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Archive: April, 2013

POSTED: Friday, April 12, 2013, 12:37 PM
In this April 3, 2013 photo, Mike Caldwell, a 35-year-old software engineer, holds a 25 Bitcoin token at his shop in Sandy, Utah. Caldwell mints physical versions of bitcoins, cranking out homemade tokens with codes protected by tamper-proof holographic seals, a retro-futuristic kind of prepaid cash. With up to 70,000 transactions each day over the past month, bitcoins have been propelled from the world of Internet oddities to the cusp of mainstream use, a remarkable breakthrough for a currency which made its online debut only four years ago. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Though they're better-known as Harvard's Facebook-lawsuit gazillionaires, the Winklevoss twins have likely already made a killing on the digital currency called bitcoin. But the Winklevii sure say some silly things - such as suggesting that they're doing something more than speculating. 

"People say it’s a Ponzi scheme, it’s a bubble,” Cameron Winklevoss said, according to this New York Times story. “People really don’t want to take it seriously. At some point that narrative will shift to ‘virtual currencies are here to stay.’ We’re in the early days.”

Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss apparently lay laim to more than 1 percent of the bitcoin digitally "mined" since the currency's invention in 2009.  It's tricky to assign a U.S. dollar value to their holdings, since the currency's value has swung wildly in recent days and weeks, as I noted here yesterday in a blog post on bitcoin's sinister role in fueling computer malware . The Times said their holdings were worth "at least $11 million as of Thursday morning — when trading was temporarily suspended after the latest and largest flash crash left a single bitcoin worth about $120 and the whole market worth $1.3 billion."

POSTED: Thursday, April 11, 2013, 12:11 PM

After its introduction in 2009, into a world economy still reeling from the recent financial crisis, bitcoin simultaneously captured the imagination of a corner of the tech world and a corner of the financial world. Now, as bitcoin's price wildly fluctuates, those corners seem increasingly shadowy. 

Bitcoin's appeal is easy to understand. Here was a currency free from control by world leaders and their central bankers, who didn't look particularly good at that historical moment. Its money supply was controlled - only a fixed amount could be digitally "mined" each year - so the inflation risk was minimized. And it was exchanged over the Internet through encrypted, peer-to-peer communications, so it was outside the purview of the ordinary tools of law enforcement. No wonder bitcoin appealed both to libertarian technophiles and players on the financial fringe.

Just a few days ago, the world supply of bitcoin was said to have surpassed the equivalent of $1 billion - prompting Reuters blogger Felix Salmon to suggest the world was facing "a bitcoin bubble." That followed February's news that the Internet Archive was accepting bitcoin donations, and even paying some employees partially in bitcoin.Two months earlier, the French government gave bank-like status to one of bitcoin's exchanges, making it "as legit as PayPal," according to the Atlantic Wire.

POSTED: Tuesday, April 9, 2013, 4:19 PM

Philadelphia may not be Portlandia or Seattle, but maybe it's time for natives to outgrow their traditional inferiority complex. The city of Billy Penn and Ben Franklin outscored both those Pacific Northwest meccas in a new ranking of cities most attractive to recent college grads, according to Apartment Guide.

The top three cities - based on an amalgam of "lifestyle factors" - were New York, Washington and Philadelphia. Rounding out the top 10 were (4) Seattle, (5) Minneapolis, (6)  San Francisco,  (7) Chicago,  (8) Las Vegas, (9) Portland, and (10) Denver.

The rankings were based on data from OnBoard Informatics, which weighed such attractions as "eating and drinking establishments, music venues, sports arenas [and] recreational activities," says an Apartment Guide spokeswoman.


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POSTED: Friday, April 5, 2013, 12:35 PM

President Obama is due to offer a budget compromise next week, and it will reportedly include more means testing for Medicare and use of a "chained Consumer Price Index" to make Social Security cost-of-living adjustments - a flawed idea I've written about here and here.

Complaints about his strategy from the liberal side of the blogosphere were quick and predictable. "Compromiser in Chief" was the headline on the Huffington Post's mobile site for a story by Sam Stein explaining the administration's position.   At Slate, a thoughtful piece by Matthew Yglesias questioned the  wisdom of trying to compromise with a Republican party that makes repeated demands for "entitlement cuts" but that clearly doesn't want to trade anything in revenue - and, as Yglesias puts it, is eager to "run ads castigating Democrats for bankrupting the country so badly that they want to add Social Security cuts to the dastardly Medicare cuts they already implemented."

Don't think that's possible? Dream on, says Washington Monthly blogger Ed Kilgore:

POSTED: Thursday, April 4, 2013, 12:50 PM

This map, which I'm posting courtesy of the Incidental Economist blog, shows a trend that should concern anyone concerned about shortcomings in the American health-care system. But as IE guest blogger Bill Gardner points out, it's most likely a graphic illustration of something else: growing regional disparities in wealth, which not only reduce access to affordable health care but affect mortality in various other ways.

Red areas on the map show counties - a disturbing 42.8 percent of 3,140 U.S. counties - where female mortality actually rose between the mid-1990s and the mid-2000s, despite overall gains in average life expectancy. Nationwide, male mortality rates increased in just 3.4 percent of the same counties from the first study period, 1992-96, to the second study period, 2002-06 - in other words, before the Great Recession pushed more Americans into poverty.

Gardner, who obtained the data from a Health Affairs article by David Kindig and Erika Cheng, acknowledges the complex challenges of reading such trends. One factor undoubtedly depressing female life expectancy at the start of 21st century, for instance, is the spread of tobacco use among women. But Gardner, who also writes the Inequalities blog, was struck by the "strong regional pattern: just about every county showed had worsened female mortality in several southern states, while no county showed such decline in New England."

POSTED: Tuesday, April 2, 2013, 1:00 PM

How can you block illegal nuisance robocalls while permitting the legal ones to go through? Software that can filter calls through a combination of "whitelists," "blacklists," and "graylists" featured prominently in the results of the Federal Trade Commission's Robocall Challenge, a $50,000 contest whose winners were announced today.

The FTC has long known how much robocalls frustrate U.S. consumers - including the legal ones from charities, political organizations and others exempt from prohibitions against such calls. It receives about 200,000 complaints a month about robocalls - more than on any other topic, the FTC's Charles Harwood said as he announced the winners. A computer engineer and a software designer each won a $25,000 prize, and two Pittsburgh-based Google employees won an honorable mention for "technology achievement."

What now? "Now it’s the fun part of figuring out what to do," one of the winners, Aaron Foss, of Port Jefferson, N.Y., told me after the announcement. A freelance software developer, Foss hopes to use the $25,000 as seed money for developing a marketable version of his concept, which he calls "Nomorobo."


About this blog

Jeff Gelles, who writes the Inquirer's weekly Consumer 14.0 and Tech Life columns, takes a broad look at the marketplace of goods, services, and ideas.

Reach Jeff at jgelles@phillynews.com.

Jeff Gelles Inquirer Business Columnist
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