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Sunday, Nov 19, 2017 - 22:11 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

What Hath We Wrought

Mr. Ham: Human! Human! Am I glad you're here! Why, after the Bitcoin price blasted past US$8000 on this Thursda...

Mr. Robo: Erm, isn't that my line?

Mr. Ham: Just trying to lighten the mood a little. C'mon, cheer up! Why the long faces?

Me: I would think that you know very well, Mr. Ham, that pulling off your pants and mooning the assembled investors while yelling "Look at these beauts!" and "You know you want a piece of this, man!", is not exactly the best of ways to persuade them to take the plunge.

Mr. Robo: Well, the pitch did grab a lot of attention, to be sure.

Mr. Ham: See? I knew Mr. Robo would be the one to look on the bright side of things; keep it up, my dear coffee boy, and you'll soon be making up career grades on Mr. Ducky!

Me: *sighs* I suppose it was for the best.

Mr. Ham: Aw, we were always doing pretty well, and this way, I get to keep my butt. Really, I've grown rather fond of it over the years. Made some of my best picks with it, if you recall. Onwards and upwards, gents! Pip pip!

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Sunday, Nov 05, 2017 - 17:27 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

Now This Is Getting Ridiculous

Mr. Robo: Human! Human! Am I glad you're here! Why, after the Bitcoin price blasted past US$7000 on this Thursday, Mr. Ham has locke...

Mr. Ham: I'm out of my office, you ignoramus.

Mr. Robo: Oh! I apologize, force of habit.

Me: It's really getting out of hand now, but with the Chicago Mercantile Exchange rolling out futures, and Coinbase adding a hundred thousand new users a day... I don't know. Hard to bet against it with this momentum. And that was a fine dinner, you've got to admit, Mr. Ham, Mr. Cat is a genero...

Mr. Ham: *flings bowler hat onto ground* Pshaw! Traitors! Backboneless Blackguards! No-good Sycophantic Sellouts! Why I never... we've been friends and business partners for years, and now some... fat cat strolls in, and you lot are all pally-pally with the bloodsucker? This is it! I'm not standing for this any longer! If you insist on the deal, I will dissolv... Wait.

*trots back to retrieve hat*

*defensively* What? That was a good hat. Sentimental value, you know.

Mr. Robo: *excitedly* ...yes, human, from our chat with Mr. Cat just now, there's just so much that can be done. *scribbles on napkin* I was thinking hard about it, since Mr. Cat's offer is contingent on Mr. Ham's butt, I figured that we can amortize his butt at 3.7% per annum, which would qualify it for tax write-offs under the new schedule. And, and, if we float it under a private financing license, we can further securitize the bulk of it into rear-carriage-backed tranches, which would enable us to swap the AAA-rated portion for Treasuries to smooth out the risk-adjusted yield curve. Plus, I think there should be many takers for the junior tier - ICOs have gotten a bad rap lately, but there remains opportunity in the sector with good bottom-line fundamentals, which I think we've got. As for the name, I'm leaning towards ButtCoin, becau...

Mr. Ham: Cannibal! Poltroon! Turncoat!

*snatches napkin from Mr. Robo and makes to crumple it, before staring intently at the numbers*

Mr. Ham: ...

Mr. Robo: It's beautiful, isn't it? Maybe it's not quite on a par with the Double Irish Dutch Sandwich, but it's still a delightful bit of financial accounting, if I do say so myself. See, this part *jabbing at napkin* - I've been a bit conservative here, but if the new Hong Kong exchange approves it, we can probably work out a deferred bonus split...

*Mr. Ham sits on the ground, pulls out cigar and draws a long, slow puff on it*

Mr. Ham: Human, Mr. Robo.

Me: Er, yes?

Mr. Ham: We've known each other for a long time, right?

Mr. Robo: I suppose that's true.

*long pause*

Mr. Ham: ...anesthetic technology is very advanced nowadays, correct?

*looking at Mr. Robo, before high-fiving*

Me: We did it! He's sold on it!

Mr. Ham: *grandly* When I said that I'd work my ass off for the firm, I meant it. Contact the press, Mr. Robo - they're going to witness the birth of a new ass-et class!

Me: ... okay, I think we've gone a little too far.

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Saturday, Oct 28, 2017 - 18:53 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

Rustlin' Deals

Me: ...and that's Level 39 reached in Pokémon Go, on Thursday; it may not be much, but I'll take all the distractions I can right now. Speaking of which, how's Mr. Ham?

Mr. Robo: Uh, he changed the locks. A habit of his, by the way.

Me: It's a bit irresponsible of him, don't you think? I'm supposed to be a passive partner in this enterprise of his, and here I am, sitting in for customer meetings in his stead. *doorbell rings* That must be Mr. Cat.

*Mr. Ham flings door open and explodes out of his office*

Mr. Ham: Whaaat?!

Me: He had an appointment, you know. We've done our background checks. He qualifies as an accredited investor. And very comfortably, if I may add.

Mr. Ham: That's not the point! I told Mr. Robo to direct all queries about these... these... felines to me for immediate rejection!

Mr. Robo: Uh, I slid the forms under the door, since your office was, like, locked, remember? And, I quote Article 27 of Section C.3 of our bylaws, "approval by default automatically applies if no objection is tendered at the executive level, within a period of seven (7) days."

Me: So, was this what the research on cats and dogs was all about? Terribly speciest of you, I say.

Mr. Ham: Say what you want, but my granduncle Bob was living in a neighbourhood filled with... that kind, and one fine day, after he heard that he had become a father for the twenty-seventh time, he walked out of the back for a smoke, and never came back! They done got him good, they did!

*Me exchanging look with Mr. Robo*

Mr. Robo: Erm, I don't think that's what happened, because he just knocked me up for a loan last month, as usual...

Mr. Ham: *wagging paw* Now don't you be a species traitor an' start takin' their side. Dogs, on the other hand - dogs, I like. Why, they're always so friendly and trusting, and all they want for security assurance is to dig the hole by themselves, and throw their assets into it; even better, they tend to understand if some of it goes missing, because, things happen with holes, you can't explain that!

Me: But, prematurely limiting your client pool may not be a wise choice for a trading firm that's still establishi... never mind, your latest customer's here.

Mr. Ham: Not my customer.

Me: I apologize on behalf of my colleague, Mr. Cat. He can get kind of ornery when he's been awake for entirely too long. Let me get you acquainted. This is...

Mr. Ham: *frostily* I'll do it myself. The Hon H.L. Ham, founding managing director and CEO of this illustrious firm, that so happens to bears his name.

Mr. Robo: *rather more chippy* Hi, and I'm Mr. Robo, coffee boy (full time), Head of Quantitative Research (acting), junior programmatic trader (intern), strategic analyst (on probation), second secretary to Mr. Ham, and reserve janitor (every second Tuesday, when Ms. Wong needs to stay home to look after her grandkids). You might say I wear many hats, but in fact I don't, because Mr. Ham says only he's allowed to wear his bowler hat "to distinguish himself from the common riff-raff", but I don't actually mind 'cause it's not my style, and...

Me: ...er, I think that's enough there.

Mr. Cat: Delighted to meet you, Mr. Robo. Love meeting a fellow go-getter myself. I sense the beginning of a very fruitful association.

Mr. Ham: Not if I have anything to say about that.

Mr. Cat: Forgive me, I had to rush all the way from the airport, haven't had the time to grab a bite. I'm sure you wouldn't mind if I... *points vaguely to the side*

Mr. Ham: *edging away* I am not "the refreshments".

Mr. Cat: Talking canapés! My word, I've heard that there've been major strides made in artificial intelligence recently, but I had absolutely no idea that the applications went that far! Still, the voice is kinda annoying...

Me: Well, we might not all have gotten off on the right footing, but I hope that we can resolve these issues as we move along. And, Mr. Cat, while Mr. Ham has his... lesser moments, he remains a vital - well, kind of, if you squint real hard - member of the H.L. Ham team, and as such, we would appreciate if you desist with the licking, and release him forthwith.

Mr. Ham: *struggling* You heard the human!

Me: And, uh, kindly put the salt and pepper shakers back too.

Mr. Cat: Sure thing. By the way, just to establish my bona fides, please... *pushes sheet of paper across the tabletop*

Me: *looking at numbers* Hmm. Well. To be totally honest, we don't usually take on positions of this size, sir. Not that we wouldn't be willing to, but there may be complications...

Mr. Cat: *waving free paw dismissively* Pah, don't sweat the details. And, that's not the stake. That's the fee.

Me: Fried or broiled, sir?

Mr. Ham: WHAT? Mr. Robo, say something!

Mr. Robo: Me? Oh. *thinks* An excellent choice if I may say so, Mr. Cat, but personally I would recommend traditional steaming. It's a lot healthier, you know. There's this little hole-in-a-wall dive a few blocks over, they have this wonderful secret garnish that seriously brings out the flavour, and I'm sure they'd be willing to plan a custom...


Mr. Robo: Rule Number One, Customer Is Always Right. See, it's on the quick reference card. *waves card* You made me repeat it fifty times every morning, and there's a penalty if I ever forgot to follow the instructions...

Me: Right. Fine, fine, I think Mr. Ham's getting a little distressed. Jokes aside...

Mr. Cat: *hopefully* Just a little nibble? I was about to recommend this firm to a few other well-heeled acquaintances too, it's between you and Lehham Brothers, and...

Me: Then again, if you think about it, if you pick the right spot on the butt, it'll probably grow back someday anyway.


Mr. Robo: Which reminds me, I was reading some medical journal recently, and they had this paper on a breakthrough with buttock reconstructive techniques and transplants...


Me: How about we take a break? Wouldn't want to enter into such decisions hastily, would we?

[To be continued (possibly with reduced personnel)...]

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Sunday, Oct 22, 2017 - 21:01 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

Light Pickings

Mr. Robo: Human! Human! Am I glad you're here! Why, after the Bitcoin price blasted past US$6000 on this Friday, Mr. Ham has locked himself - er, remained locked - in his offic...

Me: ...and he ain't coming out for love or money, 'cos he was always in it for love of money. Got it. Here's the spare key, if he doesn't answer the door by Tuesday, open it and let the cleaners in; if the last time this happened was any indication, he probably won't even notice them. Oh, and here's the tip for the cleaners - they'll definitely deserve it.

Mr. Robo: Roger, human. Now, about this new crypto analysis and the implications of a US$100B cap...

Me: Nah, it'll keep. Plenty of chop going on these days. *sighs* I'm severely pressed for time these days, Mr. Robo. Too much going on, can barely find it in me to keep up with my extra-curricular readings as it is. Shoved in a half-hour jog today, as I was suspecting that the lack of exercise was affecting my mood.

Mr. Robo: Ah, then you may find my other research helpful!

Me: Oh? Let's have a look...

Evil Cats

Doggos and Puppers

Me: But what relevance does all this have to a trading firm... ok, fine, I think I'll figure it out someday.

Of Idols

Realised recently one possible reason why I had never gotten into the K/J/general Asian-pop scene, or even sought out their tunes (with some exceptions) - they're simply too... manufactured. Technically speaking, their moves may be immaculate, and I can't deny that they put in a ton of hard work, but when you consider the crap they have to put up with, I can't help but wonder - what's the point?

Not quite the power yet, but a different take

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Sunday, Oct 15, 2017 - 23:47 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

Intro To IOTA

Mr. Robo: Human! Human! Am I glad you're here! Why, after the Bitcoin price blasted past US$5000 on Thursday, Mr. Ham has locked himself in his office, and he ain't coming out! Not only that, there have been some very odd sounds emitted from within, usually coinciding with the sudden price jumps...

Me: Nah, leave him be, somehow I think he's okay. On to proper business. But before that, just a small observation. With the current crypto boom, you can't help but hear of more private investors leaping in, particularly into alt-coins, with a get-rich-quick mentality.

It may be timely to reiterate Mr. Ham's observation - wise, for once - from over three years ago here: in general, I intensely dislike giving investment advice, since it's far easier to get blamed when things go pear-shaped, than remembered if they go right. Consider one of Livermore's timeless quotes:

"If I buy stocks on Smith's tip I must sell those same stocks on Smith's tip. I am depending on him. Suppose Smith is away on a holiday when the selling time comes around? A man must believe in himself and his judgment if he expects to make a living at this game. That is why I don't believe in tips."

Mr. Robo: With that said, the firm of H.L. Ham hasn't done too badly by following other Livermore rules - in particular, not to try and catch the exact tops and bottoms in a secular crypto bull market, and that sometimes - often - the right thing is just to sit tight and hodl.

But also, if you're confident, not to be discouraged by those with differing worldviews, e.g. the fine folk over at r/personalfinance
(Source: r/bitcoin)

Me: With that off my chest, a further comment. From both real-life communications and forum surfing, it appears that many newer would-be investors are getting interested in more-minor alt-coins (i.e. excepting Bitcoin, usually also Ethereum and Litecoin, and maybe a few others) and ICOs, with the following common reasonings:
  • The "big" cryptos are already too expensive (BTC is at time of writing at about US$5500, ETH at US$325, and LTC at US$65)
  • Minor alt-coins/ICOs have much more room to grow, and become the next BTC/ETH/LTC (i.e. multiply in price hundredfold, or even more)
On that first point, it appears partly due to a misconception that one has to buy a whole coin (i.e. the minimum investment in BTC is over five thousand bucks). This is, of course, untrue. Further, it also seems to come with some misunderstandings about the per-coin price being meaningful in a vacuum. Using a stock market analogy, Berkshire Hathaway Class A shares are currently going for US$280000 each, and Google/Alphabet shares only US$1000, but Alphabet actually has a larger market cap than Berkshire.

As for the second point, it is almost certainly true, in that some alt-coin will near-surely produce returns that blow the major cryptos out of the water over the next years. The question, as with penny stocks, is identifying the correct one. For once, China was probably right to put a lid on ICOs, given the proliferation of dot-com era-like vapourware offerings and outright scams starting to take root in the space.

Case in point: a biotech firm with nothing previously to do with crypto renamed itself "Riot Blockchain", and its stock price promptly doubled. Cutting to the chase, I must admit that I have not been able to model alt-coin prices to my satisfaction, unlike that done for Bitcoin over the past few years. Now, I could proffer the relatively tiny market caps - making manipulation even easier - as an excuse, but it's mostly that I have not managed to form a good enough idea of the fundamentals and factors involved.

For example, had I known, we could have increased profits several more times over by simply shifting it all from BTC to ETH last year, rather than just maintaining a modest hedge. Let's just say that I haven't been losing much sleep over such what-if scenarios, however.

But anyway, there has been some particular interest in the IOTA crypto, so... Mr. Robo, you've prepared the notes?

(Source: wikimedia.org)

Mr. Robo: Yes, human. There's the main website and subreddit, of course, but its bitcointalk.org thread is also worth going through if you're serious - note that a lot of alt-coins are first unveiled to the in-crowd at that crypto watering hole.

I'll even put its original Tangle whitepaper out here, but since I guess most of the audience would be interested in a less-technical summary, here goes.

Recall that most crypto(coin)s - probably the vast weighted majority, by market value - currently follow the Bitcoin blockchain paradigm. You have users submitting transactions, usually with a small associated fee, and miners including these transactions into blocks, partly incentivized by those fees. These miners constantly compete to include their active block into the blockchain, by performing computationally-costly calculations as proof-of-work (POW). By successfully solving the active "puzzle", their block is inserted into the chain, the transactions become official, and the lucky miner is rewarded some time later with both the transaction fees, and usually a block reward.

Certainly, this is not perfect, with one of the major gripes - which has led to the ongoing strife over scaling and segwit - being limited transaction rates and backlogs. For example, Bitcoin currently has a 1MB block size limit, with hash difficulty retargetings aimed at maintaining an average block time of ten minutes. Some simple math then puts this at up to 2000 transactions every ten minutes, or maybe three per second. Definitely not enough to serve a global population as-is, which has brought fierce debate as to the right solution.

While Bitcoin-type blockchains are largely quibbling over block size and second-layer tradeoffs, however, IOTA has cleverly made to sidestep the scaling problem with a whole new underlying data structure: the Tangle, which is basically a direct acyclic graph (DAG). Basically, so the proposal goes, rather than rely on blocks and miners, return power to individual users (nodes) for the Internet of Things - each node must participate in transaction validation to get its own transaction considered, and because this involves validating two existing transactions, validation supply rate is always twice that of demand, unlike the fixed validation supply rate of blockchains.

The Tangle: newest transactions (tips) in grey
(Source: forum.iota.org)

Ergo, the Tangle is infinitely scalable - the more transactions, the more confirmations! Not only that, there are no longer any transaction fees, since participating nodes "pay it backward" for their transaction, by validating previous transactions.

Or, at least, that's the idea if all goes well - refer to the whitepaper for the detailed proofs. Before continuing, it may be helpful to try and understand the Tangle with reference to blockchains, on one of their prime motivations: the illegality of double-spending in a distributed environment, i.e. invalidating of an earlier transaction, with associated monetary losses.

It can be recognized that the Tangle is not really that different from blockchains in this sense. Where blockchains rely on POW to ensure that it is prohibitively difficult to rewrite previous blocks (with increasing difficulty the more blocks have passed), the Tangle indeed relies on a similar mechanism. The basic idea is, while you can't be sure that your transaction is "locked in" right after you add it to the Tangle, you can become surer as newer transactions validate your transaction... and yet newer transactions validate those transactions.

In this sense, users can decide on their own margin of safety, as with blockchains. A common rule-of-thumb was to wait for six confirmation blocks after one's transaction, for high-value Bitcoin transactions. This however becomes slightly more iffy with the Tangle, since there are no canonical blocks - one can only estimate some "weight" for a transaction, depending on how many new transactions directly or indirectly validate it.

However, we now note that this itself is only really reliable, if the node has a good-enough idea of the state of the Tangle. If it is aware of too small a subset of the Tangle, it may only later realise that what it thought to be a "safe" transaction, had in fact been invalidated by a "heavier" parallel Tangle - sort of analogous to a blockchain miner reserving private blocks in a classic 51% (or 33%) attack.

And boy, can they attack when they want to
(Source: ibtimes.com)

While the whitepaper does analyse a parasite chain attack, the explanation of how it handles the touted billions of transactions, across a similar number of devices in the machine economy, is rather less examined. Offhand, the Tangle doesn't magically escape some fundamental physical limitations. If there are more transactions, they still have to be distributed, else the underlying data structure might well shard involuntarily. Moreover, they still have to be stored, and while IOTA appears to have hit upon automated snapshots as a solution - which sounds to me like a de-facto "block" - it seems that a minimal Tangle of just the nodes nearest to the tips can still be fairly large indeed, which might be a problem for embedded devices...

Perhaps more worryingly, it seems that IOTA is currently quietly utilizing a master "coordinator" node to operate, which means that it is effectively centralised, after all! The author of that exposé further posits that this is because one of the purported strengths of IOTA can also be a weakness - while having users be miners does encourage decentralisation in a manner, it also means that IOTA's effective hashpower can be very unreliable, since there is no reward for consistent hashing throughput. As such, a 33% attack does not need to defeat a baseline set by dedicated miners, but only needs to defeat what is likely a much easier transient target.

Interestingly, the response to this critique by the IOTA devs appears rather defensive and slightly hostile (as often is the case in the crypto space, where riches are involved; this extends to some professors from reputable universities, who shall not be named here), and it'll be interesting to observe when the "coordinator" node is obsoleted, if ever. Actually, I wouldn't be overly surprised if IOTA eventually turns to second-layer solutions too; as it is, some of the tech should be included in Bitcoin's Rootstock implementation, which may lend some credence to the Bitcoin maximalist "Bitcoin can just incorporate any new innovation as a secondary layer/sidechain" view.

And finally, the part you've been waiting for - so, is IOTA a good investment? Short answer: I don't know.

Longer answer: although there appears to be some technical concerns about IOTA in practical deployment, we have frankly not been able to price these considerations to our satisfaction. One might suppose, for example, that a crypto with no promised issuance schedule or cap cannot be valued, but ETH somehow exploded in price anyhow. Speaking in crude terms of signal and noise, the general hype ("noise") over alt-coins has H.L. Ham severely doubting its ability to read their true value ("signal").

It can be noted that for IOTA, as with ETH, those involved in the initial technical ICO - buying the initial distribution with Bitcoin - definitely made out like bandits. Of course, this has probably become too widely known, and the market premium has perhaps swung the other way...

Do I spy shades of Tarja?
[Russian/Mandarin lyric glosses for Katyusha; Russian choir version]

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Sunday, Oct 08, 2017 - 20:26 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

Staying On The Move

"Young adept, you must not walk behind me,
for I shall not always lead.
Nor shall you walk in front, for you know not the way.
You cannot walk beside me because the path is too narrow.
In fact, f**k off and find your own path.

- the wise kung fu master's refrain
(the original advice's not half bad either)

Mr. Ham: *puffing on cigar* Yo, human. Long time no see. Figured I'd just drop by and bum a few bucks off ya, see.

Me: And I'd say you'd almost deserve it, for such direct honesty. Which brings me to some weeks ago, when a fellow approached me with his Singaporean passport for purposes of panhandling, with a cover story of having to catch a ferry back to Batam to visit his daughter, whose photo appeared slightly-suspiciously to have been extracted from a magazine. To be frank, I'm kind of torn on the proper response to such efforts, given that my continued investigations into practical economics reveal no particular justice in wealth distribution.

*Mr. Ham proffers upturned hat impatiently*

Me: Eh, we'll see about that later.

Mr. Ham: Sure, fob me off; it's not like I got anything else important to do.

Me: As a matter of fact, you don't.

Mr. Ham: Fine, I'll come straight with ya, my cards are all maxed out for the month, but there's this Steam game I wanted...

Expeditiously banned in Malaysia, like all the other fun stuff

Me: Say no more fam, I gotcha covered. Never been much use at them myself, but fighting scrollers - and gaming in general - is an area that Singapore has potential in, what with a new crop coming out; the real thing can be dangerous, though, going by the tragic Steven Lim vs. Pradip bout. In any case, Singapore probably will be needing a new national sport pronto, given how totally messed-up the football scene is. Massive funding cuts, bare months after apparent support? It's time for our aspiring youngsters to high-tail it out of here, like Schooling.

Mr. Ham: Yeah, last I heard, he's well on the way to becoming a Manchester United all-time great...

Me: Not that one, the other one. Can't complain about Mourinho's second season, by the way. The first wasn't all that nice save for some bright spots, but swapping a fading Rooney for a rising Lukaku - who's duly earned the adulation of the faithful - was some top business. It's looking like the old days again. Goes without saying, of course, that even Mourinho wouldn't be able to salvage the crocked local game.

Mr. Ham: Meh, it's an attitude problem, and it goes very deep. Like, the remote controls in Brazil come with a "football" button, and then there's all the pride, dedication and sardonic humour living and breathing the British version. But I suppose you lot can come up with a catchy slogan the next time a newly-installed sports minister needs to boost his stock...

Me: No need to rub it in to that extent, hamster. Myself, I'm reduced to anticipating a possible Ronaldo return.

Chances improved by developments in Catalonia?

There have been some downers in other aspects too - for example, they actually killed off Littlefinger in the show! Come on, he was the only largely-competent strategic thinker with any balls in the entire series, to the extent that despite the show's writers dumbing him down to a ridiculous extent, the only way they could write him out was by playing Magic Seer Boy as a cheat code?! The way it's going, it's a good bet that a formerly mould-breaking tale is gonna end with the tired cliché of Dispossessed Prince with Heart of Gold Reclaims Birthright, Slays Dragon/Evil King, Marries Princess, Lives Happily Ever After, when instead it could well have been Visionary Reformer Overturns Feudalism, Ushers in New Political Age to Westeros.

Here's to hoping George R. R. Martin doesn't stoop to that in the actual books, but as for the show, barring the appearance of Lord Stoneheart, I'm just staying for Cleganebowl, and any last few straggling memes.

Mr. Ham: Turns out, Mr. Ducky's a re-enactment hobbyist, and he's taken part in a fair few scenes.

Me: Nice of hear that. Real life's still f**ked as ever, for that. I mean, read the newspapers, and you'll come across headlines such as "Fed's Yellen expects no new financial crisis in our lifetimes", and wonder if so-called experts are actually capable of learning anything. But it's not all bad - occasionally you get heartwarming news like TRUMP's green energy infrastructure projects getting funded, while he's proven correct - as usual - on wiretapping suspicions. My instincts tell me Little Rocket Man's next on the hitlist. It's a pity in a way, our government was always oddly friendly with them, but that's business.

Truth be told, every profession - even academia - has its problems: presenting Nobel laureate Jeffrey Hall scrabbling for funding, with a good point about loving one's research subjects... no, not you, Mr. Ham. However, doing academic scitech does have its benefits, with fairly decent job benefits and prospects for now at least, but more importantly a ton of cool shit happening in the space, e.g. actual gene editing.

Now enabling cross-cultural disputes!

Google has just launched its new Pixel smartphone, but it was the claim of real-time speech translation across languages that caught my imagination. Upon closer inspection, however, it probably isn't quite there yet - snooping about with Google Translate, which deals with the rather simpler task of text translation, suggests that the latest much-improved neural techniques ain't all there either, with a load of contextual... strangeness remaining. Good, I guess, in the sense that there's plenty more open research available.

Sadly, from broad observation, tech titans are not at all immune to the old dictum that "power corrupts". Wailing on Microsoft's monopoly behaviour is of course old hat, but it turns out that the new generation of hippy-change-the-world startups ain't much different once they get big... which increasingly many are, and to near-unprecedented scale. Bezos is now more-or-less the richest guy on Earth, as Amazon plans multi-billion dollar HQs and commandeers fleets of taxis, twenty years after he started selling books out of his garage. Heck, Reddit's valued at near two bil, and even Walmart's feeling the heat.

Google, for one, appears to be blanking out dissenters and silently tailoring search results to drive desired narratives. Ditto Facebook. Then there's all the cloak-and-dagger corporate espionage, exemplified by Uber's supposed poaching of Google's - themselves perhaps not exactly that innocent either - self-driving tech. And, on top of all that, the over-promising of results by hype-merchant marketing departments, as happened to Tesla in the same field (the engineers will just fix it!)

Given the potential of A.I. to be the new nuke in global power balance terms - as recognized by Putin and the CCP - even without considering a looming Singularity, there has been some hysteria about A.I. leadership possibly passing out of the more-democratic bloc, with China singled out for special concern. However, while China can certainly move and build fast when committed, I remain less sanguine about their longer-term true-innovative prospects, for reasons that will be gradually revealed. Just a tidbit - their own chatbots were killed for praising America and criticizing communism, following which WhatsApp got blocked. Make what of that you will.

And, unfortunately, the situation here is smelling like China, and without the humongous domestic market that would allow a control-centric ecosystem to survive; paid tech transfer has brought us some distance, and while we may have some interesting startups, it's also not untrue that the staunchly risk-averse culture - propagated from the very top - has led to a market heavily saturated by copycat clones. But I suppose we could gangpress the media in to support local apps...

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Saturday, Sep 30, 2017 - 19:40 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

Brief Obits

The Hef, 91

Forever radiant
(Source: abcnews.go.com)

Hugh Hefner - gentleman's gentleman and ladies' man - has passed on, likely as Heaven required someone to jazz up their staid parties. He attained the ripe old age of 91, confounding the overplayed association between conventional virtue and longevity, but seriously, Hef definitely had something - many things - to live for, unlike those stick-in-the-muds. Moreover, he conclusively proved that you didn't need to be dead to tutor six dozen young ladies in the ways of life, unlike what some misguided and largely departed souls might have asserted.

Other than being a class act, Hugh was an American publishing icon, whose devotion to presenting the bare facts before the advent of the Internet sated the intellectual lusts of his discerning readership, while opening new vistas for his many friends and imitators. A true man of letters, he provided a ready launchpad for an eclectic constellation of future literary giants - Asimov, Atwood, Bradbury, Dahl, Murakami, Vonnegut... the list goes on - to a degree never quite replicated. His genius in burnishing weighty expositions with very pleasant diversions has probably single-handedly done more to promote a love of reading, than any other character of the past two centuries.

Classy to the last and possessed of a stiff devotion to personal integrity, he was a visionary ahead of his time, who held courageous views on unpopular stands, and was nearly always vindicated by history. But, more than that, his influence further penetrated about every aspect of modern culture - how many can claim to have contributed significantly to modern computer vision, whilst managing to encourage generations of teenaged boys to pursue a healthy lifestyle by rambling in the woods?

The NFL, 97

A sad end to a once-proud institution
(Source: r/the_donald)

Here, we mourn the loss of the National Football League, who had looked so hale and hearty and so certain to make its centenary, just a few months ago. Regrettably, as with so many venerable seniors, the slip into dementia-induced dotage was rapid and irreversible, and horrified onlookers could only watch as they, after persisting stubbornly with their poor decision-making, knelt over and expired in full view of the public.

They were ninety-seven.

This very much avoidable death has drawn much belated if deserved attention from their former friends, who have accused malicious parties of taking advantage of the NFL's chronic feeble-mindedness, brought upon by the job-related hazard of repeatedly getting hit extremely hard on the head; this condition had left them vulnerable to being led astray by the blandishments of opportunistic agitators, who after stripping them of the fruits of decades of goodwill and support, left them to perish in something between a murder and a suicide.

But frankly, like, the NFL should really have considered the demographic that were their loyal customers. I mean, of course you can get hopped up on disrespecting the GOD-EMPEROR at an antifa rally, but it just so happens that American football fans overwhelmingly tend to be, you know, the heartland type that actually likes their country. Well, with team gear being burnt across the nation, ticket sales falling almost 20% in days and their favorability ratings slashed in half, I'd say it's a matter of time before the GOD-EMPEROR claims yet another glorious moral victory. The political genius strikes again.

Plus, soccer-football's better anyway.

The Formerly Repressed Amos Yee, 18

He has walked through the darkness, and attained the light
(Source: channelnewsasia.com)

Death can at times be merely a symbolic transformation, and it is in this sense that we congratulate both Amos Yee for his liberation from an increasingly-unelected regime, and Great America for their foresight in welcoming a misunderstood and harshly-subjugated young talent - for, as the GOD-EMPEROR has pledged: they can come, but they have to come legally.

Now, with wings unfurled in the Land of the Free, we predict an immensely bright future for the brave prodigy, who has pledged to continue his reasoned criticism unabated. Worried establishment figures have attempted to downplay the significance of this event, but really, we think Amos will take to the American entertainment industry like a fish to water - and, recall, what did they say about the GOD-EMPEROR himself?

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