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A Bitcoin for a Million Bucks – Any Takers?

For a start here is a quick reminder of a few extraordinary financial bubbles from history:

February 3, 1637 – In the Netherlands a single tulip bulb sold for 5,200 guilders which that time would have been ‘sufficient to purchase one of the grandest homes on the most fashionable canal in Amsterdam for cash, complete with a coach house and an 80-ft (25-m) garden – at a time when homes in that city were as expensive as property anywhere in the world.’ Take a look at this chart:

 

TulipMania

October 22, 1999 – Revenue-less networking company Sycamore Networks IPO’d with a market cap of over $14 billion on the NASDAQ. That’s $21 billion in today’s money. Here is the NASDAQ chart:

 

NASDAQ Bubble

January 17, 1980 – Silver hits intraday high of US$50 an ounce. In today’s price that’s US$150. Today, 38 years later, an ounce of silver is worth about US$17. This chart tells the whole story:

Silver Thursday

 

Now take a look at the Bitcoin chart of today:

Bitcoin Chart2

 

I hope you did not miss the striking similarity of this chart to the silver chart of the 1970s (up to January 1, 1980) above. We might get to the January 17, 1980 date equivalent any day now. I want you to avoid that sinking feeling when the price starts to drop like a stone if you bought into this bubble recently. However, if you haven’t bought any bitcoins this year there is nothing much to lose. You might as well ride it out. Here is a bit of background in case you’re new to Bitcoin and looking for a bit more informed decision:

The idea behind Bitcoin is brilliant and relatively simple. Encryption is a key part of it to keep the hackers and cheaters at bay. Blocks of encrypted transactions are chained together creating Bitcoin’s “Blockchain”. All bitcoin transactions are recorded and stored safely encrypted on millions of computers worldwide. The sheer amount of replicated identical copies created on electronic devices during the transaction validation process makes it virtually impossible for hackers to alter them.

Why the owners of these computers or devices are so readily willing to provide storage space, processing power and consume a lot of electricity to validate all this data? Because they get a fair chance to earn reward bitcoins through the so called “Bitcoin mining process”. For this reward at today’s Bitcoin price millions think that it’s worth to throw the resources behind this process.

Bitcoin is divisible. The smallest amount one can transfer is 0.00000001 bitcoin in a transaction. The more popular and expensive Bitcoin gets the less quantity will be used for a transaction and the more transactions need to be validated.

In my opinion Bitcoin’s downfall will probably be caused by its resource consuming and inefficient transaction validating process. At some point many governments in the world would be unable or unwilling to allow companies or individuals to provide the processing power and electricity needed to validate every bitcoin transaction.

The Chinese government already shut down all Bitcoin exchanges in China. I suspect the main reason was to prevent their own citizens to launder money and transfer large sums of wealth out of their country. Western governments might follow suit, but would give a different reason: climate change. They wouldn’t want so much resource wasted on validating Bitcoin transactions.

I do not know when this downfall will happen. The total value of all Bitcoins would be US$20 trillion, roughly the same as the total US national debt today, if the value of a bitcoin reaches a million US$s. This could happen before the bitcoin bubble bursts, but I doubt it.

The credit for this article goes to my other half. You can read about how his IT skills saved our lives in my double memoir disguised as fiction, written by my murdered sister and me, The Sex Tourist.

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The Most Ambiguous Word: Racism

 

Eskimos have more than 50 different words for snow. There is a good reason for this: they can quickly and accurately describe and pass on often vital information about their surroundings. It would be equally vital in the English language to have many different words to distinguish between the different kinds of racial discrimination. Their impact is on a vastly varied scale: harmless, less harmful, more harmful, disgusting and outright abhorrent. However, we brand all of them with a single word: racism.

Could racism be harmless??? I hear some of the readers cry out. Let me give some examples: an African girl who would only consider dating African guys. Is this a form of racial discrimination? Yes. Is this harmless to others? Yes, it is. Now consider a white European girl who would only consider dating white guys. The same should apply. Here is the deal: in a just and fair society nobody should restrict individuals from being attracted to each other, even if race plays a part in their attraction. Is this racism at all? I don’t think so. There should be a separate word for this kind of racial discrimination.

Everybody knows about race related genetic differences. Let’s first discuss some true statements based on this. Skin color is a trivial genetic difference for a start. People rarely think about racism when GPs subscribe to Africans one kind and Caucasians another kind of medication for high blood pressure.

We rarely call a genetics related statement racist if it’s true and advantageous for a certain race. Examples are: the greatest long distance runners are from Kenya or Ethiopia. Conversely, in the 1930s Hungary, Jewish people were only allowed to enter university in severely restricted numbers because their exam results were much better than the average. There was no denial of genetics playing a part in introducing this racially discriminatory law.

However, a statement could easily be branded racist if it refers to a genetic difference which is seen as a disadvantage to a particular race, even if it’s true. In any case there should be a word other than racism for these statements.

False statements linking genetic differences to race could be way more harmful. An example is the German ‘Übermensch’ utilized frequently by Hitler to describe the Germanic master race. We need a word for this kind of racism too.

Low level racist chants in football or soccer stadiums are harmful too, but on a different level. They could incite racially motivated unprovoked attacks on innocent individuals.

Another kind of racism happening in Britain is when men of predominantly Asian origin are sexually exploiting vulnerable white girls. A separate word would be good to describe these abhorrent crimes. This subject is brought up briefly in my book, The Sex Tourist.

There are countless examples of subtle, covert racism. Several of them deserve a separate word, so people instantly know what they’re talking about. Isn’t it time to extend our vocabulary with some new words?

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My Sister’s #MeToo Story

Book One of The Sex Tourist is my sister’s #MeToo story about sexual abuse. She is no longer with us to share her story. This is why I had to publish her book about boybands using underage girls as sex toys, strip-club clients abusing strippers, punters treating working girls badly and murderous sexual predators torturing girls to death.

Unlike Weinstein, most abusive men are getting away with their horrendous acts. Sexual abuse in the sex industry itself is on a heightened level compared to the film or music industries.

Over the past year and a half I received tremendous support from the readers of my book. The brilliant and heart-warming reviews made me think it has all been worthwhile to share my story with the world.

It took 18 months to get my first negative and insensitive review on amazon.com. I believe I’m open to criticism, and I would have appreciated if this review criticized my writing style. I’m also very much aware that my book is not for everybody, but I cannot agree with the reviewer’s suggestion that prostitution was a matter of free choice for my sister, and that her murder was her own fault.

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The Most Brilliant Autobiography for Tennis Fans – a Review

I love tennis, but I’ve never been a particular fan of Maria (or Masha, as I learned from the book) Sharapova. Despite this, I couldn’t put down ‘Unstoppable’. I was hooked from the first word to the last. This book is not your usual memoir of a top professional tennis player. Its raw honesty allows you to have a rare and unique glimpse into the world of professional tennis and what it takes to get into it.

Sharapova

Let me start this review by praising Yuri Sharapov, Maria’s dad. This memoir superbly describes the struggle he had on his hands. If you’re a parent thinking about teaching your extremely talented and willing little one to play tennis with some high hopes for the future, this book is the ultimate must read for you. You can find out a lot about the true extent you have to be prepared to go in order to give your offspring a realistic chance to make it to the ranks of the pros.

What Maria Sharapova’s father achieved is nothing short of unbelievably amazing. He demonstrated total commitment, dedication, and determination to help his daughter achieve his ultimate dream. Starting from living in poverty in an isolated city in the collapsing Soviet Union, he made his daughter the most celebrated young champion of Wimbledon in just 13 years.

This book is not for you if you want to read tennis gossip. It’s edited to perfection and shows that the author is as focused on emphasizing the important things surrounding professional tennis as she usually is on the tennis court to win her next point. Her insights make this memoir ‘unputdownable’.

Particularly interesting parts are her truly honest descriptions of her encounters with Serena Williams. I’ve been a great fan of Serena, and Maria’s account of why she thinks she has such a bad – 2 to 19 up to date – record against her was really thought provoking for me. I might have even figured out what may help her to beat Serena in the future. However, my theory is beyond the extent of this review. Then there are some parts in this autobiography where I had to laugh out loud. One of it was the story of hiring and firing Jimmy Connor as a coach.

If there is only one good thing which came out of Maria Sharapova’s unfair doping ban, then it’s the superb quality of this memoir. She managed to find the time to make it brilliant. On the downside the millions of tennis fans had to miss watching her play for 15 whole months which included the Rio Olympics.

The simple fact that the medication she occasionally took for more than a decade was legal up to the beginning of 2016, and she had not a single warning from the authorities during the year of 2015, tells it all. I’m amazed that WADA doesn’t test urine samples for newly added banned substances during notice periods. A single warning from WADA in 2015 would have been enough for her to avoid this unnecessary 15 months ban.

Recently even some of Maria’s WTA competitors are calling her a doper. I strongly recommend them to read at least the last few pages of this book which includes the findings of the CAS panel. The only thing these girls prove is that they’re scared of being no match for Sharapova on the court, so they have to try to ‘put her down’ outside the court.

For Masha I have this message:

Congratulations for reaching round 4 in the 2017 US Open after that long break and multiple injuries. Carry on, girl! Beat them all!

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Do It Yourself DNA Profiling – Part 3

Welcome to the third and final part of this series. This excerpt is also from Book Two, Chapter 7 – Polymerase Chain Reaction in The Sex Tourist:

To get the murderer’s STR markers, my main hope is in the PCR product from his sperms. The PCR product from the little piece of dirt under Lily’s fingernails is my second best chance. I’m testing them one after the other. It’s 4 a.m. in the morning and I utter a deep sigh. The results couldn’t be better. Both of them are valid. They both came from the same male with a 99.9999% certainty. All STR numbers from the sperms match the numbers coming from the dirt under Lily’s fingernails. My cheeks are becoming wet when I take off my goggles and my mask. “You put up a great fight, Lily,” I mutter to myself using my mask to soak up the tears. Now I know the six pairs of numbers from …’s STR alleles, which only one in five million people have on average. If I ever need more evidence to match the FBI’s thirteen core STR loci standard, I still have the swabs in the envelopes safely back in my freezer. …I’m going to miss this morning’s lectures. Before clambering into bed I send a message to …:

“I’ve got the bastard’s DNA profile. I miss you.”

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Do It Yourself DNA Profiling – Part 2

Welcome to the second part of this series. This excerpt is also from Book Two, Chapter 7 – Polymerase Chain Reaction in The Sex Tourist:

After changing to our lab gears I rub the buccal swab vigorously to my inner cheek. I ask Nicky to do the same. I could have started with loading all the samples at once into the PCR, but I want to get my own DNA profile first. I don’t want to waste even a tiny bit of the samples I have from Lily’s body. I’m a novice and doing this process for the first time means many things can go wrong due to my inexperience. Later I will compare Lily’s DNA profile to mine. This way I would know for sure that those samples are valid and belong to her. Even if we’re not identical twins, our DNA profiles should have some similarities. Nicky’s DNA is useful as well, because later we should be able to discover straight away if she inadvertently contaminates a sample by adding her own DNA to the mixture.

Even blindfolded I would know where I am. The smell of chemicals and the “white noise” from the air conditioning system are so typical of our epidemiology lab. My nose and ears quickly adapt to them. Nicky is a great help, but we are both beginners, so it still takes more than a couple of hours just to isolate the DNA in Nicky’s and my own sample. We’re using the so called solid-phase extraction method with one of Qiagen’s extraction kit.

“Quantitation” is the next step. Too much is as bad as too little DNA. The literature says that about a billionth of a gram is the ideal quantity for PCR. Since I can’t weigh this amount on a kitchen scale, I have to use another method. Our real-time quantitative PCR equipment is going to be my kitchen scale. For this to work I have ordered another assay called TaqMan. We add it to our first PCR mix. Despite the air-conditioning I have to take off my goggles and wipe the mist off from the inside. I press the mask under my nose to wipe the sweat, and my palms are getting wet under my latex gloves too. We change gloves.

It’s time to prepare the PCR master mixtures. I have the pre-prepared mixture for the so called allelic ladder which came in the kit. The allelic ladder is like a tape measure or a ruler for measuring length. More precisely the COfiler kit I’m using now is like six rulers for the six different STR loci. Without it I wouldn’t be able to measure the length of Nicky’s or my own STRs, the lottery numbers. This allelic ladder has to go into another row of tubes in the PCR equipment and would act as a so called “positive control” too. The last two rows are the strip-tubes with my own and Nicky’s purified DNA mixtures.

It takes us another hour, but I’m learning a lot as I set up the PCR program for the second round and turn on the equipment. This PCR run is making millions of copies of seven different sections of our DNAs. Six of them are STR markers. The seventh section, a gene called ameloginin, is going to prove that we’re females. Not that we need any proof of that, but it’s going to come in handy when I do the same with my other samples. Right now certain fragments of my DNA are being replicated millions of times. In an hour and a half my PCR products are ready for the next stage. For that I need the other box. Paul is bringing it from the Netherlands tomorrow. I carefully remove my treasures, the PCR strip-tubes, and pack them in a special cooler bag for the short trip home. I wipe the last PCR run off the box and the laptop.

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Do It Yourself DNA Profiling – Part 1

Have you ever wondered what’s happening in the DNA profiling labs? You would have to spend many devoted hours reading a proper textbook if you need in depth knowledge. However, I can provide you with some ideas using a series of excerpts from my thriller, The Sex Tourist. This first excerpt is from Book Two, Chapter 7 – Polymerase Chain Reaction:

Inside the PCR box, the heat is ripping apart millions of DNA strands like a myriad of disappointed punters tear up their losing lottery tickets after a draw on Saturday night in front of their TV set. The ten-minute polymerase activation period is over, and the mixture inside keeps cooling down – which doubles the amount of DNA fragments – and heating up a few seconds later, just to tear all of them apart again.

I think about the “Wheat on the Chessboard” story. The king was so pleased to learn chess, a newly invented game at the time, that he asked the inventor of the game what he wanted for reward. The inventor asked for some wheat grains. He wanted one grain of wheat on the first square of a chessboard, two grains of wheat on the second square, four grains on the third square, eight grains on the fourth square, and so on, doubling the number of grains of wheat with each square up to the last square. The king thought this was very easy until he realized that all the grains in the world would not be enough to grant this reward.

It takes less than two hours for this PCR box to grant me what the king could not. The only difference is that it’s providing me with billions of amplified DNA fragments instead of wheat grains.

The cocktail contains minuscule amounts of very special liquids supplied by various overseas companies. My thesis depends on the results of this experiment and the next. Mr. Robert Szabo, my thesis supervisor, is standing next to me as I’m preparing more components and DNA samples from infectious bacteria found in sheep for the next round of experiment. I’m using a DNA Mini kit ordered from a German biotech company.

The same company could supply me with the kit I need for my own private DNA samples. That would only be the first step for getting the DNA profile of Fitzgerald. My hope is that certain segments of his minuscule amount of DNA on the swabs are going to be copied millions of times with the help of this PCR box, to provide me with his distinct genetic pattern. I’ve read many books and spent countless hours on the internet investigating what’s needed for purifying, quantifying, amplifying, and sequencing my human DNA samples.

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Could the IT Failure at British Airways be an Inside Job?

Tens of thousands of holidays are ruined. BA IT staff couldn’t get their system fully up and running for a whole weekend. The airline does not believe that a cyber-attack caused the issue. I tend to believe them. A conventional cyber-attack from the outside wouldn’t be able to crash their system this way. But what if it was an inside job?

I don’t buy the power supply failure story. On the surface, it sounds plausible as Delta Airlines last year had a similar major IT failure due to power failure issues.

However, early signs indicate some major differences. First of all, these systems always have backup power supplies which automatically kick in during power failures. Even if the backup power supply fails, and as a consequence the database crashes, there would normally be a failover site where the system could be brought back online at most in a few hours.

Among many others an article in the FT mentions the BA IT jobs which were outsourced to India last year as a possible contributing factor to this outage. Until the airline comes up with a better explanation I tend to believe that this is the most probable cause of the disruption.

It only takes one person inside an IT department to cause enormous damage to the system. All they need to know is a few commands and a privileged user account password to wipe out a whole database.

The turnover rate of IT staff in India is much higher than in the UK. While the vast majority of them are obviously dedicated professionals, I believe the BA system is extremely vulnerable to a single person with a malicious intent inside IT.

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Emily Brontë and the Greatest Hungarian Poet

Emily Brontë and Sándor Petőfi lived their lives in the same decades of the 19th century. However, at the time Hungary and England were a world apart. The two poets never knew about each other. The most beautiful English poems of the century were penned by Emily Brontë. Similarly, arguably the greatest Hungarian poet was Sándor Petőfi. They both died very young, only a few months apart. I came across this information by reading the following dialog in Book One, Chapter 9 – Wuthering Heights of The Sex Tourist:

* * *

“Paul, did you know that the youngest Brontë sister, Anne, died the same year as the greatest Hungarian poet, Petőfi?” I’m so happy I can talk to Paul about literature again.

“No, I didn’t. I’ve just read in the museum that Emily and Anne died very soon after one another. I heard about Petőfi though. He wrote a famous love poem, didn’t he?”

“At the End of September. All Hungarians know it by heart, but I know the English translation too.”

“Would you recite it for me now?”

“Okay, here it goes:

‘The garden flowers still blossom in the vale,

Before our house the poplars still are green;

But soon the mighty winter will prevail;

Snow is already in the mountains seen.

The summer sun’s benign and warming ray

Still moves my youthful heart, now in its spring;

But lo! my hair shows signs of turning gray,

The wintry days thereto their color bring.

 

This life is short; too early fades the rose

To sit here on my knee, my darling, come!

Wilt thou, who now dost on my breast repose,

Not kneel, perhaps, to morrow o’er my tomb?

O, tell me, if before thee I should die,

Wilt thou with broken heart weep o’er my bier?

Or will some youth efface my memory

And with his love dry up thy mournful tear?

 

If thou dost lay aside the widow’s vail,

Pray hang it o’er my tomb. At midnight I

Shall rise, and, coming forth from death’s dark vale,

Take it with me to where forgot I lie.

And wipe with it my ceaseless flowing tears,

Flowing for thee, who hast forgotten me;

And bind my bleeding heart which ever bears

Even then and there, the truest love for thee.’

We walk in silence, while the autumn breeze blows my teardrops away. It just occurs to me that we’re in September.

“Wasn’t it unfair of Petőfi to expect his wife never to have another relationship if he died before her?” asks Paul.

“It was. After Petőfi died, his young widow re-married and many people were blaming her for that because of this poem. The poor woman was bullied and abused.”

“Petőfi is like Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, but the other way,” says Paul. “I feel something similar too right now. True love has no boundaries.”

“And he died so young.”

“It’s weird that two of the Brontë sisters and Petőfi died within a year.”

“The sisters died of tuberculosis and Petőfi died fighting in the revolution. When they died Emily was thirty, Anne was twenty-nine, and Petőfi was only twenty-six. Can you imagine how the three of them would have changed world’s literature if they lived for another thirty or forty years?”

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Let’s compare Petőfi’s poem in this excerpt to one of Emily Brontë’s:

Fall leaves fall die flowers away

Lengthen night and shorten day

Every leaf speaks bliss to me

Fluttering from the autumn tree

I shall smile when wreaths of snow

Blossom where the rose should grow

I shall sing when night’s decay

Ushers in a drearier day

The instinctive swiftness of this second poem is in stark contrast with the blurred weakness of the first one. This is not Petőfi’s fault. Unfortunately most of the beauty in Petőfi’s poem is lost in the translation above. I’m not saying it’s a bad translation; all I’m saying is that it’s an impossible task for any translator to achieve the same level of greatness.

Comparing and truly appreciating these poems written in two different languages is only possible if one reads or listens to the original ones with knowledge of both languages at mother tongue level.

Several other poems written by these two giants of literature boldly confront mortality and anticipate life after death. The most astonishing fact is that two of the greatest poets walking on Earth were writing their most beautiful poems in different languages at the same time.