cannot be recalled once it has been made (unlike with credit cards or PayPal for that matter). You know exactly what you are getting, every single time.

I understand where Mr Forbes is coming from. He believes in the gold standard. I happen to disagree vehemently with the gold standard, and I’ve written about why in the past (here, for example). Both of us are obviously entitled to our opposing positions, and neither of us are likely to change them.

I do wish though that he would check his facts first; there are enough negative statements that one could make about BTC that are actually true – starting with the poor quality of existing exchanges.


I debated whether to put this part in. I’m not a confrontational guy. I’d like to issue a small challenge to Mr Forbes. If you know him, feel free to send this to him.

I own a small amount of gold. I don’t believe the gold hypothesis at all, but I’m always willing to allow myself to be proven wrong.

I’d like to challenge Mr Forbes to purchase a small amount of BitCoin – say a few hundred dollars worth.

If I’m wrong, the worst case scenario is that he’d be out the price of a nice dinner for two. Basically no real risk at all. Heck, I’d even make it up to him personally. If I’m right though, he’d make a lot of money, and would probably be quite happy about being wrong.

State of the World Index

There are a great many indices that attempt to measure aspects of the world, and quite a few consolidated indices (like the HDI) that create measures out of a number of other indices.


I thought that it might be a fun project to put together a single index that produces a single number for the “state of the world”.

It won’t necessarily mean anything, but it would be amusing to track over time.

I can do the programming work, but I could really use help figuring out which indices to include, and how to weight them. Opinions please!

A few possibilities can be found here:

Is BitCoin Arbitrage Feasible?

BitCoin has been in the news lately with its rapid rise in exchange value, its huge fluctuations in intra-day value, and the susceptibility of services using it to hacking attacks.

It should be obvious to any observer that a position (in the investment term, not opinion) in BTC is speculative in nature, and carries any number of risks that are hard to evaluate.

There may be a way for investors to make money on BTC through arbitrage though – with relatively well-defined and calculable risks. Continue reading

Wheel plans, lock-in and VW

The basic layout of vehicles on the road (in North America, anyhow) is amazingly homogenous. Think about it: there are cars with four wheels, motorcycles with two, and trucks with anywhere from four to twenty-plus wheels (in two varieties – attached and detached cabs).

The last time I saw a three-wheeled T-Rex, it looked so outlandishly exotic, that a crowd gathered around it (the owner had parked it on the sidewalk outside a store). You don’t usually see that even with exotic Italian supercars.

There’s actually a lot of experimentation with wheel plans (i.e. the vehicle equivalent of room plans in a home), but we don’t see it much on a day-to-day basis. Continue reading

Faster 3D Printing

One of the drawbacks with current 3D printing technology is the slow rate at which objects are built up in layers from hot plastic thread. The process of printing objects of any significant size can take hours.

Using a technique similar to airbrushes may speed things up. If the source material is in a fine powdered form instead of a solid thread, and is pushed through the print head (or nozzle in this case) under pressure, then it is simply a matter of determining a way to accrete the plastic into a solid object. Continue reading

Computational Area Networks

There’s an asymmetry in the data center, and it might be an opportunity for somebody to build a new product line (hint, hint: HP, Dell).

There are plenty of products that consist of a box filled with storage devices – we call them SANs (storage area networks). They’re essentially what allows big data to exist, by packing large amounts of storage into a relatively small space.

So why not do something with CPUs (central processing units) that replicates the idea behind the SAN? Continue reading

Moving past passwords

Under lock and key - Flickr Creative Commons - JanetR3
Under lock and key – Flickr Creative Commons – JanetR3

The problem isn’t anything new, really – most people have hundreds of accounts on different websites.

The username is usually their email address, and the password…well the password tends to be the same on all of the sites, and it is usually eight characters or less.

It is simply too hard for most people to memorize passwords much longer than that.

So they use something simple like “12345678”, and the next thing they know, they’ve been well and truly pwnz0red.

Continue reading

Just a thought

Humanity is really just in early Beta.

We’ve had some successes, a few spectacular failures, and a pivot or two.

We don’t really know yet what we are able to achieve, or what we can will become.

Isn’t that exciting?

What’s wrong with the Dreamliner?

In case you haven’t heard, Boeing has been having battery troubles with its new flagship Dreamliner aircraft. The batteries have occasionally been catching fire, and the planes are now grounded until they determine what the issue is.

Hopefully they’ve figured this out already, but there’s one big difference between their on-the-ground tests, and a live flight – the passengers.

I wonder if they’ve tried plugging in a couple of hundred randomly selected laptops into the passenger , and seeing what happens to the electrical system then?

Sounds silly? What if one (or half a dozen) of them has a bad battery, or an electrical short circuit?