Life as I see it podcast episode #9 Bitcoin

 

My friend Mary had asked me to talk a bit about Bitcoin. It turned out to be a more complex topic than I had realized. In this podcast I talk about what Bitcoin is, what are the advantages and disadvantages of it, and some of the more important aspects of it. I think the even more powerful aspects of Bitcoin is still to come. I’ll do another podcast about those…

Something I mentioned that I’d get back to but didn’t in the podcast was the ability to do multiple transactions with the same bitcoins. It is possible to game the system but you would have to have 51% of the processing power of the entire bitcoin mining capacity. This became a bit of an issue the other day when the largest group of bitcoin miners announced that they control 45% of the processing power of the whole network. They did come out and say that they had no plans of going over the 51% level. Makes sense that they wouldn’t want to wreck the system, after all, they would be in the position to lose the most if they called into question the integrity of the system.

I mentioned that fees are low because miners are rewarded in bit coins. It isn’t clear how that will change once you can no longer mine new bitcoins.

 

Here are some extra links to read up on Bitcoin:

 

Bitcoin wiki. Wikipedia is always a good place to start for an overview.

Bitcoin values in different currencies. 

Tyler Cowen of Marginal Revolution talking about the problems of Bitcoin competitors. 

Horace Deidu of Asymco talking on The Critical path podcast about Bitcoin. A rambling, expansive talk on Bitcoin.

 

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Life as I see it podcast episode #8 Hell has frozen over

 

In my quest to ditch Google in as many ways as possible, I have actually gone back to a company that I wrote off a long time ago. I still loath Microsoft software with a passion but I have come around on their services. When someone suggested I try out Office 365 I thought they were nuts. I have zero interest in using Office, maybe even less than zero. I’m pretty sure I would pay money to avoid using Windows or Office ever again. The attraction to Office 365 wasn’t Office, it was the mail system behind it. I use Apple software to access my mail and contacts, I only use Microsoft for the back end. Email providers I had been looking into were going to be about $40 a year. Office 365 small business is $60. For that amount I get spam free email and full Exchange support. What the hell, thought I’d give it a try. Once I got everything set up it worked just fine. With any luck, I’ll be away from Gmail completely very soon.

I thought that me paying money would signal Hell freezing over. It turns out that me seeing usefulness in Microsoft services was a far bigger change. Microsoft has a very straightforward business model. Pay them money and you get services from them. That is in stark contrast to Google which gives you services for free while taking advantage of your information to do… whatever it is they do to profit from it. Apple software (and hardware obviously) with Microsoft services, a great combination.

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Life as I see it podcast episode #7. Money, what is it?

 

My friend Mary wanted me to talk a little about Bitcoin. I’m going to start that by talking about money in general. There are some interesting things about money that are really important to understand if you want to know how something could be used as money. I’ll do a few more podcasts before I finish up the topic. Dunno when that’ll happen though..

Happy New Year!

 

A look back at 2013 and what 2014 might have in store for me. Special thanks to my friends on app.net and family that got me through the rough parts of the year! Discovering how easy it was to make podcasts through app.net really made a difference during my darker days. I feel like I’m going in the right direction, looking forward to what 2014 has in store for me:)

Changing the world one person at a time

 

I don’t know if it’s cool or sad to have a guiding principle in your life based off of a (very) minor character in a Salinger book. Sorenson’s fate in Franny and Zooey led me to reorient my view of people’s purpose in life. His ended up being a way to have some insight into another minor character. He didn’t change anything, he didn’t really register as a character to me until my 6th or 7th reading of the book. Still, the creator of that world thought he was important enough to have a name and to have a speaking part. 

The thought struck me, what if I’m Sorenson? What if I were put here not for my contribution to the narrative as such, but simply in order to bring out thoughts and personality in someone else? What if I was simply there in order to highlight some negatives in those things? Sorenson affected Laine. And while Laine was a minor character, he had a big impact on one of the stars of the book. Sorenson is part of that chain, where am I on it? It’s a humbling thought and it can make you reevaluate how we all fit into each other’s lives. 

I still like to think that I can be a positive influence on people. Maybe I’m misguided but I’ll cling on to that idea as it makes my view of myself more palatable. There’s no telling what the thing is that I will do that will have the biggest impact. Maybe something I say to them, or something I do to them, or near them triggers something in them. Maybe that leads that person to do great things, or maybe it leads them to do something that leads someone else to do great things. Maybe I’m just here to make someone hope the train arrives quickly so they can see their girlfriend and it turns out that she is a main character. Any complaint I have about Rilke can end up being the most important thing I ever do. If I want to be a positive force in this world, I’m well served by treating every interaction as a chance to improve things.

I find this to be a really rich way of approaching life. My current career is in retail, a job that most people see as soul destroying. It can certainly be that if you approach it in terms of what you will get out of it. If you approach it instead as how can I help the next person, it’s actually quite fulfilling. When you extend it to the rest of your life, every interaction can be meaningful. If nothing else, it keeps you on your toes. And oddly enough, by concentrating on the person in front of you, you could be influencing the rest of the world. So here I go, changing the world one person at a time.

My current charities

I am always on the lookout for what I consider the perfect charity. Most people want to know that the money they donate is used well, but few wonder what kind of negative effect their well intentioned donations can have. Many well meaning charities do things like give away clothes, food, or other things. After all, what better way to help a poor person than to give them stuff? That is completely appropriate and works well for relief aid after disasters. The folks in the Philippines could use just about anything right now. On the other hand, giving that kind of aid to people in order to alleviate ongoing poverty can lead to some big problems. 

The biggest of the problems are creating dependance on free goods or money and the ensuing disruption to the local economy. It is far too common for a village or area to be made worse off by well intentioned charities. One of the stories I heard was of a church that decided to donate eggs to a village. Free food, what could be wrong with that? The villagers liked it of course but the ones that were trying to sell eggs were promptly put out of business. When the church inevitably decided to end the program, the chickens had long since been eaten and the village was left without a way to get eggs. It’s one example, but you can get a feel for how free goods screws up the local systems and economies. It’s easy to forget that businesses, no matter how small, fill needs and serve the community. When you eliminate local businesses with unsustainable substitutes, bad things will eventually happen.

So when I look for charities, I am looking for ones that can have a big impact on the lives that are touched by it. I also look for ones that do not create dependance. After all, I’m hardly wealthy man, I might have to stop donating at any moment! The easiest ways to avoid dependance is to explicitly limit the time frame, concentrate on boosting growth, or achieve a specific, non repeating task. I’ve found three charities that meet these criteria and I think they’re really good ones.

Poverty Cure is an organization run by the Acton Institute, a Catholic organization that emphasizes commerce and business activity as a way of eliminating poverty. Not only that, they recognize the dignity and desire of people to better themselves through work and business. It is a humanizing force. Instead of looking at the poor as victims, as someone to pity and help, Poverty Cure recognizes that the poor are the solution to their own problems. A central part of their promotional materials asks, “Can you relate to the poor as partners?” When efforts are put towards helping people to create wealth, the entire approach changes. Both the folks from Poverty Cure and the recipients understand that looking for ways to make money is a far more sustainable and empowering approach than distributing aid ever could be. It’s a wonderful organization. There is no dependency created as self sufficiency is the goal. They do tend to disrupt things, but only in the best way possible:)

I’ve talked about Give Directly before. A handful of economists came up with some general rules for what they thought would be the most effective type of charitable giving. The ones they came up with were to give money, not goods, have no strings attached to the gift, surprise people with the money, and make it a lump sum or of a short duration. Economists have always known that a pure cash infusion is always a better way to help people than so called gift in kind donations. The people that receive food stamps can only use them for one thing, cash can be put to any use. The recipient will know what their most pressing needs are. It might be food, but it might be something else. Trusting them to do what is best for themselves is not only the most charitable thing to do, it is also the most effective. That was the theory and now they have independent research showing that the process works very well. Because the recipients are chosen without knowing that they could get money, there is no gaming the system. And because it is usually a lump sum, they can’t depend on more money coming. I encourage you to check the link and read up on Give Directly, they are doing great work.

I am especially happy to have found Liberty in North Korea (LINK). The day to day life of people living in North Korea is brutal and short. The most repressive government in the world makes its citizens life like serfs while the elites live well. Who wouldn’t want to escape that? It isn’t easy to do though. Some manage to get into China, but their hardships have just begun. If they are found by the Chinese government, they will be deported back to the DPRK. There they will usually find themselves in work camps, prison, or possibly even executed. Like every immigrant that is in a new country illegally, the North Koreans in China resort to black market labor. For women, this frequently means the sex trade. It’s brutal and they have very few chances or choices. LINK runs a kind of underground railroad to help refugees from North Korea get out of China and into a country that allows them to move somewhere they don’t have to worry about being sent back. Usually that means South Korea or the US. LINK says that the cost of doing this is about $2000 a person. That includes placement in a host country. I can’t imagine what kind of courage and desperation it must take to smuggle yourself out of your country with the knowledge that you could be imprisoned or shot for trying. And then to have to live life on the run, doing God knows what to survive. All because they don’t want to, you know, starve to death. I am happy to help these folks out and I’m glad there are organizations like LINK to help them. I consider any money sent to them to be high impact donations. Please do check them out and donate to save desperate people. 

IT’S THE 8TH DOCTOR!!!

 

I never thought I would see it. I never thought I’d see the eighth Doctor on TV. He was given one appearance on TV in 1995 in an American TV movie. He never got to be in an actual episode, many fans never really considered him a “real” Doctor. The irony of the situation is that of all of the Doctors, the eighth probably had more adventures than any of the others if you include the books, comics, and audios that featured him. Of course that is why so many fans didn’t think he counted because his stories weren’t on TV. At the time, those stories were the only Doctor Who being made and all of them were done under BBC supervision so I have always considered them just as proper as any other Doctor Who story on TV.

Well, all those folks that discounted him need to reevaluate now. Not only did the eighth Doctor show up in the context of the current series, he explicitly name checked a bunch of his companions from the audios! Charley, C’Rizz, Lucie, Tamsin, and Molly have now been referenced in the TV show! 

It really made me excited (as you can hear in the audio, LOL) and I hope it makes more people interested in the Big Finish stories. They are uniformly great and some of them are simply amazing. The eighth Doctor stories are enthralling. Definitely check them out if you haven’t before.

I am now also cautiously optimistic that there could be more shout outs to the classic series and/or the wilderness years. I would die if Benny came up in the show… Even if that doesn’t happen, thank you Steven Moffat for bringing back #8, he deserved that!

Podcasting again

One of the best things about joining app.net was how easy it was to make podcasts. Started doing some on various topics but eventually ended up doing more and more about app.net itself. Well, I’ve decided to get back to doing a regular podcast and tie it into my regular blog. That means most topics are fair game, economics, political economy, music, Doctor Who, etc. Hopefully this will make my blog a little more interesting, LOL. Anyway, thanks for listening and I hope I’ll keep this going:)