Quarantine Diaries Day Five

So. Coronavirus Global Quarantine. The government locked us down Monday evening. Fortunately we had anticipated that that might happen so we hit the grocery earlier that day. It was the sweet spot – the week before and through the weekend people were panic buying so the grocery was packed with people, many of whom weren’t wearing masks and no one was observing any kind of social distancing. The lines were mega long and the wait to check out was two to three hours. When we shopped, the grocery had implemented procedures for people to follow. The shoppers being let in were limited and you had to wait your turn so that the grocery wouldn’t be packed. Some things were unavailable (70% alcohol, various canned goods like sardines, tuna and Spam) but we got most of the stuff we wanted.

That evening the lockdown was announced. All public transport was shut down, all non-critical government offices were closed and travel between cities was restricted. Basic services remained open, including supermarkets, drug store and water stations, but it was some small comfort that we had provisions for at least a couple of weeks. We didn’t need to go out and would burn though our supplies as needed.

It was Thursday when the first critical item ran out – bottled water. Fortunately the place that provisioned us was right next door and was operating, so we blew a bit of cash and doubled our standby stock. Where we’d normally need a resupply in under a week, we could now hold out for ten days or so. We’d been cooking daily, using the fresh meats and vegetables from our supply run, and saving the less perishable stuff for later. It’s now Saturday. We’ve survived through the lockdown as well as we might have expected. The only lingering questions are all economic, but that’s what’s on everyone’s mind anyway.

The virus continues to spread through our county, and throughout the rest of the world, even if the Chinese and Koreans claim that they’ve gotten it under control. Until the test for the virus becomes unlimited, free and easily accessible, there’s no way to tell how many asymptomatic infected there are still walking around and spreading the contagion. Any vaccine is at least a year away, probably more.

There is going to be a new normal soon. What that looks like, and how life will be under that normal, remains to be seen.

The End of the Force

“Carrie Fisher was the original Star Wars princess, that was adept at both harnessing her appeal without a sex scene, as well as taking out the bad guys. She was succeeded by Natalie Portman’s Padme Amidala, Daisy Ridley’s Rey Skywalker (wink) and Felicity Jones’s Jyn Erso. I suppose it’s unfortunate that it all begins with the iconic golden bikini, but everything that follows is Carrie Fisher’s legacy.”

Me, December 28, 2016

I wrote the above paragraph two years ago after seeing Gareth Edwards’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and after the passing of Carrie Fisher. After seeing J.J. Abrams’s The Rise of Skywalker a second time, the final installment of the Star Wars Sequel not-Trilogy (it has less coherence than the popularly reviled Prequel Trilogy), I found it interesting that the final chapters of the star-crossed saga may have depended far too much on Carrie Fisher’s stalwart presence. (And yes, I ended up predicting the last two words of the Saga two years in advance. Not happily, though.)

Much has already been said about the mess that was the story arc of the sequels; I’m not going to rehash that here. All I’ll say is that there’s no point to making a sequel if all you’re going to do is rehash the story from the original trilogy, and bring back all of the characters. Even the dead ones. Especially the dead one that was already the antagonist for both the original AND the prequel trilogies.

This was especially disappointing because when Disney took over from Lucas, there was a sprawling and well-developed post-trilogy universe. They decanonized most of it to give the Mouse a free hand in crafting stories in the universe after the death of Palpatine in Return of the Jedi. Losing that massive trove of stories and characters to clear the way for the sequel trilogy now feels like swapping a dollar for two dimes. This is not to say that Rey, Kylo Ren, Poe Dameron, Rose Tico and the rest of the characters introduced in the sequel are unworthy, but to say that to lose Thrawn, Mara Jade, Kyle Katarn & Corran Horn, Jacen & Jaina Solo, Darth Revan & Bastila Shan and many others from the Canon leaves the overall Star Wars universe much, much poorer.

Ultimately the Star Wars narrative is lost to corporate interests and control. The decision-makers, in the absence of a knowledgeable unifying force, default to formula, because formula tends to print money regardless of its being bankrupt of originality or artistry. Where taking chances on new characters and stories and letting go of the myths while building on them is the direction that storytellers would opt for, the disappointing default to the same old same old is what we got.

My Cryptocurrency Chronicles, Part 2

Binance

So a few things changed in the cryptocurrency landscape over the three years that I’d ignored it. One was that Bitcoin was no longer alone. When I first looked into BTC, there were very few other cryptocurrencies. Litecoin was new and Dogecoin was what it was intended to be – a joke. Over 2016, while BTC was mired in the $200-800 trading range, myriad other cryptocurrencies were launched and began to take up space in the market. Bitcoin was no longer dominant after this revolution, dropping from being most of the market to being around half of the market in terms of volume. Foremost among these new cryptos was Ether, which was different. It wasn’t just a store of value, it was a platform for creating utility tokens on the blockchain. These tokens, called ETH20s, spawned an entire new class of cryptocurrencies. More on this later.

Another phenomenon came from Bitcoin itself. Since by design the Bitcoin mining network was made up of individual miners, they on occasion had disagreements about how the network and its technology would move forward. This led to “forks” in the Bitcoin blockchain, with the non-“main” fork becoming its own cryptocurrency and “gifting” all holders of BTC at the fork point in the blockchain with equivalent currency. This meant that when I opened my Bitcoin private key, I was also given access to two new digital assets “for free” – Bitcoin Cash (BCH) and Bitcoin Gold (BCG). Each was valued in the thousands of dollars, increasing the returns from that original $2,000 investment.

All of this has led to a proliferation of “wallets” (apps and sites) that store your cryptocurrency for you and allow you to send and receive cryptocurrency. The other service that has become indispensable is the “exchange”, apps and sites that allow you to trade your cryptocurrencies among each other. These function like cryptocurrency stock markets, providing pricing at which users buy and sell along established pairs of cryptos. This is usually altcoins paired against Bitcoin and Ether, and a few other options depending on the exchange. You can also withdraw funds, trading your crypto for real world cash of “fiat”, but this carries many restrictions depending on where the exchange is based and where the user (or his bank account) resides.

Finally, there is the wild, wild world of Initial Coin Offerings or ICOs. Everyone and his sister is coming up with new altcoins, based on all sorts of premises and even technologies. These coins, or tokens, are offered at first to a supposedly select number of people that sign up for the ICO, at what is characterized as a great deal. Similar to a mundane Initial Public Offering for real-world shares in companies, the hope is that you buy at the lowest price at the initial offering, and that the asset appreciates (quickly). Many choose to sell the asset after the initial appreciation, locking in gains and reinvesting in the next initial offering. The difference is that real world stock markets are regulated and overseen by both government regulators and private watchdogs. There is no such equivalent for cryptocurrencies. ICO whitepapers (when they exist) can be a mishmash of marketing speak and obfuscation, hiding the lack of utility of many tokens offered at ICOs. This has also given rise to the (unethical) “Pump and Dump” approach, where some people (who may be affiliated with the offering or merely speculators) convincing small groups of people to bid up an altcoin (pump) then selling their own stack of crypto at the peak (dump). There are a lot of gullible people on the internet, as I’m sure all of you know.

So. The first thing I did with my recovered BTC is join an ICO.

(To be continued…)

My Cryptocurrency Chronicles, Part 1

alt-cryptocurrencies

I got into cryptocurrency in late 2013. I’d read a few articles on the subject of blockchain technology and Bitcoin (BTC) and found the subject fascinating. In particular, the acknowledged shadowy founder of the technology, “Satoshi Nakamoto“, was found to be not real person but a pseudonym for an individual or group. It was kind of insane that a manufactured digital “asset” could carry so much value existed.

I found out that the tech guy I worked with, Greg, was an early adopter of Bitcoin. He had a few hundred secured by printing the private keys on paper. Having bought in at sub-$100 levels, he was pretty much set. At that time BTC was already extremely volatile, and had bounced between prices from $600 to $1,200 in a span of weeks. After a couple of weeks of talking about it, one day he went on Coinbase, bought $2,000 worth of BTC (it was trading at about $800 at the time, so that was roughly 2.5BTX) and sent it to me. To this day he still hasn’t sent me his bank (fiat) information so I’ve been unable to pay him. So I still owe him $2,000, and will gladly pay interest, whether in crypto or fiat.

The Mt. Gox incident happened in early 2014, tanking the value of BTC into the low hundreds. I changed jobs at the time, and lost touch with Greg, so forgot about the BTC and took my eye off of the cryptocurrency space. While I wish I’d stayed aware of it so maybe I might have noticed the surge before it happened, I’m already fortunate to have had 2.5BTC in my possession by pure luck, so I can’t be overly upset.

Still, it’s pretty dumb of me that I only realized that cryptocurrency had exploded in 2017, in December. Or maybe I was fortunate that I realized it at all. My current job has disconnected me from the technology crowd and space, and I only retain that connection with effort through other channels. So my 2.5 BTC was worth what it cost, or more frequently even less, all the way until the end of 2016. It reentered my consciousness just as the value fell from its ~$20,000 peak in mid-December 2017, because one of my ex-coworkers in the tech space posted about an ICO on Facebook.

coindesk-bpi-chart

So I frantically had to relocate my BTC key information. Over the waning days of 2017 I try to find the information. The paper key is pretty much lost after moving three times across two countries over the last three years. So I struggle to sift through email and chat histories until I find some account information, but no password. So I have to wrack my brain for that.

It still surprises me when I think of it, but I remembered the password to the place that the BTC was stored in based on the “forgot password” prompt of the site. The chances that I’d forget a password (particularly the way I make passwords – they’re all unique and I never reuse) after three years of not using it at all are pretty high. So, again, kind of lucky.

So New Year’s Eve is a couple of days away, and I just regained access to my 2.5BTC that was purchased for $2,000 in October 2013. It’s December 29, 2017, and that’s now worth just under $30,000 for a gain of 1,400%. It’s not life-changing money (and it’s not even money, yet) but it’s a windfall.

(To be continued.)

The Binge Watch

GLOW

Much has been written about the change in media consumption, particularly the small screen. Twenty years ago, we were in the era of “appointment television” and “prime time” show slots and “lead-ins” were important to the success of a show. People had to have the opportunity to be at home and in front of a TV set in order for a show to have a chance to attract sufficient viewership to make it a success. Seasons were twenty-three or so episodes long, translating into an equivalent number of weeks. Each week, the show engaged its audience, who then had to wait another week to see the next installment. The art of the dramatic cliffhanger was at a premium to keep people coming back for more.

Fast forward to today. People can watch “TV shows” anywhere, via the magic of streaming. Appointment TV is gone, and entire seasons of shows drop on the same date. Seasons are different as well, with ten episodes (or less) becoming the norm for an annual dose of a show. Thus the “binge watch” is now a thing, with viewers devouring whole seasons of shows in a weekend or less. The streaming services have also unleashed the vaults of media companies, with the full history of television accessible to the world on demand. I can imagine people experiencing the entire runs of shows like The X-Files, or even the entire spectrum of franchises like Star Trek and CSI in short spans of time.

Game of Thrones is supposed to be the last stand of appointment TV, the final bastion of “monoculture” where the world watches an episode together and spends a week talking about what happened and what might happen. It’s the morning after watercooler conversation taken to its apex by social media. And then there are shows like GLOW, where ten 30-minute episodes are considered a “responsibility” by its creators since there is no guarantee they’ll get any more time to tell a longer story and they need to have a degree of closure after the entire season drops.

It’s an amazing time, where the ways of telling stories are evolving, and the medium of the small screen is unfettered by new channels. When the business models of the media companies reach a point where “when” is no longer as important as “how good”, and all that matters is that people can just find the art that appeals to them, new vistas are opened to storytellers and artists. It’s not that things have gotten easier, it’s that things have been democratized to an extent. Once this new model is supported by more flexible and robust financing avenues for small creators to be able to deliver their work via wide streaming, then a new age of this medium will truly begin.