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A Detailed Explanation of the Bitcoin Protocol

We posted a video last week about the basic principles of Bitcoin.  Here’s a detailed explanation for the layman of how Bitcoin’s cryptography works.

Understanding the details of the Bitcoin protocol opens up otherwise inaccessible vistas. In particular, it’s the basis for understanding Bitcoin’s built-in scripting language, which makes it possible to use Bitcoin to create new types of financial instruments, such as smart contracts. New financial instruments can, in turn, be used to create new markets and to enable new forms of collective human behaviour. Talk about fun!

Follow the link to the description of Smart Contracts, too.  These are long reads, but they’re worth it, if you want to start thinking about Bitcoin as a new kind of instrument, and not merely as a store of value.

Posted in SciTech.

FSA Commander Flees Syria

According to the Wall Street Journal:

Islamist fighters ran the top Western- backed rebel commander in Syria out of his headquarters, and he fled the country, U.S. officials said Wednesday.

The Islamists also took over key warehouses holding U.S. military gear for moderate fighters in northern Syria over the weekend. The takeover and flight of Gen. Salim Idris of the Free Syrian Army shocked the U.S., which along with Britain immediately froze delivery of nonlethal military aid to rebels in northern Syria.

The turn of events was the strongest sign yet that the U.S.-allied FSA is collapsing under the pressure of Islamist domination of the rebel side of the war. It also weakened the Obama administration’s hand as it struggles to organize a peace conference next month bringing together rebels and the regime.

The peace conference is largely a ruse, anyway, as far as the US is concerned.

I still think there’s a chance to get the Syrian officer corps to deal with Assad, and there’s no particular reason to think that they’re radicalized.  But that’s much tougher to arrange, and in any event, Obama’s more worried about not ticking off the Iranians.

Posted in Foreign Policy.

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The Fourth Branch

Jonathan Turley, the liberal law professor who spoke of Obama’s being “the threat the Constitution was designed to prevent,” wrote about the rise of the bureaucratic state earlier this year:

This  growth since the founding has led to increasing power and independence for agencies. The shift of authority has been staggering. The fourth branch now has a larger practical impact on the lives of citizens than all the other branches combined.

The rise of the fourth branch has been at the expense of Congress’s lawmaking authority. In fact, the vast majority of “laws” governing the United States are not passed by Congress but are issued as regulations, crafted largely by thousands of unnamed, unreachable bureaucrats. One study found that in 2007, Congress enacted 138 public laws, while federal agencies finalized 2,926 rules, including 61 major regulations.

At the very least, it’s an argument against term limits.  But then, any Yes, Minister devotee doesn’t need to be convinced of that.

It also seems related to the idea of the “unitary executive,” that presidents like and Congresses don’t, although not in the way that people seem to be using the term.  A quick search didn’t reveal anywhere that Turley himself has written about the unitary executive, but it seems, at first glance, that this would also be an argument in favor of it. At least it would keep the bureaucracy under some sort of elective control.

Posted in Law.

Access to a Waiting List

That’s what happens when 70% of doctors don’t join your exchange:

An estimated seven out of every 10 physicians in deep-blue California are rebelling against the state’s Obamacare health insurance exchange and won’t participate, the head of the state’s largest doctors’ association said.

“Enrollment doesn’t mean access, because there aren’t enough doctors to take the low rates of Medicaid,” said Dr. Theodore M. Mazers, a past president of the San Diego County Medical Society. “There aren’t enough primary care physicians, period.”

The site is also showing doctors as participating when they’re not, presumably to entice people to sign up.  Funny, I’m old enough to remember when narrow networks were a feature, not a bug.

Posted in Health Care.

Floating House

Also, some instruction on camera angles and perspective.  Shot from a distance, I think it might look bleaker and less pleasant.

Posted in Architecture, Culture.

Should Queens Tear Down the 1964 World’s Fair Pavilion?

The latest Preservation Battle at Gizmodo:

Last month, officials in New York determined that it would cost $53 million to fix and restorethe New York State Pavilion, the series of hulking space-age structures built in Flushing Meadows Corona Park during the 1964-65 World’s Fair. Should these deteriorating ruins be preserved?

That seems like a lot of money; maybe there’s a way to split the difference and keep some of the iconic structures while developing the rest?  Denver managed to save some of the original Elitch Gardens, and I think plans are still there to restore the theater, but most of the acreage has been turned into shopping or housing.

Posted in Architecture, Culture, Demographics, Urban.

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An Affordable Metal 3D Printer?

So far, they’ve been plastic.  The results are pretty robust, but metal is a whole ‘nother ballgame:

Now, scientists have built an open-source 3D metal printer that costs under $1,200, sharing their design and software with the maker community.

“We have open-sourced the plans,” in the hopes of accelerating the technology by allowing others to build upon the design, said project leader Joshua Pearce, a materials engineer at Michigan Technological University in Houghton.

Most of the replacement parts you need are either metal or plastic, and up until now, the metal ones have been hard to fabricate.  Depending on the type and availability of the metal we’re talking about, Home Depot may need to get into the 3D plans business.

Posted in 3D Printing, SciTech.

An Internet Radio From 1969

Who knew Al Gore was so into transistors?

Posted in Design, SciTech.

Sub-Launched Drones a Reality

The US Navy has launched a drone from a submarine platform.  No word on whether they’re naming it after the birds that Noah sent out.

Posted in Defense, SciTech.

Earth’s Gravity Scarred By Earthquake

The ESA GOCE satellite maps the earth’s local gravity, and shows that the March 2011 Japan earthquake left detectable changes in the earth’s gravity there.

Posted in SciTech.

Four Social Security Reforms

Courtesy of the e21 Project at the Manhattan Institute.  Basically they amount to making marginal systemic changes now in order to avoid crashing the system just in time for me to retire.   They’re good ideas.

Much of Paul Ryan’s budget strategy centered around getting discretionary spending off the table so we could focus on entitlement reform.  No doubt Harry Reid will scream and howl at even these modest ideas, in order to try to stampede people into tax increases, but like I said, these are pretty marginal changes, and won’t affect current retirees.  Since Reid’s priority really is increasing taxes, if these ideas begin to gain traction, look for him to start talking about Medicare and Medicaid reform, in order to make the problem harder to solve.

Posted in Economics, Politics.

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Modern SF Loft

Brick-and-Wood at its best:

Two problems: first, it’s in San Francisco, which means it’s completely unaffordable unless you own Oracle;  second, as with so much modern interior design, it’s beautiful because it’s empty.  Nobody actually lives this way.

Posted in Architecture, Culture.

Notes on Israeli Income Inequality

From Tyler Cowen:

The bottom decile actually has done quite well in terms of rates of change, but the 6th through 8th deciles have done especially poorly (same link).  That source serves up the intriguing hypothesis that the disappearance of middle class-earning middlemen in the Israeli economy is due to the disintermediation of the internet, although without citing any data.  In any case, it is the non-substitutable, non-automatable, manual labor jobs which have seen rising pay at the very bottom.

There seems to be some real opportunity as the haredi community enters the workforce in larger numbers.

Posted in Economics.

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Maybe They Just Don’t Like Wal Mart Because It’s a Meritocracy

A new Wal Mart just opened in Washington, near the old downtown shopping district.  They get 38 applications for every position, and Mark Perry notes that it’s more from hope than desperation.

Too bad, though, that they didn’t take Garfinckel’s old location.  Would have driven people like Jonathan Singer up the wall.

Posted in Economics.

How to Bend Markets

Innovation, of course:

The WSJ has an article today about innovation blowing up the commodity industry….

The price of nickel, a metal used to make stainless steel for everything from sauce pans to guitar strings, spiked past $50,000 a metric ton in 2007 from less than $10,000 just a few years earlier….

The innovation has sent nickel prices tumbling to less than $14,000 a metric ton, and turned China into a leading nickel producer. The country now turns out more than 400,000 metric tons of nickel pig iron a year, equal to a fifth of world-wide demand.

It works!  In fact, it’s pretty much the only thing that works.  As long as it’s real innovation, of course.

Posted in Business.

Jewish Democrat Foundation Makes It Official

From The Jewish Week‘s Gary Rosenblatt:

Several weeks ago the Nathan Cummings Foundation, a stalwart in the Jewish philanthropic community for 25 years, announced that its new strategic plan calls for focusing on two specific areas: inequality and climate change….

In the past, about 20 percent of those funds were designated to Jewish groups and causes. Among the recent grantees in the area of Jewish social service projects here and in Israel were Repair the World, Hazon, the Jewish Funders Network, American Jewish World Service, the New Israel Fund, Jewish Funds for Justice, and the J Street Education Fund.

These are all lefty Jewish organizations.  All that Cummings is doing is making it official that its leftism is more important than its Judaism.  Or perhaps in its view, the two being identical, this is just narrowing its issue focus.  Rosenblatt, no political conservative, disapproves nonetheless: focus Jewish resources on the Jewish community.

Given that Cummings’s efforts have only helped produce a Jewish community that wonders why it should stay Jewish, I’m inclined to agree with this somewhat harsh comment:

While the issue is indeed serious and the loss of Jewish philanthropy dollars to general causes palpable, nonetheless, in the particular case of the Nathan Cummings Foundation, there is no great loss and perhaps even a win. Their new goals are clearly more worthy than some of their old goals, which, if anything, were oiling what the Pew study has shown to be part of the problem, rather than part of the solution. With its new orientation, Cummings will not become part of the solution, but it will also no longer produce part of the problem.

Update: Ira Stoll at Future of Capitalism points out that:

The Foundation’s president and CEO Lance Lindblom earned $1,181,431 in 2011, according to the charity’s tax form, which included “a deferred compensation payment of $707,250.”

No word on how much he like private jets.

Posted in Politics, Religion.

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First Books, Now Newspapers

Millennials Still Want Their Newspapers.  I think the headline overstates this considerably.  Of those from 18-34, 56% are reading their local paper online or in print, and 60% of that self-selected group consider it trustworthy.  Those are ridiculously low numbers compared even to 20 years ago, never mind 40 or 60.  It’s taken a long time to run through all that brand equity, but newspapers seem to be getting near the end.

Two questions: what replaces them for original reporting?  And even if people say they don’t trust or read newspapers, do they act that way?

Posted in Culture, Infographics, Media Bias.

What Industries Are Driving Denver’s Bounce Back?

Tech, oil, and…lawyers?

I don’t know if 33rd in the country is “impressive, though.”

Posted in Economics.

National Geographic Maps Meet Google

National Geographic Google-Maps 500 of its own maps.  You can search on a location, and then zoom in and out.  The link has a couple of maps to explore, but it’s unclear how you get to the other maps they’re digitizing.


Posted in SciTech.

Harold Edgerton, Call Your Office

From Hi Fructose:

Alan Sailer, a microwave engineer and photographer, creates remarkable photographs that capture, with incredible precision, the explosion of several objects as he shoots them with a pellet rifle.

Posted in Photography.

The 3D Pen

An Engadget review is lukewarm:

Drawing on a flat surface is simple enough, however, and tracing seems a pretty good place to get started with the new tool. Lay a thin piece of paper over a well-defined image and go to town….

The trouble starts when you attempt to draw in the air. You’re essentially creating the support structure as you draw, designing something to support the plastic as it hardens and dries.

They’ll have to find a way to get the plastic to dry faster, and I’m sure someone will market “supports” that you can draw between, but the author seems to think serious 3D drawing is easier done on the computer than freehand.

Posted in SciTech.

Could dark matter be hiding in plain sight in existing experiments?

Particles called axions could be creating noise in superconducting devices:

Axions were not originally proposed as a solution to the dark matter problem. Instead, they are a possible way to solve a pressing problem in quantum chromodynamics (QCD), the theory of the strong force, which governs quarks and their interactions.

Most interactions in physics work the same if you simultaneously exchange particles with their antimatter counterparts and reverse the direction in which they occur. This is known as CP symmetry (where C stands for charge and P stands for parity). CP symmetry is violated in many interactions involving the weak force, but, experimentally, it appears to be preserved by the strong force. The problem is that QCD appears to break CP symmetry badly, in stark contrast to experimental results.

Physicists have proposed several possible solutions to this problem, extensions to the Standard Model of particles and interactions. The axion is perhaps the simplest of these, as it explains why CP symmetry is mostly upheld in QCD. If this idea is correct, many axions were produced in the moments after the Big Bang, meaning the Universe could be full of them. Thus, if axions exist, they could simultaneously solve the CP and the dark matter problem.

That’s a big if, though it looks as though the experiments to answer this question are pretty easy to conduct.

Posted in SciTech.

Obama Joins the Patriarchy

The Obama White House continues to pay its women staffers less than its men:

Posted in Economics, Politics.

Last Friday’s Fonts

How the 70s saw the future?  This site has Free Font Friday, usually worth taking a look at.

Posted in Design.

How Much Is Enough?

We are constantly being told that the US doesn’t spend enough on education.  Compared to whom, exactly?

Posted in Design, Economics.

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