THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING

August 18, 2018


Are we as Americans a little paranoid—or maybe a lot paranoid when it comes to trusting the Russians?  In light of the stories involving Russian collusion during the recent presidential election, maybe we should put trust on the shelf in all areas of involvement with Putin and the “mother-land”.  Do recent news releases through “pop” media muddy the waters or really do justice to a very interesting occurrence noted just this week? Let’s take a look.

The following is taken from a UPI News release on 16 August 2018:

“Aug. 16 (UPI) — Just days after the Trump administration proposed a Space Force as a new branch of the military, U.S. officials say they’re concerned about “very abnormal behavior” involving a Russian satellite.  The satellite, launched in October, is displaying behavior “inconsistent” with the kind of satellite Russia says it is, said Yleem D.S. Poblete, assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance . “Poblete suggested the satellite could be a weapon. “We don’t know for certain what it is, and there is no way to verify it,” he said Wednesday at a disarmament conference in Switzerland.

An artist’s rendition of that satellite is given below:

“Our Russian colleagues will deny that its systems are meant to be hostile,” Poblete continued. “But it is difficult to determine an object’s true purpose simply by observing it on orbit. “So that leads to the question: is this, again, enough information to verify and assess whether a weapon has or has not been tested in orbit? The United States does not believe it is.”

This release is basically saying that if we do not know what the Russian satellite is supposed to do, then it must be a weapon.  One of my favorite online publications is SPACE.com.  This group does a commendable job at assessing breaking stories and giving us the straight “poop” relative to all things in the cosmos.  Let’s take a look at what they say.

SPACE.com:

“This gets a bit confusing, so bear with me: Russia launched the Cosmos 2519 satellite in June 2017. This spacecraft popped out a subsatellite known as Cosmos 2521 in August of that year. On Oct. 30, a second subsat, Cosmos 2523, deployed from one of these two other craft.

“I can’t tell from the data whether the parent [of 2523] was 2519 or 2521, and indeed, I can’t be sure that U.S. tracking didn’t swap the IDs of 2519 and 2521 at some point,” McDowell said.  (NOTE: Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who monitors many of the spacecraft circling our planet using publicly available U.S. tracking data.)

These three spacecraft performed a variety of maneuvers over the ensuing months, according to McDowell and Brian Weeden, director of program planning at the nonprofit Secure World Foundation. For example, Cosmos 2521 conducted some “proximity operations” around 2519 and may have docked with the mothership in October, Weeden said via Twitter today (Aug. 16).

Cosmos 2521 adjusted its orbit slightly in February 2018, then performed two big engine burns in April to significantly lower its slightly elliptical path around Earth, from about 400 miles (650 kilometers) to roughly 220 miles (360 km), McDowell said. The satellite fired its engines again on July 20, reshaping its orbit to a more elliptical path with a perigee (close-approach point) of 181 miles (292 km) and an apogee (most-distant point) of 216 miles (348 km).

And Cosmos 2519 conducted a series of small burns between late June and mid-July of this year, shifting its orbit from a nearly circular one (again, with an altitude of about 400 miles) to a highly elliptical path with a perigee of 197 miles (317 km) and an apogee of 413 miles (664 km), McDowell calculated.

These big maneuvers are consistent with a technology demonstration of some kind, he said.

Perhaps the Russians “are checking out the [spacecraft] bus and its capability to deliver multiple subsatellites to different orbits — something like that,” McDowell said. “From the information that’s available in the public domain, that would be an entirely plausible interpretation.”

“What are they complaining about?” McDowell said, referring to American officials. Weeden voiced similar sentiments. Cosmos 2523’s “deployment was unusual, but hard to see at this point why the US is making it a big deal,” he said via Twitter today. “There are a lot of facts and not a lot of pattern,” McDowell said. “So, partly I take the U.S. statement as saying, ‘Russia, how dare you do something confusing?'” It’s possible, of course, that American satellites or sensors have spotted Cosmos 2523 (or Cosmos 2519, or Cosmos 2521) doing something suspicious — some activity that can’t be detected just by analyzing publicly available tracking data. “But they need to say a little more for us to take that seriously,” McDowell said.

CONCLUSIONS:

We just do not know and we do not trust the Russians to let us know the purpose behind their newest satellite.  Then again, why should they?    We live in a world where our own media tells us “the public has the right to know”.  That’s really garbage.  The public and others have a right to know what we choose to tell them.  No more—no less.

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SOCIAL MEDIA

June 27, 2018


DEFINITION:

Social media is typically defined today as: – “Web sites and applications that enable users to create and share content or to participate in social networking” – OxfordDictionaries.

Now that we have cleared that up, let’s take a look at the very beginning of social media.

Six Degrees, according to several sources, was the first modern-day attempt of providing access to communication relative to the “marvelous world” of social media. (I have chosen to put marvelous world in quotes because I’m not too sure it’s that marvelous. There is an obvious downside.)  Six Degrees was launched in 1997 and definitely was the first modern social network. It allowed users to create a profile and to become friends with other users. While the site is no longer functional, at one time it was actually quite popular and had approximately a million members at its peak.

Other sources indicate that social media has been around for the better part of forty (40) years with Usenet appearing in 1979.  Usenet is the first recorded network that enabled users to post news to newsgroups.  Although these Usenets and similar bulletin boards heralded the launch of the first, albeit very rudimentary, social networks, social media never really took off until almost thirty (30) years later, following the roll out of Facebook in 2006. Usenet was not identified as “social media” so the exact term was not used at that time.

If we take a very quick look at Internet and Social Media usage, we find the following:

As you can see from above, social media is incredibly popular and in use hourly if not minute-by-minute.  It’s big in our society today across the world and where allowed.

If we look at the fifteen most popular sites we see the following:

With out a doubt, the gorilla in the room is Facebook.

Facebook statistics

  • Facebook adds 500,000 new users a day – that’s six new profiles a second – and just under a quarter (775) of adults in the US visit their account at least once a month
  • The average (mean) number of Facebook friends is 155
  • There are 60 million active small business pages (up from 40 million in 2015), 5 million of which pay for advertising
  • There are thought to be 270 million fake Facebook profiles (there were only81 million in 2015)
  • Facebook accounts for 1% of social logins made by consumers to sign into the apps and websites of publishers and brands.

It’s important we look at all social media sites so If we look at daily usage for the most popular web sites, we see the following:

BENEFITS:

  • Ability to connect to other people all over the world. One of the most obvious pros of using social networks is the ability to instantly reach people from anywhere. Use Facebook to stay in touch with your old high school friends who’ve relocated all over the country, get on Google Hangouts with relatives who live halfway around the world, or meet brand new people on Twitter from cities or regions you’ve never even heard of before.
  • Easy and instant communication. Now that we’re connected wherever we go, we don’t have to rely on our landlines, answering machines or snail mail to contact somebody. We can simply open up our laptops or pick up our smartphones and immediately start communicating with anyone on platforms like Twitter or one of the many social messaging apps
  • Real-time news and information discovery. Gone are the days of waiting around for the six o’clock news to come on TV or for the delivery boy to bring the newspaper in the morning. If you want to know what’s going on in the world, all you need to do is jump on social media. An added bonus is that you can customize your news and information discovery experiences by choosing to follow exactly what you want.
  • Great opportunities for business owners. Business owners and other types of professional organizations can connect with current customers, sell their products and expand their reach using social media. There are actually lots of entrepreneurs and businesses out there that thrive almost entirely on social networks and wouldn’t even be able to operate without it.
  • General fun and enjoyment. You have to admit that social networking is just plain fun sometimes. A lot of people turn to it when they catch a break at work or just want to relax at home. Since people are naturally social creatures, it’s often quite satisfying to see comments and likes show up on our own posts, and it’s convenient to be able to see exactly what our friends are up to without having to ask them directly.

DISADVANTAGES:

  • Information overwhelm. With so many people now on social media tweeting links and posting selfies and sharing YouTube videos, it sure can get pretty noisy. Becoming overwhelmed by too many Facebook friends to keep up with or too many Instagram photos to browse through isn’t all that uncommon. Over time, we tend to rack up a lot of friends and followers, and that can lead to lots of bloated news feeds with too much content we’re not all that interested in.
  • Privacy issues. With so much sharing going on, issues over privacy will always be a big concern. Whether it’s a question of social sites owning your content after it’s posted, becoming a target after sharing your geographical location online, or even getting in trouble at work after tweeting something inappropriate – sharing too much with the public can open up all sorts of problems that sometimes can’t ever be undone.
  • Social peer pressure and cyber bullying. For people struggling to fit in with their peers – especially teens and young adults – the pressure to do certain things or act a certain way can be even worse on social media than it is at school or any other offline setting. In some extreme cases, the overwhelming pressure to fit in with everyone posting on social media or becoming the target of a cyber-bullying attack can lead to serious stress, anxiety and even depression.
  • Online interaction substitution for offline interaction. Since people are now connected all the time and you can pull up a friend’s social profile with a click of your mouse or a tap of your smartphone, it’s a lot easier to use online interaction as a substitute for face-to-face interaction. Some people argue that social media actually promotes antisocial human behavior.
  • Distraction and procrastination. How often do you see someone look at their phone? People get distracted by all the social apps and news and messages they receive, leading to all sorts of problems like distracted driving or the lack of gaining someone’s full attention during a conversation. Browsing social media can also feed procrastination habits and become something people turn to in order to avoid certain tasks or responsibilities.
  • Sedentary lifestyle habits and sleep disruption. Lastly, since social networking is all done on some sort of computer or mobile device, it can sometimes promote too much sitting down in one spot for too long. Likewise, staring into the artificial light from a computer or phone screen at night can negatively affect your ability to get a proper night’s sleep. (Here’s how you can reduce that blue light, by the way.)

Social media is NOT going away any time soon.  Those who choose to use it will continue using it although there are definite privacy issues. The top five (5) issues discussed by users are as follows:

  • Account hacking and impersonation.
  • Stalking and harassment
  • Being compelled to turn over passwords
  • The very fine line between effective marketing and privacy intrusion
  • The privacy downside with location-based services

I think these issues are very important and certainly must be considered with using ANY social media platform.  Remember—someone is ALWAYS watching.

 


Portions of this post are taken from the January 2018 article written by John Lewis of “Vision Systems”.

I feel there is considerable confusion between Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning and Deep Learning.  Seemingly, we use these terms and phrases interchangeably and they certainly have different meanings.  Natural Learning is the intelligence displayed by humans and certain animals. Why don’t we do the numbers:

AI:

Artificial Intelligence refers to machines mimicking human cognitive functions such as problem solving or learning.  When a machine understands human speech or can compete with humans in a game of chess, AI applies.  There are several surprising opinions about AI as follows:

  • Sixty-one percent (61%) of people see artificial intelligence making the world a better place
  • Fifty-seven percent (57%) would prefer an AI doctor perform an eye exam
  • Fifty-five percent (55%) would trust an autonomous car. (I’m really not there as yet.)

The term artificial intelligence was coined in 1956, but AI has become more popular today thanks to increased data volumes, advanced algorithms, and improvements in computing power and storage.

Early AI research in the 1950s explored topics like problem solving and symbolic methods. In the 1960s, the US Department of Defense took interest in this type of work and began training computers to mimic basic human reasoning. For example, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) completed street mapping projects in the 1970s. And DARPA produced intelligent personal assistants in 2003, long before Siri, Alexa or Cortana were household names. This early work paved the way for the automation and formal reasoning that we see in computers today, including decision support systems and smart search systems that can be designed to complement and augment human abilities.

While Hollywood movies and science fiction novels depict AI as human-like robots that take over the world, the current evolution of AI technologies isn’t that scary – or quite that smart. Instead, AI has evolved to provide many specific benefits in every industry.

MACHINE LEARNING:

Machine Learning is the current state-of-the-art application of AI and largely responsible for its recent rapid growth. Based upon the idea of giving machines access to data so that they can learn for themselves, machine learning has been enabled by the internet, and the associated rise in digital information being generated, stored and made available for analysis.

Machine learning is the science of getting computers to act without being explicitly programmed. In the past decade, machine learning has given us self-driving cars, practical speech recognition, effective web search, and a vastly improved understanding of the human genome. Machine learning is so pervasive today that you probably use it dozens of times a day without knowing it. Many researchers also think it is the best way to make progress towards human-level understanding. Machine learning is an application of artificial intelligence (AI) that provides systems the ability to automatically learn and improve from experience without being explicitly programmed. Machine learning focuses on the development of computer programs that can access data and use it learn for themselves.

DEEP LEARNING:

Deep Learning concentrates on a subset of machine-learning techniques, with the term “deep” generally referring to the number of hidden layers in the deep neural network.  While conventional neural network may contain a few hidden layers, a deep network may have tens or hundreds of layers.  In deep learning, a computer model learns to perform classification tasks directly from text, sound or image data. In the case of images, deep learning requires substantial computing power and involves feeding large amounts of labeled data through a multi-layer neural network architecture to create a model that can classify the objects contained within the image.

CONCLUSIONS:

Brave new world we are living in.  Someone said that AI is definitely the future of computing power and eventually robotic systems that could possibly replace humans.  I just hope the programmers adhere to Dr. Isaac Asimov’s three laws:

 

  • The First Law of Robotics: A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

 

  • The Second Law of Robotics: A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

 

  • The Third Law of Robotics: A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

With those words, science-fiction author Isaac Asimov changed how the world saw robots. Where they had largely been Frankenstein-esque, metal monsters in the pulp magazines, Asimov saw the potential for robotics as more domestic: as a labor-saving device; the ultimate worker. In doing so, he continued a literary tradition of speculative tales: What happens when humanity remakes itself in its image?

As always, I welcome your comments.

THE NEXT COLD WAR

February 3, 2018


I’m old enough to remember the Cold War waged by the United States and Russia.  The term “Cold War” first appeared in a 1945 essay by the English writer George Orwell called “You and the Atomic Bomb”.

HOW DID THIS START:

During World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union fought together as allies against the Axis powers, Germany, Japan and Italy. However, the relationship between the two nations was a tense one. Americans had long been wary of Soviet communism and concerned about Russian leader Joseph Stalin’s tyrannical, blood-thirsty rule of his own country. For their part, the Soviets resented the Americans’ decades-long refusal to treat the USSR as a legitimate part of the international community as well as their delayed entry into World War II, which resulted in the deaths of tens of millions of Russians. After the war ended, these grievances ripened into an overwhelming sense of mutual distrust and enmity. Postwar Soviet expansionism in Eastern Europe fueled many Americans’ fears of a Russian plan to control the world. Meanwhile, the USSR came to resent what they perceived as American officials’ bellicose rhetoric, arms buildup and interventionist approach to international relations. In such a hostile atmosphere, no single party was entirely to blame for the Cold War; in fact, some historians believe it was inevitable.

American officials encouraged the development of atomic weapons like the ones that had ended World War II. Thus, began a deadly “arms race.” In 1949, the Soviets tested an atom bomb of their own. In response, President Truman announced that the United States would build an even more destructive atomic weapon: the hydrogen bomb, or “superbomb.” Stalin followed suit.

The ever-present threat of nuclear annihilation had a great impact on American domestic life as well. People built bomb shelters in their backyards. They practiced attack drills in schools and other public places. The 1950s and 1960s saw an epidemic of popular films that horrified moviegoers with depictions of nuclear devastation and mutant creatures. In these and other ways, the Cold War was a constant presence in Americans’ everyday lives.

SPACE AND THE COLD WAR:

Space exploration served as another dramatic arena for Cold War competition. On October 4, 1957, a Soviet R-7 intercontinental ballistic missile launched Sputnik (Russian for “traveler”), the world’s first artificial satellite and the first man-made object to be placed into the Earth’s orbit. Sputnik’s launch came as a surprise, and not a pleasant one, to most Americans. In the United States, space was seen as the next frontier, a logical extension of the grand American tradition of exploration, and it was crucial not to lose too much ground to the Soviets. In addition, this demonstration of the overwhelming power of the R-7 missile–seemingly capable of delivering a nuclear warhead into U.S. air space–made gathering intelligence about Soviet military activities particularly urgent.

In 1958, the U.S. launched its own satellite, Explorer I, designed by the U.S. Army under the direction of rocket scientist Wernher von Braun, and what came to be known as the Space Race was underway. That same year, President Dwight Eisenhower signed a public order creating the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), a federal agency dedicated to space exploration, as well as several programs seeking to exploit the military potential of space. Still, the Soviets were one step ahead, launching the first man into space in April 1961.

THE COLD WAR AND AI (ARTIFICIAL INTELLEGENCE):

Our country NEEDS to consider AI as an extension of the cold war.  Make no mistake about it, AI will definitely play into the hands of a few desperate dictators or individuals in future years.  A country that thinks its adversaries have or will get AI weapons will need them also to retaliate or deter foreign use against the US. Wide use of AI-powered cyberattacks may still be some time away. Countries might agree to a proposed Digital Geneva Convention to limit AI conflict. But that won’t stop AI attacks by independent nationalist groups, militias, criminal organizations, terrorists and others – and countries can back out of treaties. It’s almost certain, therefore, that someone will turn AI into a weapon – and that everyone else will do so too, even if only out of a desire to be prepared to defend themselves. With Russia embracing AI, other nations that don’t or those that restrict AI development risk becoming unable to compete – economically or militarily – with countries wielding developed AIs. Advanced AIs can create advantage for a nation’s businesses, not just its military, and those without AI may be severely disadvantaged. Perhaps most importantly, though, having sophisticated AIs in many countries could provide a deterrent against attacks, as happened with nuclear weapons during the Cold War.

The Congress of the United States and the Executive Branch need to “lose” the high school mentality and get back in the game.  They need to address the future instead of living in the past OR we the people need to vote them all out and start over.

 

MOST HATED COMPANIES

February 3, 2018


The list of the “most hated American companies” was provided by KATE GIBSON in the MONEYWATCH web site, February 1, 2018, 2:20 PM.  The text and narrative is this author’s.

Corporate America is sometimes, but not always, blamed for a number of misdeeds, swindles, “let’s bash the little guy”, etc. behavior.  Many times, those charges are warranted.   You get the picture.   Given below, is a very quick list of the twenty (20) most hated U.S. companies.  This list is according to 24/7 Wall St., which took customer surveys, employee reviews and news events into account in devising its list: ( I might mention the list is in descending order so the most-egregious offender is at the bottom.

  • The Weinstein Company. I think we can all understand this one but I strongly believe most of the employees of The Weinstein Company are honest hard-working individuals who do their job on a daily basis.  One big problem—you CANNOT tell me the word did not get around relative to Weinstein’s activities.  Those who knew are definitely complicit and should be ashamed of themselves.  This includes those holier-than-thou- actresses and actors pretending not-to-know.
  • United Airlines. The Chicago-based carrier is still in the dog housewith customers after a video of a passenger being forcibly removed from his seat on an overbooked flight went viral last year. You simply do NOT treat individuals, much less customers, in the manner in which this guy was treated.  I wonder how much money United has lost due to the video?
  • Fake news, deceptive ads, invasion of privacy.  You get the picture and YET millions subscribe.  This post will be hyperlinked to Facebook to improve readership.  That’s about the only reason I use the website.
  • I don’t really know these birds but apparently the telecom, one of the nation’s biggest internet and telephone service providers, reportedly gets poor reviews from customers and employees alike. I think that just might be said for many of the telecoms.
  • This one baffles me to a great extent but the chemical company has drawn public ire at a lengthy list of harmful products, including DDT, PCBs and Agent Orange. Most recently, it’s accused of causing cancer in hundreds exposed to its weed killer, Roundup.
  • I’m a Comcast subscriber and let me tell you their customer service is the WORST. They are terrible.  Enough said.
  • I have taken Uber multiple times with great success but there are individuals who have been harassed.  Hit by complaints of sexual harassment at the company and a video of its then-CEO Travis Kalanick arguing with an Uber driver, the company last year faced a slew of lawsuit and saw 13 executives resign, including Kalanick.
  • Sears Holdings. Sears plans to close more than one hundred (100) additional stores through the spring of 2018, with the count of Sears and Kmart stores already down to under 1,300 from 3,467 in 2007. Apparently, customer satisfaction is a huge problem also.  The retail giant needs a facelift and considerable management help to stay viable in this digital on-line-ordering world.
  • Trump Organization.  At this point in time, Donald Trumpis the least popular president in U.S. history, with a thirty-five (35) percent approval rating at the end of December. That disapproval extends to the Trump brand, which includes golf courses, a hotel chain and real estate holdings around the globe. One again, I suspect that most of the employees working for “the Donald” are honest hard-working individuals.
  • Wells Fargo. At one time, I had a Wells Fargo business account. NEVER AGAIN. I won’t go into detail.
  • The insurance industry is not exactly beloved, and allegations of fraud have not helped Cigna’s case. Multiple lawsuits allege the company inflated medical costs and overcharged customers.
  • Spirit Airlines. I’ve flown Spirit Airlines and you get what you pay for. I do not know why customers do not know that but it is always the case.  You want to be treated fairly, fly with other carriers.
  • Vice Media The media organization has lately been roiled by allegations of systemic sexual harassment, dating back to 2003. One of these day some bright individual in the corporate offices will understand you must value your employees.
  • The telecom gets knocked for poor customer experiences that could in part be due to service, with Sprint getting low grades for speed and data, as well as calling, texting and overall reliability.
  • Foxconn Technology Group. Once again, I’m not that familiar with Foxconn Technology Group. The company makes and assembles consumer electronics for entities including Apple and Nintendo. It’s also caught attention for poor working and living conditions after a series of employee suicides at a compound in China. It recently drew negative press for a planned complex in Wisconsin.
  • Electronic Arts. The video-game maker known for its successful franchises is also viewed poorly by gamers for buying smaller studios or operations for a specific game and then taking away its originality.
  • University of Phoenix. I would expect every potential student wishing to go on-line for training courses do their homework relative to the most-desirable provider. The University of Phoenix does a commendable job in advertising but apparently there are multiple complaints concerning the quality of services.
  • I’m a little burned out with the NFL right now. My Falcons and Titans have had a rough year and I’m ready to move on to baseball. Each club sets their own spring training reporting dates each year, though all camps open the same week. Pitchers and catchers always arrive first. The position players don’t have to show up until a few days later. Here are this year’s reporting dates for the 15 Cactus League teams, the teams that hold spring training in Arizona.
  • Fox Entertainment Group. If you do not like the channel—do something else.  I bounce back and forth across the various schedules to find something I really obtain value-added from.  The Food Network, the History Channel, SEC Network.  You choose.  There are hundreds of channels to take a look at.
  • The consumer credit reporting was hit by a massive hack last year, exposing the personal data of more than 145 million Americans and putting them at risk of identity theft. Arguably worse, the company sat on the information for a month before letting the public know.

CONCLUSIONS:  In looking at this survey, there are companies that deserve their most-hated-status and, in my opinion, some that do not.  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  As always, I welcome your comments.

BITCOIN

December 9, 2017


I have been hearing a great deal about Bitcoin lately specifically on the early-morning television business channels. I am not too sure what this is all about so I thought I would take a look.    First, an “official” definition.

Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency and worldwide payment system. It is the first decentralized digital currency, as the system works without a central bank or single administrator. … Bitcoin was invented by an unknown person or group of people under the name Satoshi Nakamoto and released as open-source software in 2009.

The “unknown” part really disturbs me as well as the “cryptocurrency” aspects, but let’s continue.  Do you remember the Star Trek episodes in which someone asks, ‘how much does it cost and the answer is _______ credits’?  This is specifically what Bitcoin does, it is digital currency. No one controls Bitcoin; they aren’t printed, like dollars or euros – they’re produced by people, and increasingly businesses, running computers all around the world, using software that solves mathematical problems. A Bitcoin looks as follows-if you acquire a physical object representing“coin”.

Bitcoin transactions are completed when a “block” is added to the blockchain database that underpins the currency however, this can be a laborious process.  Segwit2x proposes moving bitcoin’s transaction data outside of the block and on to a parallel track to allow more transactions to take place. The changes happened in November and it remains to be seen if those changes will have a positive or negative impact on the price of bitcoin in the long term.

It’s been an incredible 2017 for bitcoin growth, with its value quadrupling in the past six months, surpassing the value of an ounce of gold for the first time. It means if you invested £2,000 five years ago, you would be a millionaire today.

You cannot “churn out” an unlimited number of Bitcoin. The bitcoin protocol – the rules that make bitcoin work – say that only twenty-one (21) million bitcoins can ever be created by miners. However, these coins can be divided into smaller parts (the smallest divisible amount is one hundred millionth of a bitcoin and is called a ‘Satoshi’, after the founder of bitcoin).

Conventional currency has been based on gold or silver. Theoretically, you knew that if you handed over a dollar at the bank, you could get some gold back (although this didn’t actually work in practice). But bitcoin isn’t based on gold; it’s based on mathematics. To me this is absolutely fascinating.  Around the world, people are using software programs that follow a mathematical formula to produce bitcoins. The mathematical formula is freely available, so that anyone can check it. The software is also open source, meaning that anyone can look at it to make sure that it does what it is supposed to.

SPECIFIC CHARACTERISTICS:

  1. It’s decentralized

The bitcoin network isn’t controlled by one central authority. Every machine that mines bitcoin and processes transactions makes up a part of the network, and the machines work together. That means that, in theory, one central authority can’t tinker with monetary policy and cause a meltdown – or simply decide to take people’s bitcoins away from them, as the Central European Bank decided to do in Cyprus in early 2013. And if some part of the network goes offline for some reason, the money keeps on flowing.

  1. It’s easy to set up

Conventional banks make you jump through hoops simply to open a bank account. Setting up merchant accounts for payment is another Kafkaesque task, beset by bureaucracy. However, you can set up a bitcoin address in seconds, no questions asked, and with no fees payable.

  1. It’s anonymous

Well, kind of. Users can hold multiple bitcoin addresses, and they aren’t linked to names, addresses, or other personally identifying information.

  1. It’s completely transparent

Bitcoin stores details of every single transaction that ever happened in the network in a huge version of a general ledger, called the blockchain. The blockchain tells all. If you have a publicly used bitcoin address, anyone can tell how many bitcoins are stored at that address. They just don’t know that it’s yours. There are measures that people can take to make their activities opaquer on the bitcoin network, though, such as not using the same bitcoin addresses consistently, and not transferring lots of bitcoin to a single address.

  1. Transaction fees are miniscule

Your bank may charge you a £10 fee for international transfers. Bitcoin doesn’t.

  1. It’s fast

You can send money anywhere and it will arrive minutes later, as soon as the bitcoin network processes the payment.

  1. It’s non-reputable

When your bitcoins are sent, there’s no getting them back, unless the recipient returns them to you. They’re gone forever.

WHERE TO BUY AND SELL

I definitely recommend you do your homework before buying Bitcoin because the value is roller coaster in nature, but given below are several exchanges in which Bitcoin can be purchased or sold.  Good luck.

CONSLUSIONS:

Is Bitcoin a bubble? It’s a natural question to ask—especially after Bitcoin’s price shot up from $12,000 to $15,000 this past week.

Brent Goldfarb is a business professor at the University of Maryland, and William Deringer is a historian at MIT. Both have done research on the history and economics of bubbles, and they talked to Ars by phone this week as Bitcoin continues its surge.

Both academics saw clear parallels between the bubbles they’ve studied and Bitcoin’s current rally. Bubbles tend to be driven either by new technologies (like railroads in 1840s Britain or the Internet in the 1990s) or by new financial innovations (like the financial engineering that produced the 2008 financial crisis). Bitcoin, of course, is both a new technology and a major financial innovation.

“A lot of bubbles historically involve some kind of new financial technology the effects of which people can’t really predict,” Deringer told Ars. “These new financial innovations create enthusiasm at a speed that is greater than people are able to reckon with all the consequences.”

Neither scholar wanted to predict when the current Bitcoin boom would end. But Goldfarb argued that we’re seeing classic signs that often occur near the end of a bubble. The end of a bubble, he told us, often comes with “a high amount of volatility and a lot of excitement.”

Goldfarb expects that in the coming months we’ll see more “stories about people who got fabulously wealthy on bitcoin.” That, in turn, could draw in more and more novice investors looking to get in on the action. From there, some triggering event will start a panic that will lead to a market crash.

“Uncertainty of valuation is often a huge issue in bubbles,” Deringer told Ars. Unlike a stock or bond, Bitcoin pays no interest or dividends, making it hard to figure out how much the currency ought to be worth. “It is hard to pinpoint exactly what the fundamentals of Bitcoin are,” Deringer said.

That uncertainty has allowed Bitcoin’s value to soar a 1,000-fold over the last five years. But it could also make the market vulnerable to crashes if investors start to lose confidence.

I would say travel at your own risk.

 

DARK NET

December 6, 2017


Most of the individuals who read my posting are very well-informed and know that Tim Berners-Lee “invented” the internet.  In my opinion, the Internet is a resounding technological improvement in communication.  It has been a game-changer in the truest since of the word.  I think there are legitimate uses which save tremendous time.  There are also illegitimate uses as we shall see.

A JPEG of Mr. Berners-Lee is shown below:

BIOGRAPHY:

In 1989, while working at CERN, the European Particle Physics Laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland, Tim Berners-Lee proposed a global hypertext project, to be known as the World Wide Web. Based on the earlier “Enquire” work, his efforts were designed to allow people to work together by combining their knowledge in a web of hypertext documents.  Sir Tim wrote the first World Wide Web server, “httpd“, and the first client, “WorldWideWeb” a what-you-see-is-what-you-get hypertext browser/editor which ran in the NeXTStep environment. This work began in October 1990.k   The program “WorldWideWeb” was first made available within CERN in December, and on the Internet at large in the summer of 1991.

Through 1991 and 1993, Tim continued working on the design of the Web, coordinating feedback from users across the Internet. His initial specifications of URIs, HTTP and HTML were refined and discussed in larger circles as the Web technology spread.

Tim Berners-Lee graduated from the Queen’s College at Oxford University, England, in 1976. While there he built his first computer with a soldering iron, TTL gates, an M6800 processor and an old television.

He spent two years with Plessey Telecommunications Ltd (Poole, Dorset, UK) a major UK Telecom equipment manufacturer, working on distributed transaction systems, message relays, and bar code technology.

In 1978 Tim left Plessey to join D.G Nash Ltd (Ferndown, Dorset, UK), where he wrote, among other things, typesetting software for intelligent printers and a multitasking operating system.

His year and one-half spent as an independent consultant included a six-month stint (Jun-Dec 1980) as consultant software engineer at CERN. While there, he wrote for his own private use his first program for storing information including using random associations. Named “Enquire” and never published, this program formed the conceptual basis for the future development of the World Wide Web.

From 1981 until 1984, Tim worked at John Poole’s Image Computer Systems Ltd, with technical design responsibility. Work here included real time control firmware, graphics and communications software, and a generic macro language. In 1984, he took up a fellowship at CERN, to work on distributed real-time systems for scientific data acquisition and system control. Among other things, he worked on FASTBUS system software and designed a heterogeneous remote procedure call system.

In 1994, Tim founded the World Wide Web Consortium at the Laboratory for Computer Science (LCS). This lab later merged with the Artificial Intelligence Lab in 2003 to become the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Since that time he has served as the Director of the World Wide Web Consortium, a Web standards organization which develops interoperable technologies (specifications, guidelines, software, and tools) to lead the Web to its full potential. The Consortium has host sites located at MIT, at ERCIM in Europe, and at Keio University in Japan as well as offices around the world.

In 1999, he became the first holder of 3Com Founders chair at MIT. In 2008 he was named 3COM Founders Professor of Engineering in the School of Engineering, with a joint appointment in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at CSAIL where he also heads the Decentralized Information Group (DIG). In December 2004 he was also named a Professor in the Computer Science Department at the University of Southampton, UK. From 2006 to 2011 he was co-Director of the Web Science Trust, launched as the Web Science Research Initiative, to help create the first multidisciplinary research body to examine the Web.

In 2008 he founded and became Director of the World Wide Web Foundation.  The Web Foundation is a non-profit organization devoted to achieving a world in which all people can use the Web to communicate, collaborate and innovate freely.  The Web Foundation works to fund and coordinate efforts to defend the Open Web and further its potential to benefit humanity.

In June 2009 then Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced that he would work with the UK Government to help make data more open and accessible on the Web, building on the work of the Power of Information Task Force. Sir Tim was a member of The Public Sector Transparency Board tasked to drive forward the UK Government’s transparency agenda.  He has promoted open government data globally, is a member of the UK’s Transparency Board.

In 2011 he was named to the Board of Trustees of the Ford Foundation, a globally oriented private foundation with the mission of advancing human welfare. He is President of the UK’s Open Data Institute which was formed in 2012 to catalyze open data for economic, environmental, and social value.

He is the author, with Mark Fischetti, of the book “Weaving the Web” on the past, present and future of the Web.

On March 18 2013, Sir Tim, along with Vinton Cerf, Robert Kahn, Louis Pouzin and Marc Andreesen, was awarded the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering for “ground-breaking innovation in engineering that has been of global benefit to humanity.”

It should be very obvious from this rather short biography that Sir Tim is definitely a “heavy hitter”.

DARK WEB:

I honestly don’t think Sir Tim realized the full gravity of his work and certainly never dreamed there might develop a “dark web”.

The Dark Web is the public World Wide Web content existing on dark nets or networks which overlay the public Internet.  These networks require specific software, configurations or authorization to access. They are NOT open forums as we know the web to be at this time.  The dark web forms part of the Deep Web which is not indexed by search engines such as GOOGLE, BING, Yahoo, Ask.com, AOL, Blekko.com,  Wolframalpha, DuckDuckGo, Waybackmachine, or ChaCha.com.  The dark nets which constitute the Dark Web include small, friend-to-friend peer-to-peer networks, as well as large, popular networks like FreenetI2P, and Tor, operated by public organizations and individuals. Users of the Dark Web refer to the regular web as the Clearnet due to its unencrypted nature.

A December 2014 study by Gareth Owen from the University of Portsmouth found the most commonly requested type of content on Tor was child pornography, followed by black markets, while the individual sites with the highest traffic were dedicated to botnet operations.  Botnet is defined as follows:

“a network of computers created by malware andcontrolled remotely, without the knowledge of the users of those computers: The botnet was usedprimarily to send spam emails.”

Hackers built the botnet to carry out DDoS attacks.

Many whistle-blowing sites maintain a presence as well as political discussion forums.  Cloned websites and other scam sites are numerous.   Many hackers sell their services individually or as a part of groups. There are reports of crowd-funded assassinations and hit men for hire.   Sites associated with Bitcoinfraud related services and mail order services are some of the most prolific.

Commercial dark net markets, which mediate transactions for illegal drugs and other goods, attracted significant media coverage starting with the popularity of Silk Road and its subsequent seizure by legal authorities. Other markets sells software exploits and weapons.  A very brief look at the table below will indicate activity commonly found on the dark net.

As you can see, the uses for the dark net are quite lovely, lovely indeed.  As with any great development such as the Internet, nefarious uses can and do present themselves.  I would stay away from the dark net.  Just don’t go there.  Hope you enjoy this one and please send me your comments.

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