Thursday, July 17, 2014

Nanotube capacitors starting to enter the market

In 2006, MIT wrote up the invention of carbon nanotube improved capacitors, saying that if all goes well, the technology should enter the market within five to ten years time. I love reading about potentially disruptive technologies in materials and low level, common components. They really are the hope for us to get enough breathing room to fix the massive financial mess we're all busy digging ourselves into across the first world. But there's a long distance between technology in the lab and technology for sale in real products that make a difference so I filed it in my "check every couple of years" mental category and moved on. I should have checked more often.

The technology is starting to enter the market now, shipping first products in spring of 2013 and it's a major game changer for the economy, one that most people haven't mapped out the implications of yet. The technology was spun out of MIT into FastCAP Systems and they are now offering product to, of all things, the oil and gas drilling field, allowing for the elimination of batteries entirely in the advanced technology of measuring while drilling (MWD) and logging while drilling (LWD) or a doubling of system lifetime when used in conjunction with batteries. These "extreme environment ultracapacitors" are safer than their competition, lithium batteries, as they simply don't explode. Their shipping technology operating temperatures are rated to 150C, which is quite impressive.

But conventional oil and gas drilling is a means to an end for FastCAP as their aim is to reduce drilling expenses and increase drill capacity to viably tap geothermal energy as their technology has been recently validated at Sandia National Labs in use at 200C and the company seems to be going for 250C as a next step. This translates out to MWD/LWD operations out to 8km depths and the ability to extend modern techniques of horizontal drilling to greater depths than before.

All of a sudden, widespread geothermal energy doesn't look as impractical as it did yesterday.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Ni Hao Y'All

I've been remarking for a couple of years that the flow of jobs will reverse and poor areas in the US will start to see work moving from China. What I had in mind was returning US companies. But there seems to be an unexpected bonus. The Chinese are coming.

I should have seen it from the first. If it's cheaper for a US company to build something in the US, it's going to be just as advantageous for China's private businesses to do the same. So why not expand abroad and reduce their political risk while improving their profitability?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Fixing the data loss loophole

The US Congress could, with a pretty small outlay of money, set up a web portal with an API that would allow all executive branches to report data losses within a few days of when they happened. And then we should require that they report within 5 days. We could call it Lois' law. 

Most recently this would have had the effect of chopping two years off the timeline of the IRS scandal and perhaps made it a live issue for the 2012 campaign. Big data analytics might also be deployed on this database to find "data loss hot spots" and better direct where to deploy investigative efforts. The bonus, a lot of hard drives are over $100 dollars so just destroying one is a crime sporting a ten year prison term. You have a lot of leverage at that point to play 'make a deal' in order to get at the underlying politically motivated crimes. 

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Bitcoin as US currency warfare

Still noodling around with bitcoin and learning more about the phenomenon. One of the puzzlers that a number of people are scratching their head about is the cautious support that bitcoin seems to be getting in the US. Why would an inherently deflationary currency attract support from a government that seems so strongly committed to inflating its currency into a creeping devaluation. 

The answer came in an hour long talk with Andreas Antonopoulos that was up on youtube. He forthrightly predicted that bitcoin was eroding all currencies but that the dollar would be the last to fall. In the 'devil take the hindmost' currency world we inhabit, that makes bitcoin an ally of the Fed for now. 

Things do seem to be playing out that way as China subsequently made moves against bitcoin even as it also made moves to work with Russia to supplant the dollar. 

How big is bitcoin? Saturday June 21, 2014

For this post all values are rounded.

As of today bitcoin has created
12,922,000 coins in circulation

At time of writing 1 bitcoin was $594 USD

This puts the total value of the coins at $7.7 billion USD and is roughly equivalent to what the federal reserve calls M0. For USD M0 is $3.9 trillion at present.

If Bitcoin were an economy, it would be the 149th largest in the world slightly larger than Montenegro and slightly smaller than Mauritania.

Ethereum - Bitcoin on steroids

Bitcoin was only the beginning

Ethereum is bitcoin style disruption (blockchain technology) that is generic across anything writable in software. That's huge.

Etherum is not ripe. It's not something you want to devote a lot of resources to but it is something you want to keep your eyes on to monitor because any successful etherum software can disrupt any field of endeavor as bitcoin is disrupting banking. Look to hear about ethereum in a mainstream news outlet near you in mid 2015.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

What is Bitcoin?

Bitcoin is not what you think it is.  This is the sort of thing that comes out when you listen to Bitcoin insiders who actually build the software that makes Bitcoin a thing.
Everyone in this room understands that Bitcoin is not a currency. It is a value transfer network with a decentralized consensus mechanism. 
Translating from techno-geek to poli-geek, Bitcoin makes voluntary polities. In plain english it allows people to congregate into one or more novel, voluntary associations, entering and exiting them at will.

The point of doing that is to establish convenient states of "we" as in we dollar spenders, we mastercard holders, and even we believers in this or that social habit or norm. This is incredibly valuable. It allows participants to exchange value within an enhanced trust set of rules. In the real world, this is a more granular edition of what european countries faced when they looked at joining the euro zone. A number of countries for whom joining was economically a bad idea did it anyway because they saw advantage in adopting a shared identity. Greek euro bonds suddenly sold at nearly the same low interest rates as German euro bonds. The market priced nation state bonds by the identity, and the repayment risk, of the most trustworthy of the big euro economies for years. It took the admission of a massive violation of trust and the rules of the euro (Greece's accounting fraud scandal) before national bond pricing was restored.

In this view, nation-states create a massive bundle of shared values, and a number of them are expressed through the currency. Bitcoin as software allows anyone to express shared values, sometimes economic, sometimes as expressions of solidarity. The politics of which shared values will be expressed is independent of the software. It pretty much can be anything.