Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Cyber Monday? Good ...

Cyber currency? Not so much.

I consider cyber currencies, such as bitcoin, to be a solution for which there is no good problem. (We don't need new ways to launder money!) To draw an important distinction, blockchain -- the technology which underpins any cyber currency -- is seriously keen. Blockchain, I firmly believe, can be used in many productive and worthwhile ways (each such application, in one way or another, taking the form of a distributed ledger). Minting faux money isn't one of those socially beneficial uses ....

Fool's gold?
Has yet another bitcoin crash (see, from Bloomberg, "Bitcoin’s Crash Looks Like a Real Currency Crisis") given you pause? If not, ponder a key question raised in the article: In a virtual world without a central bank, who is the buyer of last resort?

Still unconvinced? Then consider -- this time, from The Washington Post -- that "The only currency worse than bitcoin is Venezuela’s." That, Dear Reader, is a record no one should aspire to break ...

"Mining" bitcoin (or any other blockchain-based currency) is -- again, IMO -- one of the more ridiculous possible uses of energy. And we're talking about a lot of energy. As discussed by The Balance in "How Much Power It Takes to Create a Bitcoin." By a conservative estimate:

... the bitcoin network runs at 342,934,450 watts—roughly 343 megawatts. Calculations based on EIA data reveal that the average U.S. household consumes about 1.2 kilowatts of power, meaning that 343 megawatts would be enough to power 285,833 U.S. homes.
All that said? I don't expect bitcoin (or ethereum, litecoin, ripple ...) to go completely away. After all, even after Tulip Mania you can still buy tulip bulbs :-)

Monday, November 19, 2018

Buy-a-Book (you know you want to) Saturday

Regularly since 2010, at about this time of year, I've posted about Buy-a-Book Saturday. That's my personal variation of Small Business Saturday: a day (specifically, the second day after Thanksgiving, and one day after retail's infamous Black Friday) on which holiday shoppers are especially encouraged to patronize small businesses. The big-box stores and Internet giants will do fine this holiday season. But will your neighborhood, non-chain shops and boutiques?

Rara avis! Is that a book store? Check it out.

Why do I promote the buy-a-book variant? Because what business is smaller than the author toiling away by him- or herself? Because, as I (and many others) post from time to time, the publishing business is becoming tougher and tougher -- especially for authors. Because more than likely you're a reader, else you wouldn't have stopped by this blog.

So: I'm here to suggest you give serious consideration to books -- whether print or electronic or audio -- for some of your holiday gifting. Friends, relatives, coworkers, your kids' teachers and coaches, the local library you support ... surely there's a book that's right for each of them. And at least one book for yourself, of course ;-)

Monday, November 12, 2018

2018 best reads

Thanksgiving comes as early this year as it possibly can -- which means Black Friday and Cyber Monday do, too. It's best I get this annual feature posted comparatively early.

I continue to read a lot: as research, to stay current with the genre in which I write, and simply for enjoyment. Before the holiday shopping onslaught, I wanted to volunteer a few words about the most notable books from my reading (and sometimes re-reading) so far this year. When I mention a book, you can be certain I really enjoyed it and/or found it very useful. Life's too short to gripe about anything I didn't find notable (much less the several books I elected not to finish).
Presuming that you visit SF and Nonsense because you appreciate my take on science or technology or fiction, you might find, in the post that follows, books you (and like-minded friends, relatives, etc.) will also enjoy. Unless otherwise indicated, the dates shown are for original publication. Each cover shown is an Amazon link, often to newer editions than the original publication (and to Kindle editions, where available).

What's made the cut so far this year? Read on ...

Monday, November 5, 2018

Physics cornucopia (physicopia?)

You know my eclectic file of intriguing news from the world of physics, into which I dip from time to time? Well, that file (metaphorically speaking, anyway) is bulging. Which gives us this week's topic.

You know all those tidy equations we learn in physics classes? They often deal with idealized situations, like friction-less planes. The real world tends to the chaotic.(*)
(*)  To physicists and mathematicians, "chaos" has a precise meaning: dynamic, generally nonlinear, systems that are extremely sensitive to initial conditions.

Or does it? See "Is nature really chaotic and fractal, or did we just imagine it?" A key quote:

The way we perceive reality is a function of how we slice and dice the physical world.

No matter how you slice it, the power of mathematics -- an invention of the human mind, surely --  to explain physical phenomena remains amazing. From the Department of Mathematically Examined Arcana, consider this: "History's most successful mathematical prediction." (Because, I'm pretty sure, regular readers here yearn to understand the origin of the precise magnetic field of a single electron.)