Beyond the Bitcoin Bubble

Excerpts from a really good article by Steven Johnson in the New York Times.

The real promise of these new technologies, many of their evangelists believe, lies not in displacing our currencies but in replacing much of what we now think of as the internet, while at the same time returning the online world to a more decentralized and egalitarian system. If you believe the evangelists, the blockchain is the future. But it is also a way of getting back to the internet’s roots.

After a period of experimentation in which we dabbled in social-media start-ups like Myspace and Friendster, the market settled on what is essentially a proprietary standard for establishing who you are and whom you know. That standard is Facebook.

What Nakamoto ushered into the world was a way of agreeing on the contents of a database without anyone being “in charge” of the database, and a way of compensating people for helping make that database more valuable, without those people being on an official payroll or owning shares in a corporate entity.

If you think the internet is not working in its current incarnation, you can’t change the system through think-pieces and F.C.C. regulations alone. You need new code.

[If you cannot get to the NYT article]

Blockchain metaphors

As Blockchain gains more acceptance (not talking about cryptocurrencies now but the underlying tech) I’m seeing more and more metaphors that try to help people grasp the concept. This article compares Blockchain to sharing Google Docs, as opposed to bouncing a MS Word doc back and forth. The DNA metaphor didn’t really work for me. My favorite was the transparent safes (from online forum Bitcoin Talk).

“Imagine there are a bunch of safes lined up in a giant room somewhere. Each safe has a number on it identifying it, and each safe has a slot that allows people to drop money into it. The safes are all made of bulletproof glass, so anybody can see how much is in any given safe, and anybody can put money in any safe. When you open a bitcoin account, you are given an empty safe and the key to that safe. You take note of which number is on your safe, and when somebody wants to send you money, you tell them which safe is yours, and they can go drop money in the slot.”

This reminds me of the early days of “the cloud” and how people struggled to comprehend where their files were if they weren’t on their computer.

AI in Voice Forensics

AI is now so advanced that it can reveal far more about you than a mere fingerprint. By using powerful technology to analyse recorded speech, scientists today can make confident predictions about everything from the speaker’s physical characteristics – their height, weight, facial structure and age, for example – to their socioeconomic background, level of income and even the state of their physical and mental health.

Your voice can give away plenty of environmental information, too. For example, the technology can guess the size of the room in which someone is speaking, whether it has windows and even what its walls are made of. Even more impressively, perhaps, the AI can detect signatures left in the recording by fluctuations in the local electrical grid, and can then match these to specific databases to give a very good idea of the caller’s physical location and the exact time of day they picked up the phone.

One of the leading scientists in this field is Rita Singh of Carnegie Mellon University’s Language Technologies Institute. Interview with Ms. Singh

The world was running out of cassette tape

Although the birth and growth of audio cassettes began in the 1960s, its cultural moment took place during the 1970s and 1980s as a more effective, convenient and portable way of listening to music.

By the time I started working at KBOA in 1972, portable cassette players were finally starting to get affordable. Instead of having to coax people into a studio to do an interview we could not take a cassette recorder into “the field” and get the interview with “nat(ural) sound.” It was wonderful.

Cassette audio tapes were a part of my life for the next 30 years. During my years at the station and later — at a regional news network company — we bought a lot of audio tape cartridges from a company in Springfield, Missouri, called National Audio Company. A former coworker sent me the story below. A few excerpts:

Nobody has made audio cassette tape in this country since about 1983 or 1984. […] National Audio is set to begin production this month, having rescued a 62-foot tape-coating line weighing 20 tons from obscurity. Its former owner had converted it into a machine for making credit-card strips. […] Soon, the tape coater will be back to its original purpose, after many months of reassembly and testing. It will crank out 20,000 feet of tape per minute.

If you have (as I do) fond memories of audio cassette tapes, I think you’ll find this story worth a read.

Telemedicine

“A partnership between New York-Presbyterian (hospital) and Walgreens is pushing telemedicine further into the mainstream. NYP announced Monday that its physicians will be accessible remotely for non-life-threatening illnesses through Walgreens’ online portal and self-service kiosks at select Walgreen-owned Duane Reade locations in New York. The partnership is an expansion of NYP’s OnDemand platform for telehealth and mHealth services, which was launched in 2016. For $99 per session, patients can visit secure, private kiosks to be examined by doctors via video chat. The kiosks are also fitted with connected devices for examinations, including blood pressure cuffs, forehead thermometers, and dermatoscopes. Doctors can also send prescriptions to the patient’s preferred pharmacy.”

I’m a supporter of this tech trend. My docs for the last 7 or 8 years have been part of the University of Missouri Health Care system and at least half of my interaction has been on a secure online system (that includes all my records, lab reports, physician notes, etc). It’s been great. I still see my doc when necessary. I’ve been dealing with allergy and sinus issues for months and almost all of that has been online. No idea how much time that has saved me (travel, waiting room, etc) but more importantly, my physician.