Bitcoin

Cybercurrencies are here to stay.  Maybe Bitcoin is too, but not at the levels it currently holds.  Tulips are still here, but the tulip mania of the 1630s has passed.  Bitcoin was originally intended to be a medium of exchange that would be insulated from almost all external control.  This anonymity made it an excellent means of exchange for illegal activities, most recently illustrated by the fact that most of the ransomware attacks on private data have demanded payment in Bitcoin.

Bitcoin transactions are recorded by blockchain, which is like an old accounting ledger.  It contains every Bitcoin transaction, although looking at blockchain from the outside, you can tell that a transaction is verified, but you cannot tell who the parties were or how much Bitcoin was involved.  As one of the parties to the transaction, however, you can pull out the specific information.  So, if Elon Musk for example says you never paid him for your Tesla, you can prove that you did using blockchain. 

The Economist magazine recently explored what would happen to the financial markets if Bitcoin went to zero.  It illustrates how far Bitcoin has come from mainly being a payment mechanism for drug dealers and other criminals to store of value rivaling gold bullion.  Many old school financial institutions — banks, hedge funds, and payment systems like PayPal — have begun to invest in and accept Bitcoin.  The Economist speculates that a Bitcoin crash would also crash the broader financial markets, and the more widely accepted Bitcoin becomes, the bigger the crash would be.  Because there is so much speculation today in Bitcoin, much of the investment is leveraged, likely leading to margin calls and liquidations in the event of a Bitcoin crash. 

The Economist says that “because changing dollars for bitcoin is slow and costly, traders wanting to realize gains and reinvest proceeds often transact in stablecoins” pegged to the dollar, like Tether.  The fact that traders think Bitcoin transactions are slow and costly is ironic, since Bitcoin was conceived as a payment mechanism.  But the reliance on Tether and other stablecoins creates problems for these currencies, which are somewhat like money market funds that are vulnerable if they are insufficiently backed, which many regulators believe they are. 

It is ironic that as Bitcoin has become seen as a store of value, it has become less used as a transaction mechanism, which was its original purpose.  But many Bitcoin proponents tout Bitcoin as a way for the poor, unbanked people around the world to participate in the financial system with their wealthier cohorts. 

Because of that prospect of some kind of cybercoin becoming a worldwide medium of exchange, central banks around the world, like the US Federal Reserve, are looking a creating cybercurrencies that would not have some of the negative aspects of Bitcoin.  If cybercurrencies become widespread, will that take some of the luster off of Bitcoin. 

Bitcoins will always represent the massive amounts of energy that were required to produce them.  This unenvironmental aspect of Bitcoin is supposedly what make Elon Musk change his mind and refuse to accept Bitcoins for Teslas.  If Bitcoin were to go to zero, that would be an awful lot of wasted energy and greenhouse gases. 

Bitcoin will have to find its long-term value.  When it was first being mined, it was worth a few thousand dollars.  I would guess that in the long term, it will return to something like that, less than $10,000 per Bitcoin.  It will retain some value as a medium of exchange for criminals, since national cybercurrencies will be more traceable.  Also, national central banks will probably be able to print their new cybercurrencies like the Fed now prints paper dollars, making the new currencies less valuable as a hedge against inflation. 

GoDaddy ftp Problems

GoDaddy’s ftp connection for their websites does not work like most ftp connections do.  For most ftp connections, the address starts with ftp, as in ftp.website.com, but GoDaddy wants you to leave off the ftp prefix. 

I could not connect by ftp to my GoDaddy website, it-handy.com.  I tried for a long time to figure out what was wrong – my password, my user id, etc.  Nothing was wrong except the address of the ftp connection. 

5G Mobile Speeds Are Exaggerated

According to Wired Magazine:

US MOBILE CUSTOMERS are almost never able to connect to millimeter-wave networks—even though the cellular industry, and Verizon in particular, have spent years hyping the fastest form of 5G.Ars Technica

This story originally appeared on Ars Technica, a trusted source for technology news, tech policy analysis, reviews, and more. Ars is owned by WIRED’s parent company, Condé Nast.

AT&T and T-Mobile customers with devices capable of using millimeter-wave networks were connected to mmWave 5G only 0.5 percent of the time during the 90-day period between January 16 and April 15, 2021, according to an Opensignal report released Wednesday. Even on Verizon, the carrier with the most aggressive rollout of mmWave 5G, users with compatible devices spent 0.8 percent of their time on the high-frequency network that uses its large capacity to provide faster speeds than low- and mid-band spectrum. Average download speeds on mmWave 5G were 232.7 Mbps for AT&T, 215.3 Mbps for T-Mobile, and 692.9 Mbps for Verizon. ADVERTISEMENT

China’s Cyber Currency

From an Economist newsletter:

Nearly four in five transactions in China occur via mobile phones. The tech giants processing those payments have become too mighty for the government’s liking. So it has been experimenting with its own state-backed digital currency. Such a mechanism would allow the government to transfer cash to the poor and underbanked more quickly, as well as giving the state more scrutiny over financial flows. The People’s Bank of China will today begin its latest trial of the concept in Chengdu, a city in the country’s south-west. The bank has granted residents there a total of 200,000 vouchers, worth a combined 40.2m yuan ($6.2m), which can be used at certain local and online retailers for the next 16 days. Officials have spoken of impressing visitors with a fully-implemented, national e-currency by the time they visit Beijing for the Winter Olympics, to be held next February. That may be an Olympian challenge.

Returning from Vietnam

The media focus on current and former military members’ involvement in the January 6 assault on the Capitol makes me wonder how much longer Americans will honor those who serve in the military.  The press reported that the FBI was investigating the backgrounds of the thousands of National Guardsmen who were called to protect the Capitol during Biden’s inauguration, and that several were told to leave because of detrimental information found about them.

It reminds me of the horrible way that Vietnam veterans were treated by their fellow Americans when they returned from Vietnam.  I was not actually spit on, and I don’t know anybody who was, but there was a lot of contempt for veterans, even to the point of calling them baby-killing war criminals.  On one hand it is good that there is a Vietnam memorial to remember those killed in Vietnam; on the other, the memorial is anything but heroic.  It could be interpreted as a dark slash in the ground, a stark recognition of those who tragically wasted their lives by dying in Vietnam.

It is interesting that the Vietnam memorial was built before the World War II memorial.  World War II veterans were widely respected for their service, although the movie “The Best Years of Our Lives” shows that many WW II veterans faced the same kinds of problems that Vietnam veterans faced.  Nevertheless, no one felt when they returned that they needed a memorial.  Their service was memorial enough.

The World War II memorial and the various Confederate memorials that are being torn down followed similar paths.  Neither set of veterans felt that they needed a memorial, but as they began to die off in greater and greater numbers, the people left behind, often wives and daughters, worked to build them memorials to preserve their memory.

I fear that after a generation of honoring veterans, mainly starting after the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center, we are moving back to suspicion of veterans.  Now, instead of being war criminals returning from Vietnam, they are pictured as traitors, insurrectionists, white supremacists who are dangers to the nation.  Now the proportion of the populations serving in the military is even smaller than it was during Vietnam, meaning that less and less of the population has any personal understanding of what military service is like.  No recent President has served in the military, and few senior political or other public officials have.  How many of the “talking heads” pontificating about American politics on TV have served?  Not many.  There is a group of veterans in the Congress, mostly because of 9/11, but it will probably shrink as time goes on.

I worry that people will more and more view the military as something subversive, a hotbed of Nazi sympathizers and white supremacists, and thus military service will become less and less respected and more and more suspected.

Russian Hacking

The media is overly excited about the Russian hacking using the SolarWinds update process.

First, was it Russia?  It seems likely that it was Russia, but not certain.  Anyone who is good enough to develop the SolarWinds hack would be smart enough to cover his tracks.  He may not have covered them perfectly, and we may be able to track down the hacker, but he may also have successfully covered his tracks.  He could be a Chinese hacker who copied the trademark signatures of the Russian hackers and who routed his hacks through Russian servers or websites.  It could be a hacker anywhere who did the same thing.  It requires computer expertise, but there are a lot of computer geniuses out there, including in the Middle East and Latin America.  I am surprised that no one has mentioned Edward Snowden in connection with the hacking.  He is a computer genius living in Russia who knows American computer security extremely well.  Is it possible that the Russians have gotten some help from him?

Second, I think that whatever this was, it was not an attack or the start of a war.  It looks more like intelligence gathering and testing of hacking techniques.  The test worked pretty well, since it went undetected for six months, but of course there may be other hacks out there that have been even more successful and have still not been detected.  In any case, nothing major has been damaged.  They have not even emulated the ransomware hackers, who have captured and held important data from hospitals and government offices for ransom.  They have not shut down the electric grid or turned off the water or sewage treatment in any cities.

I doubt that the hackers knew exactly what organizations they were going to be hacking into.  They knew that SolarWinds had lots of important clients, but they probably weren’t sure exactly which ones they would end up getting access to.  They may have succeeded far beyond their expectations, or it might have gone exactly as planned.  We don’t know.  Were their main targets government agencies, or private companies?  We don’t know.  The fact that the hackers did not steal money indicates to me that they were probably government-backed, and not private citizens hacking for fun and profit.

Sen. Mitt Romney compared the hack to the US invasion of Iraq, when we took out many of Iraq’s communications hubs with our missiles.  I do not think this is an appropriate comparison.  The hackers did not use their weapons, if indeed they have weapons that could bring down facilities in the US.  It was like developing and demonstrating new missiles, putting the enemy on notice that you have these capabilities and can use them if you choose to.  But they (whoever they are) have not chosen to.  But just as Saddam should have been wary of provoking the US, we should beware of provoking these hackers.

As nations develop new weapons they often turn to arms control to prevent the new weapons from leading to war.  We don’t have much experience with arms control type agreements for computer hacking, but some of the same principles apply, like Reagan’s maxim, “Trust buy verify.”  I am not sure how you verify an agreement to control hacking.  Bombs and missiles usually need to be tested in the open, where detection by satellites or other means is often possible.  Hackers can experiment on their own internal networks, which may be difficult or impossible for outsiders to monitor.  Of course the best test would be to see if you can penetrate the actual defenses of the country or business you might want to attack in the future.

Nevertheless, arms control agreements are like speed limits.  Not everyone obeys them, but they set standards of behavior and provide a basis for at least discussing violations, if not definitively proving and punishing them.

Another complication is non-state actors who hack for their own personal purposes.  It is a lot easier for an individual or small group to hack into a network than it would be for them to develop a bomb or missile.  Governments have developed systems for dealing with violent terrorists that are different from those for dealing with other governments.  We already have criminal penalties for individual hackers although they may be hard to apply to hackers operating from foreign countries.

I think it is worthwhile to begin discussions of some kind of arms control agreement covering hacking to get some idea of what’s possible and what’s not.  In an ideal world leading tech countries would work together to control individual bad actors and well as to monitor each other’s conduct.

5G Cellphone Upgrade

The 5G upgrade still has a long way to go.  This Wired article explains that 5G operates in three different radio frequency ranges, basically low, medium, and high.  The real, revolutionary changes expected from 5G really come from use of the high frequency ranges, in the millimeter band.  The higher the frequency, the higher the rate of data transmission, and 5G is all about fast data.

The problem is that shorter wavelengths have shorter ranges and cannot penetrate much of anything, like walls.  To get the higher speeds, there would have to be cell towers very close together, many more than we have now, and very close to the people using their phones.  According to the Wall Street Journal, the new cell towers are already running into resistance as they are installed across the US.  The Journal also reports that in one of the countries most wired for 5G, South Korea, it doesn’t work that well.  One place 5G is supposed to be available is in NFL stadiums. This is partly because there are no walls blocking spectators off from the 5G cell transmitters.  Even there, it sounds like the coverage is not universal, as Venturebeat reports.

5G will probably work in the lower, slower parts of the new 5G wavelength spectrum, but that does not offer the quantum leap in capability that the high end offers.  And you wonder, if 5G receptivity is spotty, can you depend on it to drive your AI car?   Venturebeat reports that Qualcomm has doubled its 5G mmWave range to 2.36 miles for broadband modems, but the announcement says it is specific to broadband modems, not to smartphones.  Current 5G might be more suitable to small, compact facilities, like college campuses or industrial parks, rather than to general public use.  Perhaps further breakthroughs in mmWave technology will make it more generally available.

 

Dreamweaver FTP Connection

I have been using an old version of Adobe Dreamweaver to edit the code for my websites. Suddenly it quit working. Standalone FTP programs like FileZilla and Coffee Cup FTP worked. I tried changing all the Dreamweaver settings I could think of, but nothing worked. I found other Dreamweaver users had the same or a similar problem:

Dreamweaver 9/CS3 FTP stopped working, cannot connect any more

FTP Errpr in Adobe Dreamweaver

This question had no working answers, but as some of these answers suggested, I contacted my web hosting company WebHosting Pad.com, and they gave me the answer. I had not changed the FTP settings for weeks, maybe months, before the FTP quit working. The answer to the question, “What folder on the server do you want to store your files in?” had been /home/me/public_html. It turns out that the correct entry was only public_html, without the folders above it.

A Book DataBase

I have posted a new website, A Book DataBase, (abkdb.com) that uses MySQL, PHP, HTML, Bootstrap, and other coding to catalog the books in a personal library.  If it works correctly, since I am still testing it, it should allow you to log in, enter, list, edit, or delete books that will be associated with your login ID.

I will keep working on it to try to make it more attractive and easier to use.

You are welcome to try it out.