Blockchain. What’s blockchain? Here’s an introduction

Monday, 6 February, 2017

Blockchain technology could drastically change the way we conduct many financial transactions. If you’re like me, and have heard the word bandied about, but have little idea what it’s all about, this article by Lisa Fedorenko, an analyst at Sydney based Montgomery Investment Management, offers a straightforward explanation.

What blockchain does is create a unique identity for digital assets. When I have a physical pen – it is easy to trace who is holding that particular pen. It is obvious if I am holding the pen, or I pass it to you. This is a bit trickier when I have a digital pen. If I forward you a pen – how can you tell I haven’t also forwarded it to my friend Alex? Blockchain gives pens (or blocks) a history of ownership (a chain) so you can tell where each pen is (there are a finite number of pens). Each pen can only be in one place at a time and has had its own path there – if I gave you my pen, I no longer have one to forward to Alex.

Check the comments following the article as well, for additional insights.

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Peter Thiel’s New Zealand plan to avoid the apocalypse. A good idea?

Thursday, 2 February, 2017

Unless you’ve been holed up in an underground bunker, you’ve probably heard that US entrepreneur Peter Thiel recently purchased land in the South Island of New Zealand, after also becoming a citizen. In anticipation of the apocalypse, we’re told. And it seems he’s not the only tech-billionaire to do something similar either.

The South Pacific nation is deemed the place to be on account of its relative isolation, and stable government. Personally, I think Thiel would have been better off keeping the idea to himself, as he’s probably inspired who knows how many others to head there, at whatever cost, in the event of global calamity. I know I’m going to.

Wes Siler, writing for Outside Online, also takes a dim view of Thiel’s plan, suggesting the one time Facebook angel investor, is more caught up in the hype surrounding the survivalism movement at present, than anything else.

Billionaires live in the same society we do, and are subject to the same cultural influences, and trends the rest of us are. Right now, survival is trendy. Particularly among people who like the idea of doing tough guy stuff, but don’t actually go out and do tough guy things. You get the feeling that doomsday prep is just a fun hobby, or mental puzzle for these dudes – one they’re able to indulge a little more than you or I might be able to. You buy a neon green tomahawk at Walmart just in case the zombies ever rise; Peter Thiel buys a 477-acre farm in New Zealand. Neither one will ever be used for its intended purpose.

And on the subject of the apocalypse, here’s a bonus, five survival tools you should never leave the house without. They’re certainly compact enough to carry around with you.

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Robots won’t take all jobs, they don’t know how to do all of them

Tuesday, 31 January, 2017

This is a topic we’re not going to stop hearing about: the threat to jobs from robots, or artificial intelligence. Robots can be taught to do one thing, and another, and they can perform those tasks well, but they still struggle to work in the same way as a person. A human has a mix of skills, flexibility, and judgement, something that cannot easily be automated.

But the new jobs panic is exaggerated and misplaced. For one thing, political and social caution may block some of the potential uses, such as self-driving cars. For another, many jobs will continue to require a blend of skills, flexibility and judgement that is difficult to automate. David Autor, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, argues that such employment requires “tacit” expertise that cannot readily be codified.

A good job too. I’m (still) writing a book that’s set 400 years in the future. Robots and artificial intelligence feature. They do much of our heavy lifting, but people still have jobs of a sort. It seems to me there’d be no story if robots performed every last function, and people didn’t even need to do trivial things, such as make phone calls.

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So yes, what exactly is GitHub?

Friday, 20 January, 2017

GitHub is a web-based Git repository hosting service. Git was created in 2005 by Linus Torvalds, the Finnish software engineer behind the Linux operating system. That much makes sense. If GitHub still confuses you, as it does me, this short video may help you understand it.

It’s good. It explains GitHub. But what about the links to GitHub pages, that I’m sometimes sent? This is an example of what I mean. What’s the deal there?

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Working from home is dead. Long live co-working

Tuesday, 17 January, 2017

Working from home is so 2014.

The good news though, you don’t have to take a job in a company, just so you can be among others. Instead, you can take your laptop, and other digital paraphernalia, to a co-working space, and tap into the workplace vibe, without becoming part of a workplace.

The first trend is how the shared office and the network have replaced the solo entrepreneur in her garage as the incubators for new companies and ideas. “Coworking” didn’t exist a decade ago, and today there are nearly a million people globally working alongside peers who aren’t necessarily their colleagues. Workers in these spaces consistently report making more connections, learning skills faster, and feeling more inspired and in control than their cubicle-dwelling counterparts inside large companies. They also have different expectations from cloud workers content to commute from their couch.

I don’t co-work as such, though I often work at a place other than my residence. Places where other people gather, though not necessarily cafes, that offer internet access, and somewhere to set up shop for the day.

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Some ideas for successful online businesses that are run alone

Friday, 13 January, 2017

If you want to establish your own online business, and are looking for ideas, then this Hacker News discussion thread may be just what the doctor ordered. There sure are some great one person start-ups and ventures out there.

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Uber Movement. The poacher becomes the gamekeeper?

Friday, 13 January, 2017

Global ridesharing network Uber recently unveiled Uber Movement, a new service that shares details of the trips its drivers and passengers make. According to Uber, such information will aid the urban planning process, and help cities to move more efficiently.

Given sixty-two million trips were taken in Uber vehicles in July 2016, across the seventy countries where they currently operate, this seems reasonable. The collected data may also be useful in places where information about traffic movements is difficult to gather.

The data, which is anonymised, meaning no one individual’s trips, or travel habits, can be identified, will no doubt help city authorities highlight spikes in road usage, and bottlenecks. In turn, this will permit them to better plan their roads, and transport infrastructure.

Aggregating ride information may not be enough to allay fears of privacy advocates though, who are concerned by Uber’s recent change to the location-tracking behaviour of its smartphone app. Passenger movements can now be tracked for five minutes after their ride ends.

Uber claims this will allow them to “improve pickups, drop-offs, customer service, and to enhance safety“. Having accurate data about vehicle movements around a city may be of use to urban planners, but at the cost of being tracked for five minutes after leaving the car?

That seems excessive, and may force passengers to alter their pick-up and final destination points, in the interests of preserving privacy. But that shouldn’t greatly compromise the integrity of the data Uber hopes to collect, at least so far as those they think will benefit the most goes.

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The return of film photography, is this peak digital photography?

Thursday, 12 January, 2017

Richmond Park, London. Photo by John Lampard

Technology company Kodak says it will resume manufacturing Ektachrome camera film for 35mm still frame, and Super 8 motion picture formats, by the end of the year. Does the move constitute evidence that we’ve reached peak digital photography though? Don’t be so sure.

While the return of Ektachrome will surely delight aficionados of film photography, are we all about to give up on the likes of Instagram, or stop using the now not too shabby cameras in our smartphones? I doubt it.

Here’s the thing. Film photography is for the patient. For those skilled in the art of capturing the right image at the right time, without using up the limited allocation of shots, usually thirty-six, that’s available to them on a single roll of film.

That excludes me. Then there’s the matter of the time and cost of processing. Some might call digital photography fake and cheap, and the domain of those seeking instant gratification. But not me. There’s simply too much quality digital photography for that to be possible.

Yes, we may be seeing more film photography, which is fine by me. And true, we have may reached peak digital photography, but I don’t think we’re about to see it spiral out of favour anytime soon. Also, I took the above photo, in London’s Richmond Park, with film. So there.

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Von Neumann Machines may be the emissaries of extraterrestrials

Thursday, 6 October, 2016

A Von Neumann Machine is more like an entity, an artificially intelligent device, that is capable of self-replication. They could serve all sorts of purposes, and we may one day use them to explore and colonise the galaxy.

It is also possible they may already be in use, right now, by other, more advanced alien civilisations. A bunch of these things might be making their way towards us, as I write this. Let’s hope not, things may not end well if they do show up.

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Minor technical problems

Tuesday, 4 October, 2016

I’m a little behind on things at the moment. An update to my operating system has hobbled my main laptop, and I’ve been forced to work from my older, much slower, backup device since. One of my wi-fi ports is also out, so that’s not helping either. I’m hoping all will back to normal soon.

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