Adventures in Bitcoining

Awhile back I posted on my fascination with bitcoin. As it turned out, the post was inspired by the all-time high price of bitcoin . . . up to that point.

Like an idiot, I chose that point, the all-time peak of bitcoin’s value, to make my first foray into buying some. Just a little. A very small investment, so small you could hardly call it an investment.  I was just interested and wanted to stay interested enough to pay attention, but not so interested that it felt the least bit stressful.

My desire for stress-free bitcoining was good, because it lost value (surprising no one) pretty much immediately.

At that point, the value of bitcoin was nearing $1200, though it never quite reached that point in the winter of 2017. The surging commodity? currency? curroddity? failed to secure a stamp of legitimacy from the SEC, causing the digital market to suffer a bit. But after scuttling to the $1,000/BC mark, blockchain-generated bucks did an about face and have doubled in value in under two months.

Market insiders credit an increase in popularity and official acceptance (thank you, Japan) in Asia for the volume trading explosion worldwide. They also attribute the spike in urgency for a currency independent of government/bank oversight to the recent steep drop in confidence in western government (thank you, Donald).

Personally, I think the spike in value has on-the-fence investors afraid of missing an even bigger exponential gain. With the current rate of increasing accelerating seemingly daily, it’s difficult to sit back and watch other people making coin.

There’s no certainty in any of it, though. There have been mass thefts, drug busts, and black market rings aplenty.  The WannaCry ransomware attack of May 2017 demanded payments in bitcoin, making it yet one more instance of digital currency used for sordid trading. I get it. People who need to make their money disappear are bound to find uses for a cryptocurrency that protects anonymity. Yet the system itself is extremely traceable. Literally every transaction is recorded and archived, making it a not entirely safe haven. But still, no certainty. As long as it is the preferred currency of criminals and hackers and, well, nerds, there will still be doubt about its long term viability.

But. When it becomes legal tender at Starbucks, I’m going all in.

Stay tuned. I’ll be updating with posts about bitcoin from time to time. Subscribe if you’d like to stay up to date on such things.

Homeowner’s Contractor Companion—a behind-the-curtain, BS-proof guide to the home improvement estimate, selection, and negotiation process 

I’m a salesman for a home-improvement contractor, Kraz Construction. I’m not a project consultant. I’m not an estimator. I’m not an energy savings specialist. I could call myself any or all of those things, but that would just be the standard nonsense you’d expect from a salesman. I know this because, as I said, I’m a salesman. 

But I try not to be a salesman. You know? The stereotypical salesman is the guy who talks your ear off—slick talker, showman, charmer, blah-blah-blah enthusiast, amirite? 

Even worse than that is the salesman friend. I never want to be that guy. You know the one I’m talking about. The guy who takes the “always be closing” mantra with him to barbecues and high school band concerts, and church. You can’t so much as talk to him about the weather without him trying to sell you an umbrella. The thought of being that pushy, annoying salesman to a total stranger is painful enough; being known as such I’m on my family and friends is a fate worse than death.

But I am a salesman, and that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Yes, I can get you “a deal” on your next home improvement project, what a total stranger can do that for you as well. In many cases, maybe even most cases, some stranger’s company may be a better fit for your needs. My ability to get you “a deal” is not the benefit I want to bring to any relationship. What I do think I can provide is something I’ve learned by being what a real salesman has taught me. 

In my experience, a real salesman doesn’t show and tell nearly as much as he observes and listens.I do my best to listen more than I talk and observe more than I show. And in this proces of taking in more information then I dispense, I’ve learned that what customers want more than windows or siding or new roofs is trust and ease and guidance to a real solution. While I can’t ensure a painless process no matter who comes in to your home to give you a quote, I can help you prepare for the process to give you the best chance at finding a contractor you can trust at the best value for you.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been developing a guide for homeowners to use when searching for a contractor. In it, I’m including:

  • How to prioritize projects 
  • What projects add the most value to your home
  • When is the best time to get which projects done
  • What to look for when choosing which contractor to contact
  • What questions to ask during an estimate
  • Common contractor myths
  • How to negotiate a price

And more. But not much more, that’s just a technique salesmen use to make you think there’s too much great information to list. 

I expect to have the guide complete this weekend. If you’d like to be notified when it is ready, please let me know, and I’ll email it when it’s ready. 

I don’t imagine I will be able to answer every question you may have, but I’m trying to make it as thorough as possible. If you have any questions, I’d be happy to answer them personally. Email, call, or ask any questions you may have in the comments. and happy to help however I can. 

Ecocapsule can make you live like Mork on a cruise ship

I’ve met a fair amount of happy people in my lifetime. There are some people who are just continually happy, but it’s more frequent to just happen to catch someone during a particularly happy moment, like when they’re holding a puppy or eating an ice cream sundae or watching the Cubs win the World Series . . . stuff like that. But maybe no brand of people are happier than the ones I’ve heard talking about their time on a really good cruise.

Now, I assume these people were happier when they were on their cruises than when they were simply reminiscing about said cruises whilst in my company some many months and/or years removed from the miracle of cruise-ship living. I wouldn’t know, as I’ve never been on a cruise to see in person how happy the cruisers really are in the moment. But I can say with some great certainty that the happiness level of a post-cruise person in full-on cruise storytelling mode is right up there with the happiest happiness I’ve ever observed. 

Naturally, I thought of this when I saw the promo video for the Ecocapsule living module. Yeah, I know, it shows people in the middle of an open field living in their little solar-/wind-powered versions of The Bean, not floating in the middle of the Caribbean drinking margaritas, but the ultra-compact living quarters reminds me of what I’ve heard the cabins on cruise ships are like. And it naturally got me thinking about happiness in a really cramped space.

Cruise people are happy, yet they live in tiny rooms with tiny beds and tiny bathrooms and tiny toilets and tiny showers. On a cruise, you have almost no stuff and very possibly no wifi or cell service. What they do have in bountiful supply, however, is experience. And food, sure, loads of food. And drinks. And fun. I find it so intriguing that some of the happiest times many people ever experience come in this environment that is so drastically different from the big-bedded, spacious-roomed, wifi-filled routine of their everyday homes. It’s not a complete mystery, quite the opposite, really. The mindset on a cruise is simple: you don’t go for the room, you go for the experience and luxury of everything on the ship and the various ports and points of interest. But it raises the question, Why don’t we live like that all the time? Why do we make home ownership the single-biggest expense most of us incur? Why make our own personal living quarters the place we spend most of our time? 

Well, some people are making it a point to live quite differently from that norm, and I have to say it triggers the dreaming part of my brain pretty intensely. On one of my daily podcasts, I heard a story about a couple who converted their normal home into a rental and built a small dwelling, not all that different from the Ecocapsule, on the property. They “live” in the tiny module, draw income from their house, and now teach other people to do the same. They spend most of their time traveling off of the income they pull from the training, building, and rental. It sounds pretty awesome.

I don’t know that I plan to put the money down to be one of the first 50 people to live in an Ecocapsule, but I do think it would be a phenomenal experiment and experience to live in a small shell and make the focus of life to soak in the environment, culture, people, and world that surrounds me rather than the comfort and endless streams of entertainment we find in the expanse of our homes.

I’m not a hippie, I swear.

Okay, here’s today’s easy question:

To whom did Mork from Ork report at the end of every episode of Mork & Mindy?

Oh, and the last answer? That dude bought two Papa John’s pizzas for 10,000 bitcoin, the going rate of which is now somewhere in the order of $120,000. Not too shabby.

Bit by Bitcoin

It’s essentially nerd money.

About four years ago I wrote copy for an infographic about bitcoin. I didn’t get paid in bitcoin, but now I wish I had. At the time, it was still relatively new . . . five years old or so. It started with a bunch of nerds, especially one nerd, the Kaiser Soze of nerds, Satoshi Nakamoto (not his/her/their real name, because of course). He/she/they created a digital currency governed by no one, backed by nothing but its code, and worth nothing but the digits it wasn’t even printed on. It was nothing but digital code, strings of it. The initial code block featured 50 bitcoin, worth roughly 50 bits of zilch. But hey, it was fun to have nerd Monopoly money to trade with each other whenever they needed to pay each other to keep track of their codes.

Only, it was genius. The idea was that counterfeiting would be impossible, ever generation of new bitcoin, every single transaction of any kind, would be tracked on everyone’s computer. It rolled out in the beginning of 2009 and, with a few hiccups along the way, has been consistently rising in value and in the extent that it is being taken seriously by international consumers, markets, investors, and retailers. It took a couple of years for the value to build substantially, but the value of the bitcoin reached the same worth as the US dollar by spring of 2011. When I first researched bitcoin in 2013, it spent the year fluctuating from $100 to $1200 and every point in between, normalizing around $600 or so. Its value has been on a bit of a roller coaster ride over the past several years, but still with a general climb. As of today, the value is over $1,200, making this quite possibly the worst time to buy.

Or, it’s just starting to reach the popular level, making it a better time than any. How should I know, I’m no economist.

If it’s still not making sense, here’s a link explaining bitcoin so a five year old could understand it. (Keep in mind, “so a five year old could understand it” is nerdspeak for “so a middle-aged college grad kind of gets it.” Be warned.) 

It’s all just very interesting to me, even if it makes my brain hurt.

So here’s a little bitcoin trivia: In 2010, how much did Laszlo Hanyecz pay in bitcoin for two pizzas from Papa John’s? (Price is Right rules apply; leave your answers in the comments, and I’ll keep them hidden until I reveal the answer.)

Microfossils Are We

Scientists discovered microfossils that appear to be the oldest evidence of life on this planet. Maybe that’s exciting for you, but on days when I wake up feeling like I’m 3.77 billion years old, it’s not as encouraging as one might think to know I’m not alone. I’m sure somewhere among the microfossils there’s someone saying, “Age is just a number,” or, “You don’t look a day over 3.76 billion,” or, “Hey, nerdface, keep staring at rocks in your windowless, loveless corner of the universe and see how old you look in 4 billion years,” but I bet most of them just sound like Steven Wright

Feeling old sucks. You get hurt when you almost fall. You forget which Target you’re in. Hair from the back of your head gets reincarnated on your shoulders. And, maybe worst of all the non-dying things, you realize in some areas of life, you’ve been doing it wrong this whole time. 

But. 

That’s the part that also makes me feel young again. Learning. Learning a better way of living, a better way of looking at the world. Learning to laugh when someone points out you’re being a stooge instead of slapping them like you’re Moe. 

It’s funny, nothing makes me feel younger than learning I don’t know something and that what I don’t know can be known. I realize it’s cryptic, and I realize I’m only 41, and I hope you realize that telling me this is just the beginning of getting old is not what I need right now. But now, I’m going to go learn. 
You could now learn that South America is the home to the most llamas, but I’m sure you knew that. So here’s today’s new trivia:

In what country were the 3.77-ish-year-old microfossils discovered? (Don’t look. Try to remember.)

This message is from a mailing list. 

I still have no idea what this email says. I’m laughing because I’m devoting an entire post to a message I’m too lazy to read, but that can happen when it displays in microfiche form. It’s somewhat hard to believe a company can employ email marketing that goes so horribly wrong when there are so many tools that even a monkey could use

But my insurance company doesn’t own a monkey, so they sent me this as incentive to work out more, maybe. I don’t know. I’ll never know, because I’m not an ant. When I first opened it, I figured it was only a matter of time before the message expanded, but no dice. There it sat in all its infinitesimal glory. Then I laughed as I snapped a screenshot of the embarrassing attempt at piquing my excitement. 

Not only did the format go horribly wrong, but it came paired with a warning that the message came from a mailing list (as opposed to  a tech-challenged relative). 

Here was a classic example of a mailing betrayed by its email marketing service. This kind of thing is inexcusable for anyone paying real money to do this. I know there are a few different services out there, but I recommend AWeber. I’ve found them to be the most reliable for ensuring the entire process goes smoothly, effectively, and in a way that’s easy to test, track, and analyze. You can see how your messages will look on any platform, including my rare, obscure phone with its antiquated . . . oh, who am I kidding, it’s an iPhone 7. (Seriously, how did this company not know their email would look like a postage stamp?)

Oh, and how do you get around the “This message is from a mailing list” warning with the convenient unsubscribe link? Just send valuable content, for starters. And making sure it’s legible isn’t a terrible idea. 

Ok, on to today’s question (sorry it’s late): What continent is home to the most llamas?

Congrats to Nicole (@asmanyasgiven on twitter) for knowing Saturday’s question. 

We’re buggy phones.

Push the power button and volume down button simultaneously for about 10 seconds and reset yo’self.

There’s this podcast, Tim Ferriss. I really know nothing about him or it or anything. I listened to one episode. It featured Krista Tippett. I really don’t know much about her, either. She’s an author, radio host, and all-around smart person. I’d recommend listening to the whole episode, and I won’t even try to tell you what it’s all about other than to say the title of the episode is “Calming Philosophies for Chaotic Times.” Give it a listen, really.

But there was one image that sprang to my mind from listening to it. The idea was that when we get upset, we tend to lose our capacity to listen and think and perform like rational human beings. It happens in standard conversations, on social media, when watching the wrong newscast, anything. We get mad, indignant, whatever, and we shut. down.

It’s like we’re phones. Smart phones. We can do a lot. We’re talented, resourceful, fun, entertaining, delightful people. Most of the time, we work just fine. Stellar, even. Then all of a sudden, we come across a bug, a little gap in our software, and we find ourselves in a situation we just don’t seemed to be programmed to handle right. Typically our speakers still work fine, but we’re stuck playing Megadeth, and our microphones freeze up altogether.

I’m going to stop the metaphor here rather than talking about needing to reset or regularly updating our software or buying an emotional otter box. I’m sure there’s something to be said for all that, being able to reset ourselves mentally. But I think there’s also just something to be said for realizing when someone else might be bugging out, so to speak, and rather than just dismissing the other person as a stupid piece of crap, well . . . maybe just realize they’ve shut down and it might be best to just give them a minute.

I know, we’re people, not phones. But I think it helps to accept other people’s limitations. Recognize when somebody just isn’t in a place where they’re handling the situation all that well. They, shockingly, aren’t perfect. Give them a second. They’ll do better. Or they won’t. But we can do better. We. 
It ain’t trivia, but it’s a question: who the hell is Tim Ferriss?

Planetary Possibilities


It’s Friday, so I’m keeping it light (and late). I was pretty excited to hear the announcement from NASA that a red dwarf solar system was discovered a hop, skip, and a few dozen light years away from here. While it’s highly improbable the planets host life, the question is there. It’s pretty fun to see scientists burst into a frenzy over investigating the possibilities.

There was a time when I felt programmed to think there was no possibility of life on other planets, but I’m ready to meet our intergalactic overlords.

Today(night)’s question: What’s the name of the star around which the seven newly discovered planets revolve?

Transphobia 

So. With the Trump administration’s latest reversal of the previous administration’s policy, we’re back to bathrooms, back to hurling transgender children outside the shield of federal protection while they’re in school. I know millions of parents, and the children they have so carefully taught, feel allowing transgender children into the bathrooms in which they feel naturally comfortable removes a certain protection from their so-called normal children. A few problems with that rationale:

  • Transgender children are not an actual threat or something from which anyone needs to be protected.
  • People who hate someone, or are afraid of someone, on the basis of the child’s gender identity pose a very real and well documented threat to children.
  • There is absolutely nothing normal about being afraid of a child based on whether they believe they are a boy or a girl.

Now, the main arguments I come across opposing any type of acknowledgment of transgender as a legitimate form of existence fall into two categories: those that argue the issue of gender is simple, and those that argue the issue of transgenderism is ridiculous. I want to address both of them rationally, despite the fact that both are obtuse and the latter is downright cruel. I still feel the argument deserves a calm, reasoned approach, because the people I know who hold to these arguments are not otherwise obtuse or cruel. I truly want to draw a line between what I feel about insensitivity and cruelty towards children and what I feel toward those who struggle to see things the way I do. 

I know it’s easy for the issue to seem simple—boys have a penis, girls have a vagina. But we didn’t learn everything we really need to know in kindergarten or watching Kindergarten Cop. While it may seem like an easy answer that any kid with a penis should use a boys bathroom, it’s not. It would possibly be an easy conclusion if gender were strictly a physical issue. But we know it’s not. If it were, if psychology and emotion weren’t an important (and perhaps more important) part of gender, no one would care about this discussion. Girls wouldn’t be concerned about boys peeing in the wrong room outside of their propensity to leave the seat up (or to splatter when they don’t bother to raise it). There would be no psychological or emotional threat or fear if there were nothing but a physical difference between boys and girls. It’s not the physical difference that concerns people, it’s the emotional and psychological side of things—boys’ and girls’ interest in or curiosity toward the opposite sex, their understanding of gender and sexuality, and their level of comfort in a vulnerable situation around people of the opposite sex. All of those things are legitimate aspects regarding gender . . . for everyone. The emotional and psychological aspects of gender are indeed important. So we can’t simultaneously act out of concern for the emotional and psychological well being of most children because it’s an important part of who they are as boys and girls and completely dismiss it for transgender kids simply by writing off their gender identity as something that is imaginary, contrived, or changeable. If you are of the opinion that there is something wrong with children who have the emotional and psychological makeup of the gender opposite to that of their physical one, something that can and should be changed, I beg of you to please open yourself to the possibility that you’re wrong rather than declaring your ill-informed assumptions as fact. If it’s not your experience, listen carefully to those who do know about it. 

I recently got into a pretty healthy discussion about this with someone who, while disagreeing with me, finally said in complete exasperation that he was just completely confused by it all. I loved that response. Expressing confusion is so much better than judgment. Confusion can be helped. Stubborn judgment is pretty immovable. 

The other category of argument against transgenderism is the realm of the ridiculous. And insulting. 

  • What if I identify as a Chinese person even though I’m Irish? 
  • What if I identify as a wolf?
  • What if I identify as a woman tomorrow?

These are intentionally obtuse false syllogisms. If you base your argument solely on a presupposition intentionally calculated to be false and easily dismissible, it makes for great humor (if by great you mean stripped of all humanity). But it also makes for a completely invalid argument. Because . . .

  • Gender differences are not at all like racial differences. 
  • Species differences are completely unlike gender differences. 
  • Transracialism is not, as far as I know, an observable occurrence in our society, certainly not one I have ever heard results in violence or hostility. 
  • Transspecies issues: see above. 
  • If you aren’t transgender, the notion that you might be tomorrow assumes that it’s a choice. It is intentionally dismissive. Stop confusing that for smart. 
  • Transphobia causes abuse, suicide, violence, murder, and hatred, and if you make a joke out of someone else’s very real suffering, you’re guilty of the logical fallacy of You’re an asshole. Sorry, I can’t be completely rational about attacks like that. 

So, that’s the lowdown from where I sit. I know there’s more to say, but it’s a starting point. 

Here’s a trivia question:

What Pulitzer-prize-winning novel published in 2002 was inspired by the memory of Herculine Barbin?

Put your answers in the comments, and I’ll keep them hidden until midnight. 

The Return of Daily Trivia

Way back when, I used to send out a daily trivia email. It would typically feature some type of commentary on some bit of ridiculous news or something. People on the list would send me their answers, and I would reward the winners by… mentioning them in a follow-up email. Pretty high stakes.

Unfortunately it got too expensive to pay everyone in words, so I discontinued the daily trivia ritual. The trivitual, if you will. But I decided I would reintroduce it as part of my initiative to continue blogging close to every day. I’ll just include a bit of trivia with every post.  So here it is, the first trivia question of the new era:

What celebrity did Donald Trump sue in 2013 for $5 million for breach of contract?