Waiting for the Bitcoin bubble to burst

The Guardian follows up the Economist’s piece earlier in the week examining Bitcoin and its role in greasing the wheels of Silk Road, the marketplace for drugs hidden behind Tor.

The most striking thing is a graph (the Economist produced a similar one) of Bitcoin’s price – here’s a more sophisticated version from Bitcoin Charts:

Bitcoin price


It’s the chart of a classic bubble. And bubbles always burst.

In the meantime the world’s monetary authorities should be doing their best to hasten that day. If banning Bitcoin is too difficult then making it unconvertible to cash is possibly easier and less heavy handed. No point in trying to launder illegal sales receipts through it if it is not possible buy anything other than drugs with it.

Heartland Institute: an update

English: Peter Gleick lectures at SkeptiCalCon...
Image via Wikipedia

Last week what were reported to be internal fundraising plans and strategy papers from the hard right anti-science Heartland Institute were leaked to the media.

Heartland said the documents – which seemingly reported on plans to scare teachers away teaching climate science – were stolen and/or were fakes.

Now a scientist called Peter Gleick has come forward top confirm that he obtained the documents from Heartland by deception.

Gleick has apologised for his actions and has been subject to a lot of harsh criticism from fellow scientsists. He has, however, also confirmed that the documents are genuine and rather blown Heartland’s attempt to deny that out of the water.

I am in two minds about the ethics of all this. Some years ago the Guardian newspaper brought down the career of a UK Cabinet minister, Jonathan Aitken, through the use of what they called a “cod fax”: they used deception to find out that Aitken, while minister for defence procurement, had had his hotel bill paid by an arms lobbyist. Aitken denied the whole thing, fought a defamation action, lost and ended up in jail for perjury.

Seemed to me that the Guardian’s deception was very much in the public interest. And I find it difficult to say that Gleick’s exposure of Heartland – who have had a major impact on the debate in the US – was not motivated by a similar desire to do public good. But Gleick was not a journalist and – this is pretty important – Heartland were not breaking any laws (or ministerial codes of conduct).

Heartland Institute claim anti-science document is a fake

Deutsch: logo der tageszeitung the guardian
Image via Wikipedia

The Heartland Institute, reports the Guardian, are claiming that the internal memo which appears to show that they are working on plans to “dissuade teachers from teaching science” is a “total fake”.

Heartland had earlier admitted that other documents published alongside the memo were genuine, but later backtracked on that.

They then went on to refuse to discuss the matter – including, it would appear, the issue of whether the controversial memo was a fake – any further.

Much of the material in the memo is similar to that in the other documents that Heartland had earlier admitted to be genuine. But only the memo contains the statement that the ultimate aim of Heartland is to cripple science teaching through fear.

The original publishers of the leaked documents, the DeSmog blog, are standing by their story.

Why do people hate Apple redux

Image representing Apple as depicted in CrunchBase
Image via CrunchBase

The Guardian has an interesting piece called “why do people hate Apple“, which makes some telling points but I do not think really gets there.

I suppose I should begin by saying I don’t “hate Apple” – in fact I think their products are quite nice if hideously over-priced. But I do have a bit of contempt, I must admit, for those people who tell me they like Apple because “it’s so easy” – somewhat like the fashion, sadly continuing, of boasting by arts and humanities graduates of how little they know of maths or science (scientists do not do the same back).

Apple is “easy” because you are restricted to buying their over-priced hardware, it is as simple as that. If they control the hardware they control the drivers and so you have to do what they say.

OK, you may feel that the time it would take you to learn how to install your own hardware is worth every penny. But your lack of knowledge is hardly something to boast of as though you were superior to those of us who do know how to do it, is it?

(Though the problems people sometimes have with hardware on their Windows machine is because of the broken business model that too many hardware manufacturers operate under. The real choices are – grip the operating system and the hardware so the two move in absolute tandem, as with Apple – or free the hardware specification so that FOSS drivers appear, for free. Being a hardware manufacturer but being forced to chase after Microsoft’s Windows ABI is surely the worst of both worlds. On this point I do think Eric S. Raymond is right.)

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