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The Second Coming: How Steve Jobs’ Death Might Save Occupy, The United States, and The World

October 20, 2011 1 comment

Steve Jobs’ untimely passing a couple of weeks ago has struck people in a variety of ways. Whenever I walk by the large glass storefront of the Philadelphia Apple Store, I am moved by the dozens of multicolored sticky notes on the surface of the otherwise pristine glass. It’s almost as if the mementos and personal outpourings of appreciation for Jobs’ life and work obfuscates and overshadows the company he built. And that’s a great thing for our country and our world, because all too often corporations overshadow the creative geniuses who build them.

 

An image was floating around a week ago pointing out all the Canon cameras, American Eagle tees, Proctor and Gamble cardboard boxes, and iPhones being held up in a photo of the Occupy Wall Street protest in New York. The point of the image, of course, is to highlight the irony of demanding an end to corporate profits while simultaneously benefiting from the spoils of corporate innovation and competition. But I don’t think that the Occupy protestors really are opposed to innovation, competition, and the profits that go with those things. An article in The Economist today titled “Occupy Wall Street: Le trahison des CPAs” seems to corroborate this suspicion. One of the protestors the author interviewed is a semi-retired CPA from Queens, and stated something I find very interesting – “I think Steve Jobs deserved everything he had.” Yet the CPA is advocating for a cap on CEO salaries for all publicly traded companies, and Apple is publicly traded. The apparent inconsistency probably derives from the fact that Steve Jobs is very well-regarded by consumers, largely due to the fact that he was a self-made man from the middle class who tried, failed, and tried again – the second attempt succeeding brilliantly. No consumer wants to vilify a man who has truly changed the world for the better with the sharpness of his mind and a cunning for business; in short, the average American consumer and Occupy protestor believes in the American Dream.

 

The Occupy protestors are committing a common, but easily rectified, mistake. They confuse corporatism for capitalism, and blame corporations for the corruption they see in government. The protestors don’t want to blame a well-known and highly regarded innovative genius like Steve Jobs, but they won’t hesitate to throw his publicly traded company (and its new CEO) under the bus. I don’t believe that the protestors would be making this mistake, however, if more CEOs behaved like Steve Jobs did.

 

Steve Jobs and Apple rarely donated a penny to anyone. They lobbied the government far less than most other tech companies. And most of all, Jobs and Apple were concerned primarily with the quality of their products and the experience of their customers. People are perfectly willing to give credit where it’s due, and the Steve Jobs consumer electronics empire definitely deserves major credit. Jobs and his company single-handedly changed the way we all live our daily lives. I’m sitting here now writing this article on my iPad, after reading the aforementioned Economist article on the same via an app called Flipboard. The iPad has completely changed and streamlined the way I consume and produce media, and I’d like to think that makes the world a marginally better place. And I don’t mind letting Jobs and Apple keep every penny they earned for that contribution to society.

 

What Occupy Protestors need to be protesting against aren’t CEO profits, but rather unearned rent-seeking by worthless corporations. Fannie and Freddie, Goldman Sachs, AIG, and the multitude of other bailout corporations deserve none of what they’ve gotten. While millions of Americans were forced out of their homes in 2008 and 2009, these corporate parasites received trillions from the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department. Congress has sold us out, and we have nothing to show for it. In contrast, the voluntary purchase of millions of iPads, iPhones, and Mac computers has appreciably changed the world for the better. So maybe something good can come of Steve Jobs’ death if the Occupy protestors begin recognizing the value of good executives like him. If they want to be taken seriously, this should be their singular demand: “End the bailouts. Demand innovation. Profit.”

 

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American Politics Today

August 11, 2011 1 comment

After watching tonight’s “debate,” I’ve decided to summarize for those of you who didn’t have the “pleasure” of seeing it. America has fallen off an economic cliff. Much of the frustration people are feeling with the debate has to do with the apparent lack of solutions to that problem. I’ll try to summarize some of the 2012 candidates’ apparent reactions to our freefall below, beginning with the de facto Democratic candidate, Barack Obama.

Democrats (Barack Obama): “Let’s build a parachute out of money, and hope the dollar bills we print to make it don’t weigh us down too much.”

Mainstream Republicans (Mitt Romney, Newt Gingritch, et. al.):  “Man, it sure was great being at the top of that cliff…”

Social Conservatives (Tim Pawlenty):  “What cliff? Huh? Hey, why don’t we ban abortion?”

Tea Party / Libertarians (Ron Paul, Michelle Bachmann):  “Good thing we fell off a cliff; at least when we hit bottom, we know we can’t fall any further.”

 

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Thoughts on the Plummeting Bitcoin Exchange Rate

August 6, 2011 Leave a comment

The bitcoin exchange rate has been plummeting recently from an all-time high of $35 to just under $8 today. Even as I write this, the price of bitcoin is spiraling downwards.

What is the cause of this depressing trend?

Lots and lots of bad news in a very short period of time has led investors to lose confidence — plain and simple. No one wants to hold onto an asset that hackers are able to steal out from under you at a whim. What people need to understand is that bitcoin is not the problem — people are the problem.

Bank hacks were common in the ’80s and early ’90s, and hackers are finding ways to undermine the bitcoin banks of today. People are stealing millions of dollars worth of assets from these bitcoin banks. Banks and exchanges such as Mt. Gox, Bitomat, and most recently MyBitcoin have faced the same problems that banks and exchanges have always faced. Security should be the tantamount concern of any banker, and of anyone looking to put their money into a bank.

If you see that a bank is put together with shoestrings and duct-tape, would you trust it with your money? Of course not! But for some reason, people continue to flock to the zero-fee bitcoin banks that provide no contact info, no support mechanism, and no accountability insurance. Why are people trusting their bitcoins — their money — to people who are running shoestring and duct-tape operations?

Thieves will always try to find new ways to steal your money. Shoestring entrepreneurs will always try to entice you to trust them with your money by offering “zero-fees” and other incentives. And you — yes, YOU — are usually stupid enough to trust them. And for the record, I’m one of you too.

The upside of all of this bad news is that new exchanges and banks that are audited by trusted third parties are beginning to spring up. These exchanges and banks are NOT run on shoestrings, but you’ll pay a premium to use their services. Just like it should be. Quality products offered in a free market should cost more than shoddy knock-offs and prototypes. If you aren’t willing to pay for quality, fine. That’s your choice. But don’t blame bitcoin, God, the government, or anyone but yourself (and maybe the thieves) when your money gets stolen.

I’m switching to CampBX, a bitcoin exchange audited by McAfee (an online security leader). I suggest you do the same. And if you don’t take my advice, then I hope you’ll sell your bitcoins and run. I’ll be glad to buy them off of you while the exchange rates are low, because the price will only go up as shoestring banking goes the way of the Dodo.

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Recent Bitcoin Interview

August 1, 2011 Leave a comment

I was recently interviewed by the Patriot News and CBS on bitcoin. The Patriot News article is accessible online here. The CBS piece should air tomorrow in the Harrisburg metro area. If you’re reading this blog, you probably already know my take on bitcoin. I recommend for those who don’t frequent the SLF blog to watch this:

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The Year of School Choice?

The following is a guest post by Commonwealth Foundation Research Fellow Cara Dochat:

Hats are off to Louisiana, Wisconsin, and Indiana, and a round of applause rings for Florida, Georgia and Oklahoma. They are among the 13 states which have successfully initiated and expanded school choice legislation so far this year.

Freedom in education has garnered so much national momentum that 2011 has been tentatively dubbed “the year of school choice” by The Wall Street Journal.

But Pennsylvania has yet to make the grade: it is among the 28 states with school choice legislation still pending. And with the future of students in Pennsylvania’s 144 “failing schools” hanging in the balance, school choice reform must be top priority when the state legislature returns in the fall.

To date, multiple states have focused on providing additional opportunities for children with special learning needs, including North Carolina, where parents will be able to claim a tax credit for private school tuition and other educational expenses.

Ohio’s multi-faceted reform triples the number of students eligible for vouchers. A new program provides up to 90% public-school cost to students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), and two scholarship programs for students in failing schools have been substantially expanded.

Reforms in Indiana make nearly half of its students eligible for public or private school vouchers.

While some students in Pennsylvania will spend their summers in fear of returning to violent or underperforming schools this September, newly-eligible students in Ohio will be applying for scholarships and vouchers thanks to an extended summer application period allowance there.

The Pennsylvania legislature owes it to the state’s children to take up the banner of choice next session, refusing to allow another year to go by in which families plead for choice and students plead for education.

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A Bitcoin Depression?

Daily Tech is reporting that we are in the midst of the first great “bitcoin depression.” But if bitcoin is depressed, the dollar must be suicidal. While bitcoin lost nearly half of its value over the past two days, it is still trading at over $17 USD. And people should remember that bitcoin’s value has been growing by leaps and bounds since the media started covering it en masse last week. A correction was inevitable.

The bitcoin economy is growing. More and more businesses are beginning to accept bitcoin as a form of payment. But the bitcoin economy has not grown fast enough (no economy could) to keep up with the skyrocketing exchange rate. Bitcoin isn’t in a depression – the speculative bubble has simply collapsed. The present exhange rate reflects the real value of bitcoin, just slightly above the level it was trading at prior to the media blitz. The bitcoin economy will continue to grow because bitcoin has real value.

To those who entered the bitcoin economy months ago, and who see bitcoin as a long-term currency asset, the bursting bubble has little significance. Those people will continue to earn, buy, mine and use bitcoin just like they have been doing. Eventually the competitive advantages of bitcoin (no transaction fees, liquidity, and deflationary valuation) will give those who choose to use it as a currency a leg-up on those dealing in dollars.

To those who entered into the bitcoin market recently, the bursting bubble has tremendous significance. Many of the newcomers purchased bitcoin as an investment asset. The value of bitcoin as an investment asset directly impacts the value of bitcoin as a currency. In order for people to want to hold bitcoin as an investment, it needs to be gaining value relative to other currencies. Reports (largely overstated) by the media of bitcoin’s tremendous rise in exchange value directly fueled short-term speculation. As the value of bitcoin began to soar due to speculation, the real value of bitcoin as a currency decreased. People slowed their bitcoin spending and invested thousands (millions?) of dollars in bitcoins, high-end computers for mining, and in bitcoin startups. Short-term hoarding helped to drive the price higher, and made it difficult for consumers to justify spending their bitcoins. Why would anyone choose to spend money today when they could get double the value for it tomorrow?

The party ended as bitcoin’s value approached the $35 mark on Thursday. Many of the short term speculators, satisfied with their earnings, cashed out of the market. Their exit prompted many more speculators to jump ship. Those who weren’t paying attention were left with a rapidly depreciating investment asset. But today it seems that bitcoin has bottomed-out. Some reports, such as the one released by Daily Tech, are calling this new low a “great depression.” But I would remind readers that bitcoin is still trading at over $17. If this is what counts for a depression in the bitcoin world, I’m going all-in.

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Anonymous Academy: A Whitepaper

May 28, 2011 3 comments

Hey everyone, I’ve come up with a new project that will need programmers and web designers. The whitepaper follows. Comment away!

 

Anonymous Academy

Crowdsourced Education for the Masses

I. Concept

To create an independent, decentralized, and anonymous educational platform for lifelong learning. The project will draw on the expertise of anonymous professionals in various fields who will be compensated with bitcoin, an anonymous digital currency. The students will also be anonymous, providing a situation where neither student nor teacher will be able to identify the other. This level of anonymity will allow for a frank exchange of views, and will also allow for education in topics not ordinarily possible due to government restrictions (such as advanced computer security techniques, nuclear engineering, or advanced organic chemistry). The unique bidding system will ensure that the professors work for the students, not the other way around. It will be in a professor’s best interests to offer an excellent curriculum, so that more students will want to take her courses in the future.

II. Goals

To reach 100 students by the end of 2011, with 10 professors teaching a variety of subjects. The website should be in beta by this time, with a full-scale deployment planned for the middle of 2012.

III. Methodology

A) Site Design

The site will be designed with a full range of audio, video, and text interaction mechanisms. Students and professors will be able to log-in to the site to access these services. The videos will be keyed to specific users’ YouTube accounts, audio will be stored on our own server. Eventually, we would like to move the YouTube content to our own hosted solution as well, but at the beta stage, YouTube will be sufficient. Text communications will be handled through an in-house email, forum, and chat system. Professors who wish to offer live classes can use GoTo Meeting or a similar service to hold classes.

Anyone will be able to sign up for an account with us for free. However, each class offered will carry certain fees. Those fees will be determined based on the bandwidth and storage requirements of the course, the tuition rate the professor is charging, plus a small administrative fee to maintain and improve the service.

Classes will be offered based on what people want to teach, and what people want to learn. The academy should act as an education marketplace, with professors placing bids to teach various courses, and with prospective students signing up for those courses as they become listed. When a professor bids on a course, she will include her non-identifying qualifications, the curriculum, the minimum students needed for the course, and any other information she thinks will be appealing to prospective students. The students will then be able to sign-up for the course offering by making a down-payment on tuition. Up to any point prior to the course being launched, a student may withdraw his deposit. Once a course has launched, the deposit is non-refundable. All tuition payments will be held in escrow by the academy until the course is completed. At that point, the professor will be paid, and course evaluations will be posted by the students.

B) Payment System

The academy will be using a bitcoin payment API provided by Mt. Gox Merchant Services. One advantage of this system is that it also allows users to send us payments in USD, if they so choose. All the user will need to do is set up a Mt. Gox account to handle their payment. We will be notified that the user has paid via a url callback system that Mt. Gox has established. From that point, our server back-end will be able to process the callback and denote that the user has indeed made a payment. In the case of tuition payments (currently our only offered service), the student will then be confirmed as registered for the course for the purpose of meeting the course minimum set by the instructor.

C) Marketing Strategy

The academy will be marketed as an alternative to traditional formal education. Our emphasis on placing students’ needs above those of professors or administrators will help to grow our student base rapidly. In addition, professors want to be freed from the political realities of the university system, where course offerings are all too often based on administrative funding decisions, rather than on students’ needs. The academy will allow professors to teach an unlimited number of students, and will liberate them from strict grading constraints which they have had to put up with. In addition, a professor will be able to set her own pay, based entirely on market demand for their services. Not only will professors be paid more at the end of the day, but they will know that they are providing a service that students really want. Students similarly will be placed in a position where they can design their own education based on what they want, at whatever price they can afford, at whatever speed they choose.

Specific outlets for advertising may include online forums at Kahn Academy, banner ads at UnCollege.org, Facebook ads, and Google ads. We will also be engaging in grassroots marketing at universities across the country; paying students of the academy in exchange for hosting “dropout” parties at their local institutions. By utilizing a mixture of traditional and guerilla marketing tactics, our client base will boom.

D) Profit Model

The academy will make a small administrative fee on all tuition payments in order to continue improving the service. This fee will be a percentage of the tuition charged for a course — not a flat rate. Thus, as the service grows, the profitability will grow. As profits swell, more programmers can be hired from our user community (who were educated through our service). As we hire more programmers, the service will improve. An awesome cycle.

IV. Startup Costs

Startup costs will be confined to the purchase of servers, programmers, and advertising. The entire project could be launched on shared hosting for under $5,000. As demand increases and we approach a full-scale launch, profits from the beta period will be used as seed-stage funding for growing our infrastructure.

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