Do You Need a Blockchain?

Source: Adjoint, date indeterminate

What do I need that my traditional database is not giving me?

  1. Do you need a database in the first place?
  2. Does your application depend on extreme fault-tolerance?
  3. Does my application depend on a shared writes from parties with potentially unaligned interests?
  4. What time horizon do I need writes and reads to be consistent?
  5. What groups of parties (agents) need to be responsible for consensus?
  6. Is a trusted third party needed to audit transactions?

Smart Contracts

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The Mathematical Geometry of Viruses

Source: Quanta, Oct 2017

a triumph in applying mathematical principles to the understanding of biological entities. It may also eventually help to revolutionize the prevention and treatment of viral diseases in general by opening up a new, potentially safer way to develop vaccines and antivirals.

A Geodesic Insight

In 1962, the biologist-chemist duo Donald Caspar and Aaron Klug published a seminal paper on the structural organization of viruses. Among a series of sketches, models and X-ray diffraction patterns that the paper featured was a photograph of a building designed by Richard Buckminster Fuller, the inventor and architect: It was a geodesic dome, the design for which Fuller would become famous. 

… necessary once more for an outside approach — made possible by theories in pure mathematics — to provide insights into the biology of viruses.

… with knowledge of structures, “we could make an impact on understanding how viruses function, how they assemble, how they infect, how they evolve.” She didn’t look back: She has spent her time since then working as a mathematical biologist, using tools from group theory and discrete math to continue where Caspar and Klug left off. “We really developed this integrative, interdisciplinary approach,” she said, “where the math drives the biology and the biology drives the math.”

“If you talk to biologists,” Holmes-Cerfon said, “the language they use is so different than the language they use in physics and math. The questions are different, too.” The challenge for mathematicians is tied to their willingness to seek out questions with answers that inform the biology. One of Twarock’s real talents, she said, “is doing that interdisciplinary work.”

A Spinning Calabi-Yau shape

Source: Wolfram.com, date indeterminate

String Theory predicts the existence of more than the 3 space dimensions and 1 time dimension we are all familiar with.

According to string theory, there are additional dimensions that we are unfamiliar with because they are curled up into tiny complicated shapes that can only be seen on tiny scales. If we could shrink to this tiny, Planck-sized scale we could see that at every 3D point in space, we can also explore 6 additional dimensions. This animation shows a Calabi-Yau surface which is a projection of these higher dimensions into the more familiar dimensions we are aware of.

Standardized Languages can Contribute to Innovation

Source: Oxford University Press, Dec 2016

Why did the countries with the highest literacy rates fail to contribute to the innovations of the Industrial Revolution? Recent empirical research shows that people tend to mistrust those perceived to speak with an accent. Here the hypothesis of a link between language, trust and innovation is tested with a new data set comprising 201 urban regions and 117 important innovations between 1700 and 1850.

In the three states that contributed almost all of these innovations (Britain, France and the USA), rising literacy was merely the first step toward the formation of large networks of people speaking standardized languages. Elsewhere, where language standardization was delayed, innovation also came later.

Gold had Value Before Becoming a Medium of Exchange

Source: ZeroHedge, Oct 2017

As a consumer good, gold possessed a value or a “price” prior to it becoming a money, as the eminent monetary theorist Murray Rothbard explains:

…embedded in the demand for money is knowledge of the money-prices of the immediate past; in contrast to directly-used consumers’ or producers’ goods, money must have pre-existing prices on which to ground a demand.

But the only way this can happen is by beginning with a useful commodity under barter, and then adding demand for a medium to the previous demand for direct use (e.g., for ornaments in the case of gold.)*

Scrambling for a Piece of the Pie

Source: ZeroHedge, Dec 2017

the JPM report revealed one particular piece of very bad news for bitcoin shorts.

Consider that as of this moment the market cap of all cryptos is $330 billion: a respectable number, if well below the total value of wealth stored via gold bars and coins the stock of which,  excluding those held by central banks, amounts to 38,000 tonnes or $1.5tr, as noted above. What is striking, however, is not how large the market cap is for an asset which so many say has no intrinsic value, or is a bubble, but how it got there. Because due to the unique features of bitcoin – which still remains a relatively illiquid asset – while its market cap may be $186 billion, or just over half that of the total crypto space, what is stunning is how it got there.

As JPM explains, “high trading volumes or market cap does not mean that the net flow directed into cryptocurrencies has been equally big.

Here is the bank’s punchline: “The net flow into cryptocurrencies is very much a function of coin creation which is controlled by computer algorithms and in the case of bitcoin is diminishing over time. Figure 6 shows the net amount of money invested every year since 2009The cumulative amount has totaled around $6bn since 2009, well below the current market cap of $300bn.” For Ethereum, the number is just as stark: with a market cap of $45 billion, net inflows have been under $2 billion in the past two years. This is shown in the chart below:

If JPM is right, the implications are staggering:  contrary to expectations that bitcoin’s market cap is a rough reflection of its inflows, JPM’s calculations reveal that a mere $6 billion in net inflows since 2009 has resulted in a market cap of $330 billion. This goes to what Mike Novogratz said last week when he said that cryptos are unique, because unlike all other asset classes, there is no corresponding increase in supply when prices surge.

This also means that as new capital flows into the crypto space as more retail and institutional investors scramble for “a piece of the pie”, the potential market cap gains are unprecedented.

 

Biggest Regrets (MIT students)

Source: Quora, date indeterminate

One of the biggest regrets that I observed among the people I knew was that we didn’t take advantage of the opportunities available to us during our time at MIT.

At MIT, we had unparalleled opportunity to talk to incredibly intelligent, insightful, and interesting minds around us; not just fellow students, but also faculty and leadership at the Institute. People also had a great can-do attitude; if you had an exciting idea that you wanted to bring to life, chances were that you’d be able to find multiple people to help you do it.

However, for many of us, this opportunity was easy to take for granted, and there was always something urgent vying for our attention—a problem set due the next day, an upcoming week of midterms, rehearsals for this weekend’s a cappella performance. As a result, we entirely neglected this opportunity and didn’t realize that it would be gone until it was too late. This particular regret doesn’t just apply to MIT or even just to college in general—it applies to any time/place where a large number of interesting people are gathered. Take advantage of these gatherings, and talk to as many people as you can.

More personally, I wish that I had obsessed less about my grades. Perhaps I would feel differently about this if I were going into a field where my undergraduate GPA mattered (e.g. medicine, academia, anything that required additional schooling), but because I chose to enter the software industry, my grades were of little consequence as long as they were satisfactory. I felt that the amount of time and effort I spent worrying unnecessarily about my grades could have been better spent exploring more extracurriculars, working on side projects, or simply spending more time with my friends (I was often the one turning down Friday night group dinners to study).

Furthermore, this obsession with my grades made me more hesitant to take challenging classes, and I often dropped classes once it became clear that it would be difficult for me to get an A in them.