Bitcoin: Future of Money, or Scam?

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I haven’t posted for a while because I have been researching Bitcoin, an anonymous form of online “crypto-currency” that has been popping up in the news. Some are calling it the future of money. The most popular answer from a software developer posting on the Q&A site Quora calls it “a scam.” I still don’t fully grasp the mechanics of how Bitcoin works, but the news is piling up. What has gotten the most attention is the use of Bitcoins to pay for drugs through a peer-to-peer network called Silk Road. It was first widely reported on June 1 on Gawker. That attracted the attention of two U.S. senators who are now calling for a federal investigation of Silk Road. The association of Bitcoin with Silk Road is triggering official scrutiny of Bitcoin. Obviously, governments do not like unofficial currency floating around. But it is not clear whether authorities can do anything to end its use. Bitcoin likely will thrive or fail based on whether users remain confident that it has transferable value. I figured that a good way to help me understand Bitcoin is to try and get some for myself. That, however, is not something simple and easy to do. More
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Cloud Computing, like you, will have bad days

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Beanstalk to the Cloud

Questions about the reliability of cloud computing emerged again this week when Amazon’s cloud-computing services suffered an outage that partially or completely disrupted Foursquare, Reddit, Hootsuite, Quora, and hundreds of other online services. The New York Times echoed the concerns that some businesses had as a result of the outage: “Amazon Malfunction Raises Cloud Computing Doubts.” The article also quoted an industry executive who had an apt observation:

The Amazon interruption, said Lew Moorman, chief strategy officer of Rackspace, a specialist in data center services, was the computing equivalent of an airplane crash. It is a major episode with widespread damage. But airline travel, he noted, is still safer than traveling in a car — analogous to cloud computing being safer than data centers run by individual companies.

“Every day, inside companies all over the world, there are technology outages,” Mr. Moorman said. “Each episode is smaller, but they add up to far more lost time, money and business.”

This weeks outage only affected a tiny percentage of all the users of cloud-computing services. Netflix, for example, relies on the same Amazon data services and suffered no problems. I didn’t have trouble accessing my Gmail or my photos on Facebook. All that stuff is in the “cloud.” I was waiting for a good explanation about what happened at the Amazon Elastic Cloud Compute (EC2) center in northern Virginia, but I’ve decided I probably wouldn’t really understand the technical stuff anyway (excessive re-mirroring of Elastic Block Storage (EBS) volumes?). There will be outages in the future. Businesses will suffer. I will be irritated that I can’t get into Reddit or whatever is down. These things happen. Your computer will break. You’ll have trouble connecting to the Internet. Your car will break down. You deal with it. The problem at Amazon will be fixed. New problems will pop up, there and elsewhere. Of course, you can choose to avoid cloud services. Or you can be like Microsoft, which is spending $8.64 billion this year in cloud research and development.

Reddit’s dysfunctional charm

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I’m not a Reddit guy…yet. But it’s hard to avoid the creative, entertaining, and sometimes informative overflow that comes from this community. Plunge yourself into the realm of “subreddits,” where you can spend hours exploring topics such as Advice Animals, Today I Learned (TIL), Ask Reddit, First World Problems, or Pics. It all came crashing down yesterday, when Amazon’s cloud computing services suffered an outage that impacted Reddit, Foursquare, Quora, Hootsuite, and a number of other websites. This was my favorite tweet from a Reddit user confronting the reality of the situation:

I woke up this morning and found Reddit was still experiencing problems. In the title of this post, I said Reddit has a “dysfunctional charm.” Reddit was also down last month. It is notoriously underfunded. Just take a look at its headquarters in these photos. You apparently can see three of Reddit’s four employees. And yet it has ONE BILLION pageviews a month. I’m rooting for Reddit. I want it to flourish. Even when it was really down yesterday, it maintained a sense of humor (note No. 4):

The unloved orphan: Your unanswered Quora question

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How far removed must two family members be (who share the same bloodline) for their sexual relationship to no longer be considered incest?
Question added to topic Sex. 11:36pm on Friday • 0 Answers • Follow

Have you tried Quora? You go to the website, ask a question, and supposedly somebody with some knowledge on the subject will provide you an answer. Sometimes you get an answer straight from a key player, such as when the John Borthwick, the CEO of bit.ly, the URL shortener using the Libyan .ly, responded to this question: “What will happen to http://bit.ly links if Gaddafi shuts down the Internet in Libya due to protests?” So-called Q&A sites are hot, and Quora is red-hot with hype. The developers are trying to create social places with quality content, and that is a worthy goal. But can Quora avoid degenerating into a Yahoo! Answers site? That has been the biggest fear of the Quora enthusiasts. And their fear is being realized. Let us examine some unanswered Quora questions:

Is it true that Taco Bell uses a “meat hose” to create their tasty, tasty tacos? (and burritos, etc). Or is it just an urban myth?
Question added to topic Taco Bell. Jan 25, 2011 • 0 Answers • Follow

Is the diced carrot in vomit actually stomach lining?
Question added to topic Vomit. Jan 13, 2011 • 0 Answers • Follow

Has Justin Bieber been baptized?
Question added to topic Justin Bieber. 11:43pm on Sunday • 0 Answers • Follow